October 2005 Archives

And in other news, an IAU bulletin is making the rounds. The Hubble has detected two small objects orbiting ... Pluto!

Technically both Pluto and Charon, actually, as they're in a relatively wide orbit. So does that mean Pluto has three moons, or that the Pluto-Charon system has two moons? Or maybe this is another example of why calling Pluto a planet doesn't actually make all that much sense.

The public media hasn't noticed yet that I can see, but I'm sure it will soon. So keep an eye out for news of S/2005 P1 and S/2005 P2 in the next few days.

All Hallows I

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Beware, world! I have identified possibly the world's worst tie, and paired it with a truly remarkable blazer. With their powers combined, I shall be unstoppable, and dressed like a Batman villian, to boot.

Test drove them today in my department. Best quote: "What the ... Ack, help! The leprechaun is scaring me!"

To be continued ...

Internet is Down


Grr, the internet is hard to use tonight.

Some quick probes indicate that it's the Level3 network links in Chicago making trouble. According to postings on the NANOG list the entire Level3 backbone collapsed at 2:00 EDT sharp, suggesting that maintenance or an upgrade somewhere backfired. Probably router trouble; given that only one company's network is affected, but the outage is affecting basically all of North America, it's clearly not a fiber-vs-backhoe type of issue.

[Update: 2:25 CDT -- Indeed, it's actually worse. I just saw a note complaining that backbone links in Europe are going down, too.]

Okay, while I've been writing this, the network is starting to stabilize, at least in the Midwest, which is what I can directly probe. Which is mostly to say, there is at least one working router back online in Chicago. Probably due to many poor network engineers frantically backing out whatever they changed that broke the internet.

NANOG traffic indicates that things are coming back to life in some places, while elsewhere the problem is getting worse. Like ripples on disturbed water. Looks like the 'net will have sorted itself out by morning, though. It's late, so I'm turning in.

Snow? Here?


Well, it's official. The chance-of-snow icon just made its debut for the season in our local weather report. Which is fine by me; I've always done well with warm Halloween costumes.

And in related news, Oh Good Lord. In under 24 hours, Hurricane Wilma jumped from disorganized tropical storm to the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin (that's courtesy of meteorologist Jeff Masters' blog). On another of the WUnderground blogs, less discussion and more pictures of the beast. And wouldn't you know, it's set to make a U-turn and head right for Florida.

[Update: 18:30] Of which the media has now taken notice: on the NY Times front page now. Although the most recent modelling shows that the low pressure system expected to pull Wilma sharply east is slowing. Several models now indicate landfall on the Yucatan instead. Which is making Wall Street happy, even though it would most certainly cost far more lives that way.

Okay, something amusing to take our minds off of it ... ah, here we go. String theory humor.

As had long been speculated, Clifford did not put his pants on like everyone else, one leg at a time.

In theory, wolves are keeping elk away from the bottoms, allowing willow saplings to regrow, completely altering the stream-bank ecology. Kind of like this elk casually grazing along the (willow-free) Firehole River. 2005:08:23 11:35:14

Oh, geez, it's been almost another week since I posted.

While I don't usually link to the Chicago Tribune because their links expire so quickly, this is too funny not to post: it took just 18 minutes for White Sox World Series tickets to sell out. The article seems mostly to feature tales of frustrated geeks who believed their technical prowess would somehow give them an edge in the online sales. And not one quote from anyone who succeeded in legitimately buying a seat. Guess those folks are lying low.

Last week we had a big teleconference, and I convinced our collaboration to just pick one of my optics design proposals already and go with it. One can look at this is a couple of ways. 1) Now I'm officially responsible for designing something that needs to get built with zillions of dollars of NASA's money. Oh great. Or, 2) Now I'm only in charge of one-and-a-half designs instead of four, which means I have time to start worrying about my upcoming oral exams instead. Oh great.

The New York Times has an article on Yellowstone's changing ecosystem, which I can appreciate, having recently been there. Turns out, reintroducing wolves is driving marked ecological changes in Yellowstone country. The gist of the article is that returning an apex predator to the area has all kinds of cascade effects. Grazing herds (namely, elk) are redistributed to higher and safer areas, which allows saplings to survive, yielding lowland tree regrowth, thus more stable and cooler streams, thus more and larger fish, beaver, and songbirds. More downed carcasses provide food for more bears and other scavengers, but the competition for space drives down the coyote population, meaning more rodents, and thus more foxes and raptors. Ecologists emphasize that it's too early to tell what the long-term effects of the reintroduction will be, or to what extent changing weather patterns could also explain these changes. Nevertheless, at first blush this suggests a distinct trend back towards the Yellowstone of Hayden or Roosevelt, if not precisely the one that Colter saw.

So what's up with this elk I saw? Turns out, wolves are really quite averse to the company of humans, and the Firehole River runs right along one of the main park roads. If elk are more afraid of the wolf packs than of the tourists (pretty reasonable, actually), this could set up a very weird wildlife management dynamic.

Now you all know that bicycles are my primary mode of travel over intra-urban distances. Here in Minneapolis that's generally encouraged, although I do draw puzzled looks in mid-winter. Back in Chicago no prodding seems necessary; I'm told the summer Critical Mass rides are drawing upwards of 3,000 riders now. But over in Israel, getting everywhere by bike was considered positively eccentric, something only the poorest laborers resort to. The other day, Ha'aretz reported (in part by omission) just what I'd suspected to be true: Israel is still firmly in the biking is a surprisingly fun pastime stage, and it hasn't yet occurred to the population at large that one can actually go places with the things. Which is odd, considering the outrageous cost of owning and operating a car over there.


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Okay, this is cool.

Last week I gave a talk on this paper (link probably only works from university networks, sorry, but here are my slides if you just want to see the important figures), describing Pluto's atmosphere as probed by observations of a faint star passing behind Pluto. Turns out it's doing weird stuff, actually.

Even more mysterious than Pluto is its moon, Charon. But this past July, a very rare thing happened: Charon managed to occult a star. The folks behind this paper were on the case. And, like any respectable scientists trying to impress potential grad students and funding agencies, they made a movie.

Occultation of C313.2 by Charon, courtesy the MIT Planetary Astronomy Laboratory. As with JPEGs, you can't do science with a Quicktime movie. Supposedly, though, they do have actual results to release at the next AAS Planetary Sciences meeting.


Happy Day of Atonement!

Okay, maybe that's not quite the right tone for a solemn day of fasting and repentence. But, if not precisely festive, it is not meant to be a sad or somber occasion, and it is after all preceeded by a large feast. Anyway, now that the sun has set, Yom Kippur has begun, bringing to a close the Days of Awe (yamim noraim, ײמים נרהים, more commonly known by the catchy but inaccurate English translation, High Holy Days).

This means that next week, Sukkot kicks in. Nominally it commemorates the 40 years of wandering in the desert, but it's basically an agricultural harvest festival week. Last year Sukkot fell right at the beginning of October, and I arrived in Israel in the middle of it. Since half the country takes the week off, that meant I had to muddle through my first week there without so much as a key to the physics building. Of course, that means Yom Kippur happened the week before I landed, so I can't much comment on that.

Basically, there's just a lot of holiday right towards the beginning of the Jewish new year. Not entirely unlike the months leading up to the Gregorian new year, for that matter. Autumn's just a good time to party, over all. (Or looked at another way, it's an echo of what earlier peoples probably said to each other this time of year: "Harvest's in, we're flush with food, and we probably won't all make it through the winter. Let's get fat!")

While we're on the topic, here's part 1 and part 2 of some interesting reporting out of Israel. With the settlers gone, it seems Gaza is becoming a bit more accessible to journalists. Still, it clearly took some work to get the grand tour from the folks who dig the smuggling tunnels to Egypt.

Post-Conference Castabout


The Mass, Light, and Chemistry cosmology conference is over, and I have learned that I really cannot make myself care that much about chemical evolution. On the other hand, once we get this CMB B-mode measurement nailed down in a few years, the next big observational challenge is going to be radio detection of the epoch of reionization via (massively) redshifted 21-cm emission. That sounds like something I'll be able to sink my teeth into. Along those lines, does anyone else think it would be cool to build our own miniature 21CMA/PaST-style array? From Ue-Li's description of the project, it sounded downright ... scavvy.

But, the world continues to turn. As I was unpleasantly reminded this morning when I heard of the earthquake felt across India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Apparently centered somewhere in Kashmir, remote villages were wiped out and the relatively nearby slums of Islamabad crumbled. Tens of thousands are feared dead.

Closer to home, Hurricane Stan is the storm that didn't make news, although the U.S. media can almost be forgiven the oversight, considering. Almost. Unless you live in Central America, in which case it's a major disaster. The usual sorts of aid are en route from the U.S. government and private outfits, but it should be emphasized that this administration's relationship to Central America is conflicted at best and outright hostile at worst.

And speaking of all this flooding, this is the coolest and most obvious idea in the history of flood control since the invention of dikes. Once again, when it comes to living with water, leave it to the Dutch.

And in closing, though I am nominally much more of a Cubs fan, due props must go out to the White Sox. Or "Palehose", if you prefer, but I think that sounds unendingly weird.

Friday Cat Blogging


In some parts of Blogistan, it is fashionable to post random pictures of cute cats to waste time on a Friday afternoon. Not that I make a regular thing of it, but you really can't go wrong with animal pictures. (Okay, I take that back. This is seriously wrong.) Anyway, I ran across this in the digital shoebox-o-photos today.

A genuine Egyptian kitty, giving us those hungry/adoring Worship-me! eyes. Olivia across this fellow stalking near the beach at Habiba. 2005:04:23 15:10:22

Workshop Weekend

Storms just keep on rollin' through, and it's more than one night I've raced the lightning home. Got in just ahead of the toad-strangler that flooded all the highways the other night.

While hardly planning to attend every session, much of my time from now through the weekend will be spent in the Mass, Light, and Chemistry cosmology workshop. Interesting lineup of speakers, and it's right across the river in the West Bank campus. Naturally, today's the day that it begins to feel like winter. The radio this morning even reported pre-dawn flurries in the city. Good day for walking across the Mississippi at 9 am.

Comment spammers attacked en masse earlier in the week, but they seem to have settled down somewhat for now.

[Update: 23:00] PS. It isn't just the radio. Reliable eye-witnesses have reported to me sightings of as many as three snowflakes at a time this morning. I thought I saw one myself cycling in today, but it was just as likely to be crud flying off a passing car.

More Bookishness


Okay, new book meme, complimentary to the previous one, because it's 1 am, I'm still in the lab, and I need a break.

Earlier this year, the conservative weekly Human Events assembled a panel of "conservative scholars and public policy leaders" to prove that they really don't have anything better to be doing. Which is to say, they assembled a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries, plus a selection of honorable mentions.

How many have you read? All told, I get six.

  1. The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels
  2. Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler
  3. Quotations from Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong
  4. The Kinsey Report, Alfred Kinsey
  5. Democracy and Education, John Dewey
  6. Das Kapital, Karl Marx
  7. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
  8. The Course of Positive Philosophy, Auguste Comte
  9. Beyond Good and Evil, Freidrich Nietzsche
  10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes1

I only count those I've read in something like their entirety, of course. The odd chapter here and there from most all of these made cameo appearances in college. Most of these are plainly silly, but I will grant that Das Kapital has resulted in a number of cases of death by sheer boredom in liberal arts colleges the world over.

Below the fold, the Honorable Mentions, as it were. How many did you read?

Crescent Sighted

In addition, the crescent moon marking the start of Ramadan was sighted in most Arab nations last night, although in Iraq and Oman the month will start tonight instead. So Ramadan mubarak! At least, I think that's how you say it.

As I've mentioned before, in Islam the first crescent has to be visually sighted before the new month is declared to have begun, which frequently leads different parts of the world to be a day out of synch with eath other. There was no such question as to when Rosh Ha'Shana would fall -- the Jewish calendar is computed well in advance, and does not (to my knowledge, anyway) rely on visual confirmation.

Now, since I think I've gone home perhaps three times since last Tuesday, and since the sleeping-in-my-desk-chair neck crick is really starting to bother me, I'm declaring it an early day.

Matters of Faith


Rosh Ha'Shana began at sundown today, so to any and all the Jews in the audience a big hagg sa'meach and best wishes for the year 5766. Now go be reflective or something.

A discussion has broken out hereabouts, centering on the questions of living spiritually as a scientist. Below, I take my opening shot.

Long Week

Every so often, graffiti is brilliant.

Coming out of a long week, working on another. Y'all will just have to deal with the brief and uninformative posts.

Decided to take Saturday completely off: this mostly involved sleeping in to make up for skipping a few nights of sleep, and an afternoon of shopping. "Retail therapy" is, I believe, the pop-cultural name for the phenomenon. So now I have a backpack full of used books, used albums, and good spices. My one big splurge was to give into temptation and buy the Beowulf Folio facimile that was making eyes at me in Magers & Quinn. Of course, now I need to brush up on my Anglo-Saxon so I can read the thing properly. Still evokes (quite possibly made-up) childhood memories, though ... Hwaet we garde- / na. in gear-dagum. žeod-cyninga / žrym ge-frunon hu ša aeželingas ellen / fremedon. ...

If I ever get to go home long enough to make it, I also now have the ingredients for a killer mushroom pie.

In the Impractical Career Moves Department, Lindsay is my new hero.

And (news not for the easily offended) further evidence that the Discovery Institute's Intelligent Designer probably isn't Pat Robertson's God.

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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