…And I’m Not Old!

24 10 2008

I’m 37!

Another year has passed for me.  I don’t feel much different than last year.  I’m still a realist.  I still want to do something great.  I’m eternally angry at ‘the man’ and want to fight the system.  I can still sleep all night without rushing to the bathroom — sometimes.  I still feel the pull of the local concerts.

But I’m also at the point where I can *almost* yell at kids to get off my lawn in a very cliché sense.  I twisted my ankle three weeks ago and it still hurts.  My goatee is now half grey.  (Really, the right side is white-ish.  Looks creepy.)  I measure my energy as a function of my ability to yell at/play with my kids.

To steal a line from the great Stephen Wright:  How old do you have to be before you can die of old age?

My computer is placed in my office at home so that I can see out the window into the front yard.  I have lots of trees around, in particular several black walnut trees.  I’m not really fond of black walnuts, but my father is.  So, I’m going to redirect some of my kid-yelling energy toward cracking a bunch of these iron-clad walnuts over the next couple of months.  Right now I can see my three older boys walking around one of the larger tress, throwing the softball-sized nuts into a 7-gallon bucket.  They don’t have to pick those up, but they’re doing it because it’s something they can all do together, even though their ages are so different.  Their energy seems endless.

Miles played his best game of soccer ever last night.  Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.  I missed it because I had a thing at school.  I hate missing things like that.  More now than I used to.  I guess that’s something that’s changed in the last year.  I feel the urge to spend time with my boys more.  I think about how things will change the moment they turn 13.  And how much it’ll really change when they hit 16.

They’re gonna have a tough time moving that bucket when it gets full.  Think I’ll go outside and help…

Something you’ve never seen

22 10 2008

I love, and I mean LOVE, all the coolness coming from MESSENGER.  I was alive when the Voyagers first visited Jupiter, but I was only 8.  I have a strong memory of seeing the images in National Geographic and hearing about the missions from Carl Sagan on Cosmos, yet I didn’t grasp the uniqueness of the moment.  We’ve explored a couple of those outer bodies in great detail since that time, but you can only first explore an area once.  And now those places can only be re-visited.

I love the flybys of Mercury.  Up until MESSENGER this was the best picture we had:

I’ve been looking hard at that picture ever since I can remember.  It was taken by the Mariner 10 way back in 1974.  When I entered the planetarium field and started producing public shows, there were several processed mosaic images available for me to use.  The best recognized one even shows quite a bit of one side of the planet.  But I always liked this one best.  It shows well the technological limits of the time and the sparse detail we knew of that distant orb.

MESSENGER passed by Mercury a couple of weeks ago.  This is what it saw:

Click to embiggen.

click for original link

We have now mapped 95% of the surface of Mercury, and the views the probe got from this latest flyby have been spectacular!  You should cruise around the official website for a while and feel the awe of seeing something few people have ever seen.  I promise it’ll give you a taste of exploring an alien world, where imagination is as important as collecting data.  Plus, those images will just knock your socks off!

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Quizzes o’ fun

15 10 2008

A quiz for know-it-alls – 6 out of 10

Before the CW – 10 out of 17

The SNL Political Quiz – 6 out of 11 (this one makes me the saddest)

State License Plates – 10 out of 15

Eyeball – 2.96  (woot!)

It’s Death Defying

14 10 2008

This made me chuckle.

And… are you a stylin’ college student who thinks the best clothes come from Goodwill?  All geeked out with your l33t speak and eco-friendly ways (i.e. no car but a pocket rocket of much envy)?  Does your significant other agree that when you run out of milk, Cheerios and Kool-Aid make a pretty good combination? Well, my friend, you aren’t nearly geek enough.  If you were truly a hard-core geek you’d have one of these permanently etched on your body!


Well, this one goes to 11

12 10 2008

So this post is all about old recordings of live concerts — for free!

You all know Midnight Oil is my all-time favorite band.  Hands down.  Their separation is 2003 killed me.  I got to see one of their final concerts.  With the demise of the band we get a bit of a win-fall.  Bootlegs!  Not illegal copies of studio releases; recordings of concerts.  They are usually considered illegal for trading, but last week one of the members of the Powderworks group (the unofficial fan base for the band) contacted the old MO office and got permission from their manager, Gary Morris, for us to trade concert recordings.  Yay!!!  He said that as long as it stayed within our group it was okay.  And no money is to ever change hands.  That’s what’s so cool about them.  They know that our little group stood by them through every endeavor, and that our love for their music and philosophies goes beyond simple collecting.  I personally own about 15-20 concerts on cassette tape and digital formats, but there are some who have way over 100.  Already the trading has begun on the list.  We’ll see if any of the gems I’m interested in gets offered.  :o)

Also this week, I’ve discovered a website called Wolfgang’s Vault.  They have a ton of recorded concerts from last month all the way back to the 60s — all for your free listening pleasure!  You do have to sign up, but I haven’t received any spam from them yet.  They’re adding new shows every week, so hopefully some of the other obscure bands I listen to will get a bump.  If you go over there, make sure you check out this concert by U2 at Boston’s Orpheum in 1983.  The performance of October is haunting.  [wow.  I just realized how bad of a pun that was.  REALLY not intentional!]

Lastly, since I can’t seem to find any concert footage of the late, great FSF, I’m embedding this video from youtube.  So here it is, The Sound by Further Seems Forever.

This isn’t exactly a live show, but I remember the call for audience members when the video for The Sound was shot.  Back then Jason Gleason was the vocalist.  He took the place of Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional fame.   But where Jason went, nobody knows.  Not even the band.  Seriously.  One day he didn’t show up for practice.  The band tried calling to make sure he was okay.  Then they went to his apartment — nobody there.  After a couple of weeks MIA his manager calls up and tells them to stop looking for him and to sever all ties.  So odd.  IMO he had the best voice of any rock artist at the time.  I know I would drive a 1000 miles just to hear him belt out Pagan Poetry again!  Of course, I’d also drive a 1000 miles to watch a reunion show of original members Chad, Steve, Nick, and Josh.  I played this great game with them over pizza one night called “Kill Yourself”.  Maybe I’ll tell you about it someday…

Physics Questions

11 10 2008

Speaking of questions…

While looking up science-y stuff I stumbled across this cool page.  The page itself looks pretty lame, but don’t judge it by its clipart graphics.  Maintained by the Physics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, this page offers web-surfers some of the greatest physics questions asked of undergrads in multiple choice form!

Look hard and you might find one with a monkey.  And yes, they actually shoot it!

I feel happy all over just writing that!

[You know what I just noticed?  After propping their site I read the question regarding Olbers’ Paradox and their response.  It’s wrong!  They list several reasons that were proposed at some point, each with some real merit.  The one they claim is correct doesn’t hold water.  I’m going to write them tonight and see if they’ll make a correction.]

I know why it’s dark at night. Do you?

11 10 2008

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of the greatest of paradox proposers, Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers.  Olbers did a number of things in his life to advance the study of astronomy, but what he is most famous for is the question that bears his name:

If the universe is infinite and stars are distributed evenly throughout, then why isn’t the sky infinitely bright?

Think of it this way, if you were standing in a large forest you wouldn’t be able to see your way out of it.  Near you there wouldn’t be many trees and you could see past them.  Farther away the trees would appear smaller yet more numerous.  This balances out and explains why you can’t look in any horizontal direction and not see a tree.  Now imagine those trees as stars.

This question may not be as well known today, but 100 years ago this was the BIG question.  Last century people wondered about the nature of light, whether matter was continuous or quantized, and what was the source of gravity.  Today we have big questions like “Did we accelerate global warming?”, “What is dark matter?”, and “Do gravitons create the gravitational force?” (I guess gravity may baffle us for centuries to come).  But in social circles people talked about Olbers’ Paradox to stretch their imaginations and to show off for the ladies!  Just like today — the ladies love a man who can discuss the implications of the discovery of the Higgs particle on multi-dimensional physics.  Ummm Hmmmm!

Olbers’ Paradox was originally proposed by my hero, Johannes Kepler, 200 years before Olbers described the argument in 1823.  This argument arises from the idea that the universe is steady-state, meaning that it has always looked like it does today and always will.  Einstein held this belief so strongly that he refused to accept the Big Bang Theory, even though his own equations pointed to that reality.

Here’s the idea in a nutshell.  There were a few generally accepted beliefs among scientists and the majority of the educated population.

1.  The universe is steady-state

2.  Stars are evenly distributed throughout

3.  The universe is infinitely big

If all three of these is true then there would be no line of sight that would not end in a star.  If everywhere you looked there was light coming toward you, then the sky would be infinitely bright.  The only way you would know where the sun was would be to look for the slightly darker area of the sky.  A seemingly ridiculous hypothesis, yet completely logical.

This means, of course, that one of the accepted beliefs was most likely wrong.  Or two.  Or all.  But what is the truth?  There were many ideas — good ideas — suggested by some very smart people to explain our reality.  But many fell victim to Occam’s Razor; they were just too convoluted to be viable.

Strange as it may sound, the first person to publish a correct solution was Edgar Allen Poe.

“Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us a uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy –since there could be absolutely no point, in all that background, at which would not exist a star. The only mode, therefore, in which, under such a state of affairs, we could comprehend the voids which our telescopes find in innumerable directions, would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all.”  —Eureka: A Prose Poem

What he proposes here (if you can read through all his commas!  Sheesh!  He writes run-on sentences like I write sentence fragments.  –you do read my blog, right?) is that light has a speed limit and the universe is not infinitely old, thus this infinite amount of star light hasn’t reached the Earth yet.  He did not contradict any of the three suppositions, yet his idea of the universe having a beginning gives us a good starting point for the explanation.  He wrote this in 1848, 80 years before Hubble would show conclusive evidence for a beginning to everything.  Odd thing is, no one paid attention to Poe just like no one paid attention to Hubble at first because folks were so convinced that the universe had always been here.

So that’s only part of the explanation.  The rest of the story is that the universe is expanding.  In a not-so-readily-apparent sense, because the universe was smaller in the past it was also brighter.  As the expanding space-time continuum spreads things out, the overall energy density decreases.  (Wow!  That sentence made me feel smart!)  There is a ‘horizon’ to the universe — a boundary which we cannot see beyond.  The expansion is faster than light, which means anything beyond that boundary will never be visible to us because the light from those objects can’t outrun the space-time expansion.  Thereby preventing us from ever knowing how far the universe actually extends.  And keeping the visible universe of limited size.

Also, because of the expansion the stars aren’t uniformly spaced.  They occur in clumps.  These clumps were hypothesized way back in the 1700s by philosophers, but not confirmed by astronomers until the 1920s!  The clumps were given the name galaxies after the Greek word for milk.  Yeah, makes total sense to me too.  Still a cool word, though.

And there you have it! All three postulates failed and the paradox is now moot.  The scientists who proposed the problem knew that something was wrong with popular opinion, they just weren’t sure where the answer lied.  It took a lot of looking, a lot of thinking, and a lot of technological advances to put the pieces together, but today we have a pretty clear view of our place in the universe.

So, Happy Birthday, Heinrich!  Of all the science you brought us, you showed that sometimes it’s more important to ask the right questions.

[BTW, while double-checking all my facts on the intertubes I found countless articles that were just plain wrong or else written so poorly that I could barely read them.  Honestly, I’m going to have to side with Wil Wheaton on this and say that these days the ability to spell is a superpower.  And do they just let any idiot with a library card have a blog?  <checks library card>  Oh, yeah… guess they do.]