Monthly Archives: May 2006

An Paean To Jerky

Slate has an entertaining little piece about the great American snack meat and it’s uniquely rugged connotations. Seems it is the snack for rugged outdoorsy types, hunters and Marlboro men in the great American West. And I must admit, I’ve always wondered what pemmican, a quintessential trapper and native American food, tastes like.

In its purest form, jerky is produced more or less like other dried-meat products around the world: Tibetan dried mutton, South African biltong, Spanish mojama, even Italian prosciutto and bresaola. Meat—often salted, sometimes marinated—is left to cure in the open air. Contemporary jerky-makers might use a very slow oven or a dehydrator to hurry things up; they might also smoke the meat to add flavor. Although it can take a serious head-jerk to bite off a hunk of particularly tough jerky, the word is actually derived from charqui, the Spanish adaptation of the Quechuan word ch’arki, which referred to dried meat during the Incan empire. By cutting meat into thin strips and allowing it to air-dry, Native Americans in the Northern and Southern hemispheres could quickly turn lean meat into a stable, light source of protein—an early power bar.

I never quite understood the fascination that Japanese tourists seem to have with large bags of jerky. Seriously they must buy immense quantities of the stuff because all the shops stock large bags of the stuff here. I have this mental image of all these people sitting around Tokyo masticating away on duty free beef jerky.

Beef JerkySince I started hiking regularly, my beef jerky consumption has increased markedly. I rarely ate the chewy bits of protein before, even after months on the Atkin’s diet. Frankly it just wore out my jaw chewing those strips of salted leather. But jerky is pretty darn convenient as trail food. A couple pieces of jerky and a handful of almonds and I got a quick (and light) trail lunch. I’ve found my particular favorite brands are Jack Links and Tillamook Country Smokers. Both companies make a more palatable type jerky that is a little moister and more chewy. Not bad at all. Certainly better than those nauseous Slim Jims that hang out at the gas station counters. Those things are simply vile. The Slate article mentions some gourmet jerky purveyors like American Grass Fed Beef and Gary West. Maybe I should try the jerky of the month club?


The Pacific Daily News ran this story yesterday. A team of US and Japanese scientists filmed an undersea volcano just north of Guam using a deep sea remote submersible. The video footage is very cool, showing yellow smokey ash and particulate matter falling from just a few feet away. It is even possible to catch a glimpse of molten lava occasionally.

This is not the volcano on Anatahan Island, which erupted for a couple years. This is an undersea volcano called NW Rota 1, which lies 1,800 feet under the surface of the ocean. 60 miles north of Guam. I vaguely remember hearing about this volcano several years ago, when dead fish and fizzing, sulfurous water were noticed by fishermen passing above the fumarole.

Green Flash

A couple weeks ago I was out paddling on a Thursday evening and caught a glorious green flash at sunset. Little did I know that Dianne was on the beach, photographing the same thing.

Green flash off Tumon Bay, May 11 2006

Not only did she manage to capture the exquisite green flash that night, she also caught all of us out there on our canoes, taking a break and enjoying the sunset.

Canoes off Tumon Bay, May 11 2006

Click the thumbnails to load the very large originals.

Homo floresiensis – Maybe Not A Hobbit After All

Anthropology is such a contentious field. This whole brouhaha over Homo floresiensis is just typical of the sometimes rather bitter debate over human origins.

The story was reignited this week with the release of a paper in the journal Science. A team from the Field Museum in Chicago stated that the only explanation for the incredibly small brain size of H. floresiensis can only be explained by microcephaly, a genetic disorder that causes small brain sizes. However, the scientists suggest that this microcephalic individual found on Flores was from a tribe of pygmies, explaining the small stature of the skeleton. So maybe her and her tribe of H. erectus were pygmies, and she was a microcephalic. Guess it’s time for another round of rancorous debate.

By the way, microcephalics were frequently exhibited as circus freaks called pinheads by P.T. Barnum and other nineteenth and twentieth century circus impresarios; the most famous was Zip the Pinhead, who was quite famous across the U.S.A. from the 1860’s until 1926.

Guam From Above

Here’s a cool, if a little buggy, website that my coworker pointed me towards this week: Guam Geographic Internet Website. It’s an interactive GIS application for Guam. The aerial data is a rather stale, he says the photos is from the early 90’s, and I would have to agree. Oh, and it is kind of buggy. But check it out. My neighborhood is drastically different from today. I guess I’d need to know when the neighbor’s house was built to accurately date the photos. Or when the townhouses at Leo Palace were built, those appear roughly concurrent. Still it is an impressive effort, especially all the GIS data laid on top of the maps.

Smattering Of Science

Some interesting stories floating around on the internet lately:

  • Tomb of Xena uncovered in Peru – Archaeologists unearthed a Moche woman’s tomb in in northern Peru, revealing a rich trove of grave artifacts and weapons. Speculation abounds that she was a tattooed warrior woman, an unprecedented find in South American anthropology.
  • Three Gorges Dam set for completion – Well I guess I’ll never get to the the famed Three Gorges of the Yangtze. The dam is just about finished, with the last concrete being poured this weekend.
  • Solar system discovered – Astronomers located a solar system containing three rocky, medium sized planets. 3 planets the size of Neptune and an asteroid belt are orbiting the star HD69830, about 41 light years away in the constellation of Puppis. The furthest planet is in the habitable zone of the star, and could harbor liquid water.
  • Ancient Egyptian colonialism – In 1550 B.C., ancient Egypt conquered the kingdom of Nubia. A newly discovered cemetery revealed that Egypt absorbed Nubians into the imperial hierarchy. Several high status officials were buried in the cemetery, and most of them were local Nubians. They were uniters, not dividers.
  • Our muddled ancestry – So there was significant interbreeding between human and chimpanzee ancestors several million years ago. Maybe I am a monkey’s uncle.
  • AMD rolls out 64 bit, dual core laptop processor – I think my next computer will be powered by AMD. They are making some really powerful chips.
  • Real Time Satellite Tracking – This is cool, really cool. Coolest link here. Using Google Maps data, track satellites as they orbit overhead. Best fun is zoom in on hybrid mode and watch how fast the ISS space station hurtles across the landscape.
  • Worst president ever? – Finally, it’s not science related, but I was amazed by this quote in the Rolling Stone article:

    According to the Treasury Department, the forty-two presidents who held office between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions. But between 2001 and 2005 alone, the Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion, more than all of the previous presidencies combined.

    That just flabbergasts me. Can this be true? Holy guacamole, that’s a real accomplishment.

Mac Performance

G5 vs. CoreDuo! Who wins?

Looks like the CoreDuo beats the G5 using R to perform the tests. Ominously, Linux and Windows XP absolutely crush the G5 running OS X; even Linux running on the G5 knocks the socks off OS X. The author says it is the microkernel’s fault that OS X performs so poorly. And the author is not very keen on Apple products. Hmm. Guess my next computer will be an AMD Opteron system running Linux.

Freakin’ Sweet

I’ve been using Skype for months now as a replacement for my land line. And now it’s free to call land lines and cell phones within the United States and Canada. Cool! And of course PC to PC calls are still free. I was about to switch over to the Gizmo Project, another VoIP alternative to Skype, because their rates to call telephones in the US were half of Skype’s (1¢ per minute vs. roughly 2¢ per minute on Skype), but free is much, much better. Guess I’ll stick with Skype for right now.

The Wrong Guy

I heard this on NPR this morning and I couldn’t believe it: The BBC put the wrong guy on television last week as a guest interviewee. Literally, they put the wrong Guy on television. After the decision was handed down on the Apple vs. Apple case last week Guy Kewney was scheduled to appear on air to discuss the verdict. When the production assistant went out to the lobby and called for Guy, Guy Goma, a job applicant got up and answered the call. Imagine his surprise when he was whisked into a studio and put live on the air. No wait, no need to imagine, here’s the video of Guy Goma fumbling his way through the interview. Look at the expression on his face when he realizes he’s on the air and mistaken for somebody else. It’s absolutely priceless. The UK newspaper the Mail on Sunday has the transcript of the interview and puts it succinctly. Face of Horror.

Magnetic Records

Came across a couple interesting stories last week about researchers using the logs of seventeenth century vessels to measure the historical strength and location of the magnetic pole. They concluded that the magnetic field is weakening, a finding that corroborates other research into the magnetic field.

Previous magnetic pole reversals were preceded by a weakening magnetic field, and this weakening fits the pattern. The field is still quite strong though, so researchers think a pole reversal could be several thousand years in the future if the weakening continues apace.

Gunung Merapi Set To Blow

Looks like Gunung Merapi is just about ready to blow up. People are evacuating from around the volcano, the ground is rumbling, ash and gas are spewing from the caldera and it looks dire. I hope people get out of the way, and Borobudur is safe from harm. The ancient stupa is about 10 miles from the volcano is I remember correctly.

Anyway, this guy is blogging from near Mt. Merapi. I think I’ll keep an eye on his weblog for the next few days.

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Funny, that’s the first thing that popped into my head when I read this story about the crisis in banana cultivation.

Seems all bananas grown today are the same variety, the Cavendish. And the Cavendish is threatened by a nasty fungus. This is a danger because the modern banana is seedless and is reproduced asexual, limiting genetic diversity needed to combat this fungus. The kicker is the entire genetic diversity of bananas is limited because wild varieties are nearly extinct.

Yes, we have no bananas
We have no bananas today…