Saturday, February 6, 2010

Welcome to the World, Steggy!

Well, I'm nearly a day late, but I just found that Ben and Lydia are now parents!Welcome to the world, Ari "Steggy" Morin! ("Steggy" was a shortened version of "Stegosaurus Rex" used when B&L were having a difficult time settling on a name. I have a feeling it may stick on as a sort of unique nickname.) Below, from Halloween 2008, the proud parents. Any resemblance between Steggy and Squirrel is purely coincidental.

Literal "Billie Jean"

I really like these, and this is a good one.

I hadn't watched this earlier, but I should have included it with my Saturd80's post.


Robert Palmer, Cat Women Addicted to Love

Gang of Four, He'd Send in the Army

Laurie Anderson, Language is a Virus

is exactly like...
Where you are right now...
only much

Not Exactly NSFW

...but not exactly SFW, either. I guess I'd recommend ear phones if you're in a place where you might be self-conscious. Whatever, I got a few good guffaws out of this.

My Theory

All humans are 'aliens from outer space', scientist claims.

From The Telegraph, we are told, "Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe, of Cardiff University, said new research "overwhelmingly" supported the view that human life started from outside our Earth." The research and evidence are not presented. He simply asserts the same thing over and over. Bleah.
The professor and his late colleague Sir Fred Hoyle championed the so-called "panspermia" theory from the 1960s.

"Evidence from astronomy overwhelmingly supports the view that life did not start on Earth but was seeded from outside," Prof Wickramasinghe said.
So yeah, it's panspermia theory all over. Hoyle did some important work, but, how to put this kindly, became somewhat detached from reality later in his career. Furthermore panspermia implies that all life on earth- not just human life- is descended from a cosmic ancestor, which renders the idea of "alien" sort of moot. It does nothing to change our understanding of the evolution of life on earth. It says nothing about the origin of life in terms of mechanism or location... other than somehow the good professor has decided that some undisclosed evidence "overwhelmingly" shows that it wasn't on Earth. In short, it's a theory that predicts and explains nothing. As theories go, this one is sort of lacking in the utility department.

Sure, it's a cool idea, but science isn't (or shouldn't) be about simply coming up with cool ideas. Picture me dubious. It put in the mind of this classic clip...

And also this one, from TYWKIWDBI earlier this week. You'll need to pay close attention to understand how meaty this mini-lecture is.

The problem with the news media and "journalists" these days is that they seem to feel obligated to take everyone equally seriously, regardless of whether they're obviously clowns or not.

Big Hole

Via Talking Points Memo, a chart of job loss rates from December 2007 to January 2010. I think the emphasis on "Bush vs. Obama" is largely irrelevant. What really strikes me is the enormity of the hole that needs to be filled. And the lack of seriousness with which both sides seem to be approaching the issue.

Friday, February 5, 2010

We Are Spirits in a Virtual World

(Shannon Wheeler, the "Too Much Coffee Man")

Sort of a mind-boggling article here, which actually answers a question that came up in conversation a day or two ago. You may recall that Stephen Hawking famously acknowledged he had lost a bet on whether "information" in a black hole was lost forever. Black holes dissipate through time, and he believed that matter and its information would be destroyed in that process. That was in contradiction to established rules of information theory and entropy, which claimed information cannot be destroyed. But it turns out that quantum fluctuations in the black hole's event horizon encode that information, and is in principle retrievable. The surface area of the event horizon is proportional to the amount of information/mass contained in the singularity.

Long story short, the "boundary" of the black hole, the event horizon, "encodes" the information contained therein. And recent findings suggest that the universe we see- life, the universe, and everything- is encoded on the universe's surface. We are merely holographic projections of the boundary of the universe.

Now in trying to translate this into something I can comprehend, I don't doubt I've butchered some of the facts and conjectures, and I welcome corrections and clarifications.

Still, it does give a whole new meaning to the aphorism, "Beauty is only skin deep," doesn't it?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Petition for Presidential Recognition of Darwin Day

It seems a bit late to me to start a drive to issue a Presidential Proclamation on Darwin Day, which will be next Friday, February 12. Nevertheless, I support the idea. Below is the text from the site, and you can click over to read the proposed statement, and sign the petition.
As an American who values scientific inquiry and integrity, I urge you to issue a presidential proclamation recognizing Darwin Day on February 12. Darwin Day is celebrated every year on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday in 1809, and is a day in which people gather together to commemorate his life and work. Charles Darwin was the first to propose the groundbreaking scientific theory of evolution by natural selection—a theory that has done more to unify and bring understanding to the life sciences than any other—and Darwin Day is a celebration of this discovery and of scientific progress.

I believe that issuing this proclamation will send a powerful message that scientific discovery and integrity in our society are top priorities—priorities that are needed now more than ever as extremists with narrow ideological agendas are attempting to undermine science in our schools.

Please stand with me and countless others who value science and discovery by issuing the following or a similar proclamation on Darwin Day.


Dr. Zaius posted this magazine cover earlier today...It's not often that a magazine makes such an error on their cover, fer cyin' out loud...
My inner grammar Nazi feels much better now.


As it got dark on January 28th, 1986, I had spent the day collecting soil and water samples at the Cascade Head Experimental Forest in the course of my student job for OSU's Forest Soils department. We had left town about seven AM, after a quick stop at a local bakery to pick up a warm cinnamon bun. The weather had been fairly crappy, but not awful, which was an improvement over most of the midwinter work at that site. We had stopped at the Otis Cafe (which, while not exactly "world famous," has had an awful lot of positive reviews) and had a hearty bowl of hot soup and a roll. This was our typical reward to ourselves for successfully completing 6-7 hours of working out the rain and cold mud. An hour and a half with the van heaters on high as we drove back to Corvallis, the unbelievable winter verdure of Oregon's coast range forests, a belly full of warm food, and the satisfaction of a job well done, combined to set my spirits pretty high.

I got home about five, and walked in the door smiling, imagining a nice warm shower.

One of my house mates, with a very grim expression on his face, growled "What the fuck are you so happy about?" Uh, excuse me? Is there some reason I shouldn't be happy?

"Didn't you hear?"

"Hear what?"

"Challenger blew up."

Now in honesty, to my perceptions, the shuttle launches had become fairly routine, and I'm not sure, 24 years and a few days later, whether I was even aware the shuttle was launching that morning. I would have known that it was going up soon, and maybe I did know, at the back of my mind, that I was missing a launch. I've never become tired of watching these enormous machines rise into the sky.

Whatever the case, I was stunned, and I think it was about eleven before I finally got that shower. It was much more stunning and traumatic to me than the Columbia disaster because it was the first time it occurred to me that these vehicles were prone to catastrophic failure. In the past couple of decades I've also become much more alert, cynical, thick-skinned, and dismissive toward the media's obsession with what has been so accurately described as "disaster porn."

Now from The Guardian comes word of the discovery and release of the only known amateur video of the event.

It still moves me, all these years later. I lost a piece of my child-like innocence that day. That's how you become an adult: you don't even realize what's happening except in the harsh light of 20-20 hindsight. And somehow, it seems like it might be even more painful from that perspective than it is even as it's happening.

Followup, 6:59 PM: I had forgotten that was the flight with Christa McAuliffe; I was certainly aware of the launch. I remember the excitement of having a regular civialian, and a teacher at that, headed into space. Such a loss.

The Ineffable Wisdom of Helen Philpot

The Republican Party of yesteryear was respectable. You were all about a small government that carried a big stick. Now you are just despicable. You used to be the Party of Lincoln and now – honest to God – you make Archie Bunker look progressive.
She hasn't been posting as much as she did around the election, and I'm sort of hoping the posts will ramp up as we move into the midterms. But I swear, every single piece she writes is a gem. If you've been missing Molly Ivins as much as I have, you need to follow Margaret and Helen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Foreign Policy Expertise

Dick Cheney got it in 1975. Via Buzzfeed. Surreal.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pakistan Volcano?

Erik Klemetti, volcano blogger extraordinaire at Eruptions, has asked for help in making sense of a purported volcanic eruption in Pakistan. (here and here) The above picture (click to enlarge) appears to be approximately the location of the reports. The white line measures ~75 kilometers from Quetta, as specified in one of the articles. At first glance, I'm not seeing anything that looks like volcanic landforms, but I'll look around and see if I can spot anything, and update as called for. As an aside, doing teh Google for "Pakistan Volcanoes" returns a lot of hits for mud volcanoes, which frankly makes more sense to me than true volcanoes.

Followup: here's Wikipedia's list of "volcanoes" in Pakistan; all but one are indeed mud volcanoes. The first isn't technically a volcano either; it's an erosional remnant of a magma chamber. "Neza e Sultan is an extinct volcano and only the magma chamber remains and it looks like a spear." This isn't even enough to convince me it was a magma chamber that fed a volcano.

Neza e Sultan
Malan Island
Jebel e Ghurab

Mud volcanoes are often associated with release of natural gas, methane. It's pretty easy for me to imagine such natural gas being ignited, by rocks grinding against each other, by lightning, or static electricity, leading to reports of fire and explosions. Now all my speculation does not mean there isn't an actual eruption, mud and gas effusion just seems the most sensible explanation.

Followup: here's an extensive and interesting blog post on Pakistan's mud volcanoes. A couple of relevant quotes:
This earthquake shook and vented the mud volcanoes of Hungol so much that the gases coming out of this volcanoes got ignited and flames rose several hundred feet in the air.
Another account of these eruption come from V.P. Sondhi, who in 1947 also wrote about the same volcanic phenomenon in the area near the mouth of the Hungol River in Baluchistan following the 1945 quake. According to Sondhi, the self-igniting plume of gas had erupted “with such great force that the flames leaped thousands of feet high into the sky.”
"Thousands of feet" sounds like an exaggeration to me, but I wasn't there.

Mack the Knife

According to this site, Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" was the #1 hit when I was born. It's not a song I'm terribly fond of... I don't hate it or anything, I'm just not a big fan of the big band sound, I've heard it too many times- in particular, butchered in karaoke versions too many times- and it just seems trite to me. But it is what it is, so here it is.

The site was running slow when I visited, but with a little patience, it came up.

Shall we call this a meme? I don't do tagging, but if this sort of thing amuses you, see if you can find a YouTube of the #1 song when you were born. Leave a link in the comments, and I'll come over and watch it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

More Fine Particles Solidified from a Higher-Energy Phase

Okay, I just got through talking about European snow, and what should come waltzing into my RSS but this magnificent image of Asian snow. And ash. This is a great shot from NASA's Earth Observatory, titled "Plume and Ash from Karymsky Volcano." The picture below is a labeled crop from the full-sized image (6mb), which shows all sorts of volcanic land forms: "Calderas and craters and domes, oh my!"Karymsky is described as one of the most active volcanoes on Russia's Kamchatka peninsula; here is another ash plume from the vent taken last March.

As long as I'm on the subject of NASA, Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy has a very interesting analysis of President Obama's proposed budget for that agency. Overall, the vision thing looks really positive; he proposes scrapping the Ares-Constellation program, turning routine launches over to private industry, and putting NASA back into developing the cutting-edge programs that can move space exploration into the future rather than back to the 1960's. The issue, as Phil puts it, is "the other thing to remember is that this must pass Congress first." Money quote:"When Republicans whine about privatizing something, you know you’re in for a fight, and it’s not like Congressional Democrats have been all that useful in backing up Obama’s plans."

He also points out that this is the seventh anniversary of the loss of Columbia.(funnyjunk) Not to make light of an awful tragedy, but when NASA tries to violate physical law, things are bound to go bad. And thanks for helping to promote science literacy, CNN.


I haven't seen the final stats yet, but here in western Oregon, as of a couple of days ago, we were in line for the third warmest January on record. On the other hand, I have been repeatedly amazed by the stories and photos of winter weather this year, particularly from Europe and the eastern and southwestern US. The picture below, posted at Red Orbit, is one of the most stunning I've seen. (click the pic for full 1960 X 2500 pixel resolution; there are some great geological and meteorological features that don't show up very well at the scale posted.)
According the accompanying blurb, "This image was acquired by Envisat's Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) instrument on January 25, 2010."

Since my geographical knowledge of this region is not very detailed, I opened Google Earth to get a better idea of what I was looking at... again, click fot larger view.
I also had a couple of quick conversations with a pair of Turkish doctoral civil engineering students that frequent the coffee shop. One of them implied that this a very rare event, the other that it happens every few years. The first said that Turkey's government had been warned by Russia a week in advance that an enormous storm would be heading south. The second said that he had spoken with his family last night, and there were some hassles, and some soccer games had been postponed, but it wasn't a disaster or emergency.

Still, I think of Turkey as being a relatively warm and dry country, though the second student said that the northern part of the country, along the Black Sea, is much like western Oregon: "Rainy all the time." Apparently the southeastern interior is quite arid., but the satellite image doesn't extend into that area. I was sort of startled to see so much snow so far south.

To further emphasize the extent of this cold spell, Der Speigel's "Picture This" feature today was "Frozen Hamburgers," showing citizens of Hamburg, Germany out cavorting on the ice.
The police in Hamburg warned against it. But despite their concern, some 35,000 Hamburgers spent part of their Sunday skating, or just walking, on the frozen-over "Aussenalster," the large body of water in the heart of the city.

Many locals had been hoping for a repeat of 1996, when a frigid winter resulted in a kind of city festival on the ice, complete with mulled wine and grilled sausage stands. This time around, the ice never quite became thick enough -- 20 centimeters is considered safe -- for officials to give the green light. But nobody fell through on Sunday. And they could tank up on treats at stands set up along the shore.
So apparently pretty much the whole of Europe is in a deep freeze. For what it's worth, warm wishes from Oregon.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wobbly Bones

Mike Taylor at SVPOW has an interesting post on how to make red-cyan anaglyphs... you know, those pictures you look at through the red-blue green-glasses and see a 3-D image. Now here's the thing: I'm slightly red-green color blind, and I don't deal well with red-cyan anaglyphs- not dissing them, they just don't work very well for me. I can do the cross-eye technique, where my right eye is looking at the left image, and vice versa, though I never got the hang of "looking straight forward" (i.e. right eye looking at right image, etc.). I think the trick with the cross-eyed technique is learning to match the images up, and getting them to focus. Yes, of course you're welcome to address me as "master of the obvious," but I can't explain it any better than that.

Ideally, one has access to a decent stereoscope, but the cost of a professional stereoscopic viewer is pretty daunting (I'm not finding a source, but I recall them as being 300 to $400 and up, many years ago); a cheap student version, though, costs only 12.00, according to this site, or $5.95 here. The nice thing is that with digital photography, you can mess around and create your own 3-D pictures in whatever way works for you, and scrap the ones that don't. The cost is next to nothing (after you have a camera and a computer).

There is an even easier trick, though, which I had intended to post a comment on at SVPOW, but the very first commenter beat me to it.Above is a .gif animation of the two images used to illustrate the anaglyph process at SVPOW. First, you need to convert the original images to .gif format; I use, a freeware download. And you need an applet to stitch the frames together. I've been playing with UnFREEz, a very small and simple program, that does this. Again, it's a freeware download. I'm not recommending either of these above others that do the same things, but they're free, my experience is limited, and I've been having fun with them.

While gifs have lots of shortcomings, one strength is that you can stitch together as many frames as you like. (actually, one frame by itself doesn't work very well) Here's the first such animation I put together; it still cracks me up.

Whoops, followup, I forgot that either blooger or firefox doesn't deal directly with animated gifs; the one linked above (my first one) is hosted at an external site... I'll fix the vertebra in a bit.

Sunday Funnies

And here we go with A Whole new set of Sunday Funnies...Criggo
Two weeks to Valentine's Day... one of my least favorite holidays. But I like this card idea. Skull Swap
A satirical map published in 1940 to discourage an Axis invasion of Ireland... apparently, it worked. Funny but also fascinating. Read the full article, "Dissuasive Cartography," at Strange Maps, and click here to see at full 1:1 scale (well, not quite).
Sorry, it was only for sale on one day. Lol Cats
demotivational posters
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Skull Swap
Calamities of Nature
funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures
That'll keep the kids out of the field. Skull Swap
Viral Marketing, from EpicPonyz. (Black plague is actually caused by a baterium, but whatever.)
Cliff Chiang- one of three he created for the Topps trading card series debuting... tomorrow?
Skull Swap
epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails
Skull Swap
Oddly Specific
dalai lama and archbishop desmond tutu
see more Political Pictures
OK, I'm convinced. Fail Blog

Chewbacca Power Window, via The Daily What
Oddly Specific
Oddly Specific
Epic Win
My First Dictionary; posted with the comment, "It's amazing what you can do with a spare comma."
Not Really, But Seriously
al gore
see more Political Pictures. Either that or really painful gas...
EpicPonyz. But it is asbestos free!
demotivational posters
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I have a feeling that if that headline made any sense, I wouldn't need to read the article. Criggo
Autocomplete Me
Savage Chickens
demotivational posters
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demotivational posters
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Epic Duel! The Daily What (See the original in glorious full size here)
funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures
Going Out of Business sale? Criggo
Oddly Specific
Probably Bad News
Acting Like Animals
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
That'll keep 'em busy until the next election. Criggo
Urban paleontological discovery from That Will Buff Out.
abraham lincoln
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barack obama
see more Political Pictures
Skull Swap

Via EpicPonyz
I'm beginning to think there's just something intrinsically funny about watermelons. My First Fail
Married to the Sea, via Blackadder
Ah, The Great Banksy Quote
see more Friends of Irony
4 in 10 is also a majority in the Senate. Criggo
"Don't struggle; You'll only sink faster." That Will Buff Out
I would watch the Miss America Pageant if they added that event. I'd record it and watch it repeatedly. The expressions would be priceless. Criggo
Oddly Specific
demotivational posters
see more deMotivational Posters