Scotland referendum results in one image

This might be the most perfect thing I’ll see all week.

Reinstall scotland

I sincerely hope that as Scotland is reinstalled, the divisions caused by the campaign don’t cause any bugs. Or perhaps I should say, more bugs than already existed.

May Scotland v.2.0 be prosperous, and may the memories of Westminster politicians last longer than such things are wont to do.

Posted in Europe, politics | 4 Comments

Wallpaper Wednesday

Bardarbunga volcano

It’s not really large enough to be a good wallpaper (975 x 650 pixels), but what a shot! This is the lava flow, smoke, and ash clouds of an eruption from Holuhraun Fissure, near Iceland’s Barbabunga Volcano.

If Mordor existed, surely it would look like this.

(Click the image to biggify, and to see more photos of the eruption.)

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Filed under “What the hell is that?”


Pilots of ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) are always getting to see cool stuff in the ocean depths, but this one takes the cake. Tentatively identified as a siphonophore — a collective group of organisms operating as a single entity — it’s an awesome purple in color and a shape like I’ve never seen before. Neither had the ROV operators, whose voices can be heard in this video saying things like, “I can’t believe that’s a living thing.”

The best part of operating ROVs is that we get to see creatures like this alive, well, and moving about in their native environment, rather than bringing up limp, dead, colorless bodies from the depths and trying to figure out what they were. I love “leave no trace” science. (Except for those glaring lights, but I don’t think those really faze a siphonophore.)

Posted in biology, video | 3 Comments

Wallpaper Wednesday

Porto lighthouse

The Farol de Felgueiras (or Felgueiras Lighthouse) near Porto, Portugal, gets some massive waves during winter storms. This photo is actually a combination of two images: the original showing the wave topping the lighthouse, and another to introduce lower waves in the foreground. It was taken in January 2013 and was made a Photo of the Day by National Geographic.

Note to self: This winter, get to the coast during one of those storms.

(Click on the image to embiggen. The download button is just below the photo on the NG page.)

Posted in Portugal, wallpaper | 4 Comments

Odds & ends of cool stuff

Ever see the shockwave of a volcano erupting? Phil and Linda McNamara did—and videotaped it—while vacationing in Papua New Guinea. Hearing that nearby Mount Tavurvur was erupting, they hopped a boat for a closer look, and…wow. You can see the shockwave traveling down the slope of the volcano, and immediately afterward you’ll see it rearranging air molecules above the ash plume. The sudden air compression wrings out water vapor and creates temporary clouds in an expanding circle. Several seconds later, that expanding circle arrives at the boat.

Note: if you’re wearing headphones while watching this, I’d advise not having the volume up too high. The sonic boom when the shockwave hits the boat is substantial. Also, I got a huge laugh out of the man who, after the boom, exlaims, “Holy ssss…smokin’ Toledos!”


In an entirely different branch of science, here is my vote for Blog Headline of the Week:


This comes from a blog called TSM, which was reblogging from Ozy. The Ozy post is better, but loses points for a less interesting headline.

As one who is constantly in search of the perfect chocolate chip cookie (and reasonably convinced that perfection has indeed been achieved, at least with my oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipe), I already knew about the differences these little changes can make. But I’ve never seen such an awesome visual illustration:

Cookie science

That picture neatly sums up the pages and pages of text I’ve read on the topic. (Because yes, some things are worth that kind of devotion.)

The Ozy post has a rundown of which changes do what, if you just want a quick guide. But if you’re in search of more detail and an actual recipe, go to Handle the Heat and lose yourself in cookie research.


Shifting gears again, did you know that the mystery of Death Valley’s traveling rocks has finally been solved?

The (in)famous Racetrack Playa rocks keep moving when nobody’s looking. Furrows behind them are ample evidence of their travels, and many of them move in parallel tracks, including turns. But until now nobody knew how.

Death Valley rock

(Photo by Arno Gourdol)

Ars Technica has a nice write-up of the mechanics behind the traveling rocks. Conditions have to be just right, and it’s a rare event, but it’s no longer a total mystery. Plus it’s always fun when everyone’s best guesses turn out to be wrong. Most scientists had assumed that forces of great strength had to be at work, including gale-force winds in nasty, frozen weather. Nope, just a bit of a breeze, thanks—plus some water, sunshine, and thin sheets of ice.

The research team that solved this mystery has put together a great explanatory video, in which they produce a smoking gun: actual footage of a rock caught in the act.


Okay, one last video, but it’s only two minutes long. It’s a short film with an ending you will not expect.

Posted in ad worth watching, food, science, video | 1 Comment

Scottish breakfast

Scottish breakfast

One thing we discovered during our Scotland vacation is that the Scottish breakfast is not a myth — at least, not when one is staying at B&Bs.

Typical of our breakfasts were eggs made to order, sautéed mushrooms (one B&B even offered freshly-picked chanterelles, yum), what the Scots call “bacon” and I call ham, sausages, stewed tomatoes, black pudding (a blood sausage), and haggis (you don’t want to know). And that was just the cooked brekkie. There was also yogurt, fresh berries, toast, cereals, and porridge, along with juice, coffee, and real tea (i.e. tea made with loose leaves, not bags, and steeped in a pot, not in the cup). There were no mugs to be seen; only cups and saucers would do for the hot drinks.

We never got out of our lodgings before 09:30. More often it was well after ten. It’s impossible to have a ten-minute breakfast and hit the road when the spread looks like that, and who would want to? So breakfast became part of our social time, when we relaxed at the table and drank far too much tea (me) or coffee (one of our friends) while talking about what we wanted to do that day. It made me realize how unloved breakfast is in our house. All three of us eat at different times, so we eat alone and with no conversation. I’m the only one who takes real time at breakfast, because I’m the only one who cooks it (oatmeal every day, yessir!).

Perhaps it’s time to start a new weekend tradition.

A note regarding haggis: I arrived in Scotland carrying a prejudice against the stuff, based solely on the ingredients. But after trying some, I was converted. It’s delicious! We had it every day, and one of my favorite evening meals was Balmoral Chicken, which is chicken stuffed with haggis. There’s some lesson in there about judging a book by its cover…

We found that hamburgers were a common feature on lunch and dinner menus, but the Scots seem to define that dish differently than Americans do. Of the three times I tried a burger — usually because it was the cheapest thing on the menu — one was a horror, one tasted weird-but-not-bad but had the texture all wrong (soft and mealy), and one was delicious but impossible to eat without destroying it. Here’s the last one:

Scottish hamburger

Not even Dagwood could get his mouth around that. We didn’t have a prayer. We thought we could eat the onion rings first and thus reduce the burger to something manageable, but the bottom ring was acting as a reservoir, holding in melted cheese and a sauce of some sort. Then we tried squashing the remainder as flat as we could, but it was still too thick. So we ended up cutting it into pieces, like parents do when they take their toddlers to the restaurant. Given the fact that this burger is served on a wooden cutting board, I’m guessing that’s the usual method. However, the meat patty itself was fantastic — better termed a steak, actually — and the accompanying sweet chili chutney was divine.

Two of our group went to Scotland eager to try the whiskies, but I was all about the gins, since one of my favorite gins is Scottish. (The marvelous Hendricks, of course.) We did indeed find another winner, but alas, it’s a regional, artisanal gin made in tiny batches.

NB gin

NB stands for North Berwick, the village where NB Gin is produced. It’s a crisp, clean gin that made my mouth happy, and we were very sorry not to bring a bottle home with us. Damn the airlines and their stupid liquid policy. One wonders just how much business distilleries and vineyards have lost due to tourists not being able to take a bottle or two home.

I guess we’ll just have to go back.

Posted in Europe, travel | 5 Comments

Lisboa hyperlapse

Not that I meant to post two videos in a row, but…wow. This one is amazing. I’m not a fan of the choice of music, but the way the imagery is so perfectly timed to it is pretty impressive. And it’s Lisboa — hard to go wrong with footage from the City of the Seven Hills.

Vimeo link.

Posted in Portugal, video | 1 Comment

A view of the Alentejo

I don’t know how much circulation this video will get, but I’ll give it my own tiny push here. It’s a six-minute “story” (and I use that term loosely) about a tourist and her dog taking a hot-air balloon trip in the Alentejo. A slipped rope leads to an adventure, which showcases some of the beauty of that region.

Many of the places featured gave me a tug of nostalgia. It’s been years since we went to Marvão…

Posted in Portugal, video | 2 Comments

Wallpaper Monday

Yellowstone Milky Way

It looks like the cover of a fantasy novel, but it’s the real thing: Silex Spring, a 10-meter-diameter hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, with the central band of the Milky Way arching overhead.

The spring is artificially illuminated, but its colors are true, courtesy of bacterial colonies that thrive in the hot water. This image was stitched together from 16 photographs, and was the 27 August Astronomy Picture of the Day.

(Click the image to fantasize.)

Posted in USA, wallpaper | Leave a comment

Question for the biology folks

Attention biology folks and nature nerds:

What the heck is this?


Clearly it’s a fecal pellet, with a bit of uric acid along the edges, which makes me think “bird poop.” And the location in which I found it would seem to back up that supposition: one of my railing planters, which hangs on the outside of a veranda railing three stories up. The poop was perfectly positioned to have been deposited if a bird had perched on the narrow end of the planter, facing outward.

But what kind of bird makes a solid poo pile five centimeters long?

Would a raptor do this? We do have quite a few Little Owls (Athena noctua) in the area, but I’m not familiar with owl poop. Owl pellets, yes, but what actually comes out the other end? It’s surprisingly difficult to find images of owl poop on the Internet, though I did find one mention of Barn Owl poop being known as “whitewash” because it’s so full of uric acid, with very little solid matter. That doesn’t match up.

Geese produce quite solid poops, but we don’t have them in our town and even if we did, I’m really not seeing a duck or goose perching on my veranda railing pot.

Does anybody have a clue?

Posted in life, science | 22 Comments