Salmon Cannon


The Salmon Cannon: Easier Than Shooting Fish Out Of A Barrel



Across Washington State, hydroelectric dams are blocking salmon as they migrate to their spawning grounds. Enter the salmon cannon.

Across Washington State, hydroelectric dams are blocking salmon as they migrate to their spawning grounds. Enter the salmon cannon. Ingrid Taylar/Flickr

Ever since rivers have been dammed, destroying the migration routes of salmon, humans have worked to create ways to help the fish return to their spawning grounds. We’ve built ladders and elevators; we’ve carried them by hand and transported them in trucks. Even helicopters have been used to fly fish upstream.

But all of those methods are expensive and none of them are efficient.

Enter the salmon cannon.  The device uses a pressure differential to suck up a fish, send it through a tube at up to 22 mph and then shoot it out the other side, reaching heights of up to 30 feet. This weekend, it will be used to move hatchery fish up a tributary of the Columbia River in Washington.

The device was developed by Whooshh Innovations in Bellevue, Wash. CEO Vince Bryan tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer that the word “cannon” is a bit of a misnomer: the device looks like a cannon, and shoots fish out like a cannon, but unlike the weapon, this device is designed to move items gently.

Bryan says that despite their journey — which takes them out of the water for the duration of their flight — the fish don’t seem worse for the wear.

“From the very beginning of the test that was a concern,” Bryan says. “It may be just ten seconds to go as much as 250 feet … [but] there seems to be no effect. The fish enter the water and swim away.”

Pacific Or Bust: Fingerling Chinook salmon are dumped into a holding pen Tuesday as they are transferred from a truck into the Sacramento River in Rio Vista, Calif. From here, they'll be towed downstream for a bit, then make their own way out to the Pacific Ocean.
Compared to scaling a 350-foot high dam, it’s a relatively easy way to get from point A to point B. The cannon that went operational this weekend is being used to transport hatchery fish, but state agencies are studying the cannon to see if it can be used in rivers where federally protected species of wild salmon are migrating.

Bryan says his company’s vacuum technology was originally designed to transport fragile fruit in Washington’s apple and pear orchards. Whooshh created a vacuum tube that allowed pickers to drop the fruit into a tube attached to their waist, where it was sucked up and sent down the line — all with no damage to the fruit.

In fact, a lot of things were sent through the vacuum contraption before salmon, Bryan says, including potatoes — with a French fry cutter on one end of the tube.

“So the potatoes went through the tube as a whole potato and when they came out the other side they were French fries,” he says.

They’ve also had human volunteers, although Bryan says that the company hasn’t created a tube that’s large enough.

“There really is no limit to what we can move,” he says.

He says the physics works the same whether it’s a fish or person — the tricky part is sticking the landing.

Desert Mystery Solved



An Icy Solution To The Mystery Of The Slithering Stones

The granulated surface of the lake bed known as the Racetrack is a favorite destination for tourists — and for scientists who want to investigate trails left by the meandering stones.

The granulated surface of the lake bed known as the Racetrack is a favorite destination for tourists — and for scientists who want to investigate trails left by the meandering stones.  Momatiuk – Eastcott/Corbis

A century ago, miners working in California’s Death Valley reported seeing boulders on the desert floor with long trails behind them — as if the stones had been pushed across the sand. But despite 60 years of trying, no one ever saw what moved them.

The cavity in this rock will carry the GPS instrument package and its battery pack across the desert.  Richard Norris

Now scientists think they’ve solved the mystery of the “slithering rocks of Death Valley.” Using GPS tags pasted to the boulders, and a video camera, a geologist from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his engineer cousin have evidence that broad, jagged panes of melting ice push the stones across the desert, nudged in one direction or another by the breeze. The team details their results in the current issue of the journal Plos One.

For decades, scientists trekked out to a dry lake bed in Death Valley called the Racetrack to see these rocks for themselves. Some of the stones weigh as much as 500 pounds. And many do indeed leave a long trail in the sand; some paths are straight, some zigzag. “They do things like … take high-angle turns,” says Richard Norris. “Sometimes they reverse course.”

Norris, a geologist at Scripps, was just as puzzled as everyone else when he first saw the rock trails. Some were even parallel, as if the rocks had moved in tandem. “They are just going every which way out there,” he says, “but in a very regular kind of fashion — like they’re moving in fleets.”

Fleets of boulders mysteriously sliding across the lake bed, or playa — a small community of scientists became rather obsessed with the phenomenon. “Every couple of years,” Norris says, “somebody goes out there and tries to figure out what’s going on.”

Some scientists said windstorms were behind it. In 1953, a guy landed a plane on the lake bed and tried moving the rocks with the wash from his propellers. No go. Though a few stones rolled, they didn’t slide. The trails were clearly not the sort made by rolling rocks.

View of the partly flooded Racetrack shortly after the Dec. 20, 2013, event in which hundreds of rocks carved trails in the mud as they were pushed along by floating ice.

View of the partly flooded Racetrack shortly after the Dec. 20, 2013, event in which hundreds of rocks carved trails in the mud as they were pushed along by floating ice.  Richard Norris

Another group thought, “It’s ice!” Temperatures get below freezing on the playa in winter. Maybe the rocks were ice-skating. But no one observed it.

Norris and his cousin had an idea: What if we put GPS trackers on those rocks, and video cameras around them?

Didn’t anyone think they were nuts?

“Oh, well, kind of,” Norris admits. “I think that a lot of people thought, ‘Why are you putting GPS trackers on rocks?’ ”

But it paid off. Here’s how Norris remembers that December day at the lake bed, just before dawn: “It was beautiful sunny conditions — this sort of light breeze blowing, that was not even strong enough to blow your hat off.”

Rain had fallen the day before, he says, and, overnight, a thin sheet of ice had formed on the desert surface.

Then the sun came up.

“And at that point the ice began to melt out in the center of the playa,” Norris says, “and the ice began to pop and crackle all across the playa surface as the ice began to move.”

Sheets of ice — thin, but 40 or 50 feet across — were sliding atop a film of melted water. “It’s basically being like a tugboat or a bulldozer,” Norris says. “It’s pushing the rocks very slowly along.”

Jim Norris shot this video (sped up here) of a rock moving in Death Valley on Jan. 9. The darker, central section is a sheet of floating ice pushing the rock.

The Mysterious Moving Rock

Not that slowly. The rocks slid several feet per minute along the muddy desert floor. By the end of the day, some had moved hundreds of feet. And by noon, the ice and water had evaporated, leaving behind, in the now-dry sand, the furrowed trails that marked each rock’s journey.

Norris’ group tracked and filmed this migration — and witnessed it with their own eyes.

He says the right conditions — rain followed by cold and sunshine, a steady wind and mud that’s just slippery enough — coincide very rarely. He was lucky. But the effort was worth it.

“It’s so much fun!” he says. “Pretty much everybody was out there because it was a neat problem, and it was fun to do. And I think there’s no purer form of science than that.”

Hitchhiking Robot




STORIES  and VIDEO including Hitchbot’s journal

Hi there!

I am hitchBOT — a robot from Port Credit, Ontario.

I am traveling from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia this summer (4000 miles). As you may have guessed, robots cannot get driver’s licences yet, so I’ll be hitchhiking my entire way. I have been planning my trip with the help of my big family of researchers in Toronto, and I am excited to make new friends, have interesting conversations, and see new places along the way.

You can follow my journey on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. If you see me by the side of the road, don’t be afraid to pick me up.


– hitchBOT

Los Angeles Times story


Who Speaks Wukchumni?



Rich recommended this interesting piece.  rjn

Who Speaks Wukchumni?

BY Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee | Aug. 18, 2014 | 9:16  New York Times

Marie Wilcox dictionary

VIDEO      This short documentary profiles the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni, a Native American language, and her creation of a comprehensive dictionary.

Throughout the United States, many Native American languages are struggling to survive. According to Unesco, more than 130 of these languages are currently at risk, with 74 languages considered “critically endangered.” These languages preserve priceless cultural heritage, and some hold unexpected value — nuances in these languages convey unparalleled knowledge of the natural world. Many of these at-risk languages are found in my home state of California. Now for some, only a few fluent speakers remain.

This Op-Doc tells the story of Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language, and the dictionary she has created. I met her through the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, an organization that encourages the revival of languages like Wukchumni. Through training and mentorship, it has supported Ms. Wilcox’s work for several years. Ms. Wilcox’s tribe, the Wukchumni, is not recognized by the federal government. It is part of the broader Yokuts tribal group native to Central California. Before European contact, as many as 50,000 Yokuts lived in the region, but those numbers have steadily diminished. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 200 Wukchumni remain.

Like most Native Americans, the Wukchumni did not write their language until recently. Although several linguists documented the grammar of the Wukchumni language in the 20th century, Ms. Wilcox’s dictionary is the longest work of its kind. Ms. Wilcox has also recorded an oral version of the dictionary, including traditional Wukchumni stories like the “How We Got Our Hands” parable featured in the film. The pronunciation of the language, including intricate accents, will be preserved, which will assist future learners of the language.


Vanishing Voices

One language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear, as communities abandon native tongues in favor of English, Mandarin, or Spanish. What is lost when a language goes silent?               National Geographic

Enduring Voices     Vanishing languages.Enduring Voices


First Woman to Get Highest Math Prize


Please note:  When Alice was in high school, she tried to register for the most advanced math course.  She was told, “Girls don’t take that course.”  She insisted and became the only girl in the class.  Guess what–the class was taught by a woman!  rjn

First female winner for Fields maths medal

 By Jonathan Webb  Science reporter, BBC News 12 August 2014   SOURCE
medal presentationProf Mirzakhani (right) received her medal from South Korean President Park Geun-Hye

An Iranian mathematician working in the US has become the first ever female winner of the celebrated Fields Medal.

In a landmark hailed as “long overdue”, Prof Maryam Mirzakhani was recognised for her work on complex geometry.

Four of the medals were presented in Seoul at the International Congress of Mathematicians, held every four years.

Also among the winners was Prof Martin Hairer from the University of Warwick, UK, whose work on randomness could prove useful for climate modelling.

Awarded by a committee from the International Mathematical Union (IMU), the Fields Medal is regarded as something akin to a Nobel Prize for maths. It was established by Canadian mathematician John Fields and comes with a 15,000 Canadian dollar (£8,000) cash prize.

First awarded in 1936 and then every four years since 1950, the medal is awarded to between two and four researchers, who must be no older than 40, because Fields wanted to encourage the winners to strive for “further achievement” as well as recognise their success.

The other two medals were won by Dr Artur Avila, a Brazilian mathematician who earned his PhD in dynamical systems at the age of 21, and Prof Manjul Bhargava, a Canadian-American number theorist at Princeton University.

In becoming the very first female medallist, Prof Mirzakhani – who teaches at Stanford University in California – ends what has been a long wait for the mathematics community.

Prof Dame Frances Kirwan, a member of the medal selection committee from the University of Oxford, pointed out that despite being viewed traditionally as “a male preserve”, women have contributed to mathematics for centuries.

She noted that around 40% of maths undergraduates in the UK are women, but that proportion declines rapidly at PhD level and beyond.

mathematical saddleProf Mirzakhani’s winning work relates to convoluted mathematical constructions called Riemann surfaces
Martin HairerAustrian-born Prof Martin Hairer was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2014

“I hope that this award will inspire lots more girls and young women, in this country and around the world, to believe in their own abilities and aim to be the Fields Medallists of the future,” Prof Kirwan said.

Prof Sir John Ball, another British mathematician and a former president of the IMU, agreed that Prof Mirzakhani’s win was “fantastically important”. Speaking to BBC News from the congress in Seoul, South Korea, he said that a female winner was overdue and that Prof Mirzakhani is one of many brilliant women mathematicians.

He added that the committee had an unenviable job choosing the winners. “These four are really deserving of this recognition, but of course any work at this level also builds on exceptional work by other people.”

Prof Mirzakhani’s seminal research concerns shapes called Riemann surfaces. These are convoluted mathematical objects that can be analysed using complex numbers – i.e. numbers with real and imaginary parts.

In particular, she has studied “moduli spaces” of these shapes, which map all of the possible geometries of a Riemann surface into their own, new space.

Prof Alison Etheridge, a lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Oxford, said she was thrilled by the announcement.

“Women are doing so well now in mathematics that this is just icing on the cake,” she told the BBC. “It’s the sort of thing which will really catch the public’s imagination – and as a result I think it could have quite an impact on a new generation.”

Randomness in reality

Prof Etheridge is more familiar with the work of the medallist from Warwick, Martin Hairer.

“I think Martin has done some of the most remarkable mathematics,” she said.

burning paperAdding an account of randomness to particular equations can help explain the physical interaction between two substances, like ash and paper in a smouldering sheet

“Traditionally, maths has been quite divided into pure and applied. But what has happened over the past decade or so, is that people have realised that to do modern applied mathematics, you really need a whole armoury of techniques from pure mathematics – especially if you’re going to take account of random effects.

“What Martin’s work does is it allows you to take account of randomness in a way we just didn’t think was possible.”

Fields medalThe Fields medal is engraved with a likeness of Archimedes

Prof Hairer’s award is specifically for his contribution to a particular type of equation, known as a partial differential equation or PDE. His theory allows mathematicians to predict how physical processes will develop when they contain elements of randomness.

A key example is modelling how the boundary changes over time between two different substances. Prof Terry Lyons, a colleague of Prof Hairer’s at Oxford, uses the example of the interface between ash and paper, when a sheet is slowly burning.

“But the sort of examples that it applies to in the longer term are boundless,” Prof Lyons added, noting that climate science in particular was “where it might end up”.

“Martin has tackled a fundamental problem and achieved a complete step-change in our understanding of it.”

Another Hawk

Cooper’s hawksharp-shinned hawk                                         more photos                                      and more photos

Yesterday I was excited to see a hawk land in the driveway in our back yard, Cooper’s hawk or sharp-shinned hawk. The birds at the feeder left promptly.  It stood there for a few minutes, so that I was able to walk across the deck to within ten feet of it and look closely.  It flew then to the garage roof, rested there, and flew to a low branch of the sugar maple tree where I could walk under it to look again.  Finally, it dropped back down to the driveway, look up, and rose fast to pick something off a branch and fly off.  After a few minutes, the usual customers returned to the feeder.

I wonder why I’m fascinated by raptors, birds that snatch prey and carry it off to eat or feed to young. Maybe it’s because, large or small, they look and are so deadly and still so beautiful.

The largest land bird in North America is the California condor with wing-span of  9 feet; the  Andean condor is a little bigger.  Condors are not raptors but carrion (dead stuff) eaters, vultures.  The California condor nearly went extinct, but the remaining 22 birds were captured in 1987, bred, and the resulting population was successfully returned to the wild mountains.  rjn



Panda Triplets



China announces birth of rare panda triplets


Chinese zoo unveils world's 'first' surviving panda triplets: Triplet panda cubs rest in an incubator at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong province Tuesday Aug. 12, 2014.AP Photo

Triplet panda cubs rest in an incubator at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou in south China’s Guangdong province Tuesday Aug. 12, 2014.

Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — China announced Tuesday the birth of extremely rare panda triplets in a further success for the country’s artificial breeding program.

The three cubs were born July 29 in the southern city of Guangzhou, but breeders delayed an announcement until they were sure all three would survive, the official China News Service said.

Chinese zoo unveils world's 'first' surviving panda tripletsAP Photo

Giant panda Ju Xiao caresses one of her triplet panda cubs in her cell at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou in south China’s Guangdong province.

The mother, Ju Xiao, and the three as-yet-unnamed cubs are healthy, the news agency said. Photos showed the three sleeping and standing in their incubator, their bodies pink and mostly hairless. Ju Xiao was impregnated in March with sperm from a panda living at a Guangzhou zoo.

Ju Xiao was under round-the-clock care for the final weeks of her pregnancy, according to the report. The triplets were born within four hours of each other and currently weigh between 230 grams (8 ounces) and 333 grams (12 ounces).

Chinese zoo presents world’s ‘first’ surviving panda triplets

Chinese zoo presents world's 'first' surviving panda triplets

The report said the triplets were only the fourth known to have been born in the world through artificial breeding programs, but it wasn’t clear how many had survived from such births.

China has devoted major resources to increasing the numbers of the country’s unofficial national mascot and regularly announces the birth of pandas born at zoos and at the Wolong breeding center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, where most wild pandas are found.

There are about 1,600 giant pandas in the wild, where they are critically endangered due to loss of habitat and low birth rates. More than 300 live in captivity, mostly in China’s breeding programs.

Triplet panda cubs get the latest medical treatment and equipment in the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong province Tuesday Aug. 12, 2014.AP Photo

Triplet panda cubs get the latest medical treatment and equipment in the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou in south China’s Guangdong province Tuesday Aug. 12, 2014.

Sunny Morning


Sunny morning–
a kiss, a smile, and Alice backs
her truck out to go westering again.
On the deck I take my ease,
feet up on the rail.
Silver maple shades our small lawn.

Birds flit about the feeder,
tempting the hawk—sparrows at the seed,                                                             wary woodpecker on the suet,                                                                               bracing with his tail.  Goldfinch swings                                                                         on the thistle bag. Doves and squirrels                                                                     clean up underneath.  The cardinals call.                                                                   These feet are wrinkled, blue-veined,                                                                           right one slightly swollen. Small toes,                                                                         broken several times, tuck in.                                                                                    A hummingbird may come.                                                                                     My wife is gone.


On Tuesday,  Alice will leave for her annual western trip. First stop is Boulder, Colorado, for her 70th birthday party with sons, daughters-in-law, grand-daughters, nephew and cousin.  She will go on to the wonderful week of Burning Man in Nevada where she’ll rejoin the VW Bus Camp.   She’ll shoot craps in Reno, then wend her way home camping at state parks.

Image result for volkswagen camper photosA vehicle like Alice’s.                                                       No trees at Burning Man.                                                                                        It’s held in flat, barren desert,                                                                               subject to heavy dust storms, ugh! rjn

Comet Landing


                               EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY PHOTO

The Rosetta’s images of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko may help scientists better understand Earth’s evolution.

Rendezvous finally comes for probe, comet

LONDON — Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft reached its final destination Wednesday after a decade-long journey into deep space that aims to place the first lander on a comet.

Rosetta began orbiting the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet to glean information about the mass of ice, dust and gas more than 248 million miles from Earth, according to the European Space Agency, which launched the probe in March 2004.

 In November, it’s due to send a smaller craft down onto the comet to take more measurements.

“Ten years we’ve been in the car waiting to get to scientific Disneyland,” ESA senior scientific adviser Mark McCaughrean said Wednesday on the agency’s online TV channel. “And we’re there now.”

  Scientists hope to learn about the evolution of the solar system by studying comets, which date back 4.6 billion years when the planets were forming.   Researchers also are searching for organic molecules that represent the building blocks for life, which comets may have brought to Earth in its early years.

“It’ll help us to model better the evolution of the planets out of the pre-solar nebula,” said Gerhard Schwehm, an ESA consultant and manager of the mission from its liftoff until he retired last year.

    The Paris-based European Space Agency has 20 member countries, including Britain, Germany and France.

The Rosetta mission is the first attempt to orbit and land a probe on a comet.  NASA has also launched two missions to study comets in the past 20 years.

Bloomberg News