How to remember the Zodiac!

7 11 2010

So I asked the greater planetarium community last week for whatever mnemonics they use to remember the order of the Zodiacal constellations.  As a reminder, the constellations are:

Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces

It’s a lot of words.  Any mnemonic would be really long as well.  Memorizing that mnemonic would probably take more effort than just memorizing the list.  Still, I was optimistic.

However, what I got back from them wasn’t exactly memorable.

Now given, what responses I got were well thought out and creative, no doubt.  They just weren’t really — memorable.  For instance, I received one response that read, “A Tense Grey Cat Lay Very Low, Sneaking Slowly, Contemplating a Pounce.”

That one would be the easiest to remember by far!  The problem is in the flow of the thing.  Remember the one about the planets?  “My very eager mother just served us nine pizzas.”  See how the rhythm makes all the difference?

So I took myself to task to create a mnemonic device on my own!  Turns out that’s a lot harder than it sounds.  I spent a good part of my weekend staring at my keyboard and perusing a thesaurus.  In the end, none of the ones I came up with flowed at all.  None.  I’m a failure at writing catchy mnemonics it seems.

But…  (hehe)  after much frustration I *did* happen to make a few slightly more memorable!  Here’s what I came up with:

Around Thanksgiving, grandpas condone letting vivacious little spry sprouts carve a pumpkin.

Active tectonic gyrations could launch volcanic lava skyward, surely causing a panic.

Any time granny covets Leo’s vegan lunch, she should cut a pizza.

Antsy tribbles give captains love.  Valued lush Scottie shouts, “Cut all power!”

As trusty gopher Chekov locates vessels, logical Spock studies cute aquarium personnel.

Anakin truly gone, corrupt Lord Vader labeled Solo-shaped carbonite, “Airmail Parcel.”

After Tatooine, grouchy Chewbacca luckily veered left steering safely clear around Porkins.

Acid trips give class lectures vivid life something something …cool astral plane!

Obviously, I should’ve spent more time getting actual work done.  But what I ended with is one that I really might try to memorize for personal use.  It seems the most …relevant.

“A time gone, cowboys loved viewing little stars, so cold and pretty.”

Umm, now that I think about it, I think I’ll go for the “Leo the vegan” one instead.


Update:  It’s been many years since I wrote this, and I have to say that last one has stuck with me!  Thank you to the folks who have added their own.  The key to making astronomy accessible to the public is to make it easy to remember what the sky looks like from night to night.  Clear skies!


Allegory of The Cave (Reflections on Science Education)

25 10 2010

Socrates: To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
Glaucon: That is certain.

There is a wonderful tale written by Plato called “The Allegory of the Cave”. To summarize the story, a man makes a discovery and wishes to tell everyone he knows. But his description goes against the beliefs of those around him and he feels his knowledge separates him from them. Eventually, he realizes that the only way for them to understand him is for them to find the truth themselves.

The crux of the story is that our characters in need of truth have always been prisoners in a cave where they have had very little light.  In order to find the truth, they must exit the cave.  Shady descriptions of the outside world will not do.  But with a bright sun, this will be quite painful …so they wait until night.  The dimmest of light, the stars, then becomes the first thing they gain knowledge to.  As their eyes acclimate to their new environment, many things — things whose existence had been mere suggestion — become very real to them.  After a time their eyes can handle brighter lights and they can see many more things.  And finally, after much patience and some discomfort, they can view their world in full sunlight.

The rest of the story is rather convoluted and a bit of a strain to swallow, but what Plato was trying to do was set up an allegory for how discovery works.

It’s been 20 years since I first read The Allegory of the Cave from Plato’s The Republic.  I read it while in Governor’s School, where we then had a lively discussion about whether it was possible to fully explain a new discovery to someone without any direct proof.  Could they be persuaded that you weren’t misleading them?  Could they believe in something that went against their everyday perception if you drew out your argument logically and without flaw, though you had not a shred of tangible evidence to support you?  In the end, the man who left the cave and made a discovery viewed the others as being ignorant, but conversely (and here’s the real kicker!) the ones left behind who did not see the truth viewed the one with knowledge as being ridiculous.

I spoke with a preacher friend of mine this past week, who also happens to be a science teacher.  While debating the efficacy of hands-on versus verbal strategies, he said something quite profound.  He said, “Our perceptions become our reality.”

That’s really deep.  I’ve been thinking about all the topics it could be applied to — science, politics, religion, those crazy Tea Party-ers, and of course our self-perceptions.  It’s something so universally true.  Wish I had thought it up.  (I realize he surely didn’t think it up first; but like when Einstein published E = mc² and said that it’s simplicity revealed it’s truth, it’s one of those things that just sounds profoundly awesome because of it’s simplicity.)

[Tons more after the jump] Read the rest of this entry »

Life Without TV

7 10 2010

As sort of an experiment, Geneva and I decided to shut off our satellite TV service last month.  A lot of people I know don’t watch much TV and we figured we might try spending our quiet hours doing more reading and getting house-work done.  Also, with this current economy I can’t quite justify the cost of the hefty DirecTV bill.  Those guys are determined to raise rates as often as our power company does!

So how’s it going, you ask?  Well, the toughest part is losing the morning news.  I know that our local stations broadcast for free —  in Hi-Def even(!) — but if you don’t know, I live in the sticks.  So far out live I that signals from the big city are more ‘suggestions’ rather than actual transmissions.  And in this digital age that amounts to pretty much a black screen.  But back to the stuff I miss…  the morning news.  I’ve grown accustomed to finding out what new thing I’m supposed to be fired up about each morning before heading off to work, and now that I don’t have that I feel, I dunno, not very fired up.  I’m sort of a news junkie so getting my morning fix has become — almost necessary.  And yeah, of course the internets could keep me in the know, but i can’t browse whilst putting on my socks.  I need that passive information feed.  Well, I guess I’ll just have to rely on NPR during the drive in to fill that hole.  But they need to learn to talk faster!  Headline news can feed me three news stories every minute.  Ya gotta keep Broca’s brain contextually stimulated.

For my other programming I’ve been taking a page from Wil Wheaton and hitting Hulu and various other video-specific websites.  And through the power of the occasional torrent, I’m able to watch most of the TV that I normally would have suffered through the ads to enjoy — like Rules of Engagement, the Venture Bros., and House.  I also can catch The Daily Show through their own website, which is nice because then I can easily catch all the parts of the interviews they edit out for the TV time-slot.  [But why must they show me the exact same very annoying commercial during every single break?  Can’t the AXE people just make a couple of extra commercials just to make me not spaz every time I see their product in the future?  morons.]

And so the experiment continues.  The boys haven’t complained about missing their daily dose of iCarly, but with school and soccer their schedules are so packed right now they wouldn’t have a 30-min. break in the day anyhow.  And I’m catching up on a couple of books I’m been limping through and working my way through the back-log of movies I’ve been ‘intending to get to’ for far too long.  (Sherlock Holmes is *still* sitting on my DVD player — unwatched!)

For someone who prides himself on  perpetually integrating current pop culture into his vernacular seamlessly (“Twitcher lets you send and receive short messages called ‘twits’. [ding] Why, here’s a twit now!), I’m gonna find it hard to keep up.  And as I’ve learned in the past, it’s not always a sure thing that an internet meme is recognizable by anyone other than those it was intended for.  …or the other 99.99% of the local population.  meh.  Honestly, if I wore a T-shirt with “The cake is a liar.” printed on it, will it actually make me seem any cooler to the general public?  I think not.

So for anyone keeping score:  Having time to do some things that needed doing, 1.  Keeping in touch with the things that keep me sane and make me cool, zero.

Oh, well.  At least I’ll have another $75 in my pocket at the end of the month.


Melt Right In

25 09 2010

When I was growing up, I watched a ton of Saturday morning cartoons.  Like most people my age, I loved School House Rock.  I would watch the cartoons on ABC more than the other three channels we got because it carried the 5-min. lessons told in song between episodes.

Now that I have kids, SHR doesn’t play anymore.  So I had to buy them on DVD.  And, naturally, my kids love them.  They have their favorites and they like to sing along.  In fact, I caught them this evening watching and singing along to the America Rock episodes.

If you ask anyone to name their favorite, they’ll usually name off I’m Just A Bill or Conjunction Junction.  Those tunes were awful catchy, but my favorite was American Melting Pot.  This was reinforced a few years back when I caught a stage production of SHR for elementary students.  The performers on stage were incredibly talented and truly deserved to go on to bigger and better things.  Of the songs chosen for the hour-long show, I was really happy to see they included American Melting Pot.  The woman who sang it had a gorgeous voice and really brought out the depth and beauty of the song — both musically and lyrically.  Here’s the original version in youtube form:

If you click on the video and actually go to youtube, you can find the full lyrics. There’s a wonderful line right in the first verse that goes:

They’d heard about a country
Where life might let them win,
They paid the fare to America
And there they melted in.

Yesterday, Stephen Colbert testified before the House Immigration Committee in support of the legalization of undocumented agriculture workers.  As you can imagine, his presence caused quite a ruckus within the members of the committee, and Rep. John Conyers even asked him to leave!  (The chair, Zoe Lofgren, asked him to stay, so he got to speak.)  But what many of the democrats who support the bill didn’t seem to understand, Colbert’s presence was tweeted and publicized all over the internet and drew much attention to what is (or is not) being done about this problem right now.  Here’s his say:

As you can tell, he stayed in character for most of the time and tried to add levity to the hearing.  His words *should* have given the lawmakers pause to consider the human factor in all this, but I’m not sure what would help there.

This is a tough topic with no easy answers, at least I don’t have an answer.  I do, however, always take a stance on treating people with respect.  And Colbert ended his time by saying exactly what I feel:  “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers … these seem like the least of our brothers.”  For this important moment, he completely breaks out of character and ensures the committee that he means what he says.  He ends by saying, “Migrant workers suffer …and have no rights.”  Here’s his last words captured on video, so you can see what Stephen Colbert looks like in those rare moments when he’s being serious.

Again, I don’t know what the answer here is.  But somehow this just feels connected to the Health Care issue, the fear of persons of non-Christian faiths, and the revocation of welfare assistance during these tough economic times.  At some point, we should treat people equally and with respect.  As in my last post, we have to be courageous when we see people not being given the freedoms that we all want to enjoy.

What happens to the least of us, reflects upon us all.  It’s a melting pot.

1000 words? More like no words.

8 09 2010

So I don’t make a lot of public comments on politics or international relations, but I found this picture recently and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  I want you to stare at it until you realize what it is.

I don’t know how old it is or where it came from, so I can’t at this point give proper credit to the owner.  I just hope I’m cool in posting it.  In the meantime I’d like to say a few words about how it makes me feel.

I think the men and women who are over there, fighting an enemy they can’t clearly define, in a land that’s covered in blood, hoping against hope that it helps someone gain a better future, are the most courageous and sacrificing among us.  The rest of us cannot know what a day looks like through their eyes, but we would all do good to strive to stand that tall in the face of fear.  Do they act with honor?  I don’t have the right to judge.  Psshhtt!  I don’t even have the right to wipe the dust from their boots.

I won’t discuss my feelings toward the war in this way.  But I will say that that picture leaves me speechless.  I have never once worried that someone would use an IED against me to make a political statement.  I have never worried that my religion would cause someone else to wish me harm.  When Americans say they are free, they mean that they feel free to live their lives without fear.  I would hope that others in this country would extend those same freedoms upon each other.   It is our highest law that everyone’s freedom of religion, of speech, and of assembly is to be protected.  Is that what we’re doing, or are we making some people here not feel very free?  [okay, I don’t want to get too political, so I’ll quit here.  Be good to each other, especially if the other is different from you, okay?]

The soldier in that picture is the definition of bravery.  And he has something to really fear.  May we all be brave when we have to stand for the freedoms of those around us.  Our country was founded on it.

The best of the Perseids

6 09 2010

I’ve seen a lot of pictures of meteor showers over the years, but this guy has some real winners.  Like this one…

His name is Pierre Martin, and I’ve been following his ubiquitous meteor observing reports for years.  …including *this* year in which I saw way fewer Persieds than normal while he saw >100/hr at one point.  Quite an amazing guy in my book.  Of course, he IS from Canada, so we’ll have to take into account the conversion rate.  Click the picture to check out the rest of his flickr photoblog.  [you want to do this!]

Best. Cake. Ever.

2 09 2010

A pic of Jeremy’s wedding cake wound up on!  Since it was submitted by “JT”, we’re all suspecting it was Jenny who did it.