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[ 20060523 ]

“I Warned You About This”

-- says occasional correspondent (and two-time fellow Texas Star Party attendee) Michael Lee, of 'Stargazer' Says He Fell Down Chimney. Amateur astronomers are encouraged to manage this risk by only climbing on their own roofs and falling down their own chimneys ...

Jay Manifold [7:15 AM]

[ 20060522 ]

Amateur Astronomy/Moody Blues Video

Amateur in the sense of obviously not professionally assembled, but nonetheless charming, this video of I Know You're Out There Somewhere is a must-see. Hat tip to John Cravens of the ASKC, who points out that the very first image is a photo by Dan Bush, last referenced on Arcturus in Rainbowblogging/Wordsworthblogging.

Separately, ASKC'er Dave Dembinski suggests: "An interesting trivia game to play during [an ASKC] meeting would be to run this video and have club members write down - as fast as they saw them - the name of as many objects [as] they recognized."

Jay Manifold [3:47 PM]

[ 20060519 ]

How Many Bombs? (II)

(Ref this earlier post.)

Reading Iran now enriching home processed uranium: source, we find: "Iran said in April that its Isfahan plant had stockpiled 110 tonnes of feedstock UF6 gas." Just how bad is this news?

OK, assuming it's pure, its molecular weight is very close to 238 + (19 × 6) = 352 daltons. 110 T / (238 Da / 352 Da) = 74 T. 0.072% of this, or 530 kg, is 235U. Little Boy had 64 kg; assuming the same design and that weapons-grade uranium is 90% 235U, they will have (530 kg / 64 kg) / 0.9 = 9.2 bombs' worth once it's been enriched.

Actually, nine bombs should be regarded as a minimum, given likely 1) somewhat better bomb design, or 2) slightly lower enrichment, and almost certainly 3) acquisition of additional UF6 or other feedstocks.

Like I said before: Arcturus -- figuring out stuff to keep you awake at night so you don't have to!

Jay Manifold [8:32 AM]

[ 20060518 ]

Award-Winning Black Hole Site

Background at Astronomer Wins Top Prize for Creating Black Hole Web Site; then graze on over to Black Holes: Gravity's Relentless Pull. Hat tip: Marcia Young, newsletter editor of the ASKC.

Jay Manifold [11:34 AM]

[ 20060517 ]

Study Links Telescope Aperture to Aggression in Earthlings

originally published in The Meteor Win Sky, Julian Date 2453865

Ownership of large telescopes stirs a hormonal reaction in terrestrials that primes them for aggression, new research suggests.

Behavioral exobiologists at Xonk College on Asgrubgel abducted 30 male Earthlings in what they described as a taste study. The researchers took saliva samples from the humans and measured testosterone levels.

They then seated the subjects, one at a time, at a table in a bare room; on the table were pieces of paper and either a board game or a large telescope. Their instructions: Take apart the game or the telescope and write directions for assembly and disassembly.

Approximately 1,000 seconds later, the researchers measured saliva testosterone again and found that the levels had spiked in humans who had handled the telescope but had stayed steady in those working with the board game.

Critics of research linking telescopes to aggressiveness have argued that terrestrials who handle telescopes in experiments tend to act out or think violent thoughts simply because they sense the expectations of the experimenters.

Others, however, question whether this can occur, pointing to ambiguous results of measurements of telepathic ability in humans.

Earth is the third planet of Sol, a G2 dwarf in Rigel Sector. The first human to use a telescope for astronomical observation was Galileo Galilei, over 1010 seconds ago, during which nearly 400 Earth orbits around its parent star have elapsed.

Jay Manifold [10:17 AM]

[ 20060516 ]

Heart of America Star Party (II)

I mentioned this back in February, but it's about time for another plug.

Graze on over to the ASKC Dark Sky Site site (heh) to download the registration form -- and etiquette -- for this event. (Having been awakened by screaming arguments and threats of legal action at the Texas Star Party, I can testify that etiquette is a vital but often overlooked element at gatherings of amateur astronomers.) The official start date is Thu 25 Jun, but I am told that the site will be open Wednesday for early arrivals (no meals, etc, will be available until Thursday, however).

I am also told that someone will be bringing a projector to show movies, most likely against the side of a large white truck or other handy surface, in the event of clouds. In any case, if it's clear, the skies should be good and dark. A map of/to the site may be generated by this MapQuest link; it is just over 60 miles due south of downtown KC, MO.

Jay Manifold [7:46 PM]

[ 20060514 ]

The Latest Test

Bloggers love taking online tests and posting the results. So, OK, I wandered into Authentic Happiness from some article on Slate, registered, and took the "VIA Signature Strengths Survey," which measures 24 character strengths. The first result page shows the top five; I reproduce a condensed version below, with the ranking, strength, and percentile I turned up in:

  1. Love of learning - You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
    100th percentile

  2. Curiosity and interest in the world - You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
    83rd percentile

  3. Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith - You have strong and coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe. You know where you fit in the larger scheme. Your beliefs shape your actions and are a source of comfort to you.
    82nd percentile

  4. Creativity, ingenuity, and originality - Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.
    66th percentile

  5. Appreciation of beauty and excellence - You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
    63rd percentile

  6. Wow, I must be a really neat guy ... say, what happens when I hit the "View all 24 Strengths for this date" button?

    Well, turns out I am a really neat guy, except for being pretty much of a zombie cyborg. Here are the remaining results, in all their cringe-inducing, can-you-see-the-real-me glory (ranking does not, for some reason, necessarily align with my score relative to the population):

  7. Gratitude
    63rd percentile

  8. Forgiveness and mercy
    71st percentile

  9. Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
    41st percentile

  10. Kindness and generosity
    45th percentile

  11. Humor and playfulness
    40th percentile

  12. Leadership
    60th percentile

  13. Fairness, equity, and justice
    28th percentile

  14. Citizenship, teamwork, and loyalty
    45th percentile

  15. Zest, enthusiasm, and energy
    56th percentile

  16. Bravery and valor
    40th percentile

  17. Capacity to love and be loved
    20th percentile

  18. Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness
    40th percentile

  19. Perspective (wisdom)
    27th percentile

  20. Modesty and humility
    41st percentile

  21. Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness
    5th percentile

  22. Caution, prudence, and discretion
    24th percentile

  23. Industry, diligence, and perseverance
    17th percentile

  24. Self-control and self-regulation
    30th percentile

  25. Social intelligence
    6th percentile

Something tells me this test might not be as popular as, say, the average Quizilla offering.

Jay Manifold [6:18 PM]

[ 20060513 ]

The Matter With Kansas (XIII) - When the Stars Fall on Kansas

Turning again to USAToday for inspiration, I can't help but wonder if there isn't an incipient culture clash in Meteorites mark fields of dreams, viz: "It is just a rock, but what's unique about it is how far it's traveled and the knowledge we've gained from it. It's billions of years old." Thus saith retired biophysicist Don Stimpson, who "bought 1,000 acres because of the meteorites first discovered here in the 1880s."

Now, as I noted 2½ years ago, in a post with the unlikely title of Today's Lesson in Project Management (Among Other Things), certain otherwise stereotypical Kansas politicians actually wouldn't choke on the "billions of years old" quote. But looking up the location of Greensburg and Haviland on this map, we find them represented by antievolutionist Kenneth Willard. Then there's Barclay College, which might raise a red flag, but it turns out to be a more-or-less Quaker institution, wisely pursuing orthogonal concerns.

I certainly have best wishes for anyone trying to start a meteorite-tourist industry just about anywhere, and Kiowa County probably needs all the help it can get -- like many other counties in the Great Plains, its population is plummeting, down nearly a fifth since 1990. Besides, this sort of thing can only draw just so many people.

More positively, as the USAToday article notes, there's already a huge Pallasite on display in Greensburg (which I have visited; see the first item in Road Trip Report). But this is all rather off the beaten path: two hours west of Wichita, nowhere near an interstate highway, five hours from KC, and perhaps most relevant, two hours from the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, most recently plugged on Arcturus just over a year ago.

If I had to build a tourist industry out there, I'd hook up with other towns along US-54 and try to develop a whole string of attractions for people on their way from Missouri and points east to New Mexico et al.

Say, how'd they vote the last time Willard was on the ballot (2002)? Grazing on over to the Kansas Secretary of State - Election Statistics site, we find that in the GOP primary, districtwide, Willard won in a landslide with 64% of the vote. The general election was closer: Willard won with 56%, and nearly three times as many votes were cast.

Looking at the Kiowa county results, we find that Willard actually trailed in the primary, with 49%, but won the general election in a landslide, with 60%. Over 2½ times as many votes were cast in the general election.

In response to an inquiry, Josh Rosenau kindly informed me that

Willard faces Jack Wempe (D) and Donna Viola (R). I don't know if either has a website up.

Wempe has served on the Board of Regents, Viola is a local school administrator and teacher. I think she's also taught at a local community college.

The KS Sec of State website actually lists "M.T. Liggett" and Donna Viola as GOP primary opponents for Willard, and no Democrats, but describes its list as "unofficial." In any case, the filing deadline is noon Monday 12 June, and the primary election is Tuesday 1 August.

(Previous post in series here.)

Jay Manifold [3:32 PM]

[ 20060512 ]

Klaatu Barada Nikto

Graze on over to Electronic Road Signs and Me for a little fun (and if anybody can actually read that second sign, I'd love to know what it says). Thanks to Jim Stephens of the ASKC for the tip.

UPDATE: Previously known reader Edward Hahn, who had thoughts about the aircraft laser incidents back in January of '05 and commentary on the California photovoltaic regulations in July of '04, informs me that the 2nd sign reads UFO CROSSING AHEAD.


(thanks to Leo Johns)

Jay Manifold [8:07 AM]

[ 20060511 ]

Largest Database Ever?

NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls, says USAToday:

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

I doubt that it's the largest. Suppose every record consists of the start and end time of each call, accurate to within 1 second, and the caller and recipients' 10-digit phone numbers. That only takes 48 bytes. Gratuitously rounding it up to 100 bytes per record and assuming a population of 300 million people each making 10 calls per day for a decade works out to just over 1 quadrillion bytes, which is 1000 terabytes, or 1 petabyte.

The entry for petabyte over on Answers.com indicates that several databases of this size already exist. See also What Type Is Your Civilization? for a discussion of the total informational quantity of all the world's databases.

Whatever the relative size of the NSA's database, the political implications are something else again, and I can do no better than to pass along comments e-mailed from Jim Harper of Cato:

Additional surveillance by the National Security Agency, hinted at and suspected for some time, has now been revealed. This can no longer be called a "terrorist surveillance program," because the surveillance extends to every American's phone calling. It is sometimes an exaggeration to talk about Big Brother. In this case, it is not. The NSA's phone surveillance database is concerning for a variety of reasons:

The e-mail also notes that: "Harper is author of the forthcoming book Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood."

(See also No Such Agency.)

UPDATE: Michael Lee e-mails, "How about this? It's the largest illegal database ever."

Jay Manifold [12:41 PM]

[ 20060510 ]

SW3 Looms

(Earlier post here.) Graze on over to Sky & Tel for Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Now Passing Closest. Finder charts are at the end of the article; this one includes all the major fragments up through 0h UT Saturday (7 PM CDT Friday) in a detailed map of Lyra, Cygnus, and Vulpecula.

Now, for locals: it is nearly certain that Powell Observatory will be open Friday night (Saturday night is a public night in any case). Judging by the chart linked to above, and generating a sky map for the appropriate time (and city) in YourSky, it appears that Fragment C (the brightest piece) will be about 15° above the east-northeastern horizon at 1 AM CDT Saturday (a/k/a very late Friday night). Other fragments will be about 30° above the horizon.

The bad news, of course, is the Full Moon, but Fragment C, at least, should be detectable. The ASKC requests that visitors to Powell donate $4 per adult and $2 per child, but will not turn anyone away.

Jay Manifold [8:31 AM]