Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Paleontologist? Published? Need some dough?

Dear Sirs or Macadam,

I representing consortium of business in prosperous nations at Nigeria. Please to be sending credit cards detail for payment immediate large money sums . . .

No, no, no, it's nothing like that.

Entries are now being accepted for Paleonturology '07, entries meaning paleontology papers that were published in 2006. Make five photocopies and put them in the mail. Anyone can apply, student or not, invert or vert paleo. Heck, you can even send in five copies of someone else's paper if you'd like them to win. Deadline is Nov. 30. Rules and instructions--mercifully short--are here. (Please note that there is an error on the page; entries had to have been published in 2006, not 2005 as it currently states. )

The winner gets 4500 Euros (currently almost $6500) and international prestige. If you know Darren, or if your paper is about tetrapods, you might also get written up on TetZoo. I was.

You're still here? Get movin'!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bored? Go see a comet!

Using this handy-dandy guide, prepared by yours truly. Printable at 8.5x11", or whatever suits your fancy. Feel free to disseminate it widely, too.

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More WTA moon photos

Tired of looking at the moon? I hope not. I'm in the grip of an astronomy mania, and as long as you're in this corner of the blogosphere you're along for the ride. Took these last night, as well as an extremely dirty and blurry picture of Comet 17/P Holmes, which was so bad I will not show it. Still, my first comet pic and all. In fact, my first comet, period. Also saw Mars and the Great Nebula in Orion, once the clouds had blown away.

One of these days I will start labeling features but right now I am just grooving on the awesome desolation in all its unadorned majesty. My inner 10-year-old is in his LEGO Cosmic Cruiser, zooming over those craters on the lookout for the secret Zangblarffian base.

The moon is waning, so as it rises in the East the shadowed side is up. Images in my Newtonian reflector are rotated 180 degrees, as is usual for telescopes without image erectors. If I wanted right-side-up images I could just hold the camera upside down, but that's kinda pointless since you can achieve the same result by flipping the images after you download them. No, the problem is that the shadowed-on-the-bottom moon, as seen through the telescope and as shown here, just looks better and more optimistic than the shadowed-on-the-top moon. Some would say that makes me a rank and hopeless slave to aesthetics, but those people are themselves slaves to the arbitrary conventions that make North equal Up and the view from some random point on Earth equal Right. As an enlightened being I am able to escape from all that.

For at least an hour or two, on clear nights, anyway.

P.S. Just spent five minutes staring at the photos instead of posting. I want to go there. So freakin' bad. Burt Rutan, NASA, I don't care who, but somebody better get the lead out!

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Star Wars in 33 words

My wife, Vicki, is frighteningly accomplished. She earned two master's degrees, one in criminal justice and one in anthropology, in the time it took me to get one. Then she finished her Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz in five years despite the complications of a failed procedure to fix her heart arrhythmia, as well as pregnancy, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, premature C-section, new parenthood, and breastfeeding for 8 months. Then, while I was taking a sixth year to finish my Ph.D., she was on a UC President's postdoc at Berkeley, which she parlayed into a tenure-track position at UC Merced by the time I graduated.

But she just doesn't care very much about Star Wars.

(Actually, the time and brainpower I've put into Star Wars and similar wonky pursuits might be enough to explain the differences in our academic timelines. But I digress.)

One time we were engaging in some friendly sniping on the subject of our relative pop culture knowledge and I said something like, "Oh, please. You don't even know what Star Wars is about." And she shot back with this tidy summary of the OORT*.

"There are people living in space, and there's the Good and the Bad, and they fight, and the Bad turns out to be the dad of the Good, and they fight some more."

* Original and Only Real Trilogy

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

...and these

White trash astrophotography: hold your digital camera up to the eyepiece of your telescope, take a hundred or so exposures, hope that one or two come out. Here are the two best from my first time out, about half an hour ago (7:30 PM PST).

The big crater with the prominent rays coming out of it is Tycho, named for Danish studmuffin Tycho Brahe. The rays are ejecta blown out of the crater during impact. You can achieve a similar effect by setting a bowl of flour on your kitchen floor and dropping a golf ball in from head height. Have fun cleaning up!

For those who care about such stuff, the camera is a Nikon Coolpix 4500 in Flower Mode, and the telescope is an Orion SkyQuest XT6 with a 150 mm aperture and a 1200 mm focal length.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

I took this

...driving to Santa Cruz by way of Los Banos last weekend. Much better at full size (click). This is the raw photo, I fiddled with nuthin'.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Headless butterfly update

Long time Vectorites will recall a post on the downfall of the Guinness Book of World Records and the improbable rise (or at least persistence) of headless butterflies. That was the first in a promised series of posts on oddities unearthed from the Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Subsequent entries in the series have so far not materialized, mainly because I kept loaning the book out to amaze my friends, and I only recently got it back.

But never mind that.

Turns out that ole Father Cambouet was a latecomer to the study of headless butterflies. A. Stephen Wilson beat him to it by almost half a century, with a paper in the July 17, 1879, issue of Nature (p. 267). Thanks to Google Book Search, I am posting that paper here in it's entirety.

Headless Butterfly Laying Eggs

ABOUT three o'clock on the nth inst. I picked up a butterfly, probably belonging to the genus Vanessa. It was a female, the head of which had recently been plucked off by a bird [or, perhaps, by Altarboy Cambouet? --Ed.], and was lying near the body. Thinking it was dead, I carried it home to examine the wing scales. On clipping off a bit of wing about four hours afterwards, the legs moved, and in a short time an egg was laid. In about two minutes another egg was kid. Others followed, till five-and-twenty had been expelled. Tremors of the legs and wings accompanied each deposit. The laying ceased, and the headless mother seemed dead. Next morning, on touching her, the motions of the legs and wings were repeated, and in a short time the laying was resumed. On close examination a heaving of the wings and rings of the abdomen could be observed, with about the frequency of human breathing. At the end of twenty-nine and a half hours from the time of finding, the laying ceased; seventy-eight eggs were laid by the butterfly with her head off.

North Kinmundy, Aberdeen, July 14.

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Super-heated science

Okay, this post is just a dummy repeater for this awesome Onion article, "Scientists Ask Congress to Fund $50 Billion Science Thing."

I'm not proud of that, but it had to be done. It's science.

Hat tip to Julian Hilliard, who was a fellow grad student back at OU, for the term 'ion reflux pronabulator', which he applied indiscriminately to any machine more complicated than a toaster. The thing in the diagram is the Platonic ideal of the IRP.

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