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Q&A With an Entomologist: Attack of the Mosquito Hawks!

They are everywhere in North Texas. Are they here to suck your blood? Do they mean us harm? What’s the deal with mosquito hawks? I called an entomologist to find out. Mike Merchant is a professor and extension urban entomologist with Texas A&M. He lives here. He knows a thing or two about bugs, and he runs a bug blog that you might enjoy. Here’s the deal:

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Questions for the DMN on that Lewisville Dam Story

Finally got to the big dam story everyone is talking about. Good read! Lotsa drama. You can almost hear the scary music playing in the background, foretelling much damage and destruction. Highly enjoyed reading it.

Well, I enjoyed it the first time. The second time I looked it through, a few questions started to form. I wanted some supporting evidence and context that I suspect was not included because it would interrupt the excellent #longform #narrative. Especially after some light Googling. Those questions:

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New Evidence Human Activity Has Caused North Texas Quakes

The Morning News reports on new information coming out of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco:

Evidence that human activity is behind the Dallas quakes includes a new analysis showing that the faults beneath Dallas and Fort Worth had been dormant for hundreds of millions of years until 2008, the year felt earthquakes first began rumbling through the area.

Oil and gas companies have argued the opposite: that the faults in North Texas have moved throughout geologic time and that the current earthquakes are natural.

Earlier this week, SMU seismologist Beatrice Magnani compared North Texas faults with those known to have produced earthquakes over geologic time. Active faults have visible ruptures, while the small faults that the SMU team has mapped in Azle and Venus have barely perceptible ones.

Unlike historically active faults, those in North Texas also do not extend into the uppermost layers of sediment.  Faults that have been active over hundreds of millions of years typically disturb the uppermost layers of the Earth’s crust, said Magnani.

“Those faults are dead, and they have just been rejuvenated. That is the most reasonable conclusion,” said Magnani, referring to the faults beneath North Texas.

SMU seismologist Heather DeShon suggests that the Texas Railroad Commission begin collecting daily injection volumes and pressure from operators of natural gas drilling. Without that data, it’s difficult to determine the limits under which wastewater disposal wells might be operated safely, without reawakening faults.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Unless the industry refuses to accept that it might have anything at all to do with the sudden uptick in seismic activity.

Study: Barnett Shale Releases 90% More Methane Than EPA Estimates

Inside Climate News reports on the peer-reviewed study that indicates that 90 percent more methane than the government had thought is escaping into the atmosphere as a result of natural-gas drilling operations in the the Barnett Shale. The findings were released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Understanding the scope of methane leaks is crucial, because the answer will determine whether the ongoing shift from coal to natural gas-fired electricity creates a net benefit for climate change. Although gas power plants emit much less carbon dioxide than coal plants do, even small leaks of methane—the main component of natural gas—could undermine that advantage.

Methane is 86 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas on 20-year timescales, and 34 times more powerful on 100-year timescales.

Also worth noting is that just “2 percent of the oil and gas facilities in the Barnett released 50 percent of the methane.” So some operators need to get their act together more than others.

Ahmed Mohamed Maybe Didn’t Build a Clock

I don’t think it necessarily suggests — as the fellow in the video above believes — that Ahmed Mohamed brought his device to school last week specifically to provoke officials into just the sort of incident that elicited nationwide attention.

But Thomas Talbot does make a strong argument that what’s in that metal case is nothing but an old, disassembled clock, not anything that Mohamed invented. This blog even claims to identify the exact type that it was before its components were removed from the plastic casing — a Radio Shack model:

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Scientist Behind Amazing New Fossil Discovery to Speak In Dallas

The first thing I read this morning was a story about Lee Berger, a scientific explorer who studies human evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. About 30 miles northwest of there, Berger found the bones of a new species: Homo naledi, a short (less than 5-feet tall) and thin, tiny-brained creature that is entirely new to science. In the cave, Berger and his team found bones from 15 individuals, with all age ranges — from newborn to the elderly. How they found these ancient relatives of humans is a good story, too:

Berger was excited, but he knew he personally could never reach this fossil site. To get into the cave chamber, you have to climb a steep, jagged rockfall called Dragon’s Back, then wiggle through a small opening that leads to a long, narrow crack.

The crack is only about 7 1/2 inches wide, and goes down more than 30 feet. Squeezing through it is the only way to reach the chamber of bones at the bottom.

Since he couldn’t go, Berger sent in his tall, skinny 16-year-old son. “When he came out after 45 minutes, he stuck his head out. And to tell you how bad I am, I didn’t say: ‘Are you OK?’ I said: ‘And?’ And he says, ‘Daddy, it’s wonderful.’ “

Read all about it here and here, and there’s tons more to come. And Berger will make his first public talk since the announcement at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science on September 29. Why Dallas? The Lyda Hill Foundation helps fund Berger’s research and the conservation of the Homo naledi site, as well as supporting the Perot. SCIENCE.

Giant Machine That Fires Invisible Particles to Fight Cancer Tested in Irving

D Healthcare Daily was there to observe some of the earliest testing:

The treatment center is in Las Colinas and will be the first proton therapy provider in North Texas. The highly specialized form of cancer therapy uses a proton beam generated by a 220-ton machine known as a cyclotron. It travels the length of about half the football field into a treatment room, where a patient is lying. After weeks of careful imaging and planning, the physicist beams a concentrated dose of the radiation directly into the tumor, limiting exposure to healthy tissue. This is what Dr. Chang Chang, the director of physicists, and his team were testing, that the radiation would go where they want it to go and nowhere else.

“After a certain depth, you will see the reading becomes zero, just no dose at all,” Chang says. “It’s very, very amazing when you compare that with photon. If you look at photon, wherever you go, however deep you are, you’re going to get a dose.”

He’s talking about traditional radiation, which uses a photon to wage war on the cancerous tumor. But it’s not as precise as proton, meaning healthy bodily tissue is more likely to be exposed. This leads to further side effects and an increased chance in developing secondary cancer, as evidenced by a 2014 study in the Journal of Radiation Oncology. 

We live in the future, my friends.

How Dallas Cancer Survivors Are Helping Astronauts

Cool story over on KERA about UT Southwestern researchers, led by Dr. Benjamin Levine, taking Dallas cancer survivors up into the NASA plane that flies repeated parabolas high up in the atmosphere to simulate zero gravity. Why?

“One of the biggest medical problems in the last decade of manned space flight has been the understanding that astronauts on the International Space Station are losing their vision,” Levine explains. “And when they’ve come back down to Earth, it looks for all the world like the pressure inside the brain is too high.”

This hypothesis, that high pressure inside the brain is damaging the eyes, is what Levine was testing. Instead of sending people to the International Space Station, he’s using those fast swoops and dives of the plane as a chance to replicate the zero gravity experienced in space.

And there’s another big difference between these test subjects and the astronauts who have the vision problem.

These voyagers were all cancer survivors.

Why? Because these cancer survivors have ports in their brains – ports once used to deliver chemotherapy – that now make testing the pressure inside their heads easier.

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Leading Off (7/14/2015)

The Barnett Shale is Off-Gassing More Greenhouse Gasses Than Previous Thought: The EPA botched its initial estimates, and as it turns out, fracking in the Barnett Shale is responsible for 64 percent of all methane in our local atmosphere. The good news: most of those emissions are the result of human errors and mechanical failures.

Let’s Put Those Increased Violent Crime Numbers in Perspective: The Dallas Morning News breaks down the much-reported 10 percent increase in violent crime. The takeaway? Glass half-full, glass half-empty. You could argue the increase reflects a return to a historical norm. And if violent crime continues at pace through the end of the year, murders will be at the same level they were 2013 and 2012, while aggravated assaults would only see a 0.4 percent increase over last year.

When Will We Finally Run Craig Holcomb Out of Town? Read Eric Nicholson’s look into the laughable bike share program in Fair Park. I mean, it couldn’t be more stupidly designed, so it will come as no surprise that the usage numbers are equally laughable. But here’s the important bit: when Nicholson tried to get the usage numbers through an open records request, he was stonewalled by the Friends of Fair Park, which operates the program. That decision to not to release the bike share numbers was then upheld in a ruling by the Texas AG.

I mean, seriously? Bike share numbers? We’re keeping those under lock-and-key? Why? Because Friends of Fair Park – which is run by Craig Holcomb, who also heads the Trinity Commons Foundation – doesn’t want more mud on his face for a program that anyone who has any idea about anything looks at for two seconds and thinks, “Good God, that is the sorriest excuse for a bike share program I have ever seen in my entire life.” I mean, seriously? How long are we going to let Holcomb meddle in the city’s business? How long are we going to let him lord over his two little fiefdoms, which happen to involve two of Dallas’ greatest civic assets – Dallas and Fair Park – both of which have languished for decades under the weight of curiously stupid ideas? For the love of all things good, Criag Holcomb, will you please just drift off into a quiet retirement and leave Dallas alone? Please. Thank you for your service. Now go away.

New Designer Drug in Town: It’s called Flakka, and it doesn’t sound like too much fun. Effects include “murderous rage, paranoia, ultra-violence, and running around screaming.” Or basically what it feels like to read about Craig Holcomb’s meddling in Dallas affairs.

It’s Finally Texas Hot: After cool temps and so much rain, we can’t really complain about DFW finally flirting with 100 degrees (heat index popped up to 109 in some places yesterday). Well, unless the AC goes out in your entire apartment complex. Then you can complain.

Friday Afternoon Time Kill: An Interactive Tornado Map

St. Delkus says we may be in for a tornado today. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise. April is Dallas’ peak month for tornadoes, according to this new interactive weather map created by U.S. Tornadoes that tracks the high-point of the tornado season across every county in the United States. Dallas County averages 22 tornadoes in April historically. As you scroll your mouse over the map, you may notice something of a pattern. The data suggests tornado season is migratory:

As we’ve shown in a number of other articles, tornadoes are like snowbirds — they winter in the South. Even there, cool and dry is the name of the game more often than not in the weeks around the new year when tornado tallies reach their minimum. Cold-season tornadoes are generally limited, but larger events happen.

Moving out of winter, we typically see tornadoes move back north and northwest through the Mid-South and Southeast during early spring, then into the Midwest and Plains heading into summer. The main tornado zone ultimately reaches the U.S./Canada border area by July or so, before crashing back southward (with occasional outbursts) during fall.

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The Dallas Zoo’s Harrison Edell Talks Giraffe Birth and Kilts on D Magazine Podcast

We were all a little disappointed that Harrison Edell, the senior director of living collections at the Dallas Zoo, didn’t show up at the Old Monk yesterday with a lemur on his back, or a falcon on his arm, or a tarantula atop his head, or toting some manor of fauna. Instead he was merely a mightily entertaining interview subject on the latest EarBurner podcast.

A couple of corrections/clarifications for this week’s show, which also features impressions of Dallas City Council members Vonciel Hill Jones, Sheffie Kadane, and Tennell Atkins:

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North Texas Drought Persists

Looking at the Texas Water Development Board’s weekly drought map, and noting that only 43 percent of the state is in the midst of a drought today as compared to 58 percent a year ago, it sure is unpleasant to see that dark red lingering over much of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Like we’re the bullseye on a dart board.

Of course, that NASA video that was going around online a couple weeks back says most of North America is likewise pretty well screwed, so we won’t be alone in our misery.

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SMU Earthquake Researchers Find Fault From Irving to West Dallas

This morning seismologists at SMU have released an interim report on their findings from installing 20 portable earthquake monitors around the sites of the Dallas area’s recent slew of tremors, which United States Geological Survey data previously indicated were centered around the former site of Texas Stadium.

But it appears we can’t blame Jerry Jones’ secret underground lair after all. The more precise data collected by the SMU team shows that the quakes have actually been concentrated along a two-mile line that indicates a fault from Irving to West Dallas:

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Yet Another Earthquake in Irving (UPDATE: Actually, Dallas)

The United States Geological Survey reports a magnitude 2.7 earthquake was centered around Irving at 9:36 a.m. this morning.

You know what questions I have about this.

UPDATE: Zoomed in on the epicenter on the USGS map and it’s actually near the intersection of Northwest Highway, Interstate 35E, and Loop 12, which is within Dallas limits. So it would appear we’ve got our fair share of sinners in the big city too.

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