28 August 2007


Hm, I think I got my dates wrong. I think the lunar eclipse was early this morning, not early tomorrow morning. Oops. Stupid UT.

Protect public workers' retirement

(Perhaps slightly off-topic at first glance, but not really in the end b/c of how many scientists are public employees either through public institutions of higher education, or through national laboratories.)

"Long ago in days of yore it all began with..."

...some politicians on Capitol Hill deciding that if state and federal employees and their families got Social Security benefits in addition to their pension or retirement investment that it was "double dipping," never mind that everyone else in the US is entitled to both a pension and Social Security benefits, never mind that Social Security is their own money in both cases.

This affects ALL state and federal employees - not just me and all public higher ed workers from faculty to facilities, not just my mother (hoping to retire in 2 years) and all public K-12 teachers and employees from secretaries to security, but even firemen, cops, many EMS workers, garbage men, and so on. Of course there probably won't be any Social Security left by the time I'm eligible for it, but think of all the Baby Boomers out there who have put in 40 or 50 years of faithful service to the public (around 50 in the case of my mother), fighting fires and crayons, who are now told as they approach retirement that they deserve less than the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Because of this legislation, the widows of firefighters killed in 9/11 were likely told six years ago they will not, in fact, receive the Social Security benefits that their spouse earned with his or her sacrifice.

So what can you do about it? There are two pieces of federal legislation that my union (the NEA, National Education Association) is working to repeal, called GPO and WEP (Government Pension Offsets and Windfall Elimination Program). The way they are doing this is by bringing pressure to bear on Congressmen nationwide through petitions and letters. What you can do about this is to send a letter online. The letter is already written for you, so it will take less than 10 minutes of your time to fill in your personal information, and you'll be making a difference. Tell your friends and neighbors to participate too.

If you want more information, here's a summary from my State-level union. Spread the word.

26 August 2007

Smart is Sexy

Former child-actress Danica McKellar got sick of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears' examples and is publishing a book "Math Doesn't Suck" after she herself majored in Math in college. Get it for your daughters and neices.

Rice Resonance

In the above video, grains of dry rice are placed on a flat sheet that is driven at different frequencies (the text implies that the surface is a speaker, but it could also be done with a metal sheet or somesuch). At certain frequencies (depending on the size, shape, and material) there are spots on the sheet that tend to stand still (nodes) and spots that wave up and down a lot more (anti-nodes) - these key frequencies are called resonances. If a grain of rice lands on a spot that waves up and down a lot, it will be knocked around, but if it lands on a stationary spot it will act just like it was on a normal table surface and stand still. Thus the grains of rice tend to gather around the nodes in the material when at a resonance frequency - as shown by the pretty patterns.

As the frequency changes away from a resonance, all of the material will shake up and down (no nodes exist), and the rice will scatter all over (these are also the times when the person adds more rice). Then it moves into another resonant frequency and the nodes are located in different spots on the sheet, resulting in a different pattern to the rice. There does exist a lowest possible frequency for resonance, presumably the really simple pattern you first see, but there is no theoretical max to the highest resonance state, just technical limits to how fast you can drive the sheet.

Lunar Eclipse Tuesday

Tuesday night / Wednesday morning will be a total lunar eclipse - it starts a little before 5am (Eastern Daylight Savings Time), totality is around 6:30am, and it ends (theoretically) around 8:30am (more precise times and other time zones at the link above). It is visible in the America,s Australia, and Asia, but not in Europe or Africa; in the Eastern US unfortunately the moon will be setting during the eclipse, so you will not get to see all of it.

If you wish to watch it, I recommend dressing warmer than you think and using bug spray, and start out by going out around a half hour before it's supposed to start (so around 4:30am on the East Coast), watch till you get bored, and repeat every half hour. Binoculars or a low power telescope will enhance the experience, but is not required. If you wish to use a camera, set it on a tripod, open the shutter all the way, and bracket from 1/60s to 5s - use a soft release button or a timer to make sure you don't shake the camera when you trigger it. This APOD photo is an example of what you can do; in it, the Moon moved from bottom to top. Since the Moon will be setting for us and is usually towards the South, it will appear to move downwards, or to the right.

25 August 2007

Compost vs. Garbage Disposal?

I just found out that my trash service picks up compost materials. But most of the stuff I would compost otherwise, I've got a garbage disposal to get rid of. Which is better for the environment for me to do?

Google Sky

Latest from Google Earth is Google Sky. If you download the Google Earth program, you now have the option to view the sky instead of just the Earth. The images for the sky come from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the Palomar Observatory, and the Hubble Space Telescope. The video demo of the sky aspect looks really promising, and I'm in the process of downloading installing it right now (yay Mac version!).

I can't wait until they *really* get with it and include not only visual wavelengths (as SDSS, Palomar, and the HST all are), but also start including IR (such as IRAS and 2MASS) and radio and microwave (like COBE), and so on. All wavelengths are crucial to astronomy, not just what our eyes can see.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the makers of TheSky to sue Google over the name. And if you want a head slapper, find Sally Ride's mistake.