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Turning the Corner

By: Bogon, 12:27 AM GMT on January 28, 2011

These are the last of the dark days.

Here in the northern hemisphere the winter solstice passed a month ago. The sun is slowly but steadily returning northward. The coldest days are behind us. From now on until summer, and for the first time in the new year, we may expect that each day will be a little warmer, on average, than the day before.

Soon the sun will pick up its pace. Next week, on the second day of February, comes Groundhog Day. This is one of the traditional holidays that marks the cross-quarter seasons. By that reckoning it is the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

If we monitor the annual motion of the sun and define winter as the darkest quarter of the year, then winter will end February 5. On February 10 the sun will rise at the same azimuth as on Halloween.

Meteorological winter ends March 1. Daylight Saving Time resumes March 13. A week later the vernal equinox marks the moment when the sun crosses the equator into the northern hemisphere. By that point our days will again be longer than the nights.*

Your mileage may vary. Signs of spring will arrive sooner in Galveston, Texas than in Bangor, Maine. Places like Galveston and Miami won't have long to wait. The rest of us will have to be patient a little longer.

Here comes the sun.



*Thanks to AccuWeather meteorologist Joe Lundberg for compiling many of these facts.

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Updated: 12:35 AM GMT on January 28, 2011

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Time Passages III

By: Bogon, 4:12 AM GMT on January 21, 2011

This is my third blog entry to bear this title. They say the third time is the charm. Indeed, my plan is to wind up the series with this installment. You're unlikely to be seeing more on this subject here for a long, uh, time.

What is there to say that I have not already said? Well, we have a new year to play with. There is a sense of hope and new beginnings. Hanging a new calendar on the wall seems to do that for us. It's hardly a rational reaction, but then we are often irrational creatures. Just ask a priest, a logician or a marketing maven.

I've talked about the relationship between time, cause and effect. Was there a first cause? Will there be a final effect? Is time eternal? Here you have a group of related questions that lack definitive answers. Better minds that mine have wrestled with these sorts of questions for thousands of years. Time is a subject about which one can wax philosophical. Lots of people have done exactly that.



Aristotle argued that time must be eternal. Each moment is simultaneously the end of one thing and the beginning of another. In my last blog I posted a tune from the band Blood, Sweat & Tears. The chorus goes like this:


And when I die,
And when I'm gone,
There'll be one child born
In this world to carry on, to carry on.

The endless cycle of birth, death and renewal is a defining characteristic of our experience of life on Earth. Aristotle's argument was purely logical. How could time end, he asked, when each event begets another? What could end causation? The very concept of ending assumes a passage of time.

Modern cosmologists propound the Big Bang Theory to explain the origin of the universe. They calculate that the universe came into being 13.7 billion years ago. According to the theory, it was in that epoch that time began, or at least when the cosmic clock was reset to zero. Some scientists believe that it might be possible to discover evidence of a time before, a prior universe or a previous incarnation of this one. But most agree that for an infinitesimal span around the inception of the cataclysm time was suspended. Certainly our ability to measure time was interrupted, because all that we know, all matter and energy, was compressed into an incomprehensibly dense state which our mathematics cannot yet elucidate. Big Bang experts talk only in generalities about that instant. There is no conceivable experiment that would create similar conditions today. The theory is based entirely on observations of the aftermath.

Once we admit the possibility that time had a beginning, we may wonder if it will have an end as well. Let us suppose that, after the universe blows up in a Big Bang, the galaxies gradually coast to a stop. Gravity takes over and everything collapses back into a Big Crunch. In this scenario the universe itself becomes a giant clock. Tick: bang. Tock: crunch. Every few billion years a new universe is recycled from the remnants of the old. Recent astronomical findings contradict this picture. It appears that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and consequently gravitation of all the mass/energy in the universe will not be enough to reverse the flow. It's as if there is a force or pressure opposing gravity. Scientists have coined a name for this phenomenon: dark energy. What's in a name? In this case not much. ‘Dark energy’ is only a cipher, a placeholder for something we don't understand.

If we project current trends forward, the universe will continue its gigayear explosion indefinitely. We imagine the distant future, as the galaxies and stars spread farther and farther apart. The stars burn out, and the universe becomes a cold and lonely place. It dies with a sigh, a long exhalation. Eventually our clock stops, because its battery runs down, and there is no way to recharge or replace it. All the energy in the universe has dissipated. Entropy rules.

The second part of this series closed with a quote from T. S. Eliot. Undoubtedly a lot of Eliot's poetry is grim enough to match the heat death scenario. This time I'm going to try something different. Here's a song from Chicago. I hope you like it.



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Updated: 4:16 AM GMT on January 21, 2011

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Tiger!

By: Bogon, 3:30 AM GMT on January 03, 2011

Time marches on, waits for no man et cetera. Thus did I find myself casting about for a new topic for a blog entry. Luckily, even as I started pounding my poor brain, the next topic found me.

Last weekend, as part of the annual holiday extravaganza, my wife and I were invited to tour a wild animal sanctuary. Unfortunately, last weekend the event got snowed out.

Fortunately for me our hosts for the tour were able to reschedule a week later, i. e. today. The place we went is near Pittsboro, North Carolina. It is called Carolina Tiger Rescue. It is not a zoo. It is a non-profit organization. Its sources of income are constrained by the rules under which it operates. If you send them money, they will surely appreciate it. Take the tour, buy a t-shirt.

I thought it was important to mention that right up front. While this is a great place to see a variety of endangered carnivores, that is not what this place is about. These animals are not on permanent display. If you want to take a day trip to ooh and ahh at a cracker box full of imported animals, your best bet would be the North Carolina Zoological Park.

Carolina Tiger Rescue was founded as the Carnivore Preservation Trust. The original intent was to maintain breeding stocks of endangered charismatic felines. Over the years the organization's mission has changed for a variety of sad reasons. Foremost is a showstopper: there's almost nowhere left to put a tiger, whether it be wild or bred in captivity. Nobody wants to have such dangerous predators running around loose in the neighborhood. Few parts of the tiger's natural habitat remain unpopulated by humans.

Our guide told us that there are now more tigers in captivity in the United States (10,000) than there are left wild in Asia (3,000). A lot of the North American animals are kept as show animals or pets. (Yes, I know — who could possibly think that a tiger would make a good pet? Even an ocelot — forget it. Bad idea.) Not all of them get the best of care. Sometimes these large carnivores are discovered in such wretched conditions that animal control authorities step in, legal proceedings result, and one or more big cats end up needing a new home. Thus there is a demand for facilities which can provide a safe haven for these displaced creatures.

Most of them were never wild. Some of them sustain injury or deformity as a result of their keeping. Often they are physically incapable or don't know how to survive on their own. For the most part they have no pedigree, so they are unsuitable for breeding purposes. Yet they need fresh meat supplied on a regular basis, and they need a commensurate amount of poop scooped. They need space. Tigers are solitary by nature. They don't like to be crowded; they don't like crowds of people, either.

There is at least one place, about thirty-five miles southeast or here, where there is land and a cadre of volunteers ready to tackle this challenge. Carolina Tiger Rescue seeks to provide a permanent home for about a dozen tigers, three lions, a bobcat, a few ocelots, servals, caracals, binturongs and kinkajous. I bet most of you don't know what all of those are. Here's your chance to find out. They are all fascinating and beautiful animals. They are still, for the time being, part of our world.

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Updated: 4:46 PM GMT on January 03, 2011

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About Bogon

Unemployed software engineer. "What is that?", you may ask. It's someone who has time to blog about the weather...

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