SciBlogs

Archive August 2010

Heading back to China Brendan Moyle Aug 25

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I’m going to be picking up my visa this afternoon for another trip to China. This time I’m heading up into the Jilin province to a small city called Hunchun. It’ll be a quick trip- if all goes to plan. And yes, it’s still all about tigers.

One thing of interest in Jilin has been a recent arrest of a smuggler with tiger-bone in the region-


One foreigner smuggled tiger bone

http://www.infohc.com/News/Hc/law/201008/24417.html

Hunchun Online, Jin Jiangshui (reporter), 2010-8-23

On the morning of 29 July 2010, Changlizi Branch of Hunchun Customs found 46 pieces of animal bone in a foreigner’s luggage through X-Ray check. The suspect was from Russia and admitted bones were from tiger, which were identified as tiger bones by the national Wildlife Detection Center on 12 August 2010. Currently, this case is under further in investigation.



Yes, it’s still about bones. Nothing to do with aphrodisiacs :)



In the Beginning- Abiogenesis Brendan Moyle Aug 22

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Abiogenesis is one of biology’s puzzles, the stuff of life. It marks the process when the chemicals on earth started combining in a way that would make life possible. It is the stuff of such a distant past that nothing is straightforward about researching it.

Nonetheless, there are three important clues about the origin of life. The first is the molecular. Every living organism carries a record of its evolutionary path in its DNA. Not only that, but many of the most basic cellular processes and structures are common to all organisms. These trace a path back to a common ancestor, a unique starting point.

The second is fossil evidence. Some of the earliest and simplest of the first life forms have been preserved in very archaic rocks (and show that life started very soon after the earth’s crust began to cool). The earth’s crust has however, sadly preserved few of these samples. A more exciting discovery has been organic compounds in meteorites.

The third clues comes from laboratory tests. The most famous was the Millar-Urey experiment in 1953. Researchers continue to test the mechanisms of abiogenesis in laboratory settings.

These clues point to abiogenesis occurring as a series of small steps, from simple chemicals, to longer chains of polymers, to replicating polymers- slowly increasing in complexity and organisation. Eventually the first true cells appear.

Creationists frequently attack abiogenesis by inflating the improbability of this process. I’m often told that abiogenesis is simply implausible given the odds of say, DNA forming spontaneously. These however, abuse both biochemistry and probability theory.

The first is that natural scientific laws aren’t a blind, random process. Chemical bonds have a way of forming readily. There is a reason why laboratory experiments can easily generate amino acids from simple chemicals. There is a reason why meteorites can contain amino acids. Amino acids like other more complex molecules, form very readily. As a thought experiment, consider common table-salt. This is a lattice formed from just two atoms- sodium and chlorine. Billions of these atoms form large lattices (crystals) every year. It happens because chemical bonds follow natural laws, not a blind, random process.

The second abuse is in terms of probability theory. Creationists don’t seem to understand that the steps in abiogenesis would all involve massive numbers of simultaneous trials. Rather than having one shot at getting say, a complex polymer to form, there would have been billions of ongoing trials every day. When your test-tube is the size of a planet and you have millions of years to play with, single events of low probability become very, very likely.

If amino acids can form out of a mix of methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide gas overnight (cf the Miller-Urey experiment), more complex molecules really aren’t out of reach with a planet to work from.

From 500 to zero- where are the Cambodian Tigers? Brendan Moyle Aug 17

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The single most important aspect of tiger conservation in Asia, has largely been the failure to reverse long-term declines. The continuous air of optimism, government plans and resolutions have all had little impact on the ongoing loss of tigers.

The Indo-Chinese subspecies ranges over Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam (a small population likely exists in Yunnan). Ten years ago, the population estimate for Cambodia was 500 to 700 animals.

It’s now been three years since anybody has spotted one in Cambodia. The consensus now is that even if there are some tigers left, there is effectively no breeding population left in Cambodia.

Link to News Story

Monday Morning Macro – Jumping Spider Brendan Moyle Aug 16

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The Salticid Trite planiceps is a reasonably common species in NZ bush. These shots used a green card in the background to reflect some light back onto the subject.

The shots emphasise the strength (and extra spines) of the front legs, used to seize prey, and of course the eyes, used to detect prey. Salticids are the most visually attuned of the spiders.

Jumping spiders also make good subjects because they’re diurnal, and their movements give you all sorts of different poses to photograph.



The setup was the a700 with two flashes fired off camera at the subject. And of course, the macro lens.

End of an era- Sony ceasing production of the 500/8 Reflex lens Brendan Moyle Aug 11

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I learned recently that the Sony has just announced it has ceased producing the 500/8 Reflex lens.
Sony Japan Link

This was a compact super-telephoto design, with a focal length of 500mm. It is a reflex of mirror design. Internal mirrors reflect the image down the lens, adding extra focal length easily. My normal design 300mm G lens is about 1.4 kg in weight. The reflex lens was about half that weight and of a smaller length, for 67% more focal length.

Reflex lenses used to be more popular in film days, and Sony inherited this design from Minolta in 2006. No major manufacturer makes this lens anymore. The uniqueness of the Minolta design was that it also allowed auto-focus. All other reflex lenses were manual focus designs.

I used the 500/8 lens for a while. It’s size and lack of chromatic aberrations were always appealing. Sadly it was never as sharp as my G lenses and in the end I sold it on. The other problem was that it was always a narrow aperture lens (F8) and needed some pretty good background light to function.

My favourite Sony 500/8 shot is this tiger one-


The lens itself
(Image from www.dyxum.com)

Monday Morning Macro – Fly Pollinator Brendan Moyle Aug 09

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While most people tend to think of flies as dirty creatures, different fly species occupy all kinds of niches. Many of these have these niches have little to do with recycling dead material. In NZ, flies are a relatively important pollinator given the low numbers of native bees.

Here’s one rather small guy, magnified a lot [:)]

Link to Larger Image

Back amongst the crocodiles Brendan Moyle Aug 05

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I think one of the most thrilling and fascinating animals to try to photograph well, is the crocodile. Part of the challenge is the fact it is is a large carnivore that would show no hesitation about eating you. Part of the challenge is the fact they spend a lot of time, partially submerged in water. So part of the fun is selecting shots that give some impression of the animal’s presence in water.

This photo was taken last year on the Mary River

Link to larger image

I liked the way the scales of the body almost merged in with the debris and vegetation on the water. Yet the eye still reminds you that there is a large predator still lurking

My complete gallery of crocodile photos is on this website

Chasing the light Brendan Moyle Aug 05

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Sometimes it’s just relaxing to sit back, watch the day end. In winter months the angle of light hitting NZ from the sun flattens and the red tones get accentuated.

Here’s a couple of examples

"After Dusk"- Shooting from Waiake to Tiritiri Matangi


"A tranquil moment" – shooting from Granny’s Bay towards Rangitoto

I’ve tweaked the red tones by applying a warming filter.

All photos can also be viewed on my photo website Chthoniid’s Wildlife Photography

A Hoverfly Collection Brendan Moyle Aug 04

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A gallery of the introduced hover fly Eristalis tenax. These have become a lot more common around my garden with the loss of so many honey-bees.



I’ve also got my photo website Chthoniid’s Wildlife Photography all set up now with a shopping cart for prints- that should work globally. Digital licenses are also available on request.

A Favourite Bird Photo Selection Brendan Moyle Aug 03

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This is a collection of some of my favourite ‘non-native’ birds- enjoy :)



All my wildlife photos are now on my website Chthoniid Wildlife Photography

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