Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The glorious first

Hurricane season is here again. That Humboldt Current is a damn shame, since it means that we don't get any hurricanes here on the West Coast. One of the best things about hurricane season is trying to guess which beachfront developments are going to get wiped out (some meteorologists make a lucrative living doing this), but imagine how much more fun it would be if we could make bets on celebrity mansions. If Tom Cruise's place were to get flattened and not Mel Gibson's, would that prove the existence of God? But if Mel Gibson's compound ended up in the Pacific Ocean, does that signify a random chance in a chaotic, creator-less Universe, or just that he should have kept his anti-semitism to himself? Maybe Jehovah thinks they're all tits, and will flatten the whole of Malibu; one can only hope.

The nature of God has been much on my mind of late, since I discovered that one can be officially 'ordained' on the internet as prophet or church elder of one's own choosing. The possibilities are endless, and to be honest I'm mildly irritated that no-one told me about it sooner. But what to call myself? I'm thinking along the lines of 'The Right Irreverend Fester Fastrousers, Keeper of the Gates to the Befowled Underpants'. I am open to suggestions though.

A typical major land-falling tropical cyclone goes through five distinct stages; depression, storm, hurricane, storm, depression. It's amazing how often meteorological phenomenon mirror my own emotions.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yosemite's majestic giants at risk

The oldest and largest tourists within California's world famous Yosemite National Park are disappearing.

The economic climate change appears to be a major cause of the loss.

The revelation comes from an analysis of data collected over 60 years by anthropologists.

They say one worrying aspect of the decline is that it is happening within one of most popular forests within the US, suggesting that even more large tourists may be dying off elsewhere.

James Sputnik and Jerry Sidebottom of the University of Critz, Indiana and Hertz van Rentl of the Yosemite Field Station of the US Geological Survey, based in El Portal, California collated data on tourist girth within the park gathered from the 1930s onwards.

Their key finding is that the density of large diameter tourists has fallen by 24% between the 1930s and 1990s, within all types of forest.

"These large, old tourists have lived centuries and experienced many boom and bust periods," says Sputnik. "So it is quite a surprise that recent conditions are such that these long-term survivors have been affected."

Tourist in Yosemite; the wider the diameter,
the more aged the tourist
(J. A. Lutz)

Large tourists are not only older, but they play a distinct and important role within the local economy.

Their Winnebagos help moderate the local traffic speed, while their appetite for root beer, ice cream and overpriced plastic tat creates a unique habitat for concessionaires.

Older, larger tourists also tend to seed the surrounding area and crucially are able to withstand fires, short term economic changes and outbreaks of swine flu that can kill or weaken smaller tourists.

But the study by Sputnik's team suggests they are no longer faring well.

In a study published in Visitor Ecology and Management, the researchers collated all the data that existed on tourist girth with the Yosemite National Park. In particular, this included two comprehensive surveys: one conducted in the mid 1930s and another during the 1990s.

"Few studies like this exist elsewhere in the world because of a lack of good measurements from the early 20th Century," says Sputnik.

Including 21 species of tourist recorded by both surveys, the density of large diameter tourists fell from 450 tourists per square hectare to 340 tourists, a decline of 24% in just over 60 years. White Heads (Winnebago Arizonas), Lodgepole Pinks (Florida rinses) and Mid-west Families (Pater massivus) were affected the most. Smaller size tourists were unaffected.

"One of the most shocking aspects of these findings is that they apply to Yosemite National Park," says Sputnik. "Yosemite is one of the most visited places in the US. If the declines are occurring here, the situation is unlikely to be better in less popular forests."

Tourists of this diameter are becoming scarce

The cause is difficult to pin down, but "we certainly think that the economy is an important driver," says Sputnik.

Higher interest rates decrease the amount of cash available to the tourists. The suppression of employment also allows younger, less affluent travellers to visit (Rockjock dirtbaggus), increasing the competition for the campsites that are around.

"The decline in large-diameter tourists could accelerate as the economy in California becomes shittier by mid-century," the researchers warn in the conclusions to their study.

The impact of that is unclear.

"We know that large tourists disproportionately affect the concessionaires," says Sputnik. "But what the consequences could be of a decline in average large tourist diameter, no-one really knows."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I am now more bitter than ever that I can't get a job.

There are various satellite images hung on the walls of our basement lab; whether to reduce the dungeon-like atmosphere, or to inspire us to geophysical greatness I don't know. One of our visiting students, a supposed expert in remote sensing from Beijing, asked what the large image above my desk was. I was somewhat floored by the question, coming from a PhD student in a geography department, but I hid my surprise.

'That's Australia', I replied.
'Ah, Australia'. She smiled and nodded. 'And this is South Africa, yes?' she asked, pointing to another image.
'Umm, no, that's North America.'

I have been trying to think of a pithy, caustic and pointed comment, but this one has me completely floored. Time for a new poll, I think.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

You know you're a speccy twat when you know more than you've experienced

It's high time I finished with Academia, I realized today. I overheard some undergrads researching for an assignment about James Dean (by researching I mean they were looking up his Wikipedia entry in the coffee shop). There were a few blanks in their knowledge that I was able to fill in for them, namely that the film released after his death was East of Eden, and that he died on the way to a car race rather than actually during the event.

It's bad enough that I need to use titbits of trivial information to impress people, but when asked whether I was a really big James Dean fan I was forced to admit that, on reflection, I have never even seen one of his films.

I'm on my way to becoming a stereotypical academic.

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's not a rejection, it's a non-financial vote of confidence

Dear Fester Fastrousers,

Thank you for applying for a Postdoctoral Fellowship position with The National Institute of Clouds and Wind and Shit's Advanced Study Program. We regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you a fellowship. Please be assured of our sincere interest in your application. We had more than 10 times the number of applicants as positions available this year.

We maintain a career opportunities web site (
that lists other postdoctoral fellowship opportunities that may be of interest to you.

Best wishes for success and fulfillment in your scientific career.


Marvin Phukket
Director, NICWS Advanced Study Program

I have a growing pile of these. People telling me that I'm awesome, that my research is awesome, but they just don't feel like giving me money at the moment. Not really in the mood, I expect. At least they had the decency to tell me straight. One Salubrious East Coast Institute emailed me a few days before telling me how great they think I'll do in future, just to check my 'diversity statistics'. You can imagine the conversation. 'Fastrousers, sea ice; chop him. Wait, he might add to our diversity.... no, he's a white male, fuck him'.

At this rate I'll end up teaching Cloud Gazing 101 at a Community College.


Admissions officers have a sense of humour after all . Admittedly a sick sense of humour, but I suppose wading through thousands of almost-identical application essays will do that for anyone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

God bless us, every one.

It's time for the traditional Xmas Shock & Awe gratuitous picture of a girl dressed (if you can call it that) as Santa. Nothing says 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all men' than a young woman wearing nothing but a red bikini, with fur trim to keep out the cold.

You know, the economy is a lot like the Virgin Mary when you think about it. She was clearly fucked by someone, but nobody is admitting to it and is instead blaming some abstract being. Meanwhile a humble tradesman called Joe the Carpenter has been left to pay the bill.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Get under my desk and I promise you the earth will move

At 10am yesterday hundreds, nay millions, of Californians crawled under their desks, stuck their arses in the air and prayed for the end. This was not the result of some militant gaywise love-in to protest against California's recent constitutional ban on gay marriage, but a large-scale earthquake drill. When the sirens started, we all ducked and covered as prescribed by our 'earthquake awareness' sheets. Or at least we would have done, if we could hear the siren in our windowless basement lab.

The State of California is bankrupt, A Well-Known West Coast University is facing severe budget cuts, and a group of University-funded junior scientists are placed in a subterranean lab underneath a twelve storey building with no earthquake alert. I'm not the kind to cry 'conspiracy' willy-nilly, but, well, CONSPIRACY! I'm meeting with Governor Schwarzenegger next week, in the guise of 'student-leader in climate change'; I intend to take up the matter of our non-existent alarm then. If you want to protect genius it's no good whining to the oily-rag; one has to talk to the engineer.

Anyway, following advice from the emergency services I have developed my own 'earthquake action plan'. When my desk starts shaking for more than one second/10 mg of coffee I've had that day, my plan is to cry for mother and run helter-skelter for the nearest exit and not stop until I've reached the Pacific Ocean, sure in the knowledge that the resultant tsunami will be charging away from me and towards Japan. Ha, take that Japan, with your whalemeat and raw fish-heads and unusual sexual practices in YouTube!

A Professor shitting himself at a better-funded college. One with alarms and shit.
(Don't tell the fucker that it's only a drill.)