Author Archives: TwylaDutton

Remote Control Hummingbirds!

Mother Jones

It tuns out that one of features of my new camera is the ability to control it remotely with my cell phone. If you have even a gram of nerd blood in you, this should make you insanely jealous.1 It’s the coolest thing ever.

And yet, as cool as it is, it still left me twiddling my neurons trying to figure out what I could do with it. One possibility was situations where I need to minimize camera shake. Put the camera on a tripod and then snap the shutter remotely without actually touching anything. But that would be just another example of using a thousand dollars worth of technology to do what a ten-dollar cable release can do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Then Marian suggested I could set up the camera by our hummingbird feeder and wait for hummingbirds to fly in. So I did. Here’s what the setup looks like:

Then I went into the living room and watched Roger Federer play Stan Wawrinka at Indian Wells. Every time a bird showed up on my camera, I held down the remote shutter button and shot off a few dozen pictures.

Which did me precious little good. Damn, those little buggers are fast. Even with the shutter speed allegedly set at 1/2000th of a second, the pictures were blurry. Also out of focus most of the time, which was a combination of my fault and the camera’s fault. Still, live and learn. Here are the two best shots I got:

The top one is a male Anna’s hummingbird. The bottom one is, I suppose, a female Anna’s hummingbird. The bird folks can enlighten us in comments.

Anyway, I’ll have to try this again. It’s certainly a way of getting some good nature shots without sitting on my hump for hours on end in a muddy patch of dirt. Then again, since the WiFi range for the camera is about ten feet or so, maybe it just means I get a little better selection of where to sit on my hump for hours on end. I’ll have to think of some way to try this with the cats.

1Unless you already have a camera that can do this.

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Remote Control Hummingbirds!

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New Study: Waterworld Is Definitely Going to Happen

Mother Jones

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Here’s a bit of depressingly apocalyptic news to kick off your weekend: A new study has found that if humans burn all of the known reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas, virtually all the ice on the planet will melt, inundating the land with up to 200 feet of sea level rise.

The good news is we’ll all be long dead by the time this happens. Even at our current rate of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, the kind of catastrophic ice loss the study describes won’t take place for several thousand years. The exact timing is the hardest part for scientists to nail down; the ultimate outcome, however, is quite certain. One of the study’s authors, climatologist Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, described it as similar to leaving an ice cube on a table in a hot room: You can be confident it will melt, even if you don’t know exactly when.

Scientists have been carefully scrutinizing ice in Antarctica for a while now, since so much of the world’s water—and thus, potential sea level rise—is locked up there. The most studied section is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which appears to already be in an irreversible decline and could ultimately produce 10 feet of sea level rise. But Levermann said the study today, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, is the first to look holistically at ice across the whole of Antarctica. The scientists projected loss of ice in a series of increasingly dire scenarios, based on the total amount of CO2 humans release after today. Ten thousand gigatons of CO2 is roughly what you’d get from burning all the known fossil fuel reserves. Our current rate is about 36 gigatons per year, and rising, so depleting the remainder could take a few hundred years. After that, it would take several thousand more years for the full effect of the warming to take hold.

The chart below shows the eventual ice loss after 10,000 years given different quantities of emissions:

Winkelmann et al, Science 2015

What’s even scarier isn’t shown in the chart: Antarctica, Levermann said, “will be the last bastion, the last ice on the planet.” In other words, if we reach scenario F, all the rest of the world’s ice will already by gone. At that stage, you can kiss most of the coastal cities goodbye (if they’re still there, anyway—remember, we’re talking about thousands of years in the future).

To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about climate change in the more immediate future: more extreme weather, droughts, crop failures, and the like. Sea level rise (albeit on a much smaller scale than what is described here) is already taking a toll on coastal communities around the world. But this is a disturbing preview of the long-term disruption caused by our actions. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on Earth then:

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New Study: Waterworld Is Definitely Going to Happen

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$26 Billion in US Aid Later, the Iraqi Military Is a Total Disaster

Mother Jones

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As US bombs rain down on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, analysts agree that this war will ultimately be won on the ground. Too bad the Iraqi defense forces are a shambles. The New York Times reports that the United States still has to train the country’s 26 “intact and loyal” brigades. And the Iraqi government has yet to recruit and set up national guard units. “It is not going to be soon,” says a State Department official.

Sound familiar? Following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US government spent billions trying to rebuild Iraq’s security forces so they could fight insurgents such as ISIS. By the fall of 2012, about a year after the full withdrawal of American troops, this effort had consumed about half the money the US government spent on Iraq’s reconstruction, according to the final report of the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

Here’s where that money went:

Training the Iraqi military: $1.32 billion
SIGIR says: “As with the police force, the number of troops reporting for duty continually fell below desired levels, with AWOL rates exceeding 3% per month.”
Providing military, logistical, and maintenance support for the Iraqi military: $2.6 billion
Renovating and building Iraqi military bases: $4.1 billion
Supplying the Iraqi military with aircraft, boats, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other gear: $3.4 billion
Developing an elite counterterrorism force: $237 million*
Maybe: Since the US government did not keep track of this specific expenditure, SIGIR says “the total costs of the program remained unknown.”
Training, staffing, and supplying Iraqi police: $9.4 billion
Developing the “Sons of Iraq” program to train to provide jobs for about 100,000 mostly Sunni insurgents: $370 million
SIGIR says: “Financial controls were weak, program managers could not tell whether SOI members received their US-funded salaries, and the Pentagon was unable to provide evaluations of the program’s outcomes.”
Developing other infrastructure security programs: $300 million
Shoring-up Iraq’s courts: $681 million.
SIGIR says: “The court system contends with human rights issues, including reported acts of torture and retaliatory prosecutions by police and military authorities.”
Building prisons, including the never-completed Khan Bani S’ad prison: $165 million

Total cost of rebuilding, training, supplying the Iraqi military, police, and justice system: Around $26 billion

Meanwhile, the estimated cost of the new war in Iraq? Around $15-$20 billion. That’s according to a recent estimate by Gordon Adams, Bill Clinton’s defense budget confidant and a professor at American University. But that could change quickly. Two weeks earlier, Adams estimated this campaign would cost $10-$15 billion.

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$26 Billion in US Aid Later, the Iraqi Military Is a Total Disaster

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