Category Archives: cool

Rush Hour in Yosemite: the American Wilderness Experience

Yosemite National Park is an enduring symbol of the American “wilderness“, a textbook example of how National Parks protect Nature by holding at bay the rising tide of humanity’s demands on natural resources. National Parks are instead meant to be a different medium for us to experience and enjoy those natural resources – as aesthetic ones to be protected for posterity. If you’ve ever been to such a place as Yosemite armed with a camera, go back and look at your images (as I just did) and ponder how much you edit your own experience of this wilderness! How do you frame your pictures, when you attempt to capture the beauty of nature and wildlife? Do you include our fellow tourists, our conspecifics (not counting the obligatory family vacation shots), as part of that nature? If not (and I don’t often enough), why not? Do you find yourself wishing there just weren’t so darn many people out there, tramping through this wilderness, and spoiling your own serene immersion into it? Ignoring the rather inconvenient factoid that you are also but one among that teeming mass of humanity that wants this experience for its collective soul! But isn’t that what a National Park in a democracy is meant to be: a way to share the experience with everybody, rather than an elite few? How then do we accomplish that sharing without destroying that which is being shared, the very wilderness we all want to experience?

What would you get if you pointed your camera the other way – at the c.3.5 million people who visit Yosemite every year? Steven Bumgardner, a videographer for the National Park Service has done just that to produce this remarkable time-lapse video of people in Yosemite one July (which is effectively the rush month for that park):

People in Yosemite: A TimeLapse Study from Steven M. Bumgardner on Vimeo.

Yosemite is bigger than Rhode Island at almost 800,000 acres, but it receives about 3.5 million visitors each year, and most of them spend time in Yosemite Valley. This project was shot back in 2005 after purchasing a Sony Z1U. This was my first HD project (ok, fine, HDV) and I spent about a week in Yosemite during the busy month of July. The footage was all shot in real time, and then sped up in post.

I chose busy places during busy days to show the effects of this mass of humanity. I could have just as easily pointed my camera in another direction and shown nothing but plants, animals and wilderness. Yosemite is popular, but it’s also still a relatively wild place.

I’ve lived and worked in National Parks for almost 20 years, and as much as I love landscape photography, I also like looking at the human footprint and the human experience in our national parks. Some of this footage helped me get my current job in 2006, as a videoographer for the National Park Service and the photographer/editor/producer of the web video series “Yosemite Nature Notes”

The music is from Peter Gabriel’s “Passion” (a.k.a. the soundtrack from Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”)

Surely Rachel Maddow can’t be making this (fossilized) shit up!

Wow! What an incredible tale this is, from tonight’s “Moment of Geopolitical Geek” segment of the Rachel Maddow show.

Its a tale that has everything: international geopolitical intrigue, fossilized bird poop, international money-laundering scams, overexploitation of natural resources, Russian mobsters, failed musical theater investment scams, international fugitives… er… asylum seekers from Australia, political corruption all the way up to the UN, the seamy underbelly of globalization, all set on a tropical Pacific island nation that went from having one of the highest per capita incomes to desperately broke within a decade!! Oh, and did I mention fossilized bird poop?!

Tell me that isn’t a tale with a little bit for everybody – even the masala grinders of Bollywood would be hard pressed to cram so many ingredients together into such a juicy package! So why isn’t this story in the movie theaters? Or on our televisions in serialized form? Is there at least a bestselling book with all the sordidly entertaining details? One hopes… but for now, we have a gem of an under-five-minute news report thanks to the brilliant Rachel Maddow, who is giving the Daily Show a run for their money, not with fake news, but real news! Remember that concept? No wonder she’s rapidly become the brightest star in TV news. So, without further ado, let me share with you: “Poop Dreams

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Beautifully complex information, skepticism, and the challenge of understanding climate change

via Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog, comes a link to this beautiful information graphic pitting the data and the interpretations on both sides of the global warming “debate” against each other face to face, and in a jargon free way. The original graphic is on a black background, but I find this version more readable, and have posted it here below the fold.

Apart from the visual beauty and simplicity of this poster, what really strikes me is how difficult it is to wrap our heads around the complex datasets underlying the scientific consensus on global warming, and the projections that have the “alarmists” so, well, alarmed! This poster does a really nice job presenting both sides in a point-counterpoint manner that may help clear some of the confusion – but it also illustrates the daunting task of understanding the data and discerning the patterns, which is why we need real expertise – and we need to trust the experts when most of them tell us that we have a real problem on our hands! It is therefore worth reading the accompanying notes from David McCandless, the creater of this graphic:

I researched this subject in a very particular way. I deliberately chose not speak directly to any climate experts or leading scientists in the field. I used only publicly available web sources.

Why? Because I wanted to simulate what it’s like for people trying to learn about climate change online.

My conclusion is “what a nightmare”. I was generally shocked and appalled by how difficult it was to source counter arguments. The data was often tucked away on extremely ancient or byzantine websites. The key counter arguments I often found, 16 scrolls down, on comment 342 on a far flung post from three years ago. And even when I found an answer, the answers were excessively jargonized or technical.

Most of the info for this image is sourced from It’s an amazing blog staffed tirelessly by some of the world’s leading climatologists.

Unfortunately, the majority of the writing on there is so scientific and so technical, it makes the website nigh on useless to the casual, curious reader.

The scientists (my people) clearly need to make a better effort at communicating what they know and find in as jargon free a manner as possible! If it is a nightmare for someone as motivated as the creator of this infographic to find and make sense of the data, I can only sympathize with the journalists and more casual readers (even reasonably informed ones, let alone those under the sway of Faux news) who find the arguments confusing. If even a public communication portal like is too technical for a motivated reader, it shouldn’t surprise us that so many fall prey to the much simpler spin from the “skeptics” who deny any human role in exacerbating global warming.

Heck, even a professional skeptic like James Randi put his foot in his mouth about this a couple of days ago when he wrote (finally, after having avoided the topic for years) that he was skeptical not about global warming itself, but about our species’ role in accelerating it. Considering he is a leading professional skeptic who has always wielded Occam’s razor most skillfully in debunking all manner of pseudoscience (with complicated explanations), perhaps it is not surprising that he felt the climate models were too complex to point to humans as a primary cause. Although, while acknowledging that our measurements of climate had become much more accurate with modern technology, Randi should have realized that our methods of analysis of complex data have also come a long way, lending much greater confidence to the assertion that much of the recent rise in global temperatures is, indeed, anthropogenic. Of course, many including his closest supporters immediately jumped on him to set him straight – read in particular these blog posts by James Hrynshyn, PZ Myers, and Phil Plait [UPDATE: also, Orac, whose post I’d missed earlier]. Randi has, appropriately enough for a skeptic, acknowledged his error in a new posting yesterday making it clear that he is emphatically not a “denialist”. But as PZ points out (a bit too harshly), Randi’s stance as a “skeptic” still leaves him open to exploitation by professional denialists who routinely twist the meaning of “skepticism” by cherrypicking words and data to raise dust clouds of doubt around the real science which overwhelmingly indicates strong anthropogenic forcing of recent climate change. Which brings us back to the challenge of communicating that science more effectively and dispelling those doubts.

Look below for the beautiful information graphic – and spend some time with it – for it is a great start towards understanding this complex issue. And I also hope it spurs more climate scientists to make a better effort at communicating the complex data and how they go about making sense of it. McCandless has also made the datasets he used to produce the graphs in his poster and their sources available for download so you can play with them yourself if so inclined. Then head on over to for an archive of all the data that they are now making available to the public!

And of course, click on the image for the much larger version!


[From Climate Change Deniers vs The Consensus | Information Is Beautiful]

Is that Antarctica’s delegate to the Copenhagen negotiations?

If so, I’m afraid they may be a bit too late, as they are moving rather slowly, and are also apparently lacking in GPS technology, being headed towards Australia rather than Denmark!! And that’s a real pity. Because the world’s leaders gathered in Copenhagen this week to collectively twiddle their thumbs about global warming could really use a frakking 115 square kilometer (that’s 44 sq. miles for you Americans) iceberg shoved into their midst just about now! Don’t you think?

What a way to crash a party that would be, eh? A real ice-breaker, even, perhaps, between the global warming activists and the denialists! Much more effective than poor old Al Gore. Quite the message from the ice continent, indeed the planet itself, that would be, to its human children gone astray!

But as so often happens with politicians (and indeed the rest of us), this ‘berg too seem to have lost its enthusiasm for the cause. deciding instead to head for the beaches of Australia! I can hear its growing murmur, “Aw… fuck it, I’ve been freezing my ass off here for centuries, stuck between the penguins and the krill, so why shouldn’t I make a break for it? Why can’t I just spend one last glorious summer on the beach? I hear the surfing can be quite something around Australia this time of year… so watch out: SURF’S UP!!!”

Hat-tip to the Bad Astronomer, who has more on the incredible voyage of freedom for this little iceberg!


Even as some people here (Fresno-Clovis) saw a few flakes of snow on Monday night, and many of us have woken up to frosted lawns, dead plants (sadly), and iced over windshields for the past two mornings in the San Joaquin Valley, here’s a terrific composite image from NASA showing the real extent (we don’t really have too much to complain about yet) of these storms that swept past us this past weekend (click on the image to download a much larger version):


A severe winter storm blustered its way across the United States on December 7 and 8, 2009. The storm dumped heavy snow from California to the Great Plains, and fierce winds added to the hazardous conditions. The storm was predicted to continue eastward in midweek, and blizzard warnings were in effect for Great Lakes states as of December 9.

This image shows the blanket of snow laid down by the storm across the West, along with the thick swirl of storm clouds over the Great Plains from North Dakota to Oklahoma. The image is made from a combination of images captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors on NASA’s Terra (most of the left side of the image) and Aqua (most of the right side) satellites on December 8.

[From Winter Storm Crosses United States : Natural Hazards]

Note also that another set of storms are heading our way across the Pacific and we may see quite a few this winter as we are in an En Niño warming phase as you can see in this NOAA animation of sea surface temperatures (SST) over the past several months…

… and of SST anomalies:

All that red, i.e., warmer sea surface temperatures, can only mean more moisture laden winds heading our way from out west over the ocean! So brace yourselves, prepare to batten down the hatches, find an extra blanket to wrap yourself in (lower carbon footprint than burning something for heat!), grab that mug of hot beverage, and curl up this winter break with George Stewart’s brilliant novel Storm, which I have mentioned here before. How the meteorologist in that book (published in 1941), who takes us through the life-stages of a storm as he tracks it across this same ocean from its infancy near Japan to fully mature fury over California, would have loved to be able to see such images! I may give that wonderful book a second read myself, once I’ve dealt with a minor storm of final final exams/term papers brewing on my desk from my various classes…

Now that’s one tough hombre of a coyote!

Now I know why they call him the trickster!! And no wonder the coyote is such a survivor in the modern American wilderness and suburbia:

When a brother and sister struck a coyote at 75mph they assumed they had killed the animal and drove on.

They didn’t realise this was the toughest creature ever to survive a hit-and-run.

Eight hours, two fuel stops, and 600 miles later they found the wild animal embedded in their front fender – and very much alive.

[From Pictured: The coyote who was hit by a car at 75mph, embedded in the fender, and dragged for 600 miles – and SURVIVED | Mail Online]

Read the whole story at the Daily Mail link above, or check out the pictures below the fold. And the next time you hit some small critter on the highway, it might behoove you to stop and look into and under your fender, just in case said critter is hanging on:

You just might find such a surprise inside:

This survivor appears to have had a fairly happy ending, having survived the 75 mph encounter with the Honda Fit without even a broken bone:

The coyote even escaped from the rescue center three days later and is presumably out regaling its mates with quite the tale of adventure on the high roads!

Antidotes to cynicism from third world teenagers

Overwhelmed by cynicism and pessimism about the state of the planet and how little we are doing to fix urgent global problems? Hoarse from calling upon governments and politicians and CEOs to change policies and business practices towards social/economic/environmental justice? Despairing for the world we are leaving behind for future generations? Looking for something new to light that fire anew, to inspire you again to keep at it, to show that the world can change for the better, even if only in small steps incrementally?

Well, here are a couple of teenagers from the global south who just might do that: inspire you, perhaps revive your activist mojo, and leave you with replenished hope about the future. Last week, the Daily Show interviewed an African youth, William Kamkwamba, who built a windmill from a picture in a library book – when he was all of 14 years old:

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'William Kamkwamba
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Meanwhile, in another small village in a poor corner of India, a nine year old boy started play-acting “teacher” with his buddies – friends who weren’t as fortunate as he was to be able to attend the free govt. school 6 km away. Play turned into serious teaching when their hunger for learning, as a way out of their rather sorry lots in life, met his desire to lend them a helping hand. Today, 7 years later, Babar Ali has become the youngest headmaster in the world, running a purely volunteer school for over 800 kids whose lives are otherwise too busy with the mere struggle for existence to have time for formal schooling!And that BBC report, part of a new “Hunger to Learn” series includes some videos featuring interviews with some of the kids in that school. (Sorry the BBC doesn’t enable embedding of their videos, so you’ll have to go watch them there)

So cheer up! Things can’t be all bad if our species can still produce such kids, even in the worst of circumstances, eh?

How India found water on the moon with American tech support (so can we send some farmers up there now?)

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And now that we’ve found water on the moon, surely the meddlesome US government must help California farmers grow rice there too! I’m sure the Indians will have set up some tea shops by then…

Where on Earth are endangered species?

You can read about them in academic journals. You could go on long, arduous, adventurous journeys all over the planet with no guarantees you’ll actually see any (like I’ve done). You could get really lucky like me!! You could wait for Stephen Fry and Mark Cawardine to take you on a vicarious journey to visit the most endangered of them in the footsteps of the late Douglas Adams – depending on if and when BBC’s “Last Chance to See” ever airs in your country. You can do all of those things. Or/and, you can sit right here on your computer, and let ARKive take you on a spin around Google Earth, as featured in Google’s Outreach Showcase! You can traverse the spinning 3D globe, even dive into the oceans, looking for endangered species using ARKive’s helpful signposts, with links to images, videos, and more information in a little window right here in this very browser tab, if you have the Google Earth plugin installed. But surely you already have the Google Earth application on your computer (if not, why on earth not?! Go get version 5 with the underwater views), so why not download the ARKive KML file instead, and enjoy the ride in fullscreen glory?

And if you need someone other than me to persuade you to try this out, who better than Sir David Attenborough himself, speaking here about marine endangered species?


Watch the Earth breathe…

The sound effects are soothing… or creepy, depending on how you feel about it, and how you feel about the data being displayed. But this simulation of the world’s CO2 metabolism, along with human birth and death rates, depicted by country, and in real time, is pretty cool! Makes for a useful pedagogic tool, and potential conversation starter – or stopper! Here’s a screen shot (click on it for a larger view – or just go to the simulation!):

[via Breathing Earth]