Chandra has mapped thousands of supermassive black holes using x-ray emissions. These correspond to the enormous emissions generated at the center of these galaxies, and not the run-of-the-mill singularities within the Milky Way that we all know to represent a grave threat to America's nebulae. The red-blue scale coloration of the dots represents low-to-high energy x-rays emitted, and therefore the mass of the black holes. It isn't as though their locations are somehow mysterious since these are all at galactic centers. It has certainly inspired me see what the relationship between BH mass and the type of galaxy. I am fairly sure that spirals have bigger AGN, but not completely.
March 31, 2007
The first annual "Civil Rights game," was played yesterday between the Cardinals and the Cleveland Indians, while game organizers sat obliviously in the bleachers with their irony-protective goggles on. Joy of Sox doesn't own any apparently, so he produced a nice post showing some other hypothetically inoffensive team mascots.
It is odd, Dartmouth is always having controversies about the Indian mascot that we got rid of in the 60's. Yet it is still extremely divisive and everyone seems to have a strong complicated opinion on it. Even though the majority was pretty firmly against it, and there was absolutely no chance of them bringing it back, stupid little controversies are always springing up over it; like conservatives selling t-shirts with the old mascot, or arguments over whether we should even play against schools that still have Native American mascots. (The worst all-time moment in the recent history of the debate would have to be a campus newspaper sticking an etching of a violent warrior holding aloft a scalp with the title "The Natives are getting restless!" on its cover in response.)
And yet, even though I think it is good that they got rid of it, the symbol was fairly dignified looking, and in no way a caricature. As an image of an American Indian warrior as itself, out of context, it would probably not be considered offensive. Especially when compared to similar portrayals. To be clear, I am in not endorsing using stereotypes for sports teams (are you listening Celtics?). But I would look at all the vitriol engendered by our mascot, and then I would look at the Cleveland Indians, whose emblem is pretty much what you would get if you told the KKK artist-in-residence come up with the most backwards, racist, depiction imaginable--and yet you rarely hear anything about it. The outrage ratios do not seem to be correct. In places where the Native population doesn't mind, is proud of the depiction, and makes up a decent fraction of the student body, a respectful symbol isn't the worst thing in the world. For Dartmouth, it isn't appropriate, considering that the traditional tale of the college's being founded to teach American Indians is basically a myth, and that their place on our school seal, naked, approaching a symbolic cross is prettymuch unjustifiable at this point. But it isn't like in certain cases it is completely without merit to consider keeping an Indian symbol, even if it is mostly without merit. If the "anti-" side is still OK with Irish, Quakers, Cowboys, Patriots, Spartans, Trojans, Pirates, Friars, Volunteers, Sooners, and Teletubbies but never with American Indians than they are probably wrong. But even given all that, I can imagine no situation where it would be alright to keep a ridiculous, regressive, red-faced insult to Native Americans as the logo for a major sports team.
March 30, 2007
Further continuation of my Colloquium Drawing series. Not in anyway coherent, but the puffer fish are fun to draw. Also, the lecturer was actually pretty interesting, so I was, unfortunately, somewhat distracted by the talk itself. A friend of mine who could barely contain his giggling and made various requests like "draw a lobster!" was quite interested in having it, as long as I signed and dated it first! If I hadn't known I'd be giving it away, I would have made the diver a skeleton, so it seems that he saved his life...at least for now.
March 29, 2007
Some people recently noticed that a few googlers with a sense of humor seem to have invented a new method of trans-Atlantic travel; or at least a glitch to make it seem that way. It is now possible to get driving directions from America to most of Europe. Evidentially, making a right turn off the long warf in Boston allows you to swim 3,000 miles, where, if you make a slight right onto the E05 in La Havre, France, you can then go almost anywhere on the continent. I checked it out, and it doesn't seem to let you drive into Asia, or at least not far into it anyway. You can get to Novosibirsk, but not to Irkutsk (which is a shame since Irkutsk is so lovely this time of year). The trip time reads 30 days, 12 hours.
As Vermont slowly emerges from underneath the wintery hellscape we've all been sleepwalking through for the last 4 months, I would like to take a moment to commemorate the finest nature-related moment of this time-period: the discovery of a turkey neighborhood on a winding shortcut road thereafter named "The Turkey Run" (by me). And as anyone who has spotted this rare and beautiful creature in the wild knows, he is a glorious sight to behold. Audacious and proud, but never haughty, just as many of us see the U.S. (ideally at least).
For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country*...
I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.
If nothing else, he should at least be the national bird of Turkey.
[*Note that the author is here referring to Americans acting in the manner of Cincinnatus, the early Roman consul and dictator, and not the city named in his honor. This is what an education in the classics gets you, writing worthless footnotes to entries about turkeys.]
March 28, 2007
A thoughtless and unprofound post.
-One of the smartest plays in baseball, The Decoy Potato:
Carlton Fisk’s game-winning home run in game six of the 1975 World Series. Reggie Jackson’s three straight homers in the Fall Classic. Joe Carter’s ninth-inning, championship-clinching smash to end the ’93 campaign. All great moments in baseball history.
...Bresnahan says he casually mentioned to his teammates the possibility of throwing "something other than a baseball" into the outfield to entice a runner on third to come home and be tagged out. "Everybody laughed and said "Why don’t you do it?" Bresnahan recalls. "It started out as a dare, became a challenge, and I eventually did it."
The perfect opportunity presented itself in the fifth inning of game one. With a Reading runner on third, Bresnahan called timeout, told the home plate umpire something was wrong with this catchers mitt, and ambled over to the dugout to retrieve another mitt. Only this mitt contained the infamous potato.
"When I picked up the potato glove that was the cue for everybody on the Bills that it was going to happen," Bresnahan says. "I called for a slider away, so the batter wouldn’t hit the ball. During the pitch, I had to move the potato from my glove to my bare hand. After catching the ball, I rifled the potato over the head of the third baseman in to the left field."
The runner on third jogged home thinking he was going to score an easy run. But Bresnahan had a surprise as the rest of his teammates put their snickering faces in their gloves. "I tagged the guy out, "Bresnahan laughs.
"It (the potato) looked like a ball," confirms Williamsport Sun-Gazette Sports Editor Jim Carpenter, who was sitting along the third base line that night with his son Keith. "It had a good likeness to a baseball. Thinks just happened so fast. I was not thinking potato."
Neither was Scott Potter, the home plate umpire.
-Mexico once had an Emperor. WTF?
It is true. Two actually, during non-consecutive terms. But unlike Grover Cleveland, neither attempt went well. The first sort of rose up the ranks of the military and was eventually selected to be Emperor, like Napoleon I. He lasted a year. But the second guy was an Austrian who was just randomly appointed to the "Mexican Throne" (if they had one) by the conservadores and managed to be so lousy that he was executed within several years. Still, there is a crown collecting dust somewhere in Mexico right now. Waiting perhaps...
-Slate's Explainer, as it often does, led me to an article on cannibalism. If you scroll down about halfway to you will find a shockingly lucid account of what people taste like. The site name is "Food Resource" so you know it is worth checking out. William Seabrook's tale (about 60% of the way down the page) is especially worth reading. Anthropologists are rarely good for anything, so I for one found the story both refreshing and morbid. You cannot deny that you have always wanted to know. I won't give it away beyond mentioning that much like spiders, each one of us consumes, on average, roughly twelve human beings in a year.
March 27, 2007
Mostly these points trace where people live, but there are so many cool things you could do with this data. I would like to see the difference between novel settings and actual population density. Britain especially, seems pretty over-represented. Different maps for different genres would be fairly interesting as well. Get on it google!
March 26, 2007
Edgerton photos are glorious. I recommend Stopping Time, a compilation, in particular.
Also amazing is this video of things being shot in slow motion. I am however, left to wonder: what do these people have against fruit? Apple, banana, egg, bottled water, canned beverages. Was this movie made to tease starving children in 3rd World countries?
I was planning on putting up an unadorned link to this spectacular view of iron projectiles piecing through a nebula from Scientific American (photo by Gemini). But the Astronomy Picture of the Day stole my thunder so now I'm going to use their explanation and then add an insightful complaint about something completely different in the post below this one.
Why are bullets of gas shooting out of the Orion Nebula? Nobody is yet sure. First discovered in 1983, each bullet is actually about the size of our Solar System, and moving at about 400 km/sec from a central source dubbed IRc2. The age of the bullets, which can be found from their speed and distance from IRc2, is very young -- typically less than 1,000 years. As the bullets rip through the interior of the Orion Nebula, a small percentage of iron gas causes the tip of each bullet to glow blue, while each bullet leaves a tubular pillar that glows by the light of heated hydrogen gas.
Unrelated complaint (this is not going to make me popular): I am sick of The Blue Marble. I have never liked this picture for three main reasons:
1. Everyone acts like it is the greatest and most important photograph in the history of the world,
2. It features only one continent, much too conspicuously. The Southern Hemisphere also happens to be lamer hemisphere.
#3 is definitely the worst. This page documents some tacky examples of Marble's misuse during its tenure as World's Only Photograph. I find it most annoying when the picture turns up in some inappropriate context, particularly instances when the photo is supposed to represent a current view of Earth from space, but it is obviously the stock image. The clouds always give it away.
Can't we move on already and start using another Earth photo? 35 years are enough. Here are some of the shots from Galileo (1, 2, 3, 4). Any of them are acceptable. The composite generated photo on the right is even better. I would also be ok with NASA funding some kind of Earth photographing mission just so we get rid of this god-forsaken shot. There are surprisingly few photos of the planet taken from space.
Earthrise has always been a favorite actually. Making the planet appear small is much more interesting than forcing us to memorize that stupid cloud pattern.
"Live by the slow curve, die by the slow curve."
Such were the words of pitcher and raconteur Bill Lee following Game 7 of the 1975 World Series, wherein he gave up a game-losing 2-run homer on the riskiest pitch in baseball: The Eephus. A pitch with nothing on it; no spin, no lack of spin, no motion, no speed. Since the previously mentioned Top 100 Red Sox blog finally got around to naming Mr. Lee the 35th greatest player in team history, now seems as good a time as any to write about his famed junk pitch.
Despite the outcome of the 1975 WS, the Eephus is probably baseball's most cunning psychological weapon. Other than perhaps the steal of home, there is no more audacious thing to do than to reach back and chuck an arching 40 mph nothing-ball in there. The pitch is both an insult and a dare. Since the Eephus is so wildly off-speed, power hitters swing and miss by a mile. Then, for the rest of the game, all that they and their teammates can think about is the possibility of its re-occurrence. In fact, the success of the pitch is based by the frequency of its use. Throw it too often, and your risk giving up an embarrassing home run; too little and the batter will stop thinking about it. Spaceman Lee's mistake in game 7 was getting greedy. He used it to twice dispatch Tony Perez earlier in the game, but the third time he tried it Perez was unimpressed and launched a towering homer that was gone so fast that Yaz didn't bother to turn around in left field.
Rip Sewell, father of the Eephus, never endured this indignity. Only Ted Williams ever hit a home run off his signature pitch. A bogus home run in the 1946 All-Star game, which Williams later admitted stepping out of the batters box to reach. Sewell is said to have invented the "bloop curve" after an injury restricted his ability to throw hard for extended periods and forced him to resort to mind games. But this never hindered him, as he managed 9 winning seasons out of 13 and nearly 400 games.
Sometimes, the ball dropped down into the strike zone while the suddenly emasculated hitter flailed. More often they managed some kind of contact, yet for some reason (perhaps arc of the pitch was too severe) they couldn’t knock it out of the park. And that’s all they wanted to do. As a hitter, you don’t see an outrageous pitch like the Eephus and think, Single. The Eephus pitch was an insult: they wanted to pulverize it, kill it, crush it. They’d get so worked up waiting for it they couldn’t see it straight, and they’d ground out, or pop out, or miss altogether. They risked injury -- the swings they took where that hard. And then they were embarrassed, angry. Give it to me again, you son-of-a-bitch! But ... no. Probably not, not for you. Not any time soon. Batters would wish for another chance they might not get for a year, but the pitch would be in their minds every time they faced Sewell -- that big looping marshmallow of a pitch. It was galling, an itch they couldn’t reach, an ache. Sewell was careful not to throw the Eephus too much -- he tried to keep it around 10 times per game. He wanted hitters to hope for it, but he wanted its arrival to be unexpected, every time. This made all of Sewell’s other pitches look a little bit better, because any pitch, any pitch at all, looks fantastic when compared to to the Eephus. [Link]I love baseball oddities, especially those whose practitioners can be counted on both hands. The junk ball is one such oddity. Unfortunately, we haven't seen one thrown since 2004, but I think the Space Ball is poised for a comeback. A slow, galling, unexpected comeback.
Labels: Red Sox
March 25, 2007
Sidney Harris, illustrious science cartoonist has posted his prodigious science cartoonary online. There is not a lot of competition for the title of "best physics cartoonist," but if there was, Harris would probably win. I can't date this one, but I hope that it secretly inspired my all-time favorite diagram, from Kolb & Turner's The Early Universe, page 86:
As reprehensible and willfully misinformed ordinary global warming "deniers" are, they can't hold a deluded candle to the people who think the whole issue is some kind of conspiracy. I could see where someone who is deeply mistaken or scientifically illiterate would consider his pro-science opponents to be alarmists, or naïve and overcautious. I could imagine simply thinking that they were wrong, and that they were willing to believe anything pessimistic that their crunchy friends told them. But when it comes to the sorting out why every scientist who knows actually knows something about it disagrees, I can't imagine anyone settling on "conspiracy." Conspiracies are an inherently silly concept, but when you apply it to a situation involving a bunch of professors who don't know each other or get anything out of it, it makes even less sense. If that is possible.
Moreso for the politicians who make a big deal out of it; how would you think that they stand to gain by pointing out that there is going to be a world-wide catastrophe unless industry undergoes drastic changes? The polluter people obviously have a lot to gain by stopping you, but it isn't like Al Gore hates cars. A few nutty people might dislike technology for stupid whacked-out reasons, but the vast majority of environmentalists get absolutely nothing for holding this view, other than a deep feeling of unease. Anti-scientific charlatans get the support of these fantastically rich companies, the politicians who shill for those companies, and they also get to feel good about the fact that the world isn't going to end.
This is what I never get about climate change deniers, just what do they think is the point of the supposed conspiracy? Executed somehow by these scientists are so capable of coming to a secret but world-wide consensus to deceive everyone (because if academics are known for anything, it is agreeing), so that they can get...more funding? I don't know. Or what they thing Gore was up to in the 80's when he was the only person who was pointing this out. How is talking about complicated scientific issues cloaked in a message of gloom and despair supposed to make you popular? What is the demographic that is going to love hearing about that? "Vote Gore: Harbinger of inevitable disaster." Yes, that is an uplifting message.
I just don't understand what they think their opponents motives are. They cannot honestly say scientists hate the idea of car ownership or electricity. I figured the charlatans were just sort of in denial and that they assumed their opponents were misguided, or that the climate predictions would turn out to be wrong, even as that became increasingly unlikely. I have just never been able to see, from their point of view, how environmentalists could be perceived to have sinister motives. Even if they were wrong, they would have to be sincere--there is absolutely no reward.
But I finally saw something Friday that cleared up for me what some of these folks are thinking. They believe, at least the more obtuse ones, that global warming is being used as a cover to secretly establish a world-wide totalitarian communist government. Yes, you read that correctly. Of global warming this [successful right-wing blogger] says:
They want to use it to create a world government that subjugates individual nations and people to the irrefutable ideal of preserving the planet. In other, simpler words, their objective is communism -- the replacement of individual free choice and free markets with a collective that has the power to exterminate anyone and anything on behalf of a rational government model that justifies all actions without resort to bourgeois notions of morality.
Once the precedent has been set that there is a planetary cause which trumps human-centric morality, they will be free to rule everyone as they -- and their chosen experts -- see fit. It's important to recognize that modern liberalism has nothing whatever to do with traditional liberalism, which values the individual above all other principles. The real desire of contemporary "liberals" is to establish a ruling class with absolute power over all us ordinary slobs who don't share their peculiar perspectives on social justice.
A scientific cause is the perfect instrument for achieving this objective. The definition of science is that it consists of what has been proven factually true. It cannot therefore be rebutted by faith, values, esthetics, or aspiration. Its status as irrevocable truth empowers the enlightened (i.e., those in power) to censor, punish, obliterate, and overturn pre-existing values without any philosophical backchat. Science allows the substitution of facts for truth, however conceived. If he were alive today, the amoral keepers of the Global Warming faith could wring obedience from Jesus Christ on the subject of recycling and secondhand smoke -- without uttering a single word about divinity, faith, or sin. In the preferred "liberal" model, power belongs not to the good but to the smart. You will learn, despite three centuries of disrespect and rebellion, to genuflect to Yale.
That's why ducking the questions about Global Warming -- "I don't know," "I'm not sure," "I don't disagree in principle," "I don't see the harm in going along," -- is a suicide pact with totalitarianism.
These people are nuts. And they're also winning the battle over what the politics of the future will look like. Global Warming is not a sideshow. It's the incredibly ponderous first step of an assault that intends to remove all individual free will from life. That's why it's imperative that all of us quit making jokes about Global Warming and go to war for the purpose of debunking it.
...Study. And then spread the word. Not laughingly, but as seriously as if your life depended on it. Because it does.
Somehow I am having trouble picturing Commissar Gore delivering a vociferous invocation to the assembled multitudes of Red Square at the installment of his one-world Peoples' Government. The long-awaited fruition of decades of work, patiently making power point presentations and boring speeches, dreaming wistfully of the glorious Workers' Revolution. Climatologists of the world, Unite!
(I don't want to give this creep traffic, so email me [or roll your cursor over this text] if you are interested in the link.)
March 24, 2007
Woman claims skin reaction to wireless internet:
For most people talking on a mobile phone, cooking dinner in the microwave or driving in a car is simply part of modern living in 21st century Britain.
But completing any such tasks is impossible for Debbie Bird - because she is allergic to modern technology.
The 39-year-old is so sensitive to the electromagnetic field (emf) or 'smog' created by computers, mobile phones, microwave ovens and even some cars, that she develops a painful skin rash and her eyelids swell to three times their size if she goes near them.
As a consequence, Mrs Bird, a health spa manager, has transformed her home into an EMF-free zone to try and stay healthy.
The walls are all covered in special carbon paint, the windows have a protective film on them and she and her husband, Tony, 45, even sleep under a silver-plated mosquito net to deflect the radiowaves.
'I can no longer do things that I used to take for granted,' Mrs Bird said last night. 'My day-to-day life has been seriously affected by EMF.
'I don't own a microwave. I don't use mobile phones at all. I can't even use a cordless phone. We have a plasma screen TV because the old style one gave out gamma rays, which brought on my reaction.
'I can't even get in my friend's BMW. If I do I immediately start getting a headache and my head starts tingling.
Perhaps I am too skeptical, but I find this hard to believe. Psychosomatic illnesses have been extensively documented, but EMF-based ones? I don't think so. There are people who have a skin reaction to bright sunlight, but that is a very different type of problem and it begins at birth. In fact, allergies in general almost never spring up that late in life, unless some unusual situation brings it about.
Plus, she is all over the place about what she claims to be allergic to. Wi-Fi, microwave ovens, cell and cordless phones are indeed all around the same waveband (UHF and SHF). But there are plenty of other things around there that she does not claim an allergy to, particularly different kinds of broadcast radio and TV. And the proposition that cars are somehow emitting anything around that part of the spectrum makes no sense.
The worst part is definitely "the old style [TV] gave out gamma rays, which brought on my reaction." First of all, no it didn't. Second of all, that is soooo far from microwave radiation. And third of all, televisions emit very little radiation, being a receiver doesn't somehow cause that device to be a "hub" for some wavelength. And if it did, it would never be gamma rays.
It is unfortunate that in a story about a rather dubious medical/science issue the newspaper hardly managed any degree of skepticism. They added one sentence saying that practically all doctors doubt the veracity of "Electro-sensitivity" and then immediately counter it with some pseudo-scientist. Textbook false balance.
March 23, 2007
I wish there was something physics-related about this game so that I could justify my quest to beat it more than once. It involves chain reactions. Let's just say that-- I like it because it reminds me of nuclear physics. Yes, that makes it alright to play flash games...
The music also heals my jangled nerves.
March 21, 2007
This chart is an immensely complex map of the interconnections between the different scientific disciplines. It was made by comparing the citations of nearly a million articles and assigning a little dot to each distinct area of research. It is basically the same as the sort of continuum I always imagined between them, (though the one I always saw wasn't 2-dimensional). I am surprised that earth science/ecology leads into biology instead of organic chemistry, and did not expect computer science to bridge a gap between physics and social science of all things. I suppose though that there is a difference between the way the different subjects are related content-wise and citation-wise. Even so, it is interesting that the latter almost gives you the former.
They certainly got one thing right: putting astrophysics on top.
Remember how in 2000 the running trope about Bush was that he would be a huge boon to comedy if elected? I was thinking about that prediction recently and realized that it turned out to be exactly true, but in a totally different way than we all expected.
The common belief at the time would be that he would spend at least 4 years amusing us with gaffes and basic lack of knowledge about the world, and we could all have some harmless fun at his expense.
But he has done nothing for traditional stand-up comedians and late-night talk show hosts. If anything he has made their jobs much harder. Aside from the steady stream of grim and depressing news resulting from his policies, the past 6 years have been a time of extreme polarization. Talk-show hosts who would be normally inclined to point out the obvious absurdities in the President's rhetoric became too timid at the prospect of offending their FoxNews-emboldened red-state viewers to call a spade a spade. Look what happened to the most spade-calling comedian of the pre-terror era: Bill Maher, thrown to the jackals at the first possible opportunity for doing just that. Then, once everyone started to "watch what they say, watch what they do," the whole comedy business ground to a halt for about 2 years while everyone was too freaked out to make jokes about anything.
Into that vacuum steps the Daily Show. [Insert generic paragraph about show's impact on the real news media/political scene here.] We've all heard the canonical story about the effect of Jon Stewart on the liberal media which is still struggling to groggily awake from its coma and recover from that ball injury. There are plenty of those essays already, we don't need another. Instead, I will observe that it and the Colbert Report have accomplished an entirely different mission, the fulfillment of that Bush=comedy-gold prophecy from 2000. He did give humorists plenty of fodder, it just happened to be different humorists (satirists rather than network hacks) and different fodder (jingoism rather than faux pas).
When you think about it, you realize that it was specific things that the past few presidents had done and said that made them funny. But with Bush the actual things he has done are pretty scary or controversial, and instead what makes him funny is what he, and the people who vehemently strive to prop him up in the eyes of the public, are: phonies. But if you are some Jay Leno type with a huge diverse audience, you can't be alienating half of your viewers by making jokes about the essence of their beloved leader every night, so you are forced to stick to these innocuous observations that skirt the substance of what actually makes the president hilarious (or terrifying). Conan, who used to be one of the most sharp and intelligent, is still doing Bush-can't-read jokes, seven years on. Get with it-- the joke isn't that he can't read, it's that he chooses not to.
Instead, the only way to appropriately mock (or even point out) this kind of vast trend of frightening dishonesty is by satirizing it. And to do that you have to be pointed, and partisan, and too cruel to please everyone. You also have to play to an audience who understands irony, and who will recognize the type of rhetorical patterns being ridiculed. So while ordinary comics have languished in the never-ending flood of scandals and terrible news, the only decent product of the administration, humor-wise, have been the ironists like Colbert who sprung up to the acknowledge the absurdity of it all.
So all of those smart-asses who thought they were being so clever back at the turn of the century predicting Bush as a boon to comedy ended up being right, but in a completely different way. It takes a special kind of absurdity to actually create satirists to mock you. If we're lucky, it could end up being one of his most enduring legacies.
Labels: Stephen Colbert
"Bad Day on the High Sea." I have nothing profound to say about this painting except that it is completely awesome. It takes one of those already awesome squid vs. whale pictures and punches it up a level. The artist's statement:
Here, raw sexual aggression is symbolized by the sperm whale, while the squid acts as a thinly-disguised metaphor for the multi-armed oligarchies of Rockefeller, Hearst, and Morgan. Their battle plays against the backdrop of the sea, standing in for--what else?--the vastness of the unconscious mind.That says it all doesn't it?
This is a few days old, but I cannot remain silent any longer. The yearly "Shamrock ceremony" at the White House every March 17th really bothers me. Why does the Prime Minister of Ireland come here every year on the day of his nation's largest holiday to give us a bowl of clover. Everything about this tradition is backwards. If anything, our president should visit them and bring the taoiseach a gift to thank Ireland for contributing immigrants who produced so many fine citizens like myself. It is their holiday-- can you imagine if every 4th of July our president skipped the fireworks and went to London to give the queen a hamburger? It would make no sense. Furthermore, the whole enterprise seems to be cloaked in mystery, I cannot find a reasonable explanation for it anywhere online. Every article is just some boring mention of the "annual gesture of kinship" between the US and Ireland. This year the ceremony did actually take place on the 16th, but it is the first time I've noticed it being moved up a day. If NPR can't figure it out, I'm stumped.
March 20, 2007
In high school I knew a kid named Landon. Yes, Landon. As in the 1936 Republican nominee for president, Alfred Landon who lost in a landslide, getting only 8 electoral votes and spawning the phrase, "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont." The Landon I knew could have done worse.
Despite having a name straight out of a J.D. Salinger novel he was universally disliked, and dislikable. Oddly enough though, he seemed to have deserved it. [It has been a long time since then though, and there is a good chance he is a totally decent guy nowadays, but all I have to go by is his personality from high school.] For starters, he hailed from Duxbury, the Laguna Beach of Massachusetts. Home of practically every rich, entitled, lacrosse-obsessed douche-bag at my school. I don't know anything about it other than that the whole town must be lined with golf courses and docks. Also, every Duxburyite seemed to alternately fear or wish to return to Duxbury public school, which both groups frequently implied was some sort of bullet-riddled gangland where "you wouldn't last 5 minutes." Well, not with that no-name brand lacrosse stick at least.
Landon seemed to belong to the latter group. Sort of a Napoleon Dynamite without the charisma. Relentlessly negative about every single person and situation he encountered, and with no apparent skills or talents (at least once hockey season started and it turned out his constantly self-touted abilities were only good enough for 2nd or 3rd string). In any case, private schools have a sort of smarmy way of getting rid of kids they consider somehow undesirable but who haven't committed any particular expellable offenses--they are "not asked back" for the following year. This fate inevitably befell him. It was a pretty cowardly way of getting rid of students, but anyone who was keeping me awake with loud rap music from his adjoining room late at night couldn't have been contributing much to the academy.
Anyhow, by the end of junior year he was simply running down the clock. He didn't seem to be too unhappy to be leaving, but the school was still forcing him to go through all the motions of the ordinary "asked back" students, such as filling out surveys and short answer questions for various offices. I think he had something extra to do, maybe for his new school and he came over to my room, looking for a human thesaurus. He was stumped on a question asking for words he would use to describe himself as a student.
"What is a word that would say that I am, like, trying?"
"Like, not that I am really smart or anything, just like, that I show up and do everything."
"Do you do everything?"
"Well, sort of that I try to do everything, when I like, have to do it."
"Obligatory? What does that mean?"
"It means that you put a lot of extra effort into your work. And that you strive to be excellent at all times."
"[Writing] 'I am an obligatory student...' but it doesn't sound like I'm bragging, right?"
March 17, 2007
The entire universe from New Hampshire upwards (logarithmick). Pretty complete, except for M106 and the Lenticular Galaxy. They got Chandra, WMAP and Voyager though, so that's cool. Plus, I've always been a big fan of the Zone of Avoidance, so I'm glad they remembered it. Along with the Zone of Terror and the Auto-Zone, definitely one of the better Zones out there.
[I don't know quite where I got this, sorry, rightful owner.]
March 16, 2007
-Neutral Switzerland accidentally invaded Liechtenstein two weeks ago. Apparently it still counts as "invasion" if your van full of soldiers gets lost and crosses a border without ammunition. You know, most people make fun of those silly jester clothes the Swiss Guard wear at the Vatican, but in my opinion that only makes them more badass. Anyone can look tough in army fatigues. But if you have to dress up like a jack-in-a-box everyday you are going to be pretty sick of fending off remarks from jackasses who think you're a wimp. You are going to make sure you know how to kill someone who makes fun of you...with a spoon.
-Havidol® is the only drug developed to treat Dysphoric Social Attention Consumption Deficit Anxiety Disorder (DSACDAD). If no one told you, you might be able to browse through the official website for a few minutes without figuring out that it is a parody of one of those soulless and increasingly ambiguous prescription drug campaigns. In fact, some people have. The spree of ads released since whenever it was that pharmaceutical companies became able to advertise has become increasingly creepy and ttransparent. We don't need "sleep aids" all of a sudden--why can't people just self-medicate with anti-histamines and cough syrup anymore? The Havidol® brand was created for an art exhibit and included print, billboard and TV ads, as well as the phony website and seems to be practically a dead-ringer for the real thing. Why is satire the only worthwhile form of social commentary these days?
-Last summer I went to a party with a bunch of film students at some stoner's house. This is his collection of bootlegged Phish concert recordings. I knew a lot of lame-o's in high school who bought every single one of Dave Matthews "live" albums (as previously mentioned, I attended a private school). Those people had nothing on this Phish sociopath. There have to be 200 CD's there, it even spilled over to a pile off the right side. How anyone could like Phish that much (or at all) is beyond me, and I live in Vermont. [Though these folks obviously suck a lot, I learned from a recent episode of House that Mr. Matthews shares the same rare double-jointed-finger talent as myself, thus raising his stock in my mind. How is that for non-satirical social commentary?]
[Photo credit goes to my friend Chris]
I recently saw this excellent clip from Penn & Teller's incisive program Bullshit wherein a woman with a clipboard is able to easily get many signers for a petition to ban the chemical compound "dihydrogen monoxide" at an environmental rally. Apparently, this campaign originated back in 1989 and has a pretty large following online. Here is an excerpt from their wacky propaganda:
Dihydrogen Monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year...Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting, and body electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.
Quantities of dihydrogen monoxide have been found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in America today. But the pollution is global, and the contaminant has even been found in Antarctic ice. DHMO has caused millions of dollars of property damage in the Midwest, and recently, California.
Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:
Companies dump waste DHMO into rivers and the ocean, and nothing can be done to stop them because this practice is still legal. The impact on wildlife is extreme, and we cannot afford to ignore it any longer!
The American government has refused to ban the production, distribution, or use of this damaging chemical due to its "importance to the economic health of this nation". In fact, the Navy and other military organizations are conducting experiments with DHMO, and designing multi-billion dollar devices to control and utilize it during warfare situations. Hundreds of military research facilities receive tons of it through a highly sophisticated underground distribution network. Many store large quantities for later use.
It's not too late!
I'm not exactly surprised that people are gullible and scientifically-illiterate, just that they are able to take this ignorance far enough to get other people to be surprised about it. Like the middle schooler who was able to win a statewide science fair by convincing so many people to sign on to the above petition. Or the even better instance of a California city council introducing an ordinance to actually ban the deadly substance a few years ago.
A related sentiment is even more common: my mom is always telling me about how she avoids eating certain foods because they have chemicals in them. These environmentalists are such ninnyhammers, if they ever succeeded what would I put in my cocoa?
March 15, 2007
If I posted about every single episode of This American Life that I found arresting, this blog wouldn't have some stupid non-sequitur title, it would have an even stupider title more like "Glass-haus." But this story from "Should I Stay or Should I go" concerning two Apple programmers who continued to work on their project, in secret, after being fired, is definitely in the same spirit as a scientific obsession. Two guys had spent a few years trying, with limited success, to develop an elegant graphing calculator at the time they were laid off. But they were unwilling to leave the program they had to devoted those years to undone, so they simply continued to go to work. Every day they sneaked in to use unoccupied machines, lie to inquisitive employees, and work 12 hour days for no money and no recognition on a project that did not exist.
The software ended up on over 20 million computers and became the watershed program of the soon-released Power PC. I was surprised to find out that this is the same program, NuCalc, that I occasionally use for simple graphs. You can listen to the story here at the TAL site for free (skip ahead to minute 27), or read the less-audibly pleasing first-hand account.
When the flute kicks in--that killed me.
Switching over to the blogger-beta template is a piece of work if you have customized your site at all. Most things were no problem, however the one piece that was the most difficult was being able to keep the nifty random banner at the top of the page. I kept trying to make myself settle for a code not quite like what I wanted; but I can't give up on a little problem like this once I've started trying to figure it out.
So this is my public service announcement for people out there without a decent explanation of how to do this. Actually, that is not completely true, there is already at least one pretty good tutorial which I started out with. It is over here, and it works pretty well. However, it puts the banner in as a background image instead of an <img>, which is pretty limiting. It is clunkier, non-resizable, and most bothersome to me, you can't make it a link back to your main page.
So instead, there is a way you can put it in directly, not as a background. First, go to the html editor and expand it to show the widget code. Then find the part (shortly after the css garbage ends) that says:
<b:widget id='Header1' locked='true' title='YOUR BLOG NAME HERE (Header)' type='Header'>
Then paste this:
<div style="padding-bottom:3px; padding-top:3px;text-align:center;">The "padding-top" and bottom stuff at the beginning is specific to me since I like having that little frame around the picture, so if you don't like that you can change it, but otherwise all you need to do is get your own appropriately-sized pictures and put them in there. You can have as many as you want as long as you start counting at 0, update the (4*Math.random()) to the maximum banner number that you have, and if you want more than 9 place the number in the parentheses of "new Array()"
var banner= new Array()
banner="<img src='http://examplehostingsite.com/banner0.jpg' />"
banner="<img src='http://examplehostingsite.com/banner1.jpg' />"
banner="<img src='http://examplehostingsite.com/banner2.jpg' />"
banner="<img src='http://examplehostingsite.com/banner3.jpg' />"
banner="<img src='http://examplehostingsite.com/banner4.jpg' />"
So, people of the future who googled this, I hope this helps.
Update: Commenter Aquafina made the astute observation that if you still have the title of your blog in your banner as text you need to take it out, and has provided a link to a page that explains how to do that.
Labels: blog itself
March 13, 2007
This glorious movie was obtained during a CCD calibration for the STEREO mission. The pitch black disk of the moon crossing in front of the sun from a million miles away is used to find the baseline of the instrument, which is designed to observe the sun. Astronomical photos of the sun always end up being better than I expect them to be, and since this a mere calibration, I expect my expectations to be surpassed.
March 11, 2007
If you are anything like me, you have often said to yourself, "that Curt Schilling fellow sure must have some interesting insights and opinions, I wish he would bother to share them with us." I am assuming here that you live in outer space or inner Mongolia and are not aware of his lengthy interviews, open letters addressing 9/11, frequent postings on Sons of Sam Horn, or call-ins to sports talk radio when some random caller disparages his splitter.
Luckily for you, hypothetical and uninformed reader, Everquest player, Red Sox pitcher and noted opinion-haver Curt Schilling now writes a blog. A vessel from which to pour forth the self-aggrandizing and pomposity that he can't unload through those other forums. Seriously though, his involved approach is actually pretty refreshing and his site has a good chance of being an insightful and revealing look inside the game from one of its most cerebral and articulate players...and hopefully, he might get some baseball in there too.
Labels: Red Sox
March 9, 2007
Stephen Colbert's #1 threat to America on Tuesday's Threat Down: Gravity's Liberal Bias.
I'm glad to see someone finally catching on. Principle of Equivalence? Please, spare me your pinko ideology.
[You can put your own favorite fundamental force of nature in Colbert's wheelhouse with the ThreatDown Generator. What the Black Hole At Center of Galaxy ever did to put itself on notice, I would very much like to know.]
March 8, 2007
CV reports on New Mexico's assertion of astronomical nomenclatural superiority.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO that, as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico's excellent night skies, it be declared a planet and that March 13, 2007 be declared "Pluto Planet Day" at the legislature.As to the issue of Pluto's planethood I have few strong feelings. Unlike (what seems like) most of the population, within astronomy its status is not seen as meaningful or contentious, from what I have seen. Everyone has an opinion, just not a very strong one. You can call it whatever you want, the naming of an object is not a scientific question, merely a semantic one. There is no platonic ideal that sets up a definition of planetness. This is also why it seems unnecessary to incite all that furor--a concise scientific definition for "planet" is not needed for anything. I don't see the point of creating a category that artificially groups Mercury and Saturn together while excluding Pluto and the riff raff in the Kuiper belt.
[Sorry about that, bloviating about Pluto's fate seems to be a blog-transmitted disease (BTD?). I staved off infection for 6 months but it couldn't last forever. A half year of Pluto-muzzling is sort of impressive considering that I actually roomed with an IAU member who voted to demote the beleaguered Dwarf Planet last summer. (If I were him I would not announce this in mixed company.) Not to mention that my finest moment at the CfA last August was probably cracking up a table of astronomers with some kind of remark comparing Pluto's demotion to the pre-Iraq War boycott of France. I don't remember what the joke was exactly (boycotting Plutonian wine? changing the name of the Disney character to "Freedom Dog"?), but clearly it shows that I had insightful and witty things to say on the topic which I withheld in the interest of moderation.]
Anyway, New Mexico's unilateral action (or impending action, it hasn't been voted on yet) raises some questions. I am not that bothered about this state making declarations about "science" because Pluto's labeling is entirely a semantic issue. It is so awesome to hear that the New Mexico Legislature can move on to meaningless resolutions addressing astronomical nomenclature now that they are done making the state an utopian paradise with no remaining Early problems. But what is far more interesting to me is when is the next time that Pluto will be in New Mexican air space? If I don't see it written up anywhere in a day or so, I will attempt to figure it out. The state's 315,194 km² area translates to ~500,000,000 km² of New Mexico-shaped surface area out at the orbit of Pluto. So it might be possible, but considering NM's location above the Tropic of Cancer and Pluto's high vertical eccentricity, it could be a while.
XKCD, illustrious webcomic, often concerned with the cartoonist's fear of velociraptors, recently received a missive from a paleontologist. There isn't anything I could possibly add, so here is most of it:
[...] I notice that many of your comics revolve around people (including yourself) with a phobia of Velociraptor. This phobia revolves around Velociraptor overcoming some 70 million years of extinction and the geographic barriers between its home and yours, leaping out of the underbrush and/or through the kitchen, and doing unmentionable things to your innards with its teeth and claws.
I see little point in addressing the substance of your fears, as that’s perhaps best to someone more qualified to deal with the human mind. I hold a Ph. D. in vertebrate paleontology and am somewhat more qualified to address the symptoms. To wit, I would like to help you overcome your fears by successfully defending yourself against Velociraptor.
It is widely known in the field of agronomy (e.g., Avery, 2002) that birds are repulsed by methyl anthranilate, a natural compound found in many of the less sweet fruit varieties. Methyl anthranilate has been used (with some success) as a bird repellent on crops. Now, we know (e.g., Gauthier et al., 1988) that modern birds are descended from dinosaurian ancestors, of which one close relative was Velociraptor (ibid.). Much as lab rats respond to drugs like humans, it is entirely possible that Velociraptor will respond to methyl anthranilate as does the common crow or European starling.
Thus, I recommend you carry around a loaded SuperSoaker filled with Concord grape juice. Fresh-squeezed would be ideal, but from concentrate should be effective as well. This will not only have the theoretical asset of protecting you from Velociraptor, it will have the pragmatic asset of protecting you from thirst.
In appreciation of your Web comic efforts, I will happily waive my consultation fee.
Daniel Snyder, PhD
March 7, 2007
This shouldn't be noteworthy; typical religionistas ignoring their own rules.
...must, avoid, urge, to be self-righteous. Not that these folks ever do! Zing!
March 6, 2007
A recent novel, Nineteen Minutes, describes a high school shooting in an small New Hampshire college town eerily similar to Hanover. In the sense that it contains an elite school and borders the specific towns of Norwich and Lebanon, which only Hanover borders. In the novel an "ostracized teen" kills 10 people in a rampage at his school. I heard the author lamely pretending that the story did not describe Dartmouth on NPR last week. Interestingly, the day the shooting is to take place is today, March 6th. Despite a concerted effort by the principal to calm fears of some kind of copycat spree based on this extremely lame novel, a fifth of the students didn't show up to school today. Terrible job by everyone involved.
March 5, 2007
Say what you will about Red Sox fans, they do nothing halfway. It is in that spirit that I must point out the existence of Top 100 Red Sox, a daily countdown of, well, you get the idea, written by a coterie of knowledgeable bloggers. 100 is a lot of people, there is some room for mistakes in ordering, but that doesn't make arguing about it less fun. John Cusack would be jealous.
After a little estimation you realize that the bottom third are going to be the Ike Delocks of the world. Listing the greatest 100 anything is quite a challenge, and it is hard to figure out what serious quantitative differences they used to separate #81 from #82, but as an excuse to write about and debate players of different eras it definitely works. It isn't that I necessarily have strong feelings about Ira Flagstead, but check out this paragraph:
The club honored the Montague native with “Flagstead Day” in 1928. “Boston’s outfielder” was presented with a variety of gifts, including a new car and $1,000 in gold...A .290 career hitter, he closed out his baseball career with Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League. He died at the age of 46 in March of 1940.$1000 in gold? Died at the age of 46?! Who the hell is this guy?
Nothing matches baseball for obscure knowledge, and this countdown has it in spades. By the mid-sixties they started getting to people who I already knew, so it became interesting for the intended reason, and I applaud their venture. How they are figuring out that relief pitcher and Mike "The Iron Eagle" Timlin comes in at #59 I have no idea. (I just started calling him this and it made sense. It also happens to be the name of my car.) Their approach is supposed to be primarily statistical, but unless they are compounding win shares (something I didn't see any evidence for) it isn't immediately clear how they are comparing say, a 3rd baseman to a pitcher, or a relief pitcher to a starter. But this ambiguity is what makes it interesting. They have declared their intent to acknowledge only the years played in a Boston uniform, rather than the career as a whole. Guys like Babe Ruth, Dennis Eckersly, and Jimmie Foxx being notable examples of this. It will be interesting to see what they place the most emphasis on.
I would say that the #1 spot is a foregone conclusion, but the rest of the top 10 is up for grabs, especially depending on the historical sensitivities of the writers. This group of bloggers is quite thoughtful, so I am confident they will not trend embarrassingly to the recent when a bit of perspective is called for. I doubt that I could accurately predict their choices, but I can certainly give my own. It will be interesting to see how in line I am with their picks.
1. Ted Williams
2. Cy Young
3. Pedro Martinez
4. Carl Yastrzemski
5. Tris Speaker
6. Roger Clemens
7. David Ortiz
8. Harry Hooper
9. Smokey Joe Wood
10. Bobby Doerr/Carlton Fisk
No Babe Ruth, no Schilling (though Game 6 alone entitles him to a top 20 spot at least), and Clemens gets bumped way down for being backstabbing asshole (these things matter.) And Ortiz's spot is on basically on loan. If he retired tomorrow he'd crack the top 20 for the astonishing, mind-boggling, incredibleness of his 4 short years, but some more time and performance is necessary to justify that position. After all, has he let me down yet? They aren't quite using the same rules as me and are trying to apply more statistical rigor to their run-down, but hopefully I'm not way off.
I expect the brain trust over there to be kinder to Ruth, and slightly less keen on Ortiz, Yaz, and Fisk, but there isn't a great deal of flexibility there. In my mind Pedro and Cy Young are sort of a draw, but despite pitching only part of his career in Boston, Young has the goddamn pitching award named after him. It is impossible to know how he would fare in today's league, but back then he was one of those psychos who pitched both games of a double header, scoreless. And then threw a perfect game the following day. If I had it my way Clemens wouldn't be on there at all, but you can't forget him entirely. Since I can't purge him from the top 10 I'm copping out with #10. Whatever, I don't have rules, or any claim to expertise, or a readership who will be mad at me if I violated either.
I will keep my readership appraised of the results.
March 4, 2007
Here is one of those lousy diluted posts I was just promising.
-I seem to have beat the actual physics bloggers to the punch with that Jim Carey-Conan O'Brien Quantum physics video...by about a week. I also managed to figure out (and get confirmation) that the paper they discussed was Phys. Rev Lett. 83 (1999) by L. J. Lapidus, D. Enzer, and G. Gabrielse: "Stochastic Phase Switching of a Parametrically Driven Electron in a Penning Trap." To summarize: I'm amazing.
-Obligatory shot of the sixth planet recently captured by Cassini. Two observations:
1. I have recently been teaching assisting an intro astronomy course that involves looking at Saturn through a telescope. A partially mechanized and difficult to align telescope in an awesome 19th century shed with a roof that opens by a crank on the wall. A lot of the students first react when looking through the eyepiece by saying something like "it looks so real!" I can partially understand this impulse; when first visiting famous locations or monuments I have usually had a similar reaction, where I'm not really astonished by the sight itself, but primarily at the familiarity of it and the novelty of beholding say, the Lincoln Memorial, in person. It must be some kind of side-effect of being extremely familiar with things that ought to impress us that makes this the first thought to come to our minds in these situations--still, people should try not to vocalize their bewilderment at the existence of well-known objects. You just sound retarded.
2. Cassini may be the only NASA mission which is way more famous than its namesake. Think about it, you have Galileo, Apollo, Ulysses, Hubble, Chandra, and so forth. Chandrasekhar may not be known to the general public, but the kind of people who are aware of the telescope certainly know who he is. All I ever knew about Cassini was that he discovered the gap in Saturn's rings, and some further research shows that he discovered of Jupiter's Great Red Spot as well. Let's face it Cassini fans, they would have found those sooner or later anyway.
(Credit goes here)
(Updata: Astronomy Picture of the Day is riding my coattails--as usual)
-Some clever cognitionists have determined that 17 is the most random number. Inspired initially by the good folks at Cosmic Variance they set out to compile poll data confirming the original suspicion that given a choice from 1 to 20, 17 is the most frequently picked "random" integer. It is indeed so, with roughly four times the popularity expected in a truly random distribution. Even numbers and multiples of 5 scored poorly, and similarly prime numbers like 7, 13 and 19 were the runners-up. They were able to get around ~350 responses from people who were presumably not aware of the hypothesis being tested (they put a poll on their site without explaining why--hopefully they weren't biased CV readers). They also found some other effects like a preference for primes and little preference for odds. I would like to see more data though, I am betting that the primes thing is only true for these low numbers and that with a larger range you would see significantly more odds than evens as well as a severe allergy to multiples of 10. They do a round up here.
-Far, far overdue acknowledgement of "How to Tell a True Lab Story," a parody of this Tim O'Brien vignette that I only today encountered. Anyone who, like me, has ingrained high school memories of the disjointed Vietnam stories in The Things They Carried will recognize and appreciate these paragraphs.
A true lab story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper scientific practice, nor restrain graduate students from doing the things that graduate students have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a lab story, you feel uplifted, or if you feel that you have learned some useful fact about science, you have been made the victim of an old and terrible lie...
You can tell a true lab story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, and afterwards you ask "Can you really destroy a bathroom with liquid nitrogen in a soda bottle?" and if the answer matters, you've got your answer