Sunday, December 13, 2009

Traveling Blues, Part 2.

Yeah, things are not going well.

Again, I was going to leave my house at 5:00 AM. At 3:00 AM, I get a call from Delta (well, a recording, anyway) letting me know my flight was canceled. I go back to bed, because I don't think thoughts at 3 in the morning.

At 5 I wake up, get ready, and call Delta. The lady over the phone (Delta's customer service was waaaayyy better than Hertz's) informs me that my flight was rescheduled for 6:15 AM. Apparently the earlier message had intended to parlay this information to me, but here's an FYI for Delta Airlines:


We rescheduled my flight for 10:30 AM. No problem, right? I went back to bed for an hour, woke up, got in my rented Kia Forte (do not want) and drove to ABQ.

About 20 miles away from the airport, I get a call from another mystery 800 number. It's Delta! The flight has been delayed. Furthermore, this will cause me to miss my connection in Salt Lake City (where the weather is bad, hence the delays). I won't get to San Fransisco until 9:00 PM (as opposed to 3:00 PM).

At least ABQ airport has free wifi. I hope I'll be able to post more updates during my painfully long layover in Utah... home of the mormons. And gross, salty lakes.

Traveling Blues, Part 1.

I'm trying as hard as I can to get to the big Fall American Geophysical Union meeting, but it hasn't gone my way so far.

Let's start with the rental car to get from Los Alamos to Albuquerque. My flight out of ABQ was supposed to be at 8:30, which means a 5:00 AM departure from Los Alamos. A rental car is key because there's no way I'm waking up my family to drive me two hours just so they can turn around and drive back. Anyway... while trying to get some other stuff done, I forgot to pick up the car at noon. I got to Hertz at 1:10PM. They close at 1:00. Swearing ensued.

I got on the line with their customer service to see if I could grab a car in Santa Fe. This proved to be a challenge, because they have several narrowly defined customer service numbers, none of which have to do with missing pick-up times. My friend, who was especially helpful while I was trying to sort this out, eventually got a phone number using the live web help (which was different than all others listed.)

I get on the horn with Hertz. I get a computer that uses voice recognition. It doesn't recognize my voice at all. If your voice recognition software doesn't understand "yes" from a mid-western white male, you've got problems. After a few minutes of this, I give an exasperated, "just give me a f***ing person!" The computer pauses, then says, "I'm sorry for the confusion. I'll put you through to an operator."

Real person fixes problem, rental car obtained. Smooth sailing, right?

Monday, December 7, 2009

"What an asshole."

I apologize for doing nothing but linking to YouTube videos, but I've found another great one while hanging around Pharyngula:

Besides being frustratingly hilarious, this video perfectly encapsulates the debate between climatologists and self-proclaimed skeptics*. Side A tries to describe the situation rationally and emphasizes the important topic: is the Earth actually warming because of human action? Side B shouts continually (volume is directly proportional to truthiness) and does not rely on evidence or reason. He depends on his ability to instill doubt in his opponent's arguments rather than building a case for his own.

The result of such ridiculous banter? The obfuscation of truth as driven by personal want. This trickles down to and confuses the non-experts, creating unnecessary obstacles for decision making. Case in point (because anecdotal evidence is the best evidence!**), my brother-in-law is a science teacher for whom I have great respect. When talking about global warming, he says that he cannot make up his mind given the arguments at the media forefront. Chalk this up as a great victory for the latter in the above video. Rather than elucidate his reasons for being a skeptic of climate change, he has muddied the waters. That's all he wants.

This tactic is seen everywhere- from the evolution "debate" to health care reform. The nay-sayers don't have arguments, they have confusion. And that's all they need to change public opinion. Reject it strongly and admonish it loudly when it is used on you, even if those employing it are doing so in support of your opinion. Instead, demand evidence and reason; it is the shortest path to the truth.

*Skeptics that rely on personal opinion and political motivators are not skeptical at all. Skeptics look for evidence to take them to the most reasonable conclusion, not arguments driven by confirmation bias that pads their pre-conceived beliefs.
**No, it's not.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Contact Sport"? I think you mean Death Match.

There's a neat review over at Newsweek on the book "Science as a Contact Sport". It is written by Stephen Schneider, the author of a famous 1960's paper that predicted global cooling. His results came from a climate predicting computer model that had an import omission in the physics simulated by the code. This omission halved the effect of CO2 in the atmosphere. This paper has been trumpeted by climate change denialists but crucified by real scientists (y'know, those who have dedicated their lives to understanding this stuff.) The book then describes how climate change scientists fight fiercely over the veracity of results coming out of the community. There's a word for this fierce, empashioned battling when a group of people are working tirelessly to expose the truth: SCIENCE.

When one produces results in a scientific field, he or she must first go through the peer review process to get these results published in a journal. This involves intense scrutiny over that scientist's work followed by alteration of said work so that the reveiwers' concerns over potential weaknesses are properly addressed. If the research cannot stand such scrutiny, it is rejected. This process takes months to years and is not for the weak of mind. You watch others take your projects, for which you have invested a great amount of time and effort, and rip them to shreds. It is an absolute necessity to push through this process because unpublished research is as useful as no research at all.

It is possible that weak, poorly derived products may slip through the process unscathed. In such cases, the paper is subject to strong rebuttals and harsh criticism from the scientific community. Even if the paper is not pulled from the journal (an extreme case for particularly bad science), its place in history will be a poorly constructed counterpoint standing against mountains of contradicting evidence. And in the scientific world, what matters is the amount of physical evidence, not the number of people, that supports a hypothesis.

All of this is lost on those who fervently assert that global climate change is a farce, a "liberal religion", a misguided opinion. In science, opinions and beliefs do not matter. They are crushed in the peer review forum. They are slaughtered in the open research market. The only thing that can stand is physical evidence. Those who irrationally follow a claim without evidence become the laughing stocks of the field.

Thunderfoot presents a far more eloquent (and entertaining) summary of how science works (about 5 minutes in):

Be sure to check out the comments in the Newsweek article. They're delightfully awful.


So, a few weeks ago, I put the blog on hiatus until "I get this damn code working." Well, since then, all of my codes have gone belly up. As such, I shall resume the blogging. I seem to have a better research success rate when I'm blogging, so we'll put that to the test.

And, as we ALL know, it's always a good idea to put it to the test!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Good Internet Monday: This video.

Blerg. Fighting off the remnants of a cold; fighting with my code to get some results.

What I need right now is more videos like this:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Let there by PYTHON!

I finally got things straightened out with my laptop last night, which means I can finally post about how hard Python rocks.

I'll start with my first Python-generated figure that will be going into a paper I've written:

I'll explain what is going on here eventually; for now I'll just say that creating this image was surprisingly easy.

Next, I'll share a sneak peak into a project I've just started: PyBats! Open source tools for reading and visualizing BATS-R-US output!

Again, I'll explain all of this later.

My Python experience has been very exciting so far. I hope to release quite a bit of code through Source Forge in the future.

Healthcare Email RAGE! Part 4: Here Comes God!

So after I let our good friend Pat know exactly what I thought of his reply, he was quick to send me another email. This is a pattern- I spend some time putting together a thought-out email only to have Pat respond within an hour. Of all the ones I've received so far, this one is the worst. It's almost as if he thought to himself, "Gee... what's the most ridiculous way I can support my beliefs?"

Here comes a WALL OF TEXT:
The notion of truth is very elusive and IF you really wish to search for "TRUTH " I encourage you to look to the One that created the heavens and earth you explore and maybe you would have a different perspective on who really is TRUTH ; it isn't found in your liberal educated world nor my common sense conservative world nor based on fact but upon one thing that as you grow older will be more important to you and your family then anything which is who you trust and who you put your faith.
Although I was never as smart as you proudly convey to others , I like yourself was once very naive .
I believed in so many lies in so many areas of my life over the years that were told only to promote personal , political , business, union, religious , educational , etc. etc. etc. agenda that the only basis of real truth that I have is by learning from my own experience & past history and those occurrences that I have physically or visually seen that lead me to a certain set of beliefs .
I pray for wisdom in order to make the right decision for myself and others I care about and hopefully without turning people off or out ; I feel convicted to share my own perspective of the truth.
You cite numbers which I will not dispute because in your abstract world I think you will at some point realize that : Figures can't lie but LIARS can figure.
Without excusing the numerous faults that you believe the insurance industry and the capitalist society that gave you the ability to succeed have ; it will be interesting to see if you will be as condemning when your personal efforts and resources are shared with the growing number in our society that feel they are entitled to them without contributing.
I personally believe that one of the major reasons other countries have a better health system then the U.S., is because their government and their society does not allow for the major abuse of the health care system that we have in place.
Many perceive insurance as a maintenance plan where every little ache or pain is something that should be paid for by insurance while they fail to take care of their health by over indulging themselves with Big Mac's and smoking and drinking while being couch potatoes and not exercising.
Obviously you feel like taking care of these folks with your social altruism .
Many of the Canadians I have met and inquired of , in our country that winter in Florida, are becoming more dissatisfied with the system that prevents them from so many of the freedoms we have with our current system like the ability to receive health assistance from who and when we want without being put on a waiting list.
Ask your Canadian peers what their tax rate is as opposed to ours in order to fund their benevolence and then decide if that is agreeable to you as a young man just starting to undertake the responsibilities of family while others in our society conveniently will let you carry the load for them and their families also.
I will not waste your time nor have you waste mine on a continuance of our differences but I will respond to #2 of your request by telling you that I am one of those that do not have health insurance ( other then catastrophic major medical ) because of the outrageous cost but as I stated before , I do not put the blame on the greed of insurance companies but the greed of those looking for something for nothing and those in the legal profession that "ambulance chase" looking for opportunity to sue doctors, hospitals and other health care providers because many of those that represent us in the political arena are either attorneys or sold their soul to the legal profession.
God has blessed me with great health and I thank Him for that but if I were not to be so fortunate , I would not expect others to be responsible for my misfortune or lack of preparing for the advent of medical bills ; that I have personally seen hospitals write off as uncollectible ( from those that were collectable ), only because it was easier for them to over inflate their services to others to offset the deadbeats thievery .
You may know more about science then I will ever know , but you have much to learn about life and I hope you are blessed with the health and wisdom from God to understand that everything you perceive as the TRUTH communicated by those you trust may come back to you as it has to me to be something or someone that exploited your naivety because of their credentials instead of their character.
I will close by sharing with you a couple of visuals that hopefully will open your eyes to the social leadership you trust. and encourage you
NOT to trust me but trust your eyes and ears from the testimony of those in leadership that you have placed your trust......and then decide.

F.Y.I. : Rep. Pete Stark is a 30+ year career politician representing the state you currently reside and a graduate of M.I.T. who previously was a banker ; with his superior condescending philosophy , how would you like him to be running your personal finances as he does with the countries and how much more does your social insurance endorsement add to our debt load ?

Click here: Theo Spark: Video: 7 Lies In Under 2
Minutes (

Many believe that an opposing viewpoint to current leadership is based upon bias, prejudice or ignorance but fail to hold those leaders they blindly follow like lemmings to adhere to the promises they make and are critical of the rest of us that although growing older are not yet senile to remember what leaders of both major parties wish we would have no recall .
Thank You Al Gore for giving us the Internet !! LOL!!!
With Respect

Wow, this has it all. Be sure to check out his fantastic and relevant videos. I have a hunch that Pat is a fan of Glenn Beck. Just a hunch.

Currently, there are two more emails to post and it is my turn to send a volley of words towards Pat. I'll keep 'em coming so long as it doesn't get boring.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Crashy Crashy.

This should have been a glorious post about Python, but alas, it is not to be.

Fink, the package manager for Mac OS X, went haywire last night. The dependencies got screwed up and I could not update anything. I needed some Python updates and couldn't get at them. After hours of screwing around, I decided to wipe my Fink install and start over.

But I couldn't. My disk permissions are screwed up and cannot be fixed through the disk utility, so the installer wouldn't work. This leaves me without EVERYTHING: a proper Python install, Emacs, Ghostscript, LaTeX, and everything else. This sucks, hard.

Today, I've found a work-around for the installation and am working on reinstalling EVERYTHING, but it's a slowwwww process. Blerg.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Numba Two!

Well, actually number 9, but the second frame in a slide show.

Tom's Hardware (they're hiring, by the way...) has a list of the top 10 threats to the internet; solar storms come in at number 9.

It's nice to be acknowledged.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Healthcare Email RAGE! Part 3

It is only fair that after posting Pat's words verbatim, I should do the same for myself. My proudest moment? Certainly not. I am quite sick of these type of people, so I let loose...

My dearest Pat,

You end your last email discussing the notion of truth. Perhaps the biggest difference between you and I is that I spend most of my time searching for the truth while you spend most of your breath assuming it. Allow me to explain.

I present to you the following statistics; each is a vital measure of a society's overall quality of health and health care system (I refer you to the excellent text by Koop, Pearson, and Schwarz, "Critical Issues in Global Health"):
Maternal death rate, US: 1 in 4800 (42nd overall for all countries surveyed.)
Infant mortality rate, US: 7 in 1000 (tied for 47th overall.)
Life Expectancy, US: 78 (tied fo 34th overall.)
Data collected from

In each case, the countries of the United Kingdom, Sweden, China, and Canada are far ahead of the United States. These are countries with nationalized health care systems. I am good friends with persons from each of these countries (an easy feat at Los Alamos, where foreign nationals are in great supply), and each is surprised and frustrated with the cost and quality of the U.S. system despite the health plans provided to lab employees of which they are entitled. Also note that often the U.S. is surpassed by countries considered to be underdeveloped compared to the United States (e.g. Cuba, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc.) A strong contributor to this trend is the prohibitive cost of health care and the castration of health care professionals by insurance providers. Both of these symptoms effect not only the 13% you condemn but also a large proportion of the remaining 87%, whose "insurance" is a poor excuse for health care.

As we both come from the fine state of Michigan, I shouldn't need to expound on the effects of the cost of health care on the economy. Look across the river to Canada, where factory workers are paid nearly as well as Americans, but it is far cheaper for manufacturers to hire workers there because benefits cost so much less.

And what, good sir, is your position? You do not want to have less money, and someone else has told you that a public option will take away your money. In both of your emails, you do nothing to substantiate this point yet gloat over your "common sense." Ah, yes! Do compare our ages! Do bleat on about naivety and experience! So long as you do nothing else to substantiate your case, why should I believe what you say?

Furthermore, the only thing more ridiculous than your statement of "if it's not broke, don't fix it" is ending your email by quoting Edmund Burke concerning "good men doing nothing" after DIRECTLY urging others to go to the town hall meetings and ENSURE that good men indeed do nothing.

I now turn to the thick hypocrisy of your more recent email. While I could speculate on why you find yourself in direct opposition to educated people, I will ignore that point at current. Rather, I wonder aloud how you can assert that people with whom you disagree "can't extend a sensitivity to others." I would love to hear you expound upon this point after doing your best to ensure that 13% of Americans (that would be 40 million people, as I'm sure you are aware) do not deserve health care because it would cost everyone a lot of money (again, a point you merely assert without backing it up with even a hint of critical analysis.) If it was you who was denied care because of lack of insurance, would it still be common sense? If your family was escorted out of the hospital, still ailing and without a hint of medical attention, is it the wisdom of experience then? As your children are repeatedly denied coverage, would you take solace knowing that 87% should not suffer the yolk of a tax increase? Certainly you would explain to them that their "Life" should not interfere with others' "pursuit of happiness" and their tears would vanish.

I now extend two challenges to you:
1) Respond to this and back up your position with facts and critical analysis. By all means, verify the truth granted unto you by common sense. I invite you to substantiate your point and prove me wrong. I warn you, however, that ridiculousness will be met with ridicule (as it should in such matters.)

2) Find someone without health insurance. Ask them about their experiences. Then, look them in the eye and read your first email verbatim. If you are indeed the man you describe in your most recent message, I doubt you will find this difficult.

I sincerely look forward to your response.

Pat responded, and believe me when I say it's a doozy. I just sent a response to that response, which I'm sure will also entertain.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Whiskey Tango Friday: Arguing with Idiots.

Brace yourself. To end RAGE WEEK, I'm pulling out the worst of WTF. It's Glenn Beck's video contest to promote his new book, "Arguing with Idiots". I spent just a few minutes there. The dumbassometer went through the roof. The Ironymeter broke. The RAGE was pure and strong.

Are you ready? Here it is:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Edumacation in the ameiricka and like such as.

A bit more RAGE before this week ends:

A few weeks ago, the in-laws were in town. It was good to see family and was good for The Wife and my daughter to see their extended family, too.

During a discussion with my father-in-law, it came up that I have very few natural born citizen friends that I have met at the Lab. An off-the-cuff analysis:
  • I have to take three steps up the chain-of-command before I reach a superior who is a natural born citizen of the United States..
  • Of the postdocs in our group, natural born citizens are in a minority.
  • Of the people that my wife and I consistently hang out with, zero are citizens. All are either employees of the lab or spouses of employees.
  • A clear, though not rigid, trend forms when examining age of scientists here along with nationality: most of the natural born U.S. citizens are of the cold war era; the US-born scientist is an aging generation.
This was no surprise to me, as I have become used to being in the minority back in graduate school (when I graduated, I was indeed replaced by a Chinese student.) This was a great surprise to my father-in-law, however. Like electronics, most cars, and everything from Walmart, good scientists are frequently becoming an imported commodity in the United States.

Why is this? We kicked around several ideas during our conversation, ranging from the overall quality of the education system in our country to the attitude towards science and math in mainstream culture. We were just speculating; it was a rather grim endeavor.

One of my pet theories is the demonizing of the educated populous by those who glorify ignorance. See Exhibit A. When did stupidity become a source of pride?

Health Care Email RAGE: Part 2

RAGE week continues!

As I said earlier, "Pat" was quick to respond to my request that he not send me his unlettered, poorly informed garbage:
Dan ,
Sorry to hear that as you gaze into the stars that your head is in the sand!!!
I have not had the opportunity to know you personally but know that your mother is very proud of you and your personal and educational accomplishments, as well she should .
I have always found myself at polar opposite of those educated individuals that consider themselves superior to the rest of Creation that they can't extend a sensitivity that others, though being inferior to them intellectually, may be superior to them when it comes to common sense and the realities of how politics and the decisions those in leadership make affect our lives.
We obviously have differing opinions politically and maybe even socially but I base my observations on the reality of approximately 65 years of living and observing my own success and failure but also observing the success and failure of others.
I have lived most of my life being ignorant and apathetic to the decisions our leaders make for us and if you chose to do likewise , then I shall comply and remove you from my social networking.
If telling the TRUTH as I see it is perceived as a diatribe then you can be assured that your chastisement and opinion will not deter me from continuing to tell the TRUTH and as Jack Nicholson shouted in A Few Good Men ; obviously you can't handle the truth!!!

I was a bit slower to respond, but the rage was still at 100%. I'll post that tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Healthcare Email RAGE!

The health care debate is a sensitive, complicated subject. Obama's controversial plan has both benefits and issues; determining the outcome of such a plan is difficult but enacting reform critical.

That is why I absolutely loathe people who are opposed tooth and nail to ANY sort of change due to misguided, poorly reasoned motivations. Case in point: this email sent to me by my ex-auto insurance agent (only because I left the state) who is also a good friend of my Mom (this will come into play soon enough).

Recently the Monroe Evening News published an Associated Press report with the beaming faces of Michigan's John Dingell & California's Nancy Pelosi proudly proclaiming in their best Socialistic voice the accomplishment of the most recent Government Invasion of our freedoms ( ? ) : the Government Option ( ? ) .
The news report validates the concern ( see link below [Note: link is a video of Bill Rogers saying the same things written here] ) of common sense Rep. Bill Rogers ( also from Michigan ) concern relating to the bottom line numbers we are trying to assist , and the price tag for that assistance.
By these ( Dingell, Pelosi & their like ) financial and economic whiz kids own admission ; we are trying to assist and incorporate 13% of the uninsured public by taking benefits and revenue away from 87% of the citizens , who have no reason to change from the current system.
I have never been a proponent of status quo agenda and decision process but if something is not broke : Don't try to fix it !!!
Do we have a health care and delivery problem and system that could be improved ? : ABSOLUTELY ; but do we look to the leadership that wrought us the current problems with Social Security , Medicare, Medicaid, U. S. Post Office , Illegal Immigrant , Etc. Etc. Etc. to solve & remedy or do we look to those that can and have successfully modified and improved upon decisions that work for the majority?
I personally can live with any situation that works 87% of the time instead of passing a legacy of "debtors prison" to the generations that follow.
Please consider coming to the next town hall meeting ( flyer attached ) concerning this cross roads decision and problem if implemented and voice YOUR opinion .
Pat [Full name withheld]
Having heard all of this , you may choose to look the other way ; but you can never say again that you did not know . William Wilberforce 1759- 1833
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men & women do nothing ( paraphrased from the words of philosopher Edmund Burke )
Well, then. Where do we start with this shit-mess? Point out the ignorance of the term socialism? Shed light on the lack of any evidence, critical thinking, or hard numbers? Call out the purely reactionary politics of an ignorant man? Perhaps I'll just let him know that such unsolicited emails are as appreciated as unsolicited text messages:

Pat -

While I have sincerely appreciated the service you have provided my family and myself, I do NOT appreciate politically driven, unsolicited, poorly informed emails such as the one below. Please exclude me from such diatribe in the future.


Yes, I was quite terse, but this is the kind of garbage that spawns RAGE WEEK!

We have each exchanged a single email and I expect more. I shall continue to share them as the week progresses.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kick of RAGE WEEK with chain-texts!

RAGE WEEK begins with a random text message from a phone number I didn't recognize. I'm not sure I can describe the ensuing exchange properly, so I will post it here verbatim:

Random Person: FWD: FWD: A man you love is gonna show you how much he NEEDS you on monday but you have to send this to 9 girls.No joke. (punctuation and spacing hers.)

Me: If you ever send a message like this to me again, I swear to god I will stab you in your face.

Random Person: Gosh (:Ryley:)

Me: who the hell is this and why should i not stab you in your face?

Ryley: Its Ryley from gymnastics (:Ryley:)

Me: well this is dan from new mexico. stop sending me messages. i don't know who you are, i'm not in gymnastics and i'm not a chick. (:stab:)

Ryley: Oh whoops (:Ryley:)

That's $0.30 worth of text messaging charges I won't get back.

This Week is RAGE WEEK!




I've had enough things piss me off that I shall rant until I feel better. I invite readers to rage along with me in the comments. Once the raging has finished, I shall return to my regularly scheduled blogging.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More Movie Madness

The In-Laws are in town, and while I was hard at work they went to Santa Fe with my better half (from here on in known as The Wife.) Upon arriving at the Plaza, they found that a movie was being shot. The title: Due Date! starring Robert Downey Jr.


Be honest, now- how many of you laughed at that as hard as I did?

In any case, The Wife was exceptionally excited to see that her favorite coffee shop, The Coffee Beanery, had apparently moved into town. Nah, just kidding... it was part of the set. She was pissed. Way to psyche out my wife, Robert Downey Jr.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Good Internet Monday - Finland

That's right, the entire country of Finland is today's GIM.

Why? Because starting next July, broadband internet is no longer a privilege but a right. Every citizen will have broadband access. By 2015, the speeds will be up to 100Mb.

If there's one way to improve the general education level of a populace, it's to provide them access to the world's largest database. This is a fantastic step for Finland.

Of course, we'd never get that here. That would be socialism.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Space Weather on TV

Well, kinda...

While listening to the Detroit Lions get destroyed by Green Bay and simultaneously watching the Giants get beat up on by the Saints on TV, I saw a commercial for the Air Force. The situation on this commercial is as follows: on a space station orbiting Earth, the crew has witnessed a piece of space junk ricochet off another piece and hurl straight towards *gasp* the space station itself! The team quickly makes the proper adjustments, and everyone is safe. The Air Force logo flies onto the screen with text letting you know that this isn't the future, it's NOW! Holy smokes!

I've talked about space junk before. It's a huge problem and there are many groups whose sole purpose is to track every single piece. However, if something was to suddenly change direction, it's unlikely that you'd be able to move out of the way in time AND in a safe manner. So, the commercial was a bit of an exaggeration.

The Air Force, however, has a great space weather program. They are currently working on internalizing as many numerical models as quickly as possible to create a powerful forecasting system. They have good scientists that bring cutting edge work to conferences on a consistent basis. A commercial that would have been more accurate and just as compelling could have been one about the imminent danger posed by a solar flare (or other solar event.) It would have better represented their capabilities and near-future goals.

Ugh, the Lions are terrible on defense.

Whiskey Tango Friday: Plugged In Online

Whoops- meant to post this yesterday.

On the surface, Plugged In Online appears to be a great parental resource. It reviews games, movies, music albums, etc. with a focus on how appropriate the various material is for younger audiences. "Great!" you may be thinking. "I can read up on the (movie/album/game) that my brat was wanting to (watch/buy/play) and get an idea if it's appropriate, because I am completely clueless as to what it is like." As a parent of a young girl, I know I'll find myself in this position sooner rather than later.

How could such a noble resource wind up as the featured site of WTF?

Allow me to give you an exert from the review of the movie "District 9":
"More than 130 f-words, supplemented by close to a dozen s-words. "B--tard," "p---" and the British profanity "bloody" also are heard. God's name is abused twice; Jesus' once."

That's a direct quote; I'm not editing for the sake of making this a G-rated blog.

Rather than simply report "excessive swearing", the critic crosses into a region that is nearly Freudian by not only counting each instance of the swears, but nearly spelling them out. It is as if they don't trust their audience to have the imagination to know what words might be used in an R-rated movie. Rather than a reputable movie review, it sounds like the whisperings of ten-year-olds on the playground: "I saw this movie, and they said the EFF WORD at least 100 TIMES!"

Furthermore, each review lists "Spiritual Content", "Positive Elements" and "Negative Elements". This often involves listing inconsequential parts of the movies to fill these sections. The review for Team America, Wold Police demonstrates how hilarious this can get. "Spiritual Content: When someone asks what will happen if a terrorist plot succeeds, he’s told, 'Basically, all the worst parts of the Bible.'" "Positive Elements: None."

Finally, every review ends with some obscure linking to either the Christian Bible or some fundamentalist Christian hot-topic (spoiler alert: the site is run by Focus on the Family.) District 9 is linked to the Exodus story (wut?). Horton Hears a Who is a modern parable on the ills of abortions (just as Dr. Seuss intended!). Go ahead: find your favorite movie, read the review, and be blown away.

It's nice to have a tool to clue you in to what your kid is watching- especially when you've lost touch with different media. However, that's not what this site is trying to do. It first lists, in gory detail, the issues you SHOULD have with any particular movie, book, or song, and then tries to teach you how to tie it to the Bible, whether legitimate or not. It's not a method for reviewing what your kid is watching/reading/playing, it's a tool for deciding if those items fit the worldview of Focus on the Family.

Monday, October 12, 2009

GIM: National Geographic Map of Space Missions

I'm stealing this from Bad Astronomy. National Geographic has posted a map of extra terrestrial space missions. Very cool stuff.

Some notes from yours truly:
  1. The drop off in number of missions between Mars and Jupiter and beyond speaks to the immense distance you must go to reach the gas giants. Distance is such a huge barrier in space exploration.
  2. Only nine missions to the Sun? Disappointing considering our huge gaps of knowledge in the inner workings of the solar cycle and solar flare triggers. I admit that getting closer may not yield more knowledge than distant optical measurements, but you never know until you're there. For example, Ulysses discovered the differences between solar min and max in the polar structure of the solar magnetic field by flying over the poles of the sun.
  3. One of the things that this diagram shows is the differences between how researchers make plots and how people of less expertise but more artistic talent make them. If I was to make a similar diagram, I would have plotted actual (or at least reasonable representations of) orbits, resulting in a much uglier but more accurate plot. While the picture created by the fine folks at NatGeo fails to portray a plethora of graphical facts, its power is in the simplicity and beauty of the information it does display. Sometimes it is difficult for an analytic mind to adopt a more aesthetic approach to graphics, even if it can improve the overall product.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


The Detroit Lions have activated Zack Follett to provide a spark to their special teams play. Zack was a seventh round pick this year out of Cal. He was a decorated linebacker because he played like a madman on a killing spree:

I may be a bit excited to see this kid play.

Go Lions.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's over.

I don't watch much TV. Mostly sports and cartoons. My wife pulled me, kicking and screaming, into watching the Office three years ago, and it has been my favorite sitcom (the only one I really watch) since.

But it's over.

Tonight's wedding episode was funny and cute, but the last scene was the biggest jump-the-shark moment I've ever witnessed. The "whole cast dances down the isle HURRRRR" ending is what you put at the end of a feel-good movie to let the audience know it's time to get their coats ready.

Well, I guess I better start paying attention to 30 Rock. Or I could be productive for that 1/2 hour every Thursday...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Good Internet Monday: Is it a Good Idea to Microwave This?

For those of you wondering, the goal of GIM is to highlight areas of the web that are havens of free speech and knowledge as well as fertile grounds for new ideas.

Sometimes, though, it's just about blowing shit up real good-like:

Note: be sure to check out the high-res version on their youtube channel!

I love IIAGITMT. It's a great example of a few guys taking a silly idea as far as they can. Today, they kicked off their latest season, and it's hilarious as usual.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fall Hiking in Los Alamos

I went up to Pajarito Mountain ski area today with my family to check out the fall colors on the mountain. Check out the map for pics!

View Pajarito Mountain Hike - October 3, 2009 in a larger map

Creationists Are Liars - Willful Ignorance?

Found this half-finished post sitting around. Can't believe I didn't complete it month(s?) ago.

AronRa (a favorite youtuber of mine) was trading responses with a particularly tenacious creationist when he ran into the same wall that I (and just about everyone) have experienced before: it doesn't matter how you say it or how many times you say it, they just don't hear what you have to say.

This happens all the frickin' time: the creationist makes assertions that are just plain wrong, the "protagonist" corrects him or her as clearly as possible, then the creationist repeats the diatribe as if nothing was said in response. Acting like this as a scientist is professional suicide. If you continue to attempt to publish work while actively ignoring others' results that are in direct conflict with yours, you are being dishonest. Such behavior will cost you your job and reputation. But this same attitude is glorified by creationists!

When you say something that is not true, your ignorance may be an excuse. But when you are corrected repeatedly yet continue spreading the misinformation undaunted, you are a liar. Thus, I ask: how is willful ignorance any different than lying?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On the Road.

I'm in Boulder, Colorado for a workshop on the effects of plasma outflow from the ionosphere on the entire magnetosphere. For the first time, I drove to a scientific meeting/conference and also brought my family. A few notes before the workshop starts:
  • THE LIONS FINALLY WON. First time in my daughter's lifetime; first time since 2007. Because we were deep in the mountains of Colorado during the game, I couldn't follow the game online or over the radio. Phone calls kept me up to date on the score, but it sucks missing out on the first win in oh-so-long.
  • My daughter handled the 8 hour drive very well, mostly because she was not feeling well and slept most of the time. She felt well enough to go swimming at the hotel, however...
  • She didn't sleep through the "tire incident", however. Closing in on Boulder, a car about 100 yards in front of us was struck by a free rolling tire. The windshield exploded and the tire was launched high into the air and over our car. The man driving the car was cut up a bit but not injured seriously. Crazy times.
  • As my wife pointed out, today must be "rile up spacecataz" day. The Lions won, which always gets me worked up. Then there was an insider look at Walmart on CNBC that was sprinkled with promotional ads for Scientology. *grumble grumble* Nothing quite like getting good and pissed off before a conference where I will be making presentations.
  • Met with former graduate school colleagues and talked about future collaboration efforts. Very exciting to be able to work with good friends again.
That's about all for now; tomorrow should produce great conversations about the role of the ionosphere in space weather.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Two Groups!

Wow! Looking at the sun today, you can see two scoops groups of raisins sunspots!
Check out the SOHO MDI image:

Space weather, here we come!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

No title could do this justice.

I've had a strange past few weeks, but last night hit a 21 out of 10 on the strange-o-meter. Rather than try to explain what happened in detail, I'll just post the picture and use the same caption that I typed into Facebook while extremely drowsy:
"I went to take out the garbage, and this cat was hanging by his balls. Looking at the picture, I'm not sure if he was hanging by his waist or his balls, but while I was outside it really looked like his balls. He was very mad. This could indicate ball hangage. I cut the bag loose with a knife on a stick. The cat was very angry. He ran away with a piece of garbage bag tied to his balls."

A good friend of mine followed up this harrowing tale with a graphical retelling:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Whiskey Tango Friday: ViperKeeper

This one isn't fair.
This guy is really close to landing on Good Internet Monday. Realllly close. He's very knowledgeable, posts incredibly interesting videos, has regular Q&A sessions for interested viewers, all the things that characterize what a good youtube channel SHOULD be...

...but his area of expertise is snakes.

Youtube user Viper Keeper, true to his moniker, keeps dozens of rare, highly venomous snakes in his home. His videos demonstrate what he goes through to feed and care for them while he discusses the specifics of the different species.
Embedding is disabled, so be sure to hop over to his channel. Here's an example of what he does when he has a snake that doesn't want to eat, and here's some footage of his favorite snake, the aptly named "Mr. Sniffles" (yes, that snake actually sniffs at him.)

If this stuff didn't give me the heebeejeebees, it would definitely fall under GIM.

Quick update:
For the bravest of you out there, check out this vid.
After posting this, I was watching the Mr. Sniffles vid with my 20 month old daughter. She rather enjoyed it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Good Internet Monday: The NetRat

Oh, football... OOOOoooooooh, football.

The first week, wrapping up as I type, was great. Unless you're the Lions. Oh, Lions... *muffled sobbing*

After showing that they just might not be any better than last year, I needed to step away from the ledge. I handed my wife my belt and shoelaces and went to go weep by myself in the bathroom. It was that bad.

It's times like this where I need a calm, reasoned voice to help me calm down. I often find that voice over at NetRat's Lions blog. NetRat follows the Lions very closely and his musings are insightful, level headed, and accurate. When it comes to breaking down the Leos' recent moves, he surpasses many of the professional pundits by a good measure.

NetRat isn't just a blogger, however. He has a whole page dedicated to the Lions, where he follows them in gory detail. He keeps close watch on their signings and contracts in order to report accurately on their current salary cap situation. He hosts several competitions, from W/L predictions to mock drafts. He has built an amateur site that is a true resource for Detroit fans. Good stuff, indeed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Quick Sob Story

After not posting for a week, here's a quick sob story to explain my absence:

I started the week (Labor Day) doing what any red-or-blue-blooded scientist should be doing on such a day: LABORING! I had science to do, dammit. It was a fairly productive (yet stressful) day as I tried to wrap up and plot results that I owed my superiors on the eve of their return from a long European trip. I also needed to finish up replies to reviewers on my latest paper.

Tuesday started pretty good- my new laptop (as demanded by all of 5 votes, it has been named UPGRAYEDD!) arrived and was off to the IT folks for setup. But it quickly deteriorated when I found out that it was time to switch offices- a move I had been informed of, but was formalized that morning. As such, I had to begin packing and moving my crap -- a fairly frustrating distraction. Finished most of the reviewer replies and started switching offices.

That night I made a bad mistake. I left the bedroom window open overnight despite the fact that the nice, cool air was drying out my throat quickly. I woke up with a sore throat that didn't distract too much that day. It kept me up that night, however, as what was bad for the throat is also bad for the sinuses. On Thursday, I tried to fight through a pretty bad head cold, but didn't get much done over all. Friday was pretty bad too. It was supposed to be my day off, but I went in for a few hours trying to make up for time lost due to moving and sickness. Blerg.

Today was spent resting. It's really hard to concentrate with a nasty head cold. I've found the best medicine is Mucinex-D. The pills are so large that I doubt they were meant for humans, but it gives you 6 hours of relief. I discovered this pill-shaped-miracle last year at this time when I was interviewing with the Airforce Research Lab. That's right, I was almost a professional space weather forecaster for the US Airforce.

I should have some interesting stories starting Monday. Being that it's the first full day of NFL goodness, I'll spend the day weeping over the Lions.

Oh, and GO BLUE!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Name! That! Laptop! ...part 2.

The new laptop came in, which means that I need a name posthaste. On Tuesday, I'll take it to the IT crowd to have Lab-approved software (read: out of date) installed and at that point I'll need a wacky moniker. After balancing comedic value with the likelihood that the name will be approved by lab brass, I've whittled it down to two choices:
  • OMJihad - This is only somewhat likely to cause problems with the lab, but is hilarious.
  • Upgrayedd - The pimp from Idiocracy. That's pretty funny.
DEMOCRACY- I CHOOSE YOU! Poll is to the right. Make a choice. I'll go with the most popular on Tuesday.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Whiskey Tango Friday: 100TH POST!

I've now posted on here 100 times. Hooray!

But on to Whiskey Tango Friday: People of Walmart.

Don't go there at work.
Don't go there at home.
Don't go there if you value your faith in humanity.

And definitely, definitely don't follow any youtube links that you see on the back of someone's jean jacket.

Look, it's a site that just has pictures of people at Walmart, okay? Now you don't have to go there. Why are you clicking the link? Stop that. STOP!

It's really bad.

Here Comes Science!

Praise be FSM for this brand spankin' new TMBG album: Here Comes Science! I know what my daughter is getting for her birthday (or, rather, the next excuse I have to buy something.)

If you look at the comments on the video for the song "Science is Real", you'll find several people butthurt over the lyric "I like the stories as much as anyone else, but when I'm seeking knowledge [...] the facts are with science". Why? Because it's a "pot shot" at religion.

. . .

"Get in the fookin' sack!"

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Dose of Dumbass

Did anyone happen to catch NBC's Dateline episode named A Dose of Controversy, an expose' on the anti-vax movement? It was pretty good overall. A quick summary:
  • The man who initially linked autism to the MMR vaccine, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, did so with a study that used 12 participants.
  • More recent studies that have used 500,000 to several MILLION participants have found no such link.
  • Nearly all of the 12 participants in Wakefield's study were involved in a class action suit against the makers of the MMR vaccine.
  • Dr. Wakefield was a paid expert witness for the plaintiffs in this suit.
  • Dr. Wakefield was, at the time of the study, applying for a patent on a vaccine to replace MMR.
The accusation drawn from these points is that Dr. Wakefield performed his study in a manner such that the evidence would fit the predetermined conclusion. I've heard of this before... who is it, besides the good Dr. Wakefield, that warps the evidence to fit the conclusion they want???

To put it mildly:

Scientists are people who are concerned about the truth and use natural, recreatable evidence to find it. If all of the evidence does not agree with your hypothesis, even if you strongly want that hypothesis to be true, you must reject your hypothesis. When you are discriminative with the evidence or otherwise warp it in order to build a case for your personal hypothesis, you deceive yourself and others.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


A study to be released soon claims that Tetris is good for the brain!
I'm not sure if they are referring to the puzzle game itself or the oh-so-catchy music. I agree in either case.

Achievement Unlocked: 3rd Most Boring Solar Cycle

Today is September 1st. Time to look at the sunspot number over the past month!

The last time this happened? June, 1913. 1913!!!
Solar Cycle 23 has now secured the bronze for the longest solar cycle in recorded history at 150 months. Gold and silver go to cycles 4 and 6 with 164 and 153 months, respectively. What is the perspective of a space science blogger on these matters?

*Sunspot numbers were zero using the international sunspot number. Provisional numbers from NOAA SWPC show a sudden jump to 10 sunspots on the 31st.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Good Internet Monday: Consumerist

I rather enjoy the Consumerist, despite the fact that reading articles there often gets my blood boiling pretty quickly. It is, however, a great guide for consumers- they are quick to point out dishonest business dealings to keep the average shopper sharp. Additionally, they post disputes between companies and customers that have gone unresolved or when the customer is being downright screwed. This type of publicity often leads to some semblance of justice when the company reaches the right level of embarrassment...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Random Sunday Thoughts

Ex-Lions players know how to rub it in.
I'm watching Andre Goodman, ex-Lions cornerback, play well for Denver. Goodman was a starting corner for the championship Giants team a few years ago. The Lions struggle every year to get average players to play better, and eventually they do- by letting them go to other teams.

The U.S. is completely f**ked.
Here's a nice story about how GM has been displacing management duties to China. Does our country make anything anymore? Besides movies. And besides lousy pop music. Besides military stuff, too. C'mon, I meant something constructive.

I'm starting to lose faith in Umich coach Rodriguez.
Claims of breaking NCAA rules are leading to an investigation. I was adamant about giving "RichRod" the benefit of the doubt early, but as the problems mount (as well as the number of players leaving for other schools), it's getting tougher to defend him.

I just realized that my shirt is awesome.
I'm wearing a Farmer Jack grocery store employee shirt. I've never actually worked there.** What is impressive about the shirt is that it is now a relic of Detroit: Farmer Jack's was the last major grocery store left in the metro area, but they folded several years ago. Buying groceries in the city means either finding a small time local store or going on a car ride.

**my brother has never worked at Marco's Pizza, but that hasn't stopped him from donning a Marco's Pizza employee shirt. When inquired as to if he has worked there, he replies, "no, my name is Marco Pizza." Straight faced, every time. Always funny.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thunderfoot- Great Youtuber, or Greatest Youtuber?

Seriously, Thunderfoot makes the coolest videos:

Whiskey Tango Friday - Lolcat Bible Project

It's not really the concept - an entire webpage dedicated to translating the bible so it looks like it was written by cats - that lands this site on today's WTF.

It's not the innumerable man hours already put into it (most of the bible, if not all, has already been translated.)

It's not even the hilarious results:
Genesis 1:1 - Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.

What really landed this site here is the unintentional hilarity that is the google ads: almost every one advertises courses to learn the bible. For some reason, I don't think that the people who visit the Lolcat Bible Project are interested in learning about the "real" bible.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Creationists Are Liars.

Welcome to a new feature, Creationists Are Liars. This will be a non-regular section where I expose the blatant lies of creationists whenever they are brazen enough to draw my ire.

To be fair, most creationists really aren't lying. There are some, however, who warp the truth so badly that what they say is indistinguishable from telling a lie. A text book example is the dark art of quote mining.

Take, for example, this video posted over at the Force blog. It lists a plethora of quotes from seemingly reputable sources that, when carefully prefaced by the author of the video, make it sound like evolution isn't very well supported (by either the scientists or evidence). As far as the quotes go, they are accurate- but taken out of their original context and strung together with the opinions of the author of the video until the meaning is completely distorted. Now I ask you, dear reader, by warping the truth to impose a new meaning, how is this different than lying?

After watching the video, I realized that the easy thing to do was to assume that the video was just quote mining. I decided that it would be far more responsible to seek the truth myself. You will find, as I did, that 95% of the quotes could be found in their full context by simply googling the author and the quote. Many explanations can be found over at Talk Origins' Quote Mine Project. You'll also note that 100% of them can be found echoed at other creationist webpages, still completely out of context.

There was one, however, that threw me for a loop-

"[There is not] enough evidence from fossil material to take theorising out of the realms of fantasy" - New Scientist, August 1972, p.259.
On the web, I could not find this quote in its original context anywhere. I was also bothered to see such a phrase (with its implied meaning imposed by the video) pulled directly out of New Scientist.

It was at this point that I did the unthinkable- I went to the library. It was trivial to find the original line; it was the fifth line of a four paragraph book review:

"It is proving particularly difficult to understand the evolution of man: through what forms has he progressed--vegetarian or carnivore, quadruped or brachiator? When did he become a biped, when a toolmaker? How close is his relationship to the great apes? When did they diverge? We know too little of the timing or mechanisms of evolution, nor tis there enough evidence from fossil material to take our theorising out of the realms of fantasy."

That's right- this article (not even a true peer reviewed scientific article, but a mere book review!) does not doubt evolution, nor that we are close cousins to the great apes; it only declares that as of August, 1972, there was not enough evidence to fill in the minute details. The article continues that the title of the book being reviewed is misleading- it does not argue that we are not apes ourselves, but focuses on when we split off from the line that has become modern great apes.

There are two points to be made with this little exercise:
1) If you are actually interested in the truth, it often does not take much work to find it. A handful of Google searches was all it took to get me most of the way; a quick trip to the local library (not even an hour of work!) completed the journey. Given that it takes so little effort to sort fact from fiction, why do not more people do this?

2) At some point, a person found this quote in the context of the original article and isolated it in order to twist the original meaning, therefore lying to his or her audience. I am certainly not blaming Zach over at the Force blog. I'm not evening blaming the creator of the video, who likely found this isolated quote as it is presented in his propaganda piece. I put the blame on the original quote miner, who is undeniably a liar.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Name! That! Laptop!

Recently, the Lab decided to stringently enforce a rule saying that all laptops leaving lab premises must have encryption. Furthermore, they would administer the encryption. Okay, not so bad...

...but, you have one option for encryption. An option that doesn't work on any older Macintosh laptops. This means that a lot of older Lab-issued laptops are nothing more than overly expensive desktops as they will not be allowed to leave the lab.

I've lucked out, however- although my old laptop is brick'd, some extra grant money within the group has afforded me a brand spankin' new Macbook Pro! Huzzah!

Here's where you come in- I must give this machine a host name so I can SSH to and from, etc, etc. I would like to hear everyone's suggestions for names. Points are given for comedy value and the likelihood of I.T. approving the name. For example, binLaden would be a great host name. Imagine logging into a computer named binLaden located somewhere in a government weapons lab. Comedy gold!

So please post your suggested name in the comments. If I get enough responses, I'll hold a binding poll to name my new laptop. My new laptop should be arriving within two weeks.

Good Internet Monday: AronRa

As I continue to argue with creationists around the web, I repeatedly refer to works of others that express the ideas of and evidence for evolution far better than I ever could. Among these are the videos made by YouTuber AronRa in his series, Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism.

An example of his excellent work:

With GIM, I set out to share links that demonstrate how the web can be a medium through which someone's expertise can be harnessed to elucidate abstract ideas clearly and creatively. AronRa has all of this in spades.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Whiskey Tango Friday - Detroit Lions 2008 Season

Here it is. 17 weeks of pure torture. Oh, the heart wrench!

The season summary fits in the WTF feature for two reasons: 1) it is the eve of the Lions preseason, and 2) until you see it, it is impossible to believe how bad that team really was. They were really, really bad. The closest they got to winning was a 12-10 loss in Minnesota. Here's the winning (losing?) play that gave the Vikings the 2 point advantage:

Tomorrow is their first preseason game, and I want them to lose. Badly. Last year, they were preseason champs (4-0, baby!) So this year, they better go 0-4 in the preseason. That way, they will at least win 1 real game. Please. I can't take too many more videos like this:

Thursday, August 13, 2009


What a week.
I was hoping to have some preliminary telescope pics up, but the fan in my MacBook died. It's over three years old, so I can't complain too much, but dag. Dag.

Then, I was hoping to see some of the Perseid meteor shower, but the monsoon season returned just in time to cloud over the night sky.

And I was hoping that there wouldn't be a large-scale, public justification for Monday's post. Well, shit.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Good Internet Monday: Talk Origins

I've learned quickly that the challenge of this article is to resist the urge to consistently grab low-hanging-fruit and work to grab more obscure pieces of the internet-- that is, if everyone knows about the sites I post about, what's the point?

I admit failure on this front today, but with good reason. I've been debating the validity of evolution online intensely over the past week, and am surprised that the level of understanding of the theory amongst the general public is so low. Furthermore, there are creationists who have flagrant misconceptions about the theory.

While I've been involved in my own discussions, biologist blogger PZ Myers (along with 300+ students, scientists, and secularists) has recently been to a trip to Ken Ham's odious creation "museum", a place where ignorance is not only embraced but flaunted.

With these two items in mind, I found it appropriate to designate Talk Origins(.org) as today's GIM appointee. This is a site dedicated to presenting the evidence, clarifying misconceptions, and harboring open discussion on evolution. It is a great place to visit for information on the most important theory in biology. Some people really need to see the section on evidence...

Seriously, Wendy... the evidence section... read it. All of it.

More Scopin' Fun

I've continued to play with the Galileoscope over the weekend. I will say this again, it has been the best $15 I've spent in my life. While I will certainly be looking for a high end 'scope when I can afford it, the Galileoscope does what a good intro telescope should. At both 25x and 50x, you can aim at any dark spot in the sky and see dozens of stars that were not visible with the naked eye. You can clearly see the 4 largest Jovian moons, and I was even able to make out the main cloud bands on Jupiter.

I've made -some- progress on the video capture front. I've given up on using my hand-held digital camera and have decided to try to mount a webcam to the eyepiece (ala Thunderf00t, a man who clearly knows his astronomy.) I was having troubles getting my external webcam to work with my Macbook, but blogger Sidiasus stepped up to the plate and suggested using a memory-stick based Ubuntu Linux distribution. This works great, and has the additional benefit of command-line control over the webcam image. I'll try to test this sometime this week. In the end, the case may be that I will need better equipment to capture some of the images I've witnessed over the past several weeks.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Whiskey Tango Friday

In this inaugural edition of Whiskey Tango Friday (WTF), I present a piece of the internet that I've been meaning to share for a long time.

At last May's AGU meeting, I was perusing the research posters when I ran into one that piqued my interest. I can no longer remember the exact title, but it was something along the lines of how space ions can impact terrestrial weather. Okay, sounds neat, I'll give it a look. It didn't take long for me to realize that the poster didn't make much sense. It asserted that a strong electric field, called the SOLAR CAPACITOR [emphasis not mine] was responsible for ALL weather, especially the scary stuff, such as hurricanes. The author said that comets are the result of this SOLAR CAPACITOR, and astronomers were dumb for calling comets "dirty snowballs" (a gross over-simplification of decades of observations).

After re-reading a few of these points to make sure I wasn't nuts, I realized that the author was a crank. He also had a few self-published books on display, covering topics such as how to use a new form of math (using non-base-10 number systems) to calculate all of the prime numbers and other "science" books with no data, no references, but a lot of hand-drawn pictures that seemed to ignore a lot of physics. The more I reviewed his material, the more I realized he was good at being a crank.

The identity of this man? James McCanney. For this first WTF, I present his website in all of its cranky glory. A few highlights demonstrate that James McCanney is a scientific rebel:
  • Pictures? Paragraphs? Layout? Sentences that end in anything but ellipsis or exclamation points? Screw that! Why water down James McCanney's message of truth? Take THAT, grammar!
  • A link to a page where he's selling Doulton (?) personal water filters. Take THAT, fluoridation!
  • An opening statement (buried in a link 1/3 down the page) that explains how astronomy relies on four incorrect axioms- axioms that, if exposed, will bring down our astronomer overlords! These four lies have been taught to every astronomy PhD student since the 50's, rendering those degrees useless! Take THAT, astronomers!
  • Note that James McCanney doesn't have a PhD, just a masters degree. Not because he wasn't good enough, but because he was TOO SMART to be tricked by said axioms. Take THAT, establishment!
  • After all of his theories, rants, and links to his books, there is a small section called "about conspiracy theories." It reads, " ... occasionally i hear someone say this page contains "conspiracy theories" ... that term was created by a government think tank back in the 60's to de-rate and ridicule anything not broadcast by the official news media on the evening news[.]" That's right, he just conspiracy-theoried away conspiracy-theories. Take THAT, rational thought!
Some day I'll have to work through his space weather section and show why it's just plain wrong. It would be horribly unfair of me to pick on his work without saying why it's wrong. But alas, such is not the goal of WTF. I just have time to bring such oddities to light.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

As Advertised.

The Galileoscope came out again last night. It was not the best night for observing, however- nearly full moon washed out many objects, and there was a bit of cloud cover that cut the night short. Despite this, for the first time I found Jupiter! Sure enough, just as claimed, I was able to see 4-5 moons. It was incredible. I could not see the cloud bands, and the Jovian moons were just specs, but I was excited none the less.

As I admitted to a good friend of mine, astronomy is NOT a strong point of mine, so I had to use a nifty iPhone/iPod touch app to help me find things (Planets by Dana Peters - free and recommended.)

I am trying to jury rig a camera to the 'scope to get some images here, but it hasn't gone well so far. I'll try a few new things tonight.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cage and Aquarium

One of the benefits of working at "the Lab" is a very flexible schedule. For example, I have every other Friday off, giving me more time with my family. This past Friday I took advantage of this by taking a trip (planned by Mrs. Spacecataz -- the genius in the family) to the Albuquerque aquarium. After being a bit disappointed by the ABQ zoo, we were pleasantly surprised by the aquarium. Very large displays and a huge number of fish. My personal favorite was the manta ray tank. You could get exceptionally close to the critters:

My 18-month old daughter absolute loved it. At one point, she stopped staring at the manta rays long enough to give both mom and dad a hug. It was as if she was giving us a quick thank you. She didn't like the eels, though.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Good Internet Monday

To help create a continuous output of posts on this blog as well as generate some kind of readership, I am introducing two new features: Every Monday is "Good Internet Monday." I'll link to a blog, website, youtube channel, etc. that I believe demonstrates the good features of the wild, wild intertubes. Fridays will be "Whiskey Tango Friday (WTF)", where I'll present some of the more eclectic, weird, or just plain dumb parts of the 'tubes.

Today's GIM is the YouTube channel xxxHERPERxxx, which features "Brandon's Herp Adventures." Brandon, the channel owner, goes in search of various reptiles in the wetlands around his home. He finds some interesting species (especially snakes, where he's found copperheads and rattlers), and delivers interesting information about all of them- from their official species name to their behavior, diet, etc.

What is especially neat is that Brandon is probably only 16 or so years old, but handles the animals with an exceptional amount of skill and easily doles out loads of information. Amateur science channels like this are one of the best parts of YouTube.

He has disabled embedding, but here is a great example of his work:

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Tonight was the second night that I was able to take out my "Galileoscope" and take a look at the moon. I have a shameful confession to make- not only is this my first telescope, it is also my first time outside of an undergrad intro to astronomy class that I've spent some quality time looking at the night sky. Pretty bad for a space scientist...

Anyhow, the 'scope is everything for which I had hoped. At 25x and 50x, the moon was amazing. Many of the smaller craters are easily visible, as well as the rays coming off of the larger ones. The detail is stunning and inspiring. The challenges with the smaller scope are focusing (performed by pushing/pulling/twisting the inner tube in and out of the larger one) and keeping the scope steady on a cheap camera tripod.

Tonight, feeling a bit more confident with my ability to find objects in the sky, I turned toward some of the brighter stars. Although I couldn't line them up, I was amazed at the number of stars that I could see through the 'scope in areas that appeared empty with the naked eye. I was taken aback by the thought that in each empty space I could see with the telescope, there were an infinite number of objects waiting to be seen. Of course this should be obvious, but until you finally look yourself, it is hard to fathom.

This is the best fifteen bucks I've spent in a long, long time.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I kinda get Python. Kinda.

Phew, long week and long weekend. I had my weekend WTF moment when I caved to my daughter's pleas for tonic water. I figured that there was no way a 19-month year old would have more than one sip. She proved me wrong, downing all that I gave her. There's nothing quite like watching a toddler wander around with a rock glass full of tonic. That should be on a Hallmark card or something.

Anyway, I've been slllooowwwwllly progressing with Python and MatPlotLib. There are some concepts that are still beyond me.

I've continued to play with the Weasel program; it's interesting enough to keep me programming while giving me plenty of output to visualise. I've always wanted to see how changing the number of offspring per generation AND the mutation rate would affect the number of iterations needed to finish. This requires a lot of runs- not only do you need to simulate many mutation-rate & number-of-offspring combinations, you also need to perform many simulations for each combination to get an average number of total iterations (because it's random, the results can differ quite a bit.)

This plot shows the variability in similar runs (and shows that I can do whisker plots now.) The Y-axis is number of iterations (LOG SCALE!) to completion, the x-axis is number of offspring set for the simulation. Each point represents the average of 100 simulations using the same inputs; the whiskers show the standard deviation. As the number of offspring increases, both the standard deviation and number of iterations decreases. This makes sense- with more offspring, you have a greater chance of a "good" mutation. The log scale makes the change look small, but it's order magnitudes!

I repeated this, but now I varied both mutation rate AND number of offspring. With 10,721 combinations, I lowered the number of runs per combination to 30 from 100. This left me with 321,630 weasel runs (two days of calculations!) This contour plot shows the variation in average number of iterations to completion when the two controls are changed. Note again a log scale, and also note that I had a very, very hard time setting up a proper log scale color bar. The bar goes from the low 10's to the high 400's.

What is interesting here is that if you follow the contours closely, you see a rebound in the number of iterations required as the mutation rate goes up high enough. This means that for a given number of offspring, there is an optimal mutation rate for the fastest convergence: too low and the process drags on forever, too high and we cannot converge because there is so much variation. Although I expected this result, it was still neat to see visualised like this.

The big personal accomplishment here was building these results - from the weasel runs, the scripting, all the way to the plotting - in Python. I would like to start using this language for work, but I don't want to waste research time learning an extra language.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Black Mesa

On the drive from Santa Fe to Los Alamos, one passes Black Mesa, a large volcanic outcropping located in the San Ildefonso pueblo. The mesa stands out because of its distance from the other mesas on the Jemez plateau as well as its black and green appearance.

My wife took some neat pictures of the mesa on the way to Espanola:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yeah. What he said.

"Science knows it doesn't know everything or else it would stop." Words of truth and wisdom. And hilariousness.

Shamelessly stolen from Pharyngula.


I've taken a short vacation, hence the lag in posts lately. However, I do have plenty to talk about.

The first item is the arrival of my Galileoscope last Friday!

Some assembly required, eh? Wasn't too bad, however, and soon I was spying on the neighbors looking at the night sky.

Unfortunately, the moon hasn't been out early enough to test the 'scope yet. Being a cheap instrument on a cheaper tripod, I had a lot of trouble getting stars into focus as well. Additionally, this is my first telescope, so I'm still learning how to use it properly. At this point, I'm waiting for the next night where I can get a good, clear shot at the moon. This will make for a much easier time getting objects in focus.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Webcam, part 1

After moving to Los Alamos, I started playing with my webcam on my Linux machine. I ran into an aptly named command-line-interface package, "webcam", through Ubuntu's package manager and immediately started experiementing. The view outside of our office window is beautiful, but much more stunning in time-lapse:

When I tried to launch the program from the crontab, I recorded some great sunrises, but the process died at 11:45 consistently. This really sucks considering the footage of the snowstorm and the following melting I partly captured.

I'm working on expanding this into a year-long project.