Friday, August 20, 2010

On the Joys of Being a Computational Physicist

This is true:

It's even better, however, when your code takes days to run. No matter how little you're doing, as long as your code is running, you feel like you're doing something.

Whiskey Tango Friday: PIRANHA!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our next "Snakes on a Plane":

Yes, the fish actually made a whirlpool to suck victims into their waiting jaws. I'd be stupid to miss this blockbuster!!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bad news and worse news.

A piece of ice has broken free from a Greenlandic glacier and is floating free around the arctic ocean. When I say "piece", I mean a glacier that covers 3 times more surface area than the island of Manhattan. It is so large that its momentum makes the possibility of slowing it down... well, impossible.

The NPR article above places this event in the context of global warming- something that is difficult to avoid given that temperatures in the arctic have climbed 4.5 degrees since 1970 and this is the largest glacier to break free from Greenland since 1962. The implications are staggering- the Greenlandic ice sheet (which I have visited on 8 separate occasions) contains enough water to raise sea levels by 20 feet. However, the writing maintains an even hand by pointing out that it is difficult to directly tie the glacier's newly found freedom to global climate change.

I would like you to contrast this story with the following set of clips taken during the peculiarly strong snow storms that occurred in our nation's capital this past winter:

Get it? Because it's snowing on Al Gore's book, global warming is a hoax! As the description of the video points out, there's no mention that the book points out that such acute weather events could indeed be driven by global climate change. The reporters also fail to mention that while this is going on, we were in the midst of the second warmest January since 1931 (on a global scale, not in D.C.).

The stark contrast between these two reporting styles is breathtaking. The Fox News reporters are wallowing in the information they are withholding from their viewers. How could anyone dependent on this news source possibly develop an informed opinion or make an informed decision?

What is Fox News saying now? We've been in the middle of one of the warmest summers in recorded history, with a phenomenal heat wave wreaking havoc in Russia. And now, a massive piece of the Greenlandic ice sheet has broke free.

No, seriously. What are they saying? I don't watch that crap. Please let me know.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Good Internet Monday: SMBC

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (WARNING- NOT SAFE FOR WORK) has quickly rose from what I would consider a "meh" comic to a regular laugh-fest. If you are a fan of dark humor and nerd jokes, I insist that you add it to your repertoire.

Be sure to check out the SMBC Theater. It's hysterical. Exhibit A:

I rest my case.

Keyboard Cleaning.

While cleaning my overly-gross keyboard, I realized the patterns in the gunk buildup tell me which keys I press most often.

Or which of my fingers are the dirtiest.

Or both.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Neutrality, Neutrality

I praised Google back when they stood up to China (though they eventually stepped back), so it's only fair to criticize them here. Google is working with Verizon ISP to deliver content from sites such as YouTube to Verizon internet subscribers faster than other content (commentary here).

This is bad. First, it sets the precedent that ISPs can select which information gets to you the fastest, and, as appears to be the case here, raise prices if you want a plan that gets you this selective speed up. Imagine calling up Comcast to get a cable internet plan, but now you have to choose if you want a premium plan (that comes at a premium) that gets you YouTube at speeds that make it bearable or not. Secondly, it allows ISPs to exercise control over how information on the web is delivered to you -- if at all. This is plain dangerous, as control of information and knowledge is equivalent to control of the population that requires this knowledge in order to make decisions and self govern.

Is this really a tyrannical power grab by Verizon and Google? No, they just want to increase profits. However, it is a step in the wrong direction, especially by Google, who has been fighting for Net Neutrality for some time. The greatest aspect of the web is its openness. When ISPs can filter it as they want, we lose that freedom.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Charting Astronomers


*snort* hrmph! wha? Whozzere? Oh, sorry. I was sleeping for a bit. Sorry about that. It happens from time to time. Usually during a busy/stressful period I tend to let such things as blogs fall into neglect, then drag my feet when it comes to getting them running again.

In any case, what better time to get started than during a rather well publicized space weather storm (though I will get to that eventually.)

First, a rather neat picture I found on Phil Plait's excellent blog that charts astronomers' careers based on publications and "fame" (as calculated by a Google search.)

It is remarkable that, even though he dedicated so much time to public outreach and education, Carl Sagan could still be involved in so much science. Then again, these are not first author papers (as Phil Plait admits to having only two of those), so it is likely that he was put on many either as part of a spacecraft mission PI (primary investigator) or just to beef up paper credentials.

Incidentally, and mostly to satisfy my own curiosity, I would fall in the main career sequence/dark astronomer range with about 15 papers (four first author, one single author- suck it, Plait!) but likely very low on the media impact scale. My name is more common that I would care to admit, so my Google results are quite muddy. Additionally, I am NOT an astronomer, but a space scientist/plasma physicist, so the paper scale may not be weighted equally.