On the Steelers / Bengals

Here was my warped thought process as I watched this game:

1) Well, if the Bengals win this, at least Tony Stewart (PSU) scored the winning TD.

2) Wow -- he missed the FG -- Steelers still have a chance in OT!

3) Well, even though the Steelers won, Holmes (OSU) scored the winning TD.

I'm a Steelers fan, but I would've much rather seen Watson or Stewart (or Kilmer!) score for the Bengals than Holmes for the Steelers.

BTW, I bet I'm the only person in America that noticed that Rich Gardner got signed by Seattle for the last week of the season, and that Alan Zemaitis and David Macklin both got put on IR for the final game of the season. Any guesses what those three players have in common, besides all being on the NFL's transaction wire? One last hint, it is not that they are all DBs.

On Pottercast & Canon Conundrums

Shannon and I are both Harry Potter fans. She's been listening to PotterCast for many months now, but recently she's gotten me into it. We'll download a few episodes onto my iPod, and when we have long trips to make (say to NJ and back over the holiday), we'll listen to them to make the trip pass more quickly.

I have to say, I *really* like Pottercast. Shan and I aren't into a lot of HP fandom stuff (like fanfic, filks, etc.), but are interested in talking about the books themselves and what is likely to happen in book 7.

So... while we were driving back from NJ, I came up with an idea for a topic for "Canon Conundrums", which is a segment of the show where the PotterCast team discusses puzzles from the books, and they try to come to some consensus about what might happen. This is our favorite segment, so we just emailed our idea and hope to see it discussed on a future episode. Since I'm sure they get many more ideas submitted than they can discuss, I figured I'd post it here just in case anyone else has any comments on this particular conundrum.

In the past few books, Dumbledore's pensieve has been an important tool for Harry to learn about the past. My question is, what happened to Dumbledore's memories when he died? Did they all disappear, or are they still in the pensieve and able to be accessed by Harry? Can he use it to help him in his search for the horcruxes?

I guess we'll find out when the Deathly Hallows comes out!


On Faith-Based Parks

This is absurd.

I can't even imagine what it must be like to be a Grand Canyon ranger or National Park geologist in the year 2006. I think that if I was told not to provide visitors the true age of the Canyon I'd be forced to quit on the spot.

I will continue to say this at every opportunity. So creationists please take note:

Our universe is 13.7 billion years old. Our Solar System is >4.5 billion years old. The Grand Canyon was formed over millions of years.


On my repeat as champion

Thanks to the scintillating play of Ex-Nit Robbie Gould, and some waiver wire heroes in the forms of Jeff Garcia, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ladell Betts, I won again. Two years in a row, I'm the fantasy football king of our Lebowski theme league. If you want to know what I won, the answer is: the right to abuse Mikey even more than normal.

I came from 5th place to pull two upsets in a row to take the championship. Either that, or Mikey and Newtie choked. Either way, I'm lifting my invisible trophy right now!

On Xmas loot

Whenever I return from Christmas break, my first question to everyone is usually, "Did Santa treat you well this year?"

Well, Santa treated me well this year. I am now the proud owner of an autographed copy of this issue of Sports Illustrated. Apparently Santa knows I'm a fan of PSU and LaVar. He also brought me the Watchmen graphic novel (which I devoured yesterday and today), a few other books, a shirt and some socks, and some new volleyball gear.

Unfortunately, though, even though I scoured every gift bag and box and even behind the tree, the pair of new knees I requested in my letter I sent to the North Pole didn't come this year.

Instead, I resorted to a new bottle of "Joint Support" at Trader Claus's. MMMmmmmm... glucosamine and chondroitin! It's good for you.

On a good way to lose customers

I like Christmas, but I also hate how people behave during Christmas. It always seems like everyone is in such a rush to get the holiday over with that the level of obnoxious behavior octuples. Unfortunately, every year I find myself getting frustrated when people are cutting me off with their cars on the road and then their shopping carts in the supermarket. Just the other day I apparently committed a cardinal sin in Giant -- I was trying to decide exactly which bottle of hot sauce to buy, and apparently I paused too long for the cart-driving sociopaths behind me in the condiment aisle. I could feel a woman's glare on the back of my neck for my audacity to actually stop and pick something off the shelf, even as I stood pretty much flush with the shelf. Apparently the effort of pausing and then veering around me was too much for her delicate constitution.

Anyway. I left that behind. I went home to NJ and opened presents and played with my nephews' new toys. I was mesmerized by a clear ball with spinning LEDs and helped put together a pretty neat plastic workbench. Jeffrey and I turned the crank on his new magnetic ferris wheel / roller coaster toy about 100 times in a row. I got to spend the annual few hours with Howie (aka the ChungkingXxpress) and had the traditional Dec 26 sushi lunch at Nikko. I ate prime rib that my sister made, kielbasa that my sister-in-law made (on different days), and I put together my famous antipasto and probably ate as much of it as anyone else.

Then, today we got ready to leave and head back to PA. Before leaving though, my Mom asked me for some help -- she bought my father a nice Toshiba projection TV a few years ago, and it was having some technical difficulties. I googled the problem, and the wisdom of the internets at this site revealed an answer to the identical problem. My Mom called Sears and got an estimate for the repair that seemed reasonable. I had a good experience with our local TV repair folks here in town a while ago, and thinking that we should give her local small business a try at getting the work, I suggested she call a TV repairshop in the phonebook just to see if they were competitive with their estimate. My Mom called and said something along the lines of, "My son found on the internet what seems to be someone having an identical problem on an identical TV -- they recommend that we check some of the components on the convergence PCB -- can you give me an estimate for how much you might charge to check this and repair it?" I could tell by hearing only one side of the conversation that the guy was not very helpful. When she hung up, she said his response to her question was something like, "Lady, I tell everyone who tells me they found the solution to their problem on the internet that they should just call up the internet and have it do the repair."

And if I had been the one talking to the guy, I would have said, "Merry Christmas", suppressed the urge to include, "... a*&hole", and hung up.

My Mom has an appoinment with Sears early next week.


On my new seal.

Made this many moonths ago, and never found a good reason to post it.

So, sans good reason, here's my new seal.


On my favorite Carl Sagan quote

"We are all star-stuff, contemplating the stars"

Just about sums it all up, doesn't it?


On spectroscopy and also globular cluster ages

First off, I want to spread the word far and wide about this great site with resources for teaching spectroscopy. I've been working for a long time to complete a lab for an on-line astronomy course, but did not want to use simulated spectra, but real spectra. I tried my hand at projecting some spectra and capturing images, but although they turned out ok, I didn't think they were good enough for a lab. Well, just the other day I used "spectrum incandescent bulb" as the magical search terms in Google images and found Brian's images. They are great and even better, as you can see at the bottom of his page he gives permission to use the images.

On to a completely different topic -- when I was first studying astronomy, the conventional wisdom was that there was controversy because the ages of globular clusters were determined to be ~15 Gyr, and the age of the universe derived from Hubble's constant was estimated to perhaps be as low as 10 Gyr. Although it is gone from his website, Bob Rood, who taught me stellar structure and evolution, used to have an image of his license plate, which read "15 Gyr".

Now that it is 2006, we all know that WMAP tells us that the age of the universe is very precisely known to be 13.7 Gyr. I have not been following the literature, but a burning question I've had is, "what happened to the ages of the globular clusters?" Everyone now says that they are 13 Gyr old, not 15 Gyr, so the controversy is gone. But even though we all know that WMAP revised the age of the universe, who reset the ages of the clusters without telling me? I asked our colloquium speaker the other day, since his entire talk was about precise calibrations of stellar parameters, why does everyone accept that the globs are now all 13 Gyr? My question wasn't phrased very eloquently, but I don't think that he had a good answer, either. I talked with Richard afterwards, and he tells me that the biggest change comes from improvements in the distance scale from Hipparcos. Still, it seems that the change in the ages of the globular clusters happened without as much fanfare as the change in the age of the universe, which makes me skeptical. I suppose I will have to devote some of my voluminous spare time to getting back into the literature to find out exactly what happened.


Two links I want to be able to find again later (and you might want to check out)

Via BoingBoing -- 30 underappreciated blogs post from fimoculous.com

Zooglobble -- Apparently I'm not the only one who thought the music he reviewed during his interview with Melissa Block on NPR was pretty cool.


To quote TMQ:

If a rock comparable to the one that struck the Indian Ocean 4,800 years ago struck today in Kansas, half the population of the United States might die. And as TMQ endlessly points out, what is NASA doing about this? Absolutely nothing.

I try to just enjoy his NFL analysis and ignore his random off-topic rants, but every once in a while he says something that demands that I act like a typical reader and fire off an email telling him I'm never reading his drivel again. This time, my willpower held, though. Well, until he said this:

But my point was that NASA is doing nothing whatsoever to design or even research devices that might stop a comet or asteroid approaching our world.

So, here is my response:

Lu and Love of NASA's Johnson Space Center have published an article on this topic. Let's see -- NASA employees -- check, researching a device to deflect an asteroid -- check, publishing their results -- check. It seems that this suggests that your statement is unequivocally wrong. A simple Google search for "Gravitational Tractor" turns up the following, among 500+ results:


You could also find this written up in Wikipedia, in various major newspapers (I think it was in the NYT), and in NASA press releases, for example.

In some ways, it is nice to see a column on ESPN's website that includes as much astronomy as TMQ. However, he occasionally makes strongly negative statements about big science projects, and when he's wrong (as it took me about 0.003 seconds on google to prove), I think it does more harm than good.

He makes a good argument against using a 7 or 8 man blitz, though.