Saturday, November 1, 2008

For Your Halloween Delectation

Yeah, I know, technically Halloween was last night (and I saw some of the best costumes ever outside my favorite coffee shop), but I think that because it fell on a Friday this year, legally it lasts all weekend.

(Loreena McKennitt's All Souls Night) The best Halloween song you've probably never heard. There's quite a number of versions at YouTube, but the most of the ones I looked at were static pictures. Meh. This one cuts off at the end (ouch), but you get the idea. Using LOTR as the source of video kind of clashed for me at first, but I think it works- certainly the imagery fits, and the timing is great. McKennitt's "thing" is Celtic-themed music, using a large dose of middle-eastern instrumentation. The lyrics to All Souls Night combine both Celtic and Japanese imagery to create a mood and a mental picture that captures Halloween for me in a way nothing else ever has. If you click through to see the lyrics, there's a clip from (I think) the liner notes to The Visitor (the album on which the song first was issued) where McKennit expands on this wonderful fusion of Celtic and Japanese traditions of appeasing the spirits of the departed.

APOD, which I've mentioned and scited at least a couple of times has had a couple of terrific Halloween-oriented nebulae the last two days, but they're a loooong way away, so no worries.
A witch, caught in profile, staring intently at a blue star (From here)When I was young "Space Ghost" was sort of a cheesy super-hero type cartoon. This space ghost is spooky. Incidentally, if you click through, the description of this picture links to a previous post called "the witch's broom." You can also embigger both of these pictures by clicking through on the links, then clicking on the picture.

A few days ago, National Geographic had an article about the evolution of a blood-sucking moth. Apparently, there are some differences in wing coloration from the fruit-eating version, but the moth has learned? adapted? evolved? to use mouthparts designed to pierce fruit skin and consume its juice to pierce mammal skin and consume their juice. Very interesting. There is a video embedded at the link above, and below is a portrait taken at supper time.
Finally, I don't really associate tigers with Halloween, but they're big and scary, right? And they're cats, even if this one's mostly not black. And I just like the picture and the caption. The group Tangerine Dream (one of the earliest electronica groups) did an album, Tyger, on which they put a bunch of William Blake's poetry to music; Tyger is an old favorite. London is also outstanding on that album. From here.
Happy Halloween!

Followup: OOH! OOH! Looky what I found!

Ammonia Will Leave Streaks in the Sky

I mentioned a couple of days ago, but they just sent me another alert I want to share- you may remember summer a year ago, there were a number of reports about a piece of equipment that was dumped overboard from the ISS. That device, an ammonia storage tank, will apparently re-enter the atmosphere in the next few days. It should be quite spectacular. I have checked for my zip code, and there are no fly-overs visible in the expected time frame, so I won't be able to watch it. But you might. I'm not sure how widely the "flybys" tool works (link near beginning of second paragraph); I know it's good for the US, and for Canadian Postal codes. I just checked and there's now a separate link that has global coverage, so you can check on flybys around the world.

Given how beautiful a re-entry can be (see the video linked in this post), this would definitely be worth checking on. Following is the text of the note I received:

Space Weather News for Nov. 1, 2008

More than a year ago, in July 2007, International Space Station astronauts threw an obsolete, refrigerator-sized ammonia reservoir overboard. Ever since, the 1400-lb piece of space junk has been circling Earth in a decaying orbit--and now it is about to reenter. If predictions are correct, the "Early Ammonia Servicer" (EAS for short) will turn into a brilliant fireball as it disintegrates in Earth's atmosphere during the early hours of Monday, Nov. 3rd. Uncertainties in the exact reentry time are so great (plus or minus 15 hours at the time of this alert) that it is impossible to pinpoint where the fireball will appear. At the moment, every continent except Antarctica has some favorable ground tracks.

Readers should check our Satellite Tracker ( for
possible overflights. Before reentry, the EAS will seem about as bright as a 2nd or 3rd magnitude star, similar to the stars of the Big Dipper. During re-entry, the disintegrating reservoir could light up like a full Moon. Flyby predictions should be regarded as approximate because the orbital elements of the EAS are now changing so rapidly. Updates will be posted on
Followup: I just checked the site to see if there were any further updates- no. But there is a link to a site that's keeping close tabs on the EAS, here. I think the information at this site is pretty self-explanatory, but if anyone wants clarification, leave a comment.

Followup Wed. 11/19 Apparently there has been a fireball visible from Pennsyvania. This debris re-entered earlier than expected at the time of this post, descending (apparently) between Australia and New Zealand Sunday Nov. 2 or the next morning. Tonight's fireball was some other object, probably a meteor, but possibly some man-made space debris.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Amazing Fact of the Day

According to the most recent numbers I have been able to find (here), the median age of the US population is estimated to be 36.2 years. This means that more than half of today's citizens hadn't even been born when this f#$^&%)&'n campaign started! Believe it or Not!

Who'da Thunk...

John McCain still used baby powder when he changed his diapers?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Red State Socialists

This isn't news to me, but it might be to some, so once again I'm borrowing shamelessly. (click here for full size)So the point is that for all the Republican whining about income taxes, most Republican states get back more in Federal Revenue than they paid in. In other words, they're not even covering their share. Anyone want to explain how this is not redistribution of wealth? Ya know, there's a reason those guys chose red as their color. Commies, every one.

As an aside, I was actually sort of surprised to see that Oregon pays in more than we get back. As I tried to reason it out, I figured road costs were high for our state, but we don't have much in the way of high-cost military operations here. The Umatilla Munitions depot (where our national stockpile of gas/nerve weapons is slowly being destroyed (with a good safety record, thanks), and there's an army base (I think) on the north coast, but the name escapes me. Still, we're a big, low population, western state which generally tends to push Federal spending up.

I guess one other tidbit caught my attention: note Alaska is at #3, and Arizona is at #21, with $1.84 and $1.19, respectively, paid out for each dollar paid in to the government. Delaware is at #44, and Illinois at #45, with a $0.77 and $0.75 return on the dollar, respectively. Hmmm...

Hat tip to Driftglass for the great graphic on this post, and here's the front page. Note the tax data is based on 2005 figures, and the red/blue assignment is based on the 2004 presidential vote.

Fire in the Sky

The Wireless at my favorite coffee shop has been down for a couple of days... and I have some catching up to do. What's going on out there in the world? One of the first e-mails I opened, from Spaceweather, led me to a couple of cool videos, here. There was a fireball over central Colorado at about 7:30 pm local time, and two full-sky cameras caught it. posts daily space weather news, and sends out e-mail alerts if there's something of particular interest happening (free sign-up). Other news in today's alert is that auroral activity is pretty high, and a nice Moon/Venus Convergence for Halloween (early) evening. We've finally moved into typical fall weather here, so I won't see the sky for more than a few minutes at a time until next spring. OK, I exaggerate, but not by much. This is the time of year I pretty much quit paying attention to sky observation tips...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dark Roasted Caves

I have linked to Dark Roasted Blend before, but they have a terrific post on caves today that I just gotta point out.
This looks more like icicles in an overhang than something I would call a "cave," and the jointed rock to the lower and middle left looks suspiciously like columnar basalt- not typically associated with "caves." (Basaltic lava tubes are quite abundant in Central Oregon, but you don't see columnar basalt in those tubes; if it's present, it's in a different part of the flow) Still, I love the textures in this picture.I saw some pictures of this cave not too long ago- some of the largest crystals (gypsum) ever found. The cave was drained during mining operations a couple of decades ago, then discovered. It's very hot and humid (>110 F/44 C, 90-100% humidity), but I would definitely refrain from whining for an opportunity to see these first hand. These are just two of many, many wonderful pictures.

I should also point out that the science is shallow, and in a couple of cases, just wrong (for example, you cannot scratch calcite with your fingernail- you can damage it, but calcite is 3, fingernail 2 1/2 on the Mohs scale). But the visuals are the thing here.

Other recent posts I've enjoyed at DRB include Castles, Creative Ads (actually, see a pic from that one below), and a typical, "mixed bag" sort of post.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stevens CONvicted!

As of 41 minutes ago. Hat tip to I'm Not One to Blog But... You have to love the post title on that one: "Breaking News! Palin Associates with Convicted Felon"
Followup: From Sadly, No!

Seven! Seven Counts!

What Does an Implosion Sound Like?


"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."
And also like:

A Palin associate defended her, saying that she is "not good at process questions" and that her comments on Michigan and the robocalls were answers to process questions. But this Palin source acknowledged that Palin is trying to take more control of her message, pointing to last week's impromptu news conference on a Colorado tarmac.
With overtones of:
"Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic," said
another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin
after she was picked. The source said it was probably the "hardest" to get her
"up to speed than any candidate in history."

And if you listen carefully,
"This is what happens with a campaign that's behind; it brings out the worst in
people, finger-pointing and scapegoating," this senior adviser said.

This came out Saturday, from CNN. Note that all of the above quotes come from members of the McCain/Palin campaign. So we see a basic lack of trust between the Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates, a surprising openness about Palin's simple lack of knowledge, and oddly lame excuse-making. "Not good at process questions?" Um, excuse me, the President of the United States (which is, whether McCain becomes incapable of that role or not, the job we are in fact entrusting to her) is all process. The prexy doesn't actually do anything: he (she in this hypothetical case) tells others what's going to happen, and they make it happen. If you don't get the process, you might end up telling the secretary of treasury how we're going to wage war in Iraq. (might have worked out better than Rumsfeld, actually)

And yet, and yet... I'm struck by how fervent her support is, from those that do support her. These appear to be people who simply don't care about reality, for whom everything is simply a Jedi mind trick. Those who believe that force of will, force of personality, trumps the evidence of experience. I don't know, I don't get it.

The above article does seem to indicate that Palin has no intention of leaving the national political stage, which seemed very obvious to me quite a while ago. I think (hope fervently) that enough Republicans reject this endarkenment-style attitude toward rationalism and empiricism that Palin cannot win a significant spot on any of their future tickets. And I think it's very possible, even likely, that she could break off from that party, and take the right wingnuts, rapture fanatics, and "WE control your body" social conservatives with her. Thus making Republicanism safe for human consumption again.

Followup: Excellent commentary from The Guardian- the British perspective on American stupidity.


OK, the bird-eating spider was creepy too, but in an amazing sort of way. This is just... creepy. From Buzz Feed. I'll see if I can find a few more disturbing pictures before Halloween.

Followup: First, just to be clear, I have seen no evidence Li'l Miss Smirky actually had anything to do with this- just an unfortunate expression at an inappropriate place, with a photographer present. Second, Buzz Feed has a great follow-up on this: Rendering "disaster girl" with a transparent background, then overlaying her on other less-than-pleasant historical moments.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


This has been all over the place this week, but I hadn't bothered to stick in my earphones and watch it. Ahhh... now I see why it's been all over the place this week.

A Cat and A Bag

There was a piece in The Guardian early in the week that I've been meaning to get to, but often I allow my thoughts too much time to set, and events pass on. Here are some excerpts (sub-headlines within the article):
Pets are good for cardiac health
Pets boost the immune system
Dogs can act as a health warnings
Pets can improve self-esteem and decrease the likelihood of depression

Basically, the article summarizes the increasing evidence that having a pet decreases health risks by a surprising amount, and in surprising ways- though some of those ways make good sense when you think them through. Given that in one way or another, all of the above health issues are of concern to me, it's probably a good idea for me to have a pet.

As I've commented in a couple of posts (here and here), I have been taking care of a feral cat that's been around the neighborhood since I moved to my current location 3 1/2 years ago. She spends nearly all her time in my apartment, and has been increasingly affectionate. Over the last couple of weeks, for example, she has been climbing onto the bed and sleeping beside me for a few hours before I get up. She has been increasingly tolerant of being held and petted- an activity that used to always end in blood loss (mine, not hers).

I mentioned in the second post linked above that she liked to burrow into the mound of grocery bags and hide; she has also been using that as a sleeping spot. Thursday morning I got up to go to the bathroom, and stuck my head into the living room/kitchen area to see how she was doing. She sort stretched out of the pile and yawned... and realized that something had her. She had the handles of one of the plastic bags caught around her neck. She shrieked, in the way that only a terrified and angry cat can, circled like a little tornado for a moment, then took off for the door, careening into a chair, the sofa, and the door itself, before catapulting out into the yard.

And that was the last I saw of her.

As I told Rawley, it would have been hysterically funny if I wasn't so worried about her. She was clearly in a blind panic, and while she's a very smart animal, panic is not a state in which one pays attention to, for example, traffic. Then there was the whole strangulation thing; I have never seen a cat jump like she does- it approaches flying. If she were to try jumping over a fence...

On the other hand, I kept trying to reassure myself. She is a smart cat; if she settled down, she would be able to figure out how to get the bag off her neck, I told myself. She might be angry with me, she might be nervous about ever coming back to my space, but she does know how to watch out for herself. She knows how to stalk the wild cheeseburger.

She wasn't waiting for me when I came in Thursday evening. I had food in her bowl that was undisturbed when I got up on Friday. And Friday evening. And Saturday morning. And when I got home last night.

My hope was pretty well shattered. Then...

Last night, about midnight, I heard a crunch from the kitchen. I got up from my computer, and she was at the food bowl. I just started bawling. She took fright and ran out the door again, but she was OK! I sat back down and cried for a few minutes, then got the box of food and went outside. She wouldn't come up to me (she used come running when she saw me), but when I sat down and poured some food beside me, she cautiously approached and started eating. After a few minutes, I picked her up and took her inside. She was trembling, and meowed in mild protest a couple of times, but she didn't fight. I closed the porch door, the closet where the bags are, and closed the windows to a crack- I have no doubt that she would go through the screens in a jiffy.

She ate for a couple of minutes, then went and hid in the same spot that she adopted when she first started spending time in my apartment, back in April. She seems to use a spot for a week or two, then find another she likes; she had not been spending time behind the spare box springs for months. She was still there when I woke up today. When I put down some more food for her, she ate a little, then went back. The experience has clearly shaken her trust in all things Lockwood, but she seems willing to start over.

And before I came into The Interzone today, I propped the porch door open again. She may be there when I get home, she may not. But she'll be back. And that's all that really matters to me.

I am so relieved and so happy.