A Pilgrim

This a modern pilgrim to Mexico’s Basilica of Guadalupe, crossing the flanks of Popocatepetl volcano on the way across Cortes Pass (the name of the route Hernan Cortes took through the mountains to the Aztec capital in the 16th century–allegedly Cortes sent someone up to the volcano’s crater for sulfur to replenish his gunpowder supply).

It’s not a truly medieval image–the conquistadores came after that period of European history–but this tweeted image has the flavor of what medieval life must have been like for everyone back in the day.

Yes, right down to the hoodie.

There is nothing like this chapter of living history in the US or Canada–and, since Europe has moved on over the centuries, it is only preserved in Latin America today.

What a world of human treasure still exists in the New World!

Writing update: Am readying the two books to send in to the Copyright Office and looking forward to January 10th! As for this blog, of course I’ll check in with any huge news but am only keeping a more-or-less daily eye on Popocatepetl and probably won’t update that page until after the 10th, unless there is a major change in activity–right now, it is more active than usual, but CENAPRED is keeping the alert level at Yellow Phase 2.

Last Book Update and a Popocatepetl Volcano Video

How’s that for a mixed bag? 🙂

Seriously, though, it’s a gorgeous video of an eruption that happened just before (and during) sunset last night. You can find out more about this volcano and what it’s doing by clicking the “Popocatepetl” link at the top of this page.

As for the book, since the update last week, someone whose opinion I implicitly trust reviewed the book draft and suggested that I break it into two parts, because it’s house cats.

I agree. The rest of the cat family already has its overarching narrative, so to speak–“wild cats!” This ties a book of 50 short essays together very nicely.

But we know Fluffy better, and there are many layers to our acquaintance. In fact, there are so many different kinds of information available on moggies, fancy-cats, and strays/feral cats that 25 facts per book are much easier for readers to digest.

So I’ve set the milestone.

On that day–January 10th–check back with this blog for a special offer from Amazon on the books.

And as always, thank you for your interest!

Featured image: An explosion early on the morning of December 5, 2018, image by CENAPRED.

Guest Videos: Deception Island’s Penguins, Ghosts, and Eruptions

That’s a summer beach scene in Antarctica, taken on the shores of the ring-shaped caldera that is Deception Island.

And here’s a video–too short, as are most penguin videos.

A somewhat longer video focuses on this remote volcanic island’s surprisingly busy human history (there are also some eruption shots from the 1960s):

So, is anyone keeping an eye on the volcano, whose eruptions in the past have been huge?

Yes, the Spanish and others.

. . . Because the Spanish seismologists spend around three months each year on Deception Island (generally between Late November and late February), which also corresponds to the major period of human activity on the island, they also provide volcanic warnings to the island’s visitors including masters of vessels intending to arrive at the island and pilots of aircraft flying near the island. The warnings are colour-coded and come through bulletins from either Gabriel de Castilla Station (Spain) or from a spokesperson from one of the other national Antarctic programmes such as the Argentine Antarctic Institute, British Antarctic Survey or National Science Foundation.

— from Robert Brears’s interesting overview of the island’s volcanic history.

Per the volcano’s Global Volcanism Program page, observers raised the alert level to yellow for a few days in 2015 because of inscreased seismicity and deformation.

Also, Argentina has a Deception Island Observatory page (Spanish). Here is more observatory information in English.

And here, via Google Translate, is some information from Spain’s University of Cadiz on an earlier volcanic crisis at Deception Island around the turn of the century.

Featured image: Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0

Book Preview: In 2016, Over 6 Million People Threw A Party For Their Cat

Yeah, I went there. I made cat birthday cake.
— Casey Barker, https://www.goodfoodstories.com/cat-birthday-cake/

Casey’s cat Harry Plumparelli was turning 11 and she was certainly celebrating a long, happy relationship. But Casey is not the only animal partier out there.

According to a survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 5% of all US cat owners gave Fluffy a holiday or birthday party in 2016.

That translates into roughly 6,144,000 people who wondered, as they chopped up meat for the “cake,” whether they also should make a cat-sized party hat or just go with the catnip ball.

So, how do you make a cat birthday cake–and why?

Short answer: Casey blogged her recipe, which includes chicken, tuna, and potatoes (Harry loved it, by the way). Why so many pet owners do this is hard to say. It’s just one facet of something too complex and deep for words.

Details: Partying is not just a cat person thing. An even higher percentage of dog owners (11%, or 17 million Americans) admitted to giving Fido one in 2016.

The go-to explanation is that pets are substitutes for children, but anyone who has ever cuddled a cat or gazed into a dog’s eyes knows better.

There is a unique animal-human connection here, something that benefits both us and our pet.

Besides, families with children have pets, too. In fact, many dog and cat owners told APPA that Continue reading

Book update and a little about cats and Earth

As many of you know, I’m working on an ebook, 50 Facts About Cats (and Where They Come From).

Well, I finished the writing of it today!!!!

There is still work to do, of course, but I hope to have it up on Amazon within the next two weeks. Yes, faithful readers, goodies are planned for you!

Cats and the Earth

Lately it has just been cats and volcanoes here, with the occasional news from space, but I know that some people who are drawn here by the volcano and other geology stuff wonder why there are so many cat posts; and cat people wonder why there is so much geology.

Now that this blog is doing so well, I do have to work out its focus more, but it is about Earth–a big place. Probably I will spin off the archives of the better posts on various topics as web pages on particular subjects.

How did cats get into it? Well, about four years ago I decided to write a book about cat evolution, with emphasis on the paleontology. Fossils fit into a geology blog very nicely. It seemed like a chocolate/peanut butter thing.

However, upon doing some reading at the University of Oregon’s library and also at OSU’s Valley Library, I was just gobsmacked at what has gone on over Earth’s history in the past 65 million years of carnivore and cat evolution. All that has had its effects on cats, certainly, but in trying to figure everything out, I became better acquainted with fossil cats and cat-like predators and discovered their story is quite a saga, too.

It was too much for one book, especially one’s first.

Someone suggested a series, and I figured it would be good to start with house cats–the cat family (and its fossil relatives) all have the same general body plan and everyone is familiar with Fluffy, so it’s a good place to begin a series. Also, it’s good practice for writing before I get into the more complicated zoological and geoscience business.

Or so I thought. Actually writing is hard, no matter what your topic. I have learned so much, and I think my blogging reflects that over the last year or so. This work on cat books is having a beneficial effect on all my writing.

So, anyway, now the plan is for an ebook series of 50 essays (not a listicle) each on:

  • House cats
  • The cat family
  • Sabertoothed cats
  • Nimravids (am going to have to work on this title some–these cat-like sabertoothed predators that were actually probably caniforms are fascinating, but no one has heard of them; may work the Order Carnivora and its origins into this, but not to worry–this one is far in the future

Meanwhile, Popocatepetl keeps everyone on edge, down in Mexico, and the Sunday Morning Volcano is fun. Over the next two weeks (or however long it takes to get the book out), I won’t be doing much here except live-blogging Popocatepetl (see link at top of page). There is a Feline Friday post scheduled for tomorrow, and a Morning Volcano post this Sunday, but otherwise things are going to quiet down as I finish this up.

Thank you so much for following and reading this blog, and thus encouraging me to continue writing about things that I love.

Featured image: Jo-Knopf, at Pixabay Public domain.

Made it!

Update, December 2, 2018: InSight is slightly tilted, but they say that is not a problem.

Here’s an excerpt:

InSight landed in what’s called a hollow, a crater that has been filled in with soil and leveled flat. In images taken from the elbow of the lander’s stowed robotic arm, the edge of the crater is visible. Once the team determines the diameter of the crater—it could be meters, maybe tens of meters—researchers can infer its depth and the amount of sand blown into it. Either way, this bodes well for the heat probe instrument, called HP3, which should penetrate the material with ease. “This is about as good news for HP3 as you could possibly hope,” he says.

Landing in the hollow was fortunate for another reason. InSight didn’t quite hit the bull’s-eye of its target landing zone, and ended up in terrain that, overall, is rockier than desired. But the hollow is mostly devoid of rocks. One, about 20 centimeters across, sits close to the lander’s feet, whereas three smaller ones lie farther away—but none poses a threat to placing the instruments. The hollow is flat and lacks sand dunes, and small pebbles indicate a surface dense enough to support the weight of the instruments. “We won’t have any trouble whatsoever,” Golombek says.

The biggest mystery for the lander team right now is figuring out exactly where it is. A Mars orbiter set to image the center of the landing zone on Thursday will miss the lander, because it missed the center slightly. An instrument on InSight called the inertial measurement unit has pinned the location to within a 5-kilometer-wide circle. InSight’s entry, descent, and landing team will refine that estimate down to a kilometer or less. . . .

Original post:

See raw-images link at the bottom of this post.

Featured image: NASA InSight raw images page; this is the only one up at the moment.

Addendum: I’ve been thinking. Let’s look at that first image from InSight again:

Up until midday today, that red surface had not been disturbed, as far as we know, for several billion years.

We disturbed it. We immediately sent back a picture of it (and our disturbance), and here I am, embedding said picture, taken on Mars less than two hours ago, in a blog that can be seen worldwide.

Two points to make here:

  • YES! Yes, THIS is the future I expected, as a child of the 1950s!
  • Data from MAVEN reportedly shows that terraforming Mars is not possible–and the 2012 video below was made by art students, not rocket scientists–but I SO want something along these lines to happen. Hope it does, and in my lifetime, too (though, seriously, that’s being kind of greedy 🙂 )

  • About Natural Disasters: Campi Flegrei, the Phlegrean Fields

    I dug up this 2013 post as background for this past week’s excellent blog post by volcanologist Erik Klemetti on Campi Flegrei in Italy–it may warming up again (but there is nothing to indicate an eruption is likely in our lifetimes, let alone imminent).

    In the midst of life we are in death …

    An article about a volcano shouldn’t mention that, I suppose – or perhaps all such articles should. It can go either way.

    Volcanoes do deal death and destruction all around, but at the same time they’re enriching and feeding us.

    Anyway, the line came to me while reading up on this week’s volcano, Campi Flegrei, on the other side of Naples from Vesuvius. As mentioned last week, this is Vesuvius’ Granddaddy in terms of size and potential threat.

    Vesuvius can and has messed up the Naples region.

    Campi Flegrei can and has messed up a 2- to 4-million-km2 area stretching from the central Mediterranean to Russia, possibly even delivering the final coup de grace to the fading Neanderthal species of humans at the same time.

    This bad boy… Continue reading

    NASA’s InSight Landing on Mars

    This is scheduled to happen on Monday:

    Another one of those “7-minutes-of-terror” events. Hope it works!

    Here is NASA’s “watch online” page for it.

    And here is InSight’s launch, back in May–two days after lava had started spurting out of the ground in a residential neighborhood in Hawaii on the flanks of Kilauea Volcano.

    Addendum: Today, the Curiosity Rover is tweeting encouragement and helpful hints to InSight. 🙂

    Featured image: NASA/Leif Heimbold, CC BY-SA 2.0

    Meanwhile, at Kilauea . . .

    Update, November 24, 2018, 7:26 a.m., Pacific: Per the volcanologists, who kindly replied by email, this cloud coming out of the caldera, captured on the cam shot (below), was:

    Volcanic gases — visibility of plume is more pronounced in early mornings and evenings when warm gases condense as they are released into cooler air temperatures. See this week’s Volcano Watch article for more info: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html

    We, outside Hawaii, forget that the air cools down more there, this time of year, just like where we are.

    Check out the article: it turns out that local people are still dealing with a sulfur smell, only this time it’s the “rotten-egg” smell. Pelee, that’s not polite!

    New featured image: Rainbow in Kilauea Iki crater this summer, by Heath Cajandig, CC BY 2.0

    Update, 8:34 p.m., Pacific: Well, this is weird. Per the 6:59 p.m. note below, all is clear per VAAC; no updates on the HVO web page (linked in original post) or the Hawaii CD tweets; nothing on KHNL.

    And yet I saw this on the summit cam; fortunately I saved it, because the next cam update was a black screen (night time, nothing unusual–all the other cams were already black).


    It’s difficult for experts and impossible for a layperson to tell what’s going on in such scenes from just one static image, especially with such lighting. That could conceivably be weather (note the cloudy sky), but it seems to be coming up out of the summit caldera.

    Well, we can but wait and see . . . and send an email to the “ask HVO” hotline. Will pass along any replies.

    Update, 6:59 p.m., Pacific: About four hours ago, the VAAC issued an all-clear. No other changes; Kilauea remains at Yellow aviation code. We’ll see what HVO says in its next weekly update.

    Yes, Kilauea is monitored very closely, and not just because of its Lower East Rift Zone eruption earlier this year. It’s the #1 most hazardous volcano in the US.

    Original post:

    Washington VAAC reports possible volcanic ash emission, perhaps mostly steam, extending 5 nautical miles from summit. HVO hasn’t updated or issued a VAN (Volcanic Activity Notice) yet. I looked at the webcams, and saw nothing that looked like remobilized volcanic ash from this year’s earlier eruptions. Nothing about it yet on the Hawaii CD Twitter feed or KHNL, either.

    Here’s the current webcam view at Pu’u O’o:

    That may just be typical for this empty crater in the middle of the Lower East Rift Zone just now.

    All of those links are given so you can follow this, too. It doesn’t seem like a sudden return of eruptive activity at Kilauea, but you never know. Will add any significant changes today below, if any occur.

    Featured image: geralt at Pixabay.

    Book Preview: Cat fanciers face ethical questions that never arose for early dog breeders

    Is it right to build a breed on genetic disorders?

    No? Well, that’s exactly what we did with the dachshund.

    Centuries ago, hunters made a breed out of this canine dwarf mutation because they needed a badger dog and there was no concept of animal welfare to stop them.

    Everybody accepts dachshunds today. Dog fanciers work around the inevitable spinal and other skeletal/joint problems accompanying this congenital derformity.

    But mention a minature cat breed, and you might find yourself hip deep in a controversy producing more heat than light.

    This is not the only contentious issue modern cat breeders face.

    What are the main problem areas?

    Short answer: Inbreeding, breed development based on deformities, and hereditary diseases in some lines.

    Details: The gray wolf likely was domesticated around 20,000 years ago, or even earlier. Ever since then, dogs have been selectively bred for hunting, protection, and other human purposes.

    Those Paleolithic dog owners knew nothing about genetics, but it was obvious enough that crossing two dogs with a desirable mutation–fierceness, say, or a good sense of smell–gave you more dogs with that same trait.

    It required close inbreeding, though, since there was only the animal with the mutation to start with, plus its parent.

    Trial-and-error quickly showed Continue reading