Archive for: January, 2009

A volcano to watch: Mount Redoubt

Jan 30 2009 Published by under Science news

Via CNN, we learn that Mount Redoubt in Alaska is showing clear signs of an eminent eruption.

As is always the case with forecasting eruptions, it is impossible to predict exactly when the eruption will happen; from CNN:

Peter Cervelli, a research geophysicist with the observatory, told CNN that "every indication is that we're heading toward an eruption."

Cervelli said scientists don't know exactly when it will happen, but if it does happen, it could be days or weeks -- or even hours.

This uncertainty can lead people to make life-threatening and even foolish decisions.  Before Mount St. Helens erupted catastrophically in 1980, loggers had fought to return to work in the area around the mountain.  Had the eruption happened on a day other than Sunday, many of them would have been killed.

Even pre-eruption, Redoubt has claimed its first casualty: the Alaska Volcano Observatory's website!  Because of the enhanced media coverage, traffic to their site (and the webcam pointing at Redoubt) has overwhelmed their servers.  As of this posting, the webcam site displays an apologetic message.

Though the eruption will be a great opportunity for scientists to gather more information on volcanic eruptions, it will undoubtedly suck for local residents.  This includes the people of Anchorage, who live only about 100 miles away.  Though they aren't in any direct danger, the eruption will probably disrupt air traffic and has the potential for dumping lots of annoying ash on the city (via Google maps, with my marker for the volcano, as there seems to be some dispute in Google as to the mountain's exact location):


It could be quite a show, though; Redoubt last erupted in late 1989, and throughout the early part of 1990, and produced some spectacular images (via Wikipedia):


(Original photograph by R. Clucas, April 21, 1990.)

For those who are interested in reading more about volcanoes and volcano research, I can recommend the blog Magma Cum Laude, which is written by a graduate student of geology with a specialty in volcanoes.  I don't know whether or not Jess will have a lot to say about the Redoubt eruption, but the blog is one I use for my vulcanology fix.

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Bush finally gets that monument in Iraq!

Jan 30 2009 Published by under [Politics], Silliness

Well, right-wing pundits were convinced that Iraqis would be so grateful to Bush for liberating their country that they'd construct statues and name streets after him.  It's taken some time, but finally a monument related to Bush has shown up in Iraq (via CNN):


Quoting CNN,

For the war-beaten orphans of the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, this big old shoe fits.

A monument to a shoe thrown at former President Bush is unveiled at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.

A huge sculpture of the footwear hurled at President Bush in December during a trip to Iraq has been unveiled in a ceremony at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.

Assisted by children at the home, sculptor Laith al-Amiri erected a brown replica of one of the shoes hurled at Bush and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by journalist Muntadhir al-Zaidi during a press conference in Baghdad.

You know, I've always had great sympathy for the Iraqi people and the suffering they've undergone, but stuff like this really just makes me think they're awesome.  It puts them in the same league as the folks who tried to get a wastewater treatment plant named after Bush in San Francisco.  That proposition failed at the ballot, but the arguments against it were none too flattering to Bush either.

Incidentally, the shoe-thrower himself, Muntadhir al-Zaidi, is still incarcerated in Iraq.  His employer, al-Baghdadia television, keeps a prominently displayed picture of him on their home page.

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Nazi zombies threaten Austin, TX!

Jan 29 2009 Published by under ... the Hell?, Silliness

... at least that's what a pair of electronic road signs warned drivers on Wednesday:


Station KXAN in Austin has the details.  Apparently a group of enterprising prankster hackers changed the messages on the road signs to warn of a zombie holocaust ahead.  Some samples, taken from the video report:

"Caution! Zombies ahead!  The end is near!!!!!"

"Zombies ahead! Run!  Nazi zombies! Run!"

The prank counts as a definite act of hacking, because on top of cutting the padlocks protecting the computer interface of the signs, the hackers needed to get past the password protection. (Which, I would guess, involved putting in whatever the factory default is.  Who would think of seriously password-protecting a road sign?)

Of course, the Austin Public Works is not amused, and was quick to point out that this is a crime which potentially endangers public safety (the signs are there to warn of traffic issues), not to mention an act of vandalism (cutting padlocks).

Provided it is a one-time prank, I find it pretty amusing.  I'll have less sympathy if this becomes a recurring or copycatted event.

For now, though, a little extra unexpected silliness in the world is really appreciated.

Update: Be sure to take the KXAN poll, on a tab on the story's web page: Do you have a zombie escape planned out already?

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200k page view milestone!

Jan 28 2009 Published by under Personal

I've passed yet another personal blogging milestone: a total of 200k page views!  It seems like yesterday that I passed thet 100k mark, though it was actually last month.  Thanks to my 'spot the math errors' post, I've had over 100k views within a month's time...

Here's hoping that 300k comes just as quickly!

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Dick Van Dyke: Still cool

Jan 27 2009 Published by under Entertainment

I've been a big fan of Dick Van Dyke for a long time, and it's great to see that he's still active and in the news!  CNN has a nice interview with him in which he reminisces about making Mary Poppins -- and the hard time he has gotten ever since for his Cockney accent in the film.

If you want evidence that Van Dyke is still totally cool, though, you should watch Night at the Museum.  Well, actually, just watch the credits. There's a scene where Van Dyke dances, and he had better moves at 81 than most of us have at 21!

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ScienceOnline '09: Web and the History of Science

Jan 27 2009 Published by under History of science

Before the events of ScienceOnline '09 are completely lost in the labyrinth of my memory, I thought I'd post a few thoughts about the session that I co-moderated with scicurious and Brian, on The Web and the History of Science.  I should note in advance that these are my thoughts on the session, and what stuck in my head afterwards; scicurious and Brian no doubt have different points they would emphasize.

For those who didn't attend, the session was very loosely organized and was mainly intended to be a broad discussion of why the history of science is important, and how to blog about the history of science.

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Measuring the 'kick' of a photon leaving a fiber!

Jan 25 2009 Published by under Optics, Physics
In physics, there are a number of fundamental and seemingly simple questions which have remained a source of controversy for years, even decades. Last month, a paper was published by a Chinese research group describing an experiment which throws new light on one of these controversies, the so-called Abraham-Minkowski controversy.  For nearly a century, theorists and experimentalists have struggled to answer the question A-M raised: how does the momentum of a photon change as it enters a material?

Though, as we will note, the new experiment does not completely put Abraham-Minkowski to rest (as we note below, there may not in fact be a controversy anymore at all), it does illustrate quite nicely that light carries momentum, and does so in a way which can be recorded on camera!  We take a look at the controversy and the recent experiment below.

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A. Merritt's The Moon Pool

Jan 21 2009 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft, Weird fiction

Occasionally my random impulse buys at the bookstore turn out to be unusually fruitful!  After Christmas, I was looking to spend some of my gift card money and happened across a copy of A. Merritt's The Moon Pool (1919):


I had never heard of Merritt's work before, even though he was an enormously successful author in the pulp era that I'm most interested in!  I've corrected that oversight, and I'm glad I did: his work is fascinating and well worth looking into.

The Moon Pool itself is billed in the Overlook Press edition of the book I have as "A forerunner to ABC's Lost".  We take a look at that claim, as well as the book itself, below.

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Back from ScienceOnline '09!

Jan 19 2009 Published by under Personal

Well, I'm back!  I haven't been posting much since heading off to the conference, in spite of my best intentions.  Conference activities, both official and not, were entirely too distracting to get much done.

The sessions were quite enjoyable and informative, and very different from events at a 'real' science conference.  Audience participation is encouraged and, in fact, essential to the success of the sessions. I co-moderated a session with Brian of Laelaps and scicurious on the web and history of science, which I'll mention in more detail in a coming post.

For me, though, the charm of any conference is meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and participating in interesting and productive discussions.  I got a chance to see again those folks I met last year at the Scienceblogs millionth comment party in NC, namely Coturnix, scicurious, Dave and Greta Munger, Kevin Zelnio, and Sciencewoman. (Greta suggested a really neat idea for a course assignment that I'll have to try sometime.)

I also got to meet a number of people who I've interacted with only online, such as Blake Stacey, Brian Switek (and Mrs. Laelaps), and Greg Laden.  (I got Blake to sign my copy of his recently released novel, but I forgot to ask him to sign it to "eBay".)

Finally, I met  a number of folks whose work I was previously unaware of, but which I will now be following: PalMD, Tom Levenson, Björn Brembs (and Diana), Katherine Haxton, Janet Stemwedel and Henry Gee.  PalMD pointed me to a really nice post he wrote on early resistance to innoculation, which was, contrary to today's resistance, based on reason.

I'm surely forgetting people in the rush of posting, but it was great seeing everyone at the meeting, and I hope to see you again there next year!  I'll be updating my blogroll with a lot of new additions later in the week.

I'll say a few more things about the meeting over the next few days, namely on the session I co-moderated and on the Duke Lemur Center that a few of us visited.  In the meantime, though, before I forget: thanks to sci and Janet for the drinks!

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The Giant's Shoulders #7 is up!

Jan 16 2009 Published by under General science, Science news

The seventh edition of The Giant's Shoulders is up at The Questionable Authority, with entries ranging from 1789 to 1971!  Many thanks to Mike for putting it together!

The next edition is scheduled for release on February 16th, at Greg Laden's Blog.

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