24 November 2007

Science and Faith

This NY Times article is an interesting look at the basic assumption of science: that the universe is governed by rational laws. This in and of itself is an assumption - or a belief - that we are not yet capable of proving. The author alludes to the fine-tuning of universal constants and the anthropic principle, but in the end challenges science to not only find the laws, but find the ultimate reason behind those laws, and find them within our own universe - or else we are taking things on Faith.

23 November 2007

Hey baby, wanna determine the spring constant of my mattress?

Inspired by this list of physicists' pickup lines and a comment by Allison, here's a few of my own.

  • Physicists are Phun!
  • Physicists do it with simple harmonic motion.
  • Hey baby, what's your resonance frequency?
  • Aw man, I wanna integrate those curves of yours...
  • Astronomers do it in the dark, under the stars, all night long.
  • Stargazing's so cold; let's keep warm together.
  • Bigger is better - my tube's 6" around and 2 ft long.

More if I come up with more - or if you add some!

20 November 2007

Why to Take Action

Summary: We can't ever know for sure what the future holds. What we can know is the worst case scenario. If that scenario is bad enough, then we MUST take action to reduce that risk, regardless of what the chances are.

Let's say you're handed a gun with six chambers. You have no clue how many bullets are in the chambers. You are told we have to put the gun to your head and pull the trigger. You have the choice to either (A) do it now, or (B) first pull the trigger once while pointing at the wall, then spin the chamber and point the gun at your head. Which do you do? Of course you should fire at the wall first - if it was an empty chamber you spin it and then point it at yourself, losing nothing; if it was a full chamber you have emptied it, spin it, and then point it at yourself and have gained one additional empty chamber.

What if you were told you could either (A) pull the trigger now, or (B) take 10 lashes, empty one chamber, and then point it at your head? I would still take choice (B). 10 lashes will not kill me. I have no clue how many bullets are in those six chambers, it could be that they're ALL full and my only chance of survival is emptying one of them in exchange for the lashes. It's not worth that risk of my life, so long as the cost (10 lashes) is not enough to kill me either.

That's what this guy is arguing about climate change - even if we had no clue about whether it was happening, the cost of trying to reduce it just in case is so much less than the potential consequences, that we must take that choice.

And there's his various replies here.

19 November 2007

On airplanes...

I keep telling people this, and they never believe me: If I'm on an airplane and the guy next to me starts talking, if I want to keep talking I tell him I'm an astronomer, and if I want to sleep I tell him I'm a physicist. Well, now I have independent proof!

Seriously, all astrophysicists discover this independently. The first time we hear someone else say it we're not at all surprised to find out that someone else came to the same conclusion on their own. It's like gravity - lots of people discovered it. I can't wait till someone comes up with So-And-So's Laws of Airplane Boredom that describe WHY. ;)

(And of course, I usually then have to go and spoil things by telling the other person that astronomy doesn't involve looking through telescopes at stars, but instead looking at computers and programming.)

18 November 2007

Reading level...

cash advance

Ouch, that hurts! :-P

Thanksgiving Turkey

For a T-day alternative, consider buying an organic turkey. The Eat Well Guide will help you find organic farms and grocery stores near you where you can find one.

17 November 2007


I'm just jumping onboard with this Technorati thing. Check out my profile below.

Technorati Profile

Anyone want to give me pointers on how to use it?

Geek quiz

Because I rarely post memes or quizzes here...

69% Geek

14 November 2007

I need one of these

It's a spherical cow!

At $38 and more than a foot approximately 42 centimeters in diameter, that's approxmiately 0.7¢/cm3! A total bargain!

And now some people are laughing, and other people haven't taken physics.

13 November 2007

Academic Freedom

There is a bill in the House right now called "H.R. 4137, The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007." This bill is designed to help students access higher education, regardless of their financial situation. This is a highly laudable goal. Moreover, this specific bill reauthorizes a system already in place, and already proven to work reasonably well - sure not perfectly, but without the bill going through things would be MUCH worse.

However, there are people planning to tack on an "Academic Bill of Rights" amendment. At first glance this seems harmless - it's supposed to give students the right to free speech and congregation on campuses. Take another look at that. How long have our universities and colleges, both public and private, already been providing the right to free speech and meeting and even civil protests on our campuses without interference from the Feds? When problems come up, have we ever turned to the Feds for their so-called help? You know where else the Feds are sitting on our campuses? Behind tables saying "Join the Army - you'll only have to train two weekends a year and we promise, cross our hearts, that we won't send you to Iraq to be blown up! and we'll even take you if you're schizophrenic or retarded because we need more cannon fodder people who can't understand the situation they're in while on the front lines eager recruits who we can prey upon recruit because of their debt and help to become financially solvent!"

Yeah, I want them legislating for more Federal presence on my campus. Where do I sign up?

To send a letter to your Rep, here is where you sign up.

And in case you think I'm saying this just b/c I'm a flaming Liberal, quoted directly from the model letter on that page,

Over the last four years, 28 states have considered legislation aimed at correcting an alleged “political bias” at their state colleges and universities. After examining the evidence and assessing existing institutional policies, no state enacted this legislation, regardless of which party held a political majority.

12 November 2007

Science Tatoos

Another science blogger asked his readers how many of them had science (or math or comp sci) related tattoos. This is the result. Now I'm tempted to get the below icon created by RoseFox upon my request as a tattoo. I just can't decide where...


07 November 2007

Comety goodness!

Tonight I saw Comet Holmes through a telescope. The last time I've seen any comet through a telescope was Haley's Comet way back in the 80's, in my childhood. I missed both Hale-Bopp and Hyukatuke (sp?) in the mid 90's somehow.

Check out the Wikipedia page on Comet Holmes. Scroll down a couple screens to "Location in 2007" and you'll see a nice finding chart - it's in Perseus, currently North of the left "arm" of the π shape that I see in it. It's clearly visible to the naked eye - I was in a brightly lit city, on campus near some lights, and I still was able to point it out to people who are NOT experienced observers. First find the stars of Perseus, and then you'll realize that one of the North-most stars is actually a bit fuzzy, and that's it.

Through a telescope it resolves into a HUGE fuzzy blob - bigger than planets, bigger than the Ring Nebula, bigger than Andromeda, maybe as big as the space between H and Χ Perseus. (Use the biggest diameter telescope you can, lowest power.) With some careful studying and averted vision you'll be able to see that the brightest center section is elongated (left/right in my tele's field of view, I think East/West actually), it's surrounded by a glowing cloud, and one edge of the cloud is crisp/sharp and slightly brighter (right in my field of view, I think the East edge) while the opposite edge fades away, presumably into the tail. There are no bright stars in the same field of view; focus while looking at a dim star, and keep your eyes on it to view the comet most easily.

It's just amazing. Go look at it, naked eye, binoculars, tele, whatever. The thing is exploding, this's probably its last pass around the Sun. (If it somehow survives, it'll be back in a scant 7 years.)

02 November 2007

Nowak 1; NASA 0

A Florida judge Friday handed a legal victory to a former astronaut [Lisa Nowak] accused of assaulting a romantic rival [Colleen Shipman], ruling evidence found in her car and statements she made to police after her arrest were inadmissible at trial. ...no written consent was obtained to search her car.
On the audiotape of the interview [and Miranda rights], there was no audible response from Nowak on whether she understood that her statements could be used against her in court, and when she was asked whether anyone had threatened or promised her anything to get her to talk to police, [Judge] Lubet wrote. "Thus, there is nothing in either the audio recording or the transcript of the interview that demonstrates that defendant understood these two rights and waived them."
she was "subjected to a barrage of questions" beginning in the predawn hours and was questioned for six hours without being given the opportunity to sleep or make a phone call. "Defendant had not slept during the preceding 24 hours," the judge said.
Nowak's attorneys in August filed a notice of intent to rely on an insanity defense, saying in court documents her diagnoses include a litany of more than a dozen psychiatric disorders.


As Foxtrot puts it, "And she made it into the astronaut corps how?"