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.