Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sometimes I Think In Pictures

Back on January 4 , the day before I started a new job and ended four months of unemployment, I used a metaphor to describe how our shitty economy had affected me and my family. What I said was:

"So I am grateful to have received an offer and happy to accept it. All in all, it appears that we’ll be able to weather this economic shit-storm without major damage. The house is safe and we've got health insurance so we can hold catastrophe at bay!

But I do feel like we were right by the edge there. I mean, disarray and chaos were right there with us for a little bit. The storm surge came right up to the back porch before it receded."

In mid-September of 2008 I found out that I was being laid off. At the time I couldn’t have known what was about to happen to the economy in general and to the job market in particular but it didn’t take long for me to figure it out.

And as the months dragged on and our savings dwindled, the pressure and anxiety mounted and I began to think of my situation in a very visual way. I imagined that I was standing at the icy edge of a river. The river was rough, dirty and running fast. All manner of shit was tumbling and rolling in the water…big stuff like foreclosed-upon houses and repossessed cars and lots of smaller shit like broken shopping carts and used tires.

And I was standing on the icy edge…just trying to keep from slipping and disappearing into the maelstrom. (Somewhat overly dramatic? You think? Guilty as charged.)

Finally, I landed a new job. I matched my salary, was eligible for a bonus, a 401k plan, a pension fund and health insurance and took several giant steps away from the river of doom.

Soon after I started though, it became apparent that my new company was in trouble. I knew this when I accepted the job of course but it was worse than I thought. At the beginning of my fourth week they announced that our bonus program was being eliminated and they would no longer match 401k contributions or contribute to the pension fund.

So, OK. You know, still have the salary and can still meet my obligations. Maybe it’s just a short-term thing and some of those benefits will eventually come back.

Three weeks after that, they announced salary cuts across the board – a 50% cut beginning immediately and lasting for six weeks at which point our salaries would “go up” to 80% of the original.


So the river still rushes. I’m certainly not standing as close as I was five months ago but I can still hear it roar.

Only, the trashy rushing river isn’t really cutting it for me any more. It’s kind of played out in my mind.

When I saw this picture last week I knew right away, “There it is! My new metaphor!”

How Science History Works

See, I'm keen on science AND I'm married so maybe it's just me...

Courtesy of "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal" ...

Table For Two

Littlefoil and Grampy enjoy a Memorial Day cook-out...

Friday, May 15, 2009

There's people out there...

This is a picture of the sun taken by Thierry Legault on May 13 in Florida. It was a cloudy day and he used a 13 cm telescope, and a Canon 5D Mark II digital camera that took a series of 16 images of 1/8000th of second each.

Click to embiggen

Cool. But look closely at the lower left quadrant. See those two specs? Here, look closer.

Click to embiggen

That's the space shuttle Atlantis and the Hubble Space Telescope silhouetted in transit across the sun. Isn;t that amazing? There are people in there. Working, breathing, living people.

This guy Legault also took the shot below of just Atlantis in between us and the sun. I mean, holy shit! Out among the stars!

Click to embiggen

Thanks to Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog where you can see cool stuff like this all the time.

My birthday is in March. Make a note...

United Nuclear Scientific Equipment and Supplies sells "The World's Only Nuclear Powered Educational Toy" . I've got to have one.

Way back in 1903, Sir William Crookes was experimenting with the most expensive material on Earth at the time... Radium Bromide.

Working in total darkness, he accidentally spilled a small quantity on a thin layer of a special type of activated Zinc Sulfide (ZnS). To make sure he recovered all of the expensive Radium Bromide, he used a magnifying lens to locate every single speck of it. To his amazement, he noticed flashes of light occurring around each tiny grain of the radioactive material. It was found that the flashes of light were caused by the individual Alpha particles emitted from the Radium compound, striking the activated Zinc Sulfide. The flashes of light were individual photons emitted from splitting atoms.

Crookes was indirectly able too 'see' radiation via the light flashes. Shortly thereafter, he assembled a small apparatus with a tiny radioactive Radium source, Zinc Sulfide screen, and magnifying lens. He called the device a 'Spinthariscope'. The Spinthariscope can be considered the first radiation detector.

Spinthariscopes were popular items back in their day but they have long since disappeared and been forgotten. In the mid 1990s, United Nuclear Scientific designed a new Spinthariscope using modern materials and essentially brought the classic Spinthariscope back to life.

Our Spinthariscopes do not contain any dangerous Radium Bromide. Instead, they contain a tiny speck of extremely high grade Thorium ore, specially mined & imported for us from the Great Bear Lake in Canada. The high Thorium content makes this Canadian ore very unique in its chemical composition, and is the only natural occurring radioactive material that will put on the dazzling nuclear display you see in the Spinthariscope.

The small speck of radioactive material is permanently sealed within the device and does not pose any health or radiation risk. The tiny radioactive source is encased in a metal tab and permanently bonded within the unit. The target material is a special "activated" blend of ZnS that we manufacture ourselves - sealed under clear plastic.

As the source material undergoes natural radioactive decay, atoms of it continuously explode, releasing Alpha Particles traveling at over 20,000 miles per hour. Even at this high speed Alpha particles can only travel a little over an inch in the air.... and can't even penetrate a sheet of paper.

They can however hit the ZnS target suspended directly above the source. When an Alpha Particle hits the ZnS target, it releases a photon, the basic component of light. This produces the thousands of tiny flashes (scintillations) of blue-white light you see through the magnifying lens.

Alpha radiation (Alpha particles) are just common Helium atoms that have lost their electrons and are traveling at very high speed. The Nuclear Spinthariscope features an adjustable focus, requires no batteries or any other form of energy, and will continue to operate producing tiny visible nuclear explosions for at least 60 years.

Hey, it's just a tiny speck of radioactive material...what could possibly go wrong? How do you think the TSA might react if you tried to include this in your carry-on?? (Seriously, I want one...)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

That weird feeling of kind of being disconnected and yet totally human at the same time...

Wired's Science Blog has a cool series called Humans in Space: 10 Amazing Spacewalk Photos including this doozy of Bruce McCandless who took the first untethered space walk in February 1984.

Click to embiggen.

This absolutely captures it...that thing that so consumes my imagination about space.

It gives me the same chill as beginning of Boards of Canada's video for "Dayvan Cowboy" which I faithfully reproduce for you here...

Monday, May 11, 2009


Information and knowledge are the seeds of liberty and freedom. That’s what makes the internet so wonderful.

That and sites like .


Someone should let this mother and daughter know that there’s a strange man in their photo.


In medieval times, they would refer to this as Ye Olde Uncomfortableness.

Double your pleasure. Double your built-in chaps.

The most relaxed part of this pic is the brick wall.

Even the tree felt this one was awkward.

When it comes to mom, hand placement is everything.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Get a load of this monster!

Wired’s Science Blog has a wild post about basking sharks and their winter vacation homes. The second largest shark species, which can grow up to 33 feet long, spends the spring, summer and fall in warmer oceans but seems to disappear in the winter.

Until now, researchers had no idea where they went or what they did.

“It’s been a big mystery for the past fifty years,” said Greg Skomal, an aquatic biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. “For a while people thought they were hibernating on the sea floor, even though hibernating is not really something sharks do.”

Skomal tagged the giant fish off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts and tracked them by satellite, piecing together their mysterious winter wanderings. He discovered the beasts were absconding to the depths of the Caribbean, some voyaging as far as the Brazilian coast, though the attraction of these destinations poses yet another mystery.

“What they’re doing there — therein lies the mystery,” said Skomal. “If you’re a basking shark you can go to Georgia in the wintertime and be at the right temperature and depth and have plenty of food, so that’s optimal. So why travel three to four times that distance?”

He hypothesizes the trip may have to do with reproduction, another area that has long baffled basking shark researchers.

“No one has ever seen a baby basking shark, no one’s found a pregnant shark, knows when they reproduce or what their gestation period is,” said Skomal.

Wild right? No one has ever seen a baby basking shark! But what really gets me is that they’re tagging these beasts off the coast of Cape Cod – the very same waters that we swim and play in all summer long (technically we’re just north of the area). And while the local plankton and krill populations have more to fear than I do, finding myself in the water with one of these beasts would give me a heart attack.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Kites Are Fun

Last weekend we took our first beach day of the year. We flew kites! We had the classic Gayla Eye in the Sky and a fancy-pants nylon job with two long tails.

The beach. Another reason I'm happy living where I live .

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dom DeLuise

He seemed like a nice guy...

And of course…

Monday, May 4, 2009

Something Fishy at the L.A. Times

Cool pictures of nature...

Crystal River, western Florida: A manatee and calf.

Australia: A school of cardinalfish.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia: Blue-striped snapper school above staghorn coral.

Palmyra Atoll, Pacific: A researcher counts fish near a coral reef.

Palmyra Atoll, Pacific: A red snapper, one of the top predators in the reefs of this area.

Palmyra Atoll, Pacific: A blacktip reef shark in the waters off the atoll.

Glass in a Sink

My friend Molly pointed me to her friend Comfies who shot and posted this fantastic picture on her blog.

It’s light filtering through a water glass in her sink. Click to embiggen and drink it in!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Don't even think about it Bill...

Click to embiggen

I’m not sure that’s how probability works, Walter.

With the completion of the above-ground work on repairs to the Large Hadron Collider , the path is cleared for a re-start sometime in September of this year.

And we can expect, once again, to hear from the fringe with panicky claims that the LHC will create a black hole and swallow the earth.

This, despite the fact that luminaries such as Stephen Hawking and (ahem) TMUOTF have patiently explained over and over again why this won't happen.

As always, we leave it to the fake news program to add perspective and clarity.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
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