Thursday, April 26, 2018

Science is GORGEOUS!

John Keats wrote 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' which is certainly true of the beautiful images of our galaxy obtained by the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft. Verily, these pictures are gorgeous.

The real beauty of these images is the impact they will have on astrophysics for the foreseeable future. I mean, hypervelocity stars... I don't think it gets cooler than that.

My favorite quote from the coverage of Gaia has got to be from Dr Jackie Faherty from AMNH: "This is the data we're going to be working on for the rest of my career. Probably no data set will rival this. It's the excitement of the day that we see it. It's why we were up at 5 a.m. to get here. It's exciting to be around each other and trying to get the data all at once. It's a day we're going to remember."

The future of many careers, all from one data set, from one space mission. Now, that's what I call a successful project! Getting back to Keats, he went on to write: "that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know", and that is a statement that I can't get behind! There's plenty we need to know, and the journey to knowledge doesn't get more gorgeous than Gaia.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Another Voice from my Childhood Silenced

It's with a sense of melancholy that I note the passing of Bob Dorough at the age of 94. Bob was the genius behind the Schoolhouse Rock! series of three minute educational musical vignettes. These wonderful cartoons combined Mr Dorough's jazzy musical stylings with important factual content.

To this day, I can't recite the preamble to the US Constitution without hearing this tune:

The Schoolhouse Rock! series was some of the classiest children's television content ever broadcast. Bob Dorough's catchy songs illuminated science and engineering:

They described grammatical concepts:

The first of Bob Donough's Saturday morning educational songs was 1973's Three Is a Magic Number:

The song was adapted by hip-hop group De La Soul in a fun track:

Here's a video of Bob Dorough performing the song live, after his explanation of the series genesis:

Bob Dorough collaborated with Miles Davis and, oddly enough, Sugar Ray Robinson, but for me he will always be as much of an educator as a jazz man, and I am grateful to him for this.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Special Election

The major local news story, which has statewide implications, is today's special election for New York's 37th Senate District, my district. I just got back from voting for Democrat Shelley Mayers, currently an assemblywoman from my beloved City of Y______. I used to be reticent about which candidate I voted for in any election, but those days are long past. I just can't vote for anyone running under the aegis of a party which has gone full Gohmert (never go full Gohmert).

The election is a crucial one, because it will determine whether or not the Democrats can take the NY State Senate. Because of this, over three million dollars have been poured into the district, mainly for attack ads against Mayers. Predictably, these ads have been hamfisted, trying to portray Mayers as a sinister 'DeBlasian' socialist. I like New York City mayor Bill De Blasio, so I find these ads hilarious.

Yesterday, WNYC's Brian Lehrer hosted both of the candidates on his radio show, and Killian ducked the issue of Trump and the national GOP's positions, which for me are the elephant in the room... especially since the GOP tax plan specifically targets the wealthy Blue State homeowners who inhabit the wealthier precincts of the 37th district. As I said before, there's no way in hell I will vote for any Republican candidate, and I suspect that a large cohort of formerly Republican voters in the region will act similarly.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Fibbin' Nazi Sequence

Poking around the t00bz, I found this hilarious picture of Donald Trump's head conforming to a Fibonacci spiral:

It's similar to a golden spiral, which is appropriate for a gilded turd like The Donald. It's also appropriate that a fibbin' Nazi would have a Fibonacci head.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

2018 Earth Day Musings

Shortly after dawn on Earth Day, I walked the site, opening up the parking lot gates for the public. It was 36F (2.2C) at 6:30 in the morning, in late April. Paradoxically, the cold Spring weather can be chalked up to warming in the Arctic, which disrupts the jet stream.

Having written this blog since December 2009, I have a pretty good indication of the conditions in my environment for the past eight and a quarter years. I can look back and figure out when the animals were becoming active, when the plants were starting to bud. This cold Spring, I've heard the spring peepers singing their love songs, I've seen the Canada geese building nests, heard the red-winged blackbirds trill to announce their presence. The nettles are poking up through the frost-bedizened ground. It doesn't FEEL right, though- wearing a watch cap and a fleece under my sweatshirt at this time of year is foreign to me. We humans have broken our planet (but not THE planet- there are plenty of organisms which will thrive in the fucked up world we're producing).

The current maladministration, with an Environmental Protection Agency being run into the ground by a fossil fuel flack, a rollback of fuel efficiency and carbon emission standards (though higher gas prices will curtail some driving), and general hostility to regulation, is an environmental disaster. The Resistance to the GOP, the drive to flip Congress to the Democratic Party, takes on additional urgency. Electing GWB in 2000 was a disaster- a regime hostile to environmental concerns at exactly the wrong time, and electing Donald Trump represented a doubling down of this huge environmental failing.

I'm an outdoorsy fellow- much of my work takes place outdoors, as does much of my recreation. I'm a biology nerd as well. I value our fellow denizens of Earth, but it goes beyond that- environmentalism is about human health, human happiness, human quality of life. The environment we are altering is our environment, destroying it would be our collective suicide... and that is too high a price to pay for maximizing next quarter's profits, or 'owning the libs', or trying to make up for one's deficiencies as a tough guy.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

My Entire Job Experience, Encapsulated in One Day

I often joke that my job is cushy, except when it's not. It ranges from 'wow, I'm having fun' to 'oh, shit', with a baseline of decent job satisfaction. Yesterday, ran the gamut... We are having our family friendly Spring fundraiser this weekend- it's the kickoff of our open season, the first event which has the seasonal staff back in force, doing their thing. I arrived at work, and there was a fair degree of prep work going on. I helped one of the IT guys move some equipment- he's a good friend and has done me some favors in the past when I've had computer issues, plus I like to think that I am, in the grand scheme of things, one of the people who contributes to the success of others rather than undermining them. I also had to open up the facility for an employee of another not-for-profit which is helping us with our fundraiser so he could drop off some material that we would be borrowing for the event. Again, I like it when everybody benefits, and both of our organizations are healthier for the collaboration.

After locking things up, I returned to the main parking lot, and the building in which my usual office is located. I noticed three individuals standing in a picnic area next to the parking lot, and was surprised when they greeted me by name at a distance of fifty feet or so. I had met these friendly folks when they attended our big Fall fundraiser, and they remembered me. They had an errand in the locality, and were planning their return to New Jersey when they decided to stop by after grabbing dinner in the locality. I spent a half-hour chatting with them about the upcoming event season, local scuttlebutt, and even about affordable places in the Lower Hudson region (one of them is totally enamored of the area and would like to move here). After a lovely discussion, I suggested that they check out my neck of the woods, the Yonkers/Bronx border region- go to a couple of bars, see if they could find out anything about available apartments. All told, it was a fun time, and I was tickled pink that they would stop over to visit me. It doesn't happen very often, but a few times a year, somebody that I have met through our events will drop by for a friendly chat.

About two hours after the trio departed, I received a phone call from the company which monitors our alarm systems. A motion detector in the maintenance garage of another site had been activated. The standard procedure is to instruct the monitoring staff to hold off on dispatching the police so we can perform an in-house check of the premises and make the determination ourselves. Generally speaking, one motion detector going off is a mouse- if multiple motion detectors go off, it's a marauder. One one occasion, we had a repeating activation of one particular motion detector, and I ascertained that convection currents from a radiator were moving a drape, and setting the detector off- shutting the radiator valve stopped that. At any rate, alarm activations are rare, but they do happen.

I won't say that burglar alarm activations are routine- even though I have never personally encountered someone breaking-and-entering, the very act of going to the site of an alarm, even one set off by a mouse, isn't a picnic. Last night, I drove to the site and there was a car parked in the entrance driveway, with its headlights on. This is not usual, and my immediate thought was: "Sketchy car, suggestive timing." I drove to the exit gate driveway, killed the headlights of the car, and quietly opened the exit gate. I drove onto the site and locked the gate behind me, not wanting any surprises. I exited the car, and ducked behind a tree in order to call the local police non-emergency number. I explained who I was, and where I was, and gave a quick précis of the situation- I had received a motion detector alarm, and arrived onsite to investigate, whereupon I saw a car which didn't belong in that spot at that time. I gave a description of myself and what I was wearing, told the desk sergeant that my car was locked onsite, and that I would be checking out the alarm panel and the buildings. I'm not the sort of person who gets scared easily, and I generally trust my instincts, my knowledge of my home turf, and a certain physical competence when it comes to conflicts- I figured the police could check out the car while I checked out the site. That being said, I went slinking from shadow to shadow as I made my way to the maintenance garage, which happens to be the site of the main alarm panel. The doors were securely locked, there was no sign of intruders- everything was in good order.

When the desk sergeant called me back on the company phone, he informed me that the driver of the car had broken down and was awaiting a tow truck. I told him that everything on site was in good order, and that the whole incident appeared to be a bizarre coincidence. I waited onsite until a flatbed tow truck arrived and the car was removed from our driveway. My initial 'OH, SHIT!' moment turned out to be no big deal.

It was one of those nights which served as a perfect illustration of the job- an absolute joy one moment, a task fraught with tension another moment. I know which of these moments I prefer, but I like to think that I handled both with equal aplomb.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Shock that Still Resonates

It's been nineteen years since the Columbine school mass-shooting, and the pain is still palpable. For nineteen years, there's been a lot of talk, but no action, regarding mass-shootings, and one got the sense that people were feeling helpless in the face of pervasive gun culture and a powerful gun lobby. The pain, the shock, the loss still reverberate, but kids who weren't even born when the massacre took place have decided to push back with a series of school walkouts throughout the country. This walkout has received support from several VIPs.

The student movement against gun violence keeps gaining momentum, these teenagers who have never lived in a world in which mass school shootings were unknown are displaying a wisdom and a courage that previous cohorts of teenagers weren't able to muster on such a scale. Being organized, being righteous, being savvy, these kids are going to accomplish something transformative- I predict some amazing things from this generation and I am profoundly grateful.