Sunday, December 6, 2009
Although I thought chapter nine was informative and well written overall, there was one thing that bothered me. At the beginning of the chapter, Kolbert says, "The Burlington Electric Department may be the only utility in the United States whose vehicle fleet includes mountain bikes." This seems a bit lazy on Kolbert's part. Why not find out for sure if it is the only utility to use mountain bikes?
I am pretty indifferent about chapter 10. I suppose it was a fine way to wrap things up, but nothing about it really stuck out at me. It was mostly just summary and philosophy.
As for the Afterword, I liked the way that Kolbert made a bulleted list of some of the new information that has come out since she finished the book. I felt that this was an efficient way to present the material to readers. I wish that Kolbert had used this technique for most of the information in this book instead of writing whole chapters about things that could have been summarized in a paragraph.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I have been waiting the entire book for a discussion about human carbon output. In order for people to understand how humanity could be responsible for global warming, they must be told not only how their actions are affecting the climate, but also which actions are harmful. How can people work to make things better if they don't know what they are doing wrong? As I read chapter seven, I turned off my muted television because the information in the chapter made me realize that I was emitting unnecessary carbon. Its too bad that I had to read seven chapters of this book before I felt that there was something I could do.
I also enjoyed chapter eight because it provided necessary information for people to make informed political choices. Once people are aware of political agendas and options related to global warming, they can support worthy causes and candidates and rally for change.
Although I am relieved that Kolbert finally included these topics in her book, I am a bit frustrated that it took her seven chapters to do so. Human carbon output and political agendas are the heart of the global warming issue. They are the most important aspects and the most productive aspects to be discussed. Chapters seven and eight should have been the first two chapters in the book.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I did find the explanation of how climate models are constructed to be interesting. I like the idea of the earth and its atmosphere being divided up into cubes. It also makes sense that a grid like this would make it a lot easier to study and discuss the climate of specific regions and altitudes.
I also very much enjoyed the discussion of the Dutch ad campaign at the beginning of chapter 6, as well as, the discussion of the amphibian houses. As far as I can recall, these are the first instances of Kolbert discussing proactive measures being taken in regards to climate change. I find this approach much more productive than simply providing readers with horrifying numbers and sad stories. This leaves readers feeling helpless and freaked out. I think a better goal is to inspire readers to get involved with preparing for life in the future and demonstrate that there are options to be taken advantage of.
As far as the quality of writing, I still feel that Kolbert has riddled this book with entirely too many off-topic rants; however, there were two descriptions at the end of chapter 6 that I thought were good. She describes the sun as, "starting to sink," after a lengthy discussion of flooding. This was clever. I also thought the description of the amphibian houses looking like, "a row of toasters," was creative and effective.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Kolbert shows that the behaviors and locations of butterflies, mosquitoes, and frogs are changing, and that Darwin believed that these sort of changes in species were a result of climate change. So what? This is all speculative and circumstantial evidence for the big, bad global warming that Kolbert is trying to prove.
Just because the climate may be changing and affecting various animals, does not mean that it will be catastrophic (especially since it has happened before), and it certainly doesn't mean that it is the fault of the human race.
Kolbert also makes an effort to convince her readers that climate change will wipe out many of the Earth's species. Again, the evidence she provides of this is simply the speculations and worst case scenario theories of researchers that Kolbert came to trust because she found them quirky and endearing.
Kolbert has offered a possible scenario for the future; however, she has offered no evidence that it will necessarily happen, and given no compelling reasons to suggest that her proposed scenario is any more likely than another scenario.
When I first started the book I enjoyed Kolbert's anecdotes, and inclusion of excess information, but at this point I'm sick of it. It's annoying to have to read pages and pages of babble just to get to the point. If I were interested in the camouflage of butterflies and mating rituals of frogs, I would read a book devoted to that. It is also hard to keep up with Kolbert's impromptu changing of topic. I think she has severe and untreated Attention Deficit Disorder.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
The most persuasive pieces of evidence for me are the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses and the defendant's long and documented history of concerning behavior.
Keogak's moving testimony plays on the heart strings of the jury when he says, "It was good at the start--warmer winters, you know--but now everything is going so fast...Our children may not have a future. I mean, all young people, put it that way. It's not just happening in the Arctic. It's going to happen all over the world. The whole world is going too fast."
Kolbert also has a sort of poetic way of demonstrating the way in which the defendant has infiltrated the daily lives of its victims when she states, "Then, a few years ago, for the first time, people began to see robins, a bird for which the Inuit in this region have no word."
Kolbert also does a fine job of combating the notion that fear of global warming is the product of a recent, yet popular, scientific folly. She does this by evoking the research of John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius, whose research eluded to global warming over a century ago.
That being said, I feel that Kolbert's case is that of the prosecution, with little defense, which does make her biased. Though she makes a great case, the fact remains that global temperatures have fluctuated before with little explanation, and scientists admit there are aspects of global warming that they do not fully understand. Though Kolbert does mention these holes in her case, she does not explore the possible implications of them.
I am not critical of Kolbert's biased because I think she has every right to feel the way she does. She did her research and has come to her own conclusion. As I said before, based on the prosecution's case, I would find the defendant guilty. However, it would be unethical for any jury to come to a verdict without hearing the defense's case, which i feel is absent from Kolbert's book.
As far as the writing quality and journalistic aspects of Kolbert's book, I think she has done an excellent job. It is clear from her inclusion of anecdotes and irrelevant, yet interesting background information that she has thoroughly researched her topics. More than that, she demonstrates a sincere curiosity and respect for her sources, which only strengthens her case.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Firstly, I've noticed that a certain subtle, cynical sense of humor comes through in the writing at times. I suppose this isn't a huge risk; although, it is an interesting choice considering the serious nature of the book's topic. I actually do like that the author has done this, but it is something that immediately caught my attention. Here is an example of what I mean:
"The Soviets more or less invented the study of permafrost when they decided to build their gulags in Siberia."
Secondly, the author seems to have little use for transitions between paragraphs. It's as if she has allowed the random flow of her thoughts to determine the order of her paragraphs. Frankly, I'm not sure if this is a poor choice or a genius one.
Lastly, I am appreciative of the amounts of seemingly unrelated, yet colorful detail that the author has chosen to include in her story. For example:
"It turned out that he had brought the Tostitos to stave off not hunger but fatigue--the crunching, he said, kept him awake--and by now the enormous bag was more than half empty."
Typically there is simply not room for this kind of excess information in an article; although, I have often found myself wishing to include information of this nature in my own stories.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Firstly, the website Solar Views explains that the term meteoroid is reserved for matter in outer space which revolves around our sun. Of course, however, not everything that revolves around the sun is a meteoroid. "A meteoroid is matter revolving around the sun or any object in interplanetary space that is too small to be called an asteroid or a comet. Even smaller particles are called micrometeoroids or cosmic dust grains, which includes any interstellar material that should happen to enter our solar system," reads the site.
Though this explanation makes sense, it raises the question, "what's an asteroid?" The website ktvb.com explains, "A meteoroid is anything from the size of a grain of sand up to a boulder. Anything bigger than that is considered an asteroid. "
OK, now what is a meteor? Well, the term "meteor" actually refers to the reaction that occurs when a falling meteoroid passes through Earth's atmosphere. The website Space Today explains that, "Meteors are the streaks of light associated with the burning of small chunks of rock or interplanetary debris [meteoroids] as they arrive in Earth's atmosphere from space." Just to clarify, the actual space rocks/debris are the meteoroids, and when they contact our atmosphere, they create meteors. "A sky-watcher under a dark clear sky might see a few [meteors] per hour on an average night. On the other hand, during one of the annual meteor showers, a sky-watcher might see up to 100 per hour," reads Space Today.
Now come the meteorites. According to Space Today, "A meteorite is a meteoroid large enough to survive the fall to Earth's surface." Basically, space debris can only be meteoroids while they are in outer space. Once they touch Earth's soil, they technically become meteorites.
Monday, October 12, 2009
If you have a pet cat, you may often wonder, as I do, how such a playful, affectionate, and generally easy to live with creature could have evolved from the feral feline beasts that lurk in the jungles of Africa and Asia. Even my utterly domestic cat, who knows no predators and has never had to hunt a day in his life, has painfully sharp teeth and claws that he not only knows how to use, but that he rather seems to enjoy using at times. So how did humans and cats end up forging such a docile relationship? How did these fierce hunters end up in our homes?
According to the informational domestic cat website, boutiquekittens.com, interactions between cats and humans go way back. The bones of cats have been found next to the bones of humans, dating back to the Stone Age. "It is unclear what kind of relationship they had – possibly the cats were just drawn to the food and warmth of human settlements, but didn’t hang around longer than it took to forage scraps," reads the site.
It was the Egyptains, however, that first documented a relationship between humans and cats. According to the aforementioned website, "Tomb scenes dating from 1540 BC showed that cats played a large part in everyday Egyptian life." There is agreement among researchers that the Egyptians were the first to domesticate wild cats into house pets; however, it is unclear exactly when this happened. The website unexplainable.net says, "There is no exact date that one can conclude when the cat was domesticated in Egypt, but researchers believe that the act took place around 2000 BC. Researchers have tried many times to pinpoint a date when the domesticated cat emerged, but ancient Egyptians did not indicate the differences between wild and tame cats in their records. Interestingly, the Egyptians had one word to refer to a cat (miu or mii), which translates into 'he or she who meows.' "
The species of cat that Egyptians befriended was the African Wild Cat, or Felis Libyca, according to unexplainable.net. This species is, "one of the closest wild relatives of the modern cat, explains the site, adding that it was slightly larger than today's house cats, and, "had yellow-gray fur, striped markings, and a long tail that tapered off." Though these cats (pictured at right) are undoubtedly less intimidating than a lion or tiger, they are still very much wild, carnivorous, and territorial. So how did they make their way into the hearts and homes of Ancient Egyptians?
It seems the Egyptians actually appreciated the felines' predatory nature rather than fearing it. Unexplainable.net explains that, "The villages of ancient Egypt faced a number of poisonous snakes, rats and mice that attacked food supplies within the households and snuck into the village granaries. The wild cat would come into the villages and hunt down the vermin, ridding the community of one of their number one threats. Some researchers theorize that the Egyptians would leave pieces of food out to bring in more wild cats."
The website Freerepublic.com explains further the popular theory that the Egyptians eventually allowed the wild cats into their homes because the cats became known as pest controllers, rather than pests themselves. Once the cats became familiar with human surroundings and realized that humans were not a threat to them, "[they] allowed themselves to be tamed and raised their kittens in a human environment. As soon as the Egyptians began supplying the cats with food, thereby significantly changing their diet, and breeding them for certain characteristics, the cats were domesticated. They were perfect pets-playful, intelligent, affectionate and helpful to the farmers who sustained life in ancient Egypt," reads the website.
As a result, the Egyptains came to consider the cat to be a very sacred animal. Freerepublic.com points out that the Egyptains actually went through the trouble to mummify some cats, and it even became popular to name children after the cat. "Many Egyptian parents named their children after cats, especially their daughters. Some girls were called Mit or Miut," states freerepublic.com
Very few purely wild African Wild Cats still exist in the world today, according to South Africa Explored. The site explains that, "Pure genetic stock of the African Wild Cat is today only found in remote areas [of Africa and the Middle East]. Elsewhere interbreeding with domestic cats has taken place." Still, it is quite likely that the cat you share your home with (if you share your home with a cat) is a descendant of an African Wild Cat domesticated by the Ancient Egyptians. Unexplainable.net points out that much of the characteristic aloofness of modern house cats was inherited from their wild ancestors.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Lede: I give the lede a 17 out of 20. It drew me in and was somewhat creative, but there's room for improvement.
Content: The content was great. The author obviously did his research and was able to convey an essence of Hawking and his ideas to readers. 20 out of 20.
Organization: I was also very impressed with this aspect of the article. There is so much info in the article, and I'm sure when the author sat down to write, he really had to wrap his mind around everything he wanted the article to say. He was able to get it all down in a logical way. 20 out of 20.
Writing Style: I enjoyed the style. It managed to be authoritative and conversational at the same time. 19 out of 20
Clarity: I didn't have too much trouble understanding the science in the article, but I have a bit of astronomy background. I think some of the science in the article is over a lot of people's heads. The author tries to explain things in simple terms, but concepts such as singularities, event horizons, and quantum uncertainty can take some time to wrap your head around. 15 out of 20.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
According to Cecil Adams of the website The Straight Dope, flamingos eat a diet high in carotenoid compounds. The most well known of such compounds is probably Beta Carotene, which is found in a variety of vegetables including carrots. "Carotenoids tend to be a persistent red orange in color," explains Adams. "Depending on formulation, they impart a red, pink, orange, yellow, or even green cast to some plants and to the higher links in the food chain by which those plants are consumed."
Though it is unlikely to see a flamingo snacking on a carotenoid packed broccoli stock or a carrot, flamingos are big fans of brine shrimp, and brine shrimp are big fans of algae, which contains carotenoids. In short, the shrimp act as carotenoid carriers for flamingos. Catherine Side explains on the African Conservation Foundation website that when flamingos ingest shrimp the carotenoid chemicals, "are not broken down and have extremely low water solubility, [so] they are deposited in the feathers of flamingos."
So what happens when flamingos don't get their recommended dose of carotenoids? They turn white. R.P Dales of the University of London explains on the African Conservation Website, that when the birds shed their feathers (a habit known as moulting), they shed the pink pigment also, so if that pigment is not replenished via carotenoid consumption, the flamingos will become pale.
Interestingly enough, flamingos are not the only animals whose hue comes from their food. "The pink color of some other birds, such as spoonbills and the pink ibis, is also due to carotenoids," says Dales. In addition, Adams points out that, "Salmon caught in the wild are orange because of their diet of crustaceans that contain carotenoid. The flesh of farm-raised salmon, which don't feed on crustaceans, is an unappetizing gray unless the fish are given the carotenoid astaxanthin."
So are human skin pigments affected by carotenoids? According to Adams, they certainly can be. "If [humans] eat enough carrots (which, duh, contain carotene), they'll turn orange," he says. "And if they have no interest in eating vegetables but would still like to be orange, they can take beta carotene pills providing 10 to 30 times the normal dietary amount."
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Just the thought of an environment where temperatures may drop to as low as -95 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to make me throw on a sweater, turn up my heat, and brew myself a cup of hot chocolate. But for some species of penguins, that environment is home, and they don't even have scarves to put on, let alone sweaters. That being said, these feathered, flightless creatures beg the questions, "How do penguins keep from freezing to death?" and even so, "don't they ever get cold?"
It seems that there are actually several factors that keep penguins from freezing to death. The website Cool Antarctica explains that one reason they are able to survive the brutal cold is because of their size. Emperor Penguins can weigh as much as 66 pounds, and though they aren't huge animals, they are large enough to combat the cold. "The larger the animal, the smaller the surface-area to volume ratio," reads the website, "so the less relative area there is to lose heat." If this doesn't make sense, just think of a glass of water in the freezer. The more water in the cup, the longer it will take to freeze. The larger the animal, the longer it will take to cool down.
In addition to their size, Penguins have two built in features that come in very handy at below freezing temperatures. Firstly, a layer of fat under the surface of their skin. According to Cool Antarctica, this fat layer is like insulation for penguins and is especially crucial when the birds are in the water. "It keeps all warm blooded, cold water animals operational down to 25.8 degrees Fahrenheit," says the site. But surely Antarctic waters get much much colder than that. How do the penguins know to get out of the water before it drops below 25.8? Well, Cool Antarctic explains, "you can't get sea water colder than that without it being solid and then it would difficult for anything to swim in it!"
A second feature important to the survival of penguins in the cold are their feathers. Though they do little to protect penguins in the water, their feathers are extremely useful on land as both a second layer of insulation, and a way of drying off. "Penguin feathers aren't like the large flat feathers that flying birds have, they are short with an under-layer of fine woolly down," says Cool Antarctica. "Penguin feathers are also very good at shedding water when the bird emerges from the sea. They overlap and give a good streamlined effect in the water and excellent wind-shedding abilities when on the land," reads the site.
But surely Penguins get a little chilly sometimes, right? Yes, especially their feet, which don't have that warm layer of fat to protect them. Obviously, if their feet got too cold, they wouldn't be able to move them, which would lead to inactivity, and even bigger problems. However, Penguins have a built in mechanism to deal with that also. According to Cool Antarctica, the muscles that penguins use to operate their feet, are not actually in their feet, but rather in an area of the body that is protected by the penguin's fat layer and feathers. "This means that it doesn't matter if the feet and flippers get really cold as they can still be operated normally by regions that are fully functional and at normal body temperature," explains the site.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I like this lede because it creates intense imagery in the mind of the reader; uses startling words like crackling, asphyxiate, and plunge; and finds creative ways to insert important scientific data without disengaging the reader.
The lede is as follows:
The crackling radiation would kill you in 10 minutes--that is, if you did not first asphyxiate in the nearly nonexistent atmosphere, die of exposure to the --300 degree Fahrenheit temperature, or plunge into a thousand-foot-deep icy crevice. Jupiter’s moon Europa is a forbidding world, yet NASA intends to devote billions of dollars over the next decade to getting there. At the center of this effort will be the most complicated orbital explorer ever built, each of its components carefully armored against the deadly stream of particles in Jupiter’s massive wake. The orbiter will require six years to reach its destination. Then, when it arrives at Europa, engineers will consider the mission successful if it survives for just three months of exploration before shorting out.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
It was during a procedure of this nature that Finn and I encountered the Mustard White, a type of moth that lives in various regions of the eastern United States, as well as, north into Canada.
The moth, who is known as Pieris oleracea in the scientific community, was a little over an inch in diameter and solid white in color. The website, Butterflies and Moths of North America, explains that, "[The] summer form is pure white above and below. [The] spring form has [a] black-tipped upper fore-wing. [The] underside of [the] hind-wing and apex of [the] forewing have veins edged with yellow-green or gray-green."
I undoubtedly saw the summer form of the moth, which makes sense since I saw it in late August. The picture above, however, is of the spring form of the creature.
The aforementioned website also explains that the male moths seek out females to reproduce with. Then, the females lay their eggs on the undersides of plants in the Mustard family (hence their name). The eggs hatch into caterpillars which eat the leaves of the Mustard plant. After hiding in a Crysalis and hibernating for some time, they reemerge as Mustard White moths. The adult moths drink the nectar from Mustard plants and have an average wing span of about one to just over two inches. They generally live in wooded areas, fields, or along streams.
While I was researching the Mustard White, I found that some resources were referring to it as a moth, while others called it a butterfly. I have always felt that butterflies are angelic, graceful creatures, and moths are butterflies that have chosen the dark side and become evil, disgusting creatures. It seems, however, that the difference between the two is not as cut and dry as I suspected.
The website insects.about.com, explains that, "There is no real taxonomic difference between butterflies and moths. Both are classified in the order Lepidoptera. This order contains over 100 families of insects worldwide, some of which are moths and some of which are butterflies. However, there are some differences in physical and behavioral characteristics that are easy to learn and recognize." Please see this website for a detailed list of these differences.
Lastly is a piece of information that I was unable to confirm with any reliable internet source, but I believe it to be true based on my own experience; Mustard Whites are a favorite evening snack of house cats.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Normally I am not a fan of using a quote in a lede, but this article is the exception. Sean B. Carrol uses one short, yet intense quote from the movie Jaws to draw the reader in and almost guarantee that he or she will read the entire article, hanging on every word. What's most interesting is that the quote isn't even a complete sentence, but it simply doesn't matter because the visual is so intense that you must find out the context of the quote.
The article begins:
"Like a locomotive with a mouth full of butcher knives."
Monday, September 14, 2009
Last night I was driving through Vermont, on my way to the Grand Isle Ferry. It was about 11pm when a skunk scurried across the road in front of my car. Obviously I am familiar with what a skunk is, and I recognized it right away; however, I have chosen to write about it because this was the first time I had ever actually seen a live skunk in the wild (although I have certainly smelt them before).
I caught quite a good glimpse of it as it passed in front of my vehicle, before disappearing into the darkness. It was a cute little black and white creature with a big bushy tail, and it reminded me a bit of a stuffed animal that had come to life.
The striped skunk, whose scientific name is, Mephitis mephitis, is a member of the weasel family and is a nocturnal animal who prefers to reside in brushy or wooded areas or in underground burrows, according to this informative website. This site also explains that female skunks have an average litter size of 4 to 7 young, which are born blind and with little hair. Their average lifespan is about six years.
Of course, the skunk is infamous for the horrid smell it sprays as a defense mechanism. The Wildlife Orphanage explains that skunks spray when they feel frightened and that they can spray their obnoxious, lingering scent up to ten feet.
The Striped Skunk Natural History Notebook explains that, “Skunks have few natural enemies; the Great Horned Owl is the main one. Other carnivores tend to avoid them unless they are desperate for food.” Perhaps the potential odor of the skunk kills the appetites of most other animals…
Aside from their smell, They are actually very cute! Click here to view photos...
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The first several paragraphs are spent discussing obvious ideas. Of course birth order is important because as the article points out,”it is said that no two children grow up in the same family, because each sibling’s experience is so different.” Shouldn’t the author avoid making statements that he himself acknowledges have been said before?
To write an article that points out that the order in which children in a family are born affects who they are is like writing an article that says that the century in which you were born affects who you are. DUH!
The article then tries to suggest that birth order may affect IQ. In a way this is obvious too because if a first child is born into a more stimulating environment than a later child, it would make sense that the first child would have a better chance of developmental success. However, I do not buy that first born children are more intelligent simply because they were born first. This seems a bit ridiculous especially since the evidence offered leaves a lot to be desired:
“Norwegian study, published in 2007, which found that eldest siblings’ I.Q.’s averaged about three points higher than their younger brothers’. (The study made use of Norwegian military records, so all the subjects were male.)
This is just one study of an isolated group of people who all happen to be male and of the same nationality. What about random selection of subjects? What about more subjects!?
Lastly, I did not like the author’s choice to use the first person in this article. I felt like his personal insights were irrelevant and annoying.
Friday, September 4, 2009
This week I read the article, “A Doomed Planet, and Scientists Are Lucky to Have Spotted It,” by Kenneth Chang on nyt.com. I chose this article because I have taken two years of astronomy, and I find the cosmos intriguing.
Some of the information conveyed in the article blew my mind (as astronomy often does; I think that’s why I like it), such as the fact that a million years is considered, “an eye blink on the cosmic scale.” It’s also incredible to think about a planet that orbits its star in less than 24 hours, while it takes Earth an entire year to orbit our sun. This demonstrates the proximity of WASP-18b to its star.
In addition to being interesting, this article was also well written. Chang did a good job of putting probability into perspective with his example of the likelihood of, “drawing two red aces in a row from a full deck of cards.” I also appreciate the inclusion of the parenthetical information about WASP-18b being located in the constellation of Phoenix. Sometimes as a journalist you acquire a piece of non-essential information that you just can’t help but want to share with your reader.
Lastly, I enjoyed the link to the journal, Nature. I’m not sure that I have ever read a science journal letter before, and it was neat to hear about the astronomer’s findings in their own words. I can see how journals are incredibly useful resources for science writers.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
I felt that the article never fully explained how a fossil can be alive. Is a fossil not the impression of a once living body left in rock? The article states that there is evidence that, Paleodictyon nodosum, a creature thought to have been extinct 50 million years ago, may actually still alive; yet, it does not explain what this evidence is. The article says that no body parts or DNA has been recovered, so what proof is there of a living thing? Also, even if there is proof, wouldn't that creature simply be a living thing, and not a living fossil?
Despite my confusion, the article sparked my interest with its mention of the Sea Lily, an ancient creature that lives in the dark depths of the ocean. These creatures look very much like plants, although it seems they have arms and mouths and can actually run from predators. I found a cool video of a Sea Lily moving across the ocean floor. Click to Watch Video
Lastly, I found one of the article's quote from Peter A. Rona, the scientist studying the 'living fossil' to be particularly interesting. Rona states, "“It’s science. It’s detective work. It’s about racking up one clue after another.” I like this statement a lot because the same could be said about journalism. The same way in which scientists much search for answers to the natural world's wonders, journalists must search for answers to society's happenings.