jwst

Standard

I’m feeling anxious about it already and it isn’t slated to happen until October 2018. I’m talking about the launch of the long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Huge amounts of time and energy (and money) have been funneled into this telescope. It’s a nail-biter unlike other launches because you can’t just turn around and redo this if it fails.

If successful, this telescope will enable some serious science. I read a quote from one astronomer who said that with the JWST, in one day we’ll learn more than everything we currently know about the first galaxies in the universe. It’s designed for viewing the first luminous objects after the Big Bang, and learning how they developed.

Interestingly, another one of its tasks is to directly observe and photograph planets around other stars. Spectroscopy might tell us something about an exoplanet’s weather, color, and maybe even help identify whether there is vegetation.

A few other amazing things I didn’t know:

  • Whereas the Hubble Telescope sits within somewhat easy reach over the earth (550 km up), the JWST will be 1.5 million km away – out at an Earth-Sun Lagrange point. That’s outside the Earth’s orbit but in a gravitationally stable point. No repair missions are possible.
  • One reason it has to be this far away is that an infrared telescope like this needs to be cold. This one must be kept at an incredible -233 C, which is 50 degrees above absolute zero. At the Lagrange point, the JWST will keep one side permanently facing the Earth and Sun. That side has a sunshield “the size of a small tennis court.” It blocks light and heat from the warm side of the spacecraft so the telescope on the cold side can make its observations without interference from the infrared radiation.
  • The main mirror is 6.5 meters in diameter, more than twice as large as the Hubble. It’s made of 18 segments that will unfold after launch.

You see why I’m already worried? There are so many bits and pieces that have to go right, not to mention the launch itself. If it all goes as planned, this will be stupendous. Of course, the Mars rover missions were incredibly complex and they worked, so maybe …

Go to NASA for the whole story. 

8518326751_0757ca9b9a_bNASA.   Full scale model with it’s five-layer sun shield

 

 

i saw it

Standard

I don’t know why, but I sometimes feel inclined to spout out my opinions on movies to all two people who read dangblog.

Black Mirror

I had high hopes for this series due to the reviews, so it was big disappointment when I finally saw it. I watched many episodes because of an unfounded faith that it would get better. The acting was fine, the production and visuals were sometimes great – the stories were the problem.

One flaw that held for a majority of the shows was an attempt to stretch a 30 minute or even 15 minute idea into a excruciatingly long hour. After 15 minutes I got the point, but it kept going on, seemingly just to fill a time requirement.

Many of the shows filled this time with the following plot idea: start with a good or mildly bad situation and make it worse. If you think a particular future technology is bad at the beginning of the story, wait a few minutes and it will get even worse. By the end of the episode, it’s really, horribly, terribly bad and everyone loses. The end. Repeat this plan next episode.

I liked the one about the two lovers living a 1980s dream in a virtual reality. Personally I wish it would have addressed issues like, “Is a copy of you really you?” and “What happens if there’s a power outage?” But I was okay with it as is.

That’s it. Lots of other episodes had sparks of interest that just didn’t hold for an hour, were poorly handled, or just went for a predictable bad outcome.

Arrival

Better than average science fiction story. Go linguists! There are unexpected twists, and a fun unravelling-of-the-plot discussion to be had with friends afterward. You can’t ask for too much more from mainstream Hollywood products.

Sure there a things I could pick at. When the protagonists first approach the floating spaceship, the soundtracks lays on the weird dissonant sounds in a way that says, “You are supposed to feel like this is awesome and alien now, audience. Okay? Get it?”

There is other silly stuff, but overall it’s a win when the aliens aren’t people with plastic bumps glued to the forehead. Like “Sixth Sense,” “Inception,” and “Memento” there are twists that you may not be expecting.

Rogue One

This is a lightweight adventure film. Enjoyable, but nothing to get excited about. It may that because I was never a huge “Star Wars” fan that this didn’t provide a ton of thrills. One problem is that I never felt an emotional investment in the characters so it all seemed a little flat. We’ve got the required ingredients for the franchise – a Force-imbued character who disables opponents with a big stick, dozens of disposable storm troopers with armor that must be made of cheap plastic, for all the protection it provides (and the troopers still can’t shoot straight), and a wise-cracking robot.

The Expanse

Are you getting the idea that I’m a science fiction fan? Yup. I haven’t seen the second season, but the first one was good. There is relatively believable science, which is a nice change. No faster than light, no aliens, no ray guns. Gravity and momentum seem to work like the real world. The whole atmosphere and look of this show – set a few centuries hence in a colonized solar system — looks good and feels somewhat reasonable.

They have learned from other series like “Game of Thrones” that some gritty, realistic politics and believable human conflict make for better entertainment and believability in an otherwise fantastic environment. Hope that continues into season 2.

That’s all.

no questions

Standard

I spent a couple of hours distributing dinners to homeless people on Christmas day. Thai Siam restaurant feeds about 700 people each year, both on the premises and through deliveries. We picked up between 50-60 dinners (turkey and meatloaf) and a large bag of sandwiches, plus another bag full of cookies.

We were not asked to visit any place in particular, so we went looking for people who seemed like they might be sleeping outside or in a shelter. First stop, the University District. Next: Native Park near the Pike Street Market. Lastly, the Pioneer Square area.

I perfected a non-threatening, no-assumptions gambit when approaching people. “Hey, we’ve got a bunch of food to give away.” I don’t ask, “Do you need food?” or “Are you hungry?”

Back at the restaurant, the people at Thai Siam know this secret. No questions for those filing in for meal just treat everyone as if they deserve some dignity, and it works out.

REI wants me to stop buying stuff (except for the things that really matter)

Standard

img_20161208_142303147

I received an 8-1/2″ x 11″ color booklet in the mail from REI. On the second page it tells about the pitfalls of wanting more stuff. It says that if something doesn’t make us “laugh and sweat and surprise ourselves” then it’s just another thing. We’re also told:

“As malls fill up and credit cards overheat, let’s get back to what really matters.”

So I turned the pages to find out what really matters. As it turns out, what really matters is a $350 YETI brand cooler that keeps snacks ice cold and dry. Also, lots of expensive shirts, jackets, and shoes. A $400 GoPro camera really matters. As does a $35 “Stanley Shaker Happy Hour System.”

REI, please don’t pretend you are somehow morally superior regarding consumerism, while at the same time suggesting that we buy your costly YETI coolers. Just admit that you’re no different than any other retailer trying to cash in on the holidays. We’ll respect you more.

If you really want to be different, make “opted out” the default for receiving glossy paper catalogs from you. Stop making your name so prominent on clothing and gear that I can’t use it without feeling like a walking billboard. 

Finally, if you’re worried about credit cards overheating, stop asking me to get an REI-branded credit card. 

i want to be the anti-trump

Standard

Now that we’ll have a new Republican president who spent five years spreading the lie that President Obama was not a citizen, who spent $20k of Trump Foundation charity money on a six-foot portrait of himself, who admires Vladimir Putin, who brags about groping women, who Tweets crazy stuff in the middle of the night about a former Miss Universe, and will soon have the codes to unleash the U.S. nuclear arsenal …

Now that the KKK and neo-Nazis are celebrating the new Republican president …

being-alone-513526_640

Now that we’ll have a Republican vice president who doesn’t seem to accept the reality of evolution or global warming, and who believes in preposterous “gay reparative” therapy …

Now that the last three years have averaged the hottest global temperatures ever recorded, and Arctic sea ice has declined by more than 30% in just 25 years, and we are likely to have a global warming denier heading up the EPA …

Now that we’ll have a new Republican Secretary of Health and Human Services who belongs to a group (AAPS) that pushes anti-vaccine and other fringe propaganda, and once co-sponsored a bill to define human life as beginning at the moment of conception, which, if passed, could have had birth control pills classified as murder weapons …

Now that our new Republican president has selected for Treasury secretary a Wall Street insider, former Goldman Sachs partner, and hedge-fund manager who’s profited from predatory lending (and Trump says he’s “draining the swamp” in D.C.) …

boy-1226964_640

Now that we’ve elected the guy who swore the election was rigged against him, and still makes the delusional, evidence-free claim that millions voted illegally …

Now that all that is happening, I have to do something to make me feel like I’m countering the crazy.

One thing I’m doing, which I planned before the election, is volunteering at a local youth tutoring program for kids. I help with skill building and homework. (I’ve been paired with an elementary school boy who is Muslim. His parents are probably immigrants. Hopefully in Seattle he isn’t a target for bullies and bigots.) I think that if I can instill some critical thinking in a youngster, I’ve done a small service.

I’ve also joined the ACLU – it’s been quite a few years since my membership lapsed, but I’m back on the rolls now.

I made a donation to Planned Parenthood, now that we could face the return of back alley             abortions if a near-future Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

I donated to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.

That’s barely a drop in the bucket. I’ll be looking for other volunteer or political action opportunities – something to avoid the dystopia that seems to be in the offing.

The backsliding on social issues — like reproductive freedom for women — is likely to cause considerable harm and suffering. Meanwhile, the science denial among today’s Republicans is excruciating to hear. It’s like riding a bus in heavy traffic and watching the driver gleefully put on a blindfold. The wingnuts are behind the wheel.

The small bright spot we can point to is that the majority of voting citizens did not vote for Trump. The current count is 2.5 million more votes for Clinton. There is hope.

sunset

have conspirators ruined reality for you?

Standard

Is everything you thought you knew actually wrong? Have brilliant investigators looked behind the accepted stories of our times and exposed shadowy conspiracies? Actually, conspiracy theorists tend to fall into the Bozo the Clown category referred to in the quote below.

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

– Carl Sagan

Just like great geniuses, true conspiracies are few and far between. There’s a good way to screen out some of the silliest of them: figure out how many people would have to be in on the conspiracy for it to succeed. The more people required, the less likely it could be kept secret.

For example, take the “moon landings were faked” conspiracy. How many thousands of people would have to be in on something like this? Imagine what it would take to pull off six fake trips to the moon. Thousands of NASA workers silenced or fooled. A multitude of scientists and engineers for other companies hired by NASA, silenced or fooled. All those who studied the moon rocks that were brought back – silenced or fooled. The photos all faked, the landing sites that you can see from space, faked.

Ack! It would have been easier to actually go to the moon. The same goes for the 9/11 “Truther” claims. Even tossing aside all the contrary evidence, it would take a massive scheme the size and scope of the Manhattan Project to carry it out – with no one ever breaking ranks and exposing it. Ridiculous.

Human-caused global warming is not true and that fact is being covered up – another great example. It would need to be a worldwide conspiracy by almost all atmospheric scientists in every developed nation. Mass quantities of research would be faked or misrepresented, and the reviewers must be either fooled or complicit.

NASA – a gang of liars, faking the data! The members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences – a bunch of dupes. The American Geophysical Union membership – part of the cover up. The combined membership of the Geological Society of America, the American Meteorological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and all their counterparts across the world – a lot of know-nothings.

What brought this conspiracy topic up for me are the fact-free theories being floated by the Trump crowd, as mentioned in my last blog entry. Trump seems to believe the global warming conspiracy (except in his view, it was perpetrated by China).

Hillary Clinton, currently criss-crossing the U.S. giving speeches, is alleged to have Parkinson’s disease. I mentioned this in my last blog post, but this time I’ll expand it a little. One of the most filmed and photographed people on the planet right now is somehow keeping this illness from the public. The interviewers and photographers are fooled. The crowds she stands in front of are fooled. The TV audiences for all three debates – fooled. The foreign dignitaries she met with as Secretary of State – deceived. The physician’s statement provided to show her fitness to be president – lies and fakery.

The ones who say they know the truth about her health are professional bloviators, searching through hundreds of videos to find something they can claim is out of the ordinary. That includes a couple wing-nut doctors who have never examined her.

This conspiracy does not rise to the level of the moon landing nutters and the global warming deniers. Still, it’s very unlikely. If true, it would be an astonishing accomplishment to run for office, defeat her primary opponents, and possibly win the presidency, all while conspiring to hide an illness that allegedly makes her unfit for office. Her actions would seem to prove the opposite.

In the previous post, I covered other unsupported conspiracy theories: rigged elections and the “Clinton murders.” It’s a wonderland of confabulation and motivated reasoning out there.

I just want to point out that one useful tool is to ask, “What would it take for this conspiracy to be true, and how many individuals would have to be involved?”

Now it’s your turn. Take this conspiracy theory and analyze: Pharmaceutical companies have a cure for cancer, but they are keeping it under wraps because they make so much money on cancer treatment.

https://xkcd.com/966/

into a trumpian rabbit hole

Standard

It’s another rabbit hole post. Last time we fell deep into a new age swamp. This time we stick a foot into alt-right ideology. It’s an eerie world where up is down and white is black. It’s a place where evil doctors rip babies out of wombs at nine months, and sinister rapists and terrorists sneak across the border from Mexico by the truckload. It’s a place where the major news media meet and conspire in a dark room, deciding to sink the Trump candidacy through the dastardly tactic of reporting on what he actually says every day.

Into the hole

Our first step down into the rabbit hole involves claims of election rigging. Trump and company claim that thousands of people will cast votes in place of dead men who are still on the registration rolls. They also say that gangs of illegal aliens will be brought in for the express purpose of unauthorized voting.

They kind of gloss over the fact that this type of voting fraud is incredibly rare. In this alternate world, if Trump loses it’s due to fraud. Period. “I’ll accept the results … if I win,” says Trump, sounding like a despot.

I have a friend who’s confident that solid evidence of large-scale election rigging will appear. He just has a feeling about it, I guess. Just believes it, even though it hasn’t happened yet, because that’s the narrative demanded by ideology. If necessary, the alt-right press will come up with unverified examples of voter fraud it in order to shore up the fantasy.

While some lonely person with a gun stands at the southern border, looking for trucks loaded with voters, we’ll descend farther into the hole.

Another step down the ladder

Remember when the U.S. presidential election came down to just a few hundred votes back in 2000? That’s when the Supreme Court stepped in, stopped the recount process, and gave the presidency to Bush in a 5-4 vote. Hillary Clinton pointed to problems in that election at the time, but she didn’t challenge Bush’s status as president.

Down in the rabbit hole, Clinton’s protests about how that election went down are alleged to be equivalent to Trump stating in advance that the vote will be rigged, he won’t accept it, and he’ll file lawsuits, but only if he loses. It’s a desperate exercise in false equivalency. In whose dreamland are these behaviors even close to the same? (Answer: Hannity’s. Breitbart’s).

A side trip to the dubious

The mythology of the alt-right universe includes the belief that Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s disease or some kind of seizure disorder. Miraculously, throughout her tenure as Secretary of State, her months of who-knows-how-many campaign appearances and flying all over the nation, and her three televised debates, only a few alt-right wing-nuts and their TV doctor experts were able to determine “the truth” about her health. Please note that this allegedly disabled and physically unfit candidate crushed her opponent in two (some would argue three) of those debates, What does that say about Trump?

Deep down in the crazy

Ack, we’re sliding farther into the pit. In the darkness of the rabbit hole, Trump’s recorded comments such as “Grab them by the pussy” are merely locker room talk and have no negative reflection on the man’s character. The defense argument is that plenty of regular guys get together and brag about abusing women in private. It’s a sport. A joke. And it’s only talk. Ha ha! Then a dozen women came forward with stories of actual abuse. It wasn’t funny before they came forward and it’s even more repulsive now.

The bottom of the pit

Unfortunately we have one more step down to the dank, rotting floor of the rabbit hole. This is where people darkly hint that the Clintons are responsible for the murder of some of their critics or associates. Evidence? Zero. It’s the last gambit for someone who has no respectability left to lose.

How do you play this game? First, find anyone who was in any way involved with or criticized the Clintons, whether famous or inconsequential. There must be tens of thousands, but you only need to find the ones who are no longer living. No matter how each one of them died, say that the death was “mysterious.” Heart attack? Say “alleged heart attack.” It’s just that easy. Find something, anything unusual about the death and play it up big. Now link them all to the Clintons and ask, “What’s going on here?” No evidence required.

You could successfully play this game with any public figure, from Rush Limbaugh to Mr. Rogers. It’s cruel, though. When you claim someone didn’t really die of a heart attack, for example, you are affecting that person’s family. They are mourning the death and trying to get on with their lives. These Clinton conspiracists are like the loons who rage at Sandy Hook parents and tell them that their kid didn’t die. They don’t care about the families, because ideology comes first.

Let’s get out of here

Yeesh. Time to head back up the ladder and take a shower. The new age rabbit hole in the previous post was silly, but not so ugly.