Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sustainability Day at Fresno State campus today, Oct 21, 2009

Many campuses across the US are celebrating tomorrow, Oct 21, 2009 as Campus Sustainability Day. There is even a webcast you can join in via the Society for College and University Planning. If you prefer more direct human contact, and happen to be in the Fresno State vicinity tomorrow, why not check out our campus' First Annual Sustainability Day event - see full announcement below the fold. You might even to win a cool bicycle! I'm glad our campus is finally joining this event in its 7th year - better late than never, eh?


10:00 A.M. TO 2:00 P.M.


Don't forget to come out this Wednesday and learn about how your fellow Bulldogs are "Going Green". Various departments and student groups from the university, as well as businesses, organizations and programs in the surrounding communities of Fresno and Clovis will be there. Featured participants include:

  • Fresno State Recycling Club
  • City of Fresno Department of Waste & Recycling
  • The Green Issue (Fresno State)
  • Department of Risk Management & Sustainability (Fresno State)
  • Center of Irrigation Technology
  • Fresno State Organic Farm
  • Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District
  • Fresno Council of Governments
  • Bulldog Pantry
  • GRID Alternatives
  • ...and more!

There will be a raffle for a brand new bike available to those who attend!

In the evening, Director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation and Fresno State Alum Mary-Ann Warmerdam will be guest lecturing at Alice Peters Auditorium at 7:00 p.m. A reception will be held at 6:00 p.m. in the Alice Peters lobby. Enjoy the free food made from produce provided by the Fresno State Farm Market. The lecture is free of charge and open to all students, faculty, and members of the general public! Please encourage your students and colleagues to attend. A sign-up sheet will be at the lecture for any students needing to show proof of attendance!

Alaia Howell
Risk Management & Sustainability
California State University Fresno

Fresno State: Powering the New California
   -- Please save a tree: Don't print this message --


Darwin's Brave New World - Extended Trailer

Does this look exciting, or what? That trailer sure sucked me in much more energetically than either of the trailers for Creation or Darwin's Darkest Hour. Hopefully the whole thing delivers on what the trailer promises. Too bad, therefore, not to see any US air dates at the end there, although our neighbors to the north will get to see it, having helped produce it. I hope it does get here eventually. PBS, are you paying attention?


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cool video of a lovely male Apache Jumping Spider (probable)

Lovely macro cinematography on this one, really shows off the brilliant spider. As the author notes, this could be a male member of Phidippus apacheanus or Phidippus cardinalis.

[Hat-tip: GrrlScientist]


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Signals and songs in the avian world

I'm often looking for videos on the web to enhance my lectures (or merely to jolt students out of the slumber my soothing voice may put them into from time to time), especially when teaching about animal behavior. Its always more impressive to see an animal carry out some astonishingly bizarre behavior than to read about it or have it be described in class by someone who may never have seen the behavior either! Places like Youtube are therefore quite the boon for the modern professor of ethology, and a casual perusal of this blog will show you how much I fall into that happy camp. The exciting thing is that lately, competition has been heating up among the online video portals, bringing us access to all kinds of video treasures. I stumbled upon one such treasure today when I discovered that youtube now has, in its growing Nature channel, Sir David Attenborough's entire series on The Life of Birds!

Since we have been exploring acoustic signals in my Animal Communication class in recent weeks, with birds (of course) starring as prime examples, this is a perfect time to share this episode where one of humanity's most eloquent communicators takes us on a wonderful exploration of some of nature's most Eloquent Communicators:


Occam's razor for graduate students!

Students in my lab had better take note - this is how things work in the real world of academic research:


[via PHD Comics],


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blogging about climate change on Blog Action Day 2009

As some of you may know, today, Oct 15, 2009, is Blog Action Day - a global effort to get the blogsphere to act collectively to highlight a single issue. This year's topic is Climate Change, and as of this writing, 8170 blogs are participating worldwide. Here's a short video about it from the site:

Instead of inflicting my own rather lengthy contribution upon you readers here, I invite interested readers to visit my main blog, Reconciliation Ecology, where I have just posted some thoughts on climate change.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Thoughts on "The Origin Cycle", or why does the Darwinian vision evoke darkness?

evt_541_150w.gifMust the struggle for existence necessarily be a bleak experience? Can we not exult in the wonders produced by natural selection without despairing over "nature red in tooth and claw"? Why do Darwin's own words about the "grandeur in this view of life" invoke a contrary view in so many, that this evolutionary view of life must necessarily lead to nihilism and despair?

I've wondered about this for some time now, especially since the Darwin Day discussion panel we hosted on our campus last spring, when the philosopher on the panel brought up the not uncommon view that Darwin somehow displaced morality and left us morally and ethically adrift! And how many in the audience agreed, with even evolutionists on the panel nodding sadly to acknowledge the loss of moral innocence engendered by Darwin. (And I'm apprehensive about the new Darwin biopic "Creation" for it too may be too bleak.)

These questions disturb me again now since last night's performance of "The Origin Cycle " a musical performance of eight selections from "On the Origin of Species" at Stanford University. Let me state first off that I am no music critic (even my iPod listening tends towards spoken word podcasts/books rather than music), and that this particular genre of music is rather outside my normal listening sphere (and don't even ask me what this genre is!). So consider this more a response to the emotions evoked in me by the music, and my subsequent intellectual response to those emotions. I found the concert and performances quite wonderfully evocative - even though our 9-yr-old Darwin fan fell asleep after failing to track the words being sung by the soprano Jane Sheldon; she was still impressed enough to want to meet the musicians and get their autographs on the program! As the friend who invited us to the concert remarked, the compositions were quite complex musically - and appropriately so, I thought, given the subject. So the music did capture the chosen text quite well (I'll share the passages featured later tonight when we return to Fresno), but - and I can't quite put the finger on the role of any particular element in this - I felt the general emotional tone was on the darker side, with melancholy washing over me far more than joy. No wonder then, that the one upbeat composition in the middle, set to a passage about the "Tree of Life" really lifted me up, but all too briefly, before the mood became sombre again. I was hoping for more uplift towards the end, with the final two pieces revolving around Darwin's immortal words about the "Entangled Bank" and the grandeur in this view of life (Floreana) - but those compositions were darker too. The conductor, Jeffrey Means, later told me that "Tree of Life" was the ensemble's favorite too - but I didn't get the chance to ask him about the darkness of the other pieces. So I am left with the sense that the composers of these creative pieces too share a darker view of the meaning of Darwin's work even as they celebrate it. I, for one, would prefer more joy, and more thrill at the sheer intellectual adventure of Darwin, as seen in this week's Nova special on "Darwin's Darkest Hour", which was less dark than the title suggested - but perhaps I should leave that review for a separate post.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Origin Cycle - selections from Darwin's classic set to music at Stanford this thursday!

evt_541_150w.gifvia Dr. Free-Ride comes word of a special Darwinian treat for folks in the San Francisco Bay area: a performance of The Origin Cycle - eight selections from Darwin's On the Origin of Species set to music! The Firebird Ensemble will perform What's more, its a free concert, although you might want to reserve seats in advance. Here's a brief description of the show:

Charles Darwin's Origin of Species is not only one of the most important scientific works of all time, but one of the most beautifully written. In The Origin Cycle, eight contemporary composers set fragments of Darwin's great book to music, for performance by solo soprano and chamber ensemble.

The passages chosen encompass the entire work, capturing the many facets of a Darwinian view of nature, and summarizing what Darwin called the "one long argument" contained in the Origin. They include his most famous and enduring images – the growing "tree of life" connecting all species, the vision of nature as an surface into which wedges are unceasingly struck, and the book's final invocation of "grandeur in this view of life."

The works were commissioned by Jane Sheldon and Peter Godfrey-Smith and funded by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

Although not quite in the Bay area, we are just about within driving range (well, a 3-4 hr drive) to be sorely tempted by this. A friend who lives in the vicinity has already invited us to come for the show and stay over - and our 4th grader Darwinista daughter is sorely tempted to accept that invitation, even if it means playing hooky from school the next day! So it looks like we might be heading that way...

(and as a bonus, I might get to meet Dr. Free-Ride too!)


Darwin's Darkest Hour - on television tonight!

I'm looking forward to watching this on our local public television channel tonight - starting in another half hour here: "Darwin's Darkest Hour" a 2-hour dramatization of "the delay" in publishing his revolutionary theory, which I mentioned last week. Check it out - although this reminder may be too late for those of you living east of California. But don't worry if you miss the broadcast, for you can still watch it online, on the PBS website, and soon on their YouTube channel! Meanwhile, here's another preview:


Monday, October 5, 2009

"OMG!! Is that GMO in my dinner?" at tonight's Valley Café Scientifique

We resume the Central Valley Café Scientifique tonight after a prolonged summer hiatus - and at a new venue too! My colleague Dr. Alejandro Calderón-Urrea will start the new season with a talk about GMOs and suicidal worms! You know where to find the details, don't you? The Café's website, of course! And you've always had our Google Group to get email updates. But now there are a couple of new ways for you to keep up with the Café: join us on our new Facebook page, and follow us on twitter too! And soon, if we manage to master the technology, we may start podcasting the talks afterwards! So watch this space (and all the above spaces too) for that development.

Most importantly, of course, I hope to see you in person tonight!


A river may once again run through it...


This past week has been a remarkable, mixed, week for the environment in the San Joaquin valley! First the good news: water began to flow through the San Joaquin river's heavily impacted (dammed / modified / channeled / dredged / damaged) course as part of a major restoration effort decades in the making, when federal authorities released water from Friant Dam, just above Fresno. The Fresno Bee has been covering the story really well these past few days, with a special feature, and you can jump into the stream with this report from Friday:

FRESNO, Calif. -- When Darrell Imperatrice was a boy, California's San Joaquin River teemed with so many king salmon his father could catch 40-pound fish using only a pitchfork.

Then the salmon vanished from the icy river for nearly 60 years, after a colossal federal dam built to nurture the croplands below dried up their habitat.

Now, as federal officials try to bring the fish back through a sweeping restoration program of the state's second-largest river - opening the valves for the first full day on Friday - those who know it best are debating its value and its virtue.

"There were so many salmon back then, you could fish any way you wanted, even dynamite. But when they built that dam, thousands of fish lay dead on the banks," said Imperatrice, who at age 82 still treasures his father's fishing gear. "There's no real restoration that will bring back the river I knew."

Yes, we are unlikely to ever really bring back the river from before agriculture took over this valley. But we sure can try, and this week we took a major step forward on that long arduous journey towards bringing the old salmon runs back to this damaged/heavily used river. Its an ambitious project that has (supposedly) pitted environmentalists against farmers (at least in the popular caricature, although there are farmers who are environmentalists too!) in many a legal and legislative battle over several decades - and that was before the water started flowing again! Let's see how far we can take this.

Which brings us to the week's bad news: even as the water started flowing down the river, a judge in Fresno reminded us that the battle to restore the river is far from over, when he decided that the government hadn't done enough to justify diverting water away from farmland for the sake of the endangered Delta Smelt - a tiny fish from the San Joaquin Delta that has become a symbol of the fight between "environmentalists" vs. "farmers". In hearing an appeal from some farmers against govt. rules favoring the Smelt under the Endangered Species Act, the judge didn't really raise any serious objections to the fish being listed under the ESA in the first place. Rather, he objects, oddly enough, to a lack of an environmental impact study... on humans!! You read that right - the judge wants the federal govt. to present a study of the environmental impact of saving the Delta Smelt on humans!! Talk about turning the ESA on its head! He apparently thinks that the current rules issued by the govt for water management in the delta are already causing the human environment to deteriorate: our air is fouled by dust from farms that haven't received water in the west valley, and land itself is sinking in some places due to increased groundwater pumping! As if over-irrigating and farming in arid landscapes, and careless use of underground aquifers, don't have anything to do with those environmental impacts! Those are not problems in this Cadillac Desert - but attempts to restore the natural environment for some endangered native species is what we have to worry about, because, darn it, it raises dust into our skies, and forces us to suck so much water from underground that our lands start sinking!!

And you wonder why us environmentalists always have that sinking feeling...



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