Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Amish Teen Led Cops on Horse and Buggy Chase, Say Police"

"LEON, N.Y. (CBS/AP) Levi Detweiler, a 17-year-old Amish youth, allegedly led sheriff's deputies on a mile-long, presumably low-speed chase, after running a stop sign in his horse and buggy and refusing to pull over.

"Do they train for this at the police academy?

"Deputies said they spotted Detweiler ignoring the stop sign last week. According to police, the teen then led them on a chase that ended when he lost control on a sharp turn into a driveway and overturned the buggy into a ditch. He then fled on foot."

He was caught and is being held on $500 bond. I guess those teen years can be rough no matter what religion you are.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Unclaimed Money from the State

Well, let me tell you my tale of woe, guys. I filed a claim with the state for these funds.

They refused me because, there is one other (fill in name) in the State of WI. No, there isn't...there is a record of the scheming woman who stole his identity way back in 1900 and freeze to death. They have an address for a(fill in name again) in Racine County...Duh....This is the money from WI Energies.

The other check, which I think is also WI Energies suddenly appears to the state to be from M&I and I need to provide them with the check? Now if I had the check, don't you think I would have cashed it?

Oh well, my Mother in law got her lousy $50!

My claims came to about $300...well, I never knew I had it coming, so...but I did write WI Energies an perhaps they can provide me with proof that we are the only (name) in the state and particularly in Racine County. GRRRRRRR.

Marijuana Plantations OK'd in Oakland

When will we see these in Racine?

Phil Plait's Bad Universe

My old friend Phil Plait has kept tweeting and talking about a Sooper Sekrit Project he has been working on for a while. I kind of figured it was probably a television project for the Discovery Channel and it has finally been revealed: Phil Plait's Bad Universe. A trailer has been released.

Show air dates are not on there yet, but I will be sure to update this when I find out. If you don't have his books Bad Astronomy or Death from the Skies, check them out. Both are geared toward a general audience and a very entertaining reads.

I have known Phil for years and worked with him on education programs for the Swift satellite and the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope (formerly known as GLAST).

Congratulations, Phil. Just remember, although you may be becoming a television star, I still have a lower Bacon Number than you!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Do I need an Umbrella

Before you go out the door in the morning...…
Click Below
This is really neat!

Do I need an Umbrella

Four for Fridays

Hello everybody! Another Friday is here! Hope everyone is staying dry! This week's questions are about parks.

1) Where would you prefer to be at-in an amusement park or national park?

2) When was the last time you where at a national park? Or at an amusement park?

3) What national park you have been to or wish to visit?

4) What amusement park rides do you like?

Enjoy your weekend!

Open Blog - Weekend Version

"Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink."

- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Thursday, July 22, 2010

ytykbydkaa Strikes Again

The local blogger, ytykbydkaa, who recently provided Racine Uncovered with an editorial cartoon entitled "Johnny Boy's Big Day!" (, has submitted a couple more cartoons to the JT Irregulars. I hereby present "The Fountain"

Below is "Crime Cam B"

Thanks again to Racine Uncovered (, we also know that ytykbydkaa has his own blog entitled "RaScene": It has been added to the blog list on our sidebar.

Thank you, ytykbydkaa!

The Smoking Jacket

How many times have you been at work and wished you could have the thoughtful, insightful articles Playboy is known for but you couldn't because your boss blocked it due to the girlie bits? You are in luck because Playboy just unveiled its safe for work site called the Smoking Jacket according to an article on CNN. No nudity, just a site that "provides guys with smart and sexy distractions throughout the day." Just the way the boss wants you spending the day I am sure!

I have looked at the home page, but have yet to find a link to click on that does not scare me at least a little bit.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's Mars Hoax Season

Well, it's that time of year again. I got my first email of the Mars Hoax Season. The Mars Hoax Season reaches its height in August when emails are flying around the internet claiming Mars will be as big as the full Moon. Here is the one I got this morning.

The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles (55,763,108 km) of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.

By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share this with your children and grandchildren. NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN

Well, there is almost always a kernal of truth in these things. This hoax originated in 2003 when Mars really did come within 35 million miles of Earth. That really was an unusually close approach and Mars appeared much brighter than usual. The problem is that the original article had a line about when viewed through a telescope at 75x (75 times actual size) Mars would appear the same size as the full Moon. In other words, Mars without a telescope, Mars would be 1/75 as large as the full Moon (not nearly as impressive).

Mars has a very elliptical orbit so sometimes we have closer approaches than others. The most recent opposition (i.e. closest approach) occurred on January 29th, 2o10 and Mars was about 99 million kilometers (about 60 million miles) away.

Now something cool is happening with Mars right now. Mars, Saturn, Venus and (for sharp eyed observers) Mercury are putting on a show in the west after sunset the next few weeks. I took this picture last night and have labeled the visible planets.

I was out a little later and Mercury already set (and is tough to see during this opposition). You might notice that Mars does not exactly look as big as the full Moon. To top if off, Mars is moving farther away from Earth!

During the next couple of weeks, Saturn and Mars will move closer to Venus. Mercury will hang out beneath them, but Mercury will never get very high in the sky and will be difficult to see. Mars, Venus and Saturn will make a lovely trio in their own right and you should get out there and take a look. Here is a snapshot of what you have to look forward to on August 9th (at 8pm from Tucson, your results may vary).

The crescent Moon will join the party on August 12th and 13th (just in time for the Perseid meteor shower...more on that later!) You can bet I will be out fighting the Arizona monsoons trying to find breaks in the clouds to take pictures of this conjunction!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

"Board rejects 'whiteman' ballot language from Milwaukee candidate"

"Madison — State elections officials narrowly rejected a Milwaukee Assembly candidate's attempt to run with the slogan 'NOT the "whiteman's bitch" ' under her name on the ballot.

"Ieshuh Griffin, a Milwaukee independent running to replace retiring Rep. Annette 'Polly' Williams (D-Milwaukee), said in response she would sue the Government Accountability Board for infringing on her freedom of speech.

" 'I'm not making a derogatory statement toward an ethnic group. I'm stating what I'm not,' Griffin told board members. 'It's my constitutional right to freedom of speech.'

"Unlike candidates from the established Democratic and Republican parties, independents are allowed a five-word statement of purpose on the ballot to explain to voters what their candidacy is about."

LOL. They shoulda let her keep the slogan on the ballot. Now I'm trying to think up good slogans (5 words or less) for independent candidates:

"NOT a Career Politician"
"NOT For Sale"
"NOT the Same Old Sh*t"
"NOT Becker or Dickert"

You got any?

Dear Madame Zoltar

Hello, my magnificent marigolds! How are you? Have you been taking advantage of this glorious weather and going to some of our festivals and concerts? Maybe some out of town events? It’s that time of year and we better enjoy it while we can because in 6 months we’ll be talking about what we can’t do, in January. Oh dear, just the thought of that makes me shiver. Turn up the fan and sip some more iced tea. Be sure to get out and take advantage of all that Racine and the surrounding area have to offer. We are fortunate to live where we do.

I know that one good source for information on upcoming events is the Racine Post’s Racine Kiosk: Another source is Downtown Racine Corporation’s Calendar of Events: (Shame on you, Journal Times, for still having up last year’s Downtown Events page.) Oh my, it’s “Micros on the Monument” this Saturday: I’ve known a few men with micro brains and micro other things. I wouldn’t think it would be anything to be crowing about.

This week I received a missive from the illustrious and scholarly Mr. Hale-Bopp, entitled “Confusion.” In it, he wrote:

Dear Madame Z,

As an astronomer, it is common to be mistaken for an astrologer. I have also worked in physics and our dyslexia challenged population occasionally mistakes me for a psychic. This happens often enough that at universities we sometimes joke that we work in the department of Psychics and Astrologers (instead of the common name of the department of Physics and Astronomy).

So I was wondering if you were ever mistaken for a physicist or astronomer.


Oh, Mr. Hale-Bopp, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy and important schedule to contact me regarding an issue of mutual interest. Have you been invited to any more Washington beltway insider festivities lately, sir? Have you ever considered the advantages of escorting a certified psychic to such an event? We could entertain our hosts and their guests with our mesmerizing tales of psychic/physics mix-ups and astronomer/astrologer malapropisms.

Yes, it happens to me, too, and to others in my line of work. I occasionally receive telephone calls asking me where to look for Uranus. It can be frustrating. Prospective customers turn out to be interested in, say, Hailey’s comet or your namesake, Mr. Hale-Bopp, instead of a reading. When I try to explain to them who I am and what I do, I get the strangest looks. Some have even laughed – not for long, of course. And the next fool who wants to talk about the Big Bang Theory may just receive the bang of his life.

Ahem, excuse me, sometimes I get a little worked up. It can be hard enough to eke out a living in these dark times, but it’s only made more difficult by what you rightfully call “our dyslexia challenged population.” I wonder how many prospective clients we have lost to each other because of their confusion. I would think that anyone seeking psychic advice who hears “E=mc²” will probably not be looking me up in the future. What a shame.

Thank you everyone for reading my blog this week. Was “magnificent marigolds” a greeting that I’ve used before, my dears? I’ve written so many blogs now that I can’t remember them all. No matter, you know that I love you and watch over you, irregular and regular alike. I try to return every iota of love that you give to me.

Don’t forget to send your love letters and hate mail to me at:

Keep enjoying the summer. There are lots of good fruits and vegetables in the stores and farmers’ markets. Be careful of too much sun, dears, and keep yourselves hydrated. Surf’s up! Perihelion!

Open Blog - Wednesday

Sometimes, that's the best way to look at things.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Project Calliope and the Age of Personal Satellites

Yep, for the low price of only $8,000 you too can launch your own satellite. Interorbital Systems will launch a TubeSat for you for $8k, although you have to design and build the satellite to do what you want. The TubeSat is small satellite that is shaped like, well, a small tube. They are launched into very low Earth orbit, so low the satellite will reenter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up in a few months at the longest (this is intentional to avoid adding to space debris). It has a maximum mass of .75kg (or about 1.65 lbs) for everything you want to put in it...sorry, not big enough for a space based death ray!

However, there are many interesting things you can do. Project Calliope is one of the first TubeSats. Headed by Alex Antunes, it will make measurements of Earth's ionosphere and translate its measurements into a midi file which will be sent back down to Earth. You can keep up with progress on Project Calliope blog or see the presentation given at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington DC.

I think this is a great project and hope it succeeds (I am speaking both of Interborbital Systems and Project Calliope). I was at the Satellite Educator's Association meeting last fall and they had a booth promoting TubeSats. I had dinner with a the woman at the booth (I can't remember her name) and she was very enthusiastic and had big plans. I was a little skeptical, but hoping they can succeed where others have failed. I will say she did a great job of answering all my skeptical questions giving me hope they could make it. They are expecting their first launch in the first quarter of 2011, so we will find out soon.

Good luck Project Calliope. I look forward to hearing some music from space!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Editorial Cartoon from a Local Blogger

Here's the blog:

And here's the cartoon:

Thank you, Racine Uncovered and ytykbydkaa. "Johnny Boy's Big Day" made my day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Make Your Own Pretty Pictures

Pretty pictures are a good way for astronomers to make the news. A lot of work goes into those images as they data is usually pretty ugly when it comes out of the scope. Once it is all cleaned up and made presentable, astronomers then have to make a nice pretty color picture out of it all.

While you might not be able to get time on one of the big telescopes, there are ways for you to do that last step and combine images to make your own pretty picture. Today's Chandra Blog talks about the Open FITS Project. Open FITS is working to give people the tools and knowledge to try their hand at some basic image processing. FITS is the file format (Flexible Image Transport System) that astronomical images use. You need special software to work with FITS files (or plug ins to allow your program to import FITS files).

Fortunately, there are some good free options out there. The Open FITS Project uses GIMP for a lot of their work (ImageJ is another option). GIMP is kind of the poor man's Photoshop (in the respect that it's free...doesn't quite do everything Photoshop does, but for a free program, it is very powerful). Once you install GIMP, you can use it to open FITS files and away you go.

Telescopes take all images in black and white. To make a pretty color image, you have to combine images through three different filters: One filter is assigned to the red channel, one to the green and one to the blue. If you use data from outside the visible spectrum, you still use three images for each of red, green and blue. Usually, the shortest wavelength (highest energy) image is assigned to blue and the longest wavelength (lowest energy) is assigned to red.

And that's what Open Fits does. Right now there are six different objects you can try your hand at. Open the three different images and combine them in GIMP. You can change the intensity of the colors and rescale them to bring out different features. Astronomers try to make decisions that are both visually pleasing and highlight the science at the same time.

If you have Photoshop, you can try your hand at Hubble data using FITS Liberator. I don't have Photoshop, but I am getting more into photography and might just have to use my academic discount to get myself a copy.

So give it a shot and play astronomer for a day.

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

One for the Animal Lovers

Open Blog - Monday

Another day, another daisy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rustic Picture

Picture taken at Doty, WI near Boulder Lake 7/17/2010

Science and The Arts

One of my friends tweeted today the LA Times posted a blog about an interview with musician Herbie Hancock. First, I must post the disclaimer that Herbie Hancock went to Grinnell College like me (although he left one course short of graduation...when you look at the list of famous people that went to Grinnell but did not graduate, some of my friend started joking that the biggest mistake we ever made was graduating since that ensures we will never be famous). He studied engineering for a couple of years which he credits with helping him in his music.

"It was easier for me because I was an engineering major in college for two years. So when synthesizers came in, they used terminology I knew. I knew what an amplifier was and I knew what it did."

It's good to see artists talk about the technical aspects of their work. I am more science, but I have a foot in the performing arts world as well. When I was teaching, I would incorporate the arts as much as I could whether it was how instruments produced sound, examining the waveforms of different instruments, or the different types of theater lighting and color mixing to produce different effects.

One of my former students went to college in theater. I ran into her after her first semester in the parking lot of the grocery store near my place. She told me she had to take technical theater and it was all physics..and she knew it! She playfully slapped me which, based on our relationship and her personality, I took as an annoyed thank you for being right that she would need to know this later in life.

With the increasing use of tech in music, theater, and movies, it is more important than ever that we don't let kids off the hook saying they don't need to know science because they are going to be an artist.

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

The Tornados - "Telstar"

I loved growing up in the new space age. Someday, they were even going to put a man on the moon . . .