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.