All Eyes On Comet ISON

ISON in the previous week has been rapidly approaching the sun, and is currently out of view, having made the turn behind the sun. It is a comet in the “sungrazer” class, and is expected to emerge today, if it survives its close orbit to our solar systems caretaker. No one knows for sure if it will be seen again.

If it does survive, best guesses are it will be spectacular. This past week or so, as it was making its approach, I tried to catch it with binoculars, but I was up too late on my first attempt, then we have had clouds/rain/sleet ever since. Now we have a clear day, and the comet is behind the sun, just my kind of luck. I really hope I don’t end up batting a shut out on this one. 

All I want for x-mas is a killer comet 🙂

Dino Fossil Sold At Auction, To Be Displayed

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This amazing fossil sold for $650,000. The good news is it will supposedly be displayed to the public, and not lost to some private collection, or relegated as a prop to some idiot creationist organization. I didn’t see any details on when or where it would be displayed, I sure as hell hope this doesn’t fall into the hands of AIG by some unknown quirk. Time will tell.

http://www.newsdaily.com/article/214e320150f3867502f9a50ac1e311e5/huge-dinosaur-skeleton-fetches-650000-at-auction

See here for why it is a bad thing for AIG to aquire genuine fossil specimens: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2013/10/creation-museum-1.html  In other words an excellent specimen becomes lost to science, and the creationists use it as a prop to make absurd rationalizations, and even outright lies, about its origins.

I understand that when something becomes available on the free market, it is fair game for whomever has the deepest pockets. It is just such a shame that a fossil that holds so much potential for future study, can be lost to shameless organizations that would make a mockery of it. I hope in this case it remains preserved with integrity. At this point the only information on where it went is to an “unnamed institution”  Let’s hope for the best.

Some Things Bug Me

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I apologize for the terrible pun in the title. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. In this pic the bug is moving down the step railing on the deck.

Back in the summer, (or spring, I forget now) I was outside on the deck preparing to light up the charcoal grill for some fantastic something or other (I don’t remember that tidbit either). As I was waiting for the freshly lit coals to attain the fully engulfed white-ness that ensures that they are ready to go, as well as assuring me they have burned off all of the lighter fluid, I noticed something. It looked like a piece of bark that was flip flopping around with the slight breeze. I didn’t pay too much attention, till I realized it was moving indepently of the light breeze blowing. So now with my curiosity engaged I had a closer look. What I saw left me amazed.

There was some kind of insect, trying to cross a point in the deck where the deck railing meets the stair rail, and over time some shrinkage had created a bit of a gap. I assure you when I built this deck, it was well measured and cut, I’m a bit anal in that regard. Anyway here was this odd looking bug, that by all appearances had built itself some very barklike camouflage on its back. It almost looked like some sort of bark paste that had been applied to its back. I have never seen a critter like this before, and I have been outside observing bugs and things since I was a young lad. So this really got my attention. I called out the family to have a look, and grabbed a camera for some pics.

The night before there had been quite a storm, with a lot of wind and rain, a deluge. The deck is under a trio of oaks, all White Oak. So I assume (and purely speculative) these bugs were washed out of the trees. Which might also explain their camouflage, as the color and texture of this camo would leave them virtually invisible if they were stationary anywhere on the bark of one of these trees. Also noted when they feel threatened they go full stop and hide underneath their camouflage.

Then I thought, I wonder if there are any more? So I started looking, and I found 2 more, both were between where the slats running up the stairs end, and the 4×4 post at the top of the stairs begins at the top of the deck. Both were caught in spider web. One was dead, the other was twirling in circles with the breeze, flailing to be free. I freed the little guy, and let him go. But not before getting a few pics as he twirled. In one of these shots you can see the earwig like pincers.

I have been trying here and there to figure out what these things are, I first thought is some sort of earwig, given the aforementioned pincers of the twirling one, and have to admit I wasn’t sure which end was front or back. I had no idea of this specific species or their numbers so I didn’t keep one. Armed with my pics I set out on the net to see if I could identify them. Still nothing solid. Here is a shot with the 2 caught in web, the one in the forefront displays the pincers, this is the underside of the critter. The other (dead one) is further back, and not a part of the closest one. A little blurred but the pincers can be seen.

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Then todayI found this link that shows a similar insect with camouflage here: (adult upper left, larvae lower right) http://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/green-lacewing-larvae-use-corpses-as-camouflage/  It doesn’t look like my insect in color, though it does in design. This lacewing larvae uses dead carcasses of its victims, aphids, as cover. I have yet to see anything that resembles an earwig or a lacewing that has a bark colored camo.

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Then I found this pic here: http://www.gardensafari.net/english/locusts.htm

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Another lacewing larvae, this one is a really close resemblance at first glance, but you can tell what is on its back more closely resembles dead bug carcasses, mine did not have this appearance that I could see at first. But I am surely no expert, and honestly the thought never occurred to me that this camouflage could be dead aphids, so I wasn’t looking for them. After some more looking at my pics I am beginning to think that just maybe those are dead aphids, and these are indeed lacewing larvae with their trophy victims upon thier backs. Maybe the bark like color, is because the aphids they are eating have this coloration. More speculation, and honestly thats all I have at this point. So I am leaning towards the lacewing larvae, but still really am not sure. All I can say is these are the kinds of things that interest me. Which may be indicitave of my inner geeky-ness, but my failure to identify them this late after the fact surely must represent my laziness.

There are many species out there that kill and eat their victims, but I have to wonder how many of those parade around with those victims upon their backs? An even more intriguing question in my mind, is how do they stack these things on their backs? I read that they have these stiff hairs they use to impale their victims upon, but clearly these things get stacked pretty high, and it must be an amazing feat to continue stacking dead carcasses. I would like to see that done.

Guess if there is a moral to this story, it is to always let curiosity be an engine, to seek out new knowledge.

Jerry Coyne, In Murray Ky. 2

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I will tell you it is difficult to get a pic of Prof. Coyne that isn’t blurry, or undignified in some manner. He moves around a lot, and gestures with his hands. As a result I only got a few that were focused well, or didn’t catch him forming some word that left him with mouth agape, or lips pursed. There were a few pics that focused ok, but his arm was moving with a blur. I only got 2 pics out of several, that I would deem publishable. This is the one I went with. Even this one isn’t as well focused as I’d like, but you take what you can get. It’s strange, and I know this is cliche, but I thought he would be taller. I also kept getting the odd impression, that if he was wearing a Fedora, he would resemble Indiana Jones. I in no way mean any disrespect here, it is just one of those odd human tendencies to associate new things with things you already have an impression of…Oh, anyone who follows JC’s website will know about his boot thing, so I made sure to get a shot with boots.

No trouble finding the event this time, as in my post on the first talk that outlined the drama we had to endure, I knew exactly where to be this night. I did not see my airplane tossing friends this evening.

The talk was everything I was expecting, and I must admit I am in agreement with most of it. How science relies on peer review, falsification, converging lines of evidence, and having the tendency to throw out that which has proven to be no longer credible. All of these things religion does not have going for it. In fact religion is the exact opposite, it lies in a static state for the most part. Their supposed truths unreachable, non falsifiable, and lacking any tangible evidence of their existence. He also elaborated on the never ending assertions from theoligans who consistently, and often self refutingly, attempt to either reconcile religion with science, or try to put religion upon some pedestal, untouchable, unknowable by science. I thought he did a magnificent job of making his case.

The Q & A after the talk, was interesting. One of the first question-eers was a gent sitting on my left, who announced that he was a Dr. and a x-ian (though being a medical Dr. shouldn’t one be aware of evolving viruses?), then he proceeded to stammer and stumble about, trying to ask a question that I never did really figure out myself, but JC, grasped some intent of a question in there and refuted the guy handily.  There was another self proclaimed believer who admitted he accepted evolution, but maintained a belief in god, JC let him know, in as nice a way as possible, that was an untenable position. That is probably the biggest thing I took away from this, that JC has an incredible ability to make, what many would consider crass remarks about religion, but he has the capacity to do it in a very non confrontational way, almost with a smile on his face, that left me very appreciative of his style. I have great respect for someone with an ability as that. Myself, I would likely descend quickly to a “you are full of shit, and you know it, and you have no evidence whatsoever to back up your claims” kind of response. Which I know is not a diplomatic way to handle these touchy subjects. So I gotta hand it to him, he has the gift.

In one of his replies to a question I don’t remember this morn, JC touched on the free will argument. This is one I am slow to warm up to. I understand that we are all subject to physical laws, and neurons firing back and forth in our brains, and I find it interesting the modern studies that show scientists can predict the way a person will answer a question, before the subject actually answers the question. Fascinating. I just have trouble believing this concept of free will, is an illusion, when I thought my whole lifetime I had the ability to choose. That is a hard one to accept. I am a determinist for the most part, feeling that most situations (non social) are unforseeable, unknowable occurence of events. We have to duck and jive to stay alive. The boulder that falls from the mountain, and crushes a man, no one saw that coming. Fate has no concience. The earthquake or the tsunami has no remorse, and no choice in its effect on us puny humans. These things happen, the best we can do is try to stay out the way. Or survive the event.

When it comes to social circumstances I tend to lean towards a neccessitarian point of view. During the Q & A, I asked this question last night, it comes off as a joke, and there was a good laugh in the room, but in all seriousness, if we have no free will…how does a man answer his wife to the question: ” do I look fat in this dress?”  I made a comment recently at Mak’s blog “Random Thoughts” http://maasaiboys.wordpress.com where I posited the same question on a post about free will, and followed with: “Social situations can and do pivot on decisions made in the here and now. Social situations can end in a moderately upset wife, or a nuclear war, depending on the situation. (admittedly sometimes a moderately upset wife borders on nuclear war) So, I truly believe in fate, in that it is an unkowable, unforeseeable, circumstance of events. I also believe that using great wisdom (which I would think an opportunity for free will) when faced with social settings, a cautionary way to proceed through life.”

This is how I have to see things at this point in time. As much as I would like to buy into the science behind “free will is illusory”, it just defies my perception so broadly, it is hard to accept, for now. As always I am open to new evidence, and logical arguments.

…as I understand it, both of the talks were recorded and will be made available at either youtube or here http://www.secularmsu.org/  how soon, I have no idea. I do know, at last nights talk, the mic used was having multiple issues of failing for some reason, and when it was working, when JC turned his head away from the mic, his words became unintelligible, I was close enough I could hear most of what was said, but last nights recording may have some difficulties with audio.

That wraps up my experience with the Jerry Coyne talk at Murray State University. I really enjoyed the event, and I thank JC, as well as SecularMSU.org  for putting on this talk. Usually these things happen so far outside of my location, it would take an endeavor similar to an Arctic expedition for me to attend. It was indeed fortunate, and fateful, that this even occurred a mere 40 min drive from home. Again, thanks Prof. Coyne, and SecularMSU.org

Jerry Coyne, In Murray Ky.

I did manage to catch most of Prof Celing Cat’s talk last night, although it was not without its problems. First, it was difficult for me to find pertinent information concerning its location. The info, that I caught on WEIT (Why Evolution is True website run by Prof. Coyne) was just a poster detailing one of his two talks, one Thursday, the other Friday. The poster I remember seeing said the talk would be at Freed Curd Auditorium. I was unaware that the poster I saw was for the Fri. night talk, not the Thurs. night talk. So from the get go I had problems. Searches on the internet, and Google Earth gave me nothing to go on either. Google turned up no address for Freed Curd Auditorium, and Google Earth showed no building designated as such. I figured what the heck, I can find it.

Murray State is a pretty big campus, and at least eight or nine people I approached had never heard of Freed Curd Auditorium, as it was quite evident by the blank stares I recieved, then the accompanying dialogue confirming this fact. I finally accosted an individual who directed me in the right direction. With Freed Curd Auditorium found, it was a ghost town. I mean no one around, and it was ten minutes till 7:00 when it was supposed to begin. So I was a tad confused. Not the first time…quite probably not the last.

Then, there were a couple of students out in the hall. They appeared to be of Iranian, or Pakistani descent (or any number of countries in the region), given their middle eastern appearances, and their conversing in (what I assume was) Arabic. They were out in the hall, with a tape measure, marking lines for something, I didn’t pay too much attention at first, I was more concerned with the talk that wasn’t going on here. So I waited around a few minutes hoping someone would show up with some sort of explanation, and none was forthcoming, but in that time it occured to me that these guys of middle eastern descent, out in the hall, with a measuring tape, in this day and age, I had the slight notion they could be up to no good out there, gathering intell or something. So when I went back out into the hall to look about for people that weren’t showing up, I noticed the two students had been joined by a third, of oriental descent, and they had paper airplanes. Yes, paper airplanes. One guy was standing maybe two or three feet from a corner in the hall, and he was tossing planes, that when thrown, went around the damn corner, and down the other hall. Being a bit of a nerdy geek kinda guy, I recognized the paper plane design, and asked to look at one. It had been modified somewhat from the design I am aware of, and I had to ask “how in the heck did you get these to fly around the corner? One student looked at me with a big grin and said “engineering.” I was damn impressed. So I stood there for a few minutes watching these guys toss airplanes around the corner, and one of them was taking notes. I had a moment, right then and there, experiencing a moment of clarity, seeing they were just kids having fun, but also doing serious work at the same time, and I must admit I both relieved and jealous at the same time. Anyway…

A janitor came down the hall, so I saw a chance to inquire about this talk that I could not find, and he didn’t know much either, but he was nice guy. I told him about how no one seemed to know the location of this auditorium, and he let me in on the secret. This bi domed building that I saw in the Google Earth search, is nicknamed the “Dolly Parton” building. He told me not to tell anyone he told me that, but I guess the cat is out of the bag now. So a tad dejected, we left (I had one of my sons, and a friend of his with me, my wife didn’t make it having had a rough day at work, and my youngest son decided to stay home with her and keep her company, and we would all go tonight to the next talk) So we left the building. As previously mentioned  I had noticed from my Google Earth search, that this building had 2 domes. having found that Freed Curd Auditorium was in one of them, I though maybe the other dome would have the talk. So we walked around this fairly large building, in the dark, with a light rain falling, and finally got to the other dome, and it turned out to just be a bedecked entryway. At this point I was ready to call it and just go home. My son said something about not giving up yet, so when we went back towards the car, we looked in on on Freed Curd again, it was still empty. Upon leaving the building, I saw there was another building across the way that had a kiosk of sorts with posters all over it in the entryway, so I walked in and looked. There was a poster there for Fridays talk, but nothing about Thursdays talk. Figures. So we went inside, and I asked a lady who worked in a shop there if she knew anything. Finally after much asking and searching, we had found someone to direct us to the talk. It  was in a building called Mason Hall, and not too far. We arrived at the talk 20 minutes late, Prof. Coyne was well under way, so we walked in quietly and found a seat.

As it turns out, his talk pretty much covered stuff I already knew, but I knew my brat and his friend were soaking it up. I have read Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True at least 3 times already, and have searched the talk origin archives, as well as picked up a few things here or there on the subject of evolution. Prof. Coynes talk touched on a lot of material in his book, so the talk for me was a tad boring, but it was a pleasant experience, being there, and hearing it from quite literally, the man who wrote the book. The best part of the talk for me, came after the talk was over, and Prof. Coyne took some questions from the audience. Then I got to see the real guy inside come to life, and he spoke enthusiastically in his replies. I should also mention the students asked very good questions, and JC’s replies were concise, to the point, and obviously from the heart. Yep, glad we went. Even after all the hugaballoo trying to find it. After the talk and  Q-A session JC said he would sign books. Yay! I had brought my copy of WEIT but did not know if he would be available to sign books after, and dared not ask during the Q-A, because those students were asking such good questions, and I could not bring myself to ask the one question I had, because it was a purely selfish one. So I was elated to see that he would indeed sign books. Trouble was I left it in the car. So I had to hustle out, half jog half walk to the car, and hopefully get back in time. I was in luck there were still a handfull of people waiting with books that needed signing when I got back, and I got in line. JC greeted me with a “glad you came” I replied with a “it was my pleasure.” I had seen him ask the person in front of me if they had a cat, so I infomed him that I did indeed have cats, and he drew me a cat pic to go with the autograph. But I had to suffer the indignity of a meow. Yeah, a meow. He said something about there being a secret word, and I was dumbfounded, so I looked around for some help, but no one else appeared to notice the predicament I was in, and JC finally said “it’s a meow, you gotta say meow” So, I reluctantly let out a lightly spoken meow, in a questioning manner, and he seemed pleased I passed the test, and drew my cat.

I took a couple of pics during the talk, neither of them came out, they are out of focus. Stupid auto focus got the persons head in front me focused in, and not my target. I will shoot for more pics tonight, and make sure there are at least a couple that are in focus, will post them next time.

At least, I know exactly where to find his talk tonight. I wonder if my airplane tossing frinds might be there…

Our Galaxy’s Black Hole Has A Jet

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http://www.chandra.si.edu/press/13_releases/press_112013.html

For a long time astronomers have been looking for signs of a jet eminating from the black hole (Sgr A*) known to reside at the core of our galaxy. There have been clues, and hints, but nothing definitive, till now. We have seen jets from other galaxies, and some from stars, so we knew we could have one ourselves, but lacked good solid evidence. The evidence is in.

At first I was a little skeptical (let it be known I am not a professional), after all there are a lot of things in that photo that could resemble a jetlike stream. But, the spectral information is in line with similar jets in other galaxies, and there is “straight line of X-ray emitting gas that points toward Sgr A* and a shock front” present, where they believe the the jet has interacted with gas and dust in the region. With multiple lines of evidence converging, I have to think they may have something here. Plus, the direction of the jet lines up in parallel with the rotation of our galaxy, which is not exactly a dead certainty for the jets existence, there are other explanations why that might not be the case, but it makes for a more orderly expectation for what I would like to see in a rotating system. (Of course what I’d like to see and reality need not always jive)

As an amateur with amateur equipment, I have gazed many times in the direction of our galactic core. There are a lot of really interesting objects to observe in that area of the sky. There is no way my meager equipment can see this deep or bring out this kind of detail, but it sure is cool that we have instruments that can, and I am positive many more exciting discoveries await in our near future. It is a great time for discovery, and a great time to be here to see it unfold.