Monday, September 29, 2008

A Passing Glimpse

I often see flowers from a passing car
That are gone before I can tell what they are.

I want to get out of the train and go back
To see what they were beside the track.

I name all the flowers I am sure they weren't:
Not fireweed loving where woods have burnt--

Not bluebells gracing a tunnel mouth--

Not lupine living on sand and drouth.

Was something brushed across my mind
That no one on earth will ever find?

Heaven gives its glimpses only to those
Not in position to look too close.
~Robert Frost

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Favorite Astronomy Photos

Here are a few of my favorite astronomy photos:

This photo, "Quad Sky," was taken at the Great Salt Lake. Venus, the moon, and Jupiter (left to right) are above the people. The light on the right side of the photo is an airplane. The star Spica is also in the photo below Venus but you need a larger size picture to see it. (Try clicking on it for the larger size) The reason I liked this photo was that it was taken near here and because it conveys the peacefulness that accompanies stargazing.

Monument Valley and the constellation Orion. The brightest object on the left is Mars. The next brightest, in the center, is reddish star Betelgeus. Orion's Belt is lined up vertically. Lower and to the right is the Orion Nebula. Above and to the right of the Nebula is the bright blue star Rigel.

This solar eclipse photo was taken during the latest eclipse which occured in August this year. The bright dot to the left of the eclipsed sun is the planet Mercury.

Beautiful Saturn and its rings were photographed by the Cassini space craft in 2004.

This photo is of the "Giant Nebula" or NGC3603 and its stunning star cluster.

These nebula are known as "The Heart and Soul Nebula" located near the contellation Cassiopeia (the W shape).

This is the Orion Nebula. Can you spot the horsehead nebula in the lower left part of the photo?

Part of our local group of galaxies, Andromeda is our "sister" galaxy. Andromeda is found between Cassiopeia and Pegasus (or the Great Square) and can be seen with the naked eye in very dark skies. I had that amazing experience in New Mexico.

Two galaxies, a giant spiral, M81, and a dwarf irregular galaxy, Holmberg IX (that is its true name, I am NOT making this up!). This pair are located in the constellation Ursa Major which includes The Big Dipper.

Galaxy Abell 1689 is one of the most massive galaxy clusters known. The gravity of its trillion stars, plus dark matter, acts like a 2-million-light-year-wide "lens" in space. The gravitational lens bends and magnifies the light of galaxies far behind it. And this photo would be the equivalent of less than a square centimeter on the night sky.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Too Much Time on My Hands (Obviously)

The 25 Laws of Cat Physics

Law of Cat Inertia
A cat at rest will tend to remain at rest, unless acted upon by some outside force - such as the opening of cat food, or a nearby scurrying mouse.

Law of Cat Motion
A cat will move in a straight line, unless there is a really good reason to change direction.

Law of Cat Magnetism
All blue blazers and black sweaters attract cat hair in direct proportion to the darkness of the fabric.

Law of Cat Thermodynamics
Heat flows from a warmer to a cooler body, except in the case of a cat, in which case all heat flows to the cat.

Law of Cat Stretching
A cat will stretch to a distance proportional to the length of the nap just taken.

Law of Cat Sleeping
All cats must sleep with people whenever possible, in a position as uncomfortable for the people involved, and as comfortable as possible for the cat.

Law of Cat Elongation
A cat can make her body long enough to reach just about any counter top that has anything remotely interesting on it.

Law of Cat Obstruction
A cat must lay on the floor in such a position to obstruct the maximum amount of human foot traffic.

Law of Cat Acceleration
A cat will accelerate at a constant rate, until he gets good and ready to stop.

Law of Dinner Table Attendance
Cats must attend all meals when anything good is served.

Law of Rug Configuration
No rug may remain in its naturally flat state for very long.

Law of Obedience Resistance
A cat's resistance varies in proportion to a human's desire for her to do something.
First Law of Energy Conservation
Cats know that energy can neither be created nor destroyed and will, therefore, use as little energy as possible.

Second Law of Energy Conservation
Cats also know that energy can only be stored by a lot of napping.

Law of Refrigerator Observation
If a cat watches a refrigerator long enough, someone will come along and take out something good to eat.

Law of Electric Blanket Attraction
Turn on an electric blanket and a cat will jump into bed at the speed of light.

Law of Random Comfort Seeking
A cat will always seek, and usually take over, the most comfortable spot in any given room.

Law of Bag/Box Occupancy
All bags and boxes in a given room must contain a cat within the earliest possible nanosecond.

Law of Cat Embarrassment
A cat's irritation rises in direct proportion to her embarrassment times the amount of human laughter.

Law of Milk Consumption
A cat will drink his weight in milk, squared, just to show you he can.

Law of Furniture Replacement
A cat's desire to scratch furniture is directly proportional to the cost of the furniture.

Law of Cat Landing
A cat will always land in the softest place possible; often the mid- section of an unsuspecting, reclining human.

Law of Fluid Displacement
A cat immersed in milk will displace her own volume, minus the amount of milk consumed.

Law of Cat Disinterest
A cat's interest level will vary in inverse proportion to the amount of effort a human expends in trying to interest him.

Law of Pill Rejection
Any pill given to a cat has the potential energy to reach escape velocity.

The Wrong Bridge

Elder Henry B. Eyring once told the true story of Jack Steel, a friend of his at Stanford University. During World War II, Jack received the second highest decoration a soldier can receive: the Distinguished Service Cross. He was awarded it because of gallant actions performed while defending his fellow soldiers in battle. Steel's platoon had been assigned to capture an important bridge. As they walked down a long slope, they could see that the bridge was heavily defended. When the enemy on the bridge spotted Jack's platoon they immediately opened fire. A machine gunner trained his gun on the men highest on the hill and began working his way down, with devastating effects. The men of the platoon were rapidly being killed or wounded.

In that moment, Jack Steel saw that the men who began running back up the hill were also being hit. It soon became clear, that if he wanted to live, he would have to charge straight at the bridge. Therefore, grabbing his Browning automatic rifle, he ran toward the bridge, screaming and firing from the hip. The defenders on the bridge were so surprised by his actions that they immediately deserted the bridge, leaving Jack to capture it single-handedly. His bold attack not only captured the bridge but also saved the rest of his platoon farther up the hill. Elder Eyring concluded the story with this note:

Now, the reason you need to hear the story is that it turned out to be the wrong bridge. That is what you need to know. The colonel who sent them had given the wrong instruction and it was a useless bridge—it didn't go anywhere. All the people defending it were dealing with the wrong bridge (“We Need a Miracle,” an address to CES Area Directors, 6 April, 1981).

Effort and gallantry aside, they had attacked the wrong target! Someone had made a serious mistake in their directives. The bridge they really needed to capture was still out there and still needed to be taken.

[The above 4 paragraphs are quoted from a Meridian Magazine article this week.]

In my life, how many wrong bridges have I either attacked or defended? How much time and effort have I expended on useless stuff? How many important bridges have I failed to either attack or defend?

Discernment. It's what this life is all about, I guess.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The OCD Astronomer (Me)

I must be a real pain in the neck to just about everyone I come in contact with. I am OCD (obsessive-compulsive) about details. When someone says or writes or does something that I recognize as incorrect or potentially incorrect, I instantly become fixated on that thing.

As you know from the previous blog, I have been watching the free astronomy course online. I pointed out in that blog one glaring error (at least to me it was glaring) that the professor made about the VLA. Well, I could not just shrug it off, I also went to his forum and politely pointed it out there in a post. When the professor posted his answers today, he had ignored my post. So I emailed him, politely noting that he had not mentioned my post in his post:

"You didn't respond to my remark about the VLA's location not being in Arizona, and about editing the first lecture to correct it to New Mexico. Is that not doable? Otherwise I am finding the lectures to be enjoyable. Thanks"

So he emailed me back and I was pleased that he had answered and acknowledged his mistake. So I put his answer on the end of my previous blog as a postscript for you to read. (See previous blog below.)

I then sent him another polite email to thank him for answering my email:

"Thanks for responding. I have now viewed 3 of the lectures. I was just getting ready to watch the next one, but the site was down. Time flies as I watch them. I also like your sense of humor. I told my husband that I think your mind is going so fast as you are lecturing that sometimes your mouth can't keep up. That is when you occasionally misspeak. Most of the time you catch it. Once in a while you don't--like most of us! Thanks again. PLH"

Later I began to watch Lecture 4. It was so-o-o-o-o-o elementary (and tediously so) on the motion of the moon, that I decided to skip it and move on to his latest lecture, number 5.

I was disturbed when, in Lecture 5, he misspoke at least twice more. I mean, I was HIGHLY disturbed. I began worrying about his students who would be tested on this lecture, and write down what he said, and then get it marked wrong on the test!

What to do??? Should I post the errors in the forum where others would see, including his students? Or should I again send a private email?

I decided to post my observations in his forum. This is what I said:

(First slip of the tongue:)
"During lecture 5, you apparently misspoke when you said, speaking about zenith and horizon, that 'if you go up on a hill, it [the horizon] can actually be less than 90 degrees' [from the zenith]. I believe you meant more than 90 degrees."

(Second slip of the tongue:)
"Also, with that triple photo of the position of the sun at summer solstice (at left), equinox (in middle), and winter solstice (at right), you said that the photos were of sunsets. However, they could not be sunsets, you must have meant sunrises."

I could not NOT attempt to correct these mistakes. It is going to make me crazy that hundreds of people will watch these lectures and believe every word. Or become very confused. And he is NOT able to correct them, he says.

I hope he responds in the forum to these mistakes, but, unfortunately, only relatively few will see the forum. It makes me crazy. During Lecture 5 he was making fun of the misinformation that circulates on the internet every August about Mars. I have had personal experience with two individuals in our ward who have rushed up to me to tell me what they just heard about Mars (which is incorrect nonsense). To correct the mistakes, the professor must do it verbally and on camera in subsequent lectures. Otherwise, his mistakes stand. Forever!

If I were the teacher, I would die of embarrassment to have my mistakes endlessly accepted as true by future watchers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Free Astronomy Course

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day (the link is over on the right hand side of The Thinker blog under the heading "Reasons to Wake Up Each Day") included a note with a link to a free Astronomy course produced by Michigan Tech. When you click on the note, you end up at The Asterisk forum page. On that page you will find the following:

I tried out each of the above URLs. Of course the top one is the most direct, and the one you should use. The second URL takes you to a page of all the science courses (114 of them, as I recall). The number one course listed is the free astronomy course from Michigan Tech. The third URL takes you to the LearnOutLoud home page which gives links to a zillion other courses.

So, using the first URL above, I got to the correct page. Then I needed to scroll down to the list of lectures. Today there were four available (the first 4 lectures of the course). So far, I have watched only the first lecture which was an introduction. The lecture lasts (I'm guessing) about 45 minutes. But the first fourth or third of the lecture was instructions to his real class members about tests and so on. You could skip that part by sliding the progress button over to the right about an inch or so.

Some of my grandchildren could probably watch these lectures and learn a great deal, if they were in a teachable frame of mind and equipped with a healthy curiosity about astronomy. I wouldn't let the "college course" label dissuade any of them.

The only thing that he said that caused my eyebrows to go up was when he said The Very Large Array was in Arizona. He must have misspoken. The Very Large Array is in New Mexico. I am going to check his forum pages to see if anyone else caught that. I may just email him and point out his slip of the tongue.
Postscript: This morning (9-18-08) I emailed RJN, the professor, about his gaff. Here is his reply:

From: RJN
To: plhorem
Posted: Thu Sep 18, 2008 5:29 pm
Subject: Re: VLA location

Thanks for your correction. Yes, indeed, the VLA is in New Mexico. I have even been there. Unfortunately, I can't correct the video. I can correct the PPT slide but that likely won't be used again for a number of years. - RJN

Monday, September 15, 2008

$aving $$$

I just read an article from the October 2008 Reader’s Digest called “My Family’s [No-Buy] Experiment.” The Hochman family’s experiment was to see how much they could not spend in a month. For 30 days, they bought only what they truly needed—basically just fresh fruit and milk. Other essential outlays were: mortgage and utilities.

A few of the things they did were: (1) They claimed that they read and returned the neighbor’s newspaper before he woke up. (2) For entertainment for their 4-year-old, they went to Costco and ate the free samples. (3) Instead of calling a plumber for a backed-up shower drain, they found a cheap solution at – a kettle of boiling water with Dawn in it.

Some of the things they stopped spending money on: DVDs by mail, ebay and Amazon purchases, lunches out (restaurants in general), car washes, parking, toys, clothing, toiletries, and gasoline (they could get around by riding bikes).

They ended up saving more than $2000 in a month by being cheapskates.

I think I read this article because at 4 a.m. I was obsessing over the food that gets wasted at our house. It’s a crime. I’m of a mind (or maybe half-a-mind) to hunker down on homemade soup and baking powder biscuits until Spring!

It’s also a crime (at least in MY book) that we waste money on books and DVDs at Costco or WalMart. The public library is FREE—HEL-LOO-ooo!!. We could see a movie at the $1 theater or rent a DVD at Albertson’s for $1.00 if we really, really NEEDED to see it. At one dollar for each viewing, I could probably save at least $15 per movie (since, the majority of movies which I’ve seen, I only “needed” to see once). I think in the last year, there have only been a couple of movies worth the money ($1).
And speaking of ebay and Amazon, I think its time
we started SELLING
our zillion books and stupid DVDs!!!!!