Palmas Altas Wind Farm

Living here in Arroyo City, one can’t help but notice all the activity in the area bordered by San Fernando, FM 1847 and FM 2925. Acciona Energy is building a 46 turbine wind farm here, called the Palmas Altas Wind Farm. The office and substation will be on Olmito Road between Taubert and Johnson. Whether you’re a proponent or detractor, wind turbines are here to stay. Acciona have provided a layout map showing the location of the turbines, reproduced here:

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Society can learn from elephants

Swaggering, aggression, attitude – headstrong teenagers can be scary. Even more so when they’re eight feet tall and weigh six tonnes.

Gus Van Dyk, an ecologist at Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa, was worried by a series of attacks on the park’s rhino. Badly mutilated rhino carcasses were discovered, over 50 in all, with wounds to the top of the shoulders and neck, which suggested, worryingly, elephants. Elephant attacks on rhinos are not unknown, and jostles at watering holes are fairly common, but this volume of attacks was unusual. Further investigation by Van Dyk revealed that the suspects were a group of adolescent male elephants (their teenage years are the same as ours – between 12 and 20 years old) who were clearly experiencing heightened aggression.

This out of control gang of elephants, between 15 and 18, appeared to be in “musth”. This is a unique state to elephants, in which young males, usually in their 20s, are flooded with reproductive hormones. They swagger, make themselves look taller, and dribble strongly smelling liquid from temporal glands on either side of their heads, as well as producing a constant stream of urine from their penises. It’s basically a form of “here I am, I’m fit and healthy and looking for a mate”, as well as a promotion in the elephant pecking order.

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The scary part is as well as the urge to mate going into overdrive, the males become very aggressive to the extent that two males in musth will fight to the death, tipping each other over so they can stab their victim with their tusks.

The normal safeguard is when an elephant in musth encounters a bigger bull elephant, he immediately drops out of musth as he knows his testosterone cannot compete. A young male may only be in musth for a few days. As he ages the length of his musth periods increase until by the time he’s in his forties, he can handle it and his musth period could be weeks.

These were late adolescent elephants, though, without the experience of operating as a male in a large social group. Van Dyk identified the probable cause – in the late 1970s, Pilanesberg National Park had been seeded with elephants from other national parks, like Kruger. Huge bull elephants were extremely difficult to transport, so young males, females and babies were introduced. As a result, there were no older bull elephants to push these youngsters out of musth. The huge rush of testosterone was overwhelming them and driving them to aggressive behaviour.

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Van Dyk realised that musth was the key to stopping this delinquent gang, so the decision was to either control it artificially, castrate the young males or go back to basics and find a natural solution. The answer, he felt, was to put a natural stopper on the musth by introducing big bull elephants.

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He was right. Six large bulls were introduced from Kruger National Park, who towered over the adolescents, and literally within hours, the teen thugs had dropped out of musth. No more rhinos have been killed since by rampaging youngsters.

Now here’s the lesson for us. This musth story was used in an academic paper as an example in human adolescence of the importance of a stable society and a father figure to provide boundaries for teen males. The young males that were getting into these elephant gangs had no template of good social behaviour and were at the mercy of their rampaging hormones, which was putting them at as much risk as those around them. The result was a happy ending for the elephants in Pilanesberg, and one from which maybe we can learn.

p.s. Arroyo City News has visited Pilanesberg National Park on a number of occasions – it is an easy 1 1/2 hour drive from Johannesburg and is highly recommended as a true “African Safari Experience”. Stay at the Kwa Maritane resort in the Park. If you can get a good deal on a flight to Johannesburg, a week at the Kwa Maritane will be cheaper than a week at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and real to boot.

Thanks to the BBC for the substance of this story.

Super blood moon

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Starting tonight at around 9 pm we’ll have a full lunar eclipse which will peak at 11 pm or so and end around 1 am. It will be perfectly visible here in South Texas so make the most of it. The moon is close to the earth in its orbit so it will be larger than usual, hence the “super” designation.

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Here is a brief tutorial on eclipses for those interested in knowing a little more:

The Moon does not have any light of its own – it shines because its surface reflects sunlight. During a total lunar eclipse, the Earth moves between the Sun and the Moon and cuts off the Moon’s light supply. When this happens, the surface of the Moon takes on a reddish glow instead of going completely dark. The red color of a totally eclipsed Moon has prompted many people in recent years to refer to total lunar eclipses as Blood Moons. The reason why the Moon takes on a reddish color during totality is a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering. It is the same mechanism responsible for causing colorful sunrises and sunsets, and for the sky to look blue. Even though sunlight may look white to human eyes, it is actually composed of different colors. These colors are visible through a prism or in a rainbow. Colors towards the red part of the spectrum have longer wavelengths and lower frequencies compared to colors towards the violet part of the spectrum which have shorter wavelengths and higher frequencies.

The next piece of the puzzle of why a totally eclipsed Moon turns red is the Earth’s atmosphere. The layer of air surrounding our planet is made up of different gases, water droplets, and dust particles. When sunlight entering the Earth’s atmosphere strikes the particles that are smaller than the light’s wavelengths, it gets scattered into different directions. Not all colors in the light spectrum, however, are equally scattered. Colors with shorter wavelengths, especially the violet and blue colors, are scattered more strongly, so they are removed from the sunlight before it hits the surface of the Moon during a lunar eclipse. Those with longer wavelengths, like red and orange, pass through the atmosphere. This red-orange light is then bent or refracted around Earth, hitting the surface of the Moon and giving it the reddish-orange glow that total lunar eclipses are famous for.

Veteran eclipse watchers will tell you that if you look really hard right at the beginning and just before the end of totality, you may detect a light blue or turquoise band on the Moon’s face. This happens because the Earth’s Ozone layer scatters red light and lets through some of the blue light that is otherwise filtered out by other layers of the atmosphere.

The Moon can take on different shades of red, orange, or gold during a total lunar eclipse, depending on the conditions of the Earth’s atmosphere at the time of the eclipse. The amount of dust particles, water droplets, clouds, and mist can all have an effect on the shade of red. Volcanic ash and dust in the atmosphere can also lead to the Moon turning dark during an eclipse.

For serious eclipse watchers, here is a schedule of upcoming events:

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Solar eclipse

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Path of the solar eclipse over the USA

Tomorrow, August 21, we shall experience a solar eclipse. The eclipse will be visible over all North America, with 50% coverage here in the valley. The total eclipse will start at the Pacific coast in Northern Oregon and move across the country to leave the Atlantic coast in Georgia.

 

In Cameron County the partial eclipse timeline will be as follows:

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Here is a slideshow showing what the eclipse will look like:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When viewing the eclipse please protect your eyes – DON”T EVER LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE SUN!  The easiest way to view the eclipse is by using a pinhole projector.

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  1. To make a quick version of the pinhole projector, take a sheet of paper and make a tiny hole in the middle of it using a pin or a thumbtack. Make sure that the hole is round and smooth.
  2. With your back towards the Sun, hold 1 piece of paper above your shoulder allowing the Sun to shine on the paper.
  3. The 2nd sheet of paper will act as a screen. Hold it at a distance, and you will see an inverted image of the Sun projected on the paper screen through the pinhole.
  4. To make the image of the Sun larger, hold the screen paper further away from the paper with the pinhole.

Thanks to timeanddate.com

Technology at work

Thanks to Yvonne for forwarding this news item to us:

At a recent computer expo (COMDEX): Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated: “If Ford had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”

In response to Bill’s comments, Ford issued a press release stating: If Ford had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

  1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash……… twice a day.
  2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.
  3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.
  4. Occasionally, executing a manoeuvre such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.
  5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive – but would run on only five percent of the roads.
  6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single “This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation” warning light.
  7. The airbag system would ask, “Are you sure?” before deploying.
  8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.
  9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
  10. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off.

PS – I’d like to add that when all else fails, you could call “customer service” in some foreign country and be instructed in some foreign language how to fix your car yourself!

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It works both ways – the computer industry can learn something from the auto industry!

Countdown to 2017

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Bet you didn’t know this about bringing in the new year. 2016 will be extended one second to compensate for a slowdown in the earth’s rotation. The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) will introduce a “leap second” after 23.59:59 on 31 December. The extra seconds are occasionally necessary because of unpredictable changes in the speed at which the Earth turns on its axis. Typically, they are added every two or three years, although the last one was inserted just 18 months ago in June 2015. The NPL, based in Teddington, London, is Britain’s national measurement institute and the birthplace of atomic time. The laboratory is responsible for providing the UK’s national time scale – known as UTC – which is controlled by atomic clocks that are among the most accurate in the world. Peter Whibberley, senior research scientist with NPL’s time and frequency group, said: “Atomic clocks are more than a million times better at keeping time than the rotation of the Earth, which fluctuates unpredictably. Leap seconds are needed to prevent civil time drifting away from Earth time. Although the drift is small – taking around 1,000 years to accumulate a one-hour difference – if not corrected it would eventually result in clocks showing midday before sunrise.” The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS), based at the Paris Observatory in France, tracks the Earth’s rotation and announces when a leap second is needed roughly six months in advance.