Posted tagged ‘science’

The Eclipse Curmudgeon

August 22, 2017

Clipboard01When I was a boy, I saved up my money and bought a 3 inch reflector telescope from Edmund Scientific.  I believe it cost $29.95, which tells you how long ago it was, in the 1950s.  I don’t remember how old I was … I would guess twelvish.  With this telescope, from the hay field behind our house I could see the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, some of the larger nebulae, double stars and of course, incredible detail of the surface of the moon.   Nobody ever told me not to point my telescope at the sun.  Nobody had to.  I was a smart kid.  But when I learned about sunspots and heard a report of exceptional sunspot activity, I certainly wanted to.   I don’t know where I found the piece of green plexiglass that became my solar filter.  To the eye, it was opaque but if I held it up to the sun, I could see the sun through itplexiglass … which gave me an idea.  Using my Dad’s jigsaw, I cut a circular piece the size of my telescope tube and taped it over the open end.   Wallah.  Sunspots at 60X power.   I seem to remember watching a partial eclipse using my improvised solar filter, too.  Those was the good old days … or the bad old days, depending on your point of view.  No one checked the transmittance of my plexiglass disc, checked if it was compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard.   Was my tape job sufficiently secure to assure the filter wouldn’t fall off, vaporizing my eyeball?  Yep, it was.  I still have two working Older Eyes.

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Just Breathe

June 16, 2017

breathMy sister is a trained Yoga instructor.  If you have ever done Yoga … or practically any meditation technique … you know that proper breathing is part of the way to a relaxed, mindful state.   Through the nose, breathe into your belly, then gently expel through the mouth.  Notice how it feels on the inhale and how it feels different when you exhale.  Breath in light.  Breath out negativity.  You get the picture.  When my Dad was in assisted living, his primary caretaker was my sister, since she lived less than an hour away, while I live in California and our brother lives in Ohio.  Whenever my Dad was agitated about something, my sister would say, Just Breathe, Dad.  Just Breathe.  My Dad, disinclined toward Yoga or any other New Age nonsense, would answer, I am breathing.  Sometimes, I am breathing, dammit. Interestingly, though he never followed my sister’s suggestion, his annoyance would distract him enough from whatever was bothering him and he would indeed end up less agitated. (more…)

Earth? Flat.

February 21, 2017

flatI was a bit astounded, even in this age of alternate facts and pseudo-science, to hear Kyrie Irving express his belief that the earth is flat.  My first reaction was what my Dad used to say when someone said or did something that was ridiculous …. What and idiot!   But of course, I know Irving isn’t an idiot or is he dumb.  He attended Duke University, for Pete’s sake, even if it was to play basketball.  I wondered if he was joking or trying to make a subtle point about fake news, but given a chance to retreat, he stood by his assertion.  Several other players, including LeBron James, defended his right to believe that the earth is flat.   It is certainly his right but why would he … or his friends … want him to look incredibly uninformed in front of the world, especially when there are so many simple ways to see that the earth is indeed round?

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Safe or Sorry

August 9, 2015

mr pAbout a week ago, I discovered that our Siamese cat, Mr. P, had fleas.   Because our cats are indoor cats, it’s easy forget about fleas.  However, they do have access to the roof via my office window.  At any rate, if Mr. P has fleas, then Elvis, our Burmese, probably does, too, and there’s a good chance some of the nasty little buggies are in the carpets.  I drove to Target and picked up some Hartz flea treatment under the assumption that all flea treatments are created equal.  I applied a little bottle of liquid to the back of each feline’s neck and assumed I wasElvistoo done.   An hour or so later, I was on Amazon.com buying something and thought I’d see what the flea treatment cost there.  To my surprise, the user reviews for the product I’d chosen were all one star, each accompanied by horror stories of sick or dead cats resulting from its use.  I admit, I panicked.  I drove to the local vet and asked what I should do.  She told me that most cats don’t suffer any harmful effects and offered a suggestion of two similar products that they feel is safer (and also kill fleas more effectively).  I felt better but still went home and bathed the cats.  Did you know,  by the way, that soapy water kills fleas if you leave it on for five minutes?  A week later, I treated them both with Bayer Advantage II.  Fleas, dead and dying, began falling off them almost immediately.  End of story.  Almost. (more…)

Conspiracy

June 5, 2015

image I was talking to somebody a couple of weeks ago about a friend who is struggling with cancer, whose body is so damaged by cancer treatments that it is having trouble healing from a recent surgery.  The someone I was talking to, to my surprise, insisted that the cure for cancer already exists but the parmaceutical companies are just hiding them so they can sell other drugs that just treat the symptoms.   I was astonished and said so.  He told me he could give me the references where I could find the evidence that had convinced him, along with articles about pools of thermite found in the World Trade Center ruins, indicating that our government was somehow complicit in 9-11.  He wasn’t happy when I called him a conspiracy theorist and he insisted that he just does more and  better research than most people.  He was absolutely sure that if I looked at his sources, I’d believe his theories and was insulted when I called them crackpot sources without looking at them.   Even though I hadn’t seen his exact sources, I’d seen plenty of similar rubbish in the quagmire of information and misinformation that the internet and social media has created.  My someone is not alone.
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Moondance

July 13, 2014
courtesy wikipedia

courtesy wikipedia

Yesterday afternoon, I noticed on Facebook that Saturday night’s moon would be a so-called supermoon.   Properly called a perigee moon, these occurs when the phase of the moon is full while the moon is near it’s closest position to the earth, or perigee.  According to NASA Science, the perigee moon is 14% larger and 30% brighter than your average full moon but without a side-by-side comparison, it is hard to tell the difference.  Yes, that’s a scientific, clinical description and it doesn’t prevent people from saying things like, Oh my God, that is the biggest moon I’ve ever seen! particularly if they are observing the moonrise.  For reasons not completely understood, the moon looks particularly large as it’s rising from the horizon.  This ends the scientific portion of this post.  When I read about a supermoon, I am once again that excited kid with his Edmund Scientific reflector telescope rushing out to the hayfield.   When the moon rises full, I am the wolf baying, Owooo, owooo at the sky, the young romantic recalling favorite moon songs and favorite moon scenes from the movies. (more…)

Feverish Over Particles

April 24, 2014

signalSome years ago, we were working on a project to find a very weak sound in a very noisy background using a device known as an adaptive line enhancer.  We were using a spectrograph to determine if we’d been successful.  The display placed a small bright dot at the location of the signal, which did not stand out before we processed the sounds.  If the signal was found, the bright dot would rise above the background.  One afternoon, we finally got the thing working and had quite a little celebration.  The following day, Kevin, a programmer, told us that when his wife had asked him what he did at work, he told her, We got a little white dot to move about half an inch.  Everyone got pretty excited.  Of such descriptions, humility is born.

I felt a bit like our friend Kevin last night when I went to see the film, Particle Fever, at the Artsy-Farsty Theater.  No, it is not about a disco for physicists … it is the story of the initial tests of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva Switzerland told through the eyes of six brilliant … and quite interesting … physicists.  The Collider is the largest and most expensive experiment ever conducted by mankind with a purpose so esoteric that one wonders how the project ever happened.   The fact that it was built by a multi-nationalhlc consortium, including physicists from countries that are mortal enemies makes its completion even more astonishing.  By any standard, the scale of the project is mind-boggling – the cost, number of people involved, the twenty-plus years needed to build it and its size.  The Collider is built in an underground ring 17 miles in circumference with equipment over five stories high, mostly underground.  These are electronics circuits on a grand scale, much of it hand built and soldered.  According to Wikipedia, data collected from proton collisions were also anticipated to be produced at an unprecedented rate of tens of petabytes per year, to be analysed by a grid-based computer network infrastructure connecting 140 computing centers in 35 countries(by 2012 the LHC Computing Grid was the world’s largest computing grid, comprising over 170 computing facilities in a worldwide network across 36 countries. The initial goal of the LHC was to verify the existence of the Higgs boson particle, a cornerstone of what is known as The Standard Model. (more…)