Atlas of Living Australia

Photo of Thorny Devil Lizard

Thorny Devil Lizard

There is now an atlas of living Australia.

The Atlas of Living Australia (Atlas) contains information on all the known species in Australia aggregated from a wide range of data providers: museums, herbaria, community groups, government departments, individuals and universities.

Use it to:

I may have become a fan of KRS-One



I am not sure I have ever heard his music, however that is going to change very soon. I am talking about Lawrence Krisna Parker, KRS-One, who has made his way to Australia for a hip-hop tour, on the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship. Reported in the Australian today, I was impressed by his stance toward Aboriginal youth, parents and humanity as a whole.

“My theory is that hip-hop is the most advanced version of civilisation on earth and we are here to usher the rest of humanity into the Age of Aquarius,” he says. “I am here to teach hip-hop.  Sometimes I’ll be here teaching and there will be no concerts whatsoever. The youth here are more interested in mimicking Europe or America than playing the didgeridoo themselves . The best thing I can do is tell them that if they are really hip-hop, go work for your father, go and respect your grandmother and make sure you know your culture. I want the young people to understand, hip-hop is not greater than your father’s culture. I’m here to kneel at their father’s knee and let the young kids see the KRS they are lauding is nobody compared to their fathers.”

KRS-One, you may have made a fan.

2011 Year in Australian Science

From the ABC Science Program

La Nina caused flooding across large parts of Australia.
Cyclone Yasi, one of the largest tropical storms to cross the Australian coast.
Devastating Christchurch earthquake, which has geologists re-evaluating what lays beneath New Zealand’s surface.
Japan earthquake resulting in a tsunami and subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima power plant.
31 October 2011 was the day the Earth’s human population passed the 7 billion mark.

Shining bright

The discovery of two interstellar clouds of gas thought to contain elements from the universe’s birth.
Squeezing light past the quantum limit.
Neutrinos appearing to travel faster than the speed of light.
Mmonster black holes and the discovery of a star that shouldn’t exist rounded out the top five.
Closing in on the Higgs boson, creating light out of nothing and teleporting Schrödinger’s cat.
Finding Earth-like planets three times; peering deep inside red giants, confirming how some supernova form and discovering a planet made of diamond.
Astronomer Professor Brian Schmidt was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.
China launched its proto-type space station called Heavenly Palace into orbit.
NASA eased its Messenger spacecraft into orbit around Mercury and launched the SUV-sized rover Curiosity to Mars.

Animal smarts

Asian elephants are as clever as chimpanzees when it comes to teamwork.
Pigeons can count, wasps and crows never forget a face, and dogs can sniff out cancer.
Emperor penguins use Mexican waves to stay warm, shrimp use rap to entice a mate, and that Tasmanian tigers weren’t capable of killing sheep.

Climate Change
Australian government passed a carbon reduction scheme.
Arctic sea ice reached a new low.
Australian scientists announced a successful carbon capture trial.

What’s good and bad for you

Drinking cocoa is good for memory, eating fish is good for the heart; comfort eating staves off depression and green tea may shave a few points off ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Too little salt is bad for you, sex may kill you, exercise could damage your heart.
Laughter really is the best medicine.

Drowning in friends and data

The more Facebook friends you have, the bigger your amygdala; and the site is a reliable method of measuring an individual’s ‘personality score’.
US researchers estimate we already have close to 600 exabytes stored on discs, chips and hard drives. And in May, German researchers announced they had transmitted data at a rate of 26 terabits per second – 260,000 times faster than the NBN.
Comic Sans font improves learning and some phone numbers elicit an emotional response.

Found – one set of enormous eyes that roamed the oceans, Lucy the hominid was not a swinger and that Archaeopteryx is once again top of the evolutionary bird tree.

Atomic Velcro, Dark Energy, Seaweed, and Music



From Science by Email:

Organics and Carbon Sequestration: Organic describes a variety of compounds that all include carbon. However, some carbon-based compounds are organic, while others are inorganic. Living things contain proteins, sugars and fats, oanic compounds based on a chain of carbon, combined with other elements such as hydrogen and oxygen. Organic compounds are used to make plastics, pharmaceuticals, and even paints. Carbon has been called “atomic Velcro” because of its ability to make and break bonds with many different elements, and the resulting compounds are not all organic. Carbon dioxide and carbonate are examples of inorganic molecules containing carbon. In agriculture, it’s important to distinguish between organic and inorganic soil carbon. Organic soil carbon – such as plant and animal matter – can be increased, holding carbon and offsetting carbon dioxide emissions that are contributing to climate change. Inorganic forms of soil carbon like carbonate are relatively inert and don’t offset carbon dioxide emissions. The Australian Government’s Soil Carbon Research Program has researchers developing new methods to accurately measure organic carbon in soil, without including inorganic carbonate.

Dark energy discovery earns Nobel Prize: Professor Brian Schmidt from the Australian National University is joint winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. Brian is one of three astronomers awarded the prize for “the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae”. Brian formed one of two teams to study distant exploding stars called supernovae. The teams found about 50 suitable supernovae. They were expecting to find the deceleration of the Universe, but there was a problem – the light wasn’t as bright as it should be. If the expansion was slowing down, the supernovae should be brighter. These observations indicated the opposite: that cosmic expansion is accelerating.  In order for this acceleration to be taking place, there must be a force at work. Astronomers now refer to this mysterious force driving the expansion of the Universe as dark energy. The Universe is composed of energy and matter. Physicists don’t know exactly what dark energy is but it makes up more than 70% of the Universe. Dark energy is one of the great mysteries of physics and one we didn’t even know existed until the work of Brian and his colleagues.

Warming oceans pushing seaweed to the edge:Warming oceans are driving seaweed on Australia’s coasts further south. Seaweed, or macroalgae, play a crucial role in marine ecosystems. Macroalgae provide food and habitat for a variety of fish, shellfish and other invertebrate species. Together with phytoplankton they also provide a significant amount of the oxygen in our atmosphere and absorb 25 per cent of the carbon dioxide. The Australian Virtual Herbarium (AVH) is an online resource that contains information on six million plant, algae and fungi specimens housed in herbaria around Australia, showed that the distributions of more than half the species had retreated southward. If they go too far south, however, and they’ll be trapped between water too warm on one side and too deep on the other. If the sea temperatures continue to rise as predicted, a number of species of macroalgae may become extinct. The full impact of such extinctions on other species is not known, but it could be severe. The east and west coasts of Australia are home to almost 900 species of macroalgae, and a quarter of world’s macroalgae species are only found near the shores of southern Australia. The full effect of climate change on macroalgae is not yet known, but future research may be able to protect this important part of the marine ecosystem.

What makes a musical masterpiece?: Compressibility might be the answer. Compression is a concept used in information theory. At its heart lies the concept that the size of a data set can be reduced (‘compressed’), and then used to recreate the original. Things that are highly ordered or have high levels of symmetry are more compressible than those that don’t. Music considered ‘beautiful’, such as classical music, has a higher degree of compressibility than other genres of music such as pop. Perhaps it’s because humans understand the world through patterns. Classical music sounds complex, but its compressibility means it’s simpler for our brains. Pop music sounds simple, but is actually quite complex. Our brains detect the patterns in the music even if our ears don’t and this could be why it is considered ‘beautiful’.

Cairns Post 1943

1943 Cairns Post P5

1943 Cairns Post P5

While packing up and cleaning out my parent’s house and farm sheds, this year, I came across yet another modest A4 envelope in a box of documents, books and assortments. As my parents had been farming since 1960, and my father since 1944, I had become a bit obsessive about looking at all documents in every pile in every drawer and box, in case their was some interesting document that might create an historical trail for our family. Still, it surprised me to find, in this envelope, a quite pristine 1943 Cairns Post. A 50th anniversary of the Cairns Post, Souvenir edition, and printed when my father was a 14year old student at Cairns Highschool, as World War II took centre stage of North Queensland, it was certain to have captured his imagination. In context, WWII saw Cairns as a bustling byway for the War with huge numbers of Australian and US troops and airplanes flowing back and forth of the Pacific war.

I have scanned some of the paper here.