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[ 20060128 ]

Building Bridges

Graze on over to DKos for DarkSyde's latest, a profile and interview of Dr Wesley Elsberry of the NCSE.

Jay Manifold [4:52 PM]

[ 20060124 ]

Kansas Has Nothing On California

For industrial-strength educational looniness, look to the Left Coast: in India history spat hits US, the CSM's Scott Baldauf recounts a successful effort resulting in American public-school instruction which denies that the Aryan invasion of India ever occurred, suggests that Indian women did not have fewer rights than men, and describes the imposition of a rigid caste system as a kind of enlightened labor-market reform.

"Intelligent design" is the mildest of fads by comparison.

Jay Manifold [3:09 PM]

[ 20060111 ]

An Army of Clyde Tombaughs?

The ASKC's Dave Dembinski directs our attention to Tariq Malik's article on Space.com, Stardust@home Project Brings Cosmic Dust to Your Desktop, in which we find something more than a little reminiscent of this famous search:

I was assigned to taking photographs at night with the telescope. It was a wide-angle photographic telescope with a one-hour exposure. I developed the plates and so on, and a few days later I'd put them on a special machine called the Blink-Comparator, where you compared two plates rapidly in alternating views, to see if any change occurred on the star field, from one plate to the other made a few nights later. That was the technique, because these plates would have several hundred thousand star images a piece. That's an awesome thing to look at and realize you had to see, out of all those images, which one moved. The challenge was far more difficult than most people ever realized.

I had some soul-searching questions for myself. Do I want to go through this very tedious job or not? I didn't want to go back to the farm to pitch hay, and I knew I had to do this job or go back to the farm. So I went through some pretty tedious hardship to accomplish this, but I was dedicated and I liked the work really, and I was very, very careful. All the suspects are checked with a third plate. I did the job very thoroughly, and it paid off. Now I had figured out beforehand, if there was a Planet X, how I would recognize it if I encountered it. So I thought all this out beforehand.

Fast-forward to 2006; as Andrew Westphal, associate director of UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, describes it: "Volunteer scanners must pay close attention to aerogel images to pick out dust tracks from false signals .... if two out of four volunteers claim to find a dust track the corresponding image will be sent to 100 more volunteers for verification."

(I note that this is an example of distributed observing, though with microscopes instead of telescopes.)

Perhaps best of all: "Dust grain discoverers will get to name their tiny finds." Which may not seem like much, but it's a whole lot better than the star-naming scam. So sharp-eyed readers are urged to graze on over to Stardust@Home and get started!

UPDATE: Yikes! All I ask is that while you're here, you poke around and read a few of the posts listed under "Important Stuff" in the left sidebar.

FURTHER UPDATE: Yeah, I know about the intermittent redirects, or to paraphrase someone else, I am using my observational capabilities as a blogger to know that your e-mails have been honest and forthright as I watch the rest of your body respond to the stress that you're under.

Some of the redirects are exceptionally obnoxious and it looks like there's a thing or two in my template that needs to be got rid of. I will be addressing that sometime in the next few days. Ironically, I run no ads and generate absolutely zero revenue from this blog.

Jay Manifold [5:59 AM]

[ 20060110 ]

NOVA scienceNOW

Graze on over and check it out; the old-media (TV) version airs locally on KCPT at 7 PM CST.

Jay Manifold [5:38 PM]

“How long can the United States dodge the bullet?”

-- of this deadly strain of flu?

Jay Manifold [2:44 PM]

[ 20060109 ]

"The Death of Amateur Astronomy" (II)

My account of the opening talk at ALCon 2005 reported that Michael Bakich predicted that within 10 years there will be a telescope that initializes and aligns itself right out of the box, and suggests objects and magnifications as well.

Regular contributor and image-hoster Leo Johns now informs me that we are one giant step closer to such telescopes, thanks to the introduction of the SkyScout. He suggests, however, that "it needs a built-in momentary-switch green laser so when the viewer/teacher/student describes to others what he's seeing/doing they can look at where it is and share the experience."

This device could greatly increase the familiarity of the average person with the night sky -- as long as that person can get away from city lights, that is.

UPDATE: Also blogged at Eli's Blog, and at Stellar Logic, by Darcy Woodall, an astrologer interested in astronomy. I suppose there had to be one somewhere ... time for me to calm down and reread my own The Joy of Sets.

Jay Manifold [4:13 PM]

Moon-Pleiades Conjunction/Occultation Tonight

Graze on over to IOTA for 2006 World Wide Occultations of the Pleiades Star Cluster (M45) and maps of individual events. For locals, tonight will not see an actual occultation, but the conjunction will be at its best around 8 PM CST.

Rob Robinson of IOTA informs ASKC members that there will be another such conjunction in July and occultations in October and December, with the Moon actually passing through the cluster, as seen from KC, during the late evening hours.

Jay Manifold [6:04 AM]

[ 20060108 ]

The Cuteness Channel Exists!

(Ref this much earlier post and this follow-up.)

Friday's dead-tree edition of the KCStar made mention, on page E 1, of Cute Overload®, and if that ain't the Cuteness Channel, I don't know what is. I note that the killer app turns out to be exactly what I predicted ...

Coincidentally, it also reviewed Hostel, which looks like a pretty good representation of the Lurid Channel.

Jay Manifold [7:17 AM]

[ 20060107 ]

In Which I Disagree With Ann Althouse

Via InstaPundit, we find I am a hypocrite..., from which this sentence leaps out:

It's not for each person in possession of classified information to decide for himself how much it matters and to weigh how much good could be done by leaking it.

But in an open society, of course, it is exactly for each person to do just that. And there will always be those who will do what we have just seen done. The question is how to manage the risk of such events. I have unoriginally suggested that we declassify everything after a relatively short interval, a strategy of risk acceptance which implicitly asserts that the effects of the actual risk event will be less of a burden than any attempt to manage the risk in other ways.

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." -- Neil Peart, Freewill

"No one ever spoke of national insecurity, which would have been much more appropriate." -- Oliver Lange, Vandenberg

Jay Manifold [8:13 PM]

[ 20060105 ]

Unique Method of Power Generation

Bert Wiener flung a suggestion to his distro of sci-bloggers to graze on over, read Lightning Juice, and comment.

Bert's post is sorely lacking in math, but it sure is a fun idea. And I've never been that much of an electricity guy (see, however, Why Power Lines, High Latitudes, Volcanic Rock, and Solar Storms Don't Mix, for how astronomical phenomena impinge on power distribution). So I'll blithely assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that the technological problems have been solved. How much power is available from lightning?

Well, turning to one of Bert's sources, Key to Lightning Deaths: Location, Location, Location, we find: "The average flash packs enough energy to keep a 100-watt light bulb lit for three months." And: "The most lightning prone region [in the US] is Florida, which has, on average, 12 flashes of lighting per square kilometer per year."

That's 300 kWh per flash, once a month for each km². Florida's population density is over 300/km², and US total energy consumption in 2001 was over 1.1 trillion kWh, for a per capita annual figure of around 4,000 kWh.

So it looks like the lightning available in Florida will provide for the electricity needs of roughly one person per square kilometer, ~0.3% of the population.

(See also Jim Lux's excellent Lightning Facts page, and this page on lightning.)

Jay Manifold [7:02 AM]

[ 20060104 ]

A Rational Calendar

-- from an astronomical perspective, would begin the year today; Earth is at perihelion, 147,103,600 kilometers from the Sun, sometime around 15:00 UT, which is 9 AM CST. (Hey, it's as good an excuse as any for not writing the first post of 2006 until the 4th of January.)

And while we're fixing the calendar, what about that "2006" business?

As a member of Set A, I have no business suggesting that the Christian calendar be replaced. Of course, I also have no business doing lots of other things I do regularly, most of which involve blogging. Therefore, a few ideas, original and otherwise ...

Got other ideas? Send 'em in (first-time e-mailers will encounter Spam Arrest).

Jay Manifold [5:26 AM]