Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday supplemental

It's Halloween and they haven't turned on the heat in my office building yet.

Happy Halloween.

Friday Links

To deal with the constant problem of running low on things to say I think I'll start using Fridays to post links. Yes, there's a zillion other sites that do this.

A map of the nearest 14 light years

Drawing with water

One guy singing "Thriller" in 64 part harmony

Trebuchet for sale
ends saturday

Tracking the sin sun with a pinhole camera

Wasuuuup: 8 years later

Maybe the next one will be better.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Book review: Cemetery World

The other book I just finished is "Cemetery World" by Clifford Simak.

It wasn't bad. But I'm not raving over it. The author created a new universe and took us out to explore it. But somehow I just wasn't loving it.

It's the distant future. Most everyone left Earth due to a great war. Just as it was fading into mythology one company moved in and turned the planet into a giant cemetery. It brought Earth back into the public awareness. If you have enough money you can have yourself shipped back and be buried on the home world.

The story begins with a poet and artist type going there with his art machine and a robot that was originally constructed there. They're there to experience Earth and make poetry and songs and art about their experience.

A lady friend of an old professor sends her to meet our hero to ask him to go looking for some treasure they think was left by an archaeologist species that was studying humans. He's reluctant but he takes her along.

But they won't guarantee they'll tow the corporate line and the cemetery corporation tries to have them killed. They run around and meet shades (ghosts), a strange creature named the Census Taker, a few surviving war machines, friendly locals, hostile locals, and robot wolves.

If you're looking for something short and easy to read this will do. I wish I could say more about it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Over the years I've established a number of Dougintology holidays and presented you with the 10 Bumperstickers. But so far Doug has been quiet about what he considers sins. That is until now.

1. You shall not employ recorded campaign calling.
It's bad enough that we have to deal with politicians' lackeys calling us up all the time. Now we have to deal with their computers. It won't get you eternal damnation, but you will get a kick in the nuts before proceeding to wherever you're going.

addendum: 1 kick per call made

Book Review: The Eyes of Heisenberg

It's been awhile since I've done a book review. A girlfriend can really eat into your reading time. Poor me, right?

This weekend I finished reading a couple of books that I was close to the end of for awhile. One of those being "The Eyes of Heisenberg" by Frank Herbert.

Frank is an... interesting writer. He likes making these elaborate worlds and complex plots. But all too often he writes in such a way as to make it difficult to read. The first two "Dune" books were good. The later books became a real struggle. His son, Brian, writes much more readable prose with Frank's notes than Frank ever did.

This is not a book of Frank's that I suggest starting with. It was hard to keep paying attention to the story. Either I kept mixing up characters or he kept changing scenes without warning.

In the way distant future the Earth is controlled by immortal humans formed through careful breeding programs and Orwellian government. They continue to run these programs to keep humans nice and average and docile. But something happens with one of the zygotes to allow it to resist the contraceptive drugs in the air. Instead of executing it the doctor saves it and the nurses erase the data from the procedure. But the Optimen, the immortals, suspect and come after the doctor. He soon gets mixed up with the cyborg underground. They almost manage to wipe out the Optimen but in the end the doctor manages to save most of them, too. Some dramatic change in the government of Earth is planned before the book ends.

It's really not worth bothering with.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween audio

Halloween is coming up fast. By now most of us have our costumes and decorations up. What I've often felt was being neglected in Halloween decorations is audio. Not those lame tapes of "Spooky Sounds" I used to get as a kid those were lame. I mean really disturbing audio.

The "Thief" series of games are the creepiest I've ever played. Sure "Doom" has monsters coming out of you at the shadows but you're playing on a set path and can predict where they'll come from to an extent. "Thief" has multiple routes and you don't always know when something is gonna come up on you. These are the only games that Gandolf, my parrot, really pays much attention to. She makes comments, gives warnings, and gets scared. But there was one area in the second game that just scared the bejeezus out of both of us.

You can see that room of that game here.

Now, picture me in a dark room with a parrot on my shoulder. The game was set much darker than the video. I came up the hidden wall corridor and approached the door. There were those same awful sounds playing at us. I looked around to see what else I could do. I saved and went in anyway. Like you saw in the video not much was happening. I creeped in along the carpet to muffle my footsteps (yes, that matters in this game). I'm looking at those shelves since they're likely to hide anything. Then that ghost girl materialized about a foot from my nose. Gandolf screams. I scream. There's bird and gamer limbs flying all over the place. When I looked at the screen again the girl was gone.

I called up my girlfriend at the time because I knew she'd be at work. I got her answering machine and held the phone to the speaker for about a minute before hanging up. That bit alone gave her nightmares.

Three years ago on Halloween I hooked up an older computer and played "Thief 2" until I found myself in the haunted library. I'd park my character in a corner, toss the speakers out the window, and let it play.

The reactions were great. One 5 year old little boy got half way between the gate and my door and froze. A giggling group of teenage girls bickered about who would be the first to enter the yard. A guy just walking down the street slowed when he heard it and then scurried away. All I had going was the audio in that room and some candles above my door.

But that computer was old and flaky even then. I don't think I could rely on it for long now. So I started looking to see if anyone had recorded it. Turns out there are soundtracks to all three "Thief" games and some fan remixes.

You can listen to them at and build your own creepy playlist.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sleep is for the weak

I'm allergic to everything. Dust, pollen, mold, water, my own body oils, everything. I react to stuff 50 weeks of the year. It's not as bad as it was where I grew up, but I still require an unhealthy dose of drugs. On the plus side, my body spends so much time amping up the immune system to deal with that crap that I'm also immune to almost everything. There was that one bout with some crud that the doctors had no name for where I lost 30 lbs in a week.

About a week ago I tried a new allergy medication. To be fair, Yummy got it for me. I hate going up to the counter to pick up medications and she was good enough to pick it up for me. It works. It works really well. I mean REALLY well. No clogs or sniffles of any sort. I could eat anything I like. I probably could have driven the wheat truck to the grain elevator without needing an oxygen tent after. I was even immune to sleep!

That last bit concerned me a tad. Mom gives me some stuff when I return to Kansas that can eliminate the ability to sleep after a few days. This stuff obliterated that need after two doses. I still went to bed but I couldn't even doze. I stayed up and got some work done so I could call in sick to work the next day in case the need for sleep came the next day. I got an hour and a half between 6:30 am and 8 am and then was back up like I'd slept for at least 18 hours.

I switched back to my old stuff. It doesn't clear me up as well, but I can sleep.

The whole incident did leave me wondering something. This drug, as well as Sudafed, cough syrup, and others, you have to get over the counter and/of in limited quantities so that you can't start a meth lab in the garage. So if the unaltered meds can leave me that strung out but clear nosed what are the antihistamine/decongestant properties of crystal meth?

My boss/colonel/doctor says that it would be unethical and illegal to perform experiments to find out. I pointed out that we used to do LSD experiments on humans. We learned a lot but can't do those tests now. We decided we need to go to Mexico or South Korea or something like that and perform some experiments on people who aren't me. I prefer Mexico because it's warmer.

See, now I want a big block of crystal meth by the front door. A meth lick. I'll just give it a lick on the way out the door and go Kleenex free all day long.

Friday, October 24, 2008

War on Christmas: The video game

We've officially entered War-on-Christmas season. It seems like it starts earlier and earlier every year. Or maybe that's just because it's an election year and someone thinks that people who believe that crap haven't made up their mind yet.

I think a good "War on Christmas" video game would be fun. There's a couple of ways you could take it.

"Immortal Combat" - Two supreme beings enter. One being leaves supreme. It's a standard fighting game. "Oh!Din! Za-ra-thoooo-stra! FITE!"

"The Thief Who Stole Christmas" - I'd make this the long hoped for "Thief 4". A creepy first person perspective game where you play a thief. Instead of killing everything that moves you slink through the shadows and across rooftops stealing whatever you can.
The Hammerites have fallen before the Christian onslaught. But these newcomers have even less idea how to deal with people like me than the Hammerites did.
Start by slipping in to a few homes and making off with their gifts and gold. Listen in on a few Salvation Army missionaries and work your way up to the battle with Santa himself.

"Lorecraft" - The world is a dark place where terrorist activities have escalated to all out religious war between Christian leaning and Muslim leaning countries. Armed only with your time machine and advanced strategic training you move backwards through history advising generals and leading armies in earlier and earlier religious battles.

When I started this I had several others that I can't recall now.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


For those of you who don't know, I ride a Segway to work. Nearly every day.

The early models had a fixed handlebar and you turned by twisting the left handle. Five gyroscopes in the base monitored your balance and made adjustments to keep you upright. But it only corrected for front and back balance. If you hit a hole, rock, or large fault in the sidewalk you could lose control. I did a couple of times. It makes you understand why the speed is limited to 12.5 MPH.

But this required wiring to run up through the steering column. When you detached the handlebar assembly the wires liked to climb up inside and refuse to come out.

The new model works differently. The handlebars pivot at the base. This allows you to steer by leaning the handlebars to the right or left. But you're not always driving on a level surface. If you're driving along a 5° slope and you're trying to stand up straight the steering column would be at a 5° slope and the Segway would try to turn. They made it so the Segway also compensates for right and left tilt. Thus the steering column goes straight as long as it's parallel to the pull of gravity instead of perpendicular to the ground. So there have been several times I'd hit something that would have confused the old model but the new model shook it off and kept going.

That is until this morning.

I'm blasting along the sidewalk (because the street is narrow enough that the bike lane is a joke) when this brick sized rock viciously lies there on the sidewalk at me. My right tire hits the rock and launches up off the ground. So I'm careening down the sidewalk barely balanced on one wheel. If my course hadn't been altered by the impact the airborne wheel would have come back down in another second or three and I would have gotten a thrill but forgotten about it by the time I made it to the office. Instead I was now headed for the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street. I couldn't steer and hadn't yet thought to jump. When the remaining tire hit the grass the Segway pitched forward and threw me. Somehow my right leg got under the Segway and we went sliding together.

The Segway stopped 10 ft beyond the rock. I jumped up, put my shoe back on, removed the rock from the path, and hopped back on the Segway. After that adventure I'd lost some skin from my ankle but that's all.
This is my old Segway, but that's not me riding it. He'd lost his leg in Iraq and rode the Segway like he was born to it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Winterize your car

Now that you've winterized the house and the kids are busy looking for the cat and wondering where the muffled mewing is coming from you can get down to preparing the car.

Replace your windshield wiper blades. Sure, the ones you have now are fine but you want to keep them that way. The first time you get lazy and try to use the wipers to scrape away the ice instead of doing it by hand you'll ruin them. Put them somewhere safe and steal the blades off of the neighbor's car. Next spring you can put your own blades back on and keep the torn up blades for next winter.

If you've got a checkup coming up go ahead and have it done. Just because the mechanic is less resentful when there aren't clumps of ice and salt falling on him as he tries to change the oil.

Change the oil. The stuff you have now has developed a grudge.

Get the tires inflated. Summer air is bigger than winter air. If you insist on driving on summer air you should have neon lights installed underneath so you don't look odd for riding so low.
Low tires create more friction with the road and lower your gas mileage. And who wants all that surface contact with an icy road? It's much more fun to drive when you're not in control.

Same with the spare tire. If it gets low you know you're just gonna cram more stuff in the trunk and that's just more stuff to have to take out when you're along the side of the highway somewhere.

Get the antifreeze checked. You can pick up a tester at any automotive shop. If you're a bit low you can top it off with any Australian table wine.

Have the brakes checked out. If they're no good make sure the floor is thin enough for you to put your foot through when the breaks fail

Have an emergency winter kit in the trunk. Include blankets or long sleeve coveralls, gloves, and ice scraper, a flashlight, maybe some well preserved nibbles, jumper cables, tow chains, a tool kit, a spare cat, paper towels, a good book, etc. This is so when you get stuck in a snow bank and die you can make the news for dying within a foot of supplies that could have saved you. It could also weigh down the back tires enough to give you more traction.

Make sure there's actual windshield wiper fluid in the car instead of just water. The water will freeze to the windshield and ruin those wiper blades.
Also acceptable is just strapping a cat to the windshield. One blast from the wiper fluid nozzle and the cat will freak out and claw all the ice off.

Keep a bag of kitty litter or sand in the back. It'll provide more weight for traction, you can throw some under the tire for more traction, and you'll need it for the cat you have strapped to the windshield. The cat can also be thrown under the tire for traction.

Check the heater and defroster. Because you know that you're gonna sit there and wait for the ice to melt rather than stand in the cold and chip at it. At least make sure that it can melt the ice quickly.

Get a couple of 9-volt batteries and keep them in the glove compartment. When plugged into each other they put off heat so you can warm your hands. I can't recommend a brand but I know some work better than others.

Have your belts checked and tightened. When they get loose they start to squeal and that's really annoying.

Make sure your 4-wheel drive works. I mean you paid for it so you might as well use it. It's completely worthless on ice, though. Dunno what you were thinking when you bought it.

Check your battery for corrosion. If there's buildup around the terminals pour a Coke on it. Doesn't do you much good but it's cool to watch.

Best of luck.

note: Dougintology is actually a big fan of cats and does in no way advocate driving over them. It is kinda funny to shoot them with wiper fluid, however.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rerun: Blocked Flu(e) Season

Originally posted a couple of winters back:

It's that time of year again when the Earth's rotational axis betrays us all and deprives us of our precious sunlight. I'm told that the Axis of Earth is developing weapons of massive detonation with some shortwave radioactive ochre cake that it's borrowing from Atlantis but promises to return just as soon as it's done with it. Dick Cheney said so.
But while we wait for the Sun to lift it's sanctions against us we need some way to keep warm. Here's how.

Go get the filter out of the furnace. Gently. It's probably caked with dust and stuff. You don't want to jostle it and spread dust all over the house. Carry it outside and beat it against some neighbor kid until all the dust falls out. Put it back in the furnace for another 1 to 3 months and repeat.

Close off any rooms in the house that you're not using much. Shut the vents, close the doors, and leave out some penguin kibble. I know you don't have a penguin, but you need bait to draw food for the polar bear.
I've also put a drape over the foot of the stairs to keep my precious warm air from rising up where I'm not.

Plastic wrap the windows. You can pick up a kit at many hardware stores. It's basically double sided tape and a roll of Saran Wrap they stole from the 50' woman. This serves as an additional air barrier between you and the outside.

Check for drafts. Slowly move your hand around the edges of doors and electrical outlets along exterior walls. You're feeling for cold drafts. If you feel a cold draft find the hole and shove a cat in there. You can then seal the cat in with a can of expanding foam. You probably should have picked that up while at the hardware store.
If you feel a warm draft it means your kids shoved their cigarettes in there when they heard you coming.

If you have a house like mine there's a crawlspace under it. Feel the floor. You can probably feel the cold just by putting your hand near it. This means your science teachers all lied. Cold air rises. You can feel it right now. Get all your neighbors to throw their old science books in a big pile. Then get down in the crawlspace and paste the science books against the underside of the floor for insulation.

Get a programmable thermostat. If you have an old round thermostat, or one of those rectangular ones with paint splattered on it, heck, anything with a needle instead of a digital readout will do. Those are bad. Computers are always better.
Oh, the point is that while you're off at work the programmable thermostat will lower the temperature of the house using less energy. The wife may complain about how you keep the house at 50° while you're gone. You just reply that you thought that the extra layer of fat she put on would keep her warm. The fight that results should keep you both nice and toasty.

Get some dogs. Not only do they make sure the cats remain hiding in the wall but they also demand you take them for walks in the wind, rain, and snow. After that even the vegetable crisper is gonna seem warm. Also, they sleep on your feet and start rock groups or something. Grandpa wasn't real clear on that last bit.

Bake. Use the stove all you can. Cookies, cakes, hams, anything that gives you an extra layer of fat. Also, the heat from the stove, combines with the fact that you sealed off the vents to the kids' bedrooms means they'll have to come to the kitchen to do their homework where you can watch them.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Emergency school

I'm surprised that I didn't find this in my archive. I've been thinking about this project for years.

Just because you haven't heard about it in awhile doesn't mean that the bird flu isn't still a concern. The Army wants lots of telecommuters (the managers do not) so that in case of an epidemic we can still work without exposing ourselves or others unnecessarily. It occurs to me that the schools will also need to close for awhile. Kids would expect to miss a couple of months of school at least and a year or two in several very possible scenarios. Even if the bird flu turns out to be nothing there are plenty of other reasons to go ahead with the project I'm preparing to describe.

With possibility of schools closing looming over us we need to find a way to continue the education of our children at home. Left with nothing to do they'll run into the streets and bring home the flu anyway. We need ways to continue their education and keep them occupied.

To this end I propose the preemptive development of educational programming. I know that the idea of government educational videos seems a bit suspect. I have my own visions of some monotone pale guy in earth tones standing under florescent lighting and talking at the camera. That's never, ever going to work.

I want to gather together some of the best teachers in the basic education areas in their assorted grade levels. I want to give them a budget and a development team. They'll have to write up curriculum in math, reading, and science clustered in grades 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12. Then they'll develop their materials. Overhead slides and internet clip art aren't enough. If they think they can do it better with Muppets we're going to talk to the Jim Henson Company. If they need animations and 3-D models then they'll have a staff to develop it. Sets, lighting, sound effects, and actors will be provided as needed. Whatever it takes to keep their attention and get kids to learn.

Science should be fairly simple. Math... well, that's why we're gonna look for teachers who have had success teaching this stuff in the past.

This is just the beginning. After we have that stuff we can also develop more grade specific programming and add some history, geography, and whatever else we can.

In the case of massive school closings we'd start to broadcast the lessons. On cable we'd just have the cable companies add a couple of stations just for our programs. We'd have internet streams of the lessons available upon demand.

For the technology have-nots we'd also have to convince some standard broadcast stations to let us use their transmitters so that people with rabbit ears could still watch. Copies on DVD would be issued to local libraries so that people could pick them up if necessary. If they just don't have a TV they're just kinda fucked. But they'd still be able to pick up the homework booklets available in libraries, bookstores, and online.

So what if there's no flu? You think I've blown all this money for nothing? Do you know how many completely crap schools there are out there? Places where you can still graduate without being able to read beyond a 1st grade level, let alone know how to turn on a computer? These videos could also be available to those schools or to the parents that want to pull their kids out of those schools.

There would be focus groups that would review the lessons as we go so we can tweek the early stuff and improve the later stuff. I expect the kids, and their parents, to actually learn this stuff. Schools focus on homework and quantifiable results for them to grade. Memorization, not learning. The videos would be for kids stuck at home. There'd be the homework available for their parents to give them and review to make sure they're getting it but we can't make them do it. There wouldn't be all the busywork the kids get now. The point would be genuine understanding. The videos may actually be better than school in that regard.

Any of you readers work for the Department of Education or Discovery Channel or something? Wanna help me pull this off?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Giving up TV: supplemental

I gave up watching "Knight Rider" 5 minutes into the second episode.

I've taken to watching "Life on Mars". The concept is about a cop who gets hit by a car and wakes up as a cop in 1973. Sprinkled through are clues and leaks from the future. I'm not really into cop shows so I don't know how long I'll stick with it, but the first couple of episodes are decent.

Hulu as also started showing episodes from season 2 of "ReGenesis".

As always you can find links to these shows at

Friday, October 17, 2008


There's a blogger meme where someone tags you and you have to say 7 things about yourself that people don't know. Then you go and tag 7 other bloggers. I got tagged.

1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

I wound up making two lists. Pick the one you like more.

1) I was born in the wagon of a traveling show.
2) I am the Kwisatz Haderach.
C) I invented the zero and hold the patent for dirt.
IV) I know where you live.
5) My momma used to dance for the money they'd throw.
six) The characters of Merlin and Batman were both modeled after me.
sqrt(49)) I'm the one who shaved that message into your dog.

I) I'm supposed to be working right now.
A) There's something stuck in my teeth.
i) Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stranger.
a) In one weekend I caught 8 mice in my house.
•) I once caught and held falling scaffolding with my home construction teacher on the top.
°) I actually have been there and done that. I wasn't impressed.
-) Lists like this make me love you even more.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Return of gravity

Sweetly Single asked me more questions about yesterday's post. Today I answer.

What about Hawkings' discovery in 1974 (called Hawking Radiation)? If the negative gravitational forces causes no radiation (light) to get through... then how could Hawkings be right?
There is some radiation emitted by matter passing through the event horizon. The event horizon being the point where light can't escape. But I don't think that's what Hawking was talking about.

You know the equation E=MC2. Energy (E) equals (=) mass (M) times the speed of light (in a vacuum) (C) squared (2). This means that mass can be converted to extremely large amounts of energy.

A black hole that is pulling in no matter still puts off thermal radiation, which for today's arguments we're gonna call heat. Heat isn't influenced by gravity... as far as I know. So what you're getting is matter inside the black hole breaking down into heat and the heat radiating away. The smaller the black hole the greater the effect. Given enough time the black hole would evaporate.

The Large Hadron Collider cannot produce black holes but it might, mind you I said "might", be able to slap two particles together with the density of a black hole. Being so small it would immediately dissipate into Hawking radiation.

How does the magnetic field of the moon and the opposite magnetic field of the earth effect the moon's orbit? Wouldn't it have the same effect as two magnets that are opposite of each other?
The moon has no magnetic field.

Permit me to digress. I'm going to give a lot of background that will help with this but help even more with a later question.

Stars form from hydrogen clouds. When there's enough for the gravitational pull to cause the hydrogen molecules to fuse (smoosh together) into helium it releases energy and the star starts to burn. It fuses the hydrogen into helium and sometimes splits helium into hydrogen. When the bulk of the hydrogen is used up the star turns red and begins to expand as the helium is fused into heavier elements (lithium, berillium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, and that's as far as I can remember). This is how pretty much everything that isn't hydrogen is formed. When that star explodes it releases the matter that becomes planets later.

So in a swirling cloud of dead star gunk a lump forms and starts drawing in more gunk. The gunk smacking together produces heat so the lump is molten. That and much of the gunk is radioactive. Particularly the uranium and whatnot. The heavy stuff settles to the center of the molten mass which is quickly becoming something you could call a planet. By heavy I mean larger atoms that are at the bottom of the periodic table and radioactive. One day something large hits the mass that eventually became Earth. The something that hit Earth is thought to be roughly Mars sized but is probably not Mars. It knocks loose a big chunk of Earth's surface. That chunk becomes the moon.

So, what you have to make up the moon is a small (large for a moon but small relative to Earth) lump of material absent most of the good radioactive stuff which, as I said, was safely down in the middle of the big molten glob. As the two bodies cool (sorry, no idea what happened to the thing that hit us) one just kinda becomes a rock while the other maintains a spinning molten core that gives it a magnetic field. Part of why it maintains the molten core is because it's bigger and cools slower. Part of it is because it's packed with radioactive material. And part of it is because there's this big rock spinning around it causing it to shift and flex.

So that is why the moon has no magnetic field.

How does the gravitational pull of the moon effect the stability of the polar ice caps?
Good question. I can make some guesses but I don't recall reading anything about it. This answer may sound a bit different than some others because I'm trying to think it out instead of just explaining.

The moon orbits on a plane at a roughly 5° angle to the plane on which we orbit the sun. I may need to draw that. In short, the reason there's not an eclipse every month is because the moon doesn't orbit on the same plane as we orbit the sun.

So, if the Earth rotates at a 23° angle relative to our orbital plane then the furthest north or south that the moon could pass over the Earth would be 28° and change. So the moon will never pass over the poles. The greatest tidal effects overall would be along the equator but there would be greater and lesser effects over the mid-latitude. There would be some manner of tides at the poles but not like elsewhere. I would imagine that there might be more icebergs calving (dropping off the glacier into the ocean) on the side of the pole facing the moon than the side not. Never seen any stats on that but I'd like to.

That's what I've got. If anyone has better answers I'd love to hear them.

Was the black hole caused by an implosion or explosion of the surface of the star that caused it?
Ok, lets go back to the star I was talking about earlier.

Hydrogen is running low. The star continues to draw it's fuel from fusing helium into heavier elements. Much of the heavier stuff falls in toward the core of the star. The fuel runs out and the surface starts to fall in toward the denser middle. The surface contracts, getting denser, gathering up gases between the surface and the core. It falls and falls until it hits the dense core. The unstoppable force meets the immovable object. It explodes. Lots of surface matter (at this point that's defined as a mix of the old surface and what it slammed into) gets blasted off into space to form new stars and planets later.

What remains depends largely on how big the original star was. Our sun will most likely become a brown dwarf star. Small, dark, and cold as far as stars go. Not anything you'd want your planet orbiting. Which is fine since Earth got roasted when the sun expanded.

A larger star will have enough mass left over after the surface gets blown off that it will just keep collapsing and keep collapsing and keep collapsing. The very atoms will start to press in on each other and a Black Hole will form.

At that point, where the atoms start to intrude on each other, we lose any idea of what's happening. Our theories of the universe come into conflict. Einstein, Hawking, and others keep trying to come up with the Unified Field Theory to reconcile the two. Some thinks String Theory will cover that for us.

So, to answer this last question: Neither.
The explosion is not particularly relevant to the formation of the black hole. It's just what happens as the star dies.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gravitational lensing

I feel like talking about gravitational lensing today.

First I need to make sure you understand how a traditional glass lens works. Light hits a piece of curved glass and changes angles as it hits the glass and then again as it leaves. The steeper the angle relative to the direction the light travels the more it bends. So it bends more at the edge of the lens than at the middle. Properly formed the light all converges at one point.

The drawing should just give you a general impression, not be assumed to be an accurate guide.

But there are other things that a lens can be made of. At one point there were microscopes that used droplets of water for a lens. But today I'm thinking primarily of black holes.

Black holes are gravitational wells powerful enough to prevent light from escaping. Perhaps I should rephrase that.

Everything made of matter has gravity. You, me, moons, planets, stars, everything.
The moon pulls the water in the oceans making tides.
Earth pulls on the moon preventing the moon from traveling in a straight line. Instead that line gets wrapped around the Earth in an orbit. When an object is big enough to have things orbit it we say it has a gravitational well. It may apply to small things like apples but it's usually only used on massive scale such as planets, stars, and black holes.

That's the easy stuff. What is hard to believe is that even light has mass and gravity. So even light is influenced by the pull of gravity.

A black hole is what you get when a star dies and it's own gravitational pull smashes it to a point so small that the gravitational pull of that mass is strong enough to pull in light and keep it from escaping. Before it dies the mass is so spread out over the whole star that the whole doesn't have enough pull to keep the light from escaping. At least three times the size of our own sun.

So there's all this area around the black hole that can bend the course of light without capturing it.

So, finally, back to gravitational lensing.

Picture a distant galaxy. Now picture Earth. Between there and here there's a healthy sized black hole. Now, obviously any light from that galaxy heading towards us is going to have a black hole in the way and can't get here. But around the black hole the light bends. At a certain distance the light will get bent to shoot off toward Earth. If we're all lined up perfectly the galaxy would appear as a ring around nothing. Offset the galaxy from that line just a bit and it appears as a crescent in the heavens. Probably several.

I've been putting all the weight, so to speak, on black holes and I shouldn't have. Any sufficiently large gravitational well will work. Such as a galaxy.

I don't feel that I've explained things properly but I'm not sure what else to say. So instead you get pictures.

The gravitational flare known as Einstein's Cross. It's a quasar that is being lensed by a galaxy. The quasar is 8 billion light years away. The galaxy is only 400 million.

I also recommend listening to episode 37 of Astronomy Cast.

Feel free to leave questions or clarifications in the comments.

[afterthought: In the cases where you see multiple images of a the object being viewed the different images aren't necessarily the same age. Astronomers like to say they're looking backwards in time when they look into the sky. In a way they are. Since it takes 8 minutes for light to reach us from the sun you're seeing what happened 8 minutes ago instead of what's happening now.
When you're looking at multiple images of something like the quasar in Einstein's Cross the light took 4 different paths around the galaxy. Even a small galaxy isn't something minor to navigate around. So the light from the quasar on the far left is likely to be many centuries younger than the light from the quasar on the far right even though they're both the same quasar.]

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

GAH! Sunlight!

Not much sleep last night.

Had ideas for subjects to babble about but they all require research.

So I want you to take today and go download OpenOffice 3.

OpenOffice is a free office suite that challenges Microsoft's dominance in that field. I ran the previous version on my laptop. I'm downloading the upgrade as I type. The Mac version now runs natively.

The site is being hit pretty hard so they've switched to an all text view for the moment.

Now I'm just gonna crawl under this desk and do some computer repairzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Go away

It's a holiday. Shove off.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Yummy, yummy, yummy I got love in my tummy

It's been a month now so I think I can safely admit to having a girlfriend.

I didn't want to say anything before because I didn't want to jinx it or whatever. I date so rarely that I was afraid of saying "I met this wonderful woman!" only to have to come back two days later with "Wait, strike that, she's the kind of girl who looks for reasons to be mad" or something like that.

Don't get me wrong. She has her own neuroses. So do I. But they're not the "don't make eye contact, don't show your teeth, just back out of the room slowly so she doesn't eat you" variety.

We met online. I'd recently started checking out a new blog. In the comments section there was someone talking about how much she loves olives when she used to hate them. But there was this tiny little picture of her next to her post. I thought she was cute when only an inch tall and clicked it to see if she had a profile and a blog of her own. She does. I posted a comment and read back a few days. That afternoon I sent her an e-mail and asked her out. That was one month ago today.

I can't tell you where her site is or what name she uses. See, she doesn't let her family know where it is and we can't have them following her home from this site once they learn where it is. So for future reference I'm calling her "Yummy". I had some other names that I liked more but they were a bit dark for girlfriend.

Of course, a couple of my readers know exactly who I'm talking about anyway. They've traced me back from her site. Hello!

Not the most romantic and gushing post, I know. But the fact that I'm even admitting that I have a girlfriend is a big step for me. Tune in next week to hear about the horrible car crash that is sure to occur this weekend.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Easter Bunny

Like every other blogger out there I like to think that I'm an actual writer. I've got this novella that I've been working on. OK, I used to be working on. I have to put on some finishing touches that I can't finish for assorted and lame reasons. Since I don't have anything ready to talk about today here's a chapter from the book.


The most important thing to know about the Easter Bunny is that you should never call him the Easter Bunny - not to his face anyway. He’s neither a rabbit nor is he a Christian. Easter Bunny is just a cruel nickname that has haunted him for most of his life.

EB, as he prefers to be called, was the seventh son of a seventh son. Contrary to popular belief all that means is that he came from a long line of people without the basic skills needed to work a condom. Besides having to compete with a dozen other kids for his parents’ attention his mother held a special grudge against him. His abnormally large ears made his a very difficult and very painful birth.

The only thing that his family could claim as theirs was the farm that had been passed down for generations. Being the youngest of his own family, EB’s father got stuck with the rockiest and least fertile of his families holdings. Only the small parcel of land that he got as his wife’s dowry had proven fruitful in any way. Still, rocky soil makes for a good foundation for a house and a decent place to raise chickens.

Since they couldn’t afford to buy gifts EB and his siblings would raid the chicken coop and decorate eggs to give each other on holidays. Typically, these gifts would be admired briefly before being smashed open and eaten. EB, however, came to associate the decorated eggs with love. The eggs were the only thing he was ever given that hadn’t been used by at least six other kids first. Someone spent time working on something just for him. Someone loved him.

He would save the eggs and display them proudly on crude clay stands until one of the bigger kids got hungry and ate them*. By the age of ten EB had become quite adept at hiding the eggs from his siblings. The rats were another story entirely.

He was twelve years old the Halloween he was attacked. He was leaving school when a group of bullies from the high school snatched him from sidewalk, drove him outside town, and pelted him with raw eggs. He was discovered a few hours later, stripped to his underwear, covered in eggs, and quivering in a ditch. His hair had gone completely white and was falling out in clumps. When he returned to school a few weeks later, still nervous and twitchy, his head was covered in little white puffballs that resembled the tail of a rabbit.

Amature psychologists like to claim that it wasn’t the attack so much as the violent use of the eggs, an object that he thinks of much like you or I would regard a valentine given by your first major crush, in the attack. This is mere speculation since EB has been unwilling to talk about the event at all. He seems to consider his hair as a mark of shame. He keeps a wide selection of hats to keep his head covered at all times.

Despite his difficult youth, EB managed to rise up in the ranks of God-Ex, an express mail service for the deceased and ethereal. His large ears give him extremely acute hearing that allows him to know when you are sleeping, when you are awake, if you’ve been good or bad, and the best way to blackmail his way to the top. It irks him to no end that Santa Claus gets all the credit for this since Santa is just some overweight delivery boy. He’s made sure to deny Santa any promotions or upgrades to his equipment. This is why Santa is still stuck with a battered sleigh while anyone else with his amount of time on the staff would have been given a delivery truck or even a plane by now.

Now the highly respected head of this holy delivery service, EB still has to put up with the nickname “Easter Bunny” being muttered behind his back by his employees.
Copyright 2003 Douglas Wise
All rights mine

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A thought

Why isn't the word "symmetrical" a palindrome?

For that matter why isn't palindrome spelled the same way backwards and forwards?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A thought

Mary Poppins must have incredible upper body strength.

There she is getting pulled through the air by her umbrella. That on it's own I can handle. I can believe that if my umbrella had that sort of lift I could hold on to the handle. At least until we get high enough for the cold to cause my fingers to go numb.

Back to my point. Look at how she's holding that umbrella. She's not holding on and dangling. She's holding it like it's an umbrella. Her shoulder is at a right angle to the handle. She must have a steel reinforced wrist. I doubt even Popeye could pull that off and he's got the forearms of a titan.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Movie Review: Igor

So I've stopped watching broadcast television in favor of the interne, there hasn't been a good movie come out in months, and the people who bought the Washington City Paper a year ago can't even pull off something as simple as movie listings (which is why they're now filing for bankruptcy). All this leads to me having little to no idea what's coming out or when.

I've built up a listing of local theaters that I can bring up in a snap. I try to check it once a week. This week a whole ton of new stuff popped up. Not necessarily good stuff, but some of it looked interesting.

"Ghost Story" - A comedy about a man who dies briefly and can now see dead people who want him to do them a favor. Gawds, how many times have we seen that one? NEXT!

"Blindness" - In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king - the movie. A plague of blindness sweeps the planet. The blind are quarantined. The wife of one of the blind goes in with them and tries to help as life goes all Lord of the Flies on them. Semi-interesting description with a more convincing trailer.
Tried to see it but some punk kid pulled the fire alarm and we all had to leave.

"Igor" - In a town of mad scientists there's an annual competition to see whose science is the maddest. The town blackmails the world with the threat of unleashing the winner.
Each mad scientist has an Igor. When one mad scientist dies his Igor tries to enter in his place with the hopes of getting Igors the respect they deserve. He creates life but it's sweet and not at all evil.
Igor must deal with the Mayor, the lead evil scientist who wants to steal his invention, a sweet evil monster, and two cronies he built before, one of which is immortal and indestructible but suicidal.

It wasn't bad. The story was good if predictable. Glad I saw it. Won't get it on DVD.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A response to yesterday's questions

Yesterday Sweetly Smart asked some questions about Mars. My answer got to be so long that I thought it would be better as a new post.

1) where did the ice come from in the first place?
2) is there a belief that there was once atmospheric pressure?
3) If there is such a low pressure on the surface how does the planet get plagued with dust storms?

I'm gonna do what I can. Some of the answers I get to in a rather roundabout way.

We're fairly sure that Mars once had a thicker atmosphere. What happened to it is a bigger question.

Mars would have once been a lot hotter and had volcanic activity. They [planets] pretty much form as a big ball of hot. The volcanic activity would provide some atmosphere. Venus still has lots of volcanic activity which gives it a really thick atmosphere and a heavy greenhouse effect.

Mars is smaller than Earth and Venus and further away from the sun. So it cooled earlier than the other two. The core is still probably molten but no longer large enough to cause the plates to shift, trigger volcanoes, or provide a magnetic field for the whole planet. I specify "the whole planet" because there are smaller regional magnetic fields.

Between Mars' lower gravity and the collapsed magnetic field the sun could have just blasted away the atmosphere. The solar radiation ionized the molecules so the solar wind could easily blow them away.

Mars and the Moon have all kinds of craters while Earth has very few. This isn't because their luck is worse so they take all the asteroid hits. It's because Earth has the weather and life to erode the craters away. As well as the atmosphere to deal with the smaller stuff.

In the last several years satellites orbiting Mars have taken pictures of erosion. They've shown signs of large quantities of water freely flowing over the surface long ago in the form of rivers and tributaries as well as deposits resembling river deltas. Certain minerals have been found that could only have formed in the presence of water. They've also seen continuing signs of erosion along the inside of crater walls.

It is now thought that if you could melt the southern ice cap you'd have enough water to cover the planet to 11 meters deep. With the terrain as it is you'd end up with a massive ocean in the northern hemisphere and a few massive lakes in the south. Even more is thought to be underground. can give an idea of the surface elevation.

Clouds seen from the surface of Mars.

This image compares two photos taken three Earth years apart. It shows erosion is still happening.
Before that picture was taken we thought that sort of erosion would be impossible on Mars today. It was thought that liquid water couldn't exist on the surface that long. Some still say it could be wind erosion but there are some issues with that line of thinking.

Dust storms. Right. Mars gets some real doozies. It's a very dry and dusty place. There have been times where telescopes have seen dust storms that cover the whole planet. The rover Opportunity once had to hunker down for 6 weeks while a storm ravaged the planet. Luckily the winds were also good enough to sweep the solar panels clean so Opportunity could keep getting power.
The dust devils from the other day were just lesser versions of the dust storms.

The thin atmosphere means that a lot more sunlight can reach the surface and heat things up. So in effect it can have the storms BECAUSE the air is so thin.

I once heard it said that, ignoring the air pressure, you could wear sandals on your feet but you'd still need a parka on your body.

The hot, but thin, atmosphere rises fast in the cold air and draws in the cold air from the surrounding area. This results in winds reaching 100 km per hour. But since the atmosphere is so thin the wind would have much less impact on you than a similar speed wind would have on Earth. But even so, you don't want to be hit by dust moving that fast.
[addendum: the storms can cover the whole planet because the planet is so dry and the storms so fierce that the dust can be thrown unbelievably high and take a long time to settle again. That and there's really no non-desert biome to break things up.]

Where does the ice come from? I've been putting this one off. I really can't say. It could be freezing out of what little is in the atmosphere. It could be snow. I don't want to say it's seeping out of the ground because there's no sign of glacial movement which would be needed to get the ice caps as big as they get.
What bothers me more is how the frozen CO2 is forming.

In the search for life on Mars the best bet is the southern ice cap. We still find ancient bacteria living in bubbles of liquid water inside our own ice caps. It's not inconceivable that if there was once microscopic life on Mars some of it may remain inside the southern ice cap where the ice would protect it from the solar radiation that sterilized everything else.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ice on Mars

I mentioned the other day that snow had been seen above Mars but was evaporating before it hit the ground. Sweetly Single asked if thats what global warming will lead to and wondered if evaporating snow contradicts the existence of the polar ice caps.

The temperature on Mars can get as high as 80°F on a very rare summer day but rarely breaks 32°F (where water freezes on Earth). During winter at the poles get down to -200°F. This data varies depending on the probe you ask but it's all around that area.

The average air pressure on Mars is 7 millibars. That's about 1% of Earth normal.

You may remember doing experiment in science class where the teacher took a glass of water, put it in a bell jar, and sucked out all the air. In the lower air pressure the water boiled at room temperature. This is also why some cake packages have different oven settings for people who live in the Rockies from those who live on the shore.

So, the same basic thing is happening to the snow. It's a little surprising that the droplets formed so that they could sublimate [def. ice turns to air without melting first].

Similarly, a couple of months ago the same rover that saw the snow dug a trench and found ice under the soil.

Alas, NASA's pictures don't want to animate on my site. Go to to see the sublimating ice trench.
This picture shows images taken on Martian days 20 and 24.

So, the flakes evaporated due to the low pressure. On Earth snow can melt and rain can evaporate before it hits the ground. But that's for totally different reasons. Even in extreme cases of global warming we're still gonna get rain and snow.

The ice caps on Mars. This questions a bit trickier. What I mean by that is that I don't know the answer off the top of my head.

We think of ice caps as places where snow piles up year after year until it packs into ice. The caps then grow and shrink depend on the season. Mars does the same thing. Telescopes have seen them get bigger and smaller over the course of Mars' year (roughly two of our years).

The Martian ice caps are a mix of frozen water and dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide). During the summer the dry ice sublimates to form gas pockets inside the ice caps which then explode violently outwards. So setting a colony ON the cap would be a very bad idea. That's why the probe I keep mentioning was exploring near the edge of the ice caps. To see if there's enough recoverable water for a future colony to use.

Ok, the best I've been able to find about the formation of Martian ice caps is that it does snow there. The one I reported was simply the first seen from the ground. The ice caps appear off centered in pictures from space because different weather systems cause it to form differently. The western equator gets fluffy white snow while the eastern equator gets black ice. I got that from a 2 year old press release. Don't ask me how they know.

If Phoenix remains active long enough to actually get snowed on you can be sure I'll let you know.

I'll leave you with this last picture. On the 104th Martian day of it's mission the Phoenix rover saw 6 dust devils. These were the first indications of that kind of weather pattern on Mars.
Again, the picture doesn't want to animate. Go to to see the dust devil move and read more about it.
City dwellers may not be too familiar with these. But I spent enough time on a tractor as a kid that I saw a great many of them out in the field. It's like an itty bitty puny tornado. My uncle, El Cid used to jump off the tractor and try to stand in the middle of them.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

How to find a needle in a haystack

Ways to find a needle in a haystack

0) Go through the whole pile one piece of straw at a time.

1) Burn the hay. Whatever remains must be a needle.

2) Get the intern to do it.

3) Use a big honking magnet to pull it out.

4) Jam your hand in at random. Murphy's Law says that you'll get stabbed by the needle.

5) Feed it to a cow. X-ray the cow.

6) Use a fan to blow away the straw.

7) Push it into a pool. The straw should float. The needle won't.

8) Metal detector.

9) Feed it to horse. Then you only have to sort through the manure.