Behold the mighty sky-squid

June 10, 2009

Is it coincidence that this upper-atmosphere lightening (called a “sprite“) resembles a mighty sky-squid? Or is fearsome Cthulhu sending us a sign? YOU DECIDE.

Thanks, Christi!


Friday Sci-Fi: Lostronaut

June 5, 2009

Since marine science and space seem pretty tight these days, check out Jonathan Lethem’s lovely and very bleak short story “Lostronaut.” It’s written as letters home from an astronaut stranded on a disintegrating space station with failing plant-based life support, and shouldn’t be read if you’ve got a space-faring loved one.

If reading the story makes you feel sciencey, Eric explored the science behind using plants for life support on the Science Not Fiction blog. But if reading the story makes you want to kick back and feel mournful, listen to Amanda Palmer’s amazing song “Astronaut.” I’m obsessed.*

*Yes, this entire post was an excuse to post this song.

Blogs Away!

May 24, 2009
A scuba cannonball in Turks and Caicos

Savin' the Coral Reefs?

Hi there, blog land. Huge thanks to Miriam for the amazing (scary?) opportunity to guest blog while she is off exploring Eastern California, and for the introduction asserting that I am both credible and cool. I hope to slowly disappoint readers on both counts as the week goes on, ensuring Miriam’s return is met with maximum fanfare and relief.

As Miriam mentioned, I’m studying corals in the Caribbean for my dissertation. With that job comes the obligation to not only save the coral reefs, but have a good time doing it, because after all, everyone wants to be a marine biologist when they grow up, and coral reefs are the coolest things in the ocean, hands down. No pressure, right? During my blog-stint, I’ll expose some behind-the-scenes stories from my job so that you feel better about yours. I’ll reveal whether I am actually saving the coral reefs. I’ll also offer up some of my favorite recent stories from science land in general. I particularly love when things turn out to be way more complicated than we thought they were, which conveniently applies to about 99 percent of discoveries in science.

So, thanks for the welcome, and sorry in advance.

PS: I thought my picture would be kind of unique, and then I pulled out the New York Times Magazine this morning and found this. Apparently, leaping irreverently into gorgeous bodies of water is now a fad and, because it has been discovered by the New York Times, no longer cool. Like I said.

PPS: Dear dive safety officers, I promise to giant stride from now on.

Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus: The Trailer Released

May 11, 2009

“The California coast is terrorized by two enormous prehistoric sea creatures as they battle each other for supremacy of the sea.”


Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus is an actual film, due out  May 26.

WordPress makes embedding videos from certain sources tricky, so you must click to view the trailer. But click.  Seriously. Do it.

Update: Trailer has been YouTubed. <phew>

Update, Update: As pointed out by commenter below, the movie stars Deborah “Debbie” Gibson. Yes, that Debbie Gibson.

Update, Update, Update: We all know how this movie must end, right?

(via io9)

Yet more vampire ecology

May 10, 2009

The Twilight and Buffy vampire ecology models were not the first to plumb the mysteries of vampire population dynamics – mathematicians and economists got there first. Mark Strauss has a nice writeup of the wrangling in the vampire literature:

But, this gauntlet had been barely thrown down before it invited a rebuttal from mathematician Dino Sejdinovic. In his article, “Mathematics of the Human Vampire Conflict” (Math Horizons, November 2008) Sejdinovic faults Efthimiou and Gandhi’s logic, since they have not “accounted for the birth-rate of non-vampires and death-rate of vampires (actually the death-death-rate since they are already dead, but when they die again they should stay dead but stop being living) due to close encounters with stakes, garlic and holy water.” Moreover, “vampires are presented exclusively as greedy consumers: a rational strategy of managing their human resources is not considered…”

Their research provoked an outraged response from economist Dennis Snower, who in his article “Macroeconomic Policy and the Optimal Destruction of Vampires” (The Journal of Political Economy, June 1982)…Snower argues that the mortal world can manage its resources in a manner that keeps the undead population in check, while simultaneously promoting long-term economic growth.

Strauss points out that all of these models assume that vampires are the top predator. While the Buffyverse model accounts for Slayer predation, clearly the time is ripe an elucidation of the entire supernatural ecosystem. Zombies and werewolves and demons, oh my.

Vampire Ecology: Twilight vs. Buffy

April 20, 2009

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a hungry vampire must be in want of blood. It is also universally acknowledged that the sucking of said blood makes more little vamplings, whether by direct infection or by a Buffy-esque “whole sucking thing.” Vampires are top predators, and like lions and wolves, their population can’t outstrip their prey supply.

But since there are so many people, why aren’t we awash in vampires? That’s why Laura McLay at Punk Rock Operations Research is skeptical of vampires. Based on a mathematical model of their population dynamics, she calculates that:

The vampire population would either explode or die out, depending on the expected number of offspring per vampire. But if you take into account the fact that vampires live many, many generations (they’re virtually immortal) and may create thousands of offspring, the population explodes (if you assume that each vampire creates at least one vampire, on average, before it dies). With those numbers, vampires would not be living under the radar–they would be everywhere!

But basing her calculation off icky goopy Twilight, McLay makes a critical mistake. She left out human predation on vampires, fetchingly epitomized in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Brian Thomas, a theoretical ecologist, calculated the vampire ecology and population dynamics of the Buffyverse and found:

This [Thomas’ assumptions] results in an equilibrium population of 36,346 humans and 18 vampires. Thomas then notes that interestingly enough the established population of Sunnydale on the show is 38,500 humans, pretty damn close to the equation result. Maybe Buffy needs to cut back on the slaying in order to let the vampires weed out that extra 2100 people, we wouldn’t want human overpopulation to lead to starvation.

But is this equilibrium stable? Will natural fluctuations in the vampire population prevent the equilibrium state from ever existing? Thomas then ran the model using several different initial population sizes and seeing whether they eventually moved to equilibrium, or spiraled off into an abyss where everybody died. Turns out the model is stable and the vampires and humans can co-exist forever! Hooray!

Check out Thomas’ original paper here (PDF).

So, because we are not neck-deep in starving vampires, clearly we are living in the Buffyverse. Down with mooshy sparkly vampires & limp, passive heroines! Up with snarly-faced evil vamps and ass-kicking Slayers! Now where’s my activated Slayer powers?

Punk Rock Operations link via Boing Boing, Buffyverse Ecology via JEByrnes a long time ago

What the Earth of 150,000 years ago was really like

March 23, 2009

SPOILER WARNING: This entire post is a giant spoiler for the Battlestar Galactica Season 5 4.5 finale, so I’ve tucked it behind the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »