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# Posts

### May 15, 2013

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How many grains of sand are there on earth?  That is a good question.  But a ball-park estimate is fairly simple. We will look at fine sand (grain size = 100 microns), and coarse sand (grain size = 1 mm). So a cubic mm can hold 1000 grains of fine sand, or 1 grain of course sand.  Obviously grain size is important. There are 1x1018 cubic millimeters in a cubic km. How many cubic km

### May 14, 2013

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In my meandering career from academia to government to private sector, and back into all the grey areas in between, I've been an author on a few journal articles, government reports, and other publications. Usually, these are collaborations between groups of separated people, not all of whom interact with every other member of the team.  For example, in the academic literature, I have a total of

### May 06, 2013

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Universities Australia has launched a recent ad campaign decrying proposed funding cuts to university research.  This ad showcases the products of off-shore corporate giants which are trying to destroy the Australian high tech industry.  The complicated scientific instrument pictured in the ad from 0:12 to 0:17 is something called a IMS-1280, manufactured by the American technology

### May 01, 2013

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Three years ago, I blogged about the cognitive disconnect between the ecological perceptions of wearing wool and eating beef.  However, I did not actually calculate out exactly what the carbon footprint of a wool sock is.  Here it goes: According to Wikipedia’s wool bale article, a bale contains about 60 fleeces, and weights 150 ± 50 kg.  This gives a fleece weight of about 2.5 kg. This

### April 04, 2013

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In the aftermath of the Chelyabinsk fireball last month, there have been increasing calls to identify asteroids on a collision course with Earth and develop technologies to deflect them.  This would be a very stupid thing to do. The reason for this can be seen in figure 1, below.  In part A, this figure shows the minimum deflection necessary to make an asteroid on a collision course with

### March 21, 2013

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Mass spectrometry is the dark art of separating objects by mass.  The name comes from the alchemal days of photographic plate detectors; just like a prism separates white light into a spectrum of colors, a magnet can separate a beam of ions into their component masses, which will then form an image on a plate. These days, electronic counting systems have replaced chemical emulsion ion

### March 17, 2013

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that heat is most easily lost from the head on cold January mornings...

### February 21, 2013

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Friday morning, a large meteor entered the atmosphere over the southern Ural area of Russia, detonating with enough force to shatter windows in nearby towns and injure over 1000 people.  Preliminary estimates suggest an impactor traveling at 15 to 20 km/s, and weighing 8000 to 10,000 tons, exploding at an altitude of 20-30 km with the force of a nuclear weapon. These are hard numbers to wrap

### January 18, 2013

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I build huge cans of learning named after a small pink water animal with lots of legs. The can of learning fires the tiniest bits of air, hurried up by a field, at rocks to break them into the tiniest bits of matter. We suck all of the air out of the box, leaving only empty space. That way the bits of the rock don't hit bits of air that are in the way. Another field sucks these bits off of the

### December 20, 2012

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In this timezone, it’s the 21st of December already, and the world has been destroyed. Sorry guys, but the Mayans were right.  At 12:01 am, Eastern Australian Daylight time, this section of the world was destroyed.  The planet is disintegrating along the time-zone lines like the segments of an orange getting peeled off and tossed into a juicer.  Sorry folks, it’s all over.  And they didn’t

### December 12, 2012

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I was goofing around in Google Earth this evening, performing an activity that started out as meaningful and quickly degenerated into a Game of "Ooh what's that", when I came across the following: Note the very strange shoreline on this lake, with numerous straight line borders. The first time I saw this, I thought I was looking at some dams I didn't know about, but I quickly realized that

### November 18, 2012

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For those not familiar with old Earth geology, the conglomerates of the Jack Hills contain detrital zircons, and the 1% of those zircons which are older than 4 billion years consume 95% of the resources used to study these mineral grains. Clearly, this is the longest-running example of economic inequality on this planet.

### November 15, 2012

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For the past 20 years or so, people who have not wanted to consider the possible issues relating to increasing the atmospheric load of carbon dioxide and other IR-adsorbing gasses have tried to play down the dangers of potential climate change by pointing out that the computer models used to predict it were not very accurate. The implication behind this argument is that the uncertainty in

### November 14, 2012

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It has been a year since the solar panels on our house were installed. In that year, we consumed about 2750 kWh of electricity, and produced about 3370 kWh.

### November 01, 2012

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How great would it be if all the politicians running for office cancelled any new TV ad buys, and donated the money to hurricane relief instead?  With an estimated 6 billion dollar price tag for this year's elections, a the damages inflicted by Frankenstorm Sandy will still need additional funding, but it would certainly make a dent in the enormous damages that stretch across half the eastern

### October 15, 2012

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Here in the Australian Capital Territory, there is a geologist on the Belconnen area ballot for next week's local elections.  Ms. Nash studied Geology at the ANU following her police and small business careers, and I had the luck to teach her intro geology when I was organizing practicals (labs) as a grad student in 1999-2000.  She was a great student, a successful businesswoman, and I'm sure

### September 18, 2012

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Cleaning out some old filing cabinets here at work, I found some old newspaper clippings of a science article by Science Fiction and popular science writer Isaac Asimov, describing uranium-lead geochronology of zircon. As it turns out, the article still exists in the on-line archive of the LA times.  It can be found here.  Although the article is 22 years old, neither the fundamental physics,

### July 18, 2012

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Via Ron Schott: The American Geophysical Union, the world's leading society of Earth and space science, and Wiley-Blackwell, the scientific, medical, technical and scholarly business of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (NYSE: JWa and JWb), a global provider of content and content-enabled services in research, professional development, and education, announced today that the AGU has selected

### June 06, 2012

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Just the same old thing as 1769.... There are lots of good pictures of the current transit of Venus streaming in from people with actual skill in photography, astronomy, or both.  The purpose of this post is to point out that with a set of binoculars, you can project the sun (and Venus) onto just about anything.  For example, a toy box: So you really can see it anywhere, as long as the sun is

### June 04, 2012

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Does anyone know about the decision by AGU to outsource the publication of its journals to a commercial publisher?  Do any folks actually in America and active in AGUing know what is going on? This is all I know : (exerpt from AGU spam) “There continue to be major changes in AGU. For the last few years, publications have been discussed extensively by Council and the transformation of AGU’s

### June 03, 2012

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Ok folks.  I'm looking for a favour.  I am trying to find a pre-Thermo-merger logo for Finnigan Instruments.  Google came up empty.  If anyone can find one, either on the net or by taking a picture of their old manual, I would greatly appreciate it if you could send it to me.

### May 29, 2012

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There is an inordinate amount of conjecture, commotion and crap spread about global warming on the internet.  If you read the duller corners of the internet, you might find a bunch of boring old scientists droning on about CO2 equivalents, and radiative forcing, and statistical gibberish.  But in the more colorful parts of the web, there are at least as many conspiracy nutter web-narcissists

### May 23, 2012

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About a year ago, before Chris Mooney left science blogging for politics, he and his guest bloggers were framing the rift between scientists and conservatives as a rejection of science by conservative leaders.  Even if one accepts his thesis, that there is a disconnect between modern mainstream conservatives and the scientific community, his interpretation assumes that it is the conservative

### May 19, 2012

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A story here, that I first picked up in the paper version of the Canberra Times, states that a number of farmers are outraged- OUTRAGED!- that their land has had an exploration license taken out on it. One might think that, perhaps, these people are environmentalists who oppose the extraction on non-renewable resources. Except that, just 6 years ago, they were fighting tooth-and-nail to stop

### May 09, 2012

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Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who worked as a professional coal, oil, and environmental geologist for 30 years before entering politics, has defeated incumbent Richard Lugar as the Republican nominee for Indiana’s Senate seat.  He will face the current democratic representative for Indiana’s 2nd congressional district, former lawyer and small businessman Joe Donnelly, in the general

### May 08, 2012

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Over at Highly Allochthonous, Anne has posted a wonderful interview with a former mentor.  While it was enjoyable to read, they did manage to slip into technical isotope nerd jargon speech at one point, with the question: I’ve got a new-fangled cavity ringdown spectrometer (CRDS) for analyzing water isotopes, and it is so much cheaper and easier to use than a traditional mass spectrometer

### May 06, 2012

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So I was blissfully snoozing away in my ex-blogging slumber, when a sudden ruckus on the internet woke me up. Evidently some anti-science thinktank in the US has been putting billboards up featuring pictures of people who refuse to reject reality. I don’t really see why anyone would want to do this, other than perhaps an open invitation to be mocked by the entire internet, but I’m not

### January 23, 2012

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I realize that I quit blogging two week's ago, but with the superbowl set to be a rematch of the game 4 years ago, I thought a repost of my post-game analysis would be appropriate. Let's hope that the Giants once again prove the denialists wrong. And reposting isn't really blogging, so I'm still not here.Repost:I don’t want to call attention to skeptical web sites by actually linking them from

### January 09, 2012

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I will be halting my blogging activities for the foreseeable future. There are other more important areas of my life which are suffering from insufficient attention to detail. And until I become more more efficient (I had a book on organization and effectiveness once, but lost it), the best way to improve key activities like staying employed or raising children is to devote more time to them.

### January 03, 2012

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As I mentioned previously, we recently had a 2 kilowatt photovoltaic solar power system installed on the NW-facing roof of our house. Below is plotted the daily household use and solar generation for the first two weeks or so after we turned it on:I should point out that we have a family of 4 living in a typical Canberra "ex-govvie" house, which has been extended to a still-modest size of ~145