You can’t see our bad air anymore but some days you can smell it. Yesterday was one of those days.
The Smell PGH map above (May 2) has a colored triangle for every air quality report made on the crowd-sourced app. The darker red the triangle, the worse the air smelled to the person who made the report to the Allegheny County Health Department. At the bottom right, May 2 has a black square above it (bad air!). So do May 1 and April 27. You can see our smelly days.
The reports are easy to make. I downloaded the app and followed the directions at the Smell PGH website:
Rate the air with a color
Describe it. For instance: industrial, rotten eggs, etc
If you have symptoms from the air, describe them
Click [Smell Report]
As soon as you press [Smell Report] your colored triangle sends a message to the Allegheny County Health Department and the app shows you the current map. Don’t forget to enter your name and email address under Settings for more impact.
I used to think I was alone when I noticed bad air days. The app has changed my outlook. Find out more at the Smell PGH website.
p.s. The weather changed. Today, May 3, 2018, is much better.
How can we tell when similar birds are actually different species?
In the jungles of Indonesia the male superb bird of paradise (Lophorina superba) is famous for his courtship dance. To attract a mate he calls loudly, unfurls his jet black feathers and iridescent green apron, and starts to dance. If he’s really good at it, the female accepts him.
The bird’s color and dance are so mesmerizing that ornithologists at first dismissed the differences between the eastern and western birds. Now they’ve looked more closely.
This video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows how the western bird’s behavior convinced scientists to split the superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina superba) into two species.
The dance makes a difference. The bird with the sidestep gait is now called the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina niedda).
p.s. Volgelkop is the name of a peninsula in western New Guinea, Indonesia where this bird lives. On the map the peninsula is shaped like a bird’s head. Vogel+kop means “Bird head” in Dutch.
Interesting as this is, there’s not room in my brain to keep up with it. eBird will do it for me if I enter all my sightings. I’ll have to backload my birding history to keep up with splitting scrub jays.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
What do you do with a stale loaf of bread? Do you feed it to the birds? Uh oh! Did you know that bread is bad for birds?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to poison them. It’s just that for birds bread has no nutritional value. They’ll fill up on it instead of the food that’s good for them.
Bread is junk food for birds. So are crackers, chips, french fries, donuts, cereal and popcorn, to name a few. These foods are especially bad for ducklings because their little bodies have special nutritional needs.
Since the birds won’t control their own junk food intake, you shouldn’t feed them bread. This isn’t an edict from the Food Police. It’s just common sense because …
If you’re the only person feeding the birds you can give them good food all the time (see list below) and feed bread sparingly as a junk food treat and it won’t cause trouble.
But at places where lots of people are feeding bread to birds, your bread adds to the problem. Here’s an visual example. Do you recognize the spillway at Pymantuning?
The description says: “Internal surface of the peridium of the rare myxomycete Tubifera dudkae is covered with folds resembling sea waves. Among them oval shaped reticulate spores occur.”
In other words, the blue waves and brown beads are part of the same organism, a slime mold called Tubifera dudkae. It is a rare member of the Myxomycete class. I don’t know if it occurs in North America but I do know it lives in Crimea (thanks to the photos from Wikimedia Commons) and in Tasmania, Australia (thanks to the Myxomycetes website by Sarah Lloyd, an expert in slime molds).
In the photo, the blue waves are the inner surface of the protective layer that holds the spores until they’re ready to release. This layer is called the peridium.
The brown beads with squiggly lines on them (i.e. reticulated) are the spores.
Here’s what this slime mold looks like from the outside at normal size, sitting in a matchbox.
And here’s the amazing thing: Are slime molds plants or animals?
In their reproductive stage, slime molds release spores.
When the spores settle down they become one-celled organisms similar to amoebas that move around looking for food. They don’t need to swim in water to do this.
At some point in their life cycle, the amoeba-like individuals are drawn to each other and meld into one big cell with millions of nuclei. Yes, there’s only one cell wall. This cell is called a plasmodium and it’s slimy.
The plasmodium can move! In fact it oozes across the forest looking for food: bacteria, fungi, other slime molds. Some slime molds can stretch 10 feet.
In a study published last summer in Geophysical Research Letters, geophysicists Rebecca Bendick and Roger Bilham examined a century of data on major earthquakes (7.0 and above) looking for patterns that might indicate what causes them. They found that there are indeed periods of increased seismic activity when there are up to 20 major earthquakes per year instead of 8 to 10.
They then looked for Earth attributes that fluctuate on a similar time scale. Nothing fit until they found a match with the periodic slowing of Earth’s rotation.
Earth’s rotation slows very slightly — only a millisecond — about every three decades. It’s so slight that you need an atomic clock to notice it, but Earth’s crust appears to notice as well. About five years after rotation enters a slow cycle, there are more frequent major earthquakes around the world.
2018 is five years after Earth entered a slow-rotation period so perhaps there will be more intense earthquakes next year. We’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, what does this finding have to do with the mild 4.1 earthquake at Bombay Hook yesterday? Maybe nothing. But I wonder about it because earthquakes are so rare in Delaware.
Feeling sleepy today? Did you hit the snooze button on your alarm clock?
I recently learned from a New Yorker article by Maria Konnikova that Snoozers Are In Fact Losers. When you hit the snooze button that 10-minute interval is just long enough to begin a new sleep cycle but it jolts you awake again at the worst moment — the beginning of the cycle.
The interruptions make your brain think you had a lousy night’s sleep even though the bad part was actually that last 10 minutes — or more if you hit the button several times. The more you snooze the more you lose.
So what’s the answer? Don’t use the snooze button. Get up right away when the alarm goes off. (Oh no!)
But it’s more complicated than that. Read Konnikova’s December 2013 New Yorker article Snoozers Are In Fact Losers for more information on why …
The best way to sleep-&-wake is by using our own internal clock (circadian rhythm) and external light cues (sunrise/sunset).
The majority of us suffer from social jetlag. Our bodies’ preferred wake up time is an hour+ different than our social lives dictate (work, school, etc).
It’s bad to wake up in the dark.
The brain doesn’t really hit its stride until 2-4 hours after you wake up. Yikes!
We’re the only animals on earth that jolt ourselves awake like this.
Egads, I want a nap!
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)