Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tools and Tool Management



Those who regularly read this blog will know that I have a fascination with crows. I have repeatedly sung their praises as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet (see here; here; and here). So, when I read another paper about crows and tool use, I naturally wanted to write about it here.

The results of a study published in the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B1, show that not only do New Caledonian Crows use tools, but they also store them for future use. Crows who use sticks to extract food out of holes in the ground or holes in trees will sometimes set the stick aside in a safe place to ensure that the tool is available for the next time it is needed. The authors suggest that the birds are being protective of their tools. We might compare this to the way some humans protect and organize tools in their garage.

While reading this paper I followed some of their references and was surprised to find another paper that referred to a number of aquatic species that use tools. I did not know that there were so many animals capable of tool usage. There are species of dolphins that “wear sponges for protection during foraging;” sea otters that use kelp as a net to trap prey; other sea otters that use rocks as hammers to open shells; and hermit crabs that “carry anemones for protection from predators.”2 It seems that tool usage is a well-documented phenomenon in a number of species. I look forward to better understanding this behavior in the future as we continue to be surprised by the world in which we live.

1 Context-dependent ‘safekeeping’ of foraging tools in New Caledonian crows
Barbara C. Klump, Jessica E. M. van der Wal, James J. H. St Clair, Christian Rutz; Proceedings of the Royal Society B; June 2015; Volume: 282 Issue: 1808; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0278 Published 20 May 2015
2 Tool use by aquatic animals; Janet Mann, Eric M. Patterson; Proceedings of the Royal Society B; November 2013 Volume: 368 Issue: 1630; DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0424 Published 7 October 2013

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Venetian Dreams



The popular press has, in recent years, written much about the planet Mars, but very little about Venus. This is to be expected since Mars is the planet of greatest focus for the major space programs of the world. Four planetary rovers have traversed various portions of the Martian surface,1 orbital spacecraft have mapped the surface in great detail, and visionary pioneers have made it their goal to put colonies of humans on Mars.

Yet we should not so quickly ignore the beauty and mystery of Venus. Certainly it would be much more difficult to colonize; yet, as a destination for research and exploration, it is still intriguing. Venus has been compared to our own Earth in a number of ways. Venus has a radius of 6,052 km while Earth has a radius of 6,371 km. Venus has a mass that is 81% of that of Earth. Both are relatively close to our sun. Venus, on average is 108 million km from the sun, while Earth averages 150 million km.2 At their closest, Earth and Venus are only 26 million km apart. Compare this to Earth and Mars that are 34 million km apart at their closest. Due to the elliptical orbits of all three planets, these distances vary widely and there are moments when Earth is closer to Mars than to Venus.3

So, why would it be more difficult to colonize Venus? The answer lies in the thick atmosphere of the planet. Most people recognize that the earth has a greenhouse gas problem, but Venus is the queen of carbon dioxide. Her atmosphere - and yes, the planet has been referred to as feminine ever since it was named after the Greek goddess of beauty - is 96% CO2 and the atmospheric pressure on the surface is 92 times that of our own atmosphere at sea level. That is equivalent to the pressures experienced at a depth of 3000 ft in our own ocean. Spacesuits would not be sufficient to the task; we would need a submarine or bathysphere to be comfortable on the Venetian soil. Even space vehicles built to contemporary standards would be crushed on the surface of this planet. Then there is the heat; the average temperature on Venus is 460 degrees Celsius. For comparison, the average temperature on Earth is 14 degrees, on Mars it is minus 55 degrees, and on Mercury it is 167 degrees Celsius. Venus is our solar system’s hottest planet. All water has long since boiled away and humans would need a lot of air-conditioning to last any length of time on the surface.

Airship colonization has been suggested as one possible way to live on Venus.4 Thirty miles above the surface, the air pressure is one Earth atmosphere. Thus, lighter-than-air balloons might function as research vessels on this planet. Such machines would still need to be well insulated against heat and impervious to high concentrations of sulphuric acid that probably exist at this level in the Venetian atmosphere.5 With a Venetian axis rotation that lasts 243 Earth days, a counter-clockwise rotation around its axis (Uranus is the only other planet in our solar system with a retrograde rotation), a day relative to the sun that is 117 Earth days long, and no moon, it would be a fascinating place to live.6

1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_rover
2. http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Venus_Express/Venus_compared_to_Earth
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus
4. http://qz.com/317243/nasa-scientists-want-to-colonize-venus-with-giant-floating-cities/
5. http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Venus_Express/Acid_clouds_and_lightning
6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Follow-Up To Walking in the Light

In the Light
Written by Charlie Peacock; as Performed by DC Talk
1 John 1:5-7
(Listen while you read)

I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from You
I am the king of excuses
I've got one for every selfish thing I do

What's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light

The disease of self runs through my blood
It's a cancer fatal to my soul
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
To bring this sickness under control

Tell me, what's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light

Honesty becomes me
(There's nothing left to lose)
The secrets that did run me
(In Your presence are defused)
Pride has no position
(And riches have no worth)
The fame that once did cover me
(Has been sentenced to this Earth)
Has been sentenced to this Earth

Tell me, what's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light


I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light

(There's no other place that I want to be)
(No other place that I can see)
(A place to be that's just right)
(Someday I'm gonna be in the Light)
(You are in the Light)
(That's where I need to be)
(That's right where I need to be)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Walking in the Light

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7
What does this passage mean when it uses the words “walk in the light?” Light reveals things and allows them to be seen. Darkness hides; but light reveals. So if we walk in the light we are walking in such a way that our lives are being revealed. When we walk in the dark, we hide things. Walking in the light is about being honest with others. It is about finding someone with whom to be honest when we sin. It is being honest and admitting that we commit sins and are fallen broken people still progressing in a journey of holiness.

Randy Stonehill seems to understand the danger of sins that are hidden in the dark. Listen to the words of his song, “Under the Rug.”
Under The Rug
Lyrics and Music by Randy Stonehill from the album The Lazarus Heart
(Listen here)
I have a secret I can't tell, and I've learned to conceal it well,
Under the rug.

I have a secret I can't tell, and I've learned to conceal it well,
Ah, but this disturbing smell keeps coming from the carpet, (under the rug)
That's where the old ghosts hide away, down in the darkness and decay,
I work so hard to make them stay down beneath the floorboards. (under the rug)

Oh, I needed the perfect plan, but it's all gotten out of hand,
I keep my head in the sand now,
It's so scary under the rug.

"Bury your sins and they won't survive," I told myself 'til the big surprise,
Down in the dirt is where they thrive, like little poison toadstools,
Under the rug,

It's the thing in Pandora's box, biting through all the chains and locks,
Now the whole house is rocking,
It's so scary under the rug, (so scary)
It's so hairy under the rug, (under the rug)
It's so scary under the rug.

Oh, skeletons dance, and I fear they might rattle their bones in the broad daylight,
Oh, yeah.

So I wear a poker face; I close all the curtains just in case,
But something lurks in the crawling space, pointing bony fingers, (under the rug)
I hear the ticking of my telltale heart, like a bomb set to blow my world apart,
I wish that guilt would make us smart, but I'm sweeping all this garbage...

I have a secret I can't tell, and I've learned to conceal it well,
Under the rug.
We each must ask, “Am I walking in the light and revealing my life to others or am I still keeping some things hidden in the dark?” Sins that are allowed to sit in dark corners will incubate and grow. Those exposed to the light lose their ability to harm us and harm others. Each of us needs one person or a few people to whom we truly reveal ourselves. Then we will be walking in the light “as He is in the light.”

Friday, May 15, 2015

There is Nothing to Writing

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” -  Ernest Hemingway

I have not yet written a book, but I have written 600 blogs since January of 2009, and each time I sit down to write I am aware I am revealing a portion of myself. The words I write can be obscured by imagination, pride, humility, or exaggeration; but I am never completely hidden in the words written. My true self will bleed through in some corner.

Writing is always hard work. I must choose a topic of interest to others, choose the right words, choose the right order of those words, choose the right edits so that each sentence has only one interpretation and is understood by all. Then I must go back and choose better words and better ways of ordering the words. I must make the writing poetic while sticking to prose. I must choose to remove words that I previously and thoughtfully placed in just the right place. I do this so that the writing will be succinct and clear. Then I must rightly choose punctuation to aid the reader and guide the rhythm of the piece. In the end, all writing is music and must touch the ear as well as the heart.

I leave behind this body of work that even those who do not know me from anything but these words can begin to understand a portion of me. These words are small windows that shine light into the inner courtyard of an overgrown castle. They push me to be a better writer and a better person. I seek to write intelligent words that others will find helpful and inspiring; words that will challenge us all to thirst for right in the world; to hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in the sight1 of both readers and God.

1 Psalm 19:14

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Good Morning!

“Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”
― 
J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit


"When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love." Marcus Aurelius 1

1. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/marcusaure132163.html

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A New Distant Galaxy



A new distant galaxy, containing approximately 8 billion stars, has been discovered by astronomers.1 What makes this galaxy, named EGS-zs8-1, unique is that it is 13 billion light years away from earth making it the most distant galaxy that has ever been seen. The light that is now reaching the Hubble Space Telescope left that galaxy 13 billion years ago when the universe was a mere 650 million years old.2 Presently, the universe is estimated to be roughly 13.6 to 13.9 billion years old.

What are the philosophical and theological implications of seeing a galaxy that is 13 billion light years away? Those who follow the Christian faith have long argued about how long the universe, earth, and humans have been around. Some take a hyper-literal perspective on the words of the Bible and believe that the universe cannot be more than 6000 years old. Some suggest that the universe only looks old because God made it mature.3 They suggest that God formed the universe with light from distant galaxies already partway here.

It is possible to think that way, but I would suggest that a much more straight-forward way of dealing with such discoveries is to agree that God has created a scientifically discernible universe in which, if something looks 13 billion years old, it is likely 13 billion years old (barring some sort of unnoticed calculation error). Of course, this way of thinking also assumes that God took a progressive approach to creation and took billions of years to bring us to where we are today. This kind of thinking will not do if one wants to maintain that the universe went from the chaos of nothing to a fully formed universe with plants, animals, and humans in six 24 hour periods of time. There are many further ramifications of thinking of the universe as very old, but we must be rigorous and not fear the implications of examining the evidence and drawing conclusions. A God who has created a universe that includes galaxies filled with 8 billion stars, 13 billion light years away, is capable of communicating with humans to explain the universe and his own nature.


1 https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/science-ticker/amorphous-space-blob-takes-title-most-distant-galaxy?tgt=nr
2 A Spectroscopic Redshift Measurement for a Luminous Lyman Break Galaxy at z = 7.730 Using
Keck/MOSFIRE; P. A. Oesch and P. G. van Dokkum and G. D. Illingworth and R. J. Bouwens and I. Momcheva and B. Holden and G. W. Roberts-Borsani and R. Smit and M. Franx and I. Labbé and V. González and D. Magee; 2015; p. 30; The Astrophysical Journal Letters; Volume 804; Issue 2
3 http://www.icr.org/article/5669/