Thursday, August 31, 2006

9/11 Comission Comic book

I'm not sure why anyone thought this would be a fun thing to do, but apparently the 9/11 comission report is being made into a comic book.

Smart 1 - All Done

In September 2003, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched their SMART-1 probe to study the moon. After completing its mission, SMART-1 is nearly out of fuel, and scientists plan to send it off with a bang.

I would say "Literally," but given there's no sound in a vacuum, that wouldn't be entirely true.

However, if there were air on the Moon, there would definately be a bang because the ESA plans to end the probe's mission by slamming it into the Moon's surface.

The result may be visible from Earth with the use of small telescopes. Experts have predicted that the resulting fireball from the energy of impact and the leftover fuel could be as bright as 7th magnitude (the faintest magnitude visible to the unaided eye in completely dark skies). However, other estimates say it may be more than 8 magnitudes fainter being about more than 1600 times too faint to see without aid.

However, it will be an interesting target for amateur and professional astronomers alike.

For more information, check out's article.

Education Secretary calls NCLB "99.9% pure"

It seems Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is in love with her own pet legislation, the No Child Left Behind act, claiming "There's not much needed in the way of change" as the time for the first major chance for revisions approaches.

Meanwhile, the NCLB is universally decried by educators themselves as well as most of the public. But Spellings doesn't seem to be in touch with that reality, or that the SATs have just showed their biggest drop in scores in 31 years.

A bunch of NCLB gold star members there...

Prayer follows the inverse square law?

It seems the Catholic Church's head ghostbuster has decided that, dispite Hitler's religious background, he wasn't really all that Godly. In fact, he was very devilish because he was in fact, posessed by the Devil. And not only him, Stalin too!

They were just in need of a good exorcism apparently. But according to "secret documents" just now released, the pope at that time, Pope Pius XII, did just this through prayer and it didn't seem to have any effect. So why can God's appointee on Earth not cast out spirits with prayer? After all Jesus promised that if your faith is as small as a mustard seed, you can move a mountain (Matthew 17:20). I suppose the pope really isn't all that strong with the Force faith.

But the chief exorcist gives another explanation:
Of course you can pray for someone from a distance but in this case it would not have any effect.
So apparently prayer power is a function of distance. Pretty wimpy for an omnipresent God.

Yet I'm not sure how much I can expect from the guy that rails against the Harry Potter series, which has turned thousands of kids onto reading, because they "hide the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil." Apparently he doesn't like the fact that they have magic because "magic is always a turn to the devil."

Funny, him believing in magic too...

Natural selection at work

Although I'm not an English major, my university thinks its important for students to be well rounded and have a few courses in the subject. These often consist of reading a work, interpreting it to look for themes, and then write a paper on your findings. I learned back in high school how to do this quite easily.

One of the messages that pops up more than once in the Bible, is that God doesn't take too kindly to us trying to emulate him. In response to Adam and Eve taking a bite of the apple and learning the difference between right and wrong, God kicks them out of the garden. When mankind tries to build a tower in Babel to reach to the heavens, God confounds their speech.

So it's really quite clear that God's not to keen on us trying to attain his powers or insights.

But it seems that there are still those out there that haven't ever learned this trick of reading to find messages or themes. In one such case, such a person was allowed to lead a congregation.

Unfortunately for him, the lack of literary analysis skills led him to his death in front of his congregation, when he tried to replicate Jesus' miracle of walking on water.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Religion's Dark Side

Most of the time I find religion to be nothing more than a rather illogical hobby that many people engage themselves in. But every once in a good while, whether it be "loving" Christians burning down your house, or promoting violent video games so long as they're religious, or Muslims flying planes into buildings, religion suddenly doesn't seem quite as innoculous as it may otherwise.

Another dangerous group seems to have reared its ugly head recently. It's lead by two evangelical preachers, Titus and North.

So what are their goals?

- The overthrow of the American government and replacement with a Christian theocracy ("I don't want to capture their system. I want to replace it")

- The public stoning of gays and non-Christians ("rocks are cheap and plentiful")

- Conversion of Air Force cadets (future pilots with their fingers on nuclear triggers)

- Assassination of anyone they deem to be "tyrants" (that's what the second ammendment is supposedly for)

- Abolish public education (makes indoctrination too hard for them)

While I whole heartedly support their right to free speech, at the same time, it's these sorts of people that the US government should be keeping tabs on instead of tapping the phone lines of random citizens without warrants, or harassing Google for search data, and then acting surprised when an act of terrorism comes from our own.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Musings on Pluto

I suppose many of you have probably heard this by now and I haven't been saying much on it, but it looks like the debate on the status of Pluto is over for now. As of this morning Pluto is no longer a planet and our solar system only has eight planets.

Many astronomy blogs have been mentioning this debate for some time now but I've refrained from commenting for a number of reasons. The first one was that I was waiting for the dust to settle and the vote to be taken before I went out on a limb and made any definative statements.

The second, and perhaps more important, is that I really don't think it's important from a scientific standpoint.

In all fairness, terms like "planet" are just labels. Ultimately the label isn't important as the object itself. The only reason we use labels at all is because it's convenient to have a single word to quickly transmit the concepts without having to go into very specific details. But where we draw the boundary lines is the tricky part.

To illustrate this point, take the word "star" as example. I'm willing to bet that when you read that word, the first image that pops into mind is an concept of a nice round star similar to our sun. Such stars are happily going about their life due to fusion. However, when you think about it some more, there's a lot of things that don't really fit this image, but none the less, are called stars: white dwarves, neutron stars, etc...

Thus, when doing science, these convenient but vague labels generally aren't sufficient, which is why extensive sub grouping is required: main sequence stars, giants, subgiants, variable, etc...

That's why I can't really find myself being too concerned with the status of Pluto as "planet" or not. The entire concept of planet is so overarching that it's not really useful in a scientific sense. But, even if we got down to the nit picky sub groupings, it still doesn't matter to much what we call it, but really, what its properties are.

So scientifically, I don't really worry too much about the designation. Therefore, I can't really say I understand the public outcry. Scientists are the ones that need a quick classification scheme, thus we're the ones that need to worry about such designations. For the general public, there's no good reason I can fathom that they should really care in the least.

The only reason that I can figure out is that it stems from a sense of ethnocentrism, since Pluto was the only (former) planet discovered by an American, and we really want our own to have made such important contributions. But ethnocentrism is a lousy way to make a definition.

So there you have it; My personal opinion on the whole matter. In short, who cares?

"That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

More jumping to conlusions...

I don't know what's up with the sudden trend of ascribing everying to miracles with the religious crowd, but it looks like a bunch of people in India have decided to start drinking sea water that mysteriously turned sweet.

Being the typically devoid of any critical analysis, this means that it must be god. It couldn't possibly be a natural cause of something making it taste sweet and even if it is, there's no way something sweet could be bad for you. Because anti-freeze isn't sweet or anything...

And it's simply impossible that something like this could be the case. Just ignore the fact that the beach "receives thousands of tonnes of raw sewage and industrial waste every day."

Phillipino judge loses case

I thought I'd written a post on this topic awhile back, but I can't find it so I'll start with a bit of background: Back in April, a Phillipino judge was fired after it was revealed that he'd be consulting with three mystic dwarves (Armand, Luis, and Angel) who helped him rule on cases. Feeling that he was being persecuted for his beliefs, he did what we'd all expect from Christians those with a severe delusion; he filed a lawsuit.

Unfortunately for him, studies showed that he suffered from a psychosis and his request to be reinstated was denied.

Looks like the Phillipinos got it right: those who rely on mysticism to make decisions in place of logic have no place serving the public. Too bad this policy hasn't been applied to the Bush administration.

Holy Armor

Are you planning on heading out into the world to tackle some evil atheists? If so, don't forget your Armor of God. I'm willing to bet that shield pillow is super fluffy to wrap around your ears to make extra sure you can keep out those deadly atheist weapons like logic.

Also be sure to stop by the "About Us" page. It's got some more gems like the new Christian math in which they affirm that there's 1 God that equals 3 (I've seen proofs for 2+2=5, but 1=3 is a new one to me).

They also assert that everything is created by God. So I wonder why they're the ones making the money...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Kabbalah Can-Can-Can!

A few years back, Kabbalah, like Scientology, recieved a large surge of popularity due to the support of a few well known celebreties. In particular, Madonna has been an outspoken supporter of Kabbalah. Recently, she and her husband have began petitioning the Brittish government about some Kabbalah holy water that will supposedly clean up nuclear waste.

"I mean, one of the biggest problems that exists right now in the world is nuclear waste," Madonna told reporters a few years ago.

Funny. I always thought that things like global hunger, genocide, and the like were a bit more pressing... Better call Angelina Jolie and tell her she's been wasting her time.

So where did this break through come from? It seems that it's from Oroz; a "23rd-century" research organization that's believed to be sponsored by the Kabbalah Centre. Three years ago it claimed to have developed the magical liquid and shown that it decontaminated a lake near Cherynobyl.

I suppose next I'll take Big Tobacco's word that their "research" is high quality.

Oh, and did we mention that it can also "treat gynaecological problems in cows and sheep"?

Invoking Godwin's Law

Being someone who spends a great amount of time online, I'm familiar with a number of internet adages that some may not be familiar with. One of the most common and profoundly accurate is one known as "Godwin's Law". In core format, it simply states that as an internet discussion progresses, the probability of someone comparing the opposing party or their position to Nazis or facism increases.

While not explicitly stated, it's generally assumed that once this happens, the discussion is essentially over because the person invoking Godwin's Law has resorted to this comparison which is a logical fallacy. It demonstrates that the party no longer has any valid points and instead seeks to rely on emotional appeals instead of any sort of logic.

Yet it seems that this is the stage that the ID crowd has finally reached. Having had their appeals to (bad) logic thrown out by judges, voters, school boards, and scientists, it seems that all they have left is to equate Darwin with Hilter.

The article quotes the host for the television special saying, "To put it simply, no Darwin, no Hitler."

Interestingly enough, replace "Darwin" with "Christianity" and the quote still applies since Hitler used perversion of religious ideals and well as scientific paradigms to influence the masses.

But equality isn't something that the theocrats are in favor of. Instead, they seek to use any appeal necessary, no matter how fallacious in order to abolish "Darwinism" (which is another arbitrary term that has no real menaing, which is why theocrats love it so). Yet should they look in the mirror and realize that their religion is just as much to blame, then we should do away with Christianity as well.

Even as an athiest I hold that this is a rather silly idea. Ban a concept simply because someone distorted and misapplied it? Talk about cutting off the nose to spite the face.

Additionally, given the claims of these theocrats, they seem to imply that this "Darwinism" is the root of all evil. This would mean that before Darwin came up with his groundbreaking theory, the world was a perfect place free of war. However, a brief sojourn into history will reveal that this is obviously not the case. But of those two options, one did exist thousands of years earlier and has been involved in far more massacres than even the most ridiculous ID supporter could tie Darwin to: Religion.

So would banning religion prevent all future wars? If I bought into the theocrat's black and white world of false dichomies that would seem to be the case. Luckly I don't. Neither religion nor Darwin are the root cause of any war (dispite religion being much more frequently linked). I hold that both have been exploited as tools to wage war, but I would no more support banning either one than banning weapons because a few individuals have used them for the wrong purposes.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Get this man a towel. I think he's foaming at the mouth.

It looks like someone with a bit of a screw loose found my post on Jesus appearing on the tail of a shrimp and left a lengthy repy. It was so.... er..... unique, that I felt it deserved its own post:
Dear Jesus Believers; Jesus is not a shrimp! Jesus is already among you. Somewhere on Earth, a puzzle for you to go find him. Jesus Christ is not a shrimp, but, he is the Son of God. He may already have believers among him, already. In secret, kind of - to safty sake, in some sort of way. If you find Jesus Christ, good for you. You shall be saved. Go find him. He will claim he is the Messiah. He will be where they jail him, because, he claims he is the Messiah. He arrived in 2002. Now, where do they jail people who claim are The Messiah? China? Anyway, it would be a place where they don't believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah , anyway. Also, maybe Iraq? We all know that one. Maybe he is in a place where they don't believe in Jesus Christ returning as the Messiah. Maybe he is in Bagdad? Go look worldwide, and go find the one who calls himself the Messiah and he can preform miracles, too. Remember, Sedna, former moon of Jupiter as LO, is predicted to land in Mexico and Texas and part of it in the Ocean, there. Dulce, Taos, and Los Alamos own Sedna, as they are Aliens, Androids, Robots, and Serpents coming to INVADE EARTH, as it was, first theirs, to begin with long ago. Get ready, somewhere inbetween December of 2006 and March of 2007 Sedna lands on Earth to invade it. Then, in the meantime, War begins on Earth. Like a War of the Worlds kind of thing. Then, in 2012, Nibiru, 4 times larger than Earth, our 10th planet, lands in Italy, killing the leader of the 666, there - The Pope, or somebody as ANTI-CHRIST. The Alps is where the Pope hides, underground chambers and tunnels and he takes 100 office people with him, they die, too. DO NOT BUY INTO SEDNA'S AND NIBIRU'S GAME! THEY ARE THE DEVIL KIND. Go find Jesus Christ, the one who calls himself, The Messiah and he can preform miracles. He could be anywhere, right now. We don't exactly know what HE might look like, nowdays, but, he does have dark skin and dark hair and he is big boned and about 6' or more. If you can tell an ARIES, Jesus was born under the sign of the Ram in the Aries Constellation in April if you go look up past star contellations at that time and the Maji were from Persia, one was an astromoner, one was an astrologer, and one was philosopher. They could have been a 3 generation group, son, father and grandfather as they were all studying the same thing in Persia.

If you are a CHRISTIAN, you will be BARCODE TATTOOED by Chinese Mongolian Terrorists as soon as a flood comes and floods the White House from the East, from a Tsunami, from Canary Island Volcano, erupting from Nibiru's landing in Italy. Or sooner from Sedna's arrival into New Mexico beaches.

If you are under the ANTI-CHRIST rule, such as, if you are a Catholic under the Pope, then, you will probably be enslaved, taken, or whatever, by THE INVADERS OF SEDNA AND NIBIRU.








WOW! Did you catch all that?

I think this is one of the best delusional rants I've ever had the pleasure of reading! I especially liked the barcode tattoos by the Chineese Mongolian Terrorists. And Satan (who is apparently in cahoots with a dragon) having underground layers on Sedna (which isn't, for the record, a moon of Jupiter). But apparently Sedna will come to life and conquer us all with the help of Nibiru (that 10th planet that no one seems to be able to find) any time now. And stargates in the Bermuda triangle? Well, gee. That proves it: Grade A nuttery.

Computers are like women...

Apparently, my desktop computer got jealous that I ran off to sunny California all summer with a sleek, sexy laptop leaving my poor desktop stored in my basement back in St Louis covered by a trash bag to keep the dust off. This jealousy has driven my computer to pout; refusing to start up until I buy her something shiny and new. The trouble is, that like most women, my computer expects me to be able to divine what trinket she wants.

I'm thinking it's a new power source. Hopefully the jealousy isn't so deeply rooted that it's a new processor or motherboard. I just bought text books for the semster after all!

However, until we work our problems out, I'm not going to be posting much. Additionally, this semester is looking to be extremely busy which should also be cutting into my formerly frequent rants and commentary.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Quick Post

Back in St Louis. Spent all day on planes, then went to see Pirates with the girlfriend again. Tomorrow shall be running errands, and then Tuesday, back to KU. Suffices to say, I shan't be posting much till I get settled in back at KU.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Coming out of the dark

A few years back now, in my intro Cosmology course, one of the things we discussed was the topic of "dark energy", a mysterious energy which seems to be causing the universe's expansion to accelerate instead of slow down as had been previously expected.

The biggest piece of evidence in this was trying to fit observations to models of the universe in which there were different amounts of matter and energy.
Much to the surprise of researchers, the evidence favored the model which had this mysterious dark energy pushing the universe apart.

Although the data seemed to fit very well, I've never been terribly comfortable with the whole idea of dark energy. The concept of this energy being in an amount very similar to the amount of the total matter that comprises dark matter makes the whole thing rather suspect to me. But as I mentioned, the data fits well, and there's no better explanations out there, so I give the theory my support, for whatever that counts for.

However, that comes with the reservation that, as with all theories, it undergo more testing with ever increasing precision to make sure things aren't a bit wonky.

When I first learned about this theory and did my reading of the papers and other background, I learned that a probe named SNAP (SuperNova Acceleration Probe) was in the works which should dramatically increase the precision of the research.

But aside from that initial report of it, this probe dropped off the radar, much to my disappointment.

However, it seems to have finally gotten approval! So horay for that, and hopefully cosmology will finally be coming out of the dark, one way or the other.

Plausible deniability

It stands to reason that, if no one can see the evidence of evolution, then no one will be able to see through religion's smoke screen. Perhaps this is why the largest Christian church in Kenya is seeking to stop the display of the most complete homo erectus skeleton to date, as well as other artifacts including bones from Australopithecus anamensis, the first hominid to walk upright.

Intellectual honesty at its finest.

"In science, if the facts don't fit the theory, throw out the theory.
In religion, if the facts dont' fit the theory, throw out the facts."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Astronomy Internship - Wrap Up

I haven't been blogging much recently on what's been going on with my internship. The reason for this is... well, I haven't really done a whole lot worth blogging about. This past weekened my girlfriend came in town. We hit Sea World, the beaches, the San Diego Zoo, etc. Lots of fun stuff, but no astronomy.

The past few days have been devoted to working on preparing my final presentation recapping everything I've done and explaining it to my peers. It's probably going to be a bit too technical for the average person, but I'll go ahead and post it when I'm finished.

Additionally, I've been working on an extended version of the presentation which is meant for high school students and covers more of the background to understand precisely what I did. However, there's still much more to go on that, but I'll eventually get around to posting that as well. I know at least one high school back in St Louis is looking to have me present. I haven't heard back from another.

After I finish this presentation, all that's left is for me to throw together the paper, pack, and head home for a day and a half before returning to KU. It's been a great summer, and hopefully the presentation will go well.

Fighting Reality

One of the many reasons that pro-science people will give against teaching Intelligent Design and other pseudo-science, is that giving students a warped version of science does not adequately prepare them for college. As such, it's possible in some cases that colleges may refuse to admit students who aren't adequately prepared.

Just as was predicted, just such a scenario came true last year in the California system of universities. Unfortunately, those with wasted educations have decided that it's not their fault they haven't met the minimum qualifications, but that *GASP* it's religious discrimination. As such, they did what any good American would do and filed a lawsuit. After reviewing the case, a federal judge has decided to let it go forward.

The lawsuit alleges that the UC system is somehow abridging their right to free speech by not accepting it as magically valid and academically sound. The judge said that the plaintiffs showed that they had evidence that they had been forced to choose between teaching courses that met the qualifications and ones preaching their religion.

Perhaps I'm a bit confused, but if they knew full well what the minimum requirements were, and then intentionally sidestepped them to teach religion, how on Earth did they expect to be taken seriously for admissions? Can I make up a crackpot theory that doesn't meet the fundamental level of understanding and claim that my free speech is being stifled if I don't get accepted?

Furthermore, how is it oppressing free speech to require that such things be taught for admission. It doesn't prohibit the school from teaching their religious views as well.

The lawsuit seeks to force the school to accept and endorse science classes that don't include science and instead promote Christian ideology. Should they win, I forsee another lawsuit on first ammendment grounds arguing that the endorsement of such religious classes violates the seperation of church and state.

Meanwhile, the school maintains that it must "be able to reject high school courses that do not meet its standards or that provide more religious than academic content."

Sounds reasonable to me.

Perseids Meteors

If anyone happens to have the chance to get out to a dark area tonight, make sure you look up. Tonight begins the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower which is generally between August 10 and 12. You'll have to stay up pretty late (or get up early) to catch the best show.

The Perseids is dependable annual meteor shower, so if you're looking to see a few shooting stars, tonight's the night. However, if you miss it, the next best shot until next year will be the Leonids in November.

Jesus is a Shrimp

Pareidolia, the ability to mistakingly see familiar patterns in chaos, has struck again.

This time Jesus has decided to pop up in San Deigo in the tail of some shrimp. I'm glad to see that Jesus is finding enough time off of preparing the end of times to make a few guest appearances..

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

DI's Apples & Oranges

It seems that the Discovery Institute is up to it's old trick again of comparing apples to oranges.

In this post, Denyse O'Leary writes about a recent scandal in which the news media was caught posting a poorly photoshopped image of smoke over Berut that was apparently intended to make the scene more ominous. The deception, like many others, was quickly outed by attentative bloggers who noticed the similar natures of the smoke columns and were able to show precisely how the feat was accomplished.

O'Leary makes the claim that this process is synonomyous with the process Intelligent Design supporters use to detect design in nature.

Unfortunately, aside from the initial step of say "well, it looks designed, so perhaps it is", the two cases have very little in common. The Photoshopped image scenario has several components that intelligent design lacks.

The major one is that there is an obvious intent that gives purpose, and motivation, to the Photoshopped image's creation. With intelligent Design, There's no intent. Apparently, the designer just thought it'd be a good idea to put a bunch of organisms together.

The second thing that differentiates the two, is that the Photoshopped picture case did something ID has stubbornly refused to do: demonstrate how it's possible. The blogger that outed the media took the image and demonstrated which parts were copied from where. In science, this would be considered a very good test of a hypothesis. As far as ID, well, they still haven't bothered to explain how the designer did anything. They just claim he/she/it did.

Such is the way of the Intelligent Design proponent. Claims are made, but no evidence is provided. But sadly for them, on closer inspection, their desperate attempts at metaphors to gain legitimacy fall flat.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Windows - The Christian OS

In my last post, I pointed out that the Church of England seemed to be having some trouble with Norton's anti-virus. Stephen responded saying that they could always use another OS which didn't have as many worries about viruses. However, It appears that the only true OS for a good Christian is Windows:
It is now clear that the one true operating system that every good Christian should use is Microsoft's Windows operating system. It was sent from God to help protect us from the vile operating systems from Satan, like Apple. How is it so clear? I think the evidence speaks for itself.

Apple - Garden of Eden.
- We are being tempted by this tool of the devil much like Adam and Eve were.

Windows > Mac
- Windows is much more common than Mac.
- It also is divinely inspired. Therefore, it is okay to have a Windows Operating System.

Other things that need to be addressed...

- Linux is not real! It is simply Jewish mythology. (Lilith, for those of you who don't get it.)

- Other operating systems are the tools of heathens to try to stray good Christians from the path of righteousness. Do not be tempted by their flashy statements of "it's what all the cool nerds use". They are simply trying to sway your faith.

- Open source leads to changes that allow Satan into your faith. It is a slippery slope! Avoid it at all costs!
(Created by Reinharted of the gaiaonline forums)

I just wonder where the new Ubuntu: Christian Edition falls.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Even Norton doesn't like them

It seems that vicars in the Church of England have been having some trouble with Norton Anti-Virus mistakingly identifying their sermons as viruses. The reason behind it is that the software the church uses, Visual Liturgy, uses a filename (vlutils.dll), that is also exploited by a virus. If users delete the legitimate file at Norton's prompt, the software becomes useless.

If that wasn't bad enough, the church claims Norton has not given the church special attention in fixing the problem, forcing them to wait just like anyone else (up to 4 weeks) to investiage the problem. Meanwhile, Systemantic (the company that bought out Norton) says they addressed the problem and have already fixed it.

Regardless of whether or not it's fixed, it's still surprising to me to see the religious officals enslaved by the digital age. Is their grasp of their own religious documents so tenuous that they cannot complete a sermon without having to get prompts?

As a humorous side note, it appears that one vicar was so worried about the spyware that he cancelled all of his credit cards. The process took 10 hours.

What would Jesus do.... with that many credit cards?

Made a few corrections based on user comments.

Universe older and bigger?

An article on today revealed that a new study is stating that the universe might be bigger and older than current estimates predict. Since a few other news sources have picked up the article, I figured I should comment on it.

Let me start off by pointing out that, I'm being my usual skeptic self when I say I don't really find the article to be overly convincing. The main line of evidence is based on a single observation on a single binary system in a single galaxy.

To make this measurement, they looked at a binary system in M33 (the Triangulum Galaxy). These systems are pretty nifty because you can use some relatively simple and well understood math to determine the masses of the stars very accurately.

The assumption from there is that, if you know the mass, you know the luminosity. This isn't a bad assumption. If you remember my discussion of the H-R Diagram earlier, there's a wonderful thing known as the main sequence, that gives a relation between these two.

From there, if you know what the luminosity is supposed to be, you can compare it to what the luminosity is. If the assumption is then made that the only thing dimming the star is distance, there's a nifty little formula that relates the difference between the two to the distance to the star (called the distance modulus equation).

So there's been a few assumptions in this measurement already. As I've already said, most of those assumptions are pretty safe, but in cases like what I'm working on this summer, there are other things that can dim how bright a star appears, thus throwing off your measurement unless you take it into account.

I'm willing to bet that the researches in this study did take such things into account though.

So why do I remain skeptical of the accuracy? The main reason is that they claim it is a "new method". If it's new, chances are it's not terribly well calibrated yet. Other methods of distance indication (Cepheid P-L relation, Supernova Ia brightnesses, etc...) have been undergoing constant calibration to make sure that they are accurate, since the time they were put into use, which is around 100 years at least for these two.

Thus, I'll reserve judgement on this until such a time when things are better calibrated.

My second issue with the study is the fallacy of small sample sizes. So far, this study has a single sample. One. Uno. In comparison, the studies giving the current Hubble constant and age of the universe, have thousands of galaxies contributing to their claim, coming from several different methods of distance indication.

For these reasons, it's more than a bit presumptuous, in my opinion, to say that the commonly accepted value is wrong. What this study does do, however, is raise a red flag and let other astronomers know that there is an issue here that needs to be addressed. Thus, we can look at both the new method to refine it and see if things will iron out, or, assuming this method is revised and discrepancies are still found when there is a statistically meaningful sample size, that the current age of the universe needs to be revised.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Like insects around a lantern

For those that aren't aware, I grew up in a small suburb of St Louis called Webster Groves. It's quite a nice area, filled with very tall, old trees, and houses to match that give the area a very distincy character. But another thing that Webster always seemed to have a rather inordinate amount of, was churches.

According to the 2005 survey, there are 38 churches 23,000 citizens in what isn't an overly religious area. But just incase Webster residents couldn't find something to their liking, the surrouding communities were much the same.

However, if I thought Webster Groves had it bad, apparently it's nothing compared to the 51 churches Stafford TX, which serves a population of 19,227 in a scant 7 square miles. The churches have followed the growth of the community which has been driven by no property tax.

The problem is that, to make up for the lack of property tax, the community must recoup the loss from sales taxes and other busisness fees. However, churches have been grabbing up land left and right making it undevelopable, and untaxable.

Behind the Times

Apparently the practice of exorcism is still being done occasionally over in Belgium (and I'm sure in the US as well). Unfortunately, by not seeking medical treatment, those practicing it frequently find themselves worse off as was the in the article.

To me, it's shocking that anyone would put their lives and safety in the hands of the superstitious, but the article also mentions this isn't the first case recently involving an exorcism gone awry. In the past two years, four other cases have ended poorly, with one case ending in death due to a man being beaten to death with a broom stick.

I'm wondering where that one is in the Bible...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Fries Free of "Freedom"

It seems that the silly movement to rename French toast and French fries to "Freedom toast and "Freedom fries" respecively, is finally over.

The remade names were finally dropped from the menu at congressional cafeterias after having stood for three years after Republicans decided it would be fun to insult the French for not jumping on the Iraq war bandwagon.

It's not sure who lead the renaming retreat, but I'm glad to see it was done quickly without wasting our government's time.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Conclusions first. Questions later.

In science, one of the first steps of the scientific method is to pose a question. You call this a hypothesis and test it to arrive at a conclusion either supporting or refuting your hypothesis.

However, in the religious world, that's not how things work. It seems that over in Wadowice, Poland (the home town of Pope John Paul II) noticed that a statue of the former pope had started sprouting water from its base and immediately concluded it was a divine miracle.

Pilgrims rushed there from all over to collect bottles of the liquid. Why? I have no idea. Magic water must be lucky, or ward of demons, or something.

Sadly for them though, reality got in the way when Mayor Eva Filipiak revealed that the city council had installed a pipe beneath the statue to spurt the water in an effort to make it look prettier.

The moral of this story, is that, sometimes, its better to be a skeptic than to travel half way around the world on a silly assumption just for a bottle of water.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Taking logical fallacies to a whole new level

Creationists and their intellectual brethren, the ID proponents, are well known for their lack for scientific arguments. What they are renowned for is their ability to abuse philosophical notions.

This flash video takes that abuse, combined with the typical logical fallacies to a whole new level.

Dr. Suess would be proud. But if that link gets you depressed, you might want to check out the Dr. Suess bible from Kids in the Hall.

And now that you've had some light comedy, try this link out to get even more strawmen and other fallacies! Since this one covers some Big Bang era, consider having a look over my common misconceptions as there's at least two of them in there...

Police pray to solve crime

It seems that some police departments over in Lincolnshire in the UK are having trouble with solving petty crimes like burglaries and vandalism. Only about 1 in 10 such crimes are solved.

So if the police can’t fix things, who ya’ gonna call?

God of course!

Police departments are now handing over info to churches to pray over, seeking guidance for the cases. Personally, I have no problem with this. It certainly can’t hurt anything, so why not give it a try.

However, I’m not expecting to see any significant increase in the number of crimes solved beyond the placebo effect uplift that officers working on prayer powered cases get. But it seems that the Lincolnshire Christian Police Association was expecting such a skeptic response.

“I know that praying can make a difference in my work,” said Andy McManus, inspector for the LCPA, “but it's all a question of faith.”

Interesting. Faith is inherently blind, so claiming to “know” anything is a bit audacious.

Meanwhile, other officers have claimed to see the power of prayer citing “plummeting” figures in road deaths during the winter on roadways after the Bishop of Lincoln began blessing roadways. I’d be interested to see just how far outside of the standard deviation the fatality rate is. Should there actually be a significant change, I’d also be interested to see what other factors were contributing, such as stricter standards of automobile production, or a mild winter without as dangerous of driving conditions.

Recommended reading

Those of you with keen eyes may have noticed that I added a new link to my list of blogs I frequent. It's a bit off the beaten path of what you might be expecting. The author is a grad student in astronomy at the Ohio State University so I'm rather predisposed to liking it.

So why do I say it's off the beaten path? Well, it's not like most other blogs I've linked to thus far, dealing with hard issues of the interplay between science and everything else. Instead, her blog is mostly a personal narrative of what she's been doing as a grad student. There's not really a lot of science all the time (indeed, most of the recent posts have been devoted to the hastles of flying), but it's a good insight into life as a grad student as far as I can tell.

For those of you that have been following this blog, you probably already know that this is something that I find rather important to communicate. I feel that it is necessary to remind the world on occasion that we're astronomers, but yeah, we're real people to. We have lives and we face the same problems and enjoy the same leisurely activites as non-scientists do. We're not some secret cult of the intellectually smug. This is part of the reason I've had my series of posts on my internship, even though many times, it's just me laying around in bed or going to the beach.

I think Mollishka's blog does a great job of illustrating this, which is why I'm tossing the link her way. She does, what I feel to be a very good job illustrating the humanity of a scientist in training, while at the same time not putting out too much that would be better suited for a journal for best friends.

But that's not to say there's not good science in her blog either. This post I especially like. It's a nice little introduction into galaxies that was meant to serve as an introduction to her soon to be published paper. It's by no means comprehensive, but then again, there's entire books dedicated to the basic understanding of galaxies, so we can't expect too much.

So if you're looking for another blog to read that's not going to stress you out with how stupid people can be, or terribly long winded like mine can get, make sure you stop by and say "hi".

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Big Bang followup

I’ve been running this blog for nearly 5 months now and, until recently, it’s never garnered much attention. Apparently, my post on Big Bang misconceptions drew far more than I suspected thanks to Phil Plat at Bad Astronomy, Pharyngula,, and Stupid Evil Bastard linking to it among nearly 60 other blogs, now according to Technocrati.

I hadn’t intended for it to be so widely publicized. After all, these points shouldn’t be all that astounding and I’m not the first to address these points.

So I’m not really sure why it became so popular. But regardless of my expectations, it did. And I’m pleased so many people found it helpful. That single post has generated more comments than the rest of this blog combined I think (I haven’t counted but it sure seems that way). So to everyone that stopped by thanks and I appreciate the comments. I try to respond to as many as I can. Nearly all of the comments I received and saw elsewhere were positive. Even Panda’s Thumb’s (is that the correct possessive form?) local creationist stopped by but couldn’t find anything to say except that “it’s not cutting edge science.”

He’s right, and I never claimed it to be. It’s just the general science that people should have picked up in school, but from my experience, they haven’t. Even those that seem to really enjoy science and accept the theories often fall prey to these misconceptions and don’t have the complete picture. It seems to be such a pervasive problem that I can hardly fault the individuals, but instead would have to consider the schools at fault.

Well, kind of. Astronomy is a rather esoteric science that doesn’t have much direct application to every day life. Thus, it’s not stressed in schools, and is generally only very lightly touched upon. Very few high schools even offer a basic class dedicated to astronomy. So, I suppose we can’t blame the schools for not getting the point across when there’s so much more that’s important, and therefore leaving people to get their understanding from common knowledge which generally isn’t reliable.

But for all the kind comments I received, there were the inevitable loony ones from fundamentalists or people who have just read a bit too much sci-fi.

One of my favorites came from digg:
Misconception #5 --> "The Big Bang Actually Happened!" Of course it didn't and there is no proof that it ever did, but this is the misconception that most people seemed to be buying into the most.
I’m supposing the guy that wrote this didn’t actually bother to read what I’d posted as I did offer several independent threads of reasoning that all pointed to the Big Bang.

Also on digg, tdellaringa started on the typical rant that my post was meant to head off
No, the "big expansion" is not compatible with scripture. 6 days does not a big expansion make. No, days were not some unspecified amount of time.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Accept it or reject it, just don't try to walk around it.
Such arrogance! “My interpretation of the Bible is the only one that’s possibly right!”

There were also a fair number of ad hominems scattered around:
who cares what a 22 year old astronomy student has to say on the big bang? typical college kid-who-thinks-he-knows-everything BS. This article just restated what most people already know if they've read anything about the big bang.
Have I ever claimed to know everything? I certainly can’t recall ever doing so. In fact, there’s been more than one occasion in this blog I’ve made an error that was caught by a reader and I cheerfully admitted my mistake and corrected it noting that such discrepancies were caught by others. But either way, what does my age have to do with anything?

Furthermore, not everyone who’s done reading about the Big Bang has gotten this as experience has clearly demonstrated. Over.And.Over.

But to all those people who enjoyed my post and left comments, I thank you and hope you continue reading.

Kansas election results a mixed bunch

Most of the election results are in for the Kansas school board elections.

For those of you that weren't aware elections were yesterday, in which 5 of the school board member seats were either up for reelection, or being vacated. Four of the five seats belonged to members of the school board who had decided to redefine science to allow for the teaching of supernatural and insert false critisizms of evolution into the classroom.

After the Dover school board elections, many were hopeful that the theocrats would be swept from office after the embarassment Kansas suffered at their hands, being the state with the lowest rating for science standards in the entire nation.

In District 1, Janet Waugh (D) won over Jesse Hall (D), who was reported to be a stealth anti-evolution candidate by our buddy over at Red State Rabble. So that's good.

District 3, shows that the fundamenalist John Bacon (R) won over Harry McDonald (R) and David Oliphant (R). Aside from voting to redefine science, Bacon also voted to appoint Bob "Heckuva job" Corkins commissioner dispite a total lack of qualifications.

Over in District 5, the results are only 99% in at this point, but it looks like incumbent Connie Morris (R) has fortunately been defeated by Sally Cauble (R) in which Cauble has enough of a lead that the last 1% won't save Morris. Morris admitted to voting for the awful science standards in her last term dispite not having read them. Additionally, she seems to be drawing a lot of campaign money from out of state think tanks like the Discovery Institute. Additionally Morris and Steve Abrams (another fundamentalist candidate, not up for reelection) have tried to portary award winning books such as Tony Morrison's Beloved, and Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as pornography and inappropriate for children. I suppose she hasn't bothered to read the Song of Solomon in her Bible? Morris also tried to attend a conference in Miami on magnet schools (dispite having no magnet schools in her district) in which she stayed at a luxury hotel costing $339 a night. Conicidentally her daughter happened to live nearby.

Anti-science incumbent Ken Willard (R) looks to retain his position having defeated Donna Viola (R) and M.T. Ligget (R) in District 7.

Jana Shaver (R) appears to have beat incumbent Brad Patzer (R) in District 9. Patzer appears to have gotten a portion of his funding from a the right-wing PAC "Free Academic Inquiry and Research Federal PAC", which sponsors only creationist candidates, as did Morris, Bacon, and Willard.

So quick recap:
District 1: YAY!
District 3: BOO!
District 5: YAY!
District 7: BOO!
District 9: YAY!

Total score: 3 of 5 anti-science theocrats gone. Not as good as I'd hoped, but at least common sense and cooler heads have regained the majority.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Possibility of habitible planets

This article on caught my eye when it popped up in my news feed on my hompage. The article is titled "Habitable Planet Possible Around Nearby Star System". Reading over it, it's a pretty interesting article, but I figured I'd spend some of the time going into a bit more depth than the article does.

The first question I'm sure many people reading this article will have is "Is there a planet there?" The answer is "Possibly." However there's no direct evidence yet. Such small planets are far beyond our current threshold at the present time.

This may seem like a pretty lame answer. After all, why would astronomers start getting excited without any evidence to suggest there is something there?

The answer is that this is one of the rare instances when the response is something other than "absolutely not." So while it's not exactly positive confirmation, at least it's a step in the right direction.

So what determines whether or not there's any chance of a habitable planet?

Perhaps one of the first requirements is that it orbit the right kind of star. The really big, massive, hot stars give off most of their energy in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Life (as we know it) and UV don't really get along too well, so those really big massive stars aren't generally a place we care to look.

At the opposite extreme, there's the low mass red dwarfs. Intuition should tell you these are cooler, so any planet that's going to be a comfortable temperature will have to be huddled in close. Unfortunately for those plaents, lower mass stars like these are prone to immense solar flares and other activity that wouldn't help forming life out too much either.

So the stars can't be too hot, or too cold. There's a fairly wide range of comfortable medium however.

Thus, assuming we have the right kind of star, there will be a range of distances that the temperature and stellar conditions would be right for. However, a planet would have to actually be there to enjoy such a "habitable zone".

Unfortunately, this is what's ruling out most known solar systems from having habitable planets. There's something we're observing that telling us that any planets that did happen to form there, didn't stay.

The feature we're observing is massive planets, similar to, or larger than Jupiter, that are very close in to their parent star. And when I say close, I mean close. Many of the known ones are closer than Mercury to our sun.

So what's the problem with that? Why can't we have a Fatty McPlanet rubbin up against hot Mamma Sun while the little guys play out in the celestial yard?

The answer is that things just can't form that way. Models of solar system formation, based on what we understand from the forming solar systems we see in places like the Orion Nebula, show that these high mass Jupiter planets should form out where Jupiter is or further.

So what in the blazes are they doing way in there? The best explanation for this is that these planets made like the birds and migrated. Which begs the question, "How?"

Well, nothing says that these massive planets formed alone. Sometimes they can have brothers. And as we well know, brothers don't tend to get along to well. As we can understand from the discovery of Neptune, in which it was mathematically predicted by the graviational effects it had on Uranus, massive planets can influence one another due to gravity.

If they're close enough, and massive enough, their gravity can actually pull each other out of orbit. Ultimately, one will generally get thrown outward while the other heads inward, falling into a smaller orbit around the parent star.

So where do smaller habitable planets come into all this? The answer is that to get into those small tight orbits, the massive planet is going to have to cross the habitable zone. And if such a planet has enough mass to give a good toss to a similarly sized companion, just imagine what's going to happen to a pipsqueak planet the size of Earth. Such dimunitive planets can pick up enough velocity that they'd be ejected from the solar system all together! If they do manaage to stick around the solar system, chances are, they're not going to get lucky enough to stay in the habitable zone.

Thus, when we see these "hot Jupiters" its an indication that any planets that would be potentially habitable are long gone. Sadly, most solar systems we observe are like this.

But despair not my friend! Even though these are the ones we observe, there's a reason they crop up so often: They're the easiest to find! Ones with Jupiters out where our Jupiter is are much harder to detect. So even though we only see these ones, it doesn't mean they're the only ones out there.

And even if there's a massive planet rather close in, there's still hope. If it lies within the habitable zone, there's a chance that its moons may be able to support life.

So going back to the article, the system, 55 Cancri, is one of the few known ones that has a star that fits our Goldilocks criterion, and also has the Jupiter planets where we'd expect Jupiters to be to allow earthy planets (if they're there) to exist. Although it's not a definate confirmation, it's certainly better than the alternatives. This should give you a bit better appreciation for how lucky we are to be here (and no, that's not an argument from incredulity in favor of Creationism).

In next post regarding astronomical data, I'll probably be exploring how astronomers use the tools I've talked about to discover extra solar planets in the first place. So stay tuned!

Stardust @ home

Many of you may be familiar with SETI @ home, a program which anyone can install on their computers and borrows the user's computer power when it's idle to search through the terrabytes of data generated by SETI and look for alien signals.

Following the trend, the recent Stardust probe has generated Stardust @ home. It's not quite the same, however. Stardust @ home seems to be something that's interactive, allowing users at home to take on the role of astronomer and look for tiny grains embedded in the aerogel.

To encourage people to participate, the group is offering co-authorship positions on any papers published if they find a piece of interstellar dust. Chances are that most of the grains will be from our own solar system and thus, while exciting in their own right, are not the holy grail of the mission.

When it comes online it's definately going to be something I'll play with occasionally and I'd encourage others to do the same.

Shrine to ignorance

Hen Ham has finally finished his version of Kent Hovind's dream house, and he's done it right. It seems that his $25 million creation "museum" will be opening soon.

The best thing I can say about this article is that MSNBC doesn't even pretend that it's real science. It makes it very clear that the builders don't care about scientific evidence and can't see beyond the pages of their bible.

The pictures in the article are also pretty interesting:

In this picture, it's supposed to depict "two archaeologists coming to very different conclusions while unearthing the same skeleton." It doesn't say who's who, but I think the character profile is about as subtle as those catchy Mac commerials.

I'll take a stab and say the clean old wise guy dressed in the light clothing is the "enlightened creationist", whilst the scruffy dark clothing hippy looking guy is the evil atheist scientist.

The second picture is just as fun:

There's our good buddy Ken Ham right there, showing off his nice shiny new museum. But what part of the museum is the most important? Would it be the reconstruction of a section of Noah's ark? Nah. The giant mechanical dinosaus chillin' with Adam and Eve? Nope. Why it's the bookstore of course! Where you can buy all of your wonderful creationist propaganda literature for $19.95 $24.95!

Hesitant Praise for the President

It's not often that I find something to praise Bush for, but when he does do something right I like to give credit where credit is due. Apparently Bush has a program entitled the American Competitiveness Iniative which would seek to increase funding for sciences, with emphasis on areas that would keep America competative economically. This means areas like nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy.

However, while it sounds nice, I remain skeptical in that it seems nearly too good to be true. The funding would have to get approved by congress and as large an increase as is requested, it seems likely that it will get shot down long before coming law. Thus, I wonder if the Iniative is just a charade in order to make it look like he supports science after having seriously hampered it in other ways.

I suppose we'll have to wait until it is up before congress to see what will come of it.