Monday, September 25, 2017

Remember this Handsome Fellow?

Some years ago, I posted about a magnificent black cat which sometimes hangs out at my principal workplace. His status was pretty ambiguous, he was un-neutered and bore no collar of any sort, but his glossy pelt and overall healthy, well-fed condition suggested that he was not a stray. He shows up from time-to-time onsite, but yesterday he was hanging out outside of our visitors' center, receiving adulation from an adoring public, including myself:




He's even more well-fed than before, has been altered, bears some flecks of gray in his beautiful coat, and bears a flea-collar, but no identification tags of any sort. He is even friendlier than he previously was:




I still have no idea if he belongs to any particular neighbor, or if he's just the recipient of care from the neighborhood. Apparently, there is a local woman who cares for feral cats in the neighborhood. If his status were less ambiguous, I have no doubt that we'd grab him and put him on the payroll

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Llorando Para Puerto Rico

Being a New Yorker, and one who worked in the South Bronx for fifteen years, off and on, I have an appreciation for Puerto Rican people and their culture. Being U.S. citizens, the Puerto Rican population of New York city, Nuyoricans, often have jobs as civil servants- cops, firefighters, state and local clerical workers. Puerto Ricans have a long history of serving in the US military- they are good people, good neighbors, and good Americans.

It's heartbreaking to see Puerto Rico devastated by hurricane Maria after having been hit by hurricane Irma just days before. To compound matters, the government of Puerto Rico has labored under a debt burden for too long with no relief in sight.

At least FEMA seems to be on the ground, though Trump has been spending his day picking fights with football players. Knowing the close relationship between New York and Puerto Rico, our governor Cuomo traveled to the stricken island with needed supplies and a cadre of aid workers. At least one of our local papers has been vociferous about Puerto Rico's need for aid.

I've been reading up on which charities to donate to, and I think I will choose Voices for Puerto Rico, as they don't have a 'faith-based' agenda.

Here's a video of Ponce, Puerto Rico-born Eddie Palmieri and his band playing a love song to the island:





To all of my Puerto Rican friends, tuvieron mal suerte, tiene que estarán fuerte... y no se olvidáramos.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Nibiru? Nah, Beer/Brew

Yet again, some idiot is claiming that a 'hidden planet' called Nibiru is going to crash into Earth today, killing us all. Meh, we've seen these idiots claim that the world is going to end time-and-time again. Nibiru, my ass... if a friggin' planet were on a collision course with Earth, it would be visible to the naked eye by now.

At any rate, this is a shitty day for an apocalypse, because it's the day of the local street festival, and I plan on going on a twelve-hour bender. October is a hell of a month on the job, so I figured I'd binge on craic (this elicited a hearty laugh from a co-worker of mine) before going on a long slog. The festival is always fun, and I only need to crawl two blocks to get home.

The beauty of the neighborhood is that it has its own theme song by a bunch of great local guys, a song which perfectly captures the spirit of the community:





There's no need to worry about the end of the world when there is an endless supply of beer.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Festival Circuit

Today, I decided to make a couple of recreational stops before heading to work. I decided to visit the Boyce-Thompson Center in Northwest Yonkers. The center was originally the Boyce-Thompson Institute for Plant Research, until the institute relocated to the campus of Cornell University. After the Institute was abandoned, it deteriorated into a near-ruin, afflicted by vandals and, ironic for a botanical research facility, runaway plant growth. It was rehabilitated into a multi-purpose medical/retail/commercial property earlier this year. Here's the impressive brick facade of the building:




In a nod to the history of the Institute, there are bioswales adjacent to the parking lot, containing a mixture of wild plants, such as milkweeds (to my delight), and plants which were used for research purposes by the Institute scientists:




Being across the street from Lenoir Preserve, one of my favorite places in Yonkers, the Center is destined to be a favored post-hike destination for me. I had lunch at The Taco Project, which manages to be 'contemporary' while respecting traditional Mexican cuisine. For instance, the pork belly tacos had the crispiness of well-made carnitas with a pineapple flavor reminiscent of tacos al pastor... washed down with a delicious horchata, the tacos were a perfect meal, just the pick-me-up a stroller in the preserve or Untermyer Park could ask for.

For dinner, I hit the Middle Eastern Festival at the St John Paul II Maronite Church at Immaculate Conception... basically, I pigged out on a combination plate of falafel, baba ghanouj, hummus, spinach pies, and my favorite, kibbeh, all washed down with an Almaza beer chased by a tiny cup of Arabic coffee. Before leaving, I purchased some pastries, including baklava and basbousa, from two absolutely charming women to bring to work. I might have to stop by again on Sunday to buy more baba ghanouj (it had a perfect smoky flavor) and kibbeh before going to work.

Tomorrow, I am taking a day off from work so I can attend the local street festival and get my drink on. Before heading out today, I had a conversation with my next door neighbor and he asked me, "Which bar do you think you'll be drinking in?" I thought, "All of them, Katie" but answered, "The street will be closed, so I'll be open-carrying all up and down the street." I have to get my licks in, recreation-wise before, as I told my neighbor, "Work turns me into Captain Nemo, eventually resurfacing in a month-and-a-half."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Been Busy, Catching up with the Atrocities

It's been a busy week... on Monday, I went out drinking and learning, at work I am in Fall mode, compiling and re-compiling schedules, dealing with contractors setting up for the Autumn fundraisers, and generally staying on my toes. I'm getting a full dose of the horrible performance by our moron president at the United Nations (Vixen Strangely is killing it all week).

It's not normal, with Trump referring to Kim Jong Un with his jokey nickname while threatening to totally destroy North Korea, and making up a new mashup African country while bragging about his friends exploiting African nations and peoples.

This week of diplomatic blunders can't end soon enough- I fully expect Trump to mention his very fine allies from Kekistan before the week is over. Maybe it's a good thing that I've been ensconced in a cocoon most of the week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Uh, You Could Use Your Own Services, Man

Today has been an unusual day on the job. I arrived at 5PM, my department being stretched thin, necessitating some shift reshuffling. Shortly after arriving, I received a call from my department head- a couple visiting one of our other sites was stuck in our parking lot with a flat tire, and the daytime staff would be leaving shortly. I made sure everything was locked up at my primary site and drove down to the site at which the visitors were stranded.

It wasn't a standard flat-tire situation that a typical motorist support club (or a person with a lug wrench and a basic degree of know-how) could cope with- the couple were traveling in a camper van, but not a Camper Van Beethoven... the sort of thing which demands a special jack and a special lug wrench. Luckily, the owners had a membership in an RV club that provided roadside assistance. This organization had a service contract with a tire company which specializes in truck tires.

The roadside assistance tech arrived in a truck which, frankly, needed a new set of tires:




That thing was balder than I am. I guess the shop owner doesn't want any of his employees dipping into the profits.

The whole process was fascinating to watch- the tech used a pneumatic jack to elevate the dual-wheel assembly, removed the tire, which had a leaky valve stem, from the rim and exchanged it for a new tire. Picture this on a larger scale. Oddly enough, it took longer for the owner of the tire place to figure out the billing than it took to change the tire, because the RV club operator had told him that the camper van was a rental and he didn't know who to bill. A few phone calls, and the billing kerfuffle was eventually resolved and I was able to lock up the parking lot.

Basically, half of my shift was spent dealing with this situation, three hours and change spent in order to lock up a parking lot. At least it was a gorgeous evening, a temperate night after a glorious sunset. Sometimes, even when work is a pain in the ass, it's wonderful.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Two Lecturers, Two Black Holes

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring Princeton University physicists Steven Scott Gubser and Frans Pretorius, whose latest book, The Little Book of Black Holes, is literally hot off the presses. The two doctors lectured in a 'tag team' style, taking turns at the microphone and occasionally engaging in physical demonstrations of concepts.

While setting up, Dr Gubser joked that, while living in a two-religion household is fine, living in a two-operating system is more difficult, so he made the switch from Linux to Apple at the behest of his brother-in-law. He then began the lecture by discussing time dilation- according to the Theory of General Relativity, time moves more slowly for a moving observer than for a stationary observer. He confessed that the demonstration would be 'slightly fake', because he's not the Flash and could not run near the speed of light, then the two demonstrated the Twin Paradox, as one ran across the stage and the other remained stationary. At the end of the jog, he joked that, at this pace, the jogger would be one femtosecond younger than the stationary observer. The Twin Paradox is not an optimal frame of reference, general relativity doesn't take into account acceleration, and the 'paradox' is a red herring- a better analogy is a pair of hypothetical light clocks, using a photon traveling between two sensors. The speed of light being constant, the photon of a moving time clock would appear to an outside observer to be moving on diagonals, moving a greater distance than a stationary clock:





At greater speeds, the photon would move greater distances. The photon trajectory forms a right triangle relative to the 'clock' and its trajectory, so the Pythagorean theorem can be used to derive the value of Tau (proper time). At any rate, a moving observer would experience slower time relative to a stationary observer.

The lecture then shifted to the subject of gravity. According to the Theory of General Relativity, gravity is a product of the curvature of space- mass bends space, and gravitational forces can also produce a time dilation, with time moving faster the further an observer gets from a source of gravitation. The mass of an object determines the degree to which it can curve space, and the good doctors displayed a graphic which contrasted the amount of curvature among different heavenly bodies, ranging from our sun to a white dwarf to a neutron star to a black hole. Each of these objects represents a degree of compression of mass- a white dwarf is the remnants of a star approximately the size of our sun compressed to a diameter of approximately a few thousand kilometers (thanks, Smut). A neutron star is the remains of a supermassive star which has collapsed under its own gravity- a star with two times the mass of the sun would collapse into a two-kilometer diameter. On Earth, gravitational time dilation effects GPS units.

Stellar black holes are stars which have collapsed into a small enough radius that they cause spacetime to undergo a gravitational collapse within a radius known as an event horizon. This collapse of spacetime is the ultimate expression of curvature, a condition in which a singularity is formed. The spacetime dilation at a singularity is infinite, a hypothetical clock would stop. The Schwartzschild radius is the radius at which a body's mass, compressed into a sphere, would result in gravitational forces which had escape velocities which exceed the speed of light. At the Schwarzschild radius, time dilation is reversed- a stationary observer would find that time moved slower than a moving observer would. One of the pillars of the Theory of General Relativity is that there's no such thing as gravity, just the movement of time in space.

At the event horizon of a black hole, the curvature of space becomes infinite in 'a nasty way'. Crossing an event horizon, an observer would experience an 'oh, damn, what do I do now?' moment. With the stopping of a clock at the singularity, escape would always be in the victim's future... there would be a spaghettification as a subject is stretched out by gravitational forces.


Einstein initially doubted the existence of black holes
. As Carl Sagan quipped, extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. Evidence for black holes was circumstantial... observations of the center of the galaxy revealed that the stars were orbiting an object four million times the mass of the sun, but no such object was observed. Strong-but-circumstantial evidence pointed to the existence of a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

Stellar black holes are inferred from accretion disks orbiting something which cannot be observed directly. In 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory detected evidence of two black holes colliding. As Dr Gubser noted, the era of gravitational wave astronomy had finally arrived. He also joked that scientists are better at breaking discoveries than making them. Gravitational waves 'marry' matter and energy. In the LIGO-detected event, two stellar mass black holes orbited each other, forming a binary. Two dense concentrations of matter were coming together at the speed of light, and energy was lost to gravitational waves. As the two black holes moved closer, they collapsed with a massive javascript:void(0);energy output- the death throes of a binary black hole collapsing into a single black hole. The evidence for this energy output is circumstantial, the gravity not allowing photons to escape. LIGO's detection of gravitational waves signifies the dawn of a new era in astrophysics. LIGO uses interference patterns to detect the stretching and squeezing of space due to gravitational waves. The collision of the black holes cause the gravitational waves to produce a 'chirp' pattern:





The way in which the waves chirped helped researchers infer the size of the black holes. If the collision of the two black holes had been visible, it would have outshone all of the stars for a fraction of a second.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session- the Bastard did not have an opportunity to get a question in, but Drs Gubser and Pretorius fielded a wide variety of questions. A question about the evidence for relativity led to a discussion of the eclipse observations of bent light which resulted from gravitational effects. A question about GPS systems elicited response that the systems need to take time dilation into account. A discussion of pulsars, spinning neutron stars, revealed that they pulse at regular frequencies, so they are good clocks. A question about the fate of the universe elicited the response that time ends- relativity predicts its own demise, but that a collapse could possibly be followed by a re-expansion. A question about whether a racecar driver would age more slowly than an avid jogger was answered by the assertion that extreme velocities are needed to make an observable difference in aging. Another audience member asked about Hawking radiation- black holes emit dim and faint radiation, but it is swamped by the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. Asked about his 'fantasy' experiment, Dr Gubser answered that he would want a range of interferometers measuring a range of interference pattern up to the ten kilometer ranges, and more sensitive detectors. He also wanted to explore the analogs between black hole collisions and heavy ion collisions (PDF).

Once again, the Secret Science Club has dished out a fantastic lecture. Kudos to Margaret and Dorian, Drs Gubser and Pretorius, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House yet again.