Thursday, February 28, 2019

On a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Earthrise: "Riders on the Earth Together"

The words in the image above were written by the American poet Archibald MacLeish upon seeing the imagery coming from the Apollo 8 mission (the famous Earthrise image, accompanying the quote above, was taken just the day before MacLeish's quote was published).

Seeing our world from space, seeing that there are no national boundaries, no grand positions for monarchs and rulers to claim, seeing that we are all connected by sharing our beautiful little Blue Marble in the vastness of space... comes with an existential awareness that could be gained in no other way. 

Seeing ourselves as "riders on the Earth together" brings us together in our shared experience as members of our world, participants in our biosphere. 

Below, you can read the entire text from MacLeish's 1968 New York Times article:

A Reflection: Riders on Earth Together, Brothers in Eternal Cold
by Archibald MacLeish
New York Times, December 25, 1968

"Men's conception of themselves and of each other has always depended on their notion of the earth. When the earth was the World -- all the world there was -- and the stars were lights in Dante's heaven, and the ground beneath men's feet roofed Hell, they saw themselves as creatures at the center of the universe, the sole, particular concern of God -- and from that high place they ruled and killed and conquered as they pleased.

And when, centuries later, the earth was no longer the World but a small, wet spinning planet in the solar system of a minor star off at the edge of an inconsiderable galaxy in the immeasurable distances of space -- when Dante's heaven had disappeared and there was no Hell (at least no Hell beneath the feet) -- men began to see themselves not as God-directed actors at the center of a noble drama, but as helpless victims of a senseless farce where all the rest were helpless victims also and millions could be killed in world-wide wars or in blasted cities or in concentration camps without a thought or reason but the reason -- if we call it one -- of force.

Now, in the last few hours, the notion may have changed again. For the first time in all of time men have seen it not as continents or oceans from the little distance of a hundred miles or two or three, but seen it from the depth of space; seen it whole and round and beautiful and small as even Dante -- that "first imagination of Christendom" -- had never dreamed of seeing it; as the Twentieth Century philosophers of absurdity and despair were incapable of guessing that it might be seen. And seeing it so, one question came to the minds of those who looked at it. "Is it inhabited?" they said to each other and laughed -- and then they did not laugh. What came to their minds a hundred thousand miles and more into space -- "half way to the moon" they put it -- what came to their minds was the life on that little, lonely, floating planet; that tiny raft in the enormous, empty night. "Is it inhabited?"

The medieval notion of the earth put man at the center of everything. The nuclear notion of the earth put him nowhere -- beyond the range of reason even -- lost in absurdity and war. This latest notion may have other consequences. Formed as it was in the minds of heroic voyagers who were also men, it may remake our image of mankind. No longer that preposterous figure at the center, no longer that degraded and degrading victim off at the margins of reality and blind with blood, man may at last become himself.

To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold -- brothers who know now they are truly brothers." 

Friday, January 25, 2019

8k Wallpaper of Images from HST and ESO

Dr. Stuart Robbins created this wallpaper graphic from images from the public archives of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). Pretty darned incredible! I think I'll be using it for a while on my own desktop. You can find an 8k version on his website.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Calculus Made Easy, 1910: All the little bits

Calculus Made Easy is a book on introductory calculus originally written in 1910 by Silvanus P. Thompson. It was such a well-received text for teaching calculus, that it can still be found in print today (it's now in the public domain and also freely available online).

The first bit of text from the first chapter is fairly intriguing. So much so, that I thought you might like to read it here:

Thinking of the integral of dx as an easy way of saying "the sum of all the little bits of x" is a really intriguing approach to explaining some of the most basic ideas of calculus. 

If you've struggled at all with learning calculus, then you may want to give Calculus Made Easy a read. It may be over 100 years old, but much of the writing is still of great value for the interested student.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Raising Some Funds for the Humane Society

My husky Darwin is decked out in some Humane Society of Boulder Valley gear in this picture for the upcoming Doggie Dash 2018! 

The huskies are raising some moolah to support our local Humane Society. If you have a moment and might be able to give, check out the fundraiser at this link:

Love these silly doggos!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

From Mike Rowe Regarding the Fake Hurricane Reporting

By now you've probably seen (or at least heard of) the video of Weather Channel correspondent Mike Seidel in Wilmington, North Carolina, trying to "fight heavy winds" of Hurricane Florence as he reported live on Friday, only to shortly after have the camera catch two people walking behind him with no troubles with the wind at all. The video is yet another reminder that we can't necessarily trust what we see in the media and a sign of bogus journalism. I just came across Mike Rowe's comments regarding the clip and thought I'd share them here:

"Gale-Farce Winds!!!

Typically, I don't share videos that have already been viewed millions of times. Feels like old news. But old news is better than fake news, and here, we have an example of fake news so perfectly personified I can't help but bring it to your attention.

Watch this clip. Ironically, it's one of the most honest things I've seen in a long time. But not because The Weather Channel is committed to honesty. No, the truth here is accidental, and comes courtesy of the people in the background. Two guys, casually strolling through what the reporter would have us believe are gale force winds.

Or "gale-farce," if you will.

This is the problem with television today. No one can tell the difference between a commercial and a documentary. There's no line between reality and non-fiction, news and entertainment, or in this case, a weather report and a skit on SNL. No one knows whom to trust anymore, because the landscape is littered with hosts and reporters and correspondents so desperate to hold our attention that they'll do or say anything. And still, in the midst of so much pretense and pandering, they beg us to trust them! They literally beg us, with a level of earnestness that defies credulity. And then, they pretend. They perform. They act.

Do yourself a favor - if you're looking for the truth, look behind the scenes. That's where authenticity lives. That's why I've always insisted on hiring a behind-the-scenes camera to document every show I've ever worked on. That's why I'm insistent about incorporating that footage into whatever makes it on the air. Because it shows the truth, in a far more persuasive way than I could ever describe it.

Travis McGee, my favorite fictional character, once said, "Be wary of all earnestness." He was right. Earnestness and truth have nothing to do with one another. Consider that the next time you see a news story or a weather report that's preceded by a lurid graphic, dramatic music, and urgent sounding narration, and then ask yourself if the network is trying to inform you, or simply keep you from turning the channel. And remember this too - if a network or a reporter or the host of non-fiction TV show is asking for your trust, it's only because they're too lazy to earn it.

Be wary of all earnestness..."

You can watch the video here:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Co-Hosting Ask an Astrobiologist!

I’ve recently agreed to become a co-host of the show Ask an Astrobiologist

Ask an Astrobiologist, brought to you from the community of SAGANet, is a NASA Astrobiology-sponsored show that airs online once each month. In each episode, either myself or Sanjoy Som will interview a guest astrobiologist to ask about their career paths, their scientific research, and the things that drive them to wonder about the nature of life in the universe. Every episode also features a photo contest with the potential to win some NASA swag!

Ask an Astrobiologist airs live on SAGANet and on the NASA Astrobiology Facebook page. People watching the show live can ask questions of our interviewees on either streaming platform or on Twitter using #AskAstrobio

I’m definitely excited for becoming more involved with the show! Look for more here in the future, including episodes and my personal comments about what it's like to host a show like this!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

An emoji puzzle that takes a little integral calculus to answer

You may have seen some of the emoji puzzles that make their way around Facebook and other social media sites. Usually they require that you do some simple algebra (like adding 3 monkey emojis equal the number 15, so what number is one emoji monkey representative of?), but I just saw this little gem that actually required a little bit of fun ol' integral calculus. Give it a look-see:

What do you think? Does it look like fun? Give it a go and then I'll post the answer below.

Okay, let's talk about the answer to this fun little puzzle. It starts off pretty easy, just using a little bit of algebra. The first part gives us three bottles of beer added together to equal 30. Easy enough, right? Each bottle must represent the number 10:

After that, we get to mix our beer bottle variable with a new variable, a cheeseburger! Again, pretty easy math. The cheeseburger must represent the number 5:

And then, again, we get to use the variable from the last bit to workout the next part of the problem, where we find that two glasses of foaming ginger beer (hey, it can be whatever you want it to be, really) will represent the number 2:

But after that, things get a little harder. Now we have the following integral:

We can start by plugging in the stuff we already have (in this case, our beer bottle, cheeseburger, and glasses of foaming ginger beer variables). That yields:

Which then can be rewritten as:

If you haven't had much experience with integral calculus, that expression above probably still looks pretty confusing. If this is the case, then you might want to check out Khan Academy's lessons on integral calculus, since that'll give you a good leg up on how this type of math works. But, assuming you already have some experience with integral calculus, you might notice that the above expression is very similar to the improper integral of the sinc function over the positive real numbers. This kind of function actually has a specific name and a well known solution. It's called a Dirichlet Integral, and, in this case, has a solution of pi over 2:

So, if we solve the same way using our previous expression from the problem at hand, we get:

So the answer to the original problem is numerically 5pi/2. But we started off with a mix of emojis and numbers, so why not go back to emojis. We already have emojis for 5 and 2 (cheeseburger and two frosty glasses of ginger beer, respectively), but we need one for the number pi (which is usually represented by the Greek lower case letter). Why not use pie?! We then get a final answer of:

And that makes the problem even more fun! Now I think I'll go enjoy a cheeseburger and some ginger beer and follow up with a little pie. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

John McCain's Farewell Statement

Senator John McCain died this past week. He was 81 years old. There was once a time when I was younger where I would say openly that if John McCain ran for President, then I was likely to vote for him. Sadly, his presidential campaign in 2008 became overrun by the idiocy of far right conservative politics in America. Adding Sarah Palin to the campaign and paying lip service to the fundamentalist right definitely weakened the campaign. Yet, there were still powerful McCain moments. The "No Ma'am Moment", when McCain responded articulately and strongly to a woman who claimed Obama was an Arab and she couldn't trust him, will probably be the best-remembered moment of his presidential run. Yet, his farewell statement, released to the American public following his death, may one day be his best remembered statement, especially as the words are poignant and meaningful at a time when the Trump Administration, xenophobia, and extremism (on both sides) are threatening the future of American democracy. I've copied the words of the statement below, for anyone interested in reading them. The bold highlights of the text are mine, but, truly, all the words are those of the now deceased Senator John McCain.

2008 presidential candidate John McCain, before a rally in Cedar Falls, Iowa (Oct. 26, 2008; AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

"My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for sixty years, and especially my fellow Arizonans,

Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.

I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else's.

I owe that satisfaction to the love of my family. No man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America. To be connected to America's causes -- liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people -- brings happiness more sublime than life's fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.

'Fellow Americans' -- that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world's greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process.

We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.

Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with the heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening.

I feel it powerfully still.

Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.

Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America."