Things that go “Boom”

Gunung Agung on Bali may be ramping up to an eruption. If so, this could be more than interesting on the densely-populated island. Agung’s 1963 eruption was VEI5, i.e., at least as large as Mt. St. Helen’s in 1980. It has some noteworthy neighbors nearby on the Sunda arc. Rinjani is visible from Agung’s summit when the weather is clear. Tambora is a bit further east.

Meanwhile, there is a state of emergency on Ambae in Vanuatu.

The cat and the didgeridoo, or, my, what big ears you have, Grandpa

Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid? That was a topic investigated by one of the scientists honored at the 2017 Ig Nobel Prizes last Thursday. Other researchers receiving Ig Nobels studied such topics as didgeridoo playing as a treatment for sleep apnea and snoring, how exposure to a live crocodile influences gambling behavior, the size of old men’s ears, walking backwards with a cup of coffee, whether identical twins can tell themselves apart, and other recondite topics.

The longest journey

Pioneer and Voyager, slightly altered

John Salmon mentions the Voyager spacecraft, which were launched 40 years ago in August and September. These, along with Pioneer 10 and 11, launched five and four years earlier, are four of the five spacecraft leaving the Solar System, and are the most distant man-made objects at this time. NASA is planning a quiet little celebration Tuesday.

For the future of the Pioneer and Voyager probes, see the fifth and sixth episodes of Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, which reveal the true reason for the Pioneer anomaly.

Stopping by for a moment

I’m alive again after an unpleasant two weeks. I’ve got a lot of cleaning and catching up to do, so I’ll continue to be scarce here.


A few things that caught my eye or ear recently:

Progress versus progress

I have a little list of words and phrases that tell me everything I need to know about the people who use them. So does J Greely.

Science, Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste.

Are the New York Disco Villains the Bonzo Dog Band reborn? (Via the Professor.)

Mozart and Chagall.

The Magic Flute – Chagall Animation from 59 Productions on Vimeo.

Mozart and Tonari no Seki-kun. (Via Wonderduck.)

There’s a live-action version of Tonari no Seki-kun. You don’t need to know Japanese to follow the story.

Bonus link: Vulcanologist Erik Klemetti counts down his list of the ten most dangerous volcanoes. If you’re thinking of investing in European real estate, forget Naples.

Odds and ends for a chilly December day

The fundamental trolley problem

Dear [Beautiful but Evil Space Princess],
Every time I capture the hero, I get this overwhelming urge to spill the entire plan, including the way out. How can I stop myself from giving it all away?
Evil Underlord who can’t quite make the big leagues

Dear Under,
Oh, Sweetie. This is a compulsion written into you by the author. You must use aversion therapy. Have one of your underlings dress up as the hero, and when you start spilling things, force yourself to do something really distasteful. I don’t know, pet a puppy or give sweets to children or something, until you break the compulsion.
It’s all right. If you manage to cure yourself, you can blend the puppies into a nice smoothie afterwards and it will make you feel much better.

Yardsale of the Mind:

I’m not a professional political scientist or sociologist. Then again, neither were Washington, Adams, Jefferson and that crowd ….

The election of Trump is, in many senses, stupid. However, it is far, far wiser and more in keeping with the idea that we, the people, are the defenders of the Republic to elect Trump than to elect someone who is beloved of Harvard. On the scale of errors one can make in a Republic, electing an arrogant and impulsive side-show barker is far to be prefered to electing someone whose fundamental goal is making elections irrelevant.

The Z Man strikes once:

… humans have never had to deal with the problems that come from too much food and too much free time to consume it. We really have no idea what will come from it and how it will hurt or help society. There could very well be a huge upside to having lots of fat people. Perhaps when the zombie apocalypse comes, the zombies will eat the fat people and be satisfied, leaving the rest of us to regroup.

And again:

When I’m ruler of these lands, the people responsible for embedded, autoplay video will be torn to pieces and fed to the dogs.

Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor:

I’ll never forget when John Updike reviewed a book on how FDR’s policies lengthened the Great Depression. Updike basically said that because FDR cared, and was trying, that was worth more than shortening the Depression.

Via Dustbury, who also notes that

That word “bipartisan” should set off an alarm: it almost always means that both sides are in cahoots and Up to Something.

A bit of spirited horticultural history, from a comment at an AoSHQ food thread:

One food arena where the US used to be the best in the world and is now near the bottom of the pack is cider (i.e. alcoholic fermented cider.)
Back in the Revolutionary War era cider was the #1 drink in the nation, far surpassing beer or wine or hard liquor. And people had planted the right kind of apple trees all over the country (as it existed then), so there was always a big supply of the raw material.
In fact, Johnny Appleseed didn’t go around planting edible apple trees — he went around planting cider apple trees! A detail that is now lost to most people’s imaginations of history.
“But wait,” you’re saying, “there’s a difference between edible apples and cider apples?”
Yes indeed. There are three fundamental “types” of apples:
“Sweet apples,” which is what we now think of simply as “apples” — the big crunchy sweet kind that you can eat.
“Sour apples,” now mostly known as “crabapples,” which are mostly useless except for making things with their pectin.
“Bitter apples,” now mostly unknown in the US, but still planted widely in France and England. THESE are the apples you are supposed to make true cider out of. As the name implies, they’re slightly too bitter to eat, but their chemical makeup is absolutely perfect for fermenting a delicious kind of apple cider, a process during which the bitterness goes away.
If you’ve ever tasted true cider made from bitter apples (which is what they serve you in Somerset and Normandy), you’ll know that cider made from sweet apples is atrocious by comparison.
And that’s the tragic part of our story.
Because of the arrival of so many German and Bohemian and Polish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century in the US, beer started to surpass cider in popularity nationwide, and then when Prohibition hit, cider production was stopped entirely. And what happened was that ALL — or almost all — the bitter apple trees in the United States were left to die or were torn out and make room for more useful trees.
So that by the time Prohibition ended, there was no longer any way to make true cider in any quantity, and as a result beer took over the casual drinking market almost 100%. Wine only started to make inroads in the ’60s and ’70s. But cider remain completely forgotten by then.
That is until about 8 years ago, when the “small batch cider” renaissance started in the US, with small startups making cider from apples.
Sweet apples, that is — because that’s all that we have in the US anymore! Yuck!
Cider made from sweet apples is just wrong to a true cider aficionado. So no matter how much effort these America cider microbreweries put into their product, it will never match up to French and British ciders.
In fact, until just a couple years ago, most American cidermakers didn’t even know about the existence of bitter apples and didn’t know they were doing it fundamentally wrong.
Finally a few people have wised up, and they’ve started planting bitter apple trees in the US again, but it will still be several years before they are up and producing in sufficient numbers to create enough true cider for the masses.
Until then, we must suffer with an inferior American product! Frowney face!

Links in the time of hurricanes

It looks like the Brickmuppet will get a reprieve from Matthew. Down in Orlando, William Luse might not be as lucky. He links back to his posts from 2004, when Charley and friends paid visits to the Florida peninsula.

Update: The Brickmuppet’s luck ran out.

Derek Lowe recently added another post to his “Things I won’t work with” file, this one dealing with a feisty nitrogen compound (“Recall that this is the compound whose cocrystal with TNT is actually less dangerous than the pure starting material itself….”) and anhydrous hydrogen peroxide.

I am told that I barely talked at all until I was nearly four, though when I did start chattering, it was in complete sentences. I was perhaps fortunate that this was back in the dark ages, when autism was a rare and exotic affliction and few people had even heard of Asperger’s.

Here we go again

Shakin' Shakin' Shakes

While I might have felt earthquakes at a greater frequency during the year I lived in San Francisco, during the past few years I have experienced a larger number here in Kansas than in all the years I lived in the allegedly more seismically-active west, most recently earlier this hour.

Footnote on Sulphur Island

An unexpected volcanic hazard:

One of the few videos of a phreatic blowout on Iwo Jima turned out to not be phreatic at all. Instead it was heat affecting an old 16 inch shell from Iowa that had fallen into the ocean. As the spot inflated up and became the new beach it dried out and heated and “boom”. Volcanic artillery is something of a novelty. Cryptoshelling with magmatic release…

CO2 and SO2

Volcano Café has compiled a convenient list of the nine “New Decade Volcano Program” candidates announced thus far and invited speculation about the top spot on the list. A few weeks ago I wrote about Lake Kivu in the East African Rift, which is ominously close to Nyiragongo. I guessed then that a volcanic complex involving the lake would be first or second on the list, and I still think so. The most dangerous volcano on the planet, to the best of my (superficial) knowledge, is likely the Nyiragongo/Lake Kivu combination.

Continue reading “CO2 and SO2

I wonder …

For the past week, ever since Campi Flegrei was awarded third place in the New Decade Volcano Program, I’ve wondered which volcanoes could possibly present a greater threat. Nothing that comes to mind meets the criteria. The Auckland volcanic field lies directly under the New Zealand city and could erupt at any time, but the magma involved is basaltic and not explosive; other north island volcanoes probably present a greater danger to the inhabitants than the one directly below them. There are plenty of dangerous mountains in Iceland, but the the total population is less than that of Wichita. Kamchatka is also sparsely populated. Islands in the South Pacific are generally too small to support millions of residents. And so on.

While reading the most recent post at Volcano Café, on how vulcanism affected the waters of Lake Tanganyika, it occurred to me that maybe I’m thinking too literally. Perhaps I should look for placid lakes, not fiery mountains. Lake Kivu, for instance.

In 1984, Lake Monoun in Cameroon experienced a “limnic eruption,” releasing an asphyxiating cloud of carbon dioxide that killed 37 people. Two years later at Lake Nyos, also in Cameroon, a similar event suffocated 1,700 more. Both lakes are “meromictic,” in which the water remains stratified throughout the year.

Lake Kivu is another meromictic lake, and its depths are saturated with carbon dioxide. It’s also 2,000 times larger than Lake Nyos, and there are over two million people along its shores. Nearby is Mount Nyiragongo, noted for its lava lake and its very fluid lava that could readily travel to the lake and trigger a limnic eruption. There is evidence that these eruptions occur there regularly. From Wikipedia:

Sample sediments from the lake were taken by professor Robert Hecky from the University of Michigan, which showed that an event caused living creatures in the lake to go extinct approximately every thousand years, and caused nearby vegetation to be swept back into the lake.

So, I am going to guess that the Lake Kivu/Nyiragongo complex is one of the two remaining NDVP volcanoes. We’ll find out if I’m right in one or three weeks if the café maintains its schedule.

Above the hot zone

I expected that at least one of the many active volcanoes on caldera-ridden Kyushu would land on the New Decade Volcano Program at Volcano Café, though I wasn’t sure which it would be: Aira, Aso, or one of the less-publicized ones. This weekend NDVP #4 turned out to be the Aso Caldera and, yes, it is potentially extremely nightmarish.

There are three more to go. From the comments to the Café post:

BillG: So this is #4…. I can’t imagine there are three worse scenarios..

Henrik: Trust me Bill, there are. One marginally more so, one decidedly worse and the final one so utterly mind-blowing that eventually Hollywood will make a blockbuster movie of it.

I would guess that one of those three is either Campi Flegrei or Vesuvius; the other two, I have no idea. I note that five of the volcanoes announced in the NDVP so far are in Asia and none in South America, and there are a lot of interesting mountains and lakes in Central and South America.

You can watch the Nakadake crater at Aso at the JMA site. The link to the camera is highlighted here (“Aso grass Chisato,” according to Giggle Translate):

Aso grass Chisato

You can usually see a plume of steam and gasses when the weather is clear, and occasionally some incandescence.

Update (9/13/15): Aso had a bit of a cough today (or tomorrow, depending on which side of the International Date Line you’re on).

Update II (9/18/15): … and coming in at #3, it’s Campi Flegrei.