Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Getting Outside

Disclaimer: I'm not really a fan of New Year's Resolutions, so this isn't one of those. But as December draws to a close I do like to reflect on the year just gone and how I'd like the next year to be different. I've noticed that lately I've been getting outside less and less. Maybe that's because I've been busier at work, busier with other commitments, moved further away from my work so am less likely to cycle commute these days... Also, a few trips away to disrupt my routine, followed by a nasty bout of laryngitis, haven't helped. Anyway, I've spent much less time than I would like to outside, enjoying the world. So I'm going to make a concious effort to Get Outside and do something every day, whether that be walking, running, cycling. I play a team sport, so I know that some days I won't be able to fit in a game and a walk, but I think an hour or so running around outside chasing a ball can count as well. And some days a 15 minute walk around the ovals at lunchtime might have to do. But it will still get me outside. This isn't so much about the exercise (I get quite a bit of that already, although more will be good for me), but about escaping the office, getting some fresh air and looking at things more than a metre away from me to rest those computer-tired eyes. Of course it will also be a good opportunity to see more wildlife and take more photos along the way. On a recommendation, to hold me a little more accountable to this goal, I'm going to post updates on here to track how well I'm doing.

So, how am I doing so far...?

28/12/11 - walked up Mount Rogers (a nature reserve near home) for the first time in weeks. This was when I remembered how much I like to spend time up there decided to make a real effort to do so more often. A lot of my Getting Outside efforts will involve walks and runs along the network of tracks at Mount Rogers - 10 minutes walk up a steep hill and I can step out of the suburb and into a little bit of bush with great views looking over the city and surrounds.

29/12/11 - a run on the trails on Mount Rogers (~3 kms running plus a short walk there and back).

30/12/11 - no walk / run as we already had a day trip planned for this day, but I did get to take a nice drive through some country I haven't seen for a while and an hour or two Outside on a lake in a small boat - nice :)

31/12/11 - short but hard run on Mt Rogers - ~2.5 kms run plus the walk there and back. Didn't start until late-ish morning on what turned out to be the first really hot day of this summer - clever. Returned half an hour later with a bright pink face.

01/01/12 - walk up to the trig point on top of Mt Rogers and explored a few new (to me) trails with S. A storm front was moving in from the west so we watched the dark clouds morphing their way across the city, punctuated by lightning, slowly creeping closer with half-hearted rumbles of thunder. The currawongs were especially noisy that evening, anticipating the approaching storm. We made it home just as the first few drops of rain fell on our suburb...

02/01/12 - run on Mt Rogers - tried a new route, usually when running I follow a particular loop of ~2.5 kms around the contour line a little below the summit, but today I took one of the tracks heading up from there to the trig point at the top, then back down the other side before following my usual route home. A bit more uphill than I'm used to, but think it's time to push those boundaries. Not sure on the actual distance run, but door to door including the walk each way it was 4.5 kms.

03/01/12 - yesterday I took a slow walk on Mt Rogers again, trying some new tracks to connect routes I know already. It is a fairly small area, but there are several major gravel paths connected by a lot of little tracks through the bush, so plenty of scope for variety in the daily walk. This route took me past a scattering of boulders and I finally saw one of the elusive skinks I've been hearing in the bush up there. As soon as someone approaches they drop down from the rocks and bolt for cover. The grass is so long up there at the moment that you can hear them rustling near the rocks but have no chance of getting a look. Today a particularly bold individual hung around on its rock a little longer so I got to see the source of the noise at last. Not a good enough view to ID species given my poor knowledge of skinks, but it was much a bigger animal than I was expecting - maybe ~15cms long and quite fat with vertical stipes. Hoping for a better look next time to try to get a proper ID.

04/01/12 - today I went for a bit of variety, with a meandering walk to the shop in a neighbouring suburb. Went out for some bread, decided not to go to the closest shop to lengthen the walk, but was still totally surprised to get home and work out I'd walked 7.5 kms. A nice way to spend a warm, sunny summer evening.

Well, that's not a bad start, now let's keep it up...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

It's 2012!

New Year's Day spent picking plums from the garden, sorting them into plums for eating and plums for cooking, now in the process of making plum sauce.

Not a lot to report for now, but that's the sort of day it is.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A long time between posts...

For various reasons I haven't been near this blog for a while. Nearly 2 years in fact. I started it enthusiastically, after a lot of thought and planning, but then began to doubt whether this was something I should be doing. I mean, who really cares? And how do I find the time? That was part of it. But the real issue was that at that time, I saw some friends dealing with nasty, bitchy online fights. The kind where people leave horrible comments on others' posts, where people "unfriend" each other and even try to get each other barred from sites they both love and ultimately the kind that leave a bitter taste behind for all involved. I decided I didn't want to get into that nasty place myself. So I stopped adding to this blog. I knew it would take time to build up a profile and I hadn't done that yet, so it wasn't going to hurt anyone. But still, at times, I missed writing. Then, recently, someone told me, out of the blue, that he had enjoyed reading my posts and that he thought it a shame I had stopped. I've been thinking that over for some weeks. Maybe I will give it another go and see what happens. No promises though...

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Seafood dilemma

I'm having a dilemma over seafood at the moment. I really love good, fresh seafood, although I don't tend to eat a lot of it. But it seems lately that the more I read, the less I feel I ought to eat. This despite the fact I'm constantly hearing on the news that seafood and fish oils are so good for my health and that most people don't eat enough of them.

In a typical week, the only seafood I am likely to eat is some canned tuna or a fresh piece of salmon, maybe a different fresh fish if something else looks good at the markets. If I lived at the coast that might be different though. I'm very careful to avoid species that I know are being unsustainably harvested, such as orange roughy. I know that salmon and tuna aren't perfectly managed either, but I've generally considered them to be better fish to eat from a conservation perspective. But this week I've read several things that have made me think I may be wrong. Perhaps I should give up on fish altogether? Here are some things to think about:

1) On Southern Fried Science, a really interesting post about why "Dolphin friendly" tuna might not be very friendly to anything else apart from dolphins - so maybe I should cut back on the tuna after all?

2) But maybe there is some hope? Tuna fisheries are also notoriously unkind to albatross populations, especially long-line fisheries. The birds try to eat the bait, get caught in the hooks and drown. I have always felt some guilt for these unseen deaths when eating my tuna mayonnaise. Then today I read on The Great Beyond that albatrosses may be saved after all. Changing practices have lead to an 85% decrease in the number of albatrosses killed by the fisheries. This can only be good news, surely?

3) I've also found another reason to worry about eating salmon. BBC Wildlife Magazine has an article in the February 2009 issue (page 39) describing a decline in salmon numbers in British Columbia. Fewer salmon means less food for grizzly bears for starters. So why are the salmon declining? The article points the finger at overfishing and the effects of fish farms on wild fish: sea lice breed in the farms then move out to infect wild fish. The salmon I get all comes from Aussie waters, mostly Tasmanian, but even though there are no bears to go hungry I'm sure the farms have the same problems. Perhaps I shall rethink salmon too?

I think I might just have to fork out a few dollars and get myself a copy of the Australian Marine Conservation Society's Sustainable Seafood Guide. At least then I'll have a better idea where I stand.

Finally, to end this post on marine life, I loved reading about this  in the Telegraph: a biologist on a tagging trip caught a huge stingray, 7 foot by 7 foot!!!

Monday, 23 February 2009

BBC book meme

I've done a few of these meme quizzes over on Facebook lately and I wasn't going to do any more of these things for a while, but this one was quick to do and vaguely intellectual. I stole it from Sciencewomen. I haven't claimed any books that I read at school that I can't remember enough to know the storyline. Not bad, I've read 32 of them. I must have non-average tastes though as a lot of my favourite books are missing from the list, although some childhood favourites are there. Looks like I need to brush up on my BBC period dramas...


1) Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.

2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.

3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.
NB I've added an F if I've seen a film or a stage version but not read the book.

4) Tally your total.

1. [ ] Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
2. [x,+] The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien
3. [ ] Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
4. [x] Harry Potter series JK Rowling
5. [F ] To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
6. [x] The Bible (some may be surprised at this!)
7. [ ] Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
8. [ ] Nineteen Eighty Four George Orwell
9. [F] His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
10. [ ] Great Expectations Charles Dickens
11. [x] Little Women Louisa M Alcott
12. [*] Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
13. [ ] Catch 22 Joseph Heller
14. [x, well, lots of them anyway, not sure if all] Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. [ ] Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier
16. [x,+] The Hobbit JRR Tolkien
17. [ ] Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
18. [ ] Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger
19. [ ] The Time Traveller’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger
20. [ ] Middlemarch George Eliot
21. [ ] Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell
22. [ ] The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald
23. [ ] Bleak House Charles Dickens
24. [ ] War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
25. [x,+] The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
26. [ ] Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
27. [ ] Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. [ ] Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
29. [x] Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
30. [x] The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
31. [x] Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
32. [x] David Copperfield Charles Dickens
33. [x] Chronicles of Narnia CS Lewis
34. [ ] Emma Jane Austen
35. [ ] Persuasion Jane Austen
36. [x] The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe CS Lewis
37. [*] The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
38. [F] Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Louis De Bernieres
39. [F] Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden
40. [x] Winnie the Pooh AA Milne
41. [x] Animal Farm George Orwell
42. [F] The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
43. [x,+] One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. [ ] A Prayer for Owen Meaney John Irving
45. [ ] The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
46. [x] Anne of Green Gables LM Montgomery
47. [ ] Far From The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
48. [*] The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
49. [x] Lord of the Flies William Golding
50. [ ] Atonement Ian McEwan
51. [*] Life of Pi Yann Martel
52. [ ] Dune Frank Herbert
53. [ ] Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons
54. [ ] Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen
55. [ ] A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
56. [ ] The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. [x] A Tale Of Two Cities Charles Dickens
58. [ ] Brave New World Aldous Huxley
59. [*] The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon
60. [*] Love In The Time Of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. [ ] Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
62. [ ] Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
63. [ ] The Secret History Donna Tartt
64. [x,+] The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold
65. [F,*,+] Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
66. [ ] On The Road Jack Kerouac
67. [ ] Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
68. [F] Bridget Jones’s Diary Helen Fielding
69. [ ] Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
70. [ ] Moby Dick Herman Melville
71. [x] Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
72. [ ] Dracula Bram Stoker
73. [x] The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. [x] Notes From A Small Island Bill Bryson
75. [ ] Ulysses James Joyce
76. [ ] The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath
77. [x] Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome
78. [ ] Germinal Emile Zola
79. [ ] Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
80. [ ] Possession AS Byatt
81. [x] A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens
82. [ ] Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
83. [ ] The Color Purple Alice Walker
84. [F] The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro
85. [ ] Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
86. [ ] A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
87. [x] Charlotte’s Web EB White
88. [ ] The Five People You Meet In Heaven Mitch Alborn
89. [x] Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. [x,+] The Faraway Tree Collection Enid Blyton
91. [ ] Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
92. [ ] The Little Prince Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. [ ] The Wasp Factory Iain Banks
94. [x] Watership Down Richard Adams
95. [ ] A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole
96. [ ] A Town Like Alice Nevil Shute
97. [F,*] The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas
98. [x] Hamlet William Shakespeare
99. [x] Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
100. [F] Les Miserables Victor Hugo

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Eaten to extinction?

Another entry for the eaten to extinction section, this time via an article on National Geographic news.

Worcester's buttonquail, known to science only through decades-old museum specimens, was thought to be extinct. Then in January a TV crew, filming at a market in the Philippines, captured one of the birds on camera. The bird was subsequently sold for food. I hope whoever bought it enjoyed their meal. Of course if there is one bird at the market, there is a chance there are others still alive in the wild, although perhaps not many. So the species may not be extinct after all... but realistically, what is its chance of lasting much longer...?

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

In the news today

Some sciencey stories that have caught my eye this week:

A paper in Genome Research describes the sequencing of the entire mitochodrial genome of the extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger. This probably deserves it's own post: it uses new methods and the results are surprisingly different from the sequences previously available. I'll try to review it in more depth later...

Scientific American reports on the discovery of two species of fly in Namibia which are members of a genus previously only known from the fossil record. This is pretty cool, especially given my personal soft spot for Namibia. Maybe I have unknowingly inhaled one of these flies! I am however a little disappointed that the good folk at Scientific American have described the flies as "living fossils". The term is not helpful. If a fly is alive it isn't a fossil. And where should the line be drawn? Many extant species have close relatives known from the fossil record. Are they all "living fossils"? How much divergence is required before they are no longer classed as "living fossils"? I think terms like this can really confuse people.

ABC news reports on the births of ten Tasmanian Devil pups on an island sanctuary. The pups are the offspring of devils chosen for captive breeding because of their good genetics. They have similar genetic profiles to the famous Cedric, a devil who raised, then dashed, the hopes of researchers by first showing immunity to the devastating Devil Facial Tumour Disease, only to later contract the cancer. Maybe these pups will show greater resilience to the disease?

And finally I can't resist posting a link to this: BBC footage of bears catching dead fish with their feet! Apparently they don't like to get their ears wet :-)