Friday, July 11, 2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


From Cassini. Wow. Just freaking wow.

Go and Ask

Cosmic Variance is currently taking questions about Quantum Theory so as to explain it in a way that is easily understandable. I urge you to go and ask all of your burning questions about said theory. I doubt they'd appreciate stuff like, "What the F*^K does it all mean, anyway?" but maybe more specific things like "Why was Schroedinger all obsessed with killing cats?"

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I just got all my pictures from my tour developed onto some CDs. I'll post a little journal with them here sometime in the near or not-so-near future, but if you do the stupid Facebook thingy, I have a lot of them over there. Here's one that turned out really well, though, for your viewing pleasure.

UT: Canada to Build Worlds' First Asteroid-Hunting Satellite

Just yesterday (June 30th) was the 100-year anniversary of the Tunguska event, when a small piece of ice or rock created a huge blast crater near the Podkammenaya Tungus river in Siberia, flattening trees and scaring the heck out of people in the surrounding area. Thankfully, the blast didn't happen in a populated area and nobody was killed, but there are many more pieces of debris floating around out there in space. If we want to do something about an asteroid headed our way, or keep astronauts safe from space debris, knowing is half the battle. Thanks to a new microsatellite being built by the Canadian Space Agency, we will soon have a better map of the objects surrounding the Earth's orbit. More...

Friday, June 27, 2008

UT: Dark Matter is Denser in the Solar System

Dark matter was theorized to exist relatively recently, and we've come a long way in understanding what makes up a whopping 23% of our Universe. Our own galaxy is surrounded by a halo of dark matter that adds to its mass. A recent paper on the dark matter closer to home – right here in our own Solar System – reveals that it is denser and more massive than in the galactic halo. More...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

UT: Homer's 'Odyssey' May Chronicle Ancient Eclipse

I love writing this story, and how much it's stirred stuff up in the comments. Ah, writing about literature and astronomy together. If I could fit bicycles in there somehow, that would cover all three of my major passions...

Homer's 'Odyssey' May Chronicle Ancient Eclipse
It's likely that sometime in your education career, an English teacher had you enjoy (or suffer through, depending on your tastes) at least part of that classic of classics, Homer's Odyssey. It tells the story of Odysseus, a Greek general, who embarks on a 10-year journey back home after battling in the fall of Troy. The tale is filled with imagery that is referenced often in contemporary films and books. As old as it is, one would think that we've learned pretty much all we can from the book, but a new analysis of celestial events referenced in the Odyssey reveals that Homer may have documented a total solar eclipse. More...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

UT: Map of Milky Way Redrawn (again)

Just yesterday Fraser wrote about the Milky Way's demotion from a 4-arm spiral galaxy to a 2-arm. This isn't the only change we'll have to accept about our home galaxy: a Milky Way mapping project has discovered stars in the galaxy moving slower and in more elliptical orbits than predicted. This means we might have to redraw the map we have of our own neighborhood yet again. More...

Monday, June 2, 2008


Despite the flooding that we experienced last week, my first few days in Ames have been pretty uneventful. Working at the bike shop every day is freaking great. I missed the shop and all of the people that worked there very, very much. It's nice to be back.

I'm finally getting caught up on my astronomy reading, though my podcast queue is getting ridiculously long. So much to do, all the time...

Eric and I got our garden in, and it seems to be surviving all of the pounding rain we've been getting. We planted tomatoes, corn, beets, cucumber, peppers, watermelon, pumpkins, and broccoli. I hope we get to eat at least most of it. The fence we constructed seems pretty rabbit-resistant, though if there are deer milling around we just might have to make the fence taller. I guess we'll know soon enough.

Not much else to report, other than that it's weird to be speaking English all of the time, and having everybody else do the same. Can't wait to start up a French club.

Oh, and if you're on the evil, pointless thing called Facebook, I posted some pictures of my bike trip and my trip with my mother over there. Once I get mine developed and scanned in, I might put up a mini-journal here about all of that jazz.

Friday, May 23, 2008

UT: Over 100 Explosions Observed on the Moon

In the past two and a half years, the Moon has taken a real beating. NASA astronomers have observed over a hundred explosions on the Moon during this time, caused by meteoroids both large and small, slamming into the Moon at speeds of up to 160,000 miles per hour (257,495 kilometers per hour).

The Moon gets pelted constantly – over a metric ton of material falls on the Moon every day! Most impacts are too dim to see with the naked eye because they are small micrometeorites. The rate of the flashes from larger impacts increases dramatically – up to an impact every hour – during meteor showers such as the Perseids and Quadrantids. The sporadic impacts account for twice as many observable events as compared to meteor shower impacts. More...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Right, so I made it back to the U.S. safe and sound. It's so weird to be speaking English all the time and drinking coffee out of non-thimble sized cups. I'm currently in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and will be making my way back to Ames this afternoon, where I will stay for quite a while if everything works out like I hope.

The last month or so has been fun. Lots and lots of traveling. I would like to get pictures up here as soon as I can get them all scanned in (no digital camera for this guy). I'll be back at the bike shop in Ames, so if you live there come by and say hello. I will be giving out my new phone number to people once I get around to buying a phone (expect that to take a few weeks). Also, expect a lot more from me on Universe Today. I wish I could have taken my compy with me on tour, but alas, there is no wireless while camping (yet). Until then, I will point you to Ian's brilliant article on why we all won't die in 2012.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The End

It came so quickly, this very last day of riding. I've spent a couple of lovely days in Aachen, Germany with some friends from Iowa. All I have left is a measly 85km day, one of the shortest of the tour. Then I get to chill in Cologne for a few days with some old friends and head back to Paris for a rendezvous with my mother.

During a tour you feel like it will continue forever, and then it is abruptly over. I wish I could just keep riding, but there is the issue of, y'know, eating and paying bills and such. I now have to go eat French Toast (in Germany, of all places, which is kinda funny for some reason) and get ready to ride.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I don't have too much time to write (I am starving and need to make dinner...) but I've made it to Belguim! The trip so far has been absolutely phenomenal. Like, one of the best bike tours I've had. Here's some differences I've noticed between Belgium and France:
- there is less dog shit on the ground to step in
- people have a funny accent. Belgium is France's Canada, y'know?
- there are french fry restaurants everywhere, with millions of sauces to choose from. Curry ketchup is the best, though Pickles comes in second.
- the beer is so freaking cheap
- the highways have bike lanes, even though they suck sometimes

That is all. I leave this glorious country of beer and fries for Germany tomorrow. Guten nacht.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

2nd Day

The trip so far has been fabulous. I made it to Dinan today, which is a lovely town with an even lovelier hostel. I rode to almost St. Brieuc yesterday, taking my time to get there. Ended up leaving late (noon instead of 8) but still got to a good place to camp around 5. I guess it was only 90km. That's like 50 miles or something.

I set up camp at the top of this valley, which was only a valley because it had a damn at the end of it. It was clear and nice all day, and then it was cloudy and lightly drizzling, then just cloudy. Initially I wanted to camp right by the stream at the bottom, but it was a Saturday night in a remote area and seemed like a good place for drunken high schoolers to come make a bonfire and party. So I hiked my bike and all my crap up the side in two stages. It was like climbing a wall, but I managed it. I couldn't see stars when I went to bed, but when I woke up one of the numerous times in the night, I could. I was too tired to pick out any constellations, though.

I met up with two friends during the ride yesterday. The first, Mustapha, is running to Caen over the vacation. He was supposed to leave Friday, but got off late and so I passed by him on the rode about 45 minutes after starting. We had a coffee and talked about our respective adventures. And cows, and how they moo differently in France.

My other friend, Bernard, is a cyclist and drove to Guingamp, then bactracked my route until we met up. He gave me dried bananas, which if you've never tried you must. No, not banana chips but these whole dried bananas wrapped in tinfoil. We rode and chatted and then had a juice and some cakes before we got to his car. I wish he could have come with me, but I guess not everybody is a jobless slacker like me.

All of my equipment worries have been unfounded as yet. The homemade panniers are doing fine, even if I don't have a lot of clearance for my foot in the pedal stroke (can't really backpedal, which is ok I guess...). I didn't need to use the "tent" I made because it was clear, but probably will sometime. The stove rocks my freaking socks off. I boiled a few cups of tea and water to drink and a cup of coffee this morning all on like 75ml of alcohol!

More the next time I get an internet connection...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Leaving for Germany

I leave tomorrow for Germany (if I get everything frakkin' finished). It should be a good time pending good weather and preferable winds. Wish me luck, and do an anti-rain dance if you have the time/skill.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


A few things:
– I went to Paris with a group of students last weekend. It was a blast, and the kids behaved themselves. I went to the Cinematheque and Le Louvre (for the third time...) on Friday, and walked around the city and saw my friend Kasia at her art installation on Saturday. We came back Saturday night. I took lots of photos, which will be posted once I have them developed and can scan them in.

– While walking around Paris, I put the soundtrack to the film Rushmore on repeat on my iPod. This lead me to fall in love with all things Mark Mothersbaugh. Check out his art, and anything that he's created. It is fabulous.

– I leave in like 4 days for Germany, and have yet to finish sewing my panniers. I'm not too worried, but the next few days will be super-busy. I did, however, succeed at fabricating this stove. It is freakin' sweet! I cooked my dinner last night over the wonderfully bright flame.

UT: Biggest Star

You should totally check out Fraser's story over at Universe Today on the biggest star. It is teh awesome.

Friday, March 28, 2008

UT: Galaxy Zoo results show Universe isn't lopsided

NOTE: If you aren't already on Digg, you should be. And if you are, can you start digging my stories (only if you like them, that is...)

In July of last year, the doors of the online galaxy classification site Galaxy Zoo opened for business. The response? Tens of thousands of people logged-in to begin classifying galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. If you've been one of the users madly clicking away at galaxies on the Zoo, this is what you've been waiting for: the first results have been submitted for publication, and it turns out that our Universe is, in fact, not 'lopsided'.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Head Asplody Syndrome

Between the writing and the interviewing and the translating things like "gamma ray burst" into French, I believe I have officially contracted Head Asplody Syndrome. I thought doing some of said activities in my favorite bar would help the ailment, but this is indeed not the case. I hope it ain't terminal.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Busy Week

Oy, this is going to be a busy week. I have an interview with Chris Lintott to prepare for, a bunch of Universe Today articles to translate into French for my upcoming presentation at my local astronomy club, articles to write, a bike to finish overhauling (just needs one more part...continually) and panniers to finish sewing. On top of that, I'd like to get my route planned out almost completely for April, but who knows how long that will take. Oh yeah, and teaching, the bane of my existence. 13 days of that left!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Peruvian Meteorite May Rewrite Impact Theories

On September 15th of last year, a meteorite impacted the Earth near the town of Carancas in Peru. The story made worldwide headlines when hundreds of people who flocked to see the crater reported getting ill. As it turned out, there were no mysterious space illnesses plaguing the population; the super-hot meteorite likely vaporized arsenic-containing water that was near the surface of the impact site, and onlookers and investigators breathed in the noxious gas. The meteorite is again in the spotlight, though not for making people sick. More...

Vegan diet 'help' for arthritis

Hahahahaha. While all you poor suckers lament your painful, crumbling joints as you age, I will be deftly threading needles and doing jumping jacks. I win!

Sarko is a Pottymouth

I forgot to write about this: French Bling-Bling Prez Nicolas Sarkozy was schmoozing a crowd when someone told him that they didn't want to shake his hand because he'd "already made them dirty." Kinda insulting, sure, to tell the President of your nation you don't want to shake his hand. Any normal person/politician would have just been like, "Okay..." and continued with the rest of the crowd. Not Sarko, though. He told the guy, "Casse toi alors, pauvre con." Rough translation: "Shut up, you stupid cu**". The last two letters of that word are nt, if you didn't know that. Yeah, that's Presidential. Even worse than when Cheney dropped the F-bomb in Congress. Vive la Sarko!

New, Unexpected Spots Found on Jupiter

Jupiter is a spotty place. There's the aptly-named Great Red Spot – a large, long-lasting storm – that we all know and love, and new storms crop up every so often to create interesting features for astronomers both professional and amateur to study. The most recent discovery of new spots can only be seen in the UV, but they add a whole new level of complexity for scientists to chew on. More...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lookout for Space Junk!

Nancy just had a story up on UT about the discarded stages of rockets falling into Siberia. This photo essay is quite impressive, too. Maybe the Russians should find a better place to launch than the Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan?

Nancy writes in the story, "People who live in the zone are given at least 24 hours' notice of falling debris. Only those outside the zone are entitled to any compensation for damage caused by the launches." Can you imagine getting a warning that a rocket stage might, I don't know, crash through your barn/house? And then the government says, "Well, we warned you. Have fun fixing the hole in your roof!" Not too sure this is the best policy on the part of the Russian Space Agency...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Trip Update

In list form, my progress on the Morlaix-Köln trip:

1. Almost finished with the panniers. I have to do a little sewing and install some grommets and velcro, and they'll be done.

2. All of my tent stuff is purchased and tested out. I have to duct tape up some holes in the tarp, and it'll be ready to go. I scored a sleeping bag from a friend.

3. I haven't planned all of the route, but I want to keep it pretty open anyways. I know I have to be to Rouen by the 18th to see my friend there, but my Aachen and Köln friends are pretty flexible as to when I come.

4. My bike needs work. New tires and chain, a new rear derailleur cable and quite probably a new bottom bracket spindle and bearings. It's making noises I really don't like, and I'd hate to be stuck in Belgium with a non-functioning bb bearing.

5. I've been getting in a few kilometers when it's been nice. The wind was blowing 75mph on Monday and Tuesday, so I didn't go out. Discovered the bb problem today, so I might do some mountain riding this week on my roommate's bike instead of risk grinding out the inside of the bb cups with the worn out bearings. We'll see how bad things look when I tear the axle out...

Friday, March 14, 2008

1 in 10^12

I was doing some poking around the internet to familiarize myself with computer processing speeds (ultra-fast supercomputers were the subjects of various podcasts that I listen to). In the definition of a FLOP (floating point operation) on Wikipedia there was this:

* The entire BOINC averages over 900 TFLOPS as of February 17, 2008.[2]
* SETI@Home computes data averages more than 265 TFLOPS.[3]
* Folding@Home has reached over 1 PFLOPS[4] as of September 15, 2007.[5] Note, as of March 22, 2007, PlayStation 3 owners may now participate in the Folding@home project. Because of this, Folding@home is now sustaining considerably higher than 210 TFLOPS (1267 TFLOPS as of September 23, 2007). See the current stats[6] for details.
* Einstein@Home is crunching more than 70 TFLOPS.[7]
* As of June 2007, GIMPS is sustaining 23 TFLOPS.[8]
* Intel Corporation has recently unveiled the experimental multi-core POLARIS chip, which achieves 1 TFLOPS at 3.2 GHz. The 80-core chip can increase this to 1.8 TFLOPS at 5.6 GHz, although the thermal dissipation at this frequency exceeds 260 watts.

I run BOINC all the time, and am a member of the folding@home and Einstein@home projects. This means my computer is part of a supercomputer, calculating protein folding and helping in the search for pulsars. Isn't that cool? Distributed computing is impressive because of how many resources it might save. Instead of building one huge supercomputer that does all of these operations, it's spread over thousands of computers around the world that would otherwise be doing nothing. The users lend their unused computing power to help understand our world better.

I got thinking about how this would impact the environment. The fact that these computers are using energy instead of being turned off or sleeping allows one to make the argument that it's environmentally irresponsible, but I'd have to see the data on the resources eaten up by large supercomputers to hash this out. There are worse things one could be destroying the environment in the name of anyways, like driving Hummers and transporting food over thousands of miles, so in the end it's worth it in my eyes. Additionally, one of the programs I run (which, incidentally, has the largest projects to download and thus uses the most time on my compy) does climate modeling in the hopes of better understanding global warming. So, the energy it uses is in the search for a solution to climate change, a quintessential carbon offset.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Would you do it?

First, read this fantastic and thought-provoking story by Nancy over on, of course, UT. Then, think about it. Then read the rest of this post. Then comment.

My roommate and I had this lengthy debate over the content of Nancy's story. I mentioned it, and the fact that I would go to Mars on a one-way ticket in a heartbeat. He was appalled, and said it would be boring and a death sentence.

My counter to his arguments like, "But you'll die", "But you'll be all alone" and "All there will be to see is rocks" was to end those arguments with, "ON MARS!!!". Because, seriously, if you were the first person to go to Mars, and die there, and spend maybe a few years doing science there, you would both be remembered forever and revered while you were alive. That isn't all. You would be out on another planet's surface, advancing the prospect of humans blowing this popstand we call Earth and heading for further-off, more exotic places.

Yes, it would be hard to give up everything you know here and live in a stinky bucket on the way to Mars, and then a stinky shack on the surface. All alone. My thought was that you would get a lot of reading done, which would be nice. And, you would be traveling in space to another freaking planet. I mean, how many people can say that they have done that? Not too many. Not too many at all.

It didn't take me much reflection to say that I'd volunteer for it. I would miss my family and friends and biking, but to embark on such an adventure would be impossible for me to pass up. We will all die someday. Why not do it on Mars?

What would you do?

Ancient Lake on Mars Found by HiRISE a Good Place to Look for Life

Despite what it might look like, this is not the beach of a lakeside resort here on Earth. It's what remains of a dried up lake on the surface of Mars, yet another fantastic image brought to us by the cameras on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE.) This is a closeup of the largest of the "fans" leftover from the lake in the bottom of Holden Crater, an 87-mile (140-kilometer) wide crater in the bottom of the larger Holden Basin on Mars.

What's interesting about a dried up lake bed, besides the spectacular image? Well, it's the perfect place to start a search for life on Mars. A nice, calm lake would be a likely place for life to form. This site is one of the six possible landing sites for the NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, which launches next year and will try to answer the question of whether life on Mars existed at one time, or continues to thrive there. More...

New UT format

Instead of just giving you the link to my UT stories, I will now provide some more context by giving you the first paragraph, with the option to read the rest of the story there. Ha! Hypnotoad says, "You will follow the links to the rest of the story..." Well, he doesn't really say it. More like transmit it to your mind with his hypno-powers.

Plans for a "Doomsday Ark" on the Moon are in the Works

Let's say something terrible happens to your computer, like it crashes or you drop it. All of those movies you bought online are toast, as is your address book and most of your work. It's always a good idea to have a backup somewhere else, right?

Having a backup of your computer is handy, but having a backup of the entire progress of human civilization is even more practical. If a major catastrophic event like nuclear war or an asteroid strike wipes out most of the humans on the planet, it would be helpful for the survivors to have a record of all the accomplishments we've made in the past few thousands of years to help rebuild and repopulate the Earth. More...

Yes, yes, I finally did it

If you know me well, you may be surprised, even shocked at the subject of this post. Sadly, I have joined the juggernaut of social networking commonly known as Facebook. Yes, I know. Whatever reaction you are having to this is the same that all of my other friends (now Facebook friends!) have had. I think Jon Mullin said it best: "I feel dirty for you..."
Why, you ask? No good reason. I wondered what it was all about, so I thought I would give it a shot. Frankly, I still have yet to figure out what the point of Facebook is, but maybe it will take a few days. It's only function as of yet has been to waste my time. Is that the point? Please let me know.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Birthday Buddies

The other American assistant was playing around with an astrology website that gives horoscopes. He put in my birthday, and though it was all complete crap (astrology is ALL complete crap) there was one thing that made my entire day. I found out that I share a birthday with Wil Wheaton! Yes, THE Wil Wheaton. If you don't know who Wil Wheaton is, well, I am sad for you. Your life is thus empty. Next time our birthday rolls around I'm going to shoot him an email/leave a comment on his blog and then he will invite me over to his house to play Star Trek TNG: The Card Game. Still got my deck somewhere, and I'd totally throw down my Traveler card early on to draw double for the rest of the game.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


I learned the other day that the word vitamins comes from the melding of the words "vital" and "amines." I thought this was really neat to know for some reason. Well, the story is even better. I found out courtesy of this article that the guy who named vitamins was named Casimir Funk. How cool of a name is that? If I ever own a pet again, I'm going to name him Casimir Funk. The end.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Good and the Bad

I'm tired of my students, and they are apparently tired of me. The last two days with a couple of classes, they just skipped. All of them. See, it normally works like this: they go with the teacher like they normally would, then come to see me. With this specific teacher she likes to do it on a volunteer basis (which, in my opinion, is not the best system because I get the same students all the time, and sometimes there are no volunteers so I waste an hour sitting in a classroom reading or whatever). So yesterday, at 8am in the freaking morning I was sitting in my classroom waiting. With this class I normally get like 2-4 students, because it's 8 in the morning and because they could give a crap. Well, I waited about 40 minutes, then went back to the teacher's lounge. After the class period was over, I saw the teacher and she said, "So how was class with them?"
Me: "Uh, with whom?"

Teacher: "With the four students I sent...oh, well then. You don't have to see that class anymore."

It's kind of a privilege for them to come chat with me, and since they seem to not want to do so and would rather go smoke and play with their motorcycles, they might as well be with the teacher and learn grammar. And I was going to show them an episode of "Mythbusters" where they tear the rear axle out of a cop car.

Pretty much the same thing happened again today with another class and the same teacher. I had 6 students for 30 min. and they were supposed to go back to class and send 6 others for the rest of the hour. They just left. And, remember, these are students that are 18-20 years old. I don't feel as if I should have to hold their hand in between classes, making sure they go where they're supposed to. At that age I was in college for two years already, and had no trouble finding my way between classes. Maybe they'll lose the privilege of being with me, too, which I won't cry about.

Why? Example of how the first class with them went this semester:

I had an activity where they were supposed to write three statements about themselves, one of which was to be false. I used, for example, "I rode my bike across the U.S. I have a dog. I like saurkraut." I don't have a dog, though they always guess that I haven't done the bike ride. Ha. Anyway, here's what the first student wrote for his three:
1. I use preservatifs (the french word for condoms).
2. I fu** my wife.
3. I have 60 wives.

I told him I wasn't going to write "I fu** my wife." on the board. Sorry. So, we ended up settling on "I've had sex before. I have a wife. I have 60 wives." All his buddies guessed that he'd never had sex before, which was kinda funny because it embarrassed him. He did, in fact have a wife of three months that he'd married when he and she were both extremely drunk. The rest of the statements were a little more tame, but still anything but innocent. Some selections include, "I like redheads," "My mother is black," "I am a famous rap star." This is the class that I consider successful if no fights break out, and if I don't have to send anyone out. Since they're pretty keen on swearing pretty much nonstop, I just ignore it. Being offended by it (which I'm not anyway) would just encourage them. When they discover that I'm not really too bothered by their terrible use of language, they generally stop. At the end of the class period that time, I ended up teaching them words like "puke" and "barf", because they were curious about it and I consider this meeting halfway. And I got to learn what those words were in French, which is a bonus.

Not all of my classes are bad, only the older kids in the technical school. Unlike the younger ones, they don't have the fear of getting detention or the general fear of adults in them. I almost always have a good time with my younger kids because they listen and they want to play games, which is entertaining for me. As a general rule, I try to come up with lesson plans that will maximize the entertainment value for me. They are going to learn something pretty much no matter what I do with the, so I might as well have a good time with it. My job is to teach them, and theirs is to keep me amused.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

*Shakes Fist At Clouds*

Well, it was nice and clear tonight...up until the real interesting part. I got to see the first part of the penumbra take a bite out of the Moon, and then I got to see the rest of the eclipse webcast from Argentina (all the European sites I checked out were just pictures of clouds). Stinking cloudy weather. And there won't be another eclipse for a few years now! I got clouded out last time, too, but at least a year ago March I caught the umbra. Ah, well, in a few years then I might get to see it in real life.

Eclipse All-Nighter

If you weren't aware of it yet, there is a lunar eclipse tonight. Of course, UT has all of the details on viewing, as always. It's at like 3am here, so my plan is to stay up until then and get some writing and emailing done. I've got about 6 hours to go, and I already feel a little tired even after a coffee. I hope I can make it long enough, and there aren't any clouds...

Interesting things to read from this last week or so:

Cosmic Variance had an outstanding article on Telekinesis and Quantum Field Theory If that sounds intimidating, all it really means is that they debunk the idea of spoon bending or using mind powers to move things around in the world by showing that our understanding of physics eliminates this possibility. It is extremely well-written and easy to comprehend.

Phil posted on how science is not faith-based. He concisely sums up what science is all about in typical Phil Phashion.

Ian has been writing his little heart out on UT with a series of articles the building of a base on the Moon, which we likely will do someday. Here's links to Parts 1, 2, and 3.

This American Life is the best thing ever. The last act of this recent episode is phenomenal. It comes from The Moth, which if you have a chance to check it out is pretty fun stuff.

And finally, this was just too funny to pass up.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Remembering Sheldon Brown

I was saddened to learn the other day that Sheldon Brown, a human encyclopedia of bicycle knowledge, died on the 3rd of February from a heart attack. If you've never heard of Sheldon, go to the treasure trove of knowledge that is his website. He'd been sick for a while, so I don't know how unexpected this was, but it's still kinda a shock.

Anytime a friend asks me a question about fixing bikes in a situation where I'm not there (over the phone or email), and I want to avoid spending an hour writing the answer down, or drawing a diagram or making lists of tools, I send them over to his site. In fact, I learned a great deal myself from his site when I was just a wee little bike mechanic, and still visit the site pretty regularly for technical specifications or just to check out his impressive compilation of weird bicycles. Sheldon will be sorely missed by the international following of bicycle enthusiasts that he inspired.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I know that there are more serious problems in the world than the ones I have, but I have to complain about the sad state of "technology" at my school.

Let's say one wants to, I dunno, print the lyrics to a song for use in a class. I tried to do just that yesterday. For a class at 11am. I came in around 8:20. That left 40 minutes to print a one-page document before my 9am class. One would think this possible, yes? No. I tried to print it off from my computer, something that use to work well. No. It says "processing document" eternally. I tried off one of the computers in the teacher's lounge. Same thing. I tried the library. The network was down. I tried a student computer lab. Network not responding either. I then tried this little room where I have a secret printer that sometimes works, sometimes not. It was not working. So, I ended up giving group work to my 10am class, and copying the text down by hand to make photocopies of it. The previous Friday I'd tried printing something at 10:30am. Didn't work. Then, at 1:30 in the afternoon, as I was working on something in the teacher's lounge, the printer spit out my document. 3 hours later.

Of course, all of these problems only arise when the internet is actually working. When it's not, at least half the week or the whole week, then all the problems are solved!! Easy enough, you can't do anything. And this is just the printing situation. When the internet is actually working, the following things are blocked (for teachers – more is blocked for students)
- videos (Youtube included)
- MySpace
- occasionally, Wordpress and Blogspot
- Google Images (on - works)
- Skype and Apple Mail and iChat
- Gmail. Yes, Gmail. I couldn't email for two weeks because of this, until I discovered that https:// actually gets around this somehow. will not work. Neither will hotmail, at all, which is wonderful for the other assistants who use this.

Do we have a tech person to fix all of this? Not really. He's a former biology teacher who is losing his hearing (so can't teach anymore), and just happens to be "good" with computers. Not someone who has any professional experience keeping servers, networks, etc. running and dealing with blocking software and such. Could I do his job? Absolutely not. But neither can he, and he is kinda stuck doing it and putting up with the litany of complaints I'm sure he receives every day. At least he can't read English, so he will never get to read this :)

Now, one could say, "Why don't you find another internet connection?" Good point. The internet café I've been going to, however, has been under construction. And they close early sometimes when there's nobody there, because this is France and that's the way it works. Also, in a town of 15,000 people the place is not really brimming with WiFi. I tried riding around on my bike to different locations in town, stopping occasionally with my MacBook and refreshing the airport. No luck finding accessible WiFi.

Anyway, if I've not emailed you or commented on those Youtube links you sent me, this is the reason. I feel better after complaining in a public way about all of this. I can't wait to get back to the good ol' USA where one can find free WiFi almost anywhere, and where I will be getting the internet put on the back of the truck and shipped directly to my house. Or however it is one connects to the internet.

Haha, as I am writing this right now, all the teachers in the lounge are complaining about this very same thing.

Friday, February 8, 2008

...and, We're Back?

Hello from the hermitage!! Thanks to a few technical difficulties and illness, I've been stuck inside the past few weeks without a soul to talk to besides my students (and really, though they aren't soulless, they are very much heartless). But, the internet is "working" once again (for how long...) and my near-constant headache has subsided.

First, a link to a story: Hyperfast Star Ejected from the Large Magellanic Cloud I enjoyed very much the subject matter of this one, and explaining conservation of angular momentum in the comments. Surprisingly, I couldn't find too much out there in the 'tubes that explains very basically the ejection of a binary star system from the interaction with a black hole. The possibility of a BH in the Large Magellanic Cloud is so freaking cool and exciting!

On a personal note, I will be returning to Ames at the end of my time here. People keep asking me what I'm going to do with the rest of my life, and the answer is simply: I don't know, but I'm going to enjoy it. My reasons for returning to Ames are many and varied, but the main one is to work at Skunk River Cycles once more as a mechanic. I merely inquired about the possibility of working there again, and somehow ended up with the job. I guess Ronn and Steve like me after all :) Of course, this will allow me to continue writing articles (with an internet connection that works!, in my house!), playing around with bikes and perhaps the starting up of my own podcast. I get to live with Eric, a dear, dear friend of mine.

Until then: I originally thought to go to Budapest during this next vacation (Feb. 15th-Mar. 3rd). But, it will be kinda expensive to get there and monies need to be saved for my trip to Germany by bike. So, I will stick around here, maybe go to Lannion, Quimper, Vannes, Nantes, etc. I also need to start training to ride a loaded bike in hilly places 70-80 miles a day, something I can't really do without a bike in cold, cold Hungary.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Astronomy Related Things

My UT output has been pretty lame as of late, with all of the school related stuff and the poor internet connection. I did, however, receive an honor that I've been dreaming of for a long time: Fraser mentioned my article about cancer and cosmic rays on Astronomy Cast. Of course, he doesn't say my name, but it still is hawesome. Here's the last week or so:

Regulating Traffic in Space - What should Space Law regulate, and do we need cops up there too?

Infrared Telescope Passes Flight Tests
- This is rad: an infrared telescope in a retrofitted jetliner.

Using GPS to help Warn for Tsunamis - Cool idea, and sounds somewhat easy to implement, given the system already exists

Japanese Astronaut to Test Boomerang in Space Station - I think this story is kinda funny, but really cool. And I got to explain the physics of a boomerang, which I hope I did clearly.

The picture below is of me at the last Astronomy Club meeting I went to. I'm talking to Radio Phillip (so called because he does radio astronomy in his garage and we have two other phillips in the group). And yes, I am drinking cider. I think this is always the highlight of my week. We got to observe for the first time evah!! Well, since I joined in November anyways. Then we had a general meeting and I volunteered to present a "Universe Today Digest" sometime in March. This means I get to translate my favorite articles on UT into French and talk about them for an hour. I'm kinda nervous about it, only because my French is just ok, and I'll have to look up words like "spectrograph", "Vegetation Red Edge" and such in French.

More Pictures

Busy, busy, busy bees.

The weird needle/telecommunications antenna near the stadium.

Josep is being silly! Apparently Catalans drink olive oil to get drunk

This Italian fixie was sooooooo cherry. Notice the gold flaking underneath the paint in this next picture. Shiny.

Barcelona Pictures

As promised, here are some pictures from Barcelona. More to come when Luke gives me a link to all of the pictures from Paris and Toulouse.

View of Barcelona from the Parc Güell, a huge park designed by the modernist architect Gaudi.

This is Barcelona from the Montjuic, a hill that has a huge castle on top.

Barcelona's famous Montjuic Fountain that they light up at night, playing classical music and such.

This cat was waaaaaaayyyy out on that limb, and it was a long drop. He didn't seem to be bothered by the fact.

Things I Hate about France

1. The weather. We had three days over the weekend where we could see the Sun, after about two weeks of rain. Now it's back to the unrelenting gray. Ugh. Snow is better.

2. The internet. Well, at least the connection at my school. I've had a host of problems with the network connecting to blogspot and also Wordpress (where, incidentally, I write all of my UT stories). This has been a pain in my ass for a while, and the "tech guy" at my school, who is actually just a former biology teacher that happens to be good at computers, isn't very helpful, even if he's a nice guy. This means I'm going to be spending much more time (and money) in the internet café, which sucks. I can't wait to have internet in my own place, someday when I grow up...

3. The students. Specifically, all of my new students that are in the "professional" school. They do technical stuff, but are a little older, and are more than a handful. Like, two handfuls and a full bucket. I've had to revamp a lot of my curriculum because it was too hard. These are the kids that look at me blankly when I say stuff like, "Hello. Good morning." Seriously.

Other than that, things are going along. Vacation in three weeks...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

UT Stories

I haven't been good about posting links to my UT Stories lately. True, because of the vacation I haven't written many over the last few weeks, but it's starting to pick up again. Here are the links to catch up the, like, one person who probably bothers to read them:

Space causes cancer! Well, probably not, but cosmic rays might.

MIT is designing a spacecraft to measure the Moon's gravity field.

Radio emissions from Saturn help to figure out it's rotation period.

Magnetic "ropes" connect the Earth to the Sun.

Organic molecules found outside our Solar System! This one's exciting.

The weather outlook on Saturn: cyclones at both poles.

The AAS (American Astronomical Society) meeting is in Austin, Texas this week, which means there will be a bunch of stories coming out soon on all sorts of exciting stuff. Astronomy Cast is covering this meeting live, and in full force.

Vacation in Brief

My vacation was pretty sweet. I went to Paris, Auch, Barcelona and Toulouse. Got to see Mike once again, and do ridiculous things in the streets of France. Now I'm back teaching the little ones how to properly say, "Happy New Year," and what percentage one should tip a server in a restaurant in the U.S.

Speaking of which, while we were discussing this one of my students said, "Like they were talking about in Reservoir Dogs?" Yes, exactly like that. But without all of the swearing. Or tearing people's ears off and lighting them on fire. Seriously, though, I was impressed that they'd seen it and could remember the content of that scene.