Archive for the 'Science' Category

Wakening the Kraken

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

A significant release of methane due to melting of the vast deposits trapped by permafrost and clathrate in the Arctic would result in massive loss of oxygen, particularly in the Arctic ocean but also in the atmosphere. Resulting hypoxic conditions would cause large extinctions, especially of water breathing animals, which is what we find at the PETM.
Skeptical Science

Is it “alarmism” to yell fire in a crowded theatre if the building is in fact on fire? And you’ve come to realize the basement is full of gasoline tanks?

Space Science is a Soft Science

So in honor of the return of Hayabusa, with (one hopes) a few little bits of Itokawa, how about a quiz.  Which one is cuter?

Emily Lakdawalla
Emily Lakdawalla
her crocheted Hayabusa?
her crocheted Hayabusa-kun?

— OR —

And why aren’t you reading the Planetary Society’s about blog entries about Hayabusa?

Seems to be the best place to learn about it.  I mean, here I am at the ISAS campus, and I’m still reading the blog to find out the latest.

Sadly, I’m leaving on Friday, which is when the sample capsule gets back to ISAS from Australia, where it landed.  So I get to miss most of the fun.

Some of my colleagues were locked out of their offices because there was an open house on Sunday so they went around closing all the office doors.  Which is rare enough that not everyone carries their keys around.  Apparently.

Anyway, congratulations to JAXA for Hayabusa making it back home after lots of terrible trouble.  I sure hope the capsule managed to capture some asteroid material.

Crap * 500 Still Equals Crap

So a while back I was debating a climate change denier friend of a friend on Facebook.  Now, when I say “debating”, it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of twig, but it was a debate to her.  As evidence that AGW isn’t real, she provided the following:

  • A quote from Christopher not-even-a-scientist Monckton.
  • A link to a conference sponsored by the Heartland Institute
  • A link to some guy’s blog with his thoughts about the hacked CRU emails.
  • A claim that the word “trick” is nefarious
  • A link to an unpublished paper by professional curmudgeon Richard Lindzen, in which he whines for 30 pages about how much better science was in the olden days, but no actual science.
  • Two links to blogs claiming the IPCC had admitted exaggerating effects.  (Yep, the 2035 Himalayan glaciers mistake and the not-actually-wrong-after-all 40% Amazon sensitivity.)
  • A link to a lawyer’s blog entry about the same two things above.
  • A link to a conservative physicist’s blog entry quote-mining John Houghton.
  • A link to Monckton being shredded in a debate with an actual atmospheric scientist. (that was funny)
  • A link to the standard quote-mine claiming Phil Jones says there has been no global warming since 1995, by yet another person who doesn’t understand the meaning of statistical significance.
  • A quote from Phil Jones in which he accuses McIntyre and McKitrick of getting stuff wrong.  As this was later proved to be true, it’s another funny one.
  • A claim that it was not up to her to provide actual scientific publications refuting AGW.
  • A link to another article about the two one errors in the thousand-page IPCC 4.
  • A claim that she had supplied “plenty of info”.
  • A claim that the retraction of Siddall et al (2009) actually supports her side
  • A link to a blog entry by a materials physicist claiming to falsify Vermeer and Rahmstorf (2009), but not actually published anywhere. And nothing about Pfeffer (2008), which supports Vermeer and Rahmstorf, or the fact that the retraction of Siddall et al was because their sea level rise values were too small.
  • A link to a blog discussing the Zorita letter, in which Zorita explicitly says he thinks AGW is real.
  • A list of non-climate-scientists who think the APS is too strong in its policy statement on AGW.
  • A claim that anything that can be found on is automatically wrong.
  • An assertion that I am a wanna-be engineer, and thus not to be believed.
  • A second claim that it was not up to her to provide actual scientific publications refuting AGW.
  • An assertion that the truth must be in the middle.
  • An assertion that I am an alarmist engineer, and thus not to be believed.
  • An assertion that I have no science training, and thus am not to be believed.
  • An assertion that I am a non-science person, and thus not to be believed.
  • A request to Run along now and play with your circuit board. Leave science to scientists.

And, finally, the first link to actual peer-reviewed literature!!

I was not impressed by the start, and didn’t have time to look at it much, but here I am trying to stay up late so I can sleep on the plane on my way back to my pitiful miserable little engineering life.  So let’s just see how far through that list I can get.

Continue reading ‘Crap * 500 Still Equals Crap’

ACS Alive and Well

Yee-hah! After 15 years in the space biz, finally something worked!  About time.  Kudos to the amazing team of people who made it happen, ending with Megan McArthur controlling the arm, Drew Feustel fetching the tools and parts from the storage bins, and John Grunsfeld pulling out the old and clicking in the new.

The Advanced Camera for Surveys is what took most of the really cool pictures you’ve seen from the Hubble Space Telescope in the last few years.  Then it broke.  The A side power supply for the CCD Electronics Boxes (CEBs) lost its 15V supply in the middle of 2006.  They switched to the backup (B) power supply and kept on running.  But then at the end of January 2007, the B side power suppy fried itself totally, in what must have been a very exciting flash if someone had been there to see it.  It was drawing close to a kilowatt for at least 10 seconds, and we’re basically talking a computer power supply here.  The pressure sensors inside HST registered some gas at the time, so something toasted itself but good.

Too close to the next mission to replace the whole ACS (the first one took 5 years or more to build), but a certain scientist/engineer named Dr. Ed Cheng thought we might could fix it.

Some background:  ACS comprises three cameras actually: Wide Field Channel (WFC), a 16 megapixel CCD camera with very low noise, which took most of the cool pictures; High Resolution Channel (HRC), a 4 megapixel CCD with smaller pixels, which was less used; and the Solar Blind Channel (SBC), even more specialized, and less used still.  SBC was still working, but the WFC and HRC electronics boxes ran off the same power supply, thus they were both no longer working.

So.  The plan:  Remove the circuit boards from the WFC CEB and install new ones which take their power from an external plug.  Then put in an external power supply and plug it in.  Brilliantly simple!  The new circuit boards connect to the CCD detector and the rest of ACS the same way the old ones did, through the original motherboard, which stays in.  Simply brilliant!

Continue reading ‘ACS Alive and Well’

This is Piss! Piss Without Ink!

Am I sophomoric for thinking this is hy-larious?

No, because it’s really well done!

Overhead Projector, my Ass

John McCain, Mister straight talk:

While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks he [Senator Obama] voted for nearly $1 billion in pork barrel earmark projects. Including $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?

Overhead Projector?  Overhead Projector?

This is an overhead projector, John.

An overhead projector.  Not worth three million dollars

An overhead projector. Not worth three million dollars

And here’s what the planetarium needs:

The Zeiss Universarium Mark IX

The Zeiss Universarium Mark IX. Worth a lot more than three million dollars.

I don’t for a minute think John McCain believes the Adler wanted to get $3M for the upper thing, so they could get one at Office Depot and spend the rest on hookers and blow.  Surely he knows what a planetarium is, and what planetarium projectors are.  The only reason to refer to that amazing apparatus as an overhead projector is to imply (by which I mean “lie”) that Obama will spend money just for the sake of spending.

Man, I used to think Arizona had some decent senators.  I always had a soft spot for Barry Goldwater, and McCain used to at least appear honest.  Maybe he was, and running for Prez has rotted his brain.  Or maybe it was all an illusion to start with.  But this is ridiculous.

You can make the argument that planetaria ought to be funded by, say, peer review at NSF, rather than earmarks, and I’d be right there with you.  But pretending that the earmark was for an overhead projector just makes me wish Al Franken were still on the radio.

Oh, I forgot to link to Phil’s post on this, which is what got me going in the first place.

Brush Past the Shuttle

We are an amazing species, aren’t we? I mean, check this out:

The back of the bus

The back of the bus

This thing is going to go into orbit in November, and come back a week later. Unless something goes wrong with my shuttle flight (and I say “my” in the sense that a stage manager refers to “her” actors). In which case it’ll go up next month to rescue my astronauts.

I got the Amazing Dr. Ed Tour of this bird today. It’s really pretty amazing, when you stop to think about it. More posting when I have a bit more time.

Astronomy in the Dark Ages

By which I mean, in the age when you did astronomy in the dark.  In response to a post at the Bad Astronomer’s blog, I was reminded of some long-ago nights.

I spent a month at Cerro Tololo one summer, and it was totally awesome! Mostly because I was 9, and if I fell asleep in the dome it was no problem! And yeah, I think I made it to midnight once or twice.  Actually I was probably up the mountain only a handful of times, but it was so cool I remember it more than staying down in La Serena.  What more could you want: Magellanic Clouds, giant condors eating meat out of your hand, beautiful mountains, electric carts to drive around in, night assistants to develop all the photos I was taking with my box camera (with VP-620 film! Yeah, shooting medium-format at age 9, woo-hoo!) And plenty of Creedence Clearwater Revival in the dome.  A friend had sent my dad a tape of all the CCR albums.  Y’know, a reel-to-reel tape.

And the cocoa made from hot water was the best ever, because the powdered milk down there had fat in it!  Didn’t last forever like the nonfat dry milk they have round these parts, but it tasted like actual milk.  And you haven’t lived until the sun has been blotted out by the shadow of a passing 12-foot-wide bird.  So that was all very cool.

And my dad is still cool, even if he’s gone on to studying scallops. Wait, because he’s gone on to studying scallops.  Apparently science is like joy:  You make your own.

This Can’t Happen

It’s been a rough week at work. (Okay, all recent weeks have been rough; bear with me here.) We have a problem that doesn’t make sense. We look at the circuit board, poke at the pins, measure resistances, and everything appears to be fine. But inserting the board’s moving connector into the motherboard shorts out one line.

(I know, this sounds technical. What part of bear with me don’t you understand?)

Problem is, we can’t see inside the box to see what’s happening. The short is to chassis ground, and it stops happening when we remove the metal stiffener right above the connector. Yes, the stiffener is connected to chassis ground. Clearly the pin is contacting the stiffener. Only, no, it can’t be. The stiffener is much further from the pin than the maximum amount of motion it has.

If the pin is touching the stiffener, it’s being pushed out of place when we insert the connector, and then magically snapping back into place when we demate the connector. Which seems highly unlikely.

So we’re left with no reasonable solution. Okay, here’s where this stops being technical. Did any of us ever once even consider it a remote possibility that we were wrong? That GODDIDIT, or Science Doesn’t Know Everything, or There Is Another World Beyond The Physical, or There Are Other Ways Of Knowing?


Not once did anyone even consider those possibilities. It wasn’t pixies, it wasn’t fairies. It wasn’t demons, or Wätte, or leprechauns, or imps or spirits or pink unicorns or angels who don’t want us taking really pretty pictures of their sky. It’s physics, it’s electronics, and the reason we have no explanation for it is because we’re not smart enough.

So why the hell are so many creationists engineers? Don’t make no sense. No engineer ever sees a vexatious engineering problem as a sign of a Higher Power; it’s a sign that we need to work harder to understand. So Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is up with engineers who don’t understand evolution just throwing up their hands and saying Ha! God musta did it! My evolved eyeball he did. If you trust science to work for our telephones and cars and computers and consarn space telescopes, why the hell don’t you trust it for biology?

Oh and by the way, the problem was indeed that the pin was being pushed out and “magically” pulled back into place. Not sure exactly how, but the last time we disassembled, said pin had not been pulled back into place. And the plastic connector body is damaged at the shoulder that’s supposed to keep the pin in place. So yeah, seemed unlikely, but with the right kind of sitch, unlikely becomes possible. Nothing supernatural required. Again.

Science. It works, bitches.

Warp Factor 29!

Do I have a great job or what?

Okay, you all (both of you reading this) know by now that George Takei is finally getting married to his longtime partner Brad Altman.  I can’t believe he waited this long!  Oh wait, it was the government that kept him waiting.  Kinda like it kept him waiting in the concentration (sorry, “internment”) camps back when he was an extremely dangerous foreign (by which I mean “natural-born American”) enemy (by which I mean “child”) back during WWII.

But I digress.  So yeah, I heard on NPR that he was getting married, and it made me very happy.  I’m not a huge Trek fan, but I have probably watched nearly all of The Original Series, and the movies through #4, when they jumped the shark.  (Technically a whale, but close enough.)  And somehow it just seemed like a great improvement in the world that Takei-san could marry his love.

But wait, the story isn’t over.  He is coming to my workplace next Tuesday to give a talk, and being a space-oriented sort of workplace of course he wants a tour.  And guess who gets to give him the tour of building 29?

Do I have a great job or what?