Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Here we (Mike, Luke and I) are in Toulouse, walking around the city and enjoying the free internet at a café. Thought I would wish anyone reading this a Happy New Year before it's too late. Enjoy yourself wherever you may be.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I leave for vacation tomorrow! I only have a couple of classes in the morning, lunch with some other teachers, and then I leave Morlaix around 4pm to see Mike! I haven't seen him in almost exactly a year. I will now make a list of things I must do before departure, in the Farisian style to honor this great event:

- Cut my hair and clean bathroom and living room
- Wash some clothes in the bathtub
- Cook dinner
- Write 2-3 UT short articles
- Burn a CD of Christmas music for my chilluns
- Pack my messenger bag
- Organize tickets and reading material for the trip
- Get money out for trip

I think that's it. I won't have a lot of internet love over the break, so here is your homework: post suggestions as to what I should do with the rest of my life in the comments. I have set a deadline of the end of January for deciding what jobs I will apply for after this one, and need some help. Have at it.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Scientific American's News Bytes of the Week are almost always amusing, but the December 14th ones are particularly so. "Why Pregnant Women Don't Tip Over," and "Italian Docs Strip for Money," are hilarious, though it's sad that the Arctic is melting and that the U.K. is pulling out of the ILC and cutting a bunch of phunding for physics in their country.

I'm finally all caught up on my astronomy reading for the last week of absence. See all those links over there on the left hand side? I try to read all of the news-related ones about every day, and missing three or four days is a good way to get set back (especially with Bad Astronomy, as being a published writer Phil seemingly has nothing better to do that screw around on the internets all day and, y'know, make the world a better place by keeping everyone honest). Now I just have to get caught up with my UT stories, and I'll be ready to go on vacation! Yay for the lazy French and their vacations!

Speaking of UT, the last Astronomy Cast was particularly inspiring. Think you can't do anything for science? Think again!! Listen to find out more about how just using your eyes and a computer you can participate in the "world's real oldest profession."

Update and Holiday Cheer

After being sick last week, and mostly worthless, I feel like I'm finally getting back on my feet. Friday night I went to the astronomy club, like always, and Magali did a presentation on astronomy in the Middle Ages in central Asia. It was very informative, and we were a bit bummed that we didn't get to see the Geminids because it was cloudy. Ah, well, next year I suppose.

Saturday I went to Brest and just kinda hung out with my friend Emma and walked around. It was nice to leave the apartment and Morlaix for a bit. I bought a phone card and talked on the phone all evening long to family and friends back in the States, notably my friend Nik. I think we may have talked for longer than an hour, which will probably cost me more than an arm and leg but was worth it.

Sunday I did laundry, rode my bike about 30km and started working again on some UT articles. That's the plan for today, as well, as my class was canceled and it's cold but nice outside.

As for my vacation, I finally got some tickets and nailed down some dates yesterday. I'm going to Paris the 21st-24th, to see my friend Nicolai the 24th-28th in Auch (near Toulouse), and to Barcelona the 28th-1st. Then I'll come back here for the last 4 or 5 days and ride my bike, because by then I will have no money left for sure. I also have to start buying tickets for my vacation in February to (hopefully) Budapest and St. Petersburg.

Speaking of vacations and biking, I think I might try to start planning a European bike trip. I thought it would be neat to ride my bike from here to Köln or Berlin when I'm done with my contract, maybe passing through Belgium. Anybody want to come with? This depends, of course, on how much money I can manage to save between now and then.

And now, a bit of holiday cheer, thanks to Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I just spent the last three days in my apt., being sick. I hate being sick. I watched TV a lot, because reading and writing just weren't happening with my blurry head. Drank a lot of tea, too. I feel like I know French TV a lot better than I did previously, though. It's terrible.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Chewing-Gum Pony

I was talking with my new friend Sarah the other day about the first story I ever wrote, titled "The Chewing-Gum Pony." I did so in maybe 3rd or 4th grade. It was intended to be a full-length children's book, and I had my best friend Nik make a bunch of illustrations for it. I then sent off the "manuscript" that I typed up on my mom's work computer to Penguin Press. Sadly, this work of genius was rejected by them, though the publisher did take the time to write up and send a nice rejection letter. I distinctly remember one sentence being, "Unfortunately, we only publish books for children and not by children." I think the editor also encouraged me to revise and submit the story again when I was older. Well, the idea is a good one, and maybe someday I'll do it. Until then, though, here is the unedited original version. I still have the handwritten paper copy somewhere, written inside a hot-pink spiral-ring notebook, and all of Nik's illustrations. Of course, the subject of my writing has changed a bit since I was in 3rd grade, but you can tell from the story that I had an interest in stars and space already.

Without further ado, The Chewing-Gum Pony:

Once upon a time there was a small pony named Jimmy. He liked to chew. One day he said, “I’ve chewed everything except…chewing gum!” He went to the store but it was not there. Then he asked a boy and he said, “At the gum store.” He went to the gum store. There were all kinds of flavors and colors. Jimmy decided to get every color. H carried the boxes on his back. Jimmy liked gum. He ever chewed it at night! When he ran out, he went back and got more. Now he could blow bubbles. One time he blew a so big of a bubble that it covered his body! When he was by friends, it popped on them. For Christmas he got 1,000 boxes. For Valentine he got 100. Jimmy saved all his money to buy gum. Gum helped him do things. When he was running a race, he chewed gum to relax and he won first place. Sometimes he couldn’t chew gum because it was against the rules. Jimmy also used his gum for protection. He popped a bubble on a bully . He always gave gum to his friends. All of his friends liked Jimmy. One time he was reading a book and he popped a bubble and it took a week to get it off! People watched Jimmy blow bubbles. When it snowed it fell on his bubble and popped it. Then the snow tasted like gum. When he was going to space he packed the spaceship full of gum. When he watched a movie everyone heard popping noises. One day Jimmy wanted to go see a star. So he chewed some gum and blew a big bubble. Then it lifted Jimmy and he went up, up, up, up until he caught a star and his bubble popped and he went down, down, down, down, until he landed on the ground. Then he talked to the star and let it go. When he got tickets to the carnival he went and chewed gum the whole time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Boba Fett or RobaFett? You decide.

I was working on an article about using robots for space exploration (link to come soon, I hope) and I came across this image in the research proposal:

I thought, "That looks an awful lot like Boba Fett." Below is a picture of Boba Fett for comparison:

All of which means that Star Wars is real, the Death Star is nigh and the government is covering it up in a grand conspiracy to keep us in the dark about the coming of the Empire.
(Image credit: I couldn't find a link to the report that it's originally from, and the one I read just references the original and must be paid for. SO, the report of origin as cited is: R. Ambrose, ROBONAUT Activity Report, NASA Johnson).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is Print Dead?

I doubt print is dead, as there will most likely be nerdy people like me who love reading printed books for a long time. Last night I spent a bunch of time reading astro stuff on my compy, and my eyes were just so very tired. However, this is cool. I heard about it on On the Media, who devoted an entire show to the state of print media. Everybody's touting the Kindle as "Book 2.0", and "the evolution of the book," etc. While I am thoroughly impressed, and agree that it will fundamentally change the way many people read, I doubt that it will kill off books and magazines in print form right away.

True, we may eventually move away from paper as the main source for distributing information, and convert most of what we have to digital form. It's already starting, in fact. But I doubt that they will stop printing paper books within my lifetime, anyways, so what the hell do I care?

Seriously, though, this is the future. I'll continue to buy books at bookstores, because I love the experience of reading them and going to old book stores, and like to be surrounded by them where I live. But man, do I ever want something as slick as the Kindle, too. Why can't we have both?

Supernovae and Antimatter

New for you to read (or not): Could Antimatter be Powering Super-luminous Supernovae?
This is the one Sciam scooped me on, but the previous story I wrote about imaging the Earth with neutrinos was a scoop for New Scientist, so I'm 0:1 and 1:1. Speaking of Sciam, they have a new video podcast based on their 60-second science series, and it is rad. It's an editor quickly and simply explaining a difficult scientific concept, and as with everything Sciam does it is pretty brilliant and funny. The first one is on Dark Matter, and there's another about Moore's Law over at their site.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Fun Thanksgiving

Though the real Thanksgiving day we didn't do anything special, Saturday was when we had our party. There was a lot of eating, drinking, and dancing on chairs. I think the 6 of us consumed more than 7 bottles of wine, and that wasn't so evenly distributed among us; needless to say, it was fun. Also, there was lebanese dancing and music, singing along to Euro-pop, and Evan serenaded us with "Ave Maria" at one point because he knows how to do these things. I made stew, and there was vegan stuffing and mashed potatoes and other such things. It definitely ranks up there with the best Thanksgivings I've had.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Real Thanksgiving

First, I worked. Yeah, I know what you are thinking: no, they do not in fact celebrate Thanksgiving in France. My friend Evan said, "Yeah, they don't thank people here. They just go on strike." I find this to be true.

I taught a couple of classes, and both went spectacularly well, actually. First one was with the bike activity, and they stuck around after class (during their lunch period!!!) to talk to me about bikes and how awesome Michelin tires are. The second one I taught English expressions to, and they did really well with it. I took a long nap in between these classes, since one was in the morning and one late in the afternoon.

I was supposed to teach our newly formed "International Club" about Thanksgiving, but no students showed. Instead, Evan and I taught the Spanish and German assistants about the treatment of Native Americans in the United States, from Thanksgiving, through the Trail of Tears, and the Dawes Act of 1948, to the shitty conditions on reservations today.

I consider this a patriotic act, telling them that though the history of our country is tainted with stealing land and enslaving people, the ideals that we hold to today aren't half-bad. I gave thanks, in a way, for the way my country has turned out, even if it still isn't perfect.

During the rest of the evening I made some stir-fry, talked to most of my family on the phone, and consumed a bottle of wine. During the consumption of this wine I read articles on white dwarf planets and neutrinos, and worked on an article on the surface age of Triton which should hopefully be up on UT sometime soon (though I will be sure to thoroughly edit it before submitting it).

Speaking of wine and astrophysics, if you want to hear just how informative and clear a description of an otherwise difficult astrophysical topic can be when the person explaining is pretty drunk, check out the last 6 minutes of the podcast Skepticality for October 3rd, 2007. In it, Dr. Pamela Gay of Star Stryder and Astronomy Cast fame – two of my favorite sources of astronomy news – drunkenly describes how we have come to understand Dark Matter. It's hawesome, to say the least, and to hear her say, "We can map gravitational effects of CRAP WE CAN'T SEE," really gets to the heart, in a very direct way, of how we have come to understand Dark Matter as it stands today.

Giving the Earth an X-Ray

New article at UT: Seeing inside the Earth with neutrinos. This is a cool use for an already cool (ar, ar) telescope.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Strikes, revisited

As you may or may not know, there's a bunch of people on strike in France. Like always. My classes were canceled today, one because the teacher was on strike and the other because my students didn't show. This is not to say they were on strike, necessarily, just that they thought nobody else would show so they didn't.

Here's a couple of links to what I wrote about strikes the last time I was here:

From the Greve Front (March 17th, 2006)
My school is blocked (March 30th, 2006)

All of this means that I was able to do almost absolutely nothing today. I wrote an article, did some research, took my time to write the previous post, and took a nap. I also finished viewing NOVA's documentary on the intelligent design trial in Dover a couple of years ago, called Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.

The documentary is both angering and satisfying. Angering in the sense that there are people who wish to pawn off their ideologies as science, and satisfying in the sense that these people were shut down from forcing this crap on students. I say it is crap because it is: Intelligent Design is creationism under a different name. Whether you believe in God or no, faith has no place in science. Period.

There are plenty of scientists who believe in God, or Allah, or whatever. And maybe their faith drew them to the wonder of what the believe to be God's creation in the first place: this is fine. I have no bones about this. What I do have contention with is when people of faith invoke this as science. It's not, because supernatural causes are by definition untestable, and for something to be science it must be falsifiable.

I would have no problems with intelligent design being taught in a philosophy class. None. We talked about the existence of God in my philosophy classes, and the problem of evil, and the idea of intelligent design as well. It is a philosophical and ideological paradigm that deserves debate, just like any other philosophical idea. But it has no place in the science classroom, just as astrology has no place in the science classroom, or Native American creation myths. To pass it off as science is intellectually dishonest, to say the least.

Nova does a good job of covering such a contentious issue, though I wish some of the ID proponents would have agreed to be interviewed by them. Their arguments were mainly presented through the transcripts of the trial, and Nova talked to a lot of scientists who testified at the trial. I'm assuming that the ID people thought that Nova would somehow twist their words, blah blah blah, but in the end they have no right to complain if they chose not to represent their ideas in the film. They were explicitly and repeatedly invited to do so.

Ah, enough with this heavy stuff. This is what happens when I get a bunch of time on my hands...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Flowerly Language

I read a lot of research papers. Like, a lot. This I do for my writing over at UT, and admittedly, for my own pleasure on occasion. Most people would cringe at this statement. "Why would you want to read such dry, boring writing?" they would say.

Well, sometimes it is dry and boring, and I hate that. It is rare and beautiful when researchers studying pioneering subjects in physics and astronomy can whip out a phrase that is both accurate and poetic.

What sparked this post is this, from Mike's blog.

November 11, 2004:
discussion: the quality of writing in scientific and technical writing


M: Scientific and technical writing is poorly written and therefore boring. The writing should have more active verbs and less passive and linking verbs.

K: Scientific writing is meant for its audience; it should be concise and flowerly language would distract from the meaning. The personal should be avoided.

I find myself now agreeing more with K: scientific writing is about the audience, and conciseness is pretty important. I'd add, though, that the use of passive voice has made for some pretty awful sentences in some scientific writing, like the one a friend of mine read to me last night. But over all, I'm less snobby about scientific writing now and understand it more rhetorically.

I disagree with both Mike and K. Saying that it is meant for an audience of people who like sentences purely in the passive without the use of personal pronouns really misses the fact that the people who read these articles are human beings. It also sets up the false dichotomy that something can either be concise and descriptive, or poetic and beautiful, but not both. So, I present Exhibit A from a paper I just read on cratering on the surface of Triton (no link because you have to pay to see the paper in an online science journal):

Comets are notorious for falling apart or evaporating in the face of bright sunlight. Many, but not all, are weakly welded worlds that would fall apart in the evening breeze.

This quote is sandwiched in a descriptive section between two sections of the paper that are mostly equations. The author uses alliteration, "weakly welded worlds" and has a somewhat pastoral reference when talking about the "evening breeze". Not only is this a concise, accurate picture of the composition of a comet, it's very poetic.

I would not say that it is "flowery". Surely it could be stated in a less poetic manner, but why do so when stating it thusly would provide no more accuracy in describing the subject, and leave out the grandeur and mystery of comets?

And now I present Exhibit B:

...for some perverse reason that I have never understood, editors of scientific journals have adopted several conventions that stifle good prose, albeit unintentionally – particularly the unrelenting passive voice required in descriptive sections, and often used throughout. The desired goals are, presumably, modesty, brevity, and objectivity; but why don't these editors understand that the passive voice, a pretty barbarous literary mode in most cases, but especially in this unrelenting and listless form, offers no such guarantee? A person can be just as immodest thereby ("the discovery that was made will prove to be the greatest..."); moreover, the passive voice usually requires more words ("the work that was done showed...") than the far more eloquent direct statement ("I showed that"). – Stephen Jay Gould in the introduction to Henri Poincaré's "The Value of Science"

Gould goes on to essentially say that if you write your research for the science community, it will only be read by the science community. He gives the example of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," which was written to the level of the intelligent layperson. Evolution is arguably one of the most important revelations of humankind, and he chose to present it in a manner that was accessible to everyone.

I agree wholeheartedly. It does no damage to introduce language into science writing that is both descriptive and artistic. Sure, statements like, "We discovered such and such and it was totally AWESOME!!" have little meaning, and are definitely to be avoided. But the more accessible something is, the better chance it has of being understood by the general public, which always benefits from increased knowledge and understanding.

Indeed, it is the purpose of science to reveal the secrets of nature to us, and it is the right of every person to have access to these revelations. The audience for these ideas is ultimately humanity itself, which has little patience for crappy writing, and rightly so.

Exhibit C is not so much a quote but a general example: Scientific American. This magazine is rigorously scientific, and is directed at both the scientific community and the layperson. As such, they take the editorial stance that the passive voice is to be avoided, and authors of articles in the paper explaining their research are to credit themselves with a personal pronoun. You never see writing such as, "it was discovered by the researchers..." when an author is talking about a research team that he/she was part of. Instead, the much more effective, "we discovered" is used.

In addition to being simpler, it also gives weight to the credibility of the researcher. Instead of distancing herself from the research that she has spent so much time on, the researcher gets to take credit, and the reader is assured that this article is written by someone who has participated in active research on the subject, so should know their stuff.

Again, scientific knowledge is the property of humanity, and as such should be presented in a manner that is broadly accessible to everyone without "dumbing down" the subject matter. People need to be invigorated and awestruck by the wonder of science, not bored silly by it; to do so is a disservice both to your audience and to the absolute magnificence of science itself.

Back from Brest

Rode the Motobecane to Brest this weekend, and didn't get lost on the way! It was m-fin' cold, though, but I'm pretty used to biking in the cold. No frostbite or anything, just some numb feet and a blurry spot in the vision of my left eye for part of the day (my eyeballs got really, really cold, and that happens sometimes when they're cold for a long time).

Brest was nice and chill. Emma and I just kinda walked around on Saturday, and then made guacamole to take to a soirée with some other assistants. It was a good time, and it was nice to meet some new people and get out of Morlaix a bit.

Sunday was pretty lazy. I got up at 9am and worked on some of my UT articles, and Emma got up at 10 and we had breakfast. Then we proceeded to just lie around and do absolutely nothing until like 1pm. We went and saw "American Gangster" in ENGLISH, and it was wonderful. The film is spectacular, and you should go see it.

It rained all day Sunday, so I rode my bike to the train station and got a rooster tail on my jeans. Ah, well, that is the life of the cyclist.

Tomorrow: there's a strike!! I know I don't have my afternoon class, but am suspicious that my morning class teacher actually wants to come to work, so I might have to work one hour tomorrow. Sigh.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cosmology At Home

Check out Cosmology at Home. Remember how SETI set up this neat program that was your screensaver, but while it was displaying neat little graphs and junk it was calculating information important to SETI's mission? This is like that, only without the screensaver and much, much cooler. You download the program, sign up for projects that interest you and while you are surfing away on the internet or downloading porn or whatever it is that you do with your computer, it uses your compy to run programs that calculate stuff for protein folding databases and climate analysis.

Then you can say, "Look at me! I'm doing astronomy without even trying!"

On another note, I am riding my bicycle to Brest tomorrow for the weekend. Cross your fingers that I don't get lost.

Correction: The program for Cosmology at Home, BOINC, will run while your computer is not connected to the internet, so this is cool. Also, there is a screensaver feature, but I'm not sure how it works.

Scooped X 2

So, I've been working diligently on a couple of stories for UT. One, about antimatter explosions that power supernovae, took me a while because I was waiting for the researchers to get back to me, and then when they did get back I had more questions for them. If you had googled "pulsational pair instability" before yesterday, you would have gotten almost nothing but the research paper itself, and a couple of links to the homepages of the researchers. This is not to say the research is completely obscure, or this is no interest, just that the most prominent sources were the pages of the original source.

Well, I finished up my story at school, and went home last night to cook dinner and finish some final editing on it. And then I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Scientific American's "60-Second Science". What where they talking about? Dr. Stan Woosley and his research on pulsational pair instability supernovae. I was both bummed out and pissed off that I got scooped on this story. Sure, there's worse people to be scooped by than Sciam, and it's kinda reassuring to know that I'm working on some of the same research that an internationally renowned science magazine is covering, but still, I would have rather had the scoop.

On top of that, I found out this morning that New Scientist scooped me on this story, though I think my coverage is more general (though their detail about the Stirling engine power source makes me envious that I didn't think of describing it that way...). Again, New Scientist is in the big leagues, but it would have been nice to beat them to it.

I consider myself, after this, to be entering a higher bracket of reporting than what I was doing before, which means more is at stake, and also that I'll probably be doing more articles, which is frackin awesome.

I was working on these the other day, looking up the Stirling engine on Wikipedia and converting Celsius to Fahrenheit for the Venus article, and I thought, "How did I get to this point? I never imagined I would be spending my evenings sifting through papers about antimatter explosions in the center of stars and the Carnot efficiency of Stirling engines." It's weird; I've always been a dork, and though I had some inkling that my dorkiness would be rewarding in some vague fashion, I never thought that it would involve getting paid to write about things that interest me. I love, love, love working for UT. It's like getting paid to go to school, only it's more fun than school and my teacher is hella cool.

The supernova article is finished, but Fraser is still editing and such, so I'll have a link later today or tomorrow. Meanwhile, I have some more cool images for you to drink in with your eyes. The first is of the Dark Side of the Earth as seen by the Rosetta spacecraft. You can make out some of the continents by their light pollution. Cool, no? Oh, and the bright ring around the Earth is the Sun on the other side.

The second is an image of a piece of art I bought from Vera Brosgol. I've been a longtime fan of her art, for 4 or 5 years, and she has some stuff for sale on her site. Sure, I could have just downloaded the image and put it on my desktop (I did that, too), but I wanted the actual print. I like supporting starving artists on my starving science writer/teacher's salary. It's too funny, and has to do with bikes and pretty ladies, both of which I am enamored with. To top it off, the guy riding the bike is wearing "pedal pusher" pants, and has a bunch of baguettes in the basket. Also, his hair is just like mine right now, so I like to imagine that it's me pedaling the bike. I think I made that face pretty often when running Cycles...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Earthrise from the Moon

A while back I wrote a story about the Kayuga moon probe that was launched from Japan. In the article I wrote:
Finally, the probes will turn their electromagnetic eyes towards our planet to study the plasma surrounding the Earth, and allow us to better understand how our own magnetosphere and ionosphere protect us from the deadly radiation of the solar wind. One of the neatest aspects of the Kaguya mission is its inclusion of a High Definition Television camera to send back movies of the Earth from the Moon. This means that we will be able to see the Earth-rise from the Moon's horizon!

Well, here is the picture of said Earthrise. Remember that this is an actual picture, and not some doctored up photoshop pic, or artist's rendering. All I can say is, "Fucking wow."

And another, this one with even more detail of the earth. Go to JAXA and open up some of these in your browser full-size, and you will be absolutely blown away.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Liberating Students

So, this morning has already been a bit of an adventure. I took the Gitane, which is pretty well disassembled, to my first class to give them a lesson about bike parts, tools, and useful verbs when working on machines, etc. (like take apart, install, righty tighty, lefty loosey). It was awesome, and I think they learned a bit. Also, I had three student teachers observing my class, and I hope they enjoyed it. I got all greasy, showed them what's inside a hub and bottom bracket cups, stuff they've probably never had the chance to learn in French let alone English. These are technical students, too, so learning words like screwdriver and rubber mallet and threads are important.

I took my bike back to my room and was going back to the classroom, which is by a bunch of bathrooms way at the end of the building. As I passed the bathroom door, there were some students who yelled out the window at me, "Is there someone there? Help! The toilets are blocked!!" I said, "Well, you should go to the janitor or front desk for that." Then I realized that they meant the door was blocked. They were locked inside because the handle had broken off on the interior and the door had closed on them. I let them out, looked up the word for handle and went to the desk to tell them that they should fix it because I can't spend all of my time letting students out of the bathroom. It was even more hilarious because I told them that they should go see the janitor, and they probably thought I was an idiot. Ha.

The interesting incidents in or around bathrooms seems to be a recurring theme in my life, one that I'm hoping not to continue...

Monday, November 12, 2007


This last weekend was fantastic! Friday my students were terrible in the sense that they had just come back from vacation and forgot everything they had learned before their 10 days of freedom. Blah. So I taught for four hours, basically pulling teeth to get them to talk, then took a nice 3-hour nap in the afternoon/evening and kinda chilled for the rest of the night.

Saturday I hopped on the Motobecane in the early morning and found an old rail trail really near my town that went past a lot of rundown train stations, which will be the subject of some of my photographs in the future. My friend Emma came in from Brest around noon, and we went to the market and then proceeded to make some of the best guacamole I have ever had for lunch. We walked around town a bit and took pictures, and went to a café to hang out with Josep, my roommate from Catalonia. That evening we played poker and 21 and drank wine and were crazy.

Sunday was fantastic. Like, one of the most enjoyable days I've had in France, or ever. Emma and I got up 'round 10 so we could go to this island that is just off of the coast called the Ile de Batz. We almost missed the train (this is a popular theme in my travels, by the way...) and had to sprint the last few blocks to the station, buy the ticket on the automatic machine (while hopping and saying, "C'mon c'mon!!!") and then sprint to the train. It was close, but I like living on the edge.

The train took us to Roscoff, a quaint little tourist town not far from here. We walked around a bit there, and then took a boat to the island. The Ile de Batz itself is gorgeous, with a lighthouse and a garden and the ruins of an 11th century church. While looking at the ruins of the church, which are just nestled into the side of this hill, this HUGE horse on a leash came up to try and get food from us. It was a Clydesdale, just hanging out with no owner in sight. We didn't give it any food, but I took some pictures.

Then we had a picnic on this little point overlooking the ocean which at one time housed cannons that they used to fire at invading boats in the channel between the island and Roscoff, in like the 1800s. Picnic included avocado and tomato sandwiches, clementines, a bottle of cider and some chocolate cookies that we picked up at a boulangerie. It was sweet.

After this we walked to the lighthouse, which wasn't too spectacular once you got close to it, but it was fun to see the rest of the little island. We took the boat back to Roscoff, had a coffee because the wind coming off the ocean was getting cold. The bar we were in closed, so we went to one near the station called "Le Sailor" and played billiards and split a beer, just to pass the hour we had before our bus left somewhere inside. As it turns out, neither Emma nor I can play pool with any skill whatsoever, so the game lasted just under an hour.

We had to leave, and in France you use public toilettes whenever you can find them because they are few and far between. There was some dude by the urinal who was, I thought, talking on his cell phone, so I went into the stall and started, you know, doing my thing. As I was peeing the guy went ballistic and started trying to open the door, kicking it very hard and yelling something I didn't understand. I had thankfully locked the door. The bar lady came over and told him to get the hell out of there and leave us alone. I don't think he was just drunk, and wasn't talking on his cell phone but rather to himself. It was intense, but we just left and he didn't bother us on our way out the door, though he did give me a pretty intense evil eye. I would hate to have to push over a drunk guy with my pinky finger in front of all of his friends and such...

We got back to my house to get Emma's stuff, and on the way back to the station we saw/almost stepped on a hedgehog!! It was just chilling in the middle of the sidewalk. Those things are cool, and I wasn't aware that they were native to this area. I'll be keeping my eye out for more, mostly so I don't step on/ride over them.


Right, so they blocked blogspot in this one room that I used to use for my blog writing, and now I must do it in the Teacher's Lounge, which is fine except there are lots of distractions. I may not update as often as I have been, but the updates I do write will be longer.

One of the many flaming hoops we must jump through as foreigners and students is a medical visit in Rennes to ensure that we don't have tuberculosis or are pregnant. This happened last Thursday, and it turned out to be an "adventure". First, my roommate failed to wake up on time because his alarm clock didn't go off, so we barely (by 3 minutes!) missed the train to Rennes from Morlaix. Once on the train, it stopped somewhere in the middle of a field and they announced that there would be a delay because of traffic around Rennes. It was 30 minutes at first. Then 45. Then an hour. Finally, it moved, only to stop again maybe 15 minutes later, for another 30-minute delay because of an obstruction on the tracks. This put us in Rennes at around 12:30pm, instead of 11:00am, which was just enough time to get to our appointment.

The visit itself was fine. I got my chest X-rayed, and the nurse that took my height and weight and tested my vision thought to lecture me for 10 minutes about the importance of teaching safe sex to my students. I agreed that it was important, and that sexual education isn't as good as it could be in a country so sexually liberated as France, but am doubtful as to the place of this subject in my curriculum as an English assistant. "Ok, today we will be talking about syphilis. Does anyone know what that word is in French?" Yeah, right.

I met some Canadian guy who was doing his PhD in Electrical Engineering, focusing on WiFi technology. We talked about the possibility of using infrared and visible light in lieu of the current radio frequencies for this application (mostly because I read an article about that in Scientific American). It was fun.

Then we walked around Rennes a bit, and since I'd already spent a few days there I showed the other two assistants there with me some of the cool things to see. Our train was supposed to leave at 5:45, but alas, upon entering the station we discovered that all of our trains were "Retard indeterminée", which means that their retardedness was as yet to be determined. They were all going to be late.

Why? Well, here's something you need to know about France if you are going to be spending more than, say, a week here: they strike a lot. And protest. And burn things. Like, A LOT. As it happens, the students of the university in Rennes were sitting on the tracks and blocking the trains for a reason that I still have yet to discover. I think it is in solidarity with the fishermen in France, who are on strike and protesting the cost of oil. Or something. To be honest, there's always strikes here in solidarity and for almost any reason, and I get confused as to which people are striking for what reason. Anyway, the cops just sat and watched the students be crazy and sit on the tracks, etc., while we waited in the station for 2.5 hours for them to finally leave an our train to finally be posted on the board.

At that point I was tired of my two comrades, and wanted to sit somewhere else on the train. So, I picked a seat next to the cutest girl I could find and she struck up a conversation with me. She's a hairstylist in a town by Morlaix, and had actually been a student at my school when she was in lycée. We talked a lot about the difference between America and France, mostly in terms of fashion. I explained to her about the cultural significance (no becoming defunct) of the barber in the United States, as per Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow . It was a nice way to spend a two-hour train ride. The adventure ended and we got home a few hours later than we were supposed to (10:30pm, instead of 7:30).

Monday, November 5, 2007

New Article on UT

And again, here's a new article I wrote about researchers trying to track down teh cause of the Tunguska event, an explosion of a meteorite above stickville, Siberia in 1908. It caused the destruction pictured below.

You had to be there...

I thought about writing a bunch about my vacation, but it's awful hard to capture stuff like that for people who haven't been there. I'll make a Farisian list, because of its inherent economy of words.
1. Went to Carhaix Friday-Sunday to deliver a bike to my friend there, Gabby. Stayed there for two days, rode bikes and watched some "Strangers With Candy" and "Arrested Development" and just kinda chilled. It was nice.

2. Rennes was Monday-Wednesday, with Gabby and her two friends April and Jacob. She calls her friend April "Apes", which is amusing. We drank a lot Monday, walked around a lot on Tuesday, Wednesday went to the Musée des Beaux-Arts and ate Indian food for All Hallow's Eve.

3. Thursday-Saturday was some good ol' nostalgia time in Le Havre. Hung out with my old Prof. Responsable and watched her get smashed on Thursday night, went to some old haunts on Friday (including the Kebap where we would eat every Tuesday night: the owner, Danny, still remembered me and my order after 1.5 years), and saw my friends Béa and Jean. Received bicycle.

BTW, if you ever think that it's a fun idea to take a bicycle (and an extra wheel, a floor pump, and all of your other shit for vacationing) on both the TGV and the Paris Metro, you are a damn fool. My arms hurt, and it was not so much fun to sit in the entrance of the train for four hours to move my bike and wheels every time the train stopped so people could get out of the train. But the Motobecane is back in action (sorta, still needs some more transplant surgery from the Gitane), and I took it for a short spin tonight.

Now I'm back in Morlaix, but don't have to teach until Friday. I guess I'll try to write some astronomy articles and ride my bike until then.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vacation already

The best part of this job is how little time I have to spend doing it. I just got done teaching for three weeks, and now I'm on vacation until next Thursday. Right now I'm back in Carhaix with my friend Gabby, and we are riding bikes and just chillin. Tomorrow we go to Rennes for three days to be crazy and see what there is to see. Then I get to go to Le Havre to see some old friend, and bring my old friend the Motobecane back to Morlaix. All in all, it should be grand. Have fun at your job or school, sucka.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Crab Nebula Pulsar

Fraser has posted my newest article over at UT. It's super-interesting, as it deals with the pulsar situated in the Crab Nebula, which is pretty and also was one of the first ever observed supernovae. First one to make a crab joke in the comments wins the prize of my simultaneous admiration and disgust. Just so you know that this isn't about parasites, here's a cool picture of the nebula:

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Weekend in Carhaix

I was so excited about writing about bikes, that I forgot to say something 'bout the weekend. I went to Carhaix, a tiny town about 60km from here (that's like 40 miles, you American pigs). This was to just get out of town and away from some of the roommates and their associated drama, and also to hang out with some new folks. Gabby and her roommate Astrid live there, and are assistants as well. Gabby is from Kansas, and Astrid from Frankfurt.

We mostly just went to this little park right outside town and walked around and chatted on Saturday. Actually, we went twice. Once just me and Gabby, the second time with Astrid and their neighbors, who have two little adorable French kids. It was sweet. They fed ducks, and I played rugby with the little boy, Johann.

Saturday night was crazy, full of drinking and ridiculousness. This meant that Sunday was mostly a day to recover from the headache, and babysit the two little aforementioned children while their parents were out doing various things. Johann and I built a huge tower out of his blocks, and then he climbed all over me like I was a tree and we made a fort from the couch pillows and some blankets in his house. It was cool.

I got back late last night, made some dinner and went to bed. This morning was awesome with my kids, mostly because I did tongue twisters to help with their pronunciation. Try getting someone who is French to read "Six thick thistle sticks, six thick thistles stick" very fast. You will not regret this, unless they are a very proud, angry, and large person.

The International Fleet Expands

My hands are all dirty under the nails right now, and there's a couple of scratches on my knucks. What does this mean? I've been working on bikes!! I bought two bikes today, one for a friend who lives in a small town and couldn't find one but wanted to, and another for myself. This necessitated a trip on the bus out to the Decathlon, who has a couple of sales every year in which they sell used bikes for really cheap. I then got to ghost-ride both of them home, though I had to walk up my big hill 'cuz it was too steep and the gears just weren't low enough to ride up it.

First, Gabby's bike. Just a Decathlon brand women's-specific mountain frame. Nothing special, but it rolls and it was only 60 euros, a helluva deal. I already fixed most everything wrong with it, but the rear axle is bent, and I don't have the proper tools to finish that up. Maybe the auto-shop in the school where the kids have shop class will have everything, and I won't have to buy cone wrenches, but I'm not holding my breath. I suppose I could beat it up with a mallot and hope it don't break, but she's a friend of mine and I would rather not kill her.

Now mine. It's a Gitane, I think the model is a "Defi" but I'm not really clear on this. I'm not, though, very interested in the frame. There's a ton of rust on the bottom bracket, especially the lugs, and the stem is frozen in place. Some damn Frenchman must have forgotten to grease it.

I am excited, however, about everything else. 105 derailleurs, Campagnolo brakes, a Sugino crank and a Mavic sealed-bearing hub/front wheel (ceramic!). All of these things interest me because I only paid 100 euros for the complete bike, and most if not all of the parts can be swapped over to my Motobecane when I finally get it back. I needed new wheels and a seat, and probably a rear derailleur anyway, so all in all I got a bargain. Even if the crank won't work, everything else should be fine and save me a few bucks in the long run.

So, in other words, I am happy. Happy to be taking apart hubs and lubing cables and analyzing all of the problems associated with bikes that have seen a few miles. I don't have all the tools I wanted (I debated whether or not to bring my crank puller, and thought, "Oh, when will I ever be needing to pull cranks over there."...yeah, I'm gonna have to buy/borrow one now) but it's exhilarating to be working on bikes again. I forgot how much I loved doing it since it hasn't been part of my daily life since the tour. I spent all afternoon checking out every little part and fixing everything, and now it's the evening and I don't know where the time went. Ah, well, I only teach 8 hours this week anyways...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hell is high school students

Oy. Sometimes, teaching is so damn rewarding. You learn a lot, and make a difference in the lives of some really cool kids. Other times, you want to beat them to death with a blunt object. Today was the latter, at least for one class. Let's just say that there are a few of them who will no longer have the privilege of lessons from me.

At least I get to go to another town and hang out with the only other person from the Midwest in this country. That should be fun. I think we are going to a brewery.

In astro news, they've found a really fat black hole that was created by a star. What a heifer. I have some stories in the queue, so check back on Monday for a link or two to those.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Finally, all of that hard work I did clicking...

When I found out that I could help out with an astronomy research project over the internet, I was pretty damn excited. Of course, it's not just me helping out, but thousands of people around the world categorizing elliptical and spiral galaxies on a site called Galaxy Zoo. It's rad: you get images of different galaxies, and classify them based on the type. The project is meant to see if there is a preponderance of elliptical or spiral galaxies in the universe, and if so, which direction most of the spiral galaxies are turning (clockwise or counter-clockwise). As it turns out, our universe is lopsided.

They write in the article:

The survey has revealed that the collections of millions of stars, dust, gas and planets in galaxies prefer to rotate anticlockwise from the viewpoint of an observer on Earth.

Traditionally astronomers have believed that galaxies would spin either clockwise or anti-clockwise in equal proportion. But these observations would seem to suggest that either a mysterious force is acting on them or that the universe is in some way lopsided.

I think this project was an incredible success, and a model for future endeavors in large-scale classification. Also, it was incredibly fun to participate in, as I got a host of cool galaxy images to download onto my computer for my screensaver.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Tubes and Skepticism

Finally, I have internet at my school using my own computer! This means I can do lots of things that I couldn't before, like download stuff and talk to friends over the internet. And type on a keyboard that is not azerty, which makes me very happy. I will also be able to write more here, which hopefully will make other people happy. Or very, very bored.

In any case, I wanted to say a quick little something about skepticism. Kathleen had a nice post on how it relates to faith over at her blog, so go there to read a little more.

As you may or may not have noticed, many of the links over there on the left hand side of this blog are to skeptically or scientifically related sites. This is because I believe in what skepticism has to say about the reality of this universe we live in, and should inform (but not dictate) how we come upon our conclusions of what is true and real.

Skepticism is more than what many believe it to be. It is not about nay-saying everything, or closing your mind to possibilities that lie outside the realm of science and empiricism. No, it is none of these things. Rather, skepticism merely says that everything should have at least a modicum of evidence for it. Skeptics want proof, and in the absence of that, a reasonable explanation for why proof is absent but possibly forthcoming. That's it, really. Skeptics need to be open-minded, for if they aren't then they cannot be considered to fall under the paradigm of skepticism.

The scientific method has given us such a fantastic way in which to learn about the world around us, and using the tools of this method to parse out what is true and false in the claims that people make on an everyday basis only helps to enrich our understanding. The verity of all suppositions about reality is not something to be taken lightly. Without it, we are lost, as separating truth from untruth is about all we gots when it comes to groping our way through the darkness that envelops the human experience.

I have much more to say on this, but am very tired from teaching 20-year olds about nuclear energy policy, and having them teach me about rugby. I'll post two links to a comic I discovered just today about skepticism, and call it an evening.

I wish unicorns really did deliver our mail.

This second one pokes fun at skeptics themselves and how their sometimes too-strict adherence to logic can get them into trouble. Or death. Mostly trouble, though.

I am now free to go drink some wine and eat a bunch of french fries. I am not a nutritional role mode sometimes.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bikes are spiritual things

I haven't been on a bike ride in like 3 weeks, and my roommate finally bought one the other day. This means, of course, that I am going to steal it every once in a while to ride until the Motobecane is back in action. Ah, the Motobecane... Here's a picture in case you have forgotten that it is the embodiment of beauty and form.

I'll get that in a couple of weeks. Until then it is department store bike-riding, which isn't so much fun if the bike sucks ass and drops the chain when you try to go up stairs. Ok, so they were small stairs. And, yeah, perhaps I shouldn't be taking my roommate's bike up sets of stairs, but someone had to break it in a little and stretch out the cables/rims/frame, right? I'm glad he doesn't read this.

I got to see a live production of Waiting for Godot the other night. It was difficult to understand because it was in French, and they were basically screaming and jumping around all of the time; however, it was absolutely amazing. The actors were phenomenal, and they changed a few things from the original that actually improved greatly on some of the scenes. For example, there is a part where Didi is talking to the small boy that visits them. In the original, both he and Estragon see and speak with the boy, rough him up for answers, etc. In this play, it is only Didi, and the boy rode an old 3-speed bicycle around the stage, so it was as if he was sort of ethereal and dreamlike, his voice changing places the dark of the night. I'm re-reading the play (in English, sadly), and realize how difficult the language is, so don't feel so bad.

With the language, really, it's a roller-coaster. I talked to a friend over the phone the other night, and had a hard time understanding (being on the phone in a foreign language is always über-difficult). Then, last night I went to a talk on supernovae by a professor at the Institut d'astrophysique de Paris, and basically understood every single word that he said. This was fun, because I just started a story on work by some other researchers from the same institute, so got to get a flavor for what is coming out of there.

My students are still pretty fun. I've gotten to meet all of them finally, and am happy with what I'm going to be doing with them.

Another assistant is coming over to Morlaix to rock the house tomorrow night, so the weekend looks good. There's also another talk on sustainable development on Sunday, and the possibility of a jazz show. Where see if those are as interesting as learning about nuclear processes inside stars...

New Article in Universe Today

Here's an article I did about the jets of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons. Below is the coolest picture eva of Enceladus hovering above Saturn's rings. If you look real close you can see a faint haze on the bottom of Enceladus - that's the jets. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mmmm....biscuits and gravy

Being vegan, I rarely have the chance to enjoy the hearty succulence that is biscuits and gravy, mostly because the constituents are sausage and cream, two things that a vegan enjoys not. There is, however, and oasis of biscuits and gravy for vegans to be found at the wonderful Seward Café, located in that city of cities, Minneapolis. Here is a picture of me eating too much of said dish, courtesy of my friend Rachael B.

And here is a picture of Ms. B. herself overpartaking.

She may very well kill me for posting this picture of her making a horrible face. Ah well, such is the price one pays for blogging.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Finally in France

So, here I am again in France. This after heading to Minneapolis to spend a few days with my friend Rachel there. We rode bikes and drank PBR, and just kinda soaked in the vibe that Minneapolis gives off. I also got to have dinner with my friend from back in the Time for Peace days, Omar. We had sparkling conversation as always.

I got to the airport early, and met a guy that was going to Iceland (I flew with Icelandair, so had an hour layover there). He lives there, and when I go back at the end of my time here in France, he said he would take me around Reykjavik. After a long, long flight that went through Iceland - which is apparently populated by supermodels of both sexes - I arrived in Paris, which, alas, is only populated by Parisians. I took the train from Charles de Gaulle to another station, sat around with all of my crap for a couple of hours and then got on a train to here.

By the time I got to Morlaix, I'd been up for something like 30 hours and was surprised that I could still understand and speak French decently enough with the teacher that picked me up at the train station. She showed me my room, and was so kind as to have already purchased some food for me to eat the next morning.

I won't go into detail about every day since then, but here's a summary of what it's like in Morlaix, at Lycée Tristan Corbière: I live with two other guys, one from Louisiana, the other from Barcelona. We get along beautifully, and they are great roomates. The guy from Barcelona is teaching us a little Catalan, and we will all be sitting in on classes in Breizh, which is a Celtic language that a lot of people in Brittany speak. There also is another assistant from Nova Scotia, so we make fun of her accent and the way she says "eh" all of the time. She happens to be Lebanese as well as Canadian, so I now have the chance again to practice a little Arabic if I'm not lazy.

The apartment is pretty rad this time 'round. Though Evan (the Louisiana guy) lives in the living room, Josep and I have our own rooms. We have a stove!! A real one with an oven!! And a whole kitchen!! All of these things are luxurious compared to my cell last time with the one hotplate. The school is a bit old and rundown, but all of the teachers are über-nice and welcoming. We've had a couple of little meet and greet lunches already, and we only start teaching on Monday. The students, as compared to last time, are a little lower in their level of English, but this is only because this is a school that specializes in technical stuff, rather than the humanities. This means I will have to speak slower and work harder, but I think I can handle it.

As with last time, the paperwork is a pain in the ass. I at least already had a bank account, and just used my phone from last time, too. But all of the other stuff has been a nightmare, with a lot of different answers from different people and running around and waiting and photocopying my passport a zillion times.

The region is nice, though always wet. It's verdant, and kinda gray, but being right by the ocean will make the winter pretty warm. I'll have more to write when my head is not spinning from being sick (I think I have the flu or a cold or something...). But wanted to let all two people that read this that I am alive, and happy to be back once again in the land of plentiful wine and baguettes.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Colin Powell is a Wise Man

I've never really been a huge fan of Colin Powell, but I am often surprised and impressed by the things he says. I was really young when the first Iraq war happened, and remember him on TV a little. When he was running for president I was excited about the prospect, and would have voted for him at the time if I were old enough to do so. I always saw him as something of an honest broker in the 2nd Bush White House, up until the point where he went to the U.N. and gave them false information (of which he has said a million times since that he didn't know it was false, and that he feels part of the blame for doing what he did).

That said, every interview of him I've ever read has impressed me. He's eloquent, moderate, and will say what he thinks without that veneer of Washington-speak that plagues those who don't even work in Washington anymore. He did a recent interview with GQ Magazine that has some thoughtful ideas about race and gays in the military, where we are today as a country, democracy, and about terrorism. Here's a few selections, but you should really read the whole thing.

This is the quote that may surprise a lot of people:

What is the greatest threat facing us now? People will say it’s terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the great threat we are facing?

I would approach this differently, in almost Marshall-like terms. What are the great opportunities out there—ones that we can take advantage of? It should not be just about creating alliances to deal with a guy in a cave in Pakistan. It should be about how do we create institutions that keep the world moving down a path of wealth creation, of increasing respect for human rights, creating democratic institutions, and increasing the efficiency and power of market economies? This is perhaps the most effective way to go after terrorists

And here is what he says in response to the question, "So you think we are getting too hunkered down and scared?"

Yes! We are taking too much counsel of our fears.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a terrorist threat. There is a threat. And we should send in military forces when we have a target to deal with. We should also secure our airports, if that makes us safer. But let’s welcome every foreign student we can get our hands on. Let’s make sure that foreigners come to the Mayo Clinic here, and not the Mayo facility in Dubai or somewhere else. Let’s make sure people come to Disney World and not throw them up against the wall in Orlando simply because they have a Muslim name. Let’s also remember that this country was created by immigrants and thrives as a result of immigration, and we need a sound immigration policy.

Let’s show the world a face of openness and what a democratic system can do. That’s why I want to see Guantánamo closed. It’s so harmful to what we stand for. We literally bang ourselves in the head by having that place. What are we doing this to ourselves for? Because we’re worried about the 380 guys there? Bring them here! Give them lawyers and habeas corpus. We can deal with them. We are paying a price when the rest of the world sees an America that seems to be afraid and is not the America they remember.

You can drive up the road from here and come to a spot where there is a megachurch over here, a little Episcopal church over there, a Catholic church around the corner that’s almost cathedral-size, and between them is a huge Hindu temple. There are no police needed to guard any of this. There are not many places in the world where you would see that. Yes, there are a few dangerous nuts in Brooklyn and New Jersey who want to blow up Kennedy Airport and Fort Dix. These are dangerous criminals, and we must deal with them. But come on, this is not a threat to our survival! The only thing that can really destroy us is us. We shouldn’t do it to ourselves, and we shouldn’t use fear for political purposes—scaring people to death so they will vote for you, or scaring people to death so that we create a terror-industrial complex.

Read that last line again. Maybe a third time, and think about how much the threat of terrorism dominates political discourse. This is very reminiscent of what Eisenhower warned about in his Military-Industrial Complex speech, made obvious by Powell's usage of the same words. I feel similarly about Eisenhower as I do about Powell, a military leader that towards the end of his career in the public eye warned about the judicious use of our military and the threat that it can pose to the fundamental values of our nation. Both Eisenhower and Powell used their positions as lifelong military leaders to try and do good in the world, and to try and avoid war, despite the nature of their job being to successfully manage and win wars.

This is, I think, a pretty fair representation of how America should walk in the world:

So you think we should be a bit more on guard against arrogance when we pursue a democracy agenda?

[laughs] Very good, very good. We have a tendency to lecture and perhaps not think things through. We have to be careful what we wish for. Are we happy with the democracy that Hamas gave us? There are some places that are not ready for the kind of democracy we find so attractive for ourselves. They are not culturally ready for it, they are not historically ready for it, and they don’t have the needed institutions.

How can we restore America’s image?

We should remember what that image was, back after World War II. It was the image of a generous country that sought not to impose its will on other countries or even to impose its values. But it showed the way, and it helped other countries, and it opened its doors to people—visitors and refugees and immigrants.

America could not survive without immigration. Even the undocumented immigrants are contributing to our economy. That’s the country my parents came to. That’s the image we have to portray to the rest of the world: kind, generous, a nation of nations, touched by every nation, and we touch every nation in return. That’s what people still want to believe about us. They still want to come here. We’ve lost a bit of the image, but we haven’t lost the reality yet. And we can fix the image by reflecting a welcoming attitude—and by not taking counsel of our fears and scaring ourselves to death that everybody coming in is going to blow up something. It ain’t the case.

Again, what he says about America being "a generous country," in the eyes of the world after WWII is reminiscent of Eisenhower when he said:
We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America's leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.

War is stupid, and very complicated to speak about eloquently without sounding equally as stupid. I have a weird admiration for both Powell and Eisenhower in their thoughts about democracy and the military. They see the institution of the military as a tool for good in the world corruptible by greed and malevolence, and warn against its misuse.
Though I don't see it as always a tool for good, I agree that the unchecked power of the military does not serve in the interests of democracy. We cannot go willy-nilly around the world imposing our values on those who would not have it, yet we must also stand up against injustice against human beings in other places besides the interior of our borders. This – as with almost everything in the world – is messy. The right answers and the right actions are unclear, but a fundamental prudence in how we go about the betterment of this world is not only laudable but necessary for our survival.

Even Vegans Eat Crow

I have an admission to make: I am a jerk. More specifically, I'm a jerk because of my musical elitism when it came to a certain band. See, not so very long ago, I used to make fun of my friend Brant for his rather emo choices in music. Sure, I'd heard some of the bands that he liked and was not too happy about them. Teasing him usually involved amalgamating the names of all of the bands he listened to in one, with my favorite being, "Oh, is this Godspeed You Black Cloud Cult Mogwai Emperor?" or some such variation. It always pissed him off, and he would retort with some scandalous comment about how much ska music sucks, an utter blasphemy for which he shall certainly burn in the pits of hell and have to listen to the Voodoo Glow Skulls for eternity.

Anyway, over the summer there was a certain song that played on our beloved college radio station, KURE . It was so melodic and sweet, and had a little storyline contained within. The guitar and vocals were just wonderful. It played on their automated system a lot, and I tried to email them to figure out what it was, but with no luck. Then, a friend of mine played it on her actual live KURE show, and I called to find out the name of the band. Can you guess who it was? It was Cloud Cult, with their song "Transistor Radio". I was stunned, and I called Brant to grovel immediately after learning this. I considered this enough at the time, but things have become more complicated. See, I have listened to one of their CDs at least 10 times in the last 3 days, and another about 4. It's all I've listened to this week, really, over and over and over again because it is some of the best music I've listened to in a very, very long time.

I hereby make this public admission of my stupidity in not giving Brant's music a chance. Otherwise, he's got swell taste in almost everything, so why I would fail to realize his excellent musical tastes is beyond me. Maybe I just needed to make fun of him for something, and this happened to be it. In any case, Brant, you are my musical god. Not a god, The God.

Whenever we have prejudice, whether it be for music or for people, it can come back and bite us in the ass. I think by nature, in the sense that prejudice is an a priori judgement, it will always end up being wrong. Give everything a chance, else you find yourself publicly apologizing for being an elitist prick. And listen to Cloud Cult, 'cuz it will change your life, I swear.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Our Walnut Neighbor and what's Big in Japan

The Cassini probe just flew by one of the coolest rocks in our solar system – Saturn's moon Iapetus – on September 10th. There are dozens of images from this flyby, which can be found at the website for Cassini's imaging team. For your viewing pleasure, here is a mosaic of many of the images.

And one of the little ridge that encircles the planet:

The images of Iapetus should allow us to better understand some of its rather bizarre features, like the ridge in the middle, and the fact that half of it is pitch black while the other is snowy white, kinda like a cosmic yin-yang. Cassini has returned images from Saturn during the past few months, and another part of the mission involved a probe crash-landeding on Titan to discern the chemical makeup of that moon of Saturn. All of these astounding images can be found at the link above, and the Planetary Society has been doing some good analysis and publicity for this mission.

In other space news, the Moon is big in Japan (ar, ar) as their probe Kayuga is underway to our rocky companion. More on what it will be doing on the moon can be found here. Briefly it will be on the Moon to study its evolution and history, and provide data for future studies and usages of said satellite. Also, here is the coolest diagram I have ever seen about the possible origin of the Moon. I love the little star above the Earth's head when it gets konked!!!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Where I'll be Teaching

Here's a couple of pictures of Morlaix, where I'll be teaching in a mere few weeks. Incidentally, Morlaix is derived from "Mord les," which is from the phrase, "S'ils te mordent, mord les," which means "If they bite you, bite them." Also, it is in Finistére, which is from the latin, "Finis Terrae" which means "end of the earth". Mike finds it funny that I live in bite them, at the end of the earth. Yes, yes, this is rather humorous.

My first science story

I started a new internship at an awesome online astronomy news site. Really, it's the publisher being gracious enough to let me write stories about astronomy and put them up there, while holding my hand through the writing and editing process. I'll link to them each time I write one, so as not to double their presence on the 'net and also increase traffic to Fraser's wonderful site, Universe Today. This is my first story, on the ice ages of Mars' polar ice caps.

Why this is here

So, I used to have another blog in which I regaled my audience with tales of woe and adventure from my last excursion to France. Yeah, that didn't work out so well, because I kinda stopped updating it a couple of years ago. From the electronic ashes of this last blog this one arises. I'll post things about my life, and also any writing that I'm publishing elsewhere on the web. In our digital age, I figured it's time for this 20-something bum to finally have a presence on our expansive internet landscape.