September 30, 2009

Sea Animal Bones Reveal Ancient Shark Feeding Frenzy

85 million years ago, a hoard of ancient sharks devoured an enormous aquatic reptile. The bones of the prehistoric reptile, known as a plesiosaur, were found in Japan in 1968, but a formal description of the fossil wasn't released until last week at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Bristol, England.

According to Kenshu Shimada, a paleontologist at DePaul University in Chicago, over 80 shark teeth were embedded in the plesiosaur fossil. "That is a lot of teeth to have in a fossil," he said. He estimates that at least seven sharks of different ages attacked the plesiosaur. He identified the species of attacking shark as the extinct, nine-foot-long (three-meter-long) Cretalamna appendiculata, or mackerel shark. Those are small sharks compared to their plesiosaur prey, which was a roughly 23 feet long (7 meters) and armed with razor-sharp teeth and strong limbs.

September 27, 2009

Fun Facts About California's State Parks

California is full of superlatives! Here are some examples from the official California state parks data:
Best Place to View California's State Flower -- The California Poppy
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Best Place to View California's Native Tule Elk
Tule Elk State Reserve

Best Place To Watch Gulls in the State
Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve. 85% of the gull population nests here each spring. That's a lot of birds.

Best View of the World in the United States
Mount Diablo State Park. The summit, at 3,849 feet, offers a sweeping panoramic view. More of the earth's surface can be seen from this mountain than any other peak in the world, except Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.

Coldest Place in California State Parks
Mount San Jacinto State Park - Lowest recorded temperature-12°F below zero 1972-73

September 26, 2009

California's State Parks to Remain Open, Sort of

California has approximately 1.5 million acres of state park land, representing only 1.5% of the state. In May, Arnold Schwarzenegger (Governor of California) proposed cutting $70 million in funds for the state park system and warned that 220 of the 279 parks would close down. The Schwarzenegger administration has backed off its not-so-brilliant threat to close the state parks by saying it has found other ways to save money. Actually, the cost of closing the state parks, installing enough chain-link fencing to keep people out, preventing them from becoming fire hazards, allowing facilities to fall into disrepair and then potentially having to recover them someday would far outweigh any potential savings.

The new plan, announced by the governor's office Friday calls for saving $12.1 million by reducing maintenance and ceasing purchases of vehicles and other equipment. Another $2.1 million will be saved by slashing an undetermined number of jobs and reducing hours and days of operation at many parks. Some parks will close on weekdays and open only on weekends. California's park system attracts 80 million visitors a year but has been subject to the state's fiscal crisis, like almost every other area of state government, public services, health, and education.

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September 23, 2009

The Greatest Tea Auction on Earth

In the cool hills high above Nairobi, where the people live among the clouds, there are giant tea trees more than 100 years old. They are the first tea trees ever planted in Kenya, back when the territory was called British East Africa and Edward VII was king.

Today, modern Kenya exports more black tea than any country in the world. By tradition, East African tea sells at auction in the port city of Mombasa, and the great Mombasa Tea Auction. Yusuf Masudi is a manager at Unilever Tea's Mabroukie Estate in Limuru, Kenya. Mabroukie is one of Kenya's oldest commercial tea plantations.

At the Mombasa Tea Center, roughly a hundred traders and nearly a dozen brokers come together on Mondays and Tuesdays and, ever so politely, move an enormous amount of black tea around the world. East Africa sells hundreds of millions of tons of tea every year, and lately, the price has been at an all-time high. As the traders in Mombasa say, "Yes, sir!" The scene unfolds the same way week after week in this cozy, wood-trimmed amphitheater. Everyone sits in assigned seats, and the auctioneer stands at a lectern below. Brewed tea in glistening white cups and saucers is served promptly at 10 o'clock. Overall, the quality of Kenyan tea has consistently remained high. The combination of higher quality and lower yields due to East Africa's drought has helped push the average price of a kilo to an unheard-of $2.70.

Britain has been eclipsed as Mombasa's top buyer of tea leaves by Egypt and Pakistan, where people still take time to brew tea the old-fashioned way. Companies blend the teas they buy at auction according to elaborate recipes. Indian teas provide heft, Sri Lankan teas bring flavor, and African teas bring color and strength. But the only way to know that is by tasting prepared tea in its purest grades, and that means lots of sipping.

September 22, 2009

Californians to Save Big Bucks with TV Regulations

California has become the first of the United States to propose energy-efficiency requirements for televisions, one of the largest users of energy in American households.

“Televisions are one of the fastest growing sources of electricity use in the home, with some of the biggest models consuming more energy each year than a new refrigerator,” said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist with the California Energy Commission. “Efforts to improve their energy savings are long overdue.” About 20% of television models already meet the proposed 2013 requirements, according to Mr. Horowitz, and soon the rest could, too. “The industry already knows how to make energy-saving TVs; the California standard will ensure that every TV sold in California is an efficient one,” he explained.

Televisions and their assorted attachments (DVRs, DVD players and cable or satellite boxes) currently account for 10% of household electricity use, according to the Commission. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, hailed the move, pointing out that Californians could find themselves saving about $1 billion a year under the new regulations, without any loss of technology or TV viewing enjoyment.

The proposed requirements would apply to new televisions for sale starting in 2011. Standards will tighten a bit in 2012, when total energy consumption would be reduced by an average of 49%. TV manufacturers are resisting the change, but the new standards are being hailed as a smart example across the United States because that's a lot of electricity, and a lot of money, saved. Basically, we can build it, we have the technology, and we can use the savings for a fabulous vacation.

More news from California

September 19, 2009

New Farmers Market in the U.S. Capitol

It's harvest season around the northern hemisphere, and for many people, that means weekend trips to the farmers market. A particularly high-profile new market opened in Washington, D.C., this week. It's two blocks from the White House and the first customer was the first lady of the United States. Michelle Obama has been helping to get people excited about fresh fruits and vegetables ever since she planted a garden on the South Lawn of the White House. This week, she shopped for fruits and veggies from nearby farms in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Her goal is to connect city dwellers with local growers and delicious, inexpensive produce.

September 18, 2009

In Norway, Cows on Mattresses Give More Milk

Norway's dairy farmers have discovered how to make cows more productive: Give them mattresses to lie down on. It turns out that comfortable cows give about 5 percent more milk than cows that have to rest on hard floors. According to National Public Radio, researchers think lounging on softer surfaces increases blood flow through the cows' udders, allowing them to make more milk. Of course, it could also have something to do with the cows resting more comfortably.
The concept is also being put into practice in the United Kingdom. Wilson Agriculture, a Northern Ireland company in Colerain, believes that happy heifers produce more milk, and has been awarded a grant to "improve the horizontal quality of life for farm animals" with a little creature comfort.

The Guardian reports that the government grant will support the company’s production of Pasture Mats and Poly Pillows so cattle no longer suffer afflictions from living in concrete floored barns. As Evelyn Wilson, director of Wilson Agriculture puts it, “If you lie in a comfortable bed all night you’ll be in good form all day. It’s the same for cows.”

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September 15, 2009

The Plight of Uninsured Wal-Mart Employees

Earthly Happenings recently ran the article The Plight of Working Uninsured Americans Continues about U.S. citizens who own or work for small companies and have no health insurance. Since then, many of our readers have posited a very good question: How many employees of large American companies are living without health insurance? A bit of research has turned up the following data about Wal-Mart's financial relationship with employees and taxpayers. These statistics were collected and reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.

Wal-Mart’s health care coverage is well below the national average:
  • High premiums and deductibles keep more than half of Wal-Mart workers from participating in the company health plan.  While the national average of workers covered by employer health insurance is about 60%, only about 43% of Wal-Mart’s employees are covered by the company’s health care plan.
  • Here is how Wal-Mart compares to other large retailers. In a state analysis, the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services found that in 2003, Wal-Mart covered only 52% of total health care premium costs compared to K-Mart which covered 66%, Target which covered 68%, and Sears which covered 80%.

September 13, 2009

Willliams Outburst Hands Victory to Clijsters

An outburst by defending champion Serena Williams of the United States over a foot fault capped her loss to Kim Clijsters of Belgium in the women’s semifinals at the U.S. Open. Clijsters, the 2005 champion, went on to defeat Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark for the title at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.

Serving to stay in last night’s match at a set down and trailing 6-5 in the second, Williams was called for a foot fault by a line judge on her second serve at 15-30, handing Clijsters two match points. A player’s feet cannot touch the baseline during a serve. Williams turned to get another ball and seemed ready to serve when she changed her mind and walked over to the line judge, shouting and pointing her racket. As Williams walked back to start serving, the line judge reported the incident to chair umpire Louise Engzell. The Associated Press reported that Williams shouted at the line judge, “If I could, I would take this ... ball and shove it down your ... throat.”

September 12, 2009

More Tennis History, Bjorn Borg Remembers Vytautas Gerulaitis

This is a clip of the great Bjorn Borg remembering the late Vytautas Gerulaitis. It is delivered in English with French subtitles.

Vytautas Kevin Gerulaitis (July 26, 1954 – September 17, 1994) was a professional tennis player from the United States. He suffered an untimely death at only 40 years of age. A native of New York, he is known for winning the men's singles title at the Australian Open in 1977. By 1978 he was the third-ranked men's singles player in the world.
In 1985, Gerulaitis teamed-up with Bobby Riggs to launch a challenge to female players after the famous Battle of the Sexes. However, the stunt was short-lived when Gerulaitis and Riggs lost a doubles match against Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver.

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A Bit of Tennis History, Nastase vs. McEnroe
More Tennis History, Bjorn Borg Remembers Vytautas Gerulaitis

September 11, 2009

A Bit of Tennis History, Nastase vs. McEnroe

To the dismay of tennis fans, the U.S. Open has been rained out all day, thanks to a storm that arrived yesterday evening. While fans in New York have been treated to stormy weather, fans watching on television have been able to watch highlights from a variety of previous matches, including one from 1979 in which a 33 year old Ilie Nastase (a.k.a. "Mr. Nasty") of Romania faced 19 year old relative newcomer John McEnroe of the U.S.A. In that particular clip, no actual tennis was played. Here's why.

"A likable fellow with a good sense of humor off-court, Nastase was the last person you’d expect to hold the record for fines and suspensions—that is, until McEnroe came along. On-court, he turned into a monster. Nasty could curse opponents and officials in six different languages. He has mooned a referee, thrown a shoe at a line judge who called foot-faults and changed both his shirt and shorts on the court. He sometimes angered opponents with his heckling to the point where they stalked off the court.

September 9, 2009

Where is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of human-generated rubbish in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N and estimated to cover a patch of ocean twice the size of the state of Texas. The patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastic and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Despite its vast size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography because it consists of very small pieces of trash, mostly plastic, and most of its contents are suspended at or just beneath the surface of the ocean.

Because of it's location, the garbage cannot be seen from land, which explains why it has been successfully ignored for so long. Out of sight, out of mind. However, the adverse health effects of oceanic trash can no longer be ignored. Sadly, this is not the only patch of accumulated litter in earth's oceans. Like other areas of concentrated marine debris in the world's oceans, the Eastern Garbage Patch has formed gradually over time as a result of marine pollution gathered by the action of oceanic currents.


Giant Floating Garbage Island in the Pacific
What Garbage Island Means to You
Where Do Your Old Electronics End Up?
Collecting Climate Change Data

September 3, 2009

What Garbage Island Means to You

"I just want to say one word to you, just one word...Plastics....There's a great future in plastics. Think about it." --The Graduate

This is CNN's News to Me clip of 'Garbage Island', a floating mass of trash, mostly plastics, that occupies a patch of the Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas and is still growing. Watch this 7 minute video and see why it harms the planet and affects your health, regardless of where you live in the world. Click this link for more information about the Giant Floating Garbage Island in the Pacific.

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