Tuesday, March 31, 2009

So, you wanna be a skeptic? | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

Sorry, I can't do better than this post. Here is a snippet:

If you read this blog, chances are youre skeptical about something. Maybe you think all psychics are frauds, or Jenny McCarthy is a massive health threat, or homeopathy is killing people who should be taking real medicine, or the 911 Truthers are full of it. Im sure theres some form of bad thinking out there that sticks in your craw. And maybe, like me and many, many other folks, youve had enough.

Knowing that stuff, reading about it, is a whole lot different than getting off your keister and doing something about it. If youve got the itch, the need, the desire, the passion to get up and do something about all the nonsense facing the world, what can you do?

Go here to find out how you can promote critical thinking and skepticism: So, you wanna be a skeptic? | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

Monday, March 30, 2009

MOOT: JREF YouTube Account Inexplicibly Suspended

This story is now moot. See here.



To complain to youtube follow this link; Scroll to the very bottom and click on “new issue” Select “suspended account” from the options and express your opinion.

In case the above video gets banned, here is another link to it:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

More On National Electronic Medical Records

Junkfoodscience.com has another great article about why we should be wary of national electronic medical records. I've posted my thoughts about this here. Here is a snippet:

The reality of nationalized electronic medical records is recognized among most medical professionals, who know that the claims of saving money and lives are not supported by the preponderance of credible evidence and that improving health care isn't about having everyone's medical records in a federal database for governmental oversight. But the general public has largely been kept in the dark about the controversies surrounding electronic medical records. One reason for this disconnect and why the full story isn't reaching consumers was explained in this weeks Journal of the American Medical Association.

Go here for the full story: Junkfood Science: The silence of evidence

James Randi Speaks: Why Do We Still Believe

Here is another James Randi Speaks episode that you can Dig.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yes, those are River Otters


Yes those are Otters (2)
Originally uploaded by Mully410

My regular readers know that I hang out at the TCAAP Wildlife Viewing Area pretty regularly. Tonight, I noticed the clouds were in a good position for a potentially cool sunset. What I didn't predict was how much great wildlife I'd see and how cold I'd get standing around for a hour waiting for the best light.

Lake Marsden is located inside a Minnesota National Guard reserve located within the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant. TCAAP has a long history and you'll find some interesting stuff if you google it. In the 1990s, the US Army made a nice little spot to view wildlife before they handed the property over to the guard. This spot is about 1/4 of an acre and is surrounded by an eight foot high chain link fence, topped with 4 rows of barbed wire.

I rode my great retro Schwinn out there with my binocular, tripod and camera strapped to my back. The ice is almost gone from Lake Marsden so I figured I start seeing some wildlife. I first noticed the noise. Geese, Swans, Ducks and lots of Red Winged Blackbirds were all yapping away. I got the tripod all setup, composed a good shot and scoped the area out with my binoculars. While I waited for the "best light," I wandered around the small enclosed area and took some pics. I think I got some interesting ones of trees, fences and a sign.

Once the sun retreated behind the trees, I really started snapping the pics. It was pretty cold out and I wasn't dressed for standing around in the wind with 30F temps. Doh. Every few minutes, I'd put my camera in my pocket, with my hands, and waited until they both warmed up a little bit.

During one of my hand warming sessions, I failed to notice a bald eagle land in a tree about a 100 yards from me. I scramble to get the camera ready and manage a few crude shots of it in flight.

Finally, after freezing my ass off for an hour and a half, I'd had enough. I put the tripod away and danced around to get the circulation going. With the camera put away and hands in pockets, I look out toward the lake. The otters! I'd watched four river otters many times last fall. I saw 3 of them tonight. Great news that they survived the winter. They were swimming and diving all over the place. Occasionally, one or two of them would hop onto the ice and eat something. At one point, one otter looked like it was trying pull the other otter back into the water. Funny.

All in all, it was a pretty fun evening at the TCAAP Wildlife Viewing Area. I took 139 shots and found 39 that are worthy of posting on my Flickr photo stream. Go here to pull up all 39. Come back to my blog often. I'll post lots of updates throughout the summer.

Hauntings: Experiments

Ghostly Shadows

I'm a daily reader of Richard Wiseman's blog.   Richard is a psychologist, magician, author of The Luck Factor and Quirkology and posts on quirky mind stuff.  He and his gang run experiments on fascinating topics and publish the results.   Here is a snippet on a recent experiment:

At the start of March we asked people to submit their ghost photographs for analysis. The best of these images were then posted on the project website, and the public invited to offer comments, and vote on whether they believed each image depicted a genuine ghost. The response was remarkable. We received around 250 photographs from all around the world, and had thousands of comments and over a quarter of a million votes.

Here is a link to the "ghostly" images in the contest Hauntings: Experiments

I entered a couple of my favorite "paranormal" photographs.  Unfortunately, none were picked.  I did get a personal email from Dr. Wiseman, which is very cool.  Here is the email in it's entirety: 

Hi

Thanks for the photo.  We had hundreds of submissions, and only had time to post fifty of the most interesting and unusual ones on the site.  However, the good news is that we will be posting more over the next month or so and will try our best to include your image soon.

Best wishes

Richard

I suspect that the main reason my photos didn't make the list is that I posted logical and likely explanations.  I wonder if I would have had more success if I would have left them "unexplained."  I'll keep you posted if any of my photos make the upcoming post.  Until then, please go to my Flickr photostream and check out my "paranormal" collection.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Flickr Stats 03-29-09


Flickr Stats 03-29-09
Originally uploaded by Mully410

WooHoo. My Photos, Videos and Photostream topped 13,000 views today! Thanks for viewing.

Celebrate the IYA 100 hours of Astronomy with me!

I love astronomy. Anyone who regularly reads my blog already knows this fact. I've posted a number of times on this topic. I'm determined to get out to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy - 100 Hours of Astronomy. (I already spent a couple hours searching for Comet Lulin, to no avail and I just watched a flyby of ISS and Discovery.)

The Minnesota Astronomical Society is hosting a public viewing night at the Onan Observatory in Young America, Minnesota on April 3rd and 4th. This is about an hour and a half drive from my house. If anyone is interested in sharing a ride, please let me know. Here are more details:

Event Details - MAS public star party - IYA 100 hours of Astronomy *

The last time I was at a MAS star party, it was great fun. The people there were very friendly and very willing to share everything they knew about astronomy. We saw many star clusters, nebula, planets and moons. I sure hope my Galileoscope shows up in time.

The IYA2009 organization has a world map of events for all my international readers. Click on the link on the right hand side of my blog for more info on IYA2009. Thanks for reading and go celebrate our universe.

* Should you join us the Onan Observatory be sure to read the Star Party Guidelines.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Randi Speak - A Reflection

Here is another episode of Randi speaks by the James "The Amazing" Randi. Randi really is truly amazing as he reminisces about all the places he's been and the people he's met.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This is my all time favorite blog: Bad Astronomy

This is my all time favorite blog: Bad Astronomy. Here is a snippet:

Phil Plait, the creator of Bad Astronomy, is an astronomer, lecturer, and author. After ten years working on Hubble Space Telescope and six more working on astronomy education, he struck out on his own as a writer. He has written two books, dozens of magazine articles, and 12 bazillion blog articles. He is a skeptic, and fights misuses of science as well as praising the wonder of real science.
I check this blog every day. Phil posts often. If there is a cool astronomy observation coming up or some dramatic space related event, go here to find out the whole story. Plus, Phil does an excellent job in pointing out pseudoscience and bullshit, all in a family friendly manner.

If you haven't bookmarked this site already, please do so. Also, sign up for a free Digg account so you can dig our posts. Oh and one last thing: Read his books!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Two Turkeys Two Fences


Two Turkeys Two Fences
Originally uploaded by Mully410

People love turkeys! These two humugeous tom turkeys stopped by my bird feeder yesterday. They had a harem of 8 females in the neighbors yard. They seemed to have no fear and rightly so. They were huge! I stayed on my deck minimize the risk of them pecking at my pecker.

Mully410 Critical Blog - Still #1

That's right. Mully410 Critical Blog is still the number 1 "critical thinking" tagged blog on Facebook and NetworkedBlogs. Thank you to all 34 of my loyal readers.

Please join my NetworkBlogs network. The NetworkBlogs application for Facebook has a couple nice features. You can see all the blogs you follow on the "blog wall." I like that because I check on 20 different blogs almost every day. It only takes a minute or so to see if something new is posted. The second thing I like is the voting feature. It's not super handy yet but it gives me the illusion of being able to help promote blogs. Lastly, the "Most Voted" feature has tipped me off to some interesting blogs. Try it out. If you like a certain topic like sewing or politics, you can search for blogs with that content.

I tried to past the NetworkedBlogs widget into this post but I don't know if it works. Should it not work, see the widget on the right side of the blog:

[Update] This html code for the widget messed up the layout of my whole blog. I killed it. You'll have to use the one on the right side to join my network or search for this blog on Facebook. Thanks.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ghost battle


Ghost battle
Originally uploaded by Mully410

Here is a recent pic of some ghosts doing battle outside my house. Click on the pic for the real explanation.

I'm probably going to post some more pics until I get a new lamp for the big TV I use. The computer with the blog software is connected to it and I'm too lazy to move it around to another monitor. New lamp should be here in 2-3 days.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ten Commandments and Atheists

It's Atheist Pride Day. I suppose today is a good day to post about the Ten Commandments. The vast majority of my friends and family are Christian. I doubt they will read this post but I sure hope they do. They need not fear Atheists.

I've been thinking about this topic for a while but wasn't sure how to format the discussion. There are so many variations of the Moses story about this, just check out the Wikipedia link below or better yet, actually read Exodus 20 in your bible of choice. Here is a snippet from Wikipedia:

The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, are a list of religious and moral imperatives that, according to Judeo-Christian tradition, were authored by God and given to Moses on the mountain referred to as "Mount Sinai" (Exodus 19:23) or "Horeb" (Deuteronomy 5:2) in the form of two stone tablets. They feature prominently in Judaism and Christianity.

Link to the full article: Ten Commandments - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I can't speak for all Atheist but I'll share my personal opinion of each of the commandments below.

Commandment My Opinion
God is #1 only worship him. Irrelevant. Probably no God/god/gods
Don't use Gods name in vain Irrelevant. Probably no God/god/gods
Keep the Sabbath holy Irrelevant. Probably no God/god/gods
Honor your father and mother Agree: Good advice. I honor my parents as best as I can although we do argue from time to time
Don't murder Agree: I'm against murder which I loosely define as killing for the sake of killing or killing for personal gain. I will kill to protect the life of my family, friends, myself and my country.
Don't commit adultery Agree: Cheating is lying. If you have made a commitment to your spouse, you should keep it. Masturbate instead. And don't tell me if you've cheated on me if you want to keep our relationship. It's selfish to dump your guilt on me.
Don't steal Agree: I work hard for my stuff and wouldn't want people to steal it. I don't steal because other people work hard for their stuff.
Don't lie Agree: Everybody lies. Fact of life. "Do I look fat in these cloths? Of course not honey, you are beautiful." I don't misrepresent my work or deeds and don't lie to divert attention from my failures.
Don't covet your neighbor's wife Agree: See adultery. I may be envious of some relationships from time to time but it's rare. It's counter productive to worry about other people like this. I can only control what I do and attempt to do my best.
Don't covet your neighbor's stuff Agree: I may be envious of other people's stuff but I don't obsess over it. I use it to motivate me to work harder and do better. It's counter productive to worry about other people's stuff like this. I can only control what I do and attempt to do my best.

It looks like I generally agree with 70% of the commandments. Is that so scary?

Addendum: Here are a few more things I disagree with or find interesting in Exodus 20:

20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me: God sort of implies there are more gods out there.

20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: It's ok for God to be jealous and he will punish your family for generations? Doesn't seem very loving to me.

20:24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee: So we have to kill burn animals for God? Seem kind of pagan like to me. See the book of Samuel to learn what God does to people to eat his burnt offerings.

Skepticblog » Guerilla Skepticism

We are coming to rid you of your woo! Here is a snippet:

We are facing an unprecedented time when we can expect to see scientific terms and theories turned around and used against us like never before. As I mentioned in myESP Bootcamp blog, new techniques of viral marketing and devious ploys of using 80s self-help jargon coupled with carefully chosen scientific terminology are seeping into a new system of flimflam and unless we pay attention and are willing to ratchet up our own skeptic attacks, we are going to be left behind in a cloud of woo that may never be shrubbed clean.
Please read the entire post here:

Skepticblog » Guerilla Skepticism

Thursday, March 19, 2009

If you like Saturn, You'll Love This

Here is a snippet:

Hubble catches four moons on the face of Saturn On February 24, 2009, Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 captured a rare quadruple transit: four moons crossed in front of Saturn's disk at the same time. The moons are, from left, white Enceladus and Dione (both of which are near the rings and casting shadows onto the planet); orange Titan; and white Mimas (just at the right-hand edge of the disk). We can only observe such transits from Earth for a brief period once every fifteen years as Earth nears and then crosses Saturn's ring plane. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Go here for the links to the animations and great photos: Hubble catches a quadruple transit - The Planetary Society Blog | The Planetary Society

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

JREF: What Do You Believe, and Why?

Help out science by participating in this survey:

What Do You Believe, and Why? Written by James Randi Tuesday, 17 March 2009 12:00 - Garrett Kennedy, a Counseling Psychologist-in-training at the University of Wolverhampton (UK) informs us that he's carrying out research in religious, spiritual and personal beliefs. Participation is through an online text-based survey and he would very much appreciate JREF visitors and Swift readers taking part. The survey is about how personal beliefs operate in times of stress and difficulty, and he's seeking as wide a range of participants as possible. You may be interested, and if so, more information can be found at http://www.psychologyandbelief.com. Please direct inquiries to Mr. Kennedy at that site.

Go here for the full post at the JREF: What Do You Believe, and Why?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sun Halo Over Marsden


Sun Halo Over Marsden
Originally uploaded by Mully410

Here is a pretty picture that's a teaching moment (click pic to embiggen): I took this shot today out at my favorite spot. This halo didn't show up immediately so I'm glad I waited around. I'm also glad I waited around because I saw 3 trumpeter swans land on the ice. They were surprisingly graceful about it. I wonder if they are some of the same swans I watched grow up last summer. The eastern bluebirds are back and I got some pictures of one last weekend.

Here is a snippet about halos from Wikipeida:

A 22° halo is a rather frequently appearing halo, an optical phenomenon forming a circle 22° around the sun, or occasionally the Moon. It forms as sunlight is refracted in hexagonal ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere.
Go here for the complete details.

Mully410 Critical Blog: Pretty Cool Day!

This week is pretty busy for me. Here is a retro post to help you get ready for summer. Here is a snippet:

I think I had the coolest visit to the TCAAP Wildlife Viewing Area tonight. This picture is of a Loon that flexed his wings for me (it was likely a "he" because the little loon was hanging with the other adult off to the left of this one.out of frame). I zoomed in pretty far with the editing. The original shot has 2 adult trumpeter swans with their 5 cygnets.

The coolest part of today's visit was the otters. At least I think they were otters. I watched 3 of them swimming and diving for about 40 minutes.

Go here for the full post: Mully410 Critical Blog: Pretty Cool Day!

Monday, March 16, 2009

What theories do you "believe?"

Often, especially in the media, theories are confused with hypothesis. Here is a snippet from Wikipedia:

Even though the words "hypothesis" and "theory" are often used synonymously in common and informal usage, a scientific hypothesis is not the same as a scientific theory. A Hypothesis is never to be stated as a question, but always as a statement with an explanation following it. It is not to be a question because it states what he/she thinks or believes will occur.

According to the United States National Academy of Sciences,

Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature supported by facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena, [5]

A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than "just a theory." It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.[6]

I'll let you follow the above links to learn more about the differences. In a nut shell, a hypothesis is a suggested explanation of something observable. A scientific theory, on the other hand, is an explanation for a phenomena. Basically, a theory, is the best explanation for why or how something observable occurs. The whole foundation for a particular scientific theory is a set of facts. For all intents and purposes, scientific theories are tentatively held as facts. I say tentatively (and extremely unlikely) because science, by it's nature and methods, is tentative. It changes when new data are presented.

Given all that above...theories are not there to be believed. The question, "do you believe in the theory of (insert theory)" is nonsensical. Either a theory works or it doesn't and is throw out. Here are some common theories. Do you disbelieve any of these?

Germ Theory of Disease: Basically, Louis Pasteur figured out that there were these tiny invisible organisms that cause diseases. Imagine that. It wasn't curses, god's wrath, bad energy or imbalanced humors that was killing people. In my opinion, Germ Theory is probably responsible for saving the most lives of any other theory. Go ahead and kiss goodbye hand washing and antibiotics without this theory.

The Theory of Gravity: Newton came up with a pretty good explanation for why and how an apple falls and why planets orbit the way they do. However, his explanation wasn't perfect, so people like Einstein came along and built upon Newton's work. Isn't science wonderful. When faced with better ideas, science adapts.

The Theory of Electromagnetism: You can thank James Clerk Maxwell for this one. Without this explanation for magnetic fields, we very likely wouldn't have electricity.

Atomic Theory: "In chemistry and physics, atomic theory is a theory of the nature of matter, which states that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms, as opposed to the obsolete notion that matter could be divided into any arbitrarily small quantity." Without these theories, you can kiss your periodic table and all the plastics, medicines and most of your food and clothing goodbye.

Cell Theory: These theories explains the relationship between cells and living things. You can kiss most of our modern medicine goodbye with out this explanation.

Systems Theory: I'm sure there is a lot of cool shit this collection of theories explains, but I'm way not smart enough to comprehend it: "it is a framework by which one can analyze and/or describe any group of objects that work in concert to produce some result. This could be a single organism, any organization or society, or any electro-mechanical or informational artifact. Systems theory first originated in biology in the 1920s out of the need to explain the interrelatedness of organisms in ecosystems. [1]" It's used in everything from biology to engineering to computing and even psychology.

Mathematics is filled with theories. Without them, we wouldn't have all the numbers and stuff we have around today. Just try to design, build or model something without math. I dare you.

Go here for a not so exhaustive list of fields of study, each of which contain lots and lots of theories. I've relied heavily on Wikipedia for this post. Don't take my word for it or even Wikipedia's word for it. Do your own research and think critically about everything.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

James Randi Speaks Questioning the Bible

Here is another Randi Speaks episode from the JREF for those of you who are skipping church and reading my blog instead.

There are many claims in the Bible, and James Randi casts a critical eye on the "facts" therein. It seems that the archeological record and the Biblical record are somewhat at odds, and despite protests from religious "scholars," the evidence points to the idea that Nazareth, for example, did not exist as portrayed.



If you'd like to make comment on the video, please visit YouTube.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What's in Space...More than you think

ISS and Shuttle with Trees

ISS and Shuttle With Trees by Mully410

I love astronomy and space stuff and try to brave the cold or the mosquitos a few times a year to gaze at the sky. I've been to Space Center Houston and have some pretty cool astronomy pics that I took with my little Sony DSC-W150. The other day, I had a conversation with a friend. The subject of space came up, as it usually does with this friend. We talked about the recent launch delay for the shuttle Discovery and the recent successful launch of the Kepler telescope. I mentioned a few other on-going missions that I knew about. I started thinking: How many extra-earth (is that proper grammar?) missions are going on right now? Here is a list, to the best of my knowledge, of all the cool space missions currently underway beyond earth's orbit with links for more information.

2001 Mars Odyssey: 2001 Mars Odyssey completed its mission objectives in August 2004: Originally sent to Mars to map its chemical composition. Odyssey officially began its extended mission on August 24, 2004. Its current objectives include serving as the primary communication relay for the Mars Exploration Rovers and collecting images for use in determining future landing sites.

Cassini-Huygens: The Cassini orbiter is designed and instrumented to perform in-depth study of the diverse phenomena in the Saturn system, including: Saturn itself; its giant, haze-shrouded moon Titan; the dynamic rings and their embedded moonlets; and the icy satellites.

Dawn: Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter circles the main asteroid belt, remnants of the formation of the solar system, millions of rocky bodies with orbits too disturbed by the gravitational pull of Jupiter for them to coalesce into a single planet. Among these are a few big ones, protoplanets that started down the road to terrestrial planethood but failed to thrive. Ceres and Vesta are the most massive of the minor planets, and the Dawn mission aims to visit them both to discover what clues they may hold to how our solar system, and particularly the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), formed.

Deep Impact: One part of the Deep Impact spacecraft slammed into comet Tempel 1, ending its life with a smash, while the flyby spacecraft watched the birth of a new crater. An extended mission for Deep Impact, called EPOXI, has now been approved. In the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI), it will return to Earth for a flyby in December 2007, and use Earth's gravity to change course to encounter another comet, Jupiter-family comet 103P/Hartley 2, on October 11, 2010.

Hayabusa (MUSES-C): The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) MUSES-C / Hayabusa mission is the first to attempt to land on an asteroid, collect samples, and return them to Earth. It launched on May 9, 2003, onboard an MV-5 rocket, from the Uchinoura Launch Center in Kagoshima, on Kyushu Island, Japan, and headed on a 1-billion kilometer journey to an asteroid named for the "father" of Japan's space program, Hideo Itokawa.

Mars Exploration Rovers (MER): The twin Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) -- Spirit and Opportunity -- were designed to study the history of water on Mars at their landing sites and to uncover geologic clues about whether Mars had any environments wet enough in the past to have been hospitable to life. These guys are still working about 6 YEARS after their planned 90 day mission. Wow!

Mars Express: Mars Express has been studying the Martian atmosphere, surface, and subsurface, contributing new volumes to the knowledge base, with instruments contributed by England, France, Sweden, Germany, and Italy. Among its many accomplishments, the mission has confirmed water-ice at the south pole; returned intriguing measurements of methane in the atmosphere; and discovered the first auroras on Mars.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO): Designed to examine the Red Planet in unprecedented detail from low orbit and provide more data about the intriguing planet than all previous missions combined, it launched on an Atlas V-401 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on August 12, 2005. Currently being used to relay communications for all the other Mars missions.

MESSENGER: Mercury is the least explored terrestrial planet; fully half of the little rocky world has never been seen up close. MESSENGER will change that, capturing a comprehensive survey of the planet's cratered and rocky surface, vaporous atmosphere, and inexplicable magnetic field using seven science instruments.

New Horizons: New Horizons, the first of NASA's "New Frontiers" missions, was launched into space on January 19, 2006 on its way to Pluto and the Kuiper belt.

Rosetta: The European Space Agency's Rosetta is the first mission to attempt orbiting a comet and delivering a lander to its surface. One of the most ambitious and complex robotic space projects ever undertaken...

SOHO: The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is an international project that is allowing solar scientists to study the Sun in depth, over the long term. Launched by an Atlas II from Cape Canaveral Air Station on December 2, 1995, the space observatory is still in operation, investigating everything from the Sun’s deep core to the solar wind, the stream of highly ionized gas that blows continuously outward through the solar system.

Spitzer Space Telescope: Spitzer, the last of NASA's "Great Observatories," provides scientists with infrared imagery of deep and normally inaccessible regions of space.

Stardust: On January 15, 2006 Stardust brought back to Earth something that scientists have never seen and never examined: dust samples taken directly from the coma surrounding a comet's nucleus. The Stardust spacecraft is now in solar orbit, and an extended mission has been approved: it will fly by comet Tempel 1 on February 14, 2011.

Ulysses: The first and only planned mission to orbit over and around the Sun to explore and chart the unknown reaches of its polar regions – is, along with SOHO and Cluster, giving scientists their first close-up look at the Sun.

Venus Express: Venus Express is Earth's first orbital mission to that planet since Magellan arrived in 1990. The mission's objectives are primarily to study the thick atmosphere of Venus, from the tops of its sulfuric acid clouds, to the searing heat and crushing pressure of the air at the surface.

Voyager: Together, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 -- twin probes launched on September 5, 1977 and August 20, 1977 -- represent the most successful planetary exploration mission of all time. In their flybys of all the outer planets except Pluto, and dozens of other planetary bodies, the Voyagers set the benchmark in planetary exploration on an undertaking that has come to be deemed as one of NASA's greatest triumphs. Even now, both Voyager spacecraft are still communicating with Earth. Many of their instruments are still functioning, as the two spacecraft head in different directions out of the solar system on their Interstellar Mission.

I picked missions beyond earth's orbit just so I didn't have list the dozens of missions around our fair planet and because they are far more difficult and cooler. I could have included all the current Moon missions, but I didn't because they sort of orbit Earth. Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and others not listed orbit Earth.

All the above links are courtesy of The Planetary Society. Please visit their main page and join this great science and exploration organization.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Metro Skywarn - Become a Weather Spotter

This will be my 3rd year as an official weather spotter for the National Weather Service. Skywarn is the volunteer organization that coordinates and trains us weather spotters. Here is a snippet from Metro Skywarn's web site here in Minnesota:

SKYWARN is the NWS program of trained volunteer severe weather spotters. SKYWARN Spotters support their local community and government by providing the NWS and their local emergency managers with timely and accurate severe weather reports. These reports, when integrated with modern NWS technology, are used to inform communities of the proper actions to take as severe weather threatens.

There is a lot of information on their site about amateur radio operators. They prefer spotters with radios so they can report directly to the "net" but that is not a requirement. I do not do radio and I was welcomed just fine. Here is a snippet about what you will learn:

Spotters are trained about basic storm structure and the sequence of events of an approaching severe storm , to place themselves safely near severe weather and how to report into the net. Special emphasis is placed on training the spotter how to differentiate severe weather from weather easily confused with severe weather with a specially prepared video and slide presentation.

Ever two years they ask that you take the spotter training course. It's free and very interesting. You'll learn the difference between dangerous clouds and scary looking clouds. You'll be able tell when severe weather should be reported to 911 and when it shouldn't be reported. I suspect that the law enforcement in your area wouldn't have a problem if you called 911 to report a rotating wall cloud, funnel or a tornado. Your fellow Skywarn members will tell you how to report these things in your area. As an added bonus, you'll be better equipt to rip the movie Twister for it's science inaccuracies, if you like.

There is a multiple choice test at the end of the 3-4 hour session. If you pass, you will get a nifty card with your own unique identifying number. You will also be admitted to the E-Spotter Program, an exclusive NOAA/NWS website where you can report non-life threatening storm information. I got to report the 2" hail that filled my yard a couple years ago.

For those of you in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, go here for the times and dates for 2009 classes. Join up and help your neighbors.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Everything You Should Know About U (before we all die*)

I've been reading the Cocktail Party Physics blog off and on for a few months now. It's snarky, intelligent and interesting. The contributors to this blog are very skilled at breaking down complex physics into easy to understand language.

This post caught my attention because it contains two of my favorite interests: Physics and Stupid Media. Media headlines are particular important now-a-days because so many people get their news from only headlines and headlines increasingly seem to be driving public policy. (I think there is a research paper in there somewhere) Everyday, it seems like someone I know is quoting a headline with having read the story. (read some of my health related posts)

A few weeks ago, Iran's inventory of Uranium was the big headline. I suspected there was more to the story, but hadn't got around to looking into it until now. Follow some of the links in this post and learn a little bit about how difficult it is to make a nuclear bomb. Here is a snippet:

One surefire way to panic the heck out of people is to mention nuclear bombs and radical Islam in the same sentence. I dunno about you, but I kinda had a mini-freakout when I read about the amount of enriched uranium the United Nations says that Iran has at its disposal for bomb making...

So what does that mean, exactly? How much is "enough" weapons-grade uranium? And how much more work would it be for Iran to enrich that reactor-grade uranium to bomb-making level? And how easy would it be to spot it?

Learn all you need to know about uranium so you don't panic: Cocktail Party Physics: science, politics, and getting it wrong

*again...we are all going to die but it's very unlikely it be due to an Iranian nuke.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

12,000 Views!


Moon Venus Orb - Close Up
Originally uploaded by Mully410

My flickr photostream passed 12,000 views today. Thanks for viewing.

This shot is from a set I took of the Moon and Venus. It was really cold that night. My flash fired in this shot and captured my breath and an "orb." Some think orbs are aliens or energy beings or some other such nonsense. This one was likely a snowflake, humidity or dust.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Be Careful When You Assume What People Believe

This is a timely addendum to my last post on religion: Penn Says - What I think. Here is a link to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), which most news stories I saw did not provide. Needless to say, think about it before you assume everybody believes what you do. It looks like a pretty well designed survey. Here is a BIG snippet:

Among the key findings in the 2008 survey: " So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity & does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.

image

The 2001 and 2008 surveys are replicas of the 1990 survey, and are led by the same academic research team using an identical methodology of random-digit-dialed telephone interviews (RDD) and the same unprompted, open-ended key question "What is your religion, if any?" Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. Moreover, the self-description of respondents was not based on whether established religious bodies or institutions considered them to be members.

The "Nones" are an amalgamation of all the respondents who provided answers to our key question which identified them as having no religious identity or connection. The most common response was "None" or "No Religion." This bloc can be described as the non-religious, irreligious and anti-religious bloc. It includes anti-clerical theists, but the majority are non-theists.

image

These data and graphics are taken directly from the report, which you can find here.

Be Afraid. Be very Afraid...of National Electronic Medical Records

The development of the electronic medical record seems like a good idea...on the surface: availability across different clinics; quicker access to your information; more accurate billing and more accurate prescriptions. Most people I know don't do this but, I've been requesting my own copy of my medical records from my doctors for about 10 years now. I bring my folder to my appointments and can show my tests and exams to every new doctor I meet. With the health insurance merry-go-round I've been on for the last decade, my copies have really come in handy. For shit's sake, I keep all my maintenance records for my truck, why would I rely on some anonymous admin or DBA to keep track of my health records?

Now that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R.1) was passed by Congress and signed by our President, we are falling headlong into a government database of all our health records. A lot has been written about how scary that will be for us healthcare consumers. I already had lots of reasons why I didn't want my government keeping track of my health: privacy; inefficiency; rationing; higher costs and mandates.

Sandy, at Junkfood Science, presents a number of issues I hadn't considered. I think her's are way more scary than the ones I had. Here are some snippets.

The loss of humanness of medicine and the private and personal relationships built between patients and their doctors.

...the focus for doctors becomes clicking and responding to hundreds of little boxes and prompts.

...the personal relationships built between a doctor and patient is integral to improved health outcomes and that’s not built with a keyboard and computer screen.

In all examinations of the purported benefits of electronic medical records, the undeniable fact arises: they aren’t about caring for people, but about profits. They have yet to show that they improve actual outcomes for patients or reduce medical errors (let alone healthcare costs), while they have been shown to impose new risks for many patients. And they certainly aren’t really about streamlining care for caregivers or enhancing patient privacy.

I've already seen this myself. The doctor spends about half his time in silence clicking away with me sitting there half naked in one of those gowns.

Sandy's post doesn't address these issues, so I'll throw them out there. I'm sure it's safe to say that we all have had "issues" with out computers. Can you imagine what it will be like when you are sitting with your doctor (who is 30-60-90 minutes behind schedule) and all of a sudden the screen goes blue? How will you feel about some Washington intern rifling through your list of medications and aliments? How would you like to see your latest MRI or Pap smear on YouTube?

Go here for the full article: Junkfood Science: Dr. Computer

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Penn Says - What I Think

Lately, I've been feeling more and more uncomfortable when I'm in situations with religious people. I suppose that is mostly due to me "coming out" as an atheist last year. I don't like it when people assume everyone is a believer in their god. "What are you giving up for Lent?" "Merry Christmas." "Happy Easter." "Thank God...(whatever did or did not happen)." My favoritest comment to loath: "Oh My God!"

Fortunately, I don't run into this very often but it especially annoys me when it's assumed that "Jesus Christ is my savior." Praying to Jesus or openly praising Jesus while in a group of people shows a great disrespect and arrogance to those non-believers in that group. I'm not just talking about atheists. There are about 4 or 5 billion people on this planet that don't believe Jesus "died for our sins and was raised from the dead." So, by assuming the crowd of people you are addressing (outside of your church) are Jesus worshipers is just plan ignorant.

One of my favorite skeptics and atheists, Penn Jillette, shares a great example in this video of how he felt recently. (he doesn't even use any profanity in this episode)

Go here for the YouTube version and to comment.

You'll never stop the "fundamentalist" atheists from attacking your religion but you can practice what you preach and "do unto others" to the rest of us.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Randi Speaks to Steven Novella

In this video, James (The Amazing) Randi interviews Dr. Steven Novella. Steve is a neurologist who hosts the great podcast, Skeptics Guide to the Universe and writes the NeuroLogica Blog. James Randi is the magician, mentalist and/or conjurer who founded the James Randi Educational Foundation. JREF is probably best known for their Million Dollar Challenge.

They chat about their respective specialties: magic and brains. "No one is beyond being fooled, because we all have the same meat in our heads."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Is Jeremy Piven Lying or Has He Been Duped?

I've written about and posted links about the irrational fear of mercury, the element (Hg) not the planet. See my previous posts here and here. Since we aren't drinking it in our snake oil anymore, there is nothing to fear.

Personally, I suspect Piven has probably been duped by some alternative medicine people with hyper-sensitive tests. However, don't forget that he is in a contract dispute because he left a show before it was complete. He is well motivated to prove something. While I don't care what Jeremy does with his money or how he manages his health, I do care about the publicity and the credulous media reports. You simply cannot eat enough sushi to get poisoned like he is claiming (unless you are dipping it in an Hg sauce I suppose). We have enough real things to fear in our lives without this crap.

Sandy updates us on this topic on her blog: Junkfoodscience.com. She has some links to actual tests and an article by another favorite website of mine: Quackwatch. Here is a snippet:
Mercury fears have become as ubiquitous as mercury itself, it seems, and truly frightening people. Many victims are being led to believe that they have mercury poisoning through mercury tests that report “high” levels.
Go here for the full article.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Randi Speaks on Carl Sagan

Here is another post of Randi Speaks. I do this because the Digg community has declared the JREF as a Digg Spammer site. sheesh. Here is snippet:

James Randi talks about one of the most influential scientists of all time; Carl Sagan. Randi and Sagan were well acquainted, and Sagan once said of Randi: "We may not always agree with Randi, but we ignore him at our peril." Watch this video to see what Randi has to say about Sagan.


Here is the full article and link to the JREF: Randi Speaks on Carl Sagan

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

YouTube - Mully410's Channel

I just got a YouTube channel all setup, in case you are interested. So far, I've posted a few short videos I made with my Sony DSC-W150 digital camera. I'll be "favoriting" videos as I see them so check back frequently to see what I'm viewing.

Here is a link to my great new channel: YouTube - Mully410's Channel


Think About This When You Obsess Over "Bad" Food

Do you think there is no harm in eating "healthy" or avoiding "bad" foods? Take a critical look at how you may be affecting your children. Here is a snippet from an interesting New York Times article:
...scarcely any expert would criticize parents for paying attention to children’s diets, many doctors, dietitians and eating disorder specialists worry that some parents are becoming overzealous, even obsessive, in efforts to engender good eating habits in children. With the best of intentions, these parents may be creating an unhealthy aura around food.

Dr. James Greenblatt, the chief medical officer at Walden Behavioral Care, a hospital specializing in child and adult eating disorders in Waltham, Mass., estimates that he has recently seen about a 15 percent rise in the number of his young patients who eat only organic foods to avoid pesticides.

...she often sees children who are terrified of foods that are deemed “bad” by parents. “It’s almost a fear of dying, a fear of illness, like a delusional view of foods in general,” she said. “I see kids whose parents have hypnotized them. I have 5-year-olds that speak like 40-year-olds. They can’t eat an Oreo cookie without being concerned about trans fats.”
Go here and read the full article. Then go here to read up some more on food.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The First Incredulous Interview

I don't think I've ever seen a UFO interview where the reporter actually acted skeptical until now:



Who is this guy anyway? LOL "Made of water."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ghost Hunter Tells All in Exclusive Interview

There isn't much credibly to lend to this article because the source remains anonymous. Regardless, it's an interesting transcript of an interview of an alleged hunter of ghosts. Be skeptical, think critically and do your own research. Here's a snippet from Alison Smith's interview:

Recently, I was granted an interview with X, a paranormal investigator from a television show. X could only speak if given total anonymity, as the contract X signed for the show states that giving an interview of this nature would result in litigation.

Because most of the individuals who read Swift are skeptics, its understandable to additionally be skeptical of the existence of X. I can only promise that X does exist, and was able, during this interview, to give a unique point-of-view of television paranormal investigation.

Here is a link to the full interview: Ghost Hunter Tells All in Exclusive Interview

Personally, I think the show Ghost Hunters is pretty lame. They always prime you with a scary story and spooky music. Every episode I've seen has them playing a bland audio clip over and over again while telling you what you should hear. This is simply Pareidolia, which I've written about here and here. Steven Novella, at The Rogue's Gallery, just published an excellent post on audio pareidolia.

Their best "evidence" is always: "We don't know what it was that (made that sound or cast that shadow)." The way their use their EM detectors and thermography equipment is really a joke. Often they are calibrated to such an overly sensitive level that anything with "give a reading." Go to the SAPS website a learn how easy it is to make these ghost data. Then go watch Randi Speaks, Episode 6 for a little more illumination.

If you are still interested in so called paranormal stuff, go to my Flickr set and see how I've captured some photos that pretty much look like all the other paranormal woo you've seen.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

An Asteroid is Coming and We Are All Going to Die!

Ok. I do this sometimes to attract attention: An asteroid is going to pass close to earth on March 2nd and we are all going to die. Fortunately, we are not going to die because of this asteroid. Here is a snippet:

Kelly Beatty at Sky and Telescope reports that an asteroid about 100 meters across will pass the Earth on March 2, missing us by a scant 60,000 kilometers! Thats a clean miss, but still pretty close. The rock, called 2009 DD45, was discovered only a few days ago its small and faint, making it easy to miss. Closest approach is at 13:44 UT, and it happens over the Pacific.

Read Phil's post here: 100 meter asteroid will pass Earth Monday! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine Then go buy his great book: Death from the Skies!

The Secret to Losing Weight is Finally Here

Save your money on those fancy schmancy diets. Here is a snippet to a post by Steven Novella about a new study:

As a scientific skeptic I am careful to emphasize that my current position on any scientific question is tentatively based on available evidence. If new data comes in that warrants a change in my position, I will happily change it...

...In this case a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine comparing various weight loss diets supports my contention that weight loss is all about calories in vs calories out.

I encourage you to read Dr. Novella's full article here: NeuroLogica Blog » Want To Lose Weight? Reduce Calories.

Here is a snippet from the actual report:

Most of the weight loss occurred in the first 6 months. Changes from baseline differed among the diet groups by less than 0.5 kg of body weight and 0.5 cm of waist circumference (Figure 2). After 12 months, all groups, on average, slowly regained body weight.

I am anxiously awaiting an analysis of this study at JunkfoodScience.com She's been pretty consistent in saying that we generally have a pre-set weight and can only hope to lose a few pounds. Almost everyone who loses huge amounts of weight, gains it back within a year or two. Here is a link to part 1 of her Obesity Paradox. It's an interesting series about how large people are not necessarily less healthy than thin people.

Prejudice is wrong, so think about this next time you are making fun of fat people.

Personally, I'm saving my fat just in case I get selected for the TV show Survivor or if I get selected by cancer someday. My extra weight will come in handy with the chemotherapy/radiation diet I've heard so much about.

*As always: be skeptical, critically think, do your own research and don't rely on sound bites and news headlines for your information.

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