November 30, 2007

Good News, Bad News

The good news for Green Bay is that in the last 20 conference championship games over the last 10 seasons, the home team is only 10-10.

The bad news is that Dallas only punted once last night.

Posted by Observer at 09:02 AM | Comments (3)

November 29, 2007

Useless Prediction Time

Give me Dallas 34, Green Bay 27. Not that I discount GB's defense, but nobody has really stopped Dallas all season if Dallas needed to score. I think GB will score enough and keep it close enough that Dallas' offense will have to keep the petal to metal, scoring more points than you would otherwise expect off of GB if you compare Dallas point totals vs other opponents.

GB might not score that much. Depends on just how healthy our secondary really is and how much they'll try to put Roy Williams into coverage given that GB will likely throw 75% of the time.

Update: GB definitely got screwed on the first Dallas play from scrimmage. That should have been a catch and a fumble and GB ball with a chance to go up early 10-0 and really change the tone of this game. As it was, Dallas had six drives in the first half (not counting the kneel down at halftime) and scored five times.

I really hope Favre is okay. I would really hate to see him get some kind of season-ending injury here or something. What a nightmare for GB fans. I hate to say it because it was a gutty drive by GB to get the TD before the half, but all that does is encourage the Cowboys to step on the gas when they come out for the 2nd half. The Cowboys could have 44 or 48 points before this is over if they wanted it. I don't see GB keeping up, though it would be a good story if this prodigal backup turns out to be another Romo for them once Favre is gone.

Update II: Hey, my prediction was only off by a field goal! Not bad. Still, Dallas should've scored more. I can't believe TO turned that touchdown into an INT. Romo should be 20 for 30 for 315 yards and 5 TD's instead of 4 TD's and a pick.

GB may be mad at the refs for a couple of calls, but neither of those was all that decisive in my opinion. Even that last pass interference call didn't matter. Dallas was moving well anyway and likely would've scored a TD. Dallas had to go for it and mess up a 4th and short, get a TD turned into a pic, and that took 10 or 14 points off the board right there. Without that backup's excellent performance, this would've been a laugher.

We're 11-1 and barring an injury to Romo, the path to the Super Bowl seems pretty clear to me. Will we be able to beat the Pats (or please please please someone else)? I doubt it, but you never know, and that's why they play the games.

Posted by Observer at 07:00 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2007

Freak Out

Just for fun, I threatened the students today that if they aren't nice to me, I'm going to show this on the projection screen during next week's exam.

It's somewhat hypnotizing. I jokingly turned off the monitor about 15 seconds before noon today after the early birds had been watching it for about five minutes. The whole class screamed, "Ahhhh! Nooo!" I turned it back on so they could watch the time change to noon, and they were very happy.

Oh, and a few of the cool ones thought my new screensaver is great, so suck on that, haters!

Posted by Observer at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)

When Going to Syria Wasn't Cool

It's usually not this obvious when the media is being incredibly biased against Democrats. We're not talking Fox News, mind you. This is the ultra-super-duper-Communist-liberal Washington Post.


Posted by Observer at 05:16 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2007

Hillary's Problem

The popular idea floating around is that Hillary is somehow unelectable for whatever reason, and I don't think that quite hits it on the head. The problem with Hillary or any other Democratic candidate is going to be how they are treated by the traditional media. It is why the lessons we learned watching the media trash Al Gore were so important, and why we stood baffled and watched John Kerry ignore those lessons.

Maybe Hillary is battle-hardened enough to know how to get past the media that won't hesitate to report something negative about her, something that portrays her as "bitchy" or a liar. The local paper here for the past two days in a row has put a little unflattering box pointer on the front page that points to a deeply negative story inside about Hillary, yet letter after letter complains about the liberal -- no, Communist liberal -- bias of the paper. It's really quite incredible and depressing to watch.

If Rudy is the nominee, is he going to get any scrutiny? Every time a negative Rudy story pops up, here come the wingnuts to complain, but whenever a negative story pops up about "Hillarycare" or something Hillary, well, that's just a matter of historical record, isn't it? We have to find out what a candidate stands for, especially if it is much more incredibly high taxes on working families that will make them have to sell their house and go into bankruptcy to pay for immigrant welfare queens to buy their Cadillacs to drive around all of their out-of-wedlock babies so they can get to the nearest abortionist. Oh, and did we mention she is going to force you to get your health care from a big mean doctor who hates you and wants you to die and isn't afraid of you because after all, the government took away all your guns.

I mean, let's be reasonable here.

Posted by Observer at 10:20 PM | Comments (9)

November 26, 2007

This is Why...

... we like to call him Joke Line. I mean, it ought to be enough that the "liberal" columnist for Time spent his weekly column bashing Dems for being "soft" on terrorism due to their proposing something on the FISA bill that President Bush has said he won't accept. FISA is the bill that governs eavesdropping, and that's the law Bush has been ignoring when he has wiretapped calls without warrants between parties on U. S. soil.

Anyway, Klein got all of his facts wrong in a way that just happens to paint Dems in the worst possible light. What a shock! When he was called out on his basic misunderstanding of the facts, try to believe what he said in his defense regarding the FISA bill:

I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right

So why in the hell is he writing about it, and how on Earth are his editors letting him get away with it? Of course, the answer is simple, the editors have decided that he sells magazines, and so who gives a damn whether he's right or wrong. He's one of those cynical contrarians people love to read to confirm that their "pox on both houses" view of life is right. Glenn Greenwald has more in a link-rich post.

Posted by Observer at 10:08 PM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2007


Right now, I'm a big Iggles fan. If they can win this... wow. They just need two lengthy TD drives to keep NE off the field, and they can win.

Update: Well, at least someone has figured out how to slow down the Pats. Allowing only 7 points in the whole 2nd half despite giving them all kinds of possessions. I'm impressed. I hope other AFC teams took notes and can take them out in the playoffs.

Posted by Observer at 09:25 PM | Comments (0)

Foregone Conclusion

You could make the argument that, right now, the Redskins and Saints (both 5-6) are at least as good as the three 7-4 teams (Seahawks, Giants and Bucs), and none of them are in the same league with Dallas or Green Bay. I don't see how Dallas and Green Bay won't meet again in the NFC championship game, and it'll sure be frustrating for Packers fans if it has to be down here in Dallas. The last time both teams were good, it seemed like every single meaningful game between them was played in Dallas, and Dallas always won. God, they must hate us up there.

Of course, then the NFC championship will just be a contest to see who gets sacrificed to Belichick in the Super Bowl. I'd like to talk myself into the idea that the Cowboys could be competitive with the Patriots, but I just don't see how we (or anyone else) stops them from scoring at will. We have to hope they trip up in the AFC playoffs somehow, maybe choke due to the high expectations or something like the Colts a couple of years ago.

Assuming Philly gets embarrased tonight by New England, which seems like a safe bet, the whole NFC East lost a lot of respect today with some very poor games. Oh those poor Giants fans. I'll bet the Eli sucks blog will make for some good reading this week once it is updated. 3 INT's returned for touchdowns! Wow.

And the reason I say Washington is decent is because (a) they are the only NFC opponent in the recent stretch to give the Cowboys a decent game (and it was a road game for them) and (b) they lost the turnover battle to Tampa 6-0 and were still driving for the winning score at the end of the game. I hope Washington doesn't make the playoffs because right now, aside from Green Bay, that's the one team the Cowboys need to fear a little bit.

They can play very solid and shorten the game with long, time-consuming drives so that the whole thing could be decided on a freak turnover or something, kind of like the way Parcells tried to win with the Cowboys. We couldn't win consistently, but we could occasionally surprise good teams (like the Colts). After the Green Bay game this week, the only game left that the Cowboys can reasonably expect to lose would be the road game at Washington, but some of that depends on the playoff positioning and home field and such. Those end-of-season games that turn out to be meaningless, you never can tell what will happen there.

Posted by Observer at 05:31 PM | Comments (1)

November 24, 2007

Back to Normal

I talked about this a while back, but most of the recent good news out of Iraq of a reduction in violence, especially against the U. S., seemed to grow out of a six-month ceasefire called by the main Shiite faction rather than anything we did right or wrong. An article today confirms that idea. I hope violence there doesn't return back to its pre cease-fire level EVER, but with the current bunch of incompetents in charge, headed up by the Boy King, it's hard to hope.

Posted by Observer at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2007


I know this is probably a foregone conclusion, but I strongly believe the Aggies are going to regret it if they get rid of Coach Fran. I seriously doubt they'll get anyone else in there with as much love and dedication to that stupid little redneck backwater school and as much expertise as a college coach. You can pay somebody all the millions you want, but they still have to live in Bryan/College Station to coach there (shudder).

If they get rid of Fran, it'll be 10 years minimum before they win back-to-back against Texas, and possibly that long before they break .500 in Big 12 play again. Aggies need to face it: they just aren't meant to contend on a yearly basis for the Big 12 title, not to mention the mythical national title.

Update: As expected, Fran "resigned" after the game today. I wonder where he'll end up. Surely he isn't done with coaching. As a Texas fan, I want to congratulate the hordes of Aggie fans who thought they were too good for the likes of Coach Fran. You won't sniff a better coach for a long time. I'm not saying he's that great. He's just great compared to what else you can get at A&M.

Posted by Observer at 05:45 PM | Comments (4)


I liked the big win over the Jets yesterday. Romo was definitely below average, which still makes him way better than any QB we've had since Aikman. The defense finally is consistently making bad quarterbacks look bad due to good pressure and great coverage. Unfortunately, I don't see us stopping Green Bay next week very easily, but they didn't seem to be able to stop the Lions very well either (first time I've seen GB play all year was yesterday). It looks like it will be a first-one-to-40-wins kind of game.

Too bad so many people won't be able to watch it because of the stupid NFL network nonsense.

Posted by Observer at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2007

Dem vs Rep, Shorthand

Humbaba said in comments:

The staunch Republicans I know don't care about homosexuality, they're just pro-gun, anti-tax, pro strong military, anti any form of welfare or social program, anti health care except their own.

Hard to argue with it. Everyone has different priorities.

I thought I'd respond here rather than in comments since it got long and I can't sleep for some reason.

I don't find it hard to argue with. The only real differences between Reps and Dems are with taxes and social policy. Reps like to tax individuals over corporations, poor people more than rich people. Both believe in welfare for corporations over individuals, but that's mostly just a function of the campaign finance system.

Both are "strong military", and Dems have done a LOT more for vets than Reps historically and recently. The gun issue isn't even on the table, though I'll agree if Dems had 75% of both houses and the Presidency, they might try it again.

On health care, Reps want health decisions made by for-profit insurance companies. Dems want them made by the government. Wealthy individuals will get the health care they want/need regardless of who is in power.

The gay issue is a big "bone of contention", as it were, as is the abortion issue (which Reps use dishonestly, keeping it alive by doing nothing even when they are in power). I think fear of "teh gay" drives a lot of Reps, but they are ashamed to admit it.

When you want big Rep turnout, which issue do you put on the ballot (usually as an initiative)?

Health Care?

In the past several election cycles, the answer is Homosexuality in most states (code word: "defense of marriage"). Guns is 2nd, but it isn't close.

Why do you suppose that is? I think Rep leaders know their natural constituency better than you might.

Posted by Observer at 01:50 AM | Comments (1)

November 21, 2007

Some Consolation

Randi Rhodes was talking last week (I just caught up with the podcast) about the Bernie Kerik scandal. Kerik is the guy who Giuliani recommended to head up Homeland Security, and he was Police Commissioner (with mob ties, no less!) in post-9/11 New York. The scandal comes with a new book by one of his former mistresses that he had an affair with her and another woman by using an apartment near Ground Zero that was supposed to be set aside as a resting place for the workers.

Anyway, Randi said that this is the first Republican scandal in her memory that involved heterosexual sex instead of gay sex or pedophilia, so ... ummm ... congrats, Republicans! Good for you!

Posted by Observer at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

Voice of God

This would explain a LOT, if true.

Posted by Observer at 07:27 PM | Comments (0)

$7.50 Well Spent

M*chelle thinks I'm crazy, but it's only $7.50. I now have a neato screensaver that makes my monitor look just like the ones in the Matrix, with lots of adjustable parameters. For now, I'm just going with the settings that look the most like what's in the movie. Very cool.

Those who know me might be interested to read an article I'm mentioned in this month here. Look for the latest (Winter issue).

Posted by Observer at 05:54 PM | Comments (1)


Before you read further and click the link, try to answer the following for yourself: Of all of the possible subjects in the world, which one do you think wingnuts study the most intently and read the most about? Here, I'll make it multiple choice:

Health care
Gun rights, libertarianism, constitutional law
Economic policy, stock market
Celebrity news, movies, tv

Via Atrios comes these helpful statistics from Conservapedia, the right wing's attempt to create a Wikipedia that fits within their little alternate reality.

From a pure sociological standpoint, the right wing movement is truly fascinating. It would be better if, you know, we didn't have to live in the same country with all of these deeply twisted people.

By the way, if you want to see what a cross-section of NORMAL (Internet) people are interested in, you'll find the first reference to homosexuality (anal sex) listed at 44, just behind Zac Efron.

Posted by Observer at 08:30 AM | Comments (5)

November 19, 2007


Our four-year-old, Daniel, had sleepover with "Gra Ginny" over the weekend. He was very, very excited. He loves to go up there and be a big boy spending a night away from home, and he's always so good for her. She does a great job of spoiling him. On the way up, she asked him where would be his favorite place to go in the whole world if he had to pick one, and he said, "Target!"

Actually, he doesn't realize it, but his favorite place ought to be Michael's. Every week, they put a coupon in the paper for a 40% or 50% off a single item, so I cut it out and when I swing by there, I get one more Xmas gift for the boy. Usually a Thomas train or a bridge or some kind of special track. It really is all the child wants! We'll get him other things, but he'll play with his trains forever.

Little Ben had a rough day. His favorite thing to do outside now is walk out to the sandbox on the back porch (which we have screened off with mosquito netting), grab a handful of sand, then come back inside and throw it somewhere. We put a stop to that, so he just throws it on the patio furniture now. Well, he climbed up on a bench and breathed in at the wrong time, getting a mouthful of sand. He was not a happy customer. I had to rinse his mouth out with the sink nozzle!

I'm happy to say that the older three seem to be getting along fine for now. Our 15 and 18 year olds went to a church retreat camp over the weekend and are now being very nice to one another. Is it too much to expect that some message got through to them? They'll be cooped up in the house for most of the holiday week, so I don't expect the ceasefire to last.

Posted by Observer at 09:40 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2007


Guess I was wrong about the Giants. I thought they would display some give-up this week, but they are throttling Detroit, and if they can just avoid giving up, they should only lose 1 or 2 more from here on out (not counting the automatic New England loss).

The Redskins have too many injuries, and the Cowboys are coming off their 2nd biggest test of the season, an emotional win against the classless, trash-talking Giants. I think the Cowboys will take this seriously, and the Redskins are pretty helpless against a good team (witness the 52-7 loss to New England). Give me the Cowboys by something like 38-13.

Update: Well, it's a win, but kudos to the Redskins for being the first division rival since week 1 to give us a game to the end. This one wasn't really in doubt except for a point in the 3rd quarter where the Cowboys trailed 10-7 and it looked like an interception runback for the Redskins to the Cowboys' 1. But it was overturned (correctly), and a big (correct) pass interference penalty and a 31 yard TD to TO (on 3rd and 19, how do you let him behind you?) later, we're up 14-10 and never really looked back.

Posted by Observer at 02:48 PM | Comments (0)


To finish up the Summer Triangle, today I will talk about the constellation Aquila the Eagle. The most common Greek mythology associated with this constellation is that eagle is a servant of Zeus (or in some cases, represents Zeus himself), sent down to the Earth to fetch the mortal Ganymede, a handsome young man who served as the water bearer for Mount Olympus. Ganymede is now represented by the constellation Aquila is swooping towards, Aquarius.

Altair is the brightest star in Aquila, and it is flanked closely by a bright star on either side. At this time of year, if you are looking sort of Northwest so that the Northern Cross of Cygnus is upright, then Altair is beneath it. Below and to the left (south) of Altair is Alshain, the neck of the Eagle. Above and to the right (north) is Tarazed, from the Persian title for this constellation, Shahin tara zed, which translates to the star-striking falcon (from Allan's book).

These three stars together span about five degrees in a rough line and are called the Family of Aquila. In the Chinese story, Alshain and Tarazed are the two children of the Herd-Boy (Altair) and the Weaving-Girl (Vega) who are separated by the Milky Way river. Altair is about 16 light years away and so one of the closer stars to us. It is about 10 times more luminous than our Sun and is noted for its extremely rapid rotation (how we know this is a story for another time). It rotates so quickly (once every 6.5 hours compared to our own Sun, which takes a month!) that we speculate is is very flattened, with its equatorial diameter double that of its polar diameter.

With the Family of Aquila forming a short line that points SW to NE in the evening sky during the Fall, you can follow a line Southeast along the body of the eagle, which brings you do Delta Aquilae, also called Deneb Okab, which translates to tail of the eagle. Following that line further Southeast leads you to Lambda Aquilae, the outstretched claws of the eagle. Going a little further than that leads to the spectacular Scutum Star Cloud, which contains Messier objects M11 and M26. More about that another time when I talk about Scutum.

Almost exactly one full moon diameter due South of Lambda is the spectcular planetary nebula NGC 6751, which resembles a glowing eye. If you follow the line formed by the Family of Aquila toward the Southwest, you run into Theta Aquilae, a bright spectroscopic binary about 300 light years distant. If instead you go more due South, you run into Eta Aquilae, the third brightest Cepheid variable in the sky, behind Polaris and the prototype: Delta Cephei itself. This star has a very precise light curve period just over seven days, during which time its magnitude varies from 4.5 to a maximum of 3.7 (remember, the magnitude scale goes backwards).

Above and to the right of Deneb Okab by about five degrees is NGC 6781, a very nice planetary nebula similar to the Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra. Also nearby, about 1.5 degrees to the right (a little North of West) of Tarazed is the very neat dark nebula known as the E nebula, or B142 and B143, one of the few dark nebula visible through a small telescope silhouetted against the background of thousands of faint stars. The B designation comes from a catalog of nebulae compiled by Edward Barnard around 1900.

Just scanning a small telescope over the body of this constellation, which lies across the band of the Milky Way, will lead you over many bright nebula and star clouds. This region between Sagittarius and Cygnus is one of the best in the sky for such telescopic free ranging.

Aquila is also the home of the most brilliant nova explosion in recorded history, Nova Aquilae 1918. The object was first noted by Barnard and another (later famous) comet-hunter and variable star observer by the name of Leslie Peltier (as usual, lots of really interesting information found from Burnham). This nova brightened suddenly and for a few days was the brightest star in Aquila. This was likely a white dwarf companion to a massive star, and when too much matter had been transferred from the massive star to the white dwarf, it ignited explosively on the surface.

In the 20th century, five novae reached a brightness of 1st magnitude in our sky like this, the most recent in 1942. Who knows when we will see another?

Posted by Observer at 08:38 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2007

Star Party

107 of my students (about half) showed up to the star party. I guess sweetening the extra credit deal helped draw more, plus the weather cooperated. I was able to see the comet very easily through the telescope, though not nearly so easily with the naked eye. It is a lot bigger and more diffuse now, just looks like a weird glow next to Mirphak (brightest star in Perseus).

Sadly, when I gave the big sky tour to the students, I forgot about half or more of all the neat trivia I know about the various constellations that are up right now. I should've gone more slowly and used my IPod notes, but out there, I realized the backlit screen is actually too bright and ruins my night vision, so I didn't want to keep going back to it to find new stuff to talk about.

With practice, I will definitely have quite an arsenal of cool stuff to talk about while roaming the sky with the laser pointer. My goal by next year is to give about a good long show if the weather is good and to remember at least 4-5 neat things or objects in every constellation. My sky tour was popular anyway, even incomplete and only about 20 mins long. Not only were my students gathered around, but probably at least another 100 people watching and listening. The bright laser point I had was very useful, and the Leonids cooperated by sending a couple of meteors past while we were all looking up.

I'm definitely inspired to keep plugging through all the constellations. It makes for a really cool narrative. I also found out who Astroprof is. Out of two possible people who I thought it might be, I had picked wrong. It was good to find out, and I gave the author his very well deserved high praise. Over these past two months, I've come to appreciate how tough it is to do a competent job at a science blog written for the general masses as opposed to just scatter-shooting whatever the hell you feel like writing about, and who cares who reads it or what they think.

Posted by Observer at 10:18 PM | Comments (1)

November 16, 2007


Today, I'll talk about another constellation in the summer triangle: Lyra the Harp. This instrument was crafted by Hermes from a tortoise shell and was played by the legendary Greek musician Orpheus during Jason and the Argonauts' quest for the golden fleece. It was also used by Orpheus to charm Hades, the god of the Underworld, to convince him to release his wife, the nymph Eurydice. As they left the Underworld together, he looked back to ensure she was there, breaking the deal he made with Hades, and so Eurydice was gone forever. Zeus later had an eagle (or in some legends a vulture) carry his lyre up into the heavens.

In Chinese mythology, two of the stars in the summer triangle, Vega and Altair, form the pair known as the Weaving-Girl and the Herd Boy, who were separated somehow (there are many variations on how and why). They are now permanently separated by the great sky river of the Milky Way except for once a year when a bridge of birds allows them to meet. Vega is also known as the Arc-Light of the sky thanks to its bright blue-white color and domination of the late summer sky.

Vega is the brightest star in Lyra, the 5th brightest star in the night sky. Its apparent brightness is almost exactly zero on the magnitude scale (where smaller numbers mean brighter objects), and because it gives off similar amounts of light in all parts of the visible spectrum (we say it has a flat spectrum), it is often used as a standard to make sure astronomical instruments are working properly. About 12,000 years ago, Vega was pretty close to the North Celestial Pole, but it has since moved thanks to the Earth's precession. Vega is also fairly close in the sky to the apex of the sun's motion, revealed by the proper motion of surrounding stars in the sky that seem to diverge from that point.

If you remember the excellent movie "Contact", then you may recall that Vega was the star being used for calibration by the SETI team when it suddenly started receiving signals from it. Vega is only about 27 light years away (in the film, we started receiving the signal 54 years after our first broadcasts had made it that far from Earth) and is about 60 times more luminous than our Sun. The next two brightest stars make up part of the little diamond that represents the body of the harp.

Sheliak comes from the Arabic for tortoise (after the shell from which the harp was made). This is a very interesting contact eclipsing binary star about which much has been written. The two stars in this system are so close together that they cannot be resolved separately, but it can be seen due to the fluctuations (in Doppler shift) of the system's spectral lines. These stars orbit each other about every 13 days. Because they are so close, the outer layers of these stars actually touch one another, so there is ongoing mass transfer in this system, which makes the evolution quite complicated.

Epsilon Lyrae is found very near Vega, just above and to the left if Vega is at the top of the constellation, above the diamond. This famous object is also called the Double Double. Two close binary pairs widely separated with both still visible in the same field of view, first noticed by Herschel in 1779. Another famous object in this constellation is RR Lyrae, the prototype of a certain type of variable star. Stars like this are important because we can easily determine their absolute luminosities based on easy-to-measure properties (like how fast they vary) and so such stars act as standard candles. This is critical for distance determination, a topic I'll talk about in depth another time.

The most famous deep sky object in this part of the sky is M57, the Ring Nebula, found between Sheliak and Gamma Lyrae (near the bottom of the diamond, also called Sulaphat). This is a classic example of a planetary nebula, a star in an advanced stage of evolution which has slowly blown off its outer atmosphere over thousands of years. This expanding sphere of gas and dust appears to us as a ghostly ring through an 8" or larger telescope. There is also a very nice little spiral galaxy (IC 1296) very close (often within the same field of view for a wide-angle eyepiece).

The globular cluster M56 is also located below the diamond, on a line almost in the direction the diamond points. Vega and Sheliak are about as far apart as Sheliak and M56, if you are trying to find it with a small telescope. M56 lies within the band of the Milky Way while the diamond of Lyra is just outside of it. Actually, M56 is closer to Albireo (in Cygnus) then any of the bright stars in Lyra's pattern!

Posted by Observer at 03:54 PM | Comments (1)

November 15, 2007


I'm a big fan of Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column. He always has some interesting things to say about various games, and he often will riff about whatever is on his mind in his column.

This week, though, he pissed me off. He started talking about the whole global warming thing and talking about what a hypocrite Al Gore is for having such a big house and all that nonsense. What's funny is that in the same column, he pointed out that he's all for doing things to promote alternative energy, improve gas mileage, etc. For example:

Raising mileage standards for vehicles and enacting a carbon trading system for electric power generation are two highly desirable actions Congress can take right now, without doing economic harm, to cut greenhouse emissions, improve national security by reducing U.S. reliance on Persian Gulf oil and push Detroit automakers to become more competitive so they stay in business. But instead of taking badly needed action, the House of Representatives last week spent $89,000 of taxpayers' money to purchase 30,000 tons' worth of "carbon offsets" for its antiquated coal-burning powerhouse. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared the U.S. Capitol will be green by 2008, but this sounds to me like political yammer.

First, according to estimates by resource economists, carbon offsets need to cost $20 to $25 per ton in order to generate a significant profit incentive for innovators, and thus inspire technical breakthroughs that will stave off artificial global warming. If the Capitol paid only $3 per ton, it wasn't buying much. More important, if you really believe artificial global warming is a huge menace to society, you don't just buy offsets and continue using your antiquated coal-fired powerhouse -- because, after all, the offsets only prevent emissions from rising, doing nothing to reduce emissions. If you really believe artificial global warming is a menace, you buy offsets and cut your own carbon output, thus reducing emissions. This is the big fault with Al Gore's patting himself on the back for buying offsets: He has not reduced his carbon footprint. If he believed his own speeches, he'd both buy the offsets and cut back his carbon-intensive jet-set lifestyle.

Pelosi's talk of a "green" U.S. Capitol is especially phony when she refuses to allow the House of Representatives to vote on proposals to increase fuel-economy standards for vehicles. Higher mpg standards -- the average fuel economy of new cars, trucks and SUVs has not risen since 1988 -- are a million times more important to preventing artificial global warming than symbolic actions such as those being taken at the Capitol. Stricter mileage rules would not only reduce U.S. payments to Persian Gulf dictatorships but also make a significant dent in greenhouse gases because greenhouse emissions are proportional to fossil fuel burned. Yet while Pelosi announces lofty promises about a renewable Capitol, she won't schedule a vote on the strict new mileage standards backed by figures as diverse as President Bush and Barack Obama.

Actually, Gore has done just about all he can do within the law to reduce his carbon footprint, but IT DOESN'T MATTER. Gore is in a "no win" situation. If he lived in a tiny shack and built his own solar array out of scrap metal and went all over the country on a bicycle or something, he'd be derided as a loony enviro-nut. ANYTHING he does to substantially inconvenience himself (like vowing to only fly commercial airlines, which I'm sure the Secret Service would just LOVE) in order to reduce his carbon footprint would open him up for ridicule.

And that's not the only reason the argument isn't worth having. Easterbrook said it himself: concrete action like raising the MPG standard is a lot more important than symbols. So why does Easterbrook spend half his space on this topic talking about frickin' Al Gore? Why do people get SO DAMNED MAD about him winning the Nobel Prize? It doesn't matter! It won't make the possibility of catastrophic warming vanish. It won't change energy policies for any country anywhere. So why, if the issue is so important to people like Easterbrook, do they continue to change the subject?

It's one thing to be a contrarian. You know, say you're a big environmentalist but then bash Al Gore or Hollywood liberals or whatever so you have "cred" with both sides. But try not to contradict your own logic within the space of a couple of paragraphs, ok? If symbols aren't important, then stop misdirecting the conversation.

And it's not just Easterbrook. You can't HAVE a conversation with a wingnut about global warming without them spending half of their breath yapping about Al Gore like a bunch of trained seals. Just like you can't talk about health care without the evil specter of Hillary trying to control our lives through her insidious health care plan being talked about endlessly (by the "liberal" traditional media, no less).

Nevermind that she made everything public or is doing so as quickly as is practically possible, unlike, say, Cheney and his little energy buddies dividing up Iraqi oil. Or all the civil liberties we've lost thanks to Bush. Nope. Hillarycare might mean the GUMMINT IS TELLING OUR DOCTORS WHAT TO DO. And we can't have that! Not when for-profit insurance companies are doing such a bang-up job and we have poorer health care than most of Europe for twice the price.

Posted by Observer at 11:04 PM | Comments (1)

November 13, 2007


In my next three constellation stories, I will do the three constellations of the Summer Triangle. They are still visible pretty high up in the Western sky after sunset, and they are easy to find even when the sky brightness isn't ideal. First up is Cygnus the Swan, better known to many as the asterism "The Northern Cross". In most cultures, this is known as a bird of some kind, flying either North or South.

The brightest star in Cygnus is Deneb, which comes from the Arabic for "The Hen's Tail", Al Dhanab al Dajajah. In fact, Deneb appears in the names of many stars that represent tails (for example in Leo and Cetus, which I'll be talking about soon). Deneb is, indeed, the tail of the swan which is flying south across the sky river of the Milky Way, eternally chasing Aquila the Eagle. This star is very far away, with a distance between 1600 and 3200 light years (the nearest star is just over 4), and to be as bright as it is at that distance requires a considerable intrinsic luminosity, over 60,000 times that of our Sun. The reason for the distance uncertainty has to do with the difficulty of measuring such a small parallax angle.

This supergiant is incredibly large in size compared to our Sun as seen by this comparison image from Wikipedia. It's luminosity is such that it is thought to be responsible for lighting up the nearby reflection nebula known as the North America Nebula (NGC 7000), but that depends on whether our distance estimate is accurate since we know the nebula is about 1600 light years away. The region of the sky immediately surrounding Deneb is rich in glowing nebulae and star clusters, as I'll describe later.

At the bottom of the Northern Cross is the star also known as the beak of the Swan: Albireo. The original Arabic name is Al Minhar al Dajajah, "the beak of the hen", and that name was translated to ab ireo in Ptolemy's Almagest, then later mistaken for Albireo by translators. This is perhaps the finest double star in the sky visible through a small telescope. The color contrast between the yellow topaz and blue sapphire star is unmistakeable. Burnham claims that the star clouds just to the NE of Albireo are probably unequaled in splendor in the entire heavens. The current thinking is that this is a physical pair, as they seem to move together through space, though no orbital motion has been detected as yet (it could just be a very long period binary system).

Gamma Cygni is called Sadr, and it is at the center of the cross. It is between Sadr and Albireo that the richest star clouds in Cygnus will be found through a telescope. There are a great many faint but interesting stellar objects in this region, and I'll hit a few of the highlights. First is the binary system known as 61 Cygni. This is the first object for which a parallax angle was successfully obtained by Bessel in 1838 (it is sometimes called Bessel's Star in his honor).

This 700-year period binary system has been observed continuously since the 17th century in some form or other, and the orbiting companion has visibly moved about halfway around its elliptical path in that time. This object was noted to have a very high proper motion (about half that of the record holding Barnard's Star) in 1792. It was later found to be at a distance of about 11 light years, which places it as number four in the list of stars closest to Earth, behind the Alpha Centauri system, Sirius and Epsilon Eridani.

SS Cygni is a bright nova (also called a Cataclysmic Variable) that recurs about every 50 days or so, brightening by a factor of about 40 from 12th to 8th magnitude. This is one of the most heavily observed systems in the sky, but we still aren't sure what is causing the flares. Is it a standard nova or some kind of interaction between the two stars that is causing a recurring flare on the main sequence star? Normally, a nova is caused when a star dumps matter onto a white dwarf companion. Every so often that matter on the surface of the white dwarf ignites fusion and burns up, creating a big show but leaving the two stars intact.

One of the more famous novae is V1500 Cygni, which last erupted in 1975 and hasn't gone off again since. Its eruption increased the system's brightness by a factor of nearly 100 million, a record but still within the theoretically calculated range of possibilities for such objects. Novae have different outburst frequencies which depend upon the separation of the objects and the nature of the companion that is losing its mass to the white dwarf. P Cygni is thought of as a "permanent nova" because it is a star with a very strong stellar wind. The star is surrounded by an expanding shell of gas that leaves a distinctive spectral line signature thanks to the Doppler shift pattern.

Cygnus X-1 is one of the 1st detected sources of X-rays in the sky, found about halfway between Sadr and Albireo along the bottom stem of the cross. The source is likely very hot gas in an accretion disk surrounding a black hole. Matter from a bright, hot star is falling in toward an object that is at least 10 or 15 solar masses according to its orbital properties, but we can't see the companion. So we figure it must be a black hole, one of the first indirectly detected black holes.

Among the deep sky objects are M29 and M39, two relatively small star clusters. M39 is about nine degrees ENE from Deneb and a good binocular object. It is a cluster of about 30 bright stars spanning a field the size of the full moon. If you are facing the cross at Deneb is at the top, then East is to the left. Also to the left of Deneb by only about 3 degrees is the spectacular North America Nebula, one of the most photographed objects in the sky, along with its companion, the Pelican Nebula.

A more difficult object is the Veil Nebula, sometimes called the Great Cygnus Loop (parts of it are also known as the Witch's Broom). This is a filamentary, almost circular band of gas that is likely an expanding remnant of a supernova explosion that occured thousands of years ago. As this expanding shell sweeps up the surrounding gas, it is like a star-forming front, leaving an empty region behind. If you count the stars inside and outside the loop, you find a lot more inside since the dust is being swept out of your line of sight.

The extragalactic star of the show here is Cygnus A, the second strongest source of radio waves in the sky (not a good object for small telescopes, though ... too faint). This is a galaxy about 600 million light years away, and the energy is coming from two enormous lobes of excited gas on either side of the galaxy. The lobes are created by jets of energetic particles being ejected from the core of this strange galaxy in opposite direction. The precise source of this phenomenon is still poorly understood.

Posted by Observer at 06:51 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2007

Down 300

Oh, last night's poker game was one of those nights. I really only played a few hands. Everyone at the table was playing every kind of hand, even raised up pre-flop. So the smart thing to do is sit back, wait for a hand, and see who wants to pay you. That works fine as long as they don't draw out on you.

About the 5th hand of the night, there are 6-7 limpers along with me in early position, and I've got Q-10 suited. Flop comes Qxx unsuited, so I bet the pot. Everyone folds except for a guy I know to be a smart, tight player, and he knows that I play tight and can be chased off of some hands. He raised me up 40 (all-in for him at that point), and luckily, I read that he had crap, so I called. He had A-5 clubs with one club on the board. He got runner-runner for a 6-high straight.

I rebought for another 100, knowing that when my hand came later, I would want to have plenty of ammunition. Sure enough, I got KK and got three callers with my big blind raise of 15 (this is a 1/2 game). When the flop came out Q-9-6, I went ahead and raised it up another 20 or so and got one guy to push his last 35 or so into the pot. I called, and he just had a pair of 9's, and I won that hand.

By the time it got around to my big hand, I had about 190 in front of me, so I was almost back to even, and I got KK again. The flop came 10-6-2 unsuited, and I was on the button. One really loose guy bets 40 at a pot that was probably about 60 dollars. I pushed, putting him all-in. I'm willing to risk a set here because this guy has been calling with everything.

Against about half the table, I would very likely muck my cards against that bet, fearing a set. Pushing with overpairs against a low board is a recipe for lots of little wins and a few big losses to sets. Fortunately for me, all he had was 10-7 unsuited. That's what he called my 15 dollar pre-flop raise with, mind you.

So the turn is a 7, giving him two pair, and I'm now down 200. Couldn't even got another pair on the board to win with a higher two-pair. I was steaming and probably should've left at that point, but I bought in for my last 100, figuring if I could just play tight, surely I had a good chance of catching someone. The very next hand, I was dealt KJ, and the guy two players in front of me pushed all-in for 75. I was sorely tempted to call, but I recognized I was on tilt and so mucked my cards. Good thing, too, because he had AK and would've beaten my ass.

Then it went into Omaha, and I made kind of a stupid bet on the river with a big flush against a paired board, but no one else was betting much, so I figured no one had made their boat. Wrong, my brother had made a small boat and was tentative about betting into a bigger boat, so that was the end of my chips and the end of my night. I easily could've finished up 500 if I had won those two hands where I was way ahead post-flop, just because I would've had more ammo to play other hands.

It sucks to lose that much, but I really did play it ok except for the last hand (the boat was made on the river, of course). The two hands I lost, I was better than a 3:1 favorite, and if I can get all my money in the middle with 75% or better odds, I'd be stupid not to do it. That doesn't change the fact that it really, really sucks to get busted.

Oh well, I've got a book review to work on now that's going to pay me 400 when I'm done, so that'll cover my loss and give me the next buy-in. I just have to be sure not to spend that same money four or five times mentally. This is a big, big reason why it is critically important to never gamble with something you can't afford to lose, even if you are a good player with the odds heavily in your favor.

That's just the way poker is, and I've read enough to know that. It's just the first time I've had to eat a big shit sandwich rather than reading about someone else doing it. I can only imagine what it must feel like to lose like that when you can't afford it.

Posted by Observer at 07:05 PM | Comments (1)

November 11, 2007

Useless Prediction Time

I'm picking the Cowboys this week at NY, 34-16. I don't really fear the Giants' defense that much, though they are definitely one of the better ones we'll face. Thing is, we hung 45 on 'em last time, and even though they may be a bit better, our offense is also improving. Romo has absolutely no fear of the blitz, so bring it on and let's see just how many of those fake little lay-ups you get to do this week compared to how many touchdowns we get.

They scored 35 on us last time, but our defense is a lot better with both of our starting cornerbacks on the field (we had neither in week 1). Eli will get his 200-300 yards, but I don't see them scoring touchdowns. Just one and some field goals. I think the Cowboys will pull away in the final five minutes with a couple of scores, making this seem like less of a competitive game than it will be for three quarters. And I only predict that because I know the Giants are sorry and have a lot of quit in 'em.

I'll go a step further than that. Once the Giants drop to 6-3 after this game, I think they'll realize they're not going anywhere this season because they can't beat any good NFC teams. And the last part of their schedule is loaded with 'em. I bet they finish 9-7 at best.

I don't think the Cowboys are going to go 15-1, even though they'll be favored in every game from this point forward. They'll have another weird game or two like the Buffalo game where they turn it over a lot and lose, and maybe that'll be this week. I sure hope not, but the only hope the Giants have is if we turn the ball over 4-5 times.

Update: The Giants didn't quit as early as I thought they would. In fact, their defense played a little better than I thought they would, but we still beat them convincingly on their turf. Very entertaining game. Very satisfying victory. Romo, again, rocks. My prediction was damned close. The Cowboys could've easily scored again at the end if they had decided they needed to throw it.

Posted by Observer at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2007

Sargent (in color)

From Ben Sargent:

Posted by Observer at 09:23 PM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2007


I've added sidebar links to my constellation posts since I'm starting a collection. I suppose I ought to start doing some more book reviews again, just because I haven't added to that list in a while. I just haven't been reading much lately. My main reading time had been on the exercise bike at the Y, but now I'm lifting weights and walking on the treadmill while listening to podcasts or music, and I can't read while I'm doing either of those.

Today, I'll move a little bit south of Pegasus in the sky and talk about the constellation Pisces. This is a V-shaped constellation that envelopes Algenib, the Southeastern corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. It is very faint, and only one or two of the brightest stars can be seen from within a city. Each end of the V represents one of the two fish, and they are tied together by the (almost) brightest star in the constellation, Al Rischa (or Alrescha in the latinized version), a name that comes from the Arabic Risha for "cord". This is also sometimes referred to as the knot of Pisces, tying the two cords together.

Al Rischa is a very nice binary system and a target for small telescopes. The two stars are separated by only about 2 arcseconds, and both of the stars are themselves spectroscopic binaries (which means we can only detect their companions through features in the spectrum of the blob of light). If you connect Al Rischa in Pisces with Algenib in Pegasus, about halfway along that line is the binary star Zeta Piscium, with a separation of about 23 arcseconds, a very widely separated pair (we know they are together because they move together across the sky with the same proper motion).

Further along that right-hand cord which stretches westward toward Algenib and Markab in Pegasus, you will find the body of one of the fish, also known as the Circlet of Pisces, which looks more like a little pentagon. Just below and to the left of this circle is the current location of the Vernal Equinox, the point where the Sun appears to cross over the Celestial Equator into the Northern Celestial Hemisphere every Spring, the so-called Greenwich of the Sky which marks the point of zero degrees Celestial Longitude (Right Ascension).

Due to Earth's precession, the vernal equinox migrated into Pisces from Aries right around the year 7 B. C., which some scholars say is the year Christ was born. During that winter, Jupiter and Saturn were very close in the sky to the Vernal Equinox point, which some say is the biblical phenomenon of the Star of Bethlehem, about which there is a rich body of literature and speculation. The transition from Aries into the "watery" constellations of Pisces, Aquarius and Capricornus is referred to in Astrology as the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, about which wayyyyy too much has been written.

A very difficult object to locate here is also along the western cord of Pisces, a little further along than Zeta, just below Delta Piscium. It is a lone white dwarf called van Maanen's star about 14 light years away, one of the few (aside from Sirius B and Procyon B) that is easily visible through small telescopes. This is a stellar remnant (also known as a white dwarf), roughly the size of Earth, with a surface temperature of about 50,000 degrees Kelvin and a density about a million times that of water. Burnham has a very nice finder chart for this object.

The only good small telescope deep-sky object here is M74, a faint face-on spiral galaxy only easily visible in the darkest skies, about halfway up the Eastern cord. The features of this nicely symmetrical galaxy are easily seen in this spectacular photo from the Gemini Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It closely resembles the famous Whirlpool Galaxy, which is found near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, not a good target for this time of year. M74 is right next to Eta Piscium, also known as Alpherg, which is currently the brightest star in Pisces, just a hair brighter than Al Rischa.

The mythology of this constellation is varied. The most common interpretation is that the fishes represent Aphrodite and Eros, who were trying to escape by swimming out of the Eurphrates river away from the underworld and the monster Typhon. They are tied together by a cord so as not to be separated. There may be some tie here, too, to Christianity, since the constellation is associated with the birth of Christ and represents fishes, but that mythology branches off in many different directions with multiple interpretations.

Posted by Observer at 04:44 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2007


Atrios points to a good example of the traditional media screwing up where the center is. When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi acts to oppose employment discrimination, a practice opposed by 90% of the American people, we are told (by the ultra-liberal CNN, no less) that she supports a radical homosexual agenda.

Apparently on this issue, 90% of the American people constitutes the fringe ultra-left-wing moonbat crowd.

Posted by Observer at 04:02 PM | Comments (0)

Everything is Good News for Republicans

Glenn Greenwald on our broken traditional media, which spins everything as good news for Republicans, bad news for Democrats:

We took a country that was relatively stable and a sworn enemy of, and an important check on, Iran. We turned it into a cesspool of violence, instability, displacement, sectarian strife, Iranian influence, and rule by militia.

The best we can hope for is to reverse some of the damage that we did so that a Shiite regime far more loyal to Iran than to the U.S. can rule with some semblance of order. And to "achieve" that, we squandered hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians (at least), and almost every ounce of credibility and influence we built up over the last six decades. That's the best case scenario. But still -- we are hearing now -- the people responsible for that grotesque debacle and who cheered it on are going to be in a "powerful" position, and the people who thought doing that was all a bad idea will be in big, big trouble.

I'm glad violence is down in Iraq. Who wouldn't be? But in another few months if (and likely when) the Shiites call off their self-imposed ceasefire, and our casualties start creeping up again, then what? Will that be more bad news for Democrats, whose criticism of our wonderful leader has emboldened the enemy and caused the deaths of more troops? Will it be spun as proof that we need a strong leader, filled with brave resolve to send more troops into harm's way?

If you don't know the answers to those questions, then you haven't been following war coverage for the last four years.

Posted by Observer at 07:45 AM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2007

What Not To Say

Over the weekend, I was having a conversation with our 15-year-old Ashl*y. She had been very disrespectful to me when I asked her to help out during a church function, so she was already in hot water when this conversation began.

Me: Ashl*y, would you have acted that way toward a teacher at school?

Ashl*y: (exasperated) No! Of course not!

Me: Why not? I mean, why don't I get as much respect from you as your teacher?

Ashl*y: Because YOU annoy me!

Ashl*y, when you are reading this 10 years from now, you probably won't remember, but I'm telling you, that was the wrong thing to say. I mean, WOW, that was the wrong thing to say.

M*chelle is officially designated the "good cop" for the month of November, and if Ashl*y crosses her ... well, let's just say we have plenty of project-like jobs around the house that involve a lot of unpleasant manual labor. There are worse things than being left alone in your room with no electronic devices of any kind for a month.

Posted by Observer at 11:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2007


Our 13-year-old, C*dy, is having problems. The boy is very smart, but he absolutely refuses to work. Last year, he flunked two classes and only progressed to the next grade level by taking summer school. Any time his back is up against the wall and he has a chance to pass, he will do so. He's the only one of the three older kids who passes the standardized tests on the first try (usually with flying colors), and I know just by playing games with him and talking to him that he's got a big brain in there, if only he would use it for good.

Anyway, this year, his first report card had two F's. 3-week progress report for the 2nd part of the semester showed almost straight F's, so he's lost his freedoms until that gets better. When he gets home, he goes to our "library" room, where he sits. If he doesn't bring home any thing to work on or study, he either sits there all night or does whatever chore we need of him. He hates it, we hate it, but allowing him to have his freedom while he's not trying in school is a time-tested failure of a strategy. Reasoning has also failed miserably. Believe me, we've tried everything we can think of to motivate this kid, and the only thing that has worked at all is deprivation.

He claims he can't bring home any work. They supposedly do everything in class, including studying for tests, and he's not allowed to bring books home, etc. I know most of that is a crock of shit. I told him to bring home physical evidence of how he is doing and what he is doing in class if he wanted the freedom to, say, call his new girlfriend for a half hour. He brought home three papers today from two (of the six classes he's flunking). They were all A's all right, but two were from four weeks ago.

Not smart enough to change the date, I guess.

And two others he showed me were unfinished. Extra credit that he can do, he says. I ask why he's been sitting doing nothing all evening when he could've been working on the extra credit stuff, and he just shrugs. Says school is boring, and he's mad he has to do any work. My guess is that it's going to take him actually being held back a grade before he'll get past this attitude, and I'm not opposed to that. He's small for his age anyway, and seeing all of his friends go on to high school would be a good wake-up call, I think.

Not sure what to do with him. The experience of not wanting to do well in school is completely foreign to me, but I understand it exists. It just seems so bloody obvious to me that doing poorly in school closes so many doors in life, but he just doesn't give a crap when I start talking about his future.

I wish his teachers would return my calls. We're going to have to schedule one of those official sit-downs at the school, I guess, and get C*dy and us and most of his teachers in one room together just to get his attention. It's ridiculous that we should all waste our time doing that when it is purely his choice not to work that is creating the problem.

I'm a big believer in letting the kids take on as much responsibility for themselves as possible. I don't want to be the helicopter parent, nor do I want to neglect them. I know all the parenting stuff along those lines. BUT what I don't know is where to draw the line across which I intervene instead of watching him fail. Failure would teach him a big lesson right now without very serious consequences, which is why kids should be allowed to make mistakes and parents should let them play out as much as possible so that lessons can be learned through experience. Better now than when he's an adult, and the consequences can ruin his life.

But how much of that philosophy is too much?

Posted by Observer at 11:05 PM | Comments (3)

November 05, 2007

Good News from Iraq?

Our casualty rates appear to be dropping over the past few months, and the Bush-supporting blogosphere is trumpeting this loudly as a sign that Bush is a wise leader whose surge tactic is working and blah blah blah. Actually, there has been no political progress in Iraq (quite the contrary), which is what everyone on all sides agree is necessary for stability and peace, and the reason casualty rates went down as that the Shiite militias have declared a ceasefire for a few months for reasons having nothing to do with us. There are still other factions killing us, but they're the main ones.

So when they start up again, how will it be spun by the loyalists? That troops are dying again because some Democrat had the nerve to criticize a war president? That the Iraqis are showing how eager they are for a Democrat to be elected, and so we need to elect another tough guy with lots of steely resolve to finish the job? Will they admit when it gets bad again, it is simply because the Iraqis have decided to make it bad again, that they hate us, that there will be no peace until we're gone?

Posted by Observer at 06:33 PM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2007


This is a tough one. The Eagles are distracted by Reid's family problems. The Cowboys are distracted because their team chaplain of 20 years died this week. The Cowboys are coming off a bye week, but the Eagles are hit-and-miss. You never know which team will show up. And this is at Philly.

I'm going to guess that Philly plays us tough but Romo has a big game again, after having a week to figure out what defenses have been doing to him the past few weeks. Give me Dallas, 34-24.

Update: So far, so good at the half, up 21-7. If the Patriots hadn't embarrassed us so badly, I would be thinking that we have a pretty stout defense now. I guess next week at NY (who hung 35 on us in week 1) will show that a little better. I don't see Philly coming back, if only because our offense should score at least a couple more times.

Update II: Romo is reacting well to his new contract, and the Eagles look like they have a little quit in 'em, along with some sorriness. Hope no one gets hurt on either side. The best part about the rest of this game, now we're up 35-10, is going to be the fan reaction closeups going in and out of break. Nothing is funnier than a mopey mad Eagles fan.

Posted by Observer at 07:12 PM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2007

Ursa Minor

Today, I'd like to continue going through the constellations. With any luck, I'll hit all of the major ones visible in the sky prior to the upcoming star party I'm attending so that I can then use my notes if necessary! Next up is Ursa Minor, the constellation that includes the Little Dipper and the pole star, Polaris.

The main object of attraction here is Polaris, a Sirius-like star of 2nd magnitude located about 400 light years from Earth. Many people have the mistaken impression that Polaris is the brightest star in the night sky, but actually, it is only the brightest star in its little region of the sky. Overall, it ranks 48th. Sirius is the brightest, one we'll discuss another time when we're talking about Canis Major.

Polaris is not right at the pole. It is about 1.5 full moon diameters from the true North position. Over the course of the next 100 years, thanks to the twirling of Earth's axis of rotation, Polaris will get closer and closer to true North, reaching its closest angular distance right around the year 2100. For now, if you want to find true North, follow a line from Polaris toward the last star in the handle of the Big Dipper. About 3/4 of a degree from Polaris is true north. You can see Polaris move around in a tiny circle around the real pole in most circumpolar trail photos.

Historically, going back to observations by Herschel in 1780, it has been recognized that Polaris has a companion that is visible through small telescopes, known as Polaris B. About 30 years ago, however, it was discovered that Polaris has a bit of a wobble to it, indicating that it is being pulled back and forth by a much closer companion star. This companion was imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope, and the resulting discovery photo published in 2006.

Polaris is a Cepheid variable, about which I will say much more another time. It has a very mild variation (less than 2% of its brightness over the course of about four days) compared to typical Cepheids, and even that variation seems to be lessening with time as the star undergoes some sort of overall evolution. If you look at Polaris through a small telescope, you can see a loose ring of six stars in a circle just beneath Polaris. This is often referred to as the engagement ring with Polaris as the crowning jewel.

As the Earth's axis continues to precess over time, the indicator of true North will move away from Polaris in a big circle. At one time (about 2000 BC), Thuban was the closest bright star to the pole. Thuban is in the constellation Draco, which curls most of the way around Ursa Minor. In fact, Ursa Minor was once a wing of the dragon until the Greeks (specifically, Thales) changed it to a single small constellation for simplicity since so many mariners used the stars within it as a guide. Vega (in the constellation Lyra) was also a pole star thousands of years ago (and will be again in another 12,000 years or so).

The other two easily-visible stars in Ursa Minor (from within a city, anyway) are the two stars at the end of the Little Dipper, known as Kocab and Pherkad. These are often referred to in mythology as the Guardians of the pole or the two calves that guard the pole. Because the stars move in such a tiny little circle in the sky, they are often seen as a timid little herd of cattle hovering near their shepherd, Polaris.

The only deep sky object in this part of the sky, somewhat removed from the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, is the faint spiral galaxy NGC 6217, which really isn't even a good object for an 8" telescope. It is just too faint, which makes it virtually impossible to find without computerized guidance or some luck.

Posted by Observer at 11:21 PM | Comments (3)

November 02, 2007

Max Dodge

I wonder how many times Jack O'Neill/MacGyver has been shot at in his TV lifetimes and what percent of shots have hit him?

Posted by Observer at 11:47 PM | Comments (1)

November 01, 2007

Play Chips

I've been playing play chip ring games for the past couple of months on FTP, just to keep sharp for the occasional game with the poker group my brother plays with. Ring games are a lot better than tournaments for family life because I find it very easy to stand up and quit at any time, which is harder to do if you've invested time and energy in a tournament. I had about 1.5 million in my account thanks to tournament wins, which is mainly how I built up my play chip bank from nothing. I entered into the 1000/2000 games, even though technically from a bankroll management standpoint, that was a bit above my pay grade. What the hell, it's play money.

I did well. I worked up to about 3.5 million, bounced around between 3 and 4 million for a while. Every time I would get up to 4 million, I would try my hand at the much looser Pot Limit Omaha tables, and I always always always lost my shirt there. Horrible luck combined with horrible play, even when I tried to be super-tight there.

Finally, I gave up and just worked on my hold 'em game. Within the last month, I rose pretty steadily from 3.5 million to about 6.5 million, so a couple of days ago, I graduated myself up by a factor of 10 to the 10,000/20,000 play money tables, with a 2 million chip maximum buy in. I'm playing tighter now, and I find at this table, there is a lot less pushing pre-flop or even by the river. Even with the nuts, people aren't usually willing to bet more than a half million or so, because they know they won't get callers.

The level of play is a lot closer, but still below the skill level of the cash ring game I play in. Better practice now than I was getting before, at least. I'm doing well just playing tight and aggressive. I was a lot looser at 1000/2000 because the implied odds for just seeing a flop were huge thanks to stupid betting. In just three days I'm up to a total of over 10 million chips (correction, just crossed the 11 million 12 million threshold while writing this). I understand from the table talk that the top play money level (25k/50k) is a much better game, and I figure if I can get myself up to about 50 million, I would jump to that game and see how I do.

That's probably optimistic. I seriously doubt I can keep up a pace of winning an average of 1-2 million play chips per day, but even when I've gotten runs of bad cards (made three very good 2nd best hands on the river in about 30 mins yesterday), I still end up doing okay by losing a very small amount. Right now, I have pretty good instincts (or just very lucky) at sussing out when I'm beat, but the longer I play here with the same cast of characters, I may start to do worse if they keep good notes. I have to keep good notes on the others.

Posted by Observer at 09:34 PM | Comments (0)