Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jeremy Mayer's typewriter art

I am not ready to transform my typewriter into art but Jeremy Mayer has done just that.

"‘Sexy’ 6-Foot Sculpture Nude IV Is Made of Typewriter Parts"


Lewis Wallace

January 31st, 2010


Jeremy Mayer spent more than 1,400 hours at the typewriter in the past year, but he wasn’t banging out a sci-fi novel. Instead, he was building Nude IV, aka Delilah — a 6-foot-tall sculpture made entirely of typewriter parts.

“It took over a year to make and I’ll probably only make a few more in my lifetime,” said Mayer, the 37-year-old artist who lives in Oakland, California. Mayer’s creations have been displayed at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Device Gallery in San Diego and Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums.

Mayer uses vintage typewriters in his intriguing artwork, carefully taking them apart and then recombining the mechanical pieces into anthropomorphic sculptures. Parts from about 50 typewriters went into making Delilah, said Mayer, who took inspiration from a friend’s artwork as well as the Bible when choosing a name for his latest creation.

“I was kind of inspired by my friend Brent Clifford’s paintings of robot women in very sexy reclined poses, and wanted to do sexy without slutty — a pose with strength and dignity but definitely with a sexually charged presence,” he told in an e-mail interview. “So in that vein I named the most recent piece, Nude IV, Delilah. It was not only a meditation on the story of Samson and Delilah, but also named for the woman who modeled for the piece, Delilah Brown.”

The rules: “It took a little over a year (1,400 hours) to make Delilah. I have a couple of rules about my process: I have to use only connections and parts indigenous to the typewriter — no soldering, welding, gluing or wire wrapping is allowed. Second, I try to bend, drill or cut the typewriter components as little as possible. I do cheat a little, but only serious typewriter buffs would be able to tell which parts I’ve modified from their original form. I don’t tap new threads at all.”

Disassembly: “My process involves disassembling typewriters first, which is pretty time-intensive. You can’t really use power tools to do that kind of work because all the screws are slotted, the slots are narrow and the machines are old and require some delicate handling. Beside that, there are a lot of parts and connections in a typewriter. In eight hours I can disassemble two typewriters and categorize, memorize and store their parts in bins and boxes.”

Reassembly: “The reassembly is very time-intensive. For example, to do an arm, I have to figure out first what parts I want to use for the larger pieces that correspond to the humerus, the ulna, radius, digits, deltoid muscle, bicep, etc. Then I have to figure out how to connect them to each other by recognizing existing holes and connections on the pieces and utilizing the myriad other smaller parts (screws, pins, set-pin collars, springs, plates, flanges and such) to fit into those holes and connections.

“When putting a screw in an existing threaded hole, I have to find the right length of screw with the right thread, sorting through hundreds of different kinds of screws. In doing an arm, I’ll go through all of my parts bins and pick out the bigger pieces first, then any of the smaller pieces that I think I may use, then put them all on my bench. It winds up being hundreds of parts by the time I’m done.”

Repetition: “Now imagine I’ve spent, say, 100 hours assembling the first arm. In making that arm I would have to find all of the corresponding symmetrical parts for the other arm, then assemble the other arm the same way, following the same steps in the same order, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. That need of symmetry applies to the whole body, and often requires using two or more of the same typewriter to get it. Since I’ve been doing this for 15 years, I do have some habits and formulas for assembling, but generally every sculpture is very different from the previous one.”

Naming: “Many of them have names because the owners would name them. Usually it was based on brand names or models of typewriters — one was named Mr. Smith, because of the L.C. Smith logo on its chest, and another was named Woody for the Underwood logos all over it. I think the collectors liked to name them because they thought they were imbued with a personality worthy of a name.

“I’ve named the last two myself. Nude III is also called Olympia, because of the Olympia logo on her chest, but also as a sort of homage to the Olympia figure painted by Edouard Manet in 1865.”

Jeremy Mayer - Typewriter Sculpture

A beauty and a geek

Well, this a surprise. You are familiar with Anne Hathaway...Brokeback Mountain, Becoming Jane, and upcoming Alice in Wonderland [March 2010]. It was revealed that she is a closet geek...especially physics. wrote:


Hollywood actress ANNE HATHAWAY is a secret geek - she spends her spare time studying physics.

The Devil Wears Prada beauty admits she shuns fashion magazines and instead stocks up on books by legendary scientist Albert Einstein and physics textbooks in a bid to better understand the universe.

She tells Britain's GQ magazine, "I'm interested in elementary particles. What I like thinking about is how time and space exist in the universe and how we understand it. Any spare time I have, I bury my head in a physics textbook. I'm learning. I'm reading a lot about Einstein. I like theories. I want to understand string theory. I am dying for someone to explain quarks to me!"

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Moon junk

Is this a bit birarre?

"To California, Moon Junk Is State Treasure"


Jesse McKinley

January 30th, 2010

The New York Times

In one small step for preservation and one giant leap of logic, the official historical commission of California voted Friday to protect two small urine collection devices, four space-sickness bags and dozens of other pieces of detritus, all currently residing nearly a quarter of a million miles from the state.

This is not a joke. I repeat, Houston, not a joke.

Saying it wanted to raise awareness of both the state’s cosmic contribution to the Apollo 11 moon mission and the potential threats from lunar interlopers, the California State Historical Resources Commission voted unanimously to designate more than 100 pieces of space trash, scientific apparatus and commemorative tokens to its list of protected resources.

Milford Wayne Donaldson, the state historic preservation officer, said the reasoning behind the first-of-its-kind designation was simple: Scores of California companies worked on the Apollo mission, and much of their handiwork remains of major historical value to the state, regardless of where it is now or what it was for used for then.

“It has a significance that goes way further than whether it came from a quarter million miles away or not,” Mr. Donaldson said. “They are all parts of the event.”

While Apollo 11 was indeed a landmark mission — during which Neil A. Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon and he and Buzz Aldrin apparently ditched their boots — it wasn’t exactly tidy. Worried about the weight of their landing capsule, the harried lunar explorers left behind tons of trash, including empty food bags, electrical equipment and, yes, several receptacles meant for bodily waste.

There is also a collection of artifacts of historical note and emotion: Mr. Armstrong’s footprint, for example, and an American flag. Apollo 11 also left behind a mission patch from Apollo 1, in which three astronauts died in a fire, and a message from world leaders.

And while some of the garbage might seem like, well, garbage, California is just one of several states seeking protection for the items in the face of possible lunar missions by other nations as well as a budding space tourism industry.

In New Mexico, home to early Apollo test sites like the White Sands Missile Range, a similar measure is expected to be considered by the state’s cultural properties review committee in April.

Beth O’Leary, an assistant professor of anthropology at New Mexico State University and an expert in “lunar archeology,” said she had screamed with delight when she heard the news from California. But she admitted that persuading people to safeguard Apollo’s space junk was often a challenge, if only because it is on — you know — the moon.

“I don’t think anyone argues with it being a major event in the history for humanity, right up there with the invention of fire,” Ms. O’Leary said. “But people don’t tend to think of it as something we need to be protecting.”

So for the last decade, she and other historians and archeologists have been pushing for protection through their Lunar Legacy Project, which has an inventory of items left behind at Tranquility Base where the astronauts landed in July 1969, including a plaque spelling out exactly who made the mess.

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon,” it reads. “We came in peace for all mankind.”

Mr. Donaldson said he hoped his commission’s vote might help goad the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization into placing the landing site on the World Heritage List, an international compilation of famed landmarks.

“I think there’s a threat from private companies,” Mr. Donaldson said. “And with today’s technology, they could probably pinpoint this.”

That said, Mr. Donaldson admitted that there were no “space cops” available to safeguard the state’s newest historical resource. But, like the Apollo astronauts themselves, he seemed optimistic that Friday’s vote might lead to bigger and better things.

“Hopefully,” he said, “this will take off.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

14% wider and 30% brighter...our moon tomorrow night


Friday night's full Moon is the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year. It's a "perigee Moon," as much as 14% wider and 30% brighter than other full Moons you'll see later in 2010. But that's not all. Mars is having a close encounter with Earth, and on Friday night, Jan. 29th, it will join the Moon for an all-night-long conjunction. Don't miss it! Sky maps and images may be found at .

ISS experiments

Did you ever wonder what goes on at the ISS. ScienceDaily offers three examples.

"Space Shuttle Brings New Experiments To Space Station"

March 15th, 2008

The space shuttle Endeavour is carrying with it a set of experiments designed and constructed in the laboratory of Dennis Jacobs, a University of Notre Dame professor of chemistry and biochemistry who also serves as a vice president and associate provost.

The experiments are part of the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE), a multi-institutional collaboration to explore how materials degrade in the low-earth orbit spacecraft environment.

The 16-day mission will be NASA's longest space station trip and will include five space walks by the crew of seven, the most ever while a shuttle is docked to a station. The Notre Dame experiments occupy a prized spot, alongside the installation of a Japanese research module and the delivery of a two-armed Canadian robot to the orbiting International Space Station.

Appropriately for a research effort from the home of the Fighting Irish, astronauts will perform a space walk on St. Patrick's Day (March 17) to install the MISSE-6 experiment outside the space station, where it will fly for approximately one year. Every 20 minutes during the next year, the experiment will gather important data on a variety of materials involved in the experiment.

On a later shuttle mission, a different team of astronauts will retrieve the MISSE-6 experiment and bring it back to earth for further analysis. Jacobs and other researchers will then be able to examine closely the kind of degradation that transpired in space.

"Contrary to popular belief, the low-earth orbit spacecraft environment is a hostile one where energetic atoms, ions, electrons, and radiation bombard the surfaces of a satellite," Jacobs said. "Over time, these corrosive components will degrade and erode most materials.

"We have devised a set of knock-out experiments that remove different portions of the flux of energetic particles that irradiate the external surfaces of a spacecraft. This will allow us to isolate how each component of the low-earth orbit environment contributes to the overall degradation of each material specimen. By understanding the detailed mechanistic pathway through which a variety of materials are eroded in space, we hope to guide the development of next-generation satellite materials that will be durable in space."

Jacobs' laboratory research involves the study of non-thermal processes at the gas/solid interface. He previously had a one-year experiment conducted on the International Space Station in 2005-06.

"Pioneering Space Station Experiment Keeps Reactions In Suspense"

December 12th, 2008

A revolutionary container-less chemical reactor, pioneered by the space research team at Guigné International Ltd (GIL) in Canada with scientists at the University of Bath, has been installed on the International Space Station. The reactor, named Space-DRUMS, uses beams of sound to position chemicals in mid-air so they don’t come into contact with the walls of the container.

Space-DRUMS is based on the DRUMS device (Dynamically Responding Ultrasonic Matrix System), originally developed by Professor Jacques Yves Guigné, Chief Scientist of GIL (now with PanGeo Subsea Inc) to survey the sea floor using sonar.

With participation from Professor Nick Pace from the University of Bath’s Department of Physics, and aerospace industrial associates of GIL, Professor Guigné has adapted the system to enable scientists to produce new materials in zero-gravity without using a container.

Professor Guigné, who gained his PhD at Bath and is now a Visiting Professor in the University’s Department of Physics, explained: “Space-DRUMS uses beams of sound energy to position solids or liquids which are floating in zero-gravity.

“If you’ve ever been to a really loud rock concert and stood in front of the speakers, you can actually feel the force of the sound when they turn up the volume. Space-DRUMS works like this but on a much gentler scale – the beams of sound energy work like invisible fingers that gently push the sample into the centre of the container so that it doesn’t touch the walls.

“Space-DRUMS uses 20 of these ‘fingers of sound’ arranged within a dodecahedron configured reactor such that the positions of the samples can be adjusted accurately.

“This method of acoustic levitation means there is no chemical contamination from the container, which is vital for making ultra-pure materials such as temperature-resistant ceramics used in coatings for planes and engines.”

The equipment was initially tested in a low-gravity environment created by the vertical climbing and nose-diving flight path of a KC135 aeroplane, nick-named the vomit comet, similar to that used to train astronauts.

Space-DRUMS was launched into space in partnership with NASA and installed on the International Space Station on 14 November, coinciding with the International Space Station’s 10th anniversary celebrations. The final components will be sent into orbit in July 2009, with experiments starting shortly afterwards.

Professor Nick Pace said: “We are delighted that this key step has been achieved; we have waited several years to witness this milestone.

“The most exciting thing is that we can control the experiments from Earth. Our physics students will be able to use it as part of their final year projects – there aren’t many universities that can offer their students a chance to conduct experiments in space!”

In addition to making new materials, Space-DRUMS will also be used to study the physics of turbulence, which has diverse applications such as predicting the paths of hurricanes and helping biopharmaceutical studies.

Deputy Director of the Centre for Space, Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences at Bath, Dr Philippe Blondel explained: “Even with large computer clusters, the understanding of complex weather patterns is still limited. Using Space-DRUMS will help us to better understand the behaviour of complex systems like hurricanes, their interaction with the atmosphere and hopefully anticipate where a hurricane can go next.

“Bath is at the forefront of this pioneering technology and we are really privileged by this opportunity to do these ground-breaking experiments in space.”

"Plasma Experiments Aboard International Space Station Yielding Better Picture of Liquids and Solids"

January 27th, 2010

On 27th January 2010, the 25th series of experiments studying complex plasmas will start on board the international space station ISS. Physicists from the Max-Planck-Institute for extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, will use them to study fundamental structure forming processes to better understand what happens in liquids and solids.

That matter exists in three states is widely known: as solid, liquid or gas. Our Universe, however, is dominated by a fourth state of matter: plasma. This forms, if a gas is heated to very high temperatures, so that its molecules dissociate in ions and free electrons. A plasma is regarded as the most disorganised state of matter. Researchers at the Max-Planck-Institute for extraterrestrial Physics, however, have found that under certain conditions plasmas can become liquid or may even crystallise. These are called "complex plasmas" and allow new insights into the physics of liquids and solids. Plasma physicists use them to study melting and crystallisation, motion of lattice defects in crystals, or liquid effects and other processes by looking at single atoms.

Complex plasmas consist of tiny particles (about one thousandth of a millimetre) that are suspended in a plasma and carry a highly negative electric charge. Due to the strong interaction between the particles, they can form regular structures, either liquid or solid. Since Earth´s gravitational field interferes with these processes, experiments with complex plasmas are carried out in space.

Research on complex plasmas with the PKE-Nefedov laboratory in 2001 was the first science project on board the international space station ISS and the most successful one during the first years. Its successor PK-3 Plus has already been running for four years and provides again unique results. The new series of experiments, carried out from 27th to 29th January is already the 25th mission to study complex plasmas in the absence of gravity. Moreover, PK-3 Plus has now been installed permanently in the new ISS module MIM-2, and will be its first scientific experiment.

One of the experiments in the PK-3 Plus laboratory will deal with "binary" complex plasmas: if two kinds of particles with different sizes are suspended in a homogeneous plasma, one could expect them to mix due to mutual repulsion. Previous experiments on board the ISS, however, have shown a clear phase separation of the two particles clouds (see 2).

"This phenomenon is well known from many different systems, such as molecular liquids or colloidal suspensions, and has been studied for a long time," says Hubertus Thomas, MPE-scientist and coordinator of the PK-3 Plus experiments. "In complex plasmas, for the first time we can now study these processes looking at the movement of individual particles and we hope that our latest experiments will lead to new insights into the physics of phase separation."

The study of complex plasmas is interdisciplinary, fundamental research. As in other fundamental research before, however, this work initiated a new approach in applied research: the results and experience gained with the plasma experiments on board the ISS and in the lab led to a new medical field, the so-called plasma medicine. Currently a clinical trial is carried out to study how plasmas can be employed for contact-free sterilisation of wounds, hand disinfection in clinical environments or treatment of gingivitis.

Deceased--Geoffrey Burbidge

Geoffrey Burbidge
September 24th, 1925 to January 26th, 2010

"Renowned Astrophysicist Geoffrey Burbidge Dies at 84"

January 28TH, 2010

University of California San Diego

Geoffrey Burbidge, a renowned British astrophysicist and astronomer at the University of California, San Diego, who made contributions to our understanding of how elements are formed in stars as well as modern cosmology and radio galaxies, died on January 26 at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla after a long illness. He was 84.

Burbidge's towering stature in the field was reflected by his position as editor-in-chief of the Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics for 30 years, his directorship of the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, and his numerous prizes from astronomical societies around the world. In 2005, he and his wife Margaret, both of whom were founding members of UC San Diego's Department of Physics, were awarded the British Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal, the society's highest honor, for their contributions to astronomy during more than half a century.

The two astronomers, who both worked actively until recent years at the university's Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences, coming to campus each day and publishing papers, are best known for their work in the mid-1950s describing how stars synthesize nearly all the chemical elements in the universe, from carbon and iron to lead and uranium. That work was summarized in a seminal paper on stellar nucleosynthesis published in 1957 with two other legendary scientists -- British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle and American physicist William Fowler. Two years later, the two Burbidges received the American Astronomical Society's highest honor for young astronomers, the Warner Prize.

"This was without question one of the most important papers of all time in astrophysics," said Mark Thiemens, dean of the Division of Physical Sciences at UCSD. "I've read it many times. Geoff was one of the most noteworthy astrophysicists of the past 50 years."

"This paper laid the foundation for an entirely new kind of synthesis of astronomical observations with frontier nuclear and particle science, paving the way for much of modern astrophysics and cosmology," said George Fuller, a nuclear astrophysicist and the director of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences, or CASS.

Burbidge pioneered the development of several sub-disciplines in astrophysics.

"He is famous for his work on radio galaxies in which he was the first to determine the enormous energies involved," said Art Wolfe, an astrophysicist at UCSD and former director of CASS. "This work ultimately led astrophysicists to consider gravitation as the energy source for these objects as well as for quasars. Much of the Burbidges' work revolved around the nature of quasars and active galactic nuclei. During the 1960s the Burbidges were virtually alone in their efforts to measure the masses of galaxies from their rotation speeds."

"Geoff Burbidge also was the first to show that the helium in the universe could not have come from stellar nucleosynthesis alone," said Fuller.

According to close colleagues, all of his work had a profound influence on the development of modern astrophysics and cosmology. On the Big Bang theory, he was a contrarian. He, with Fred Hoyle and others, argued controversially for a quasi-steady state cosmology in which quasars are new matter ejected from energetic galaxies in a cyclic universe. In this view, bright quasars are nearby objects in spite of their high redshifts. He maintained this position right up to his last paper, published shortly before his death, in which he presented statistical evidence that bright quasars are strongly overabundant nearby active spiral galaxies.

Burbidge was born on September 24, 1925 in Chipping Norton, England, and received his bachelor's degree from the University of Bristol and his doctorate in theoretical physics from University College in London. From 1950 until his arrival at UC San Diego in 1962, he held research and teaching positions at the University of London, Harvard, Cambridge, Chicago, Caltech, and the Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories. He served as a professor of physics at UC San Diego from 1963 until 2002, except for the period from 1978 to 1984, during which he served as director of the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

In addition to the Warner Prize and the Royal Astronomical Society's Gold Medal, Burbidge received the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal in 1999 from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and was its president from 1974 to 1976. He also won the Jansky Prize of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in 1985, the National Academy of Sciences Award for Scientific Reviewing in 2007 and served for many years as the scientific editor of The Astrophysical Journal. He was an elected fellow of the Royal Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Physical Society and University College, London.

Geoffrey Burbidge is survived by his wife, Margaret, of La Jolla; his daughter, Sarah, of San Francisco; and his grandson, Connor Loeven.

[In lieu of flowers, the family wishes that donations be made to the San Diego Humane Society, 5500 Gaines Street, San Diego, CA 92110.]

An Interview With Geoffrey Burbidge

October 23rd, 2007


The most widely accepted model of the origin of the universe is known as the hot big bang. Describing the imagined instant of creation 15 billion years ago, it is a theory that has held sway over astronomy for more than 75 years.

While the idea of an explosive beginning goes back to even the mid-1800s, not all are convinced that the big bang is more than myth.

One physicist not on the big bang bandwagon is Geoffrey Burbidge. A University of California–San Diego physicist, Burbidge is best known for his work concerning the origin of the elements within the nuclear reactions of stars. Now in his 80s, he has argued against the big bang for 50 years.

“I don’t subscribe to the view that 99 percent of the people follow these days that there was a hot big bang,” Burbidge told Vision contributing writer Dan Cloer in a recent interview. “There is a long history of this subject, and it has been fashionable and almost impossible to avoid for the last 10 or 20 years, but it probably is not correct.”

In the following excerpts from their conversation, Burbidge explains the evidence for alternative theories, the philosophical draw of the big bang idea, and the bias that continues to promote it.

On the Steady State Theory published in 1948 by Fred Hoyle:

“The steady state was extremely unpopular because by then people liked the idea of a beginning. They liked it for religious reasons because it smells of the Old Testament. And the West likes the idea; after all, the pope endorsed it among other people. But Fred gave an infamous lecture to the Royal Society in 1968 called ‘Eight Crises,’ where he showed that one observation after another, observations with which big bang proponents claimed to shoot down the steady state, did not shoot it down. So people did not like the theory, but it was an alternative to the big bang.

“There are lots of things we don’t understand. Really what has happened over the years is that people have just made mistakes. Einstein made a mistake by assuming that we live in a static universe; Gamow made a mistake by originally underestimating the age of the universe—even aged 10x his ideas can’t be made to work.

“Nowadays, people are invoking all kinds of things to make galaxies in the early universe, and they can’t do that without invoking the presence of nonbaryonic or dark matter. There is no evidence for this at all. It is like the ether of the old days, but they can’t make galaxies without it because they need extra gravity without other interactions. They also want an inflation period—which they don’t understand.”

On the origin of the microwave background radiation:

“I believe [the 2.7K background temperature of the universe] is very strong evidence that the blackbody radiation arises from hydrogen burning. Since we do not have long enough to do this in the period associated with a big bang, we must argue that the time scale for the universe is very much longer. This formation of helium does not take place in one creation event, but in many which we call ‘mini-big bangs.’ This will occur in the centers of galaxies.

“We know now, and this has been demonstrated over the past 40 years, that large amounts of matter and energy are being ejected from the highly active centers of galaxies. So what Hoyle, Narlikar and I developed in the early 1990s was the idea that creation does not take place in one center or one beginning. It is taking place all the time in the centers of galaxies. No one understands the physics of creation, but there are good reasons, I believe, for arguing that is where the energy is ultimately coming from. It is emitted from radiation from stars and is then downgraded by a succession of absorptions and re-emissions in dust and so on across space.

“So you can have the microwave background and all the beautiful observations that have been obtained, but we don’t have to go the route of arguing that what it follows from must be a big bang. While they may not agree, it is a powerful argument.”

On the persistence of the big bang:

“Hoyle and I argue that in the centers of galaxies, where there are undoubtedly massive objects which may very well be black holes, there are regions of very strong gravitational fields where Einstein’s theories need modification. All theories need modifications in extreme situations. After all, Einstein’s theory is a modification of Newton’s theory, and the so-called C-field theory (which Hoyle and Narlikar worked on in the 1960s) requires what are called negative energy fields and negative pressure.

“Back in the 1960s cosmologists did not like the Narlikar theory, because it required things like negative energy and negative pressure. Today they have come around to that point of view; now it is not such a no-no in theoretical physics.

“That is indeed what the boys talking about dark energy are really talking about. Dark energy is nothing more than creation. Now people are getting prizes for discovering dark energy and the acceleration of the universe. It is all part and parcel of not really understanding the details of the creation process.

“But this is not pointing cosmologists back to the alternatives. Everybody is swayed by the tremendous amount of propaganda associated with the big bang. Now we have a huge and most impressive bandwagon that everyone is rolling in cosmology. If you sit in a minority position, as a few of us have done over the years (we are all well known and have done other interesting things, so people don’t treat us too unreasonably), you can’t get any funding for research into any of these things. Without money you can’t get research grants and you can’t get observing time. I can’t reasonably ask young men and women scientists to work in that field, because I shall not be able to get them jobs. You’ll find that there is almost complete orthodoxy in the hiring in all the best institutions.”

On moving heaven and earth:

“For most people cosmology equals the big bang—is synonymous with the big bang. It is not true, in my view, but that is the way everyone is now talking, working, thinking and expecting, in the same way that in 1930 people became convinced that the universe is expanding. It is an idea that people take and now include in their thinking and their dreaming. We are told that we now understand what happened in a hot big bang.

“When people make observations, they want to explain them. In the early days, people were observing and would publish without trying to fit it to a theory or into a puzzle. But things have changed. Today if you submit a paper and do not explain where it fits in, the referees and your colleagues will be chasing you saying that you must understand this, that or the other.

“The only thing we have going for us as scientists is the respect of our colleagues. And that comes through what we say or write. If others don’t like what we say or write, our reputations suffer, and for most young people that means they don’t get jobs or support for their work. It is a pernicious system.

“The problem is that scientists are people. We like to think that we are creative people, and we are. But also, like other people, we are conservative. We may say we love new ideas, but if I’ve been working on something for 20 years I become dedicated to it.

Take redshifts for example. If redshifts are a measure of the distance of quasars, then people who are studying quasars are studying the edge of the universe. So far so good. But suppose I don’t believe redshift is about distance, and I turn out to be right. Then all of the other people have to admit that they have wasted the last 20 years of their lives. People will move heaven and earth to see that this does not happen. I have seen this happen in practice. Most people don’t change their mind; most people repeat their thesis over and over.”

Geoffrey Burbidge [Wikipedia]

CASS Research

The Bruce Medalists: Geoffrey Burbidge

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Clear-cutting and law suits

International Year of Biodiversity

It appears that biodiversity is caught between the law [conscientious citizens] and clear-cutting [commerce].

"Lawsuits battle clear-cutting in Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges"


Margot Roosevelt

January 27th, 2010

Los Angeles Times

Will clear-cutting forests increase global warming? That's a contentious issue as California, which is seeking to slash its carbon footprint, wrestles over rules to manage the state's private forests.

Today, the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based environmental group, filed lawsuits against the California Department of Forestry in seven California counties to halt logging plans for 5,000 acres across the Sierra Nevada and Cascade regions. The group contends that the agency approved the projects without properly analyzing carbon emissions and climate consequences under the California Environmental Quality Act. "Clear-cutting is an abysmal practice that should have been banned long ago due to its impacts on wildlife and water quality," said Brian Nowicki, CBD's California climate policy director. "Now, in an era when all land-management decisions need to be fully carbon-conscious, there is no excuse to continue to allow clear-cutting."

Sierra Pacific Industries, the timber company that is proposing the logging, responded that its harvesting would result "in a net sequestration rate of carbon dioxide that far exceeds any emissions that might occur." California requires that clear-cut areas be replanted, so that while logging results in emissions of some of the carbon stored in those trees, replanted areas would eventually compensate.

"This out-of-state organization...won't be happy until they have taken away every forest-related job in California," said Mark Pawlicki, director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability for Sierra Pacific. "The plaintiffs do not understand forestry and they do not understand carbon sequestration." Dave Bischel, president of the California Forestry Assn., an industry trade group, said that the logging plans "provide significant data on the carbon sequestration benefits" adding that 40% of the state's sawmills have closed since January 2000, boosting rural unemployment.

Forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and storing in the trunks and leaves of trees and shrubs and in the soil. Forestry experts say that the state's 14 million acres of private timberland could be managed to sequester twice as much carbon as they do now. But the technicalities of how to accomplish that are a matter of bitter dispute between environmental groups, state agencies and the timber industry.

California is poised to adopt a cap-and-trade plan this year that would allow timber companies to calculate the extra carbon they obtain through changing their management practices, and then sell carbon credits or "offsets" to polluting industries, such as utilities and refineries, which are required to cut their carbon dioxide output. Several environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, worked with industry to fashion the rules adopted by the California Air Resources Board to govern forest offsets. But the environmental community is split, and CBD is demanding that the board rescind the rules for failing to account for their environmental impact.

Today's lawsuits were filed in superior courts in Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Modoc, Shasta, Tehama and Trinity counties. "By continuing to rubber-stamp Sierra Pacific Industries' clear-cutting plans, the Department of Forestry is chopping a gigantic hole in the credibility of California's climate policy," Nowicki said. He added that, last August, Sierra Pacific withdrew plans to log more than 1600 acres following CBD lawsuits over the greenhouse gas effect. Several dozen new Sierra Pacific plans are pending.

Lewis Carroll [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson]--birthday

It's the birthday of an accomplished writer, mathematician, and photographer...Lewis Carroll [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson].

The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871), Lewis Carroll, born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in Cheshire, England (1832). When he was 24 years old, a new dean arrived at the school where Carroll worked, and the dean brought his three daughters, Lorina Charlotte, Edith, and Alice. Carroll befriended the three girls and began spending a lot of time with them. In July of 1862, while floating in a rowboat on a pond, he came up with the story of a girl's adventures in a magical world underground, and told it to the three girls. Carroll always remembered that day. Late in his life he wrote: "I can call it up almost as clearly as if it were yesterday — the cloudless blue above, the watery mirror below, the boat drifting idly on its way, the tinkle of the drops that fell from the oars, as they waved so sleepily to and fro, and (the one bright gleam of life in all the slumberous scene) the three eager faces, hungry for news of fairy-land ..."

Many biographers have made out Carroll to be a shy, awkward recluse who was only comfortable around young girls, but he was actually charming and sociable. Even though he never married, many of his friends were young women, and he wrote several love poems to them. He loved to hold dinner parties, and even made detailed charts of where his guests sat at the table and what they had to eat. He often went to the theater and to art exhibitions, and he took an extensive tour of Russia with his friend. He also wrote about 97,000 letters in his lifetime.

Lewis Carroll [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson] [Wikipedia]

Alice Pleasance Liddell

Princeton University has a huge repository of Lewis Carroll's photography .

Alarming and sad

Yesterday I noted the passing of Andrew Lange of the California Institute of Technology. When I read the article, it struck me that no cause of death was given, especially since he was in his early 50s. That was unusual. I gave it no thought until I read this:

A leading figure in physics, Andrew Lange of the California Institute of Technology, killed himself last week, leaving many of his colleagues deeply saddened and confused. Last year, Lange won the prestigious Dan David Prize, worth $1 million, in astrophysics. While unrelated to Lange's death, concerns about suicide have been prominent at Caltech of late because of three student suicides in the last year. Following those deaths, the institute created a task force on mental health issues and has brought in extra counselors as needed. An outside consultant is also studying options for helping students who may face mental health difficulties. The campus counseling center was open over the weekend, following Lange's death.

EPICANTHUS [The Asian American News Aggregator] published...

Three Asian American students at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have killed themselves in the last three months, reports New America Media writer Alex Pham. Two died by helium asphyxiation and the cause of death of the third student, though deemed a suicide, is yet to be determined. Their stories have been covered in the Chinese-language media, but remain underreported in MSM, writes Pham.

The disturbing cluster of suicide deaths on the Caltech campus began May 17 when Brian Go, a junior with a double major in computer science and computational mathematics, was found dead in his dorm room. Less than a month later and 48 hours before he was set to receive his diploma at graduation exercises, Jackson Ho-Leung Wang, a senior mechanical engineering student from Hong Kong, was found dead in his dorm room. Then, on July 22, Long Phan, a 23-year-old graduate student in chemistry, was found dead in his off-campus apartment.

Police are calling all three deaths suicides.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Asian Americans are much more likely to than the average American to take their own lives. Across the country, about 1,300 college students a year commit suicide, experts say.

NAM’s Pham points out that from 1996 to 2006, 13 of the 21 student suicides on the campus of Cornell Univ. were Asian or Asian American. Read Pham’s entire analysis, Asian Americans’ Rising Suicide Rates: Three Students Take Their Lives, here.

“That picture is not complete,” Pham points out, “unless you consider that Asians make up of only 14 percent of the total Cornell student body.”

This year’s commencement speaker, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu offered condolences to the families and friends of Go and Wang at graduation ceremonies held June 12.

“Tragedies like this affect all of us,” Chu said.

Chun-Che Peng, 22, a mechanical engineering student from New York, described Wang to the L.A. Times as one of the smartest people he knew, “the best of the best.”

“We want this to be a celebration of his life and achievements,” Peng said of his friend, who was a pianist with the Caltech Chamber Music ensemble.

Go, who was called “Bigo” by some of his friends, was the president of his residence hall, Page House, and a “fairly big figure” on campus, said Garrett Lewis, 20, an applied physics and political science major from Albuquerque. “Everybody knew him and everybody liked him,” Lewis said.

Jon Weiner, a Caltech spokesman, said the campus planned to hold a memorial for the two students this summer.

Frankly, I was not aware of the large number of university suicides. It is tragic.

"National Geographic" magazine--122 years old today

Longevity in print form is rare and there are few representatives. National Geographic was founded today in 1888. Off hand I can only recall two other publications older than National Geographic that are still being printed: Rufus M. Porter's Scientific American [1849] and Harper's New Monthly Magazine [1850].

From the Old Hermit's Almanac:

The National Geographic Society was founded on this day in 1888 and soon thereafter sponsored expeditions to the North and South Poles by Robert Peary and Richard Byrd respectively. It is now the largest scientific organization in the world, dedicated to the spread of geographic information among all Earth's peoples, from one pole to another.

National Geographic got me through puberty and, when I had a subscription and moved around frequently, I calculated that one year's worth of the journal weighed about 22 pounds.

National Geographic Society [Wikipedia]

National Geographic Society

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rover "Spirit" is now permanently stationary

Spirit's last tracks. This view from Spirit's navigation camera shows tracks left by the rover as it drove backward, dragging its inoperable right-front wheel, to the location where the rover became trapped in soft sand in April 2009.

It's official, rover "Spirit" is stuck and now become a stationary observer. A job a low price and zero human danger.

"Spirit is Now a Stationary Science Platform"

January 26th, 2010


After six years of unprecedented exploration of the Red Planet, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is no longer a fully mobile robot. NASA has designated Spirit a stationary science platform after efforts during the past several months to free it from a sand trap have been unsuccessful.

The venerable robot's primary task in the next few weeks will be to position itself to combat the severe Martian winter. If Spirit survives, it will continue conducting significant new science from its final location. The rover's mission could continue for several months to years.

"Spirit is not dead; it has just entered another phase of its long life," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"We told the world last year that attempts to set the beloved robot free may not be successful," adds McCuistion. "It looks like Spirit's current location on Mars will be its final resting place."

Ten months ago, as Spirit was driving south beside the western edge of a low plateau called Home Plate, its wheels broke through a crusty surface and churned into soft sand hidden underneath.

After Spirit became embedded, the rover team crafted plans for trying to get the six-wheeled vehicle free using its five functioning wheels – the sixth wheel quit working in 2006, limiting Spirit's mobility. The planning included experiments with a test rover in a sandbox at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., plus analysis, modeling and reviews. In November, another wheel quit working, making a difficult situation even worse.

Recent drives have yielded the best results since Spirit became embedded. However, the coming winter mandates a change in strategy. It is mid-autumn at the solar-powered robot's home on Mars. Winter will begin in May. Solar energy is declining and expected to become insufficient to power further driving by mid-February. The rover team plans to use those remaining potential drives for improving the rover's tilt. Spirit currently tilts slightly toward the south. The winter sun stays in the northern sky, so decreasing the southward tilt would boost the amount of sunshine on the rover's solar panels.

"We need to lift the rear of the rover, or the left side of the rover, or both," said Ashley Stroupe, a rover driver at JPL. "Lifting the rear wheels out of their ruts by driving backward and slightly uphill will help. If necessary, we can try to lower the front right of the rover by attempting to drop the right-front wheel into a rut or dig it into a hole."

At its current angle, Spirit probably would not have enough power to keep communicating with Earth through the Martian winter. Even a few degrees of improvement in tilt might make enough difference to enable communication every few days.

"Getting through the winter will all come down to temperature and how cold the rover electronics will get," said John Callas, project manager at JPL for Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity. "Every bit of energy produced by Spirit's solar arrays will go into keeping the rover's critical electronics warm, either by having the electronics on or by turning on essential heaters."

Even in a stationary state, Spirit continues scientific research.

"There's a class of science we can do only with a stationary vehicle that we had put off during the years of driving," said Steve Squyres, a researcher at Cornell University and principal investigator for Spirit and Opportunity. "Degraded mobility does not mean the mission ends abruptly. Instead, it lets us transition to stationary science."

One stationary experiment Spirit has begun studies tiny wobbles in the rotation of Mars to gain insight about the planet's core. This requires months of radio-tracking the motion of a point on the surface of Mars to calculate long-term motion with an accuracy of a few inches.

"If the final scientific feather in Spirit's cap is determining whether the core of Mars is liquid or solid, that would be wonderful -- it's so different from the other knowledge we've gained from Spirit," said Squyres.

Tools on Spirit's robotic arm can study variations in the composition of nearby soil, which has been affected by water. Stationary science also includes watching how wind moves soil particles and monitoring the Martian atmosphere.

Spirit may have been stopped, but it hasn't stopped discovering the secrets of Mars.

Hale Telescope..."first light" on January 26th, 1949

An historic moment from the past. The Hale Telescope saw is first light on January 26th. 1949 on Mount Palomar. On this occasion, the renowned Edwin Hubble had the honors of directing the telescope to his chosen object, which was a nebula previously known as NGC 2261 and now as Hubble's Variable Nebula .

Palomar Observatory

Cosmosphere...Kansas Cosmological & Space Center

Apollo 13 Capsule



Daniel Bayer

If you are planning a vacation this year or are traveling through the state of Kansas, you might wish to visit the Kansas Cosmological & Space Center or Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center [Wikipedia]

Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center

Here is a short video clip...

Encyclopedia of Life, Fossil Mysteries, NatureServe Explorer

International Year of Biodiversity

In a few words from Wikipedia..."The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is a free, online collaborative encyclopedia intended to document all of the 1.8 million living species known to science."

Encyclopedia of Life [Wikipedia]

Here are two other sources...

Fossil Mysteries

Fossil Mysteries, a highly interactive exhibition, explores big themes in science: evolution, extinction, ecology, and Earth processes. Abundant fossils, models, murals, and dioramas offer unique multi-sensory experiences. You'll see the world—past and present—in a whole new way.

NatureServe Explorer

NatureServe is a non-profit conservation organization whose mission is to provide the scientific basis for effective conservation action. NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs are the leading source for information about rare and endangered species and threatened ecosystems.

Deceased--Andrew Lange

Andrew Lange
July 23rd, 1957 to January 22nd, 2010

"Andrew Lange, noted universe researcher at Caltech, dies"


Janette Williams

January 25th, 2010

Pasadena Star-News

Andrew E. Lange, Goldberger Professor of Physics at Caltech and a preeminent cosmologist of his generation, has died. He was 53.

Caltech President Jean Lou Chameau reported the Jan. 22 death to the institute's community with "great sadness and regret" and said it appeared Lange had taken his own life.

"Andrew was such a well-known, well-respected and well-liked member of our community that many of us will be deeply affected," Chameau said in a letter. "We know this tragic news will come as a shock to everyone - faculty, staff, and students alike, even those of you who knew that Andrew had been struggling with personal issues."

Lange, who came to Caltech in 1993, was named chairman of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy in 2008. He had recently resigned from the position, Caltech officials said.

Chameau called Lange "a truly great physicist and astronomer who had made seminal discoveries in observational cosmology."

"He was the best possible scientist and person," Professor Marc Kamionkowski , a 10-year department colleague, said Monday. Lange's death, he said, had left everyone shocked and confused.

Calling him preeminent in his field "is, if anything, an understatement," Kamionkowski said.

"He was one of the most important people, or possibly the most important, in the field of cosmology," he said.

Lange's work advanced science in many different ways, he said.

"Progress in our field takes...many different people with different talents. Andrew was one of the few people with almost all the talents in one place," Kamionkowski said. "He was an outstanding mentor, his track record with students and post-docs is amazing. Many of them are leading scientists in their own rights now."

Most of all, Kamionkowski said, Lange was devoted to his three sons, ages 12, 14 and 20.

"He loved them more than anything in the world," he said. "Although he did all those incredible things in science, so many accomplishments, they were the one thing he was most proud of."

Lange, who lived in La Ca ada Flintridge, had been at Caltech since 1993. He arrived as a visiting associate before being appointed a full professor in 1994. In 2001 he was named the Goldberger Professor and in 2006 was named a senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Born July 23, 1957, in Urbana, Ill., Lange graduated from Princeton University in 1980 and received his doctorate degree from UC Berkeley in 1987.

His primary research focus was on the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), a gas of thermal radiation left over from the Big Bang, that filled the entire universe. Caltech officials said he is perhaps best known for co-leading the BOOMERanG experiment, the first to determine that the spatial geometry of the universe is flat.

The data also led to precise measurement of the age of the universe and the abundance of the dark matter known to hold galaxies together, officials said. The findings also supported earlier measurements that suggested the cosmos is actually expanding faster, implying either a violation of Einstein's theory of general relativity, or that the universe is filled with "dark energy" they called "some exotic new negative-pressure fluid."

Lange was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Physical Society. Lange and Dr. Saul Perlmutter of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory were jointly named the 2003 California Scientist of the Year for their seminal contributions to cosmology.

In addition to his sons, Lange's survivors include his sister, Karen Lange and brother Adam Lange.

Kamionkowski said funeral arrangements are pending, and that plans are being made for memorial services.

"There are already efforts in the science community to put together memorial sessions and meetings in the world of science outside Caltech," he said.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa

This is kind of creepy.

"Is the Mona Lisa a Self-Portrait?"


Lisa Zyga

January 25th, 2010

“If we manage to find his skull, we could rebuild Leonardo’s face and compare it with the Mona Lisa,” said anthropologist Giorgio Gruppioni, who is part of a team from Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage, a leading association of scientists and art historians, which is undertaking the investigation.

Da Vinci, who died in 1519 at age 67, was originally buried in the Chateau Amboise in France's Loire Valley, which was destroyed after the French Revolution in 1789. It is believed that his remains were reburied in the castle’s smaller chapel of Saint-Hubert in 1874. An inscription above the tomb says they are “presumed” to be those of da Vinci.

Traditionally, the individual in the painting is thought to have been Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of wealthy Florentine silk merchant. However, speculation surrounds the true identity of the individual, with several other women (including da Vinci’s mother) being candidates.

More recently, artist Lillian Schwartz has used computer programs to identify similarities between the features of the Mona Lisa and those of one of da Vinci’s true self-portraits. Some scholars suggest that da Vinci’s presumed homosexuality and love of riddles inspired him to paint himself as a woman.

If granted permission, the Italian researchers plan to verify that the remains in Saint-Hubert are da Vinci’s by using carbon dating and comparing DNA samples from the bones and teeth with those of several male descendents buried in Bologna, Italy.

Bone tests could also reveal how da Vinci died, which is currently unknown. Diseases such as tuberculosis and syphilis as well as lead poisoning would appear in the bones. The researchers noted that syphilis was seen as a form of plague at the time, killing about 20 million people in the first quarter of the 16th century.

The Italian researchers are currently seeking permission from French cultural officials and the owners of the chateau, who have agreed in principle. Despite criticism from some scholars who believe that the remains should be left alone, the scientists hope to receive formal permission this summer.

"Leonardo da Vinci's bones to be dug up by Italian scientists"


John Follain

January 24, 2010

The Sunday Times

Scientists seeking permission to exhume the remains of Leonardo da Vinci plan to reconstruct his face to discover whether his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, is a disguised self-portrait.

A team from Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage, a leading association of scientists and art historians, has asked to open the tomb in which the Renaissance painter and polymath is believed to lie at Amboise castle, in the Loire valley, where he died in 1519, aged 67.

Giorgio Gruppioni, an anthropologist, said the project could throw new light on Leonardo’s most famous work. “If we manage to find his skull, we could rebuild Leonardo’s face and compare it with the Mona Lisa,” he said.

The identity of the Mona Lisa has been debated for centuries, with speculation ranging from Leonardo’s mother to Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant.

Some scholars have suggested that Leonardo’s presumed homosexuality and love of riddles led him to paint himself as a woman.

Recreating Leonardo’s face could test the theory of Lillian Schwartz, an American expert who drew on computer studies to highlight apparent similarities between the features of the Mona Lisa and those of a self-portrait by the artist.

Talks about the exhumation with French cultural officials and the owners of the chateau have resulted in an agreement in principle, according to the Italian team, and the project could receive formal permission this summer.

The church in which Leonardo was buried was destroyed after the French revolution of 1789. The remains were reburied in the castle’s smaller chapel of Saint-Hubert in 1874, beneath an inscription that describes them as “presumed” to be the master’s.

Silvano Vincenti, head of the Italian team, said its first step would be to verify that the remains are Leonardo’s. They will use carbon dating and compare DNA samples from the bones and teeth to those of several male descendants buried in Bologna, central Italy.

“There aren’t any clues in the history books, but we’ll be able to find out if Leonardo died of a disease such as syphilis or tuberculosis, because that shows up in the bones. Syphilis was seen as a form of plague at the time: some 20m people died of it in the first quarter of the 16th century,” Vincenti said.

Bone tests could also establish whether Leonardo suffered from lead poisoning, as did many fellow-painters of the time, because they were exposed to toxic pigments.

However, the plans have provoked criticism from Leonardo scholars who regard the notion of a self-portrait as a myth and who believe his remains should be left alone.

Nicholas Turner, a former curator of drawings at the Getty Museum, said: “It sounds a bit fanciful, slightly mad, as if the Leonardo bug has taken hold too firmly in the minds of these people. We know that Mona Lisa was a specific person, she existed and it’s her portrait. If Leonardo heard about all this, he’d have a good chuckle.”

Mona Lisa's smile