Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Don't Run Over Bicycle People Please: Sunvarmint Loves His Wheelie Bike

Grass roots movements are awesome. We've seen so many examples of how the common person can become empowered, educated, and even eventually able to give one of those super amazing, somehow loosely qualified TED talks, having earned "expert" status without ever attending any kind of school. 

I enthusiastically support these new found freedoms of leadership, or even leaderless movements. 

Hey, if people listen, or follow, then you got it...right?

One thing I can't really condone, however, is disorganized, reckless behavior. 

Recently I've noticed more and more posts on social media complaining about bicycle riders. Being an avid rider myself, I always chime in on these posts on the side of the riders. It occurs to me, however, that I might be blinded by my own biases. Of course many of the commenters I "interacted" with were complete turds, too many jokes popping off about running over cyclists, or bumping into them. And some of these lovable people like to complain that cyclists are just "in the way." 

To let some of you off the hook here... I am not talking about you if you respect cyclists and just want them to obey traffic laws. I'm with you on that. Cyclists who are riding in crazy, out of control ways are part of the problem. I'm talking about those people who just don't want cyclists on the road.

So, why did I initially bring up grass roots movements? Because, aside from the complete bozos who just don't want cyclists on the road, or, as one real charmer suggested "if they want to ride their bikes they should put them on the back of their VW bus and drive to wherever they want to ride," which, guys who say stuff like this are just hopeless, but...aside from these goofballs, there seem to be a number of people complaining about cyclists who ride in groups and become unruly and don't obey traffic laws.

If the comments are even a slight sampling of the experiences between drivers and cyclists then we have a problem.

I've heard the grouchy grumpies like "it's called a sidewalk, not a side-ride" and "they think they can just go anywhere they want." Well, yes...bicycles do exist in a slightly more flexible, liminal environment between merely walking or merely riding in a car. You should be happy that whoever is on one of those wheelie things, zipping around on campus, or down alleyways, or across fields or abandoned lots is not crowding up our already overloaded road system, or pumping out more ozone creating gases to screw up your kids' lungs. Leave these good people alone. YES, they need to give way to walkers, not zoom up behind you unannounced and make you spill your coffee. But they'll be gone before you know it, off to live their annoyingly healthy lives, zipping by other people in the neighborhood.

I've heard drivers complain about sharing the road with "those bicycles" thereby requiring that process so antithetical to American life...the process of thought... "they slow everything down and get in the way" or "I just can't believe they ride there" or "if they were considerate they would choose their route better" or "I can't stand it when they ride up hills and I have to pass them or wait, it's so inconsiderate." Well, I imagine if you didn't have a stick in your craw you could count in seconds how long most of these encounters are. And, if it's longer than seconds the cyclist is probably doing everything in their power to stay as far to the side of our inadequately designed, poorly maintained, un bike friendly roadways. 

That being said, I am a firm believer in self policing. As a biker I will not just assume that bikers are above reproach. So, returning to the grass roots "organized" bike rides... If you are one of those who organizes group rides, I implore you to take a minute before each ride to remind people of their responsibilities to others who use the roads. And make sure your group is riding with some sense of orderliness and not creating a dangerous environment, or in any way expressing disrespect for other drivers, or the law. Respect for other drivers IS part of the law. And as an operator of a vehicle on public roadways you need to obey the laws. If you are going so far as to organize group rides, please, go so far as to organize them well. Drive your bike, don't just ride it. Riding implies slightly less control than you should have. And if you're creating tension between cyclists and car drivers, you are ultimately putting other cyclists at risk, by raising the potential of conflict.

Cyclists are ambassadors for the potential of future cycling interests and agendas. If you, or your group, contributes to further marginalizing cyclists in the minds of your fellow citizens you hinder the ability of activists to promote pro-cycling legislation and pro-cycling infrastructure development. It's the people's taxes that have to pay for improvements. Why give them more reason to balk about investments in bike lanes and other necessary expenditures? Making motorists hate cyclists is a dangerous and seemingly counterproductive way to gain allies. 

If you're all kicked back on your group bike ride with your happy smile, just goofing your way through stop lights or ignoring stop signs, as much as you arrogantly think you are furthering the interests of are actually a major problem. Even if you manage to finish your ride without creating some false martyr for the cause of cycling by having one of your riders smacked into the pavement by a car, you still didn't help things out. You caused more tension in life. That doesn't seem to be the goal of any cyclists I ever talk to. Proper, healthy cycling requires harmony with your surroundings.

The reality is, Americans are not yet smoothly accepting of cyclists on their roadways. They should be...but they aren't. At this stage of the ballgame cyclists need to be hyper aware that cars do not have a clue what to do when they encounter you. Even well intentioned drivers can cause problems due to the perceived novelty of cycling, stopping when they shouldn't, refusing to pass, trying to be nice by letting you go first...which might get you killed if other drivers don't understand what is happening. 

It really should be that people, cyclists and motorists all simply obey the traffic laws (It needs to be noted that this applies to bikes only when they are engaged in roadway activity. Many municipalities actually legally allow cyclists to operate on and off the roadways, sidewalks included. It isn't a matter of "fairness" but of appropriate use). Some American drivers, however, seem to enter a slight state of shock upon encountering a cyclist and lose all sense of reason.

Please, car drivers, try to realize all cyclists are not out to simply clutter up your roadways. Frankly, it is usually the opposite. And try not to develop a sense of angst toward cyclists which might unintentionally lead to bad driving decisions on your part.

Please, cyclists, obey traffic laws while on the roadways, and respect other pedestrians when not. Don't contribute to the creation of an environment which might or might not directly hurt you, but even indirectly might cause some car driver, hopped up on soda or coffee to take it out on the other guy down the road.

Helmets? Well, I wear one. Check your local cycling laws to see if you are required to wear one. The jury is still out on whether or not they are a good thing in general. And many anti-biking motorists would mockingly suggest without one you would simply be tempting a Darwinian moment.       

Thursday, July 23, 2015

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone
in the journey to finding another “Earth.” 

The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone -- the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet -- of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

"On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."

Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment," said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. "It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

To help confirm the finding and better determine the properties of the Kepler-452 system, the team conducted ground-based observations at the University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These measurements were key for the researchers to confirm the planetary nature of Kepler-452b, to refine the size and brightness of its host star and to better pin down the size of the planet and its orbit.

The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.

Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star's habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature.

“We've been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”

These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.

Scientists now are producing the last catalog based on the original Kepler mission’s four-year data set. The final analysis will be conducted using sophisticated software that is increasingly sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of Earth-size planets.

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sunvarmint Says Stop Talking About Flags Already!!!

Sunvarmint Says TERDS
As I stand here before you today, in this moment of history, I must acknowledge the history of history. Blah, blah, blah. 

OK...I understand. I shouldn't be surprised by seeing so many people still so worked up about the removal of the Confederate flags from government buildings. 

I don't mean to make light of it all. I understand symbols have meanings to people. But isn't that exactly what this crap is all about? 

I really, really want to touch base with my Southern brothers on this one. I am Southern all the way through. I love buttermilk cornbread, I like my okra fried, my chicken crispy, my cucumbers raw, my greens cooked and my grits any way I can get them. My family is Southern. My Paw Paw and Maw Maw were friendly, neighborly, happy, loving, and yes, racist. I don't think any of our grandparents were perfect, were they? I mean, we use cell phones, look at close ups of Pluto, pick apart genes, all kinds of fun modern stuff these days. We've learned. We've grown. We've adapted. Or at least a whole bunch of us have. 

One thing I learned from people who pick apart genes is that there is no such thing as race. Race is a false construct. But history...well, history really happened. And people who waved the Confederate flag used to tie up people who were black and rape them, torture them, force them to build roads, cook meals. It was called slavery.

Now this slavery thing was pretty bad. It really didn't help many people other than rich slave owners. Poor white people couldn't get some jobs because rich slave owners, well, they owned slaves. Why pay someone when you can just go ahead and own someone else. And if you're feeling randy, you can just rape them. Why...well because they don't have any rights whatsoever. And if you feel like it, just kill them. And the slaves. Well they didn't like the whole thing. I can't imagine why not. And poor white Southerners...well many of them didn't like the slaves all that much because of the whole jobs thing. You get the point I'm sure. 

OK. So now that we've briefly touched on the whole slavery and killing and rape thing. Let's talk about the flag thing. I know it's a cool looking flag. I mean the swastika is a cool looking symbol. The Nazis were a stylish group. But even though they dressed smartly, they were really quite unpleasant as a whole. So, why the comparison? Because slave owners were also quite unpleasant as a whole, and really guilty of the same types of crimes, only perhaps historically even more of them. 

So, the point so many have made by comparing these two symbols is, they represent stuff we might not really want to cherish in this modern age of space exploration.

I guess we have to touch on two things very quickly:

A: The flag in question is NOT the "Confederate Flag." The funny thing is, I've heard some people be so ridiculous as to use that fact to explain why it shouldn't be removed, or why people are being "hateful" in trying to remove it. I honestly just don't have time to waste on that kind of silliness. It was a flag of defiance adopted much later as a small part of the revised Confederate flag, which the rest of, by the way, was simply white, to represent the white race.  And it came from a battle flag which, well, was just a battle flag. was inserted into many modern places as a continued act of this defiance and hatred. 

B: NOBODY IS BANNING THE FLAG! You can tattoo it on your thing, y'know, whatever thing you think of when I say "thing." You can fly it on your truck. The people who say stuff to you, either to whoop it up with you, or against you...they are also expressing their 1st Amendment rights. We all have those rights still. It's OK. Calm down. And please stop using the ignorant phrase..."BANNING THE CONFEDERATE FLAG!" You are lying. You are a liar. Or you are just stupid. 

So, now that I've explained this to you, and you have understood it and agree with me, let me just close with one last detail... The places where monuments, or flags are coming down, without mass destruction, are on government property. Oh, and the governments who oversee these properties aren't the Confederate States of America. Our ANCESTORS lost that one. 

Nobody is invading our country and destroying things. We are simply going to, as was suggested by the Confederate General Robert E. Lee "Fold it up and put it away."

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Indian, Pacific Oceans Temporarily Hide Global Warming

A new NASA study of ocean temperature measurements shows in recent years extra heat from greenhouse gases has been trapped in the waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Researchers say this shifting pattern of ocean heat accounts for the slowdown in the global surface temperature trend observed during the past decade.

Researchers Veronica Nieves, Josh Willis and Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California, found a specific layer of the Indian and Pacific oceans between 300 and 1,000 feet (100 and 300 meters) below the surface has been accumulating more heat than previously recognized. They also found the movement of warm water has affected surface temperatures. The result was published Thursday in the journal Science.
During the 20th century, as greenhouse gas concentrations increased and trapped more heat energy on Earth, global surface temperatures also increased. However, in the 21st century, this pattern seemed to change temporarily.
"Greenhouse gases continued to trap extra heat, but for about 10 years starting in the early 2000s, global average surface temperature stopped climbing, and even cooled a bit," said Willis.

In the study, researchers analyzed direct ocean temperature measurements, including observations from a global network of about 3,500 ocean temperature probes known as the Argo array. These measurements show temperatures below the surface have been increasing.

The Pacific Ocean is the primary source of the subsurface warm water found in the study, though some of that water now has been pushed to the Indian Ocean. Since 2003, unusually strong trade winds and other climatic features have been piling up warm water in the upper 1,000 feet of the western Pacific, pinning it against Asia and Australia.
"The western Pacific got so warm that some of the warm water is leaking into the Indian Ocean through the Indonesian archipelago," said Nieves, the lead author of the study.
The movement of the warm Pacific water westward pulled heat away from the surface waters of the central and eastern Pacific, which resulted in unusually cool surface temperatures during the last decade. Because the air temperature over the ocean is closely related to the ocean temperature, this provides a plausible explanation for the global cooling trend in surface temperature.

Cooler surface temperatures also are related to a long-lived climatic pattern called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which moves in a 20 to 30 year cycle. It has been in a cool phase during the entire time surface temperatures showed cooling, bringing cooler-than-normal water to the eastern Pacific and warmer water to the western side. There currently are signs the pattern may be changing to the opposite phase, with observations showing warmer-than-usual water in the eastern Pacific.

"Given the fact the Pacific Decadal Oscillation seems to be shifting to a warm phase, ocean heating in the Pacific will definitely drive a major surge in global surface warming," Nieves said.

Previous attempts to explain the global surface temperature cooling trend have relied more heavily on climate model results or a combination of modeling and observations, which may be better at simulating long-term impacts over many decades and centuries. This study relied on observations, which are better for showing shorter-term changes over 10 to 20 years. In shorter time spans, natural variations such as the recent slowdown in global surface temperature trends can have larger regional impacts on climate than human-caused warming.

Pauses of a decade or more in Earth's average surface temperature warming have happened before in modern times, with one occurring between the mid-1940s and late 1970s.

"In the long term, there is robust evidence of unabated global warming," Nieves said.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.