Friday, June 29, 2007

Hike Los Alamos. No risk of detonation.

Los Alamos is a world famous city. Atomic bomb Atomic bomb. But we're so much more than that, and the perceived paradigm is shifting. Why, my favorite soap opera couple on the Young and the Restless got married in Los Alamos, portrayed as a Texas cowboy town on the show (their plane had to make an emergency landing at the Los Alamos airport due to bad weather).

I can tell you, not many Texan cowboy types here. And I work with computer models to better understand HIV and the immune system, not bombs. The division I work in focuses on science that helps people. I don't know a single person who voted for Bush in my building. I can't vouch for people outside my building though.

Develop your own view of Los Alamos, come here and hike.

We have beautiful aspen and pine trees. Aspen are not individual trees. They share a common root system that shoots up new trees when the old ones die. An aspen grove grows and can cover more ground each year.

In the winter, you can ski or snowshoe.
I have big plans for future blog entries. I like hiking, but I grew up in a city and was never a girl scout. I know almost nothing about geology, flowers, or local birds. My preferred way to learn is to hike with knowledgeable people who can show me these things. Soon, I will highlight the volcanic influence on the landscape here, and also include some flowers and their names. Come visit me.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A tough egg to crack.

Life is hard. If you don't believe me, watch March of the Penguins. Perfect illustration of how things are rough all over for everyone.
Earlier I wrote about baking eggs instead of boiling. "No water," I said. "Perfect consistency is within your reach!" I tried to exploit this technique to make an egg that had firm whites and a runny yolk, and then realized I had read the original article incorrectly. While the egg white protein Ovotransferrin denatures at 142 degrees Fahrenheit and the yolk at 158F, the majority of the egg white, Ovalbumin, doesn't coagulate until 184F.

I realized my mistake when I tried to bake eggs again, first in my oven, then my toaster oven. I discovered my secondhand appliances cannot maintain a constant low temperature. How can I become an egg connoisseur with such poor oven resolution? I wanted to be like Hervé This in the Discovery article, "Ah, a 152 degree egg." I ran my first trial with two eggs: I set the oven to 160F. When I returned 30 minutes later, my oven thermometer was at 200F. Rubbery eggs. In my toaster oven, I left an egg for 15 minutes with the oven temperature at 140F and the thermometer reading 150F. The white was uncooked and the yolk had coagulated: obviously not enough time.

Finally, I set the toaster oven on at 150F and watched it diligently. The thermometer showed a temperature of 160F. I left a single egg in the oven for one hour. I unpeeled it. It was cooked, not rubbery, and quite good. But I will not bake any eggs until Easter. If you want runny yolks, frying or poaching is easier, and you don't have to peel.

You could follow the suggestion of Hervé This: "But if the oven in your kitchen is not accurate, cook eggs in plenty of water, using a good thermometer." But then, we're back to using water.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Survival of the fittest, or humans kill meadow birds?

Whenever I hear about an invasive species driving out weaker local species, such as the Argentine ant in California, or crows everywhere, I sometimes think, good for them. Crows are smart, beautiful birds that can thrive alongside people. If they out compete other birds, they deserve to live. I have a hard time appreciating the pure value of diversity.

The Audubon society and the US Geological survey reported early today that many once familiar meadow birds are fading from our sight. Our homes encroach on the meadow birds' homes. Farm land creeps into the birds' territory. Plans to increase reliance on biofuels will only exacerbate this problem. The numbers of more specialized birds are declining. Apparently even household cats are numerous enough to impact bird populations. The poor little guys can't survive in human settlements. Their numbers have declined by as much as 82% in the last 40 years, while turkeys, Canadian geese, and other hardy birds increase in number.
So this is not a war among birds, we are moving into the birds' roaming grounds too fast for them to adapt.

Audubon "Birds in Decline" report, with pictures.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Long term science, dedication beyond death.

I learned about the Long Term Ecological Research Network from fellow blogger Alegra. Currently, 26 sites around the world are involved in this work with the goal of understanding climate change, the human-environment interaction, and changes in biological cycles in both local ecologies and individual species. Scientists are tracking changes in the climate, vegetation, and wildlife using logs from the past and making observations in the present, while planning better data collection strategies for the future. Studies are mapped out for the next 200 years! Although some of these studies will likely reveal scary things about our coming environment, I find it both inspiring and peaceful to picture scientists looking at past data and taking data for future generations. Global warming aside, there is a human continuum beyond our individual lives, that can contribute to an understanding of nature. Hopefully this work will help us prevent the continuum of other species from ending.


S to the Sci-o, B to the Birdie, Sciencebird is in da house!

To all my fly sci's out there, word!

S, C, I, E, N, C, E and bird y'all.
(Repeat, sung to the tune of Fergie's Glamorous.)

If you ain't pub'd in Nature take your sad ass home!
If you ain't pub'd in Science take your sad ass home!

We're flying so high,
flapping our wings
in the sunshine,
infrared beams.

Sciencebird, s-sciencebird sciencbird s-s-sciencebird,...

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

This blog is going to the Dogs!

Do not consume.

I once made a bet with friends that I could eat twelve donuts in 30 minutes. I never made the attempt because if I lost, I lost face, and if I won, I gained waist, plus the knowledge that I can indeed eat a dozen donuts. Kind of lose lose. Unless you are Joey Chestnut, the new champion hot dog eater. Now I love hot dogs, but 59 in 12 minutes? What's the science behind that?

In the world of competitive eating, scientists speculate that champion eaters can 1) repress their vomiting reflex, and 2) tolerate a higher level of discomfort due to fullness. As far as speed goes, the bottle-neck is getting the food down the esophagus, which contracts and relaxes, directing food into the stomach. It takes 9-15 seconds to get it down, which puts an upper-limit of 80 continuous swallows in the 12 minute window. Some speed eaters dream of relaxing their throat muscles like sword swallowers, bypassing this system, and "pouring" food into their stomach, although this dream may be unattainable. See the most scientific article I found on competitive eating here; it's well written.
Thanks to Joan, for pointing this news out to me.

Friday, June 1, 2007

A Perfect "Boiled" Egg Update

My first attempt to bake eggs in the oven, see 5/26 posting.

I set my oven to 160F, who knows what it really is, and set two eggs on the top rack. I forgot about them until I was about to leave for work. Everything was fully cooked, and not rubbery, but the eggs were too fresh and hard to peel.

Next time I will use an oven thermometer and time the eggs, but this does show that no water or pan is necessary to cook an egg in it's shell. I'll never wash dishes again!