Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fun With Sodium

Interzone denizen Art just sent me some links, two of which were astronomical bits I had already seen, one of which I had set aside to research a little more and post on later (teaser: boooooats... innnnn.... spaaaaace!). The third, however, is new to me, and a lot of fun.

Sodium (Na) reacts very exothermically with water (H2O) in the following reaction:
2Na+2H20—> 2NaOH+H2. In the typical classroom demo, very small amounts of sodium are used, and the temperature doesn't get high enough to ignite the hydrogen. (Sometimes it does, and little "pops" can be heard as the hydrogen reacts with atmospheric oxygen, exploding into more water; for this reason, the beaker in which the demo is being done should be covered to prevent splashing the molten sodium.) In this vidclip, though... well, the hydrogen is pretty clearly reacting too.

The environmentalist in me is sort of horrified, but the kid and scientist is delighted.

Chemistry is a blast. Sometimes literally.

Followup: if you are a teacher and do this as a demo, mix in a drop or two of phenolphthalein to the water before you drop in the Na; the presence of NaOH will be shown by the purple trail under the piece of Na as it reacts. If you're not a teacher, scientist or technically trained to work with it, you will find metallic sodium difficult to obtain, and you really shouldn't try... it will react with any water at all, notably in your skin, to form NaOH- the active ingredient in drain cleaners. Also known as lye, NaOH is very, very good at breaking down organic material. Notably skin and flesh. If you don't know what you're doing, don't mess with it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

We've Agreed to Agree About Something Sometime

And that's "meaningful."

I suppose it's better than simply disagreeing.

We're talking about climate. You know what agriculture is completely dependent on? Having a pretty good working knowledge of what the climate is going to be. Yes, there will be crop failures regionally from time to time as the weather varies, but in aggregate, we have been able to count on plentiful food production because we have learned what the climates are from place to place. If we don't know what the climate is going to be like (and we don't), we can't grow food. It really is that simple.

I suppose when we start having perennial and widespread crop failures, and even the US starts to look like Biafra, the conservatives can take comfort in the fact that this really is all a big hoax to make the whole world over in a Marxist-Leninist revolution.

Merry Christmas, assholes.

Or Are They Bajadas?

In my continuing effort to ignore the ongoing demise of the human race (shorter news: you and your posterity are soooooo screwed), here's a very cool satellite image of alluvial fans:(Click for macrification) Below is a similar example, here on earth. Yeah, the one above is on Mars. If you look carefully, you can find quite a number of impact craters on the image- for example, there are four near the top middle.(The above is also macrifiable if you know the trick.) Anyone recognize the location of the earthly image? Bajadas (Spanish 'j,' pronounced "buh-hah'-duh") are a series of alluvial fans coalescing to form a broad wedge or ramp, so in both images, it's not inaccurate to call the landforms alluvial fans, but it would probably be more accurate to describe them as bajadas.

What Planet Are You From, Anyway?

I'm from Endor... I don't know why I didn't guess that without even checking. What Star Wars planet are you from?Quick check with "90210," you can also just enter your zip code.But it doesn't seem to work with Canadian Postal Codes. How terribly... provincial. On the funny side, when it doesn't recognize a location specification, it says this:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

27 Billion Light Years in 6 minutes

(Via The Daily What) Another one of those great zoom-out, zoom-in clips, but carefully mapped rather than impressionistic... an interesting way to represent, not so much all the astronomical data, but the extent and limits of that data.

We can quantify the universe we live in... I deal with exponentials nearly as easily as fish deal with water... but we can't comprehend it. Our minds are much too limited.


Jerk. Putz. Douchebag. I'll quit there; I prefer to keep profanities off my blog unless I really want emphasis... and Lieberpoppet and the insurance companies with their hands up his posterior aren't worth it.

A Black Mark on Someone's Record

Michael Tomasky:
A certain former vice-presidential candidate wearing a visor featuring the name of a certain former presidential candidate (i.e., the one with whom she ran). And the presidential candidate's name is blacked out with magic marker.
Photogallery here, but the above right is the best. Actually, the best part is the title of Tomasky's piece: "Let's Change the Subject."

Hyaloclastite Filmed

It's an AP story, so I'm not real clear on what I can say; AP has a notorious reputation for protecting its copyrights. But the photo is tres cool. "Hyaloclastite" is a term for a subaqueous glassy basaltic breccia. It's not that uncommon in areas with pillow basalt, and there are some nice outcrops not too far from my favorite coffee shop. It's sort of awesome to see the image, even if it's pretty much exactly what I expected it to look like. Article here, which describes the precise composition as "boninite," a rock name I hadn't heard of before.

I guess I'll call this a Thursday edition of my "Friday Fragments" series, one that I've been woefully neglecting...

Followup, 6:18 pm: Oh, Tres kewl fer realz! BBC has video!

Before and After

Via BuzzFeed, before:
5 hours later:
Either my outrageometer is broken, or this doesn't register. I saw this last night and scrolled by without much thought. Meh. But apparently it's caused quite a stir in the land a bit over from the land down under.

Can't help it... "Come, they told me, pah-rumpa-pum-pum..."


The World We Have, Not the One We Want

The BBC headline 'Should homosexuals face execution?' may be insensitive, but it has drawn attention to anti-gay legislation

The headline on the BBC website "Should homosexuals face execution?" provoked predictable outrage. Predictable but, in my view, misdirected.

The anger of those who demanded (successfully) that it be changed was understandable, although as a gay man I was no more offended than if it had read "Did the Jews deserve the Holocaust?" or "Is the US right to execute more blacks than whites?" In each case the question is so outrageous that it doesn't deserve to be dignified with an answer. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be asked.
Lance Price of The Guardian nails it. (The backstory is here, if you want more details.) We have embraced the "shoot the messenger" mindset. The BBC is asking whether we can realistically tolerate Uganda's proposed death penalty for homosexuality or for having AIDS. Predictably, but sadly, that organization has backpedaled and apologized, and as best as I can tell, removed the offending article and poll.
The original headline on our website was, in hindsight, too stark. We apologise for any offence it caused. But it's important that this does not detract from what is a crucial debate for Africans and the international community.

The programme was a legitimate and responsible attempt to support a challenging discussion about proposed legislation that advocates the death penalty for those who undertake certain homosexual activities in Uganda - an important issue where the BBC can provide a platform for debate that otherwise would not exist across the continent and beyond.
Would it be reasonable for me to be offended by a horrifying story of a murder? Perhaps if it was written to highlight grisly details, but it's a story, and if it's in my town, I ought to know about it. The act is what I should be offended by, not the story.

My position for my adult life is and has been this: "News is not what I want to know, it's what I need to know." The point being that there's an awful lot of stuff I'd rather wasn't true. But it is. And I'm not going to be a very good decision-maker if I willfully ignore simple facts because I simply don't like them.

The attitude displayed here is what has allowed Faux News to become such a powerful media voice: they tell their audience what the audience wants to know, not what they need to know. To the extent Faux broaches topics that are unsavory, they pretty much set the topics up as straw men, and proceed to handily demolish them. So all the innocent little children in TV land can nod off with visions of their sugarplum Jayzus dancing in their heads.

The closing paragraph of the op-ed quoted at the outset is perfect:
The headline may have been insensitive. The journalist who wrote it probably wishes she or he never had. It made a lot of people very angry. That matters not a jot so long as they come to recognise where that anger should really be directed.
It saddens me more deeply than I can express that "The journalist who wrote it probably wishes she or he never had." It does not bode well for a society when its productive members regret doing the job they're supposed to do.

Fish Hunting

Nicely played.

I expected this to be just another "crazy people jumping into ice water," which is not new or even unusual. Canadians aren't crazy, they've just got a wicked sense of humor.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dysfunctional Zappadan December 16

"A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it's not open."
From here.

Dialogue NSFW.

I'm still feeling pretty pissy over the non-stop nasty news week, so in lieu of a long, rambling post consisting of only expletives, an extraordinarily crude "play" followed by a song made of saccharine as they could only do it in the 60's.

Nixon Steeles Away

Blue Gal has issued what appears to be a new Photoshop challenge: steal Steele from the RNC interns photogallery (that is the difficult and painful part), and put him into a historical context. She suggests the 60's, and maybe I'll do another. But this picture dates from '74, I think, and represents my wishes for Steele and his party.

My Brain Hurts

How many people have been photographed in this picture (click for full size)? By my count, one. Either this guy is a genius and a Photoshop wizard, or he has invented a time machine. I'm not sure which is more likely... I'm having a difficult time figuring out the logistics of putting this together. From imgur, via BuzzFeed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Silvio, Silvio

Now anybody who's been paying attention knows that Chuck is more likely to do this to Barack than at Barack's request. Still, pretty funny.

People are pissed, and this doesn't surprise me in the least. In fact, what surprises me is that incidents of this sort don't happen more often. It was pointed out recently that the kind of festering anger that can cause these sorts of crimes is present across the political spectrum. The difference lies in what we believe causes the angering situation(s), and what should be done about it.

And honestly, while I cannot condone beaning Berlesconi, or any target of anger for that matter, I can't really say I'm sympathetic, either.

Loving Zappadan

Who Needs the Peace Corps?:

Many people have assumed that Zappa was a heavy drug user, given how "different" his music was (whatever that means), and lyrics such as those in this song. I assume most of his fans know that in fact, he had no use for drugs at all (quote found here- a fun compilation, and recommended).
"A drug is not bad. A drug is a chemical compound. The problem comes in when people who take drugs treat them like a license to behave like an asshole."

* Real Frank Zappa Book (1990) by Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso
As Darkblack commented on yesterday's Zappadan post, "Remarkable how this and Valley Girl were such big hits... Jazz might not be dead, but Irony may be in need of the crash cart stat."

No doubt. This was a popular song during the 70's, as people a few years older than me wistfully looked back at the 60's, when they were too young to participate in the events of the time. They never seemed to get that Zappa was mocking the hippies mercilessly.


I am extremely frustrated by news on many fronts, from Leiberman and health, to Copenhagen and "climategate," to (as one blogger phrased it yesterday) "Well, that's all very interesting, says the American press, but a famous black man has slept with blondes." I'm still slogging through my news feeds, but it's becoming oppressive... and I really can't say anything beyond "AAAARRRRRGH!" Which isn't very productive, so I'll just say it that once, rather than the 30 or 40 times a day I feel like saying it.

Then there's The Onion... I wish the writers there were as prolific as all the other news sources I inflict on myself, but I'll settle for their quality.
According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.

"I do not understand," reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. "A booming voice is saying, 'Let there be light,' but there is already light. It is saying, 'Let the earth bring forth grass,' but I am already standing on grass."

"Everything is here already," the pictograph continues. "We do not need more stars."
Yes, please, more like this.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Solemn Zappadan

Dancin' Fool:

Dunno if this one has been rolled into the festival yet... I hated disco (still do), and always enjoyed this satire of the culture and its music.

Pretty Proplyds

Hubble/ESA's European Home page has released a stunning set of images of proplyds in the Orion Nebula...And the "map" below shows the location of some of the objects. Both will get much bigger if clicked.
"Proplyd" is a contraction of the phrase "protoplanetary disk;" I put up a post on the idea about a year and a half ago. Not only are they gorgeous, they're at the intersection of geology and astronomy... each one of the images in the mosaic above represents a new solar system. We don't know enough yet to say what kind of planets might be in each, and as far as I know, we can't even say for certain that each one will even have planets. Still, it's kind of humbling and awe inspiring to look in one tiny little bit of our neighborhood and find not one but 30 stellar nurseries.

Much larger versions of each of the proplyds can be found on the right margin of the NASA/ESA page.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

(Not So) Silent Zappadan: December 13

Muffin Man:

Zappa as Power Rocker... there was nothing he couldn't do.

Nothing Personal, It's Just a Business Decision

This matter of corporate personhood is deeply offensive to me. They're not people, and a lot of them are monsters. The title line could be a reference to mass firings, an industrial disaster, avoidance of and lobbying against regulations, or any number of other issues. In this particular case, it's a reference to a juvenile detention center— privately owned, of course— that refused to allow two Reverends, one of whom was dressed as Santa Clause, to deliver presents to 35 detained children.

Yeah, it's Great Britain, but the corporate sense of, and respect for, humanity transcends national boundaries.

Sunday Funnies

In case you hadn't figured it out, you're at Sunday Funnies.Blackadder
Via BoingBoing
Blackadder. Remember the old short clip, Bambi vs. Godzilla? In the new version, the deer wins:

see more dog and puppy pictures

From The Guardian, a series called "All The President's Emails." At the link, three other emails to John McCain, Gordon Brown, and Michelle. More in the series here.

To: Robert Gibbs
Subject: Re: Six more major news orgs want your opinion on Tiger Woods

But I don't HAVE an opinion on Tiger Woods. It's tiresome how this happens every time a Famous Black Person does something newsworthy — Kanye West, Michael Jackson, on and on. Can we just set up a Microsoft Word template: "The president condemns bad things, strongly supports good things, now let's focus on the future, God Bless America." Something like that. Barack

STFU, Parents
With enough hydrogenated vegetable oil and HFCS, we will eat anything. Criggo
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Don't Judge My Hair- with a funny comment:
Wasn’t How the Grinch Stole Christmas made for children? Because I certainly don’t remember the part when the Grinch stole Cindy Lou Who’s clothes.
Brown Sharpie
Welcome to to the USA. Skull Swap
Tree Lobsters
Saturday Bulletin
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
PartiallyClips Truth is funnier than fiction.
Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase your good deeds.

But one photo getting out of a limo without your underwear, well…
funny graphs and charts
see more Funny Graphs
Skull Swap. I gotta get me one of them gadgets.
Putting lipstick on a chihuahua is funnier than it sounds. Pets Who Want to Kill Themselves
TYWKIWDBI- Must. See. This. Movie.
max schreck
see more Lol Celebs
Comic JK
The Daily What
Non Sequitur
funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures
Skull Swap

Help is available. Electronic Cerebrectomy. Also too, from Bizarro Blog,

...and probably won't use them; socialism and all. Criggo
xkcd- Incidentally, this movie has actually been made; I thought it was pretty awful.
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails

"Rational arguments don't usually work on religious people. Otherwise, there wouldn't be religious people." Doris Egan, from Quotes of the Day.
Funny, but frighteningly accurate, from The Oatmeal.
T Mouse 1000, via Great White Snark
The Saturday Bulletin
You can't win. Shoebox.
Oddly Specific
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
Big Fat Whale, via Eric at Dynamic Earth.
ethan phillips
see more Lol Celebs
The atmosphere is condensing in Denver. Probably Bad News
Don't we all... The Daily What.
Click for bigger, from TYWKIWDBI, who also links to Snopes' debunking of the joke.
Natural Parenting... xkcd
teddy roosevelt
see more Political Pictures
Criggo celebrated animal day, above and below:

Picture is Unrelated
Skull Swap
funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures
The Daily What
Yay, Science! Skull Swap
engrish funny safety driver
see more Engrish
Wikipedia is having a fund-raiser... it was only a matter of time until some odd juxtaposition occurred. Probably Bad News
Cyanide and Happiness
From today's Sunday Sweets at Cake Wrecks: a gingerbread Tardis and K-9!
Millenium Falcon Bed. There must be a "Leia" joke in this somewhere, but I'm not going to think about it. The Daily What. Here's another shot from Skull Swap: