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It's been a hard, stress-making week, and it's not over yet, and next week will be even worse. What I need is some soothing perspective, and there's nothing to produce that quite so well as space! So I hereby declare that today is for space pictures!

Photos of Mars from the Spirit Rover -- real actual honest-to-god photographs of another planet! I geek out just thinking about it.

Winners of the Discover astro-photography contest -- achieved through a combination of backyard telescopes, cameras, and remarkable patience. These photos remind me what an amazing, impossible, beautiful place the universe is.

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi's space photography -- Soichi is currently serving aboard the International Space Station, from which he tweets his photography of the Earth. It's kind of him to share, and amazing that we have the technology to do this these days.
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Holy crap! We've got a major thunderstorm blowing through, and I just saw a funnel cloud trying to form! It got ripped apart before it could get very far--I'm not really worried about tornadoes--but that was amazing!
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Funny thing for a professed Christian to say, but yes. I just think that science hasn't necessarily caught up with everything. I mean, that's an awful lot of stuff. It seems pretty silly to assume that what we've worked out so far can cover every possible phenomenon.

In point of fact, there's an interesting branch of mathematics philosophy (yes, there is such a thing) that posits that math in its many and varied forms may actually be the language of the universe. See, for a long time we assumed we'd created match as a precision tool to communicate and describe the world without the hang-ups of context that go along with the usual sorts of language. Then one day, some guy wondered, "Hey, what if we discovered this rather than created it?" Lots of people scoffed, but some other guy pointed out that we would know the answer if math ever started behaving, well, weird. After all, if it's just something we made up, then it'll always do what we want, right? In fact, math might stop being a useful analytical tool in that case, because it'll keep representing what we want it to represent rather than what's actually out there. But if it's something we discovered, then at a certain point math will abandon our neatly ordered vision of it and start reflecting all the crazy crap that actually goes on in the world--the apparent contradictions, the folding out of space, the stuff that just can't be but it's there anyway.

Let's say somebody came along and built a building. This building is so big you can't actually see it all at once from anyplace you can stand. So clearly, the thing to do is build a small model of it so you can see what the real thing looks like. Now, it's completely up to you whether you accurately recreate the building. If you go around changing the measurements and moving walls, nobody will be able to tell you it's wrong. That would be the concept of math being a tool we invented--we could do whatever the heck we wanted with it. On the other hand, another way to get a clear idea of that building is to get in there and start bumbling around--discovering your way through it rather than trying to model it with a smaller fake version of itself. If this is the case, then you're not making anything up; it's already there for you to find and reason your way through.

And lo and behold, math does indeed get pretty darn strange out around the edges. Sometimes equations don't equal out, for example (can 4+5 = 15-3? Apparently so!). Sometimes variables randomly appear--or disappear. Constants change. That's not how math would work it we were making it up. Ask any mathematician. They usually don't go into the field because they're all into chaos and uncertainty.

So...what do you do with a universe like that? Where things can be described in a language that apparently existed before we got here? You keep trying to work it out, is what. And maybe, one day, we'll understand the language well enough to figure out how to converse in it....and who or what we're holding the conversation with.
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Yes, another sweeping LJ drama is rushing through fandom--and like the last one (that'd be RaceFail '09, for those keeping track), it's actually useful. This one is all about whether online writers ought to risk spoiling their stories by putting up warnings for things that could not only offend or disgust readers, but potentially actually traumatize them--for widely used example, rape survivors who stumble upon a story with rape in it.

(There's a thing that's lately known as "triggering," where a person encounters something that deposits them back into the emotional state they were in during a traumatic event from their past. I had always thought this was a form of flashback, but then this is why I'm not a psychologist. Either way, you can imagine it screws you up, and considering that various forms of sexual assault and other violence--think gaybashing--are sadly common, this is not a matter of histrionic theatricality. If you want to know about triggering, check out this post by a member named [ profile] impertinence--but be aware, her tale is graphic and potentially triggering in its own right.)

Anyway, the thing about warning labels. Some of these survivors think people ought to warn them before they dive headfirst into something that might end up being triggery. It seems that a number of writers object to this on the grounds that--well, on lots of different grounds. For example, some think it's too much trouble. Some protest that they suck at knowing what to warn against and would fail to accomplish anything anyway. Some think that this whole triggering thing is just a bunch of whining. Some believe it ruins the integrity of their story due to spoilers. (If you want to read about the arguments, you can start at this post by [ profile] lcsbanana.)

But I'm not here for that. I'm here to talk about the technology behind it all. )
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Which, of course (get your minds out of the gutter, you perverts!) is a term indicating books and libraries worth drooling over.

Now Scanrobot apparently wants you to get your minds back into the gutter.

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There are not words to describe how cool this is.

"Swiss 'FusionMan' plans to fly across the Channel"

Thu Sep 18, 12:02 PM ET

LILLE, France (AFP) - Swiss daredevil Yves Rossy will attempt to cross the English Channel next week, propelled by a jet-powered wing strapped to his back, an aide said.

The 49-year-old airline pilot will next Wednesday drop from a small plane at an altitude of 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) before spreading his wing.

He will jet off to the English coast, reaching speeds of more than 200 kilometres (125 miles) per hour.

Rossy hopes to cover the 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Calais in northern France to Dover in 10 minutes.

Rossy, who calls himself FusionMan, became the first man in 2004 to fly with jet-powered wings.

His new contraption, with a wing span of three metres (10 feet), allows him to fly for no longer than 10 minutes before his 30-litre fuel tank runs out. He can reach peak speeds of 300 kilometres (180 miles) per hour.

Rossy will take two parachutes -- one for him and one for the wing that opens automatically once it is cast off.
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The Vatican's science programs

Now, that doesn't speak for the evangelicals, Protestants lacking a central authority and all (as a note, I am a Protestant, and we don't all hate science either). But it's a good article, and I figured I'd share it around to help set the record straight.

In other news, I'm shopping for a tablet pc, or a convertible notebook computer. At the moment, I'm eying the HP Pavilion tx2500, mainly because it's cheaper than anything else and nobody's complaining about it too much. Any thoughts?
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Have you been following the Pluto news? It continues to whack the overturned beehive of the astrophysics community with a stick.

According to this article, the IAU last month arrived at the stunning idea to soothe Pluto fans by naming any planet that's Pluto a 'plutoid.' (This article helpfully informs us that "In French plutoid is plutoïde, in Spanish plutoide and in Japanese 冥王星型天体."  Elsewhere, an astronomer named Brown comments, "Back when the term 'pluton' was nixed they said they would come up with another one. So I guess they finally did.")

Now apparently the astrophysics community is up in arms because the IAU didn't consult anyone about this. What happened, we're told, was that some guys got together in a back room in Oslo for a week, and when they came out, plutoids suddenly existed, which was news to everybody else. Some astronomers* are so offended that they are considering the possibility of establishing a new governing body for the field in opposition to the IAU (I quote Alan Stern formerly-of-NASA: "There is a disturbance in the force. Enough said."). The question will be addressed in a giant astrophysical throwdown at Johns Hopkins University in August, where "nobody will vote," but given the language thrown around by at least one irrationally angry scientist, possibly chairs will be used as weapons.

* Meaning at least one.


May. 9th, 2008 02:20 pm
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[ profile] x_los posted a conversation she had with a friend regarding steampunk, and I felt moved to response...which got too long to leave in her comments and thus got shipped over here.

Now, I'm not as much into the movement as some people. I do not, for example, have a steampunk costume (though, um, I'm trying to put one together for Halloween), but I dare to claim that I do sort of tap the zeitgeist. That is, steampunk speaks to me; I feel a visceral response to the aesthetic. So...barring somebody who is TOTALLYINTOIT!OMG spinning by to play the eloquent apologist, I'll attempt to speak toward the phenomenon.

X-los expressed curiosity as to what the driving impulses are behind the movement and why it's all came together the way it has, so I'll try to hit those as I see them, and also, concerned might not be the word, but potentially distasteful of the idea that steampunk may be an attempt to move toward the hyper-structured, ritualized society of the Victorian period, and its attendant, very formalized forms of repression and segregation. Military fetishism was mentioned, which is an understandable bit of confusion seeing as steampunk's look draws heavily on weaponry, equipment, and costuming elements from military uniforms.

In my experience, however, steampunk is exactly the opposite. )

In any case, I predict that you can expect to see a lot more of it around in the near future: more art, more costumes, more brass and wood. More video games and movies and books, and a whole lot more of this.  My god, I want that laptop.
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Librarians are famous for loving their conferences. Thanks to the tireless nagging of our Associate Dean, Sally Kalin, the Pennsylvania Library Association is hosting their bajillion-and-second annual conference here at Penn State. It started on Sunday. They've never held it here before. It's always been in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or Pittsburgh. So, this is quite a coup--or something--and our particular department got volunteered to help make it as awesome and impressive and repeatable as possible.

Among other things, this means we've spent the last two weeks running around like we were fighting a zombie attack, designing posters, signage, banners (apparently they've never had a banner before, or a graphic theme, which leads me to believe that impressing the hell out of this group won't be terribly difficult), brochures, and whatever other printed materials a librarian's conference needs in order to function. Another thing we have that they've never had before for a PaLA conference is modern, standardized equipment. Y'know, laptops that dependably have functional software, that sort of thing. We also got volunteered as the A/V staff, since the conference center here charges extra for the service of their technical staff and equipment, and the PaLA doesn't exactly have an overabundance of money.

Most of which I mention because it amuses me.

Anyway, I'll be working A/V tomorrow, and alternately delighting in the chaos and screaming at the ineptitude of our Luddite bindery staff, who for some inexplicable reason our department head decided would be helping in the A/V duties (bindery supervisor managed to jam the blinds in one room through her panicked random button pushing, when no one had asked her to meddle with the blinds at all; God help us if she gets near an actual computer). But since Penn State's libraries have decided it'd be a crime for a locally hosted conference to go to waste, they're actually footing the bill for any and all library personnel to get themselves registered and attend at least a day of the conference on university money.

I went yesterday, and by God, it was actually a lot of fun. )

Humanity online and what could become of us? )

PrettyArbitrary dramatically switches gears and talks about her own future. )

* They say the hyphen is dying? Not on my watch!

Oh, I almost forgot! Two YouTube videos to amuse you.
Snowball the rockin' cockatoo--my sister sent me this.

Darth Vader turns out to be hip after all--this one is my dad's fault.

And! I forgot to brag. Our stove has been dying the slow death for quite some time, and then last week I...uh, kinda...set the washing machine on fire. Sort of! Okay, well really it was just smoking. They said it was probably the belt. ANYWAY! Point being that we've had our appliances attended to. Washing machine isn't fixed yet, but what we do have is a nice, shiny AWESOME new stove! Sleek black thing with a flat top range...our kitchen is now handsome. It cooks hot, fast, and, I gotta get to some baking.

Point being, I brag about the new stove. And also, our kitchen has, ever since we moved in, occasionally displayed an odd funk. Nothing we could pinpoint, not bad or strong, just...present sometimes. Well, when they pulled out the old stove, it turned out...(Kashyk, if you're reading this, you may just want to stop here).

See, the guys who lived there before us had a pet ball python. The python escaped and went missing at one point (you can tell this is going nowhere good, can't you?). It was never heard from again.

Until Monday, when they pulled out the old stove and found that it had apparently crawled up underneath to get warm, where it was...less mummified, more petrified, and proceeded to funk up the place for four years.

In other news, on Sunday I baked fresh bread (used kosher salt, turns out that in the future I need to be a bit more liberal with that as the bread ended up undersalted). I also pretty much invented a tomato sauce recipe. Well, less invented, more followed an age-old pattern using all fresh ingredients, starting with fresh-picked tomatoes. It went down a big hit with the roommates, so I'll probably tinker, work the bugs out and make it more regularly.

Perhaps I should add that both of those were on the old stove.
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I liked this. It's an editorial article from Discover Online. It gathers a lot of thoughts on psychology and science and religion and sociology, and ends up making a lot of sense to me.

Jaron's World: Peace through God

The tangled dance of science, violence, hope, and strange beliefs. )
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Ether: the fabric softener of the universe? I love it when Mad gets into our Science. :D

From National Geographic:

Dark Matter's Rival: Ether Theory Challenges "Invisible Mass"
Elizabeth Svoboda
for National Geographic News
September 8, 2006

Late last month scientists working at NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory announced that they had found proof of dark matter, the theoretical substance believed to make up more than a quarter of the universe.

But Glenn Starkman, a cosmologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is hitting back with a blast from the past. He argues that dark matter might not exist and that the long-discredited substance known as ether is actually what influences gravity in the cosmos.

Dark matter is the prevailing scientific explanation for a puzzling phenomenon: Galaxies behave as if they contain much more mass than is visible to astronomers (see a computer simulation of dark matter). According to theory, dark matter is the invisible mass that accounts for this behavior, and the undetectable substance makes up five times more of the universe than the matter we can see.

Starkman's controversial counterproposal is that the presence of ether in the universe better explains the galaxies' behavior. His theories were recently reported in the August 26 issue of New Scientist magazine. "Galaxies spin faster than they should, given the amount of matter we see in them. The possibility we've gone with for a long time is that there's some unaccounted-for mass generating that extra gravity," Starkman said. "But the other possibility is that the amount of mass we see generates more gravity than we thought. That's where ether comes in."

Ether Wind

The term "ether" is derived from Aether, the ancient Greek god of the upper sky and the personification of space and heaven.

The scientific concept of ether—a background medium that pervades the universe—has been around for hundreds of years. Scientists once believed that ether was the substance that allows light to move through the universe, just as sound needs air or water to propagate. Earth's motion through the ether, some physicists thought, would create a type of wind that bends light waves the same way that wind in the atmosphere bends sound waves.

But the theory was largely abandoned after an 1887 experiment by physicists Albert Michelson and Edward Morley. Dubbed "the most famous failed experiment," the test was meant to gather data on the effects of this so-called ether wind. But the experiment showed that light propagation was not affected, suggesting ether wind did not exist.

Later, Einstein based his theory of special relativity on the idea that light can move through an ether-free vacuum.

Starkman's conception of ether, however, is very different from the outmoded 19th-century one—he thinks that ether affects the pull of gravity, not the movement of light waves. "With traditional gravitational models, you have a rubber sheet that curves wherever there's a large mass on it," he said. In Starkman's theory of how ether works, "when ether is around, the rubber sheet gets softer. So when you put a large mass on the sheet, the effect of the mass goes out further."

Starkman's initial calculations show that ether's localized effects on gravity would account for the high velocities of galactic stars. The next phase in his research will be to perform more detailed calculations to make sure his ether theory matches up with empirical evidence, such as the motion of planets within the solar system. "It's important to do these experiments, because either we'll be able to rule dark matter out or we'll increase our confidence in it. At this point I don't think we can rule out either of the two [competing] theories," he said.

Challenging Einstein

Several high-profile theoretical physicists have lined up to support Starkman's theory, including Jacob Bekenstein, theoretical physics professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and Andreas Albrecht, cosmologist and physics professor at the University of California, Davis.

Still, Starkman acknowledges that his theory is in its infancy and may not stand up to rigorous testing. "We're offering an alternative to the dark matter theory—we're not saying it's wrong. If I had to bet today on which of these theories was correct, I might bet on dark matter."

Meanwhile, many other experts are sitting on the fence. Michael Turner, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, is intrigued by Starkman's theory, but he hesitates to accept it wholesale due to its troubling implications. For example, the presence of ether would create holes in Einstein's theories of relativity, the widely accepted explanations for how light moves and gravity works (read an excerpt and see images from "Einstein and Beyond" in National Geographic magazine). "It's early to tell whether this [ether] theory will really pass through the gate," Turner said. "When you change the theory of gravity, you could cause lots of problems elsewhere. It's an interesting Plan B, but we already have a pretty good Plan A."
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Check it out: the Moral Sense Test. This is not a meme! It's a quiz that's part of a Harvard study on morality. doesn't do anything that's all that much fun, but y'know. For SCIENCE!

Speaking of which: Will this be the first functioning quantum computer? Supposedly it's commercially viable, but from the sounds of it, "commercially viable" and "affordable for anyone outside of a government research lab" aren't necessarily equivalent. But, such has it always been.

In other news, Traffic signs might be part of the problem. As part of a new movement in urban planning, it's looking like removing those traffic signs and stop signals actually decreases accidents and traffic violations.

A blurb saying nothing new about dark energy. You know what I was thinking? We've got electrons orbiting atoms and moons orbiting planets and planets orbiting suns and suns orbiting galactic cores. Wouldn't it be a gas if galaxies clustered the same way, and "dark energy" were actually just a macro-cosmic iteration of stuff we already know about?

And finally, I am SO BORED. And I forgot my lunch today. :/

Edit: Also, I just realized that I don't have a tag for Science. Well, I do now, but that struck me as odd, all things considered. I'm really not very good at making organized tags. I wish I could make a tag called SCIENCE! but it automatically decapitalizes things. Is there another word for that? 'Lower-casing' doesn't seem to have the zing I'm looking for.


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