Saturday, March 5, 2011


Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites
Richard B. Hoover, Ph.D. NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center


Dr. Hoover has discovered evidence of microfossils similar to Cyanobacteria, in freshly fractured slices of the interior surfaces of the Alais, Ivuna, and Orgueil CI1 carbonaceous meteorites. Based on Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (FESEM) and other measures, Dr. Hoover has concluded they are indigenous to these meteors and are similar to trichomic cyanobacteria and other trichomic prokaryotes such as filamentous sulfur bacteria.

Read the rest of the synopsis here.

Meanwhile... wow. I'm still thinking about this. Hoover is certain enough of his results to throw the paper open to discussion by a very large group of scientists. If he's correct - and it seems likely he is - the implications are amazing.

I showed it to Natalie, who observed that on Earth, extremophile bacteria are found under the most astonishing conditions: kilometres underground, in rock; at the bottom of the ocean, drawing energy from geothermal vents; beneath the Antarctic ice. For her, this article was a shrug.

For me, it's much more. What you've got here is... kind of breath-taking. If the material in the Solar System's Oort Cloud is more-or-less seeded with life, then it's statistically certain some of that life has already gone extra-solar, probably billions of years ago. Equally: who's to say life arose in these parts in the first place? If life can potentially travel like this, then there's absolutely nothing to say that our billions-of-years-distant ancestors didn't hitch a ride here on a carbonaceous chunk belched out of another star system altogether.

Either way, one conclusion is virtually inescapable: this planet is not the sole carrier of life in this galaxy.

So. Where the bloody hell are you, ET?

Finding The Pace

Okay, yeah. Things are working out so far.

I'm learning. Every year, I stop taking on new responsibilities roundabout mid-October, and I don't start again until March or so. Why? Because the end of year carousel is an enormous pile of overload, and agreeing to extras during that time is just pointless. You can't say "yes" to anything in a meaningful way, because you may rest assured that any loose time you THOUGHT you had will be taken up by kids, end-of-school-year stuff, Christmas stuff, visitors, medical students, etc. It's imperative to leave as much time as possible open just to have a margin of safety for the inevitable stuff -- car problems, health issues, random events, etc.

By the first or second week of March, though, the new school year is in train. All the changes are more-or-less rung. I know, for example, that Monday is My Day. No kids, no wife, no significant obligations until dinner must be cooked, and then sword training. Tuesdays Natalie is home too. That doesn't bode well for work. Wednesdays Nat is home as well, and there's ju-jitsu in the afternoon. Thursdays are chopped to the shithouse by relentless to-ing and fro-ing to the school with musical instruments and language-study stuff. Fridays should, in theory, also be useful... but by Friday, you can count on a fistful of imperative errands, plus a bunch of stuff postponed from earlier in the week.

And the weekends are full of kids. Which is fine, yes, but don't expect to get a whole lot done.

So today I did some one-on-one ju-jitsu training with Jake, up in the tricked-out dojo/shed. I ran the pump. I pruned the biggest cherry tree back, rather brutally. Did a few loads of laundry, cooked a mushroom soup with autumn mushrooms that have cropped up in the garden. Got some grocery shopping done, of course. Did some reading on a novel MS that I'm assessing for somebody, took a lot of notes. Yep.

Not a really big day by any means. But through it all, I managed to find time to be around the kids, do a few things here and there. I helped Younger Son figure out how to pull the ink cartridges out of an old bubblejet printer somebody gave him. Younger Son loves pulling complicated shit to pieces, and this was a real bonus: it was a 'Brother' brand printer, so the colour cartridges were all separate. He took 'em all out: red, yellow, blue, and black, smashed 'em open, and gave himself the wildest set of body-paint tattoos you're ever likely to see. Good fun, if you're eight years old, yep.

Younger Son is a hoot. I just wish he and his mother wouldn't argue so much. I don't think Natalie has realised how much alike they are - so when his temper flares and he gets stubborn and bolshy, it rubs her completely the wrong way, and then she kind of reflects it back and it gets even worse. What do you do with an angry eight-year-old and an otherwise sane woman who loses her perspective when she gets caught in an argument with the eight-year-old?

Bad enough that Younger Son and his sister are perpetually trying to one-up each other. It's annoying, yes. But when mum gets involved too, the whole bloody house becomes practically unlivable... and I'm left wondering which one I should be telling to 'grow up'.

Ah, sibling arguments. I suppose I should be entertained. For sure I did enough arguing with my sister as I grew up. But I did grow up. And you wouldn't find me getting involved in that shit any more. There's no bloody percentage in it, is there?

Ate a Blood Plum off my tree today. I put it in about three years ago. This year there's a dozen or so plums on board, and they're delicious. I've had to pick them a little early, for fear of evil possums and parrots, but they'll be fine in a day or two. Got some nice apples on one of my little trees too, and on still another, a couple-dozen almonds. It's nice when all the work of keeping the bastard wallabies and rabbits at bay pays off, even if only in a small way. I can only hope that those of you reading this have had the privilege of eating a ripe plum straight off the tree, sun-warmed... or a decent apple (Cox's Orange Pippins, as a matter of fact) fresh as they get.

Doesn't make up for the dodgy crop of berries this year, mind you. But that's okay. I'll cut back the canes in a month or so, when they've gone dormant, and I'll clean 'em up, and then I'll supply a serious load of blood and bone, and next summer we'll be swamped with 'em.

Meanwhile... I'm thawing a big chunk of lamb. And I've got ripe pepperberries. I shall smash them up with fresh garlic and sea salt in the mortar and pestle, and make a paste that I shall apply liberally to the beastie. Then it will be roast in the charcoal barbecue until it is terrifyingly delicious, and it shall be eaten with crispy potatoes, green salad, and a fine, swaggering brute of a red wine. Hooray!

To finish: a new recipe.

Mr Flinthart's Rather Good Mushroom, Bacon and Sweet Potato Soup.

One medium-sized sweet potato
300 gm bacon, rind removed
400 to 500gm nice, big field mushrooms or portobello mushrooms
two garlic cloves
two white onions
black pepper
fish sauce
cream, milk - or both. Plus a very little cornflour.

Chop up the sweet potato, put it in a small pot with just enough water to cover, and simmer until the potato is cooked. Add a couple tablespoons of fish sauce and allow to cool.

Dice the bacon, the onion and the garlic. Add fresh ground pepper to taste. Cook with a little olive oil in a large pot, over a low heat, until the mixture is much reduced, the onion has become clear, and there is a significant amount of 'pot liquor' at the bottom. Now slice up those mushrooms and throw them in as well. Put the lid on and 'sweat' the mixture for a while. When the mushrooms have darkened and softened, stir the whole mass thoroughly.

Now, with a hand-held blender, puree the sweet potato in the cooking liquid (with the added fish sauce.) Pour the lot in with the mushrooms, and stir.

By now, if you take a spoonful of the mushroom mix, you'll find the flavours are strong and bold. To improve the texture, and to bring the flavours together and soften them a little, whisk maybe a tablespoon of cornflour into two cups of milk. (You may choose to add a half-cup of cream or so for extra richness. Not sure how necessary that is, with all that bacon.)

Add the milk and cornflour to the mushroom soup, and stir thoroughly. Adjust pepper to suit yourself. Add more milk if you want to soften the flavours and increase the volume a little; otherwise, simply serve with a little sour cream, fresh parsley, and crusty bread.

Goes well with a chardonnay.

Dice the bacon. Slice