27 September, 2006


Real World is sucking most of my time at the moment, I’m working on some upcoming entries when I can, until then browse on over to the latest Skeptics Circle over at Salto Sobrius – don’t forget your tinfoil hat!

15 September, 2006

Science in Action

Astronomy text books have been re-written a few times since I last took an astronomy class (back when the Steady State Theory was leading - OK so I’m dating myself, nothing new, move along now) one of the enduring unsolved questions that has interesting implications (as well as more than a few tenures and seats at various institutions of higher learning) is how galaxies maintain their shape.

Galactic rotation curves

I won’t go in to the messy math details but it boils down to this, either our understanding of gravitational effects at galactic distances is inadequate or there must be several times more mass distributed throughout (and beyond) a given galaxy than can be inferred from observation in order for the galaxies to maintain their spiral shape for more than a rotation or two.

According to our understanding of gravity as described by Newton, the further a given star is from its galactic center the slower its orbital velocity should be. This holds true at the solar system level, where from Mercury out each planet’s (and minor planet’s) solar orbital velocity diminishes according to F=ma, when these velocities are plotted they produce a smooth diminishing curve. However, when the motion of stars orbiting at different distances from a galactic center are plotted something strange happens, at some point the curve flattens and the stars near the edge of the galactic disk have the same orbital velocity as those closer to the center maintaining the spiral structure over many galactic rotations.

Dark Matter

The current leading theory invokes something called dark matter, a so far invisible, undetectable theoretical construct that (allegedly) makes up at least 80% of the matter in the universe – the implication of this is that we can only account for 1 out of 5 parts of the universe around us – that means for every star we see, every planet we can infer there is the equivalent of at least 4 times as much mass somehow hiding in plain sight.


One heretical alternative named MOND (for Modified Newtonian Dynamics) was explored back in 83 when Mordehai Milgrom published 3 papers in volume 270 of The Astrophysical Journal that were received with thunderous…


Since then it has been attacked and ridiculed but no one has so far proven it wrong, it has recently attracted some renewed interest and has been expanded by Jacob Bekenstien into a MOND theory called TeVeS – acronym for Tensor, Vector and Scalar that describes how matter and energy react with space and time and can explain the phenomenon of gravitational lensing. First predicted by Einstein and given as the first proof of general relativity when during a solar eclipse the apparent position of a star ‘behind’ the sun was displaced by the amount predicted.

In the next few years one of these two theories will be consigned to the “nice try” bin along with luminiferous aether (although a modern replication of the Michelson Morley experiment with current state of the art instruments would be interesting) and a few academic careers – but that’s what happens in science as opposed to faith.

And the debate continues, a recent paper suggests that the x-ray halo surrounding the colliding galaxies 1E0657-556 (the bullet cluster) is direct evidence of dark matter. The two galaxies are ‘colliding’ (passing through each other) at 10 Million Mph and there are some interesting lensing effects – that some researchers infer as caused by dark matter.

Personally, I have a gut bias against invoking something (dark matter) that can’t be seen or detected, on the other hand Newton’s laws hold up remarkably well and by invoking dark matter can explain the rotation problem - however, if someone tells you that we know all about gravity and the electromagnetic spectrum gently ask them to explain the two slit problem.

However the answer turns out - that is the beauty of the scientific method

07 September, 2006

Who’s the UbberNerd?

Open challenge – somewhere out there are an elite few who scored higher, I bow to those few

I am nerdier than 99% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Arising to Janet's challenge – and ably answered by PZ and Orac among others and no I can’t top PZ’s portrait

1 yah, punched cards, learned COBOL, watfour, watfive, FORTH etc but due to the slowness of the hardware any real time work was done in machine code – same with FORTRAN and promptly forgot all of it when no longer needed, although a FORTH program was pointing the telescope up until a few years ago

2 build computers from liquid cooled over clocked game screamers to resurrecting discarded 286 & 386 for Linux projects

3 did the Rings and Dunes in my teens but was more influenced by Eric Frank Russell, Heinlein & Clarke than Tolkin or Herbert

4 I traveled with a Silent 700 terminal, logged on from payphones in airports circa ‘79

5 not much of a D&D or any of the role playing games however at onetime a bit of a FPS junkie and still grab the occasional fractional hour of yoke time on the flight sim

6 ditto on the trinkets although I did have a Revenge of the Jedi poster and a few tidbits from Sprocket Systems

7 At one point in time had all the original Star Trek on ½” eiaj reel to reel video tape, then on Betamax

Speaking of Beta…

8 still have 3 functioning SuperBetaHiFi decks and an industrial beta deck and a few hundred tapes

9 without implicating myself or former coworkers, lets just say we had access to ‘preview copies’ of the original 3 Star Wars, Blade Runner (do androids dream of electric sheep?) Close Encounters and a few others, sometimes before the theatrical release

10 obscure brit SiFi – StarCops – one of the few shows that was technically accurate with regard to space & the moon – had a great theme song

11 comics, outgrew the typical ones once I hit puberty however I have all the FFF Brothers, Crumb, and a few boxes of various underground comics from the late 60’s through the 80’s along with all the Calvin & Hobbs, Shoe, Bloom County and of course Doonesbury

12 I’ve had a three letter @ email address since the mid 80’s and the same domain since 91

02 September, 2006

Further adventures in air travel

AirTran Flight 47 1 September 2006

With a larger than normal crowd at Atlanta airport the Friday evening before the long holiday weekend Just checking in to the flight was an exercise in standing in lines, once actually checked in there was some minor gate shuffling after the pleasantly brief security check.

Flight was scheduled to depart ATL at 2122 arriving in San Francisco at 2347, which would mean I’d get home about 3am – ‘wheels up’ didn’t actually happen until 45 minutes after that, not too bad for the typical Friday delays

About two hours into the flight the pilot announced that we were diverting to Denver, seems there was a passenger (male, mid 20’s and looked to possibly be Malaysian) who was behaving strangely, he went in to the bathroom with one of his bags and was in there for a long time and making some strange sounds and refused to come out, then they forced the door apparently was sniffing something and had acted suspiciously moving something between his bags, - for some reason he had bags on both sides of the overhead and had pulled the ear buds off the headphones exposing bare wire – this was several rows behind me so I did not witness that incident until they escorted him back to his seat and then kept getting up and getting in to his bags – I’m trying to find something in the news .

All I can find so far is this http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/europe/09/02/saturday/index.html?section=cnn_latest

Scroll to the bottom

We actually landed at 0300 and I think there was only one baggage ape on duty – made it home at 0600

(From the CNN link above)

AirTran captain diverts flight due to 'unruly passenger'

DENVER, Colo. (CNN) -- The pilot of AirTran Airways flight 47, en route from Atlanta to San Francisco, made an emergency landing Saturday at Denver International Airport after a male passenger "was acting in a bizarre manner," Tad Hutcheson, vice president of AirTran Airways marketing and sales said.

During the flight, some of the 99 passengers on the Boeing 737 became "nervous" after a male passenger collected air sick bags throughout the plane and then walked to the front of the cabin, where he then paced back and forth in front of the bathrooms, Hutcheson said.

"He'd go in the lavatory and come out, and go in and come out and the flight attendant said please return to your seat," Hutcheson said. The passenger, however, did not listen to the crew's directions and the pilot was notified.

The captain then requested an emergency diversion to Denver, where he landed at 11 p.m. MT (1 p.m. ET).

The plane sat on an isolated tarmac while Denver International Airport Police boarded the plane, arrested the man and removed all his luggage, Hutcheson said. The man is being held in police custody.

All passengers on the plane remained on board and, after a new flight plan was mapped and the police searched the aircraft and gave the "all-clear," continued on to San Francisco.

Flight 47 is expected to arrive in San Francisco at 12:30 a.m PT (3:30 a.m. ET), approximately an hour and a half late, Hutcheson said. (Posted 2:46 a.m.)

As per my past experiences the news report and personal observation are a bit at odds but at least some parts jive.

And I’m back to ATL on Monday…