Putting a probe on a comet ..and a contrast…

There is an excellent account of the probe Philae landing on a comet. Some photos of the comet:



This is pretty amazing, huh? Yes, those who did the science, engineering and mathematics to make this happen ARE amazing; but they are outliers among us.

You see this at our university; in my advanced class I have some students who will look at the computer code (for a numerical method to solve a differential equation) and make some suggestions. But on the other level, you see attitudes like this one:


And to think: this young woman was displaying her ignorance via sophisticated technology that was created by, well, geniuses.

That is how it is right now: the smartest among us (does NOT include me by any stretch of the imagination) is further from the average than it has ever been, and the spread will continue to get wider.

November 13, 2014 Posted by | astronomy, science, space, technology | | Leave a comment

No. Partial. Credit.

Sometimes, partial credit isn’t good enough.

No one was injured.

October 28, 2014 Posted by | science, space, technology | | Leave a comment

Head games; lifting after a flu shot

I got a flu shot last night; no big deal but it did make my left upper arm sore.

Today’s workout: weights only. I’ll list what I did in order:

Set one: pull ups (5 sets of 10): in between I did hip hikes, Achilles exercises and rotator cuff exercises (dumbbells)

Set two: super set of dumbbell military presses (3 sets of 12 x 50, seated, supported), dumbbell rows (3 sets of 10 x 65, each arm), rotator cuff (pulley)

Set three: super set of abs (3 sets of 10: crunch, twist, sit back, vertical crunch), 2 sets of bench (10 x 135, 8 x 160), 2 sets of incline (10 x 135, 10 x 135)
Here: my upper arm hurt just a bit on the 8 x 160 so I stopped prior to 10 reps. Not sure if it was the flu shot or the recent injury; better safe than sorry.

Set four: super set: 3 sets of 10 x 160 pull downs (shoulder friendly grip) and 3 sets of 10 curls; 2 with the EZ curl bar (65), one with the machine (70).

McKenzie, back raises, yoga bridge, yoga leg lift, forward plank (90 seconds), side plank (stacked ankles, 30 seconds)

The whole thing took about 75 minutes.


(from here)

This is an example of a “projection map” in action.


From here: this is a composite of several photos. If you adjust your viewing angle, you can see the colors. Click the image to see the photo on Bad Astronomy’s Flickr feed.

October 18, 2013 Posted by | astronomy, mathematics, science, space, weight training | | Leave a comment

Coolness: space and photos

100 very cool photos. Yes, these are really, really good. Here are two to lure you to the site socialphy which has these photos:


(by: Mike Jones (mrjones131 on Flickr))


(by: NASA)

Hat tip: Jerry Coyne.

10 cool facts about space: just surf and enjoy. 🙂

August 18, 2013 Posted by | astronomy, photos, physics, science, space | Leave a comment

Saturn, Earth, Light and Facebook


Yes, that pale blue dot is the earth as viewed from beyond Saturn. Do you still think that your deity will directly help you find a parking spot or cure your gout? 😉

Mind you, “same solar system” is “practically on top of one another” by a galactic distance scale and “in the same molecule” by universe distance scales.

Faster than speed of light travel?
That is impossible by relativity theory, if you mean traversing from point A to point B and beating a beam of light. However if space-time could be warped somehow….then maybe?

Facebook and other social media
This Slate article interested me:

t’s a truism that Facebook is the many-headed frenemy, the great underminer. We know this because science tells us so. The Human–Computer Institute at Carnegie Mellon has found that your “passive consumption” of your friends’ feeds and your own “broadcasts to wider audiences” on Facebook correlate with feelings of loneliness and even depression. Earlier this year, two German universities showed that “passive following” on Facebook triggers states of envy and resentment in many users, with vacation photos standing out as a prime trigger. Yet another study, this one of 425 undergrads in Utah, carried the self-explanatory title “ ‘They Are Happier and Having Better Lives Than I Am’: The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives.” Even the positive effects of Facebook can be double-edged: Viewing your profile can increase your self-esteem, but it also lowers your ability to ace a serial subtraction task.
All of these studies are careful to point out that it’s not Facebook per se that inspires states of disconnection, jealousy, and poor mathematical performance—rather, it’s specific uses of Facebook. If you primarily use Facebook to share interesting news articles with colleagues, exchange messages with new acquaintances, and play Candy Crush Saga, chances are the green-eyed monster won’t ask to friend you. But if the hours you log on Facebook are largely about creeping through other people’s posts—especially their photos, and especially-especially their vacation snaps—with an occasional pause to update your own status and slap on a grudging “like” here or there, then science confirms that you have entered into a semi-consensual sadomasochistic relationship with Facebook and need to break the cycle.

Ok, I admit that I do a lot of article posting, and many of the Facebook friends I keep because THEY often post good articles; it is almost as if I have a reader service.

I like the jokes and memes, and I like swapping workouts (“oh, maybe I should try that”). And yes, I like reading about other people’s marathons (I can’t do many of these) and yes, I enjoy (some) vacation photos. I can’t possibly go everywhere and I enjoy seeing (even if in a second hand fashion) what others have seen. These lift me up; they do NOT depress me.

Then again, while I am far from wealthy, it isn’t as if I never get to go anywhere or do anything. So there is no resentment on my part; even if I were to become ill, I’d still like to see what others are doing.

Now as far as the photo and caption:

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 1.02.35 PM

LOL! I happen to like the bikini shot! Or…sometimes I happen to like what others have seen while they were shopping.


And yes, even on Facebook, I’ve had women say “you’d like this photo of me”; it is usually a “spandex from the rear” shot.

I like those too.

July 23, 2013 Posted by | astronomy, big butts, bikinis, butt, photos, physics, science, social/political, space, spandex | , , | 4 Comments

Some Science for the end of April 2013

Woo and yoga
Someone asked me how I could like yoga and be down on “alternative (quack) medicine”. Well, there have been some rigorous studies done on yoga and it CAN be recommended for physical therapy purposes (e. g. back aches). Via our National Institute of Health.

This Tiger Frog from Ghana is a cutie:


Movies: I want to see this one:

Note: my beef with religion, at least as practiced in the west, is that too many of them require people to accept “miracles” (resurrections, parting seas, virgin births, etc.) on “faith” (sans evidence). So once you “accept” that the laws of science (naturalism) can be suspended at set times, then, well, why trust science with anything? Seriously: if there is, say, water on your basement floor and a pipe joint above that with green on the joint…well…if you didn’t SEE it drip, then maybe the water and the green just appeared because of the work of some devil or pixie? Why not…if suspensions of naturalism are allowed?

My beef is NOT with religions that don’t require acceptance of miracles.
It is my opinion that a deity/spirit/whatever that is interested in humans and human affairs makes no sense, but that is the realm of opinion.


How about a storm that has an eye 1250 miles wide and winds of 330 miles per hour?

The eye of a super-hurricane at Saturn’s north pole looks like a peaceful red rose in a fresh bouquet of pictures from NASA’s Cassini orbiter. But don’t be fooled: That rosy appearance is merely due to the false colors ascribed to infrared wavelengths.
This storm’s eye measures 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) in diameter, about 20 times wider than the average hurricane’s eye on Earth. The outer clouds at the hurricane’s edge are traveling at 330 mph (530 kilometers per hour), which would be off the scale on our planet. The vortex whirls inside Saturn’s mysterious hexagonal cloud pattern, and it’s not going anywhere.


How do you like this image of the moon taking from space near the earth?


Here is a picture of a solar eclipse via Scientific American:

Miloslav Druckmüller, a mathematician at the Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic, and his colleagues were on Enewetak as the eclipse’s shadow raced toward them from the northwest at more than twice the speed of sound. This composite of 31 images from the eclipse shows the solar corona, the wispy “atmosphere” of the sun peeking out from behind the moon as well as the cratered, rayed surface of the moon itself.

Back on Earth Again
This species of fish, commonly found in China, Russia and Korea, has been found in New York. It is an invasive species.


Even more interestingly, it can actually breathe outside of water for a short period of time (days) and even hunt.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | astronomy, atheism, biology, frogs, nature, physics, religion, science, space, yoga | , , , , | Leave a comment

Intellectual Lunch Topics (and one topic: not so much)

Mars: in October 2014, Mars will get a close encounter with a comet (“close” in astronomical terms). It might get showered with debris from the tail, or, less likely, get slammed by the main part of the comet. Via Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy column in Slate:

The comet is called C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring), discovered on Jan. 3, 2013 by the Australian veteran comet hunter Robert McNaught. As soon as it was announced, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey looked at their own data and found it in observations from Dec. 8, 2012, which helped nail down the orbit (I explain how that works in a previous article about asteroid near-misses). Extrapolating its orbit, they found it will make a very near pass of Mars around Oct. 19, 2014, missing the planet by the nominal distance of about 100,000 kilometers (60,000 miles).

Observations taken at the ISON-NM observatory in New Mexico just this week have tightened up the orbit a bit more, allowing for better predictions. Given this new data, the comet may actually pass closer to Mars; another veteran comet hunter, Leonid Elenin, predicts it may get as close as 37,000 km (23,000 miles) of the surface of Mars!

That’s pretty dang close. But this gets even more interesting.

Surf to the article to read more; since the comet’s path might be altered by things like venting of internal gasses, the exact path is impossible to predict.

Knots This is a nice article about “knotted vortexes” and a video that shows one such:

By Lizzie Wade

After a century of studying their tangled mathematics, physicists can tie almost anything into knots, including their own shoelaces and invisible underwater whirlpools. At least, they can now thanks to a little help from a 3D printer and some inspiration from the animal kingdom.

Physicists had long believed that a vortex could be twisted into a knot, even though they’d never seen one in nature or the even in the lab. Determined to finally create a knotted vortex loop of their very own, physicists at the University of Chicago designed a wing that resembles a delicately twisted ribbon and brought it to life using a 3D printer.

After submerging their masterpiece in water and using electricity to create tiny bubbles around it, the researchers yanked the wing forward, leaving a similarly shaped vortex in its wake. Centripetal force drew the bubbles into the center of the vortex, revealing its otherwise invisible, knotted structure and allowing the scientists to see how it moved through the fluid—an idea they hit on while watching YouTube videos of dolphins playing with bubble rings.By Lizzie Wade

After a century of studying their tangled mathematics, physicists can tie almost anything into knots, including their own shoelaces and invisible underwater whirlpools. At least, they can now thanks to a little help from a 3D printer and some inspiration from the animal kingdom.

Physicists had long believed that a vortex could be twisted into a knot, even though they’d never seen one in nature or the even in the lab. Determined to finally create a knotted vortex loop of their very own, physicists at the University of Chicago designed a wing that resembles a delicately twisted ribbon and brought it to life using a 3D printer.

After submerging their masterpiece in water and using electricity to create tiny bubbles around it, the researchers yanked the wing forward, leaving a similarly shaped vortex in its wake. Centripetal force drew the bubbles into the center of the vortex, revealing its otherwise invisible, knotted structure and allowing the scientists to see how it moved through the fluid—an idea they hit on while watching YouTube videos of dolphins playing with bubble rings.[…]

The video is showing a trefoil knot.

Nature I am not a big fan of whale hunting. But this hunt gave scientists a chance to examine the head of bowhead whale. It turns out that the whale has a very large, “penis like” organ in its mouth; it is capable of holding a lot of blood. Reasons? One conjecture is that it helps the bowhead whale keep its head cool (though it swims in cold waters, it carries a LOT of blubber). This organ also has lots of nerve endings, so it might be a “how much food is in the water I just swallowed” sensor.



On the other end: this is one reason I am not a big fan of “concealed carry” laws:

MARCH 4–Angered that a Walmart employee refused to honor a “dollar-off” coupon, a Florida woman allegedly retrieved a handgun from her car and waved the weapon at several store employees, police allege.

I’d love to see the data which compares “heroes” with guns to this sort of behavior. Which is more common? I have a guess, but no data to back it up.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | astronomy, mathematics, nature, physics, science, social/political, space | Leave a comment

Alien Life, facts and local…

Workout notes 10K run on the track; I was a bit meat-headed about it though.
9:05/8:39/8:23/8:23/(34:32) 1:05 (4 miles plus one lap): 35:38 Then a drink from the fountain.
8:55/8:34 (17:30) 1:06 (2 miles plus one lap). total time spent running: 54:13; make it 56:13 with a 2 minute penalty for stopping.
Still, last year, I couldn’t sustain this during races. I am improving, though my piriformis acted up a bit.
Yes, this pace WAS work for me.

I talked to Tracy a bit afterward and stretched, did back PT, etc.

Alien life: we have lots of red dwarf stars “nearby” (in astronomical terms) and some of these stars might have planets that sustain life. Reason: these stars live longer than our sun. But: the life is probably different from ours as the planets that orbit these stars might be locked into an orbit in which one side always faces the star, and the red dwarf plantes are subject to higher variation of stellar output:

The researchers said that a habitable planet circling a red dwarf would be markedly different from Earth: It would probably be locked into an orbit that kept one side of the planet perpetually facing its alien sun. Charbonneau said the heat could conceivably be transported around the globe via a thick atmosphere or ocean.

Also, red dwarfs are known to be quite variable in their emissions, with occasional strong flares of ultraviolet light. “If that were to happen on Earth, it would cause havoc,” Charbonneau told journalists.

But Dressing said alien life could conceivably adapt to such stresses. “You don’t need an Earth clone to have life,” she said.
Red-dwarf planets might have at least one edge over Earth in the habitability department: Astrobiologists have estimated that our planet could be rendered inhospitable to life in the next couple of billion years, due to a long-term increase in solar radiation. Red dwarfs are different in that regard. “They are incredibly long-lived,” Charbonneau told journalists. “They never show their age.”

World Events
Tensions mount between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands:

Japan’s Ministry of Defense is upset with the Chinese navy frigate that locked onto a Japanese navy ship with radar usually used to target and shoot missiles. No shots were fired, but this passive aggressive fighting over their simmering territorial dispute is getting pretty serious. The incident happened on January 30 near the chain of islands in the East China Sea that have been claimed by both nations and now Tokyo has filed a formal protest with Beijing, reports the BBC.

Again, there was no harm done this time, but apparently just turning on your weapon-targeting radar is a big no-no, especially between two neighbors in a near constant state of aggression. The disputed islands—known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China—were the reason for those massive anti-Japanese protests on mainland China this past August, the beginnings of a trade war this past September, and another game of chicken—this time involving Japanese fighter planes in December.

Locking your fire control radar onto another ship is “fighting words”.

Tidbit: back in 2006 when James Webb debated George Allen (for the US Senate Seat in Virginia), the candidates were allowed to ask each other a question. Webb asked Allen about the Senkaku Islands; Allen hadn’t a clue of what he was talking about.

The Allen-Webb debates ended much as they began, on an island.

This time Webb found one of his own: the Senkaku Islands, which are in Asia in the East China Sea north of Taiwan. They are critical to the future of the United States, Webb said, in part because China and Japan dispute ownership.

They aren’t Craney Island, he said, and that allowed Allen to remind voters of the moment in the first debate when Webb couldn’t answer a question about Craney Island in Portsmouth, where a new marine terminal is under construction.

Craney Island is critical, Allen said. But this time, he was stumped by the Senkaku Islands.

He shouldn’t have been, Webb said.

“If George Allen is on the Senate Foreign (Relations) Committee, this is an issue that’s come up several times,” Webb said. “It’s a foreign policy concern. I’ve known about the Senkaku Islands since I was 28 years old.” *

US Politics
John Boehner: seems to forget that the debt wasn’t a problem until Ronald Reagan, and was starting to get paid down under Bill Clinton.


Hmm — it sort of looks as if the US was sharply reducing its debt during the presidency of a guy named, I don’t know, Bill something or other.

OK, joking aside, this is important. Republicans have invented a history in which it has been fiscal irresponsibility all along — and far too many centrists have bought into the premise. The reality is that we had low debt and no fiscal problem before Reagan; then an unprecedented surge in peacetime, non-depression deficits under Reagan/Bush; then a major improvement under Clinton; then a squandering of the Clinton surplus via tax cuts and unfunded wars of choice under Bush. And yes, a surge in debt once the Great Recession hit, but that’s exactly when you should be running deficits.

Local I am no longer in IL-18, but Aaron Schock is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee:

The House Ethics Committee said Wednesday it will continue an investigation of Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock over allegations he solicited donations of more than $5,000 per donor to a super political action committee. The committee also said it’s continuing a probe of whether a trip New York Democrat Bill Owens took to Taiwan was arranged by lobbyists for the country’s government.

Both cases had been referred to the House committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics, a separate, outside ethics office. The House committee announced its decision to continue looking into each case on Wednesday, while releasing OCE’s report on both cases.

In a statement, the ethics committee said that in both cases merely “conducting further review … does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee.” The committee also said it would refrain from further comment pending completion of initial reviews.

Both Schock and Owens said they expect to be exonerated by the House committee.

Schock’s case involves an allegation he asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to contribute $25,000 from his leadership PAC to a super PAC that backed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., in a House primary against Rep. Don Manzullo. Kinzinger won the March 2012 primary. Redistricting following the 2010 census put the two congressmen in the same and the primary.

According to the OCE report, the Super PAC backing Kinzinger, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, received a minimum of $115,000 that came from “efforts of Rep. Schock and his campaign committee.” The report says that Cantor told investigators that Schock had asked him if he would give the $25,000 donation to back Kinzinger. Cantor said he then gave money from his committee to the super PAC backing Kinziger in the primary.

Yes, this is just an investigation. But I can’t help but wonder if some of Mr. Schock’s potential Republican opponents in the next Illinois governor’s race are putting bugs in the ears of people higher up. Note that the Republicans are running anti-Schock ads:

Note: the ad is nonsense; however it is designed to smear him in the eyes of Republican primary voters: note the ominous image of President Obama in the background at one point. Since Mr. Schock is popular in his district and especially popular among Republicans in his district, this ad isn’t being run with the 2014 US House primary in mind (in my opinion).

February 7, 2013 Posted by | Aaron Schock, astronomy, economy, Political Ad, political/social, politics, running, science, space, world events | , , , | 1 Comment

Dark Season….all over the place

I was going through that “deep dark mood” phase again even though life’s stresses were not unusually high. Then it dawned on me: I was dong all of my running in the early morning (when it is dark) and leaving work when it is dark again.

So I decided to go for a short walk during the day….presto. Also, I got in a training walk over lunch; 4 miles on the hilly Bradley Park course (classic cornstalk; 58:40 for 4.2 miles (easy effort).

Which Mitt? Stephen Colbert plays both Mitts.

Paul Ryan: photo op at a soup kitchen where he does a sham “washing of an already clean pot”.

Paul Krugman: Has a word for some of his critics:

I’m constantly facing critiques along the lines of “Now you say A, but back in 1996, or 2003, or something, you said B. You’re not consistent!” Since I’ve written so much over the years, there’s plenty of opportunity for this sort of trawling, and I don’t have time to answer each case.

So what’s going on? One of three things:

1. The situations are different.

2. I’ve changed my views based on events.

3. I’ve changed my view because I’ve learned something. […]

An example of (2): I used to be much more concerned about loss of investor confidence in the United States; the robustness of such confidence in advanced countries with monetary independence has been an important lesson.

An example of (3): I used to take the Pete Peterson “eek! aging population!” line too seriously; I didn’t realize until I got more into it that health care costs, not demography, are the main story.

How does a school improve its standardized scores? One method: keep the dummies from taking the tests! Among the ways: encourage truancy on test days, change course enrollments to avoid having “low scoring students” from qualifying to take the test, etc.

Seriously people: good schools and good teachers make a difference, but there is an upper bound to student performance that is set by the student who walks through the door. Think of it this way: I could work with the greatest coach in the world, and I would still suck in sports; I would merely suck less.

Speaking of education
Someone in the media had the “space faller” (Felix Baumgartner) falling…..“faster than the speed of light”????

(facepalm) Hat tip: Doctor Andy.

October 16, 2012 Posted by | 2012 election, economics, economy, education, Mitt Romney, Peoria, Personal Issues, physics, political/social, politics, politics/social, science, space, walking | Leave a comment

Struggling a bit

Today’s workout: back and piriformis PT, then 2650 yards (1.5 miles) of swimming.
The swim was fine; 500 of fist/free, 5 x (50 side, 50 free) on the 2:05 (first one was on the 2:15), 500 of 25 free, 25 back, 50 free on the 2 (mostly 1:52-55), 500 of 25 fly, 75 free on the 2 (1:51-53), 500 in 9:08, 150 cool down.

But I did feel the side of the hip (old bike crash injury from 2006…also piriformis). That part of me has not been right since “the crash” in November 2006:

But mostly it is manageable.

I am still going to try a different chairs as I sit for too long.

Do you want to see the relative size of things from the tiny (sub microscopic) to the astronomical?

Check out this application; it is the coolest one I’ve seen.

This is a much, much updated version of this old classic:

April 20, 2012 Posted by | astronomy, injury, science, space, swimming | Leave a comment