Is it Over Now?

As you may recall, my wife totaled our car back on Jan 1. She is fine for the most part, but after having totaled 2 cars in the last 2.5 years she is a tad reluctant to drive. I don’t blame her. The first time, undoubtedly, she probably dozed off for a moment and crashed. She was working an hour away, one way, and after four days straight of 12 hours a day, the fifth trip got her. She was fine, car was not.

This time, we think, because we don’t know for sure, when you get hit in the face by an airbag it’s a lot like being sucker punched by Mike Tyson. Consequently she doesn’t remember much from either wreck. Anyway, we had just put new tires on the car a week before. She was on her way to work again, (only 20 minute drive now), when she wrecked this time. From what we can tell, the drivers side front tire for whatever reason looks as if it may have blown out. The wrecked car clearly showed the tire had become separated from the rim, still on the pavement, because the rim had taken a beating. if you have ever seen a rim that someone had driven on a flat you know what I mean. Steel rim on pavement leaves distinct evidence. Anyway the blowout pulled her @ 60 mph across the oncoming lane of traffic (fortunately the lane was clear) she hit the ditch and went a little ways before hitting an embankment that serves as a driveway to someones house. She hit this embankment and went airborne, landing on the already flat wheel and beat up rim, which turned the car 180 degrees to face back they way she was coming from. Damn.

Thanks to crumple zones, air bags, and pure luck she was able to walk away. 

Thus begins the process of dealing with insurance companies, towing companies, rental cars, and the exasperating search for a new car. We finally as of yesterday afternoon, got another car. Now all of that stuff doesn’t sound like it would be exhausting, but it is. I really can’t explain how it is, it just is. It is such a relief to finally be done with all of that crap. It is like having a huge weight lifted from my shoulders, maybe now, we can get back to what passes for normal around here.

We got a 2008 Nissan Altima. Our rental car was a 2013 Altima, and I absolutley fell in love with that car. We had actually worked out a deal on a 2009 Toyota Corrola, and were about to seal the deal, when we stopped in at the Nissan Dealership. They had this Altima, with a super pedigree, and they essentially made us the same exact deal on it that we had going for the Corrola. No brainer. The Altima even though being a year older, and having a few more miles on it just has so much going for it. More leg room in the back, which is important when your kids are almost as big as you. Smooooth on the road, I purposely hit some railroad tracks a little hard on the test drive, solid car. Hadn’t been smoked in, no cigarette burns or stench of tobacco. Gets 32 mpg highway (The corrola was 35 mpg) Brand new tires. Fresh oil change. Cetified Pre Owned car. Practically immaculate. 

Just knowing that this ordeal is done, a month later, I almost feel like I’m on a beach with a margarita. Now if the weather would improve, and I could just shake this persistant cough left over from the flu, I’d start feeling normal again. Is it spring yet?

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The Plight of the Monarch

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I snagged this pic showing the Monarch in its chrysalis, caterpillar and adult butterfly from here: http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/ That link will give you a detailed explanation on the life cycle of this marvelous transforming wonder.

When I was a kid I grew up in a suburb of Peoria Illinois. This little burb was called Sunnyland. Having lived there through my childhood years this place still holds a warm place in my heart and I would love to go back to those days of innocence, where time seemingly stood still and we had 4 distinct seasons to enjoy with snow every year, and lots of places to take a sled to. Growing up there was awesome. I really enjoyed living there as a kid.

Part of that enjoyment was the Monarch butterfly. Yeah, kind of strange to you perhaps, but this butterfly was an ingrained part of the experience of living there. It was a predictable yearly occurence that happened without fail. The butterflies would show up, mate and lay their eggs on the milkweed plant which would grow just about anywhere that failed to get mowed for a while. After a few days the eggs hatch into little Monarch caterpillars that would gorge themselves on the milkweed. After a couple of weeks of getting fat on milkweed the caterpillar goes into morph mode, and begins the chrysalis stage.Throughout 10 days in the chrysalis, the caterpillar goes through an incredible metamorphisis and emerges as the Monarch butterfly. 

I witnessed this event many, many times. One year, can’t recall exactly but I think it was the fifth or sixth grade, we studied this Monarch life cycle, followed up by a local expedition where us kids scoured the local milkweed for chrysalis. We all harvested one, very carefully, by taking the stem of the milkweed and placing it with chrysalis intact into jars we all had, for the exercise. Once the chrysalis had hatched from its coccoon, we all released the butterflies into the wild. Some things just tend to stick with you… What I did not remember about the life cycle was that there were four generations of Monarch’s every year. The first three generations the adult butterflies only live from 2 to 6 weeks, and then mate for another generation. The fourth generation is the one that migrates. 

Now many years later, perhaps even a few decades later (geez I’m getting old), the Monarch is in serious trouble. Through several distinct problems, the Monarch numbers have dwindled to a very low level. From cold wintering grounds in Mexico killing them off, to severe culling of the milkweed by farmers, and road crews cutting roadside milkweed down, to drought reducing the availability of food plants for the Monarch’s migratory journey. All of these factors combined have led to a huge decline in the migrating Monarch’s. There are places where the Monarch is established, and they do not migrate, they just stay there year round. So the Monarch isn’t endangered as a whole, just the migrating Monarch’s, the ones I grew up with. 

I can only hope that conservation efforts, and there are some both here and in Mexico, will help to restore the migratory Monarch to its former numbers. I would really be disappointed to see this icon of my youth fade away into another statistic for the history books.

Full story on the threat to the Monarch here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/01/29/the-monarch-butterfly-population-just-hit-a-record-low-heres-why/

I Saw The Supernova Last Night

First I’d like to say it’s good to back. I went to the Dr. about a week and a half back with a temp of 102. Doc says, “you have an ear infection, but with your symptoms let’s do a flu screen.” I also had H1N1. Let me tell you I would not wish that on anyone, not even my redneck neighbors. Chills that have you shivering one minute, hot flashes that have you sweating the next, body aches from hell, headaches from coughing like there is no tomorrow, and a general feeling like a giant bird flew overhead and took an enormous shit on you. That was as sick as I have been in a long time, I still haven’t quite shaken a nagging cough, but I also still have a few antibiotics to take. Anyway, if you can get the flu shot, I highly recommend it. I have a mild egg allergy that makes my Dr. recommend me not getting a flu shot. I think I’d rather risk the side effects of having the shot vs. having the flu next time…

Now, in case you haven’t heard, a new supernova blew up in a galaxy several days back.  This galaxy I have observed many times, M82. M82 is  sometimes called the “Cigar” galaxy due to its cigar like shape (obviously) It is located in the constellation Ursa Major which happens to be positioned for good viewing right now which is great. Anyway we had a break in the clouds last night and I was determined to get a look and see if I could spot this supernova, plus it was supposed to cloud up fairly quick and start with some flurries, so I was feeling a tad desperate. Using a 12.5″ scope and a low power eyepiece I scanned the area where I know M82 to be and found it fairly quickly. Even in the low power view I could see the supernova. I doubled the power with a 17mm eyepiece and it was very obvious. I made the entire family brave the cold and come out to see this, it isn’t very often you get to see a supernova, in another galaxy, that it so easy to see. It doesn’t actually look like much, it appears as a fairly bright star about one half to two thirds of the way out from the galactic core. What makes it spectacular is what it is you are seeing. A star that blew up sometime around 12 million years ago, just became visible to us from our vanatge point in the universe. That is the cool part.

Of course with the Great Orion Nebula M42 overhead, I had to have a look at it, and Jupiter was begging for a quick look. That was all I could handle and wrapped that observing session up right quick. It was pretty cold, with a wind blowing, and man we have had a LOT of that this winter.

For more on the supernova, with explanations and maps and pictures: http://www.universetoday.com/108386/bright-new-supernova-blows-up-in-nearby-m82-the-cigar-galaxy/

News From The Tiktaalik Front

Unless you are evolutionarily predisposed to living under a rock, you know the story behind Tiktaalik. For the rock dwellers out there I will elaborate. Back in 2004 Neil Shubin PHD made the Tiktaalik discovery. He reasoned, and rightly so, that if the theory of evolution was correct, (and it is) then a transitional fossil between fish and four legged land walkers would fall in the time period of roughly 380 million years ago. He decided that if this transitional creature was out there to be found, it would be found in rock layers dating back to that time. Mr. Shubin managed to get funding for an expedition, and went about finding this fossil. Found it he did. This predictable power of evolution is perhaps THE most important aspect of evoulutionary theory. An amazing discovery. Mr. Shubin later authored the book “Your Inner Fish” (which sadly I have yet to read) and apparently has been back to his Tiktaalik honey hole, fishing for more fossils.

Found them he did. The first Tiktaalik discovery was the front end of the animal with the head and front “feet.” This time they found the back half, completing the picture of this incredible animal. I am going to crib in part much of the story, which was realeased from here: http://www.uchospitals.edu/news/2014/20140113-tiktaalik.html   

“The discovery of well-preserved pelves and a partial pelvic fin fromTiktaalik roseae, a 375 million-year-old transitional species between fish and the first legged animals, reveals that the evolution of hind legs actually began as enhanced hind fins. This challenges existing theory that large, mobile hind appendages were developed only after vertebrates transitioned to land. The fossils are described by scientists in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online on Jan. 13.

“Previous theories, based on the best available data, propose that a shift occurred from ‘front-wheel drive’ locomotion in fish to more of a ‘four-wheel drive’ in tetrapods,” said Neil Shubin, PhD, Robert R. Bensley Distinguished Service Professor of Anatomy at the University of Chicago and corresponding author of the study, which marks his inaugural article as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. “But it looks like this shift actually began to happen in fish, not in limbed animals.”

Discovered in 2004 by Shubin and co-authors Edward Daeschler, PhD, Associate Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, and the late Farish A. Jenkins, Jr., PhD, of Harvard University, Tiktaalik roseae represents the best-known transitional species between fish and land-dwelling tetrapods.

A lobe-finned fish with a broad flat head and sharp teeth, Tiktaaliklooked like a cross between a fish and a crocodile, growing up to a length of 9 feet as it hunted in shallow freshwater environments. It had gills, scales and fins, but also had tetrapod-like features such as a mobile neck, robust ribcage and primitive lungs. In particular, its large forefins had shoulders, elbows and partial wrists, which allowed it to support itself on ground.

However, only specimen blocks containing the front portion of Tiktaalikhave been described thus far. As the researchers investigated additional blocks recovered from their original and subsequent expeditions to the dig site in northern Canada, they discovered the rear portion of Tiktaalik, which contained the pelves as well as partial pelvic fin material. The fossils included the complete pelvis of the original ‘type’ specimen, making a direct comparison of the front and rear appendages of a single animal possible.

The scientists were immediately struck by the pelvis, which was comparable to those of some early tetrapods. The Tiktaalik pelvic girdle was nearly identical in size to its shoulder girdle, a tetrapod-like characteristic. It possessed a prominent ball and socket hip joint, which connected to a highly mobile femur that could extend beneath the body. Crests on the hip for muscle attachment indicated strength and advanced fin function. And although no femur bone was found, pelvic fin material, including long fin rays, indicated the hind fin was at least as long and as complex as its forefin.

“This is an amazing pelvis, particularly the hip socket, which is very different from anything that we knew of in the lineage leading up to limbed vertebrates,” Daeschler said. “Tiktaalik was a combination of primitive and advanced features. Here, not only were the features distinct, but they suggest an advanced function. They appear to have used the fin in a way that’s more suggestive of the way a limb gets used.”

Tiktaalik pelves were still clearly fish-like, with primitive features such as an undivided skeletal configuration, as opposed to the three-part pelvic girdle of early tetrapods. However, the expanded size, mobility and robusticity of the pelvic girdle, hip joint and fin of Tiktaalik made a wide range of motor behaviors possible.

“It’s reasonable to suppose with those big fin rays that Tiktaalik used its hind fins to swim like a paddle,” Shubin said. “But it’s possible it could walk with them as well. African lungfish living today have similarly large pelves, and we showed in 2011 that they walk underwater on the bottom.” End Quote.

So to sum it up, Tiktaalik had developed “walking feet” well before it made its move to land. As well as rudimentary lungs and a ribcage. All of these traits made it (I would suspect) much easier for this creature to invade land, and go on to provide the evolutionary foundation for all vertebrates today. Absolutely amazing!  Even more awseome is this (also cribbed from the link above)  “Shubin will be hosting a three-part TV series based on his book “Your Inner Fish,” on PBS in April 2014, tracing the origins of the human body through the DNA of living animals and the legacies of now-extinct, but biologically important species such as Tiktaalik roseae.” It is safe to say I am really looking forward to this. Is it April yet?

 

 

I Hope The Rest Of The Year Improves…

Started off the new year with the wife wrecking the car Jan 1 on her way to work. We think one of the brand new tires we just put on the car (drivers side, front) went flat, she veered across the oncoming lane of traffic (fortunately there was no one in that lane at the time) hit the ditch, followed the ditch a ways, then slammed into an embankment, that doubles as someones driveway across the ditch. Wife is fine…we think. Car is totaled.

Have been on the phone with tow companies, body shops, insurance adjusters, the rental car company, and all the while we have been dealing with some of the coldest temps to hit this area in years. Water froze up one morn in the wellhouse, but I got it thawed out in 20 min. In laws had their hot water go down, they have been coming over for showers, which is fine…that what family is for. The kids were supposed to go back to school Monday, but school has been closed due to the severe cold and winter weather threats, but that’s allright, they are our kids, we don’t mind having them around all day long 24/7…well actually school is sometimes a good vacation from the kids, we have had them now since back before the x-mas break. I could use a break.

Knowing how the insurance thing works, we may have another 2-3 days left with the rental car, once they settle and cut the check, we will be out of the rental car, unless we want to continue paying for it, and I have to get my oldest son back to Knoxville Saturday to report back to college. Which means we have to find a replacement car A.S.A.P. Which means I have been on the net researching cars for the last 2 days, and looking for a good deal on a used car out there. I think we will go used, probably get something 2-3 years old with 50-75k miles on it, and dodge the payment book this time. Last 2 cars were both new, both totaled over an 18 month span. Probably looking an increase in insurance premiums. 

Wife took off of work yesterday, because of neck pain (probably a good joke right there about being a pain in the neck, but I have to live here), she went to Dr. Dr. says go get an X-Ray, waiting to see what that holds in store, hopefully nothing and it will pass. Speaking of Dr.’s and insurance, I still need to find health insurance, sooner the better, but who has time?

I haven’t made a New Years resolution yet, but I think it will be hoping for things to turn around, quickly,  and get back to a normal level of discomfort. I hope everyones year is rolling along at a better clip than the one we are having here 🙂 Is it spring yet?