Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gitcher Hammer and Git

Interesting piece in the NYT today; apparently the US tradition of mineral rights (in most cases) being included with surface ownership is not the norm. This article highlights Ontario, Canada, where mineral rights are (in most cases) independent of surface rights. So a cabin owner goes to his cabin and discovers that a prospector has cut down a tree for stakes, dug a number of exploratory holes and driven heavy equipment all over the place. What is his recourse? Years in court with the outcome unclear.

In addition to a number of startling stories like this, there are moments of humor as well. For example, one landowner got a permit for a private shooting range, then put signs up all over the place that trespassers were in danger of being shot. Accidentally of course.

One family friend many years ago was considering playing this game from the opposite direction; he had a more or less unused woodlot across the road from his house, and had several times caught folks prospecting. He wanted to get an ounce or two of powdered gold and salt the ground with it- a waste of a few hundred dollars up front, but increasing the value of the land several fold to a prospector who took the assays at face value. Don't think he ever followed through, but I loved the idea.

Lava and Lightning

So what is with me and lightning and volcanoes? I can't explain it, I just think they're really pretty and pretty amazing. And like chocolate and peanut butter, I think they're two great tastes that taste great together. From today's Earth Science Picture of the Day. More info here; Full size here.
The friction of ash particles rubbing against each other in volcanic eruptions and explosions creates static electricty that discharges as lightning bolts. So the ash clouds over major eruptions frequently have spectacular electrical displays. There's another terrific picture of volcanic lightning in this post on Chaiten, plus a couple of links to large and other similar pics.

Don't be Distracted.

I don't think this could be stated more clearly or compellingly:
As ridiculous a choice as Palin is for national office, let's not lose
sight of the real scandal here -- John McCain has the judgment of a small child.
Tasked with the most important decision of his presidential campaign, McCain has
managed to demonstrate incompetence, cynicism, and recklessness, all at the same

"[W]e are reminded," Eugene Robinson writes today, "if we did not realize it before, that the three things not to expect from a McCain presidency are caution, prudence and a willingness to always put the nation's interests above his own."

Washington Monthly

Let me be clear: as much fun as I've had snarking on Palin, I would rather trust her with the presidency than McCain. I disagree with her fundamentalism, her social stances, I distrust her in terms of her honesty, I think her hypocrisy in "supporting" her daughter's "choice" in bringing the baby to term when Palin's position is that women shouldn't have a choice, is repugnant. But I think she's mostly sane. McCain has the temperament of a spoiled four-year-old. And that scares the living hell out of me.

Nested Klein Bottles

From Boing Boing, a beautiful picture of a really cool construct. (Larger pic at the Boing Boing link, more info on the piece here)A Klein Bottle is the equivalent of a Mobius strip, rasied another dimension. A Mobius strip is a two dimensional strip, wrapped into a cylinder, with a twist in the third dimension. So a Mobius strip thus has only one surface and one edge. A Klein bottle is a three dimensional tube, with the ends connected to make a torus (donut), with the mathematically plausible (but physically impossible) "twist" through the fourth dimension. For a "real" Klein bottle, the tubes' piercings of the surface would actually bypass from one side to the other in the fourth dimension, and would not pass through the wall. So A Klein Bottle has no inside or outside, and only one surface. This model would be the equivalent of a Mobius strip with three twists instead of one.

What the Goopers were up to Sunday:

Hookers and Blow! Really! Though it isn't really what sounds like, it isn't what what McCain made it sound lke either. I have to admit, sometimes I do miss out by not watching television.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


A number of interesting facts on McCain and Palin:
  • The number of homes owned by John McCain is larger than the number of months that have elapsed since he first met his new choice to be Vice President of the United States of America. (From The Jed Report- I'm not able to get a link to the post right now; I'll try again later)
  • When John McCain started his 2008 presidential campaign Sarah Palin was not yet governor of Alaska. (From Matthew Yglesias, here)
  • John McCain is 23 years older than the state of Alaska.(From Matthew Yglesias, here)
  • How many days per year is the Alaska State Legislature in session? 90 days. (From Matthew Yglesias, here)
  • My addition: The three points that have made the most traction for McCain are that Obama is 1) Young and inexperienced; 2) A pretty celebrity, and 3) unknowledgable about foreign affairs. He then makes his first important decision as a prospective president, and chooses as his potential replacement someone who is 1) younger and more inexperienced; 2) more of a pretty celebrity, and 3) less knowledgeable with respect to foreign affairs than Obama. He Shoots! He Scores! No points whatsoever!

Pretty Mercury

Nearly two months ago, I posted a piece on MESSENGER's imagery of Mercury. A couple of days later, I did a post on our current ideas about how the inner Solar System formed, and how recent telescope observations of other star systems have informed those hypotheses. I keep intending to get back to that thread, to make it clearer just how it is that a silica-rich Mercury is a confounding conclusion: not at all what we would have expected. On one hand, while it's frustrating when observations and results from the real world are not consistent with an otherwise coherent body of ideas, on the other hand, that conflict is the greatest kind of opportunity that scientists ever get: to rewrite a great deal of what we thought we knew.

One of the central ideas I always try to get across to people is that ALL science is, in principle, tentative. That is, scientists should not (and cannot honestly) claim absolute certainty. That is not to say that aren't some ideas so well tested that it's essentially meaningless to question them. The effects of gravity, the centrality of evolution to biology (to the point that some have suggested evolution is the central characteristic- the defining characteristic- of life), the periodic nature of elements, the central framework of plate tectonics, and others, are all so well established that only in an attempt to be contrary would any scientist question their validity. But in principle, any of these ideas could face a challenge from observed reality. Rather than representing a weakness, this principle of tentativeness is in fact science's greatest strength. It forces the discipline as a whole to be self-correcting. When a scientist finds evidence (observations) that are in conflict with what his or her peers believe to be true, that community must determine whether the purported evidence is accurate, and if it is, how to restructure the knowledge base to accommodate the new evidence. Many established scientists, whose careers have been based in the old knowledge structure, may feel threatened, and resist change and new ideas. Others may have felt nagging uncertainties for a long time, and burst forward with excitement and creativity.

But the important part is that science as a whole, and all of its disciplines and sub-disciplines, is frequently called upon to accommodate unforeseen results and observations. Yet at any given time (because of the self-correcting nature of the process), the best way to predict some particular outcome is to look at what science at the time would predict. This ultimately is the payoff of science: not that it is "true," or that it gives us insight into the nature of the universe, or that it elevates us flawed mortals to some superior plane: science does none of those things. What it does do is allow us to make ever more accurate predictions to questions like "What would happen if we did this?" and "What will we see if we look here?" Because of its pragmatic basis, science excels at answering pragmatic questions.

And one of the most exciting things that can happen is to answer a question incorrectly. That means we have a good chance to learn something new.

I sort of got off into a more philosophical post here than I had intended, but the relevant news is that the full sized image of Mercury is the Picture of the Day at the Red Orbit site. And I do find it pretty exciting. Also, wonderfully beautiful.

Yeah, that's another thing science is good at: finding stuff that is just stunningly, awesomely, mind-bogglingly, beautiful.

Conventional Reduction

GOP spokesman Rick Davis just had a press conference on CNN; they are abbreviating their convention. I can't find the article, but I had heard a rumor Friday from another coffee drinker that this was being discussed, and I quickly found a news article confirming it.

Basically, they will gavel the convention to order, and establish a quorum. Smirky and Snarly will not speak- That's being adressed right now on the tube: "The question was, would the president speaking be a positive or a negative. That question is no longer relevant."

How convenient.

I think this a lose/lose for the GOP. If they went on with the full schedule, they would be perceived as callous and uncaring; if they postponed or reduced the convention, the news would be all about the changes, which would simply draw attention to the Katrina disaster and the pathetic response and recovery. So now we know: they have chosen the second option. This will give McCain all the bounce of a lump of clay.