Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 Ig Nobel Winners Announced

Complete listing of winners at the BBC.    An in-depth look at the growing importance of the Ig Nobel prize is over at Fox.  Yes, you read right: the growing importance of the Ig Nobel prize.  It seems that there really is no such thing as bad publicity these days, even in science.  Finally, here's a link to the sponsoring organization's web site, Improbable Research.  Don't bother with it for the next day or so, their server is pretty well slammed.
Anyway, 'till next time, be sure to properly dispose of your beer bottles when visiting Australia.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Faster than Light Neutrinos

Confirmed.  Well, sort of.  At least to 1.4 standard deviations, which isn't all that good, but is something.
Given some theoretical basis.  Tentatively, in a hurry-up paper.  I won't comment too much on this, I'm still reading it.
Anyway, this is real science in action in its very best form: carefully checked results that don't make sense, publication and open flow of information along with a plea "we probably made a mistake, but we can't find it, please see what you can do with it, here's the data."  Lots of digging around for prior published results that could shed light on the subject.  And some quick theoretical work to give an early look at what might be happening.  If this pans out, it's huge.  And if it doesn't, nobody comes away embarrassed by bad behavior.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Crap that Fell to Earth

In the wake of last weekend's UARS reentry, here's an article on Eight surprising hunks of space gear that returned to Earth.  Mostly big chunks of titanium tanks and such, with the occasional nuclear reactor.  Nothing to get too concerned about.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Local Hang-Out Music Roundup

Bunch of good music lately down at the Mockingbird.  Here's a roundup of some that've stood out.

  • Jerico Road Show.  Defies description, here's a youtube link, and here's page for a closely allied band, the Jake Leg Stompers that'll give you some idea of where they're coming from.
  • Blue Mountain, an alt-country outfit that puts on a good show.
  • Bronwynne Brent, from the Mississippi Delta by way of Austin.  Most of the songs from her first album are there for the streaming at the web site.

Naturally, they've all got CD's for sale at the shows, and I've been listening and re-listening to all of the above for weeks.  Lots more bands to come next month, will write up more as they filter through.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

R.E.M. is breaking up.

You've probably seen it in the news already, but if not, here is reasonable coverage of the who, what, where, and why.
OK, now for some not-just-a-link actual content.  My take on it?  Twenty five years too late.  They had a great run in the early to mid-80's, a handful of good songs after that, and one last, final, good album, Collapse into Now (reviewed here).  The time couldn't be better for a recap of R.E.M.'s major works.

  • Chronic Town (EP), 1982.  An early glint of genius.  Has Gardening at Night on it, that song alone makes the entire band worthwhile.
  • Murmur, 1983.  Yes, more like this please!
  • Reckoning, 1984.  A second helping from the same kitchen where Murmur was cooked.  Good stuff.
  • Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985.  Deep Southern-fried but somehow not country-fied.  Damn near miraculous.
  • Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986.  Can they get any better?  As it turns out, no.
  • And handful of outtake and compilation albums, like little core samples from their 1979-1987 run of brilliance.  
After that, their albums were a morass of drawn-out weepy tunes, sporting maybe one or two songs that gave glimmers of hope that R.E.M. would rise again.  But it never quite happened.  Collapse into Now, released just last spring, showed them back in their earlier good form, but the fire was cooler, mellowed by time and age.  And now the fire is out.  Ah well, a year ago I'd have said that the fire went out in '87.  I am glad that they managed to put out one more good disk before it was all over.


Friday, September 23, 2011

xkcd #955

Worth a post, for the few readers who don't regularly visit xkcd:
And if you don't read xkcd, why the hell not?

[added later]  You know, I'll bet that this would all make a lot more sense to the non-physics-plugged-in if there was a link to a related news story telling what the hoopla is all about.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

18 Historic Photos...

...that changed the way we saw the universe, at Dvice.  Take a few minutes and flip through them.  For starters, there's the first photo taken from space, from an experimental post-war V-2 launch in 1946:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Background @wikipedia: Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Here is a pretty good article on the current status on finding these things.  Not easy, but not hopeless.  (go read the article, it's short, I'll wait)  I've never seen one, but know a couple of people with credible sightings.  Interesting stuff, best summed up at the end of the article:
Collins says the maximum number that could still exist is more realistically about a hundred. “There couldn’t be a thousand because someone would have found an active nest,” said Collins, “but a hundred birds could have hidden out.” 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite Re-Entry

Had a questions over the weekend from some family "So when is this thing going to come down?"  "Uh, I dunno, ask NASA."  And here's their answer at the UARS mission update page.  Latest answer: Sept 23rd, give or take a day.
And if you don't know what any of this is about, go read up on the UARS article at Wikipedia by clicking here.

Cue the Man or Astro-Man? music:

Junk Satellite

[long instrumental]
frenzy eternal
it could fall tonight
I think it's unplugged
junk satellite

[more instrumental]
frenzy eternal
it could fall tonight
I think it's unplugged
junk satellite

[yet more instrumental]
frenzy eternal
it could fall tonight
I said it's unplugged
junk satellite

[bunch more instrumental]
frenzy eternal
it could fall tonight
I think it's unplugged

as if it could scramble
I feel it flipping the channels
on a black box
but nothing stops
look around
did you break it off or have to switch it off

[more instrumental]
way down
at the heart of the station
they cut communication
with a metal sphere
that some folks fear gone dead

early warning flashing saying it was lost
yeah, something coming down in a broken satellite
it's coming down in a broken satellite
it's coming down in a broken satellite
it'll hit the ground
it'll be alright

it's coming down in a broken satellite
it's coming down in a broken satellite
it's coming down in a broken satellite
it'll hit the ground
it'll be alright

[theremin solo]
[theremin hum & buzz]

How Many Scientists Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?

From a stupid email I received today at work:

Q: How many scientists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. They use them as controls in double blind trials.

Q: How many academics does it take to change a lightbulb ?
A: None. That is what their students are for. (from Philip Clarke in New Scientist)

A: Five: One to write the grant proposal, one to do the mathematical modeling, one to type the research paper, one to submit the paper for publishing, and one to hire a student to do the work.

Q: How many laboratory heads (senior researchers, etc.) does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Five; one to change the lightbulb, the other four to stand around arguing whether he/she is taking the right approach.

Q: How many research technicians does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One, but it'll probably take him/her three or four tries to get it right.

Q: How many post-doctoral fellows does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One, but it'll probably take three or four tries to get it right because he/she will probably give it to the technician to do.

Q: How many graduate students does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one, but it may take upwards of five years for him to get it done.
A: It all depends on the size of the grant.
A: Two and a professor to take credit.
A: 1/100. A graduate student needs to change 100 lightbulbs a day.
A: I don't know, but make my stipend tax-free, give my adviser a $100,000 grant of the taxpayer's money, and I'm sure he can tell me how to do the work for him so he can take the credit for answering this incredibly vital question.

They're only funny because they sting a little.  And they only sting because they are, at some basic level, uncomfortably close to the truth.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ruth Thompson

All-around great lady, known regionally for the best king cakes ever (don't take my word for it, she won WWL's contest), but know locally for much, much more.  Suddenly dead at 64.
Here is the obit in The Echo, and here is a real article about her and her life.
Ma'am, you will be missed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Well that's incredibly useless.

But also pretty funny.  Uncyclopedia.  The content-free encyclopedia.
Did you know that they have an entire article on Kitten Huffing?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

From the Birth of Mountain Biking

An old T.V. news story from 1979, seen here.  Six and a half minutes, worth every second.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sam Fuller Fest

I've always been a big fan of Sam Fuller, but just didn't know until this year.  Two movies steered me toward him.  First, Pulp Fiction.  I'd always felt that Quentin Tarrantino was copying (or at least borrowing way heavily) from an older genre.  Then there's my Dad, who put me onto Fuller's The Big Red One.  Dad, a WWII vet in the 1st Division, always liked that movie as one of the least romanticized WWII flicks made in the post-war period.  Watching the extended cut, then watching the additional features on the disk steered me straight into the maw of Fuller's works.
I've been watching my way through them ever since.  To date, The Big Red OneThe Steel HelmetI Shot Jesse JamesPickup on South Street, and just last night The Baron of Arizona.  I'm not going into individual reviews, but place them all in the 3 to 3.5 star range.  The titles above are Wikipedia links if you want to see what they're about.  Caution though, they do have some spoilers.  Next up in the Netflix queue is The Naked Kiss.  Although I haven't done an exhaustive search, pretty much everything he made can be found over at Netfilx.
So if you're a Tarrantino fan who's always been slightly disappointed since the glory days of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and can do with a little less of the oh-so-90's irony, go look up some Fuller movies.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Not much to Lee.  Maybe 3' of extra tide, a few wind gusts, and a LOT of rain.
Still got a bike ride in this morning, even made it back home before the next rain band hit.  Man, it's not exactly new, but I do love online real-time radar.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Surfing with Flare

Yes, flare, not flair.  As seen here.  Might've been even cooler after the BP oil spill...