Tuesday, March 31, 2009

ISS: Fully Powered

This past Saturday (March 28), Space Shuttle Discovery completed its mission to install the last of the International Space Station’s solar arrays.

This super-cool image comes from Universe Today and shows the station’s full compliment of four sets of solar arrays. (Click on the image to see the big picture. It's awesome.) The station is now fully powered.

The total surface area of the solar arrays is nearly an acre. They will generate as much as 120 kilowatts of usable electricity, enough to power about 42 2800-square foot homes.

The ISS is now the second brightest object in the night sky (behind only the moon) so it should be easy to spot if you know when and where to look.

If you don't know when and where to look, this site might help although I find it as confusing as hell.

The Sony POS

Got a hot tip on a great video from my friend Molly at A Little House In The Clouds ...

(oh, not safe for work because of language...)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Finally! The end of the rainbow...

This shot comes courtesy of Jason Erdkamp's iPhone. I don't know who Jason is but I do know that he took this picture on the northbound side of Highway 241 in Orange County, California.

Turns out that it's not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it's an SUV.

Really. I would never have guessed...

Time Lapse Photography

Stolen unrepentantly from the Wired Science Blog

Top 10 time-lapse videos of nature at work…

Total Lunar Eclipse

Denver Snowstorm

Corn Growing

Caterpillars Becoming Butterflies

Magic Mushrooms Growing


Rotting Apple


Aurora Borealis

Simi Valley Firestorm

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Little Help!

I need someone to do me a favor. I was listening to “Black Diamond” by The Replacements on the way home tonight and I had it cranked LOUD.

And I noticed the tinkling sound of ice in a glass in the seconds before the guitar kicks in and the song starts. Has that been there all this time? I had a pretty serious Replacements phase and I really don’t remember that. That surely couldn’t have escaped my notice back in the day.

Have you always heard that?

And another thing, the drums were so up front in the mix…they were like cannon shots. I don’t remember that either.

Do you?

More Pope!

www.news24.com , self described as “South Africa’s Biggest Website”, reported on Monday, March 23 that the Catholic Church is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it any more.

Ohhhhh really?

"We will not accept the Pope being made the object of mockery and offence, in the media or elsewhere," said Angelo Bagnasco, Italy’s top bishop, citing the "controversy about condoms".

"He represents for everyone a moral authority, which this journey has made people appreciate even more," Bagnasco said.

The bishop complained of "heavy criticism of our beloved Pope, which goes on longer than it should".

The concept of blasphemy – a gross irreverence towards any person or thing deemed worthy of exalted esteem – is a free-pass that shields the exalted from legitimate criticism.

I made the point in my November 11, 2008 post about California’s Prop. 8 that we are not required to hold sacred anyone’s faith or adhere to the tenets thereof. Angelo Bagnasco seems to think that I am required to live up to the rules of his religion and he “will not accept” my stepping out of line by criticizing his “beloved” Pope.

Let me try to explain just what so galls me about the Pope’s comments on condoms because I don’t think I communicated it as well as I could have in my original post.

To my mind, the Pope was shilling for the Church’s doctrine against the use of artificial contraception.

However, instead of advocating for his position in an honest way by explaining why the Church believes what it does and how living up to that doctrine will improve the lives of adherents, he chose to advocate by lying about the effectiveness of condoms in the fight against AIDS.

Hey, I don’t care what the Church thinks about condoms. But that doctrine should be able to stand or fall on its own merits. The Pope decided that promoting his doctrine under false pretenses was worth the lives and human dignity that it would cost.

In a country where 22 million people live with AIDS.

So Angelo, you guys can make the case against using condoms all day long, but when your “beloved Pope” destroys lives by lying about their effectiveness in the fight against AIDS, then he deserves all the “mockery and offence” that we can muster.

Baaaaad Pope.

A.I.G. Resignation Letter

Tuesday’s (March 24) New York Times published a resignation letter from Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president of A.I.G.’s financial products unit. The letter was sent to Edward M. Liddy, the CEO of A.I.G. and is reprinted in it’s entirety below.

It certainly gives one pause…and by "one" I mean "me"...

DEAR Mr. Liddy,

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context: I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

You and I have never met or spoken to each other, so I’d like to tell you about myself. I was raised by schoolteachers working multiple jobs in a world of closing steel mills. My hard work earned me acceptance to M.I.T., and the institute’s generous financial aid enabled me to attend. I had fulfilled my American dream.

I started at this company in 1998 as an equity trader, became the head of equity and commodity trading and, a couple of years before A.I.G.’s meltdown last September, was named the head of business development for commodities. Over this period the equity and commodity units were consistently profitable — in most years generating net profits of well over $100 million. Most recently, during the dismantling of A.I.G.-F.P., I was an integral player in the pending sale of its well-regarded commodity index business to UBS. As you know, business unit sales like this are crucial to A.I.G.’s effort to repay the American taxpayer.

The profitability of the businesses with which I was associated clearly supported my compensation. I never received any pay resulting from the credit default swaps that are now losing so much money. I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses. In this way I have personally suffered from this controversial activity — directly as well as indirectly with the rest of the taxpayers.

I have the utmost respect for the civic duty that you are now performing at A.I.G. You are as blameless for these credit default swap losses as I am. You answered your country’s call and you are taking a tremendous beating for it.

But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn’t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.

My guess is that in October, when you learned of these retention contracts, you realized that the employees of the financial products unit needed some incentive to stay and that the contracts, being both ethical and useful, should be left to stand. That’s probably why A.I.G. management assured us on three occasions during that month that the company would “live up to its commitment” to honor the contract guarantees.

That may be why you decided to accelerate by three months more than a quarter of the amounts due under the contracts. That action signified to us your support, and was hardly something that one would do if he truly found the contracts “distasteful.”

That may also be why you authorized the balance of the payments on March 13.

At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.

I think your initial decision to honor the contracts was both ethical and financially astute, but it seems to have been politically unwise. It’s now apparent that you either misunderstood the agreements that you had made — tacit or otherwise — with the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, various members of Congress and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York, or were not strong enough to withstand the shifting political winds.

You’ve now asked the current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. to repay these earnings. As you can imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of serious thought and heated discussion about how we should respond to this breach of trust.

As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.

Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you.

The only real motivation that anyone at A.I.G.-F.P. now has is fear. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to “name and shame,” and his counterpart in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has made similar threats — even though attorneys general are supposed to stand for due process, to conduct trials in courts and not the press.

So what am I to do? There’s no easy answer. I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust. Some might argue that members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn’t disagree.

That is why I have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of my retention payment directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn. This is not a tax-deduction gimmick; I simply believe that I at least deserve to dictate how my earnings are spent, and do not want to see them disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.’s or the federal government’s budget. Our earnings have caused such a distraction for so many from the more pressing issues our country faces, and I would like to see my share of it benefit those truly in need.

On March 16 I received a payment from A.I.G. amounting to $742,006.40, after taxes. In light of the uncertainty over the ultimate taxation and legal status of this payment, the actual amount I donate may be less — in fact, it may end up being far less if the recent House bill raising the tax on the retention payments to 90 percent stands. Once all the money is donated, you will immediately receive a list of all recipients.

This choice is right for me. I wish others at A.I.G.-F.P. luck finding peace with their difficult decision, and only hope their judgment is not clouded by fear.

Mr. Liddy, I wish you success in your commitment to return the money extended by the American government, and luck with the continued unwinding of the company’s diverse businesses — especially those remaining credit default swaps. I’ll continue over the short term to help make sure no balls are dropped, but after what’s happened this past week I can’t remain much longer — there is too much bad blood. I’m not sure how you will greet my resignation, but at least Attorney General Blumenthal should be relieved that I’ll leave under my own power and will not need to be “shoved out the door.”

Jake DeSantis

Friday, March 20, 2009

AIG is suing us and using our money to do it!

From yesterday’s New York Times

While the American International Group comes under fire from Congress over executive bonuses, it is quietly fighting the federal government for the return of $306 million in tax payments, some related to deals that were conducted through offshore tax havens.

A.I.G. sued the government last month in a bid to force it to return the payments, which stemmed in large part from its use of aggressive tax deals, some involving entities controlled by the company’s financial products unit in the Cayman Islands, Ireland, the Dutch Antilles and other offshore havens.

A.I.G. is effectively suing its majority owner, the government, which has an 80 percent stake and has poured nearly $200 billion into the insurer in a bid to avert its collapse and avoid troubling the global financial markets. The company is in effect asking for even more money, in the form of tax refunds. The suit also suggests that A.I.G. is spending taxpayer money to pursue its case, something it is legally entitled to do. Its initial claim was denied by the Internal Revenue Service last year.

Feeling angry?

Feeling a simmering rage about the bonuses being paid to AIG executives? Feeling impotent because you have no outlet for your anger?

Working Families, self described as “Connecticut’s fastest growing political party”, is hosting bus tours of the homes of AIG executives on Saturday, March 21.

Their web site describes the tours thusly:

“We're all mad at AIG. Their executives bear a large share of the responsibility for bringing the economy to its knees, and now the same folks are getting hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses -- at our expense. Join us for a field trip to bring them the message.”

I think it’s a “bring your own eggs” type of deal…

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nice going you Pope.

On Tuesday (March 17) Pope Benedict made his first public comments about condom use while on a trip to Africa.

“(HIV/Aids) is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms which even aggravates the problems.”

Condoms aggravate the problem? If you’re confused about the logic of that one, consider that in 2003 a senior Vatican official claimed condoms had tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass, exposing thousands of people to risk.

The then head of the Vatican Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, said: "The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom."

Now understand that the evidence is unambiguous and is in no way controversial that the proper use of condoms works very well in preventing transmission of the AIDS virus from infected to uninfected people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites “comprehensive and conclusive” evidence that latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are “highly effective” in preventing heterosexual transmission of the virus that causes AIDS. The most recent meta-analysis of the best studies, published by the respected Cochrane Collaboration, concluded that condoms can reduce the transmission of the AIDS virus by 80 percent.

I understand that the Catholic Church rejects the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against artificial contraception. Senior Vatican officials have advocated fidelity in marriage and abstinence from premarital sex as key weapons in the fight against AIDS.

However, making demonstrably false claims about the use of condoms as one tool in the battle against AIDS – especially while visiting a continent where 22 million people are living with AIDS – is in itself immoral.

The Church most certainly has the right to make moral pronouncements but lying outright about the effectiveness of condoms is outrageous and leaves blood on the hands of the liar.

Who in this case is the Pope.

Bad Pope…

Drama on the Space Station

Last Thursday (March 12) I just happened to check my Google Reader in time to see a post on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog about an emergency evacuation of the International Space Station.

Astronauts were at that very moment closing all the hatches in the station and moving to the Soyuz escape module because a piece of space debris was heading towards them raising the possibility of a fatal impact.

The debris was a “yo weight” from a used rocket booster launched way back in 1993 that was still in orbit after all these years. The yo weight is a small mass attached to a 1-meter-long cable used to tumble a spent rocket stage away from a payload so it doesn’t accidentally bang into and damage it.

So big deal right? A little rock with a string. How bad could it be? Well, this little 1 kg weight and the attached cable were moving at a relative speed of a few miles per second and could have ripped open a massive hole in the space station.

The Soyuz module would be their only hope of survival if the unthinkable happened.

The Soyuz escape module docked at the ISS

What really brought the drama home for me was the fact that Plait linked to the Twitter feed of a Universe Today reporter named Nancy Atkinson who was providing up-to-the-moment accounts of what was happening. Right up until the 12:39pm Eastern Time moment of potential impact she was relaying news 140 characters at a time.

I was following the crisis in real-time and man, it was tense.

It looked like this:

• ISS crew is closing down Columbus, Japanese modules in preparation for evacuation into the Soyuz. Possible debris hit.
(7:53 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Fincke (that’s Mike Fincke, Space Station Commander) reports Columbus hatch is closed, now closing Node 2 starboard hatch.
(7:56 AM Mar 12th from web)

• JPM hatch is getting closed, MPEV is closed. Mike Fincke and Sandy Magnus (Flight Engineer) following procedures and keeping mission control apprised.
(8:00 AM Mar 12th from web)

• ISS Crew Closing node 2 hatch, will be out of communications for short time.
(8:08 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Moscow MC (Mission Control) recommends leaving hatch to Soyuz open for now, but still discussing options.NASA:closing is posible,Fincke says they'll decide.
(8:19 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Radio silence now as ISS crew working to close hatches and enter Soyuz. For now, Soyuz hatch to remain open, but can be closed quickly.
(8:29 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Soyuz won't leave station unless impact actually occurs. Again, probability low, but object is big.
(8:29 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Fincke and Magnus are in Soyuz. Waiting for instructions.NASA and Moscow still deciding about closing Soyuz hatch or not.
(8:33 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Waiting, waiting. Crew should all be in Soyuz. 2 minutes to close encounter.
(8:38 AM Mar 12th from web)

• No communications from ISS yet.
(8:40 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Anyone else's heart pounding out there?
(8:44 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Beeps. More Russian chatter.....Fincke speaks!
(8:46 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Fincke: We understand we are cleared! Yay!
(8:46 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Fincke: Tell us what the steps are to execute the re-ingress to station.
(8:47 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Danger of debris hit is now passed. Crew returning to station, following procedures to reopen all the hatches.
(8:51 AM Mar 12th from web)

• Wow. Well, that was a little intense....
(8:54 AM Mar 12th from web)

• All hatches have een re-opened. "Big picture is done," says Fincke. ISS Events from today are now being rescheduled
(8:58 AM Mar 12th from web)

Whoa. A full eight minutes of radio silence from two minutes before impact until an excruciating six minutes after the debris had passed had me as rigid and tense as any movie.

Totally incredible.

Now, this Twitter thing…I knew what it was but had, up until this moment, absolutely no interest and quite a bit of contempt for the Twitterati. For those of you unaware, Twitter is a kind of micro-blog. Basically, you can post from almost any device and almost any place but the posts have a maximum length of 140 characters.

So conceivably you could update your slavish friends and family who absolutely must know what’s going on in your life from minute to minute. You know, “going to the store”, “ordering a hamburger for lunch, will work off at gym.”

I myself prefer the longer, reasoned, eloquent and substantive posts that you’ve come to expect and love from TMUOTF.

However, as regular readers know, I have tried to impose a "post quota" on myself. If I could average one every two days I would be delighted but work and life intrude and as of this writing, March 17, I only have four posted so far this month.

And although it’s only a self imposed quota, it really bugs me!

Now that I see how Twitter can be used for good instead of evil, how it can be used to create and share drama, I’m seriously thinking about adding a Twitter feed to the blog. Presumably I could update more often and more conveniently while still avoiding pablum like what I had for lunch.

So look for that as soon as I have time to figure out how to do it. Which could be July at this rate.

If you have any relevant Twitter experience or thoughts, please do share.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More cool photography at Boston.com

Nicely complimenting Boston.com's awesome news photo blog The Big Picture is their photo blog dedicated to sports called Big Shots .

Same deal - cool high-def photography from around the world but in this case, focused on sport.

Japan's Ai Goto reaches for a shot during the All England Badminton Championships in the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, England March 4. (AP Photo/Simon Dawson)

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma reacts to a call during the second half of an NCAA basketball game against Rutgers March 2 in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) # March 7. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Chicago White Sox pitcher Scott Linebrink delivers against the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game in Las Vegas March 5. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

Swimmers warm up during the 2009 USA Swimming Austin Grand Prix March 5 at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center in Austin, Texas. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie argues a call with referee Sue Blauch during the first half against Florida State in an NCAA basketball game at the Atlantic Coast Conference women's tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Got a fun one for you…

Wordle.net is a intriguing web application that turns text into “word clouds.” The program gives greater emphasis to words that appear more frequently in the text.

You can play around with the color schemes and fonts and dribble away hours.

In the example to the left I entered the text from my January 23 post about John Thain . I love the result – it stands up on its own pretty well.

See the word clouds below for some interesting translations of famous texts…

The "you can't handle the truth..." speech from A Few Good Men

Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

Stairway to Heaven

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Monday, March 2, 2009

A good idea I wish I'd had...

A camera rides the conveyor belt at a sushi restaurant in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, Japan.