Guest Videos: Galactic Fountains and Cosmic Serpents


No, seriously it’s a galactic fountain. With gas, not water. And a massive black hole . . .

Has anyone seen Christopher Nolan lately?




We might want to look for Michael Bay, too.

Astronomers just reported finding something beautiful in the Milky Way Galaxy–beautiful, but incredibly violent . . .



Reportedly, the thing doesn’t seem to be aimed at Earth, which is good.


Featured image: NRAO/AUI/NSF; D. Berry. https://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/185220.php



Guest Video: Man and the Volcano


Science boasts of the distance of its stars; of the terrific remoteness of the things of which it has to speak. But poetry and religion always insist upon the proximity, the almost menacing closeness of the things with which they are concerned.

— G. K. Chesterton

This is the full version of the video excerpts and images of this 2012 descent that you’ve probably seen online. (There are a few F-bombs in it.)

Compared to this obsession, my interest in Popocatepetl is a mere whim!



That crazy man–Geoff Mackley–later went on to assist Google in providing us with a Street View of this lava lake in Marum Crater, Ambrym Volcano, Vanuatu.


Featured image: Geophile71, public domain.



Book Preview: Cats live longer than most other house pets, including dogs


On average, dogs live 12 years and cats, 15 years. For comparison, pet rabbits max out at around 10 years, guinea pigs 5 years, and mice at 4 years.

Just how old can dogs and cats get?

Eighteen dogs age 20 or older have been confirmed. The oldest, an Australian cattle dog named Bluey, lived for 29 years, 5 days.

But 40 cats age 21 or older are known. Fourteen of them reached their 30s, including Guinness-World-Record-holder Creme Puff at 38 years, 3 days.

To put that into perspective, 30 cat-years are equivalent to 120 of ours.

Doesn’t one cat-year equal seven human-years?

Short answer: It changes over time, starting out at around 1 (cat)/16 (human) and eventually reaching 1/3 to 1/4.

Details: There are a lot more numbers coming up, so it’s important to start out with the reminder that everything isn’t as cut and dried as it looks–animals actually pass through these stages gradually, and at their own individual pace, just as we go through our own lives.

Too, environment and food sources usually determine how long animals can live. Stray urban cats, for example, only survive for about two years, while residents of a feral cat colony are lucky to see 10 years go by.

Here, we’re talking about ideal conditions–pets that have been kept indoors and well taken care of all of their lives.

Longevity varies a bit by breed, but this is nowhere near as dramatic as in dogs (where small breeds generally outlive the large ones).

The following AAFP/AAHA (American Association of Feline Practitioners/American Animal Hospital Association) stages of development fit most pet cats: Continue reading

Book Preview: Some fancy-cats are losing their genetic heritage


There are many DNA tests for dog breeds, but cats? Not so much.

This isn’t anti-feline discrimination.

It has taken us thousands of years and lots of selective breeding to turn gray wolves into chihuahuas. But fanciers have been focusing on cats only since the 1870s.

There just hasn’t been enough time to develop DNA changes that register on today’s testing.

Geneticists are off to a good start, though–they’ve identified multiple feline races. But along the way, they have also uncovered evidence that intensive breeding has erased the genetic heritage of some fancy-cats.

House cats have races?

Short answer: It involves molecular markers in their genes, not fur color or length. Because of the way domestic cats first spread across the world, they now show differences that can be traced back to Asia, the Mediterranean region, Western Europe, or Africa.

More specifically, geneticsts have found eight original populations (a/k/a races):

  1. Egypt (of course)
  2. Iran/Iraq
  3. Eastern Mediterranean
  4. Western Europe
  5. Arabian Sea
  6. India
  7. Southern Asia
  8. Eastern Asia

Details: The early history of domestic cats is strictly an Old-World story. This particular group of small kitties is not native to the Americas.

In the Old World, after the last ice age had ended, some African wildcats began the long journey into domestication alongside people in the Fertile Crescent, which includes much of what we call the Middle East today.

A few millennia later, thousands upon thousands of domestic cats were living in private homes and temple catteries along the banks of the Nile River. Some of the glory of Ancient Egypt rubbed off on these pets, and they became must-have status symbols for the international elite.

As early as 1700 BC, pharaohs outlawed cat exporting, and even sent officials out to retrieve smuggled felines. Nevertheless, geneticists say, Egyptian cat lineages spread around the eastern Mediterranean, starting around the 8th century BC. By the 5th century AD, they were fairly common here and in Asia Minor.

Back then, the equivalent of our Internet was a network of trade routes. It ran on plodding beasts of burden and harnessed the restless wind on rivers from Continue reading

Guest Video: The Somme, Then and Now . . .


This is something different. But a hundred years ago today, at 11 a.m., the war to end all wars ended.

War did not, unfortunately.

But for all the people shown in this remarkable short film during fighting two years earlier, it was finally over. (Note: There are a few long-distance shots of dead bodies, but nothing gory or “Matthew Brady” style.)



Featured image: Ernest Brooks, public domain, via Wikipedia.



Book Preview: A cat’s world is centered around territory.


Getting territory and holding onto it stresses any cat. They may seem laid back and care-free, but millions of years of evolution have hardwired into all cats the need for their own space.

This even shows up indoors. In multiple-cat households, for instance, the best of feline buddies still spend as much time as possible out of each other’s line of sight, even when just a few feet apart. They also respect one another’s favorite sleeping spots or other core areas (or else!).

What is a domestic cat’s territory like outside?

Short answer: It’s very similar to any cat territory, but it doesn’t correspond to the owner’s property.

Details: Congratulations! You’ve just moved into a quiet suburban neighborhood with lots of fenced-in back yards that contain sheds, trees, and other artificial and natural structures that add three dimensions (and more potential territory) to a cat’s world.

As you and your kitty relax by the window, you note three other cats out there: a white one two yards down, sitting high up on a shed roof; a ginger cat walking along the fence across the alley; and a furry melange of calico spots that just ducked under the laurel bush in your new back yard–ah! there it goes up a tree. What a large, healthy-looking cat!

Good! you say to yourself. With all these neighbors, Fluffy won’t be lonely while I’m at work.

Meanwhile, Fluffy is seriously considering switching over to 100% indoor living. Enormous Spots out there obviously owns the back yard; all the other cats must be faced, too. Continue reading

Guest Videos: Taking A Volcano’s Pulse


If you have been following the Popocatepetl updates, you’ll know that I’ve been paying attention to the webicorder recently.

It’s fun to be able to see the volcano’s activity even when weather has it shrouded in clouds.

What is a webicorder?




What do earthquakes have to do with volcanoes?

A better question is, what can earthquakes (and webicorders) tell volcanologists about the events deep inside a fire mountain?




Popocatepetl, of course, is not a long-dormant volcano–its present activity began in 1994! I have no idea what I am looking at on the PPIG webicorder, but it’s fun to try to figure out.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory starts you out with lots of information on how to read a webicorder and also has live links to webicorders on Alaskan volcanoes.

And if you want even more information, check out the USGS seismogram display page! (Note: This includes non-volcano-monitoring seismometers, too.)



Featured image: Mammoth Mountain (left) by Geographer via Wikimedia, CC BY 1.0. Long Valley Caldera MEM webicorder (right; I don’t know if this relates to Mammoth Mountain), California Volcano Observatory


Book Preview: Cat breed facts: D. Rex is not a dinosaur


This is another of those rewritten blog posts. Hope you like it! (I won’t be using videos in the final ebook, but it’s nice for this blog post.)


It’s awesome to say “rex mutant” when somebody asks what kind of cat you have.

Even better, these mutants and their unusual fur coats can only take over the cat fancy, not Planet Earth.

This look comes from gene mutations that are rather complex. All we need to know is that experts are still trying to understand the LaPerm’s coat, while Selkirk Rex, Cornish Rex, and Devon Rex fancy-cats all have different mutations.

And the Devon Rex–a top-ten breed in the Cat Fanciers’ Association–has also inherited its moggie ancestor Kirlee’s elfin good looks.

Breed type:

All rex fancy-cats are mutation breeds.

Appearance and Personality:

Body build in these kitties varies from big-boned and sturdy (Selkirk Rex) through typical house cat (LaPerm) to whippy and sleek (Cornish Rex). But at first, no one looks at anything but the animal’s fur.

Here’s why rex cats look so strange to us. Continue reading

Guest Videos: Lykoi–The Werewolf Cat


Happy Halloween!

For facts about the Lykoi, ask the Cat Fanciers’ Association or TICA (the International Cat Association). And this is a good overview about cats with sparse hair on their coats.

But the following video, which I suspect is mostly fact-free, is a lot of fun:



Meanwhile, at the cat show . . .



Featured image: Steptacular via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0.


The Ten Most Hazardous US Volcanoes


Update, October 29, 2018: The Yellowstone Observatory posted more information on Yellowstone Caldera’s ranking and on the threat assessment process today.


Original post:
It’s a little early to be making top-ten lists for 2018, but the USGS just released their 2018 update to the National Volcanic Threat Assessment:


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The link takes you to an abstract of the report and a free PDF download.

Note that threat level doesn’t mean that the volcano is about to erupt. They looked at the bigger picture, placing volcanoes according to how they scored on a list of potential hazards.

If we had assessed only the hazards aspects of U.S. volcanoes, then the generally more explosive volcanoes in Alaska and CNMI [the Marianas**] would be more strongly represented in the higher (more hazardous) ranks. Because we include exposure factors in the assessment, volcanoes in CONUS are more strongly represented in the highest threat category owing to the greater nearby ground-based and airborne population, and more critical infrastructure exposed to volcano hazards . . .Eleven of the 18 [very high threat] volcanoes are in Washington, Oregon, and California, where explosive and often snow- and ice-covered edifices can project flowage hazards long distances to reach densely populated and highly developed areas. Five of the 18 volcanoes are in Alaska, near important population centers, economic infrastructure, or below busy air traffic corridors. The remaining two very high threat volcanoes are on the Island of Hawaiʻi, where densely populated and highly developed areas now exist on the flanks of highly active volcanoes. Large eruptions from any of these very high threat volcanoes could cause regional- or national-scale disasters.

**: In its October 26th weekly update, the USGS says that Supertyphoon Yutu has destroyed ground-based monitoring equipment on Saipan, affecting all CNMI volcanoes, including Farallon de Pajaros, Supply Reef, Maug, Asuncion, Agrigan, Sarigan, Pagan, Almagan and Guguan. Only satellite monitoring is possible now.

Ten Most Hazardous Volcanoes

The ten highest-threat volcanoes on the list are:

1. Kilauea, in Hawaii. We know. We know.

2. Mount St. Helens, in Washington. Global Volcanism page (GVP). Local volcano observatory (VO) page. Wikipedia page.

3. Mount Rainier, in Washington. GVP. CVO. Wikipedia. Continue reading