Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Long Live the Hubble!!

Despite the ridiculous talk of abondoning one of the most successful and impactful scientific missions of all time, NASA has been given the OK to service the Hubble Spapce Telescope. If everything goes well, the telescope will be fully operationalthrough 2013.

I understand that the safety of shuttle flights are no longer a given. Putting a man in space is more dangerous now than it was 10 years ago. But to let the Hubble rot in space to help "save money" goes against the whole rationale for space exploration in the first place!

There is no money in space (at least, not yet), but that's not why we're there. We are there to look, learn, and inspire everything we do downhere. When I watch a video that shows me a galaxy millions of light years away that is bigger than I can comprehend, that makes my day better. I'm sure I'm not alone.

We know more now than every before in the histroy of hummanity. We have billions to come up with new tanks and missles, but nothing for the cool stuff. Saving a few bucks is no reason to stop that progress.

It's Always Raining on Titan

Liquid methane drizzles on the surface of Titan, a moon of Saturn, according to a paper by NASA and university scientists in today's issue of Nature.

Data from the European Space Agency's Huygens probe indicates there is a lower, barely visible, liquid methane-nitrogen cloud that drops rain to the surface of Titan. The rain on Titan is just a slight drizzle, but it rains all the time and makes the ground wet and muddy with liquid methane. This is why the Huygens probe landed with a splat. It landed in methane mud.

The rain on Titan is equal to about two inches (about 5 centimeters) a year, about as much rain as Death Valley. But on Titan, this rain is spread out evenly over the entire year.

On Titan, the clouds and rain are formed of liquid methane. On Earth, methane is a flammable gas, but Titan has no oxygen in its atmosphere that could support combustion. Also, the temperatures on Titan are so cold -- minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 149 degrees Celsius) -- that the methane can form liquid. Titan's landscape includes fluvial, river-like features that may well be formed by methane rain, scientists noted.

A gap separates the liquid methane cloud -- the source of the rain -- from a higher, upper methane ice cloud, according to the scientific study. The upper clouds are methane ice, and the lower clouds are liquid and composed of a combination of methane and nitrogen. Tthese thin liquid methane clouds cover about half of Titan.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Critique of My Mid-Term Examination

Took my first graduate mid-term exam. It kind of sucked, but it knew it would. I walked around all semester saying "this is too easy, I just read and underline." This was justification that grad school will require actually, time-consuming work.

The test was short answer: respond to 3 out of 4 questions, each one asking us to compare similar/dissimilar themes across multiple essays. The test took me a while to write. I think my arguments are fine, but who knows. I'm just trying to figure out what they want. I know the information, but criteria used to grade the test are unclear to me.

overall, I fell like I could have a better draft of all three answers tomorrow. The more time I have to digest the specific issues being addressed, the clearer my argument becomes. More than that, I feel robbed of giving a clear articulation of my knowledge of to coursework. Is this test an appropriate medium to communicate the essence of my knowledge of the subject?

Consider the formal' qualities of the test (formal meaning the specifics of how the test is conducted, not the content). First, the short-answer open-book test format is limiting. It lets us get deep into specific concepts on the test, but offering only 4 questions puts limits on measuring the scope of my knowledge of the work. I go from considering the entire syllabus to just a few readings. Also, why is it a timed test? Why do we need to hurry this? Aren't these concepts worth the time of 4 days?

I understand that this test format is the established norm, and that is does give the student and chance to take a deep dive into specific reading. But there is a problem inherent in this system, and we need a change! I PROPOSE: we modify the testing format to include an oral argument portion. This would be an oral defense of your written work, to make sure the professors see you know the concepts, removing the danger of complete plagiarism. PhD's do it, so should we.

Much like Socrates, I do not trust that writing can capture the truly meaning behind the language. An oral argument allows the student to speak directly from the heart, from the "soul" and demonstrate his/her understanding of the subject at hand. The oral will confirm the transfer of education to the soul (Plato's logo) while the writing portion verses the student in the formal characteristics of academic writing.

The test was due at noon. I started drinking at 12:01pm.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Down in Fraggle Rock

Go here!

I loved this show. I remember being scared by the "Terrible Tunnel" and impressed that Wimbly insisted on returning to it to face his fears. I remember liking Gobo the most because he was the only one who volunteered to go to "outer space" (Uncle Travelling Matt is in his own league). I remember firmly believing that the Doozer buildings taste liked rock candy.

This site tells both the story of what happened in the show and also how it came to be. "[Jim Henson] made it clear that the task was to create a series that was going to stop war in the world. If you were going to change the world's ideas about how to resolve conflict, you had to start with children. Jim didn't delude himself into thinking he could create a television show that could actually prevent wars, but he did sincerely believe that he could produce a program that would help sow the seeds of pacifism in the minds of the world's children."

Jim Henson was awesome. He had me at "The Dark Crystal," one of my all time favorite movies. Like Lucas and Spielberg, even Warhol, he worked the system to change it from the inside out. That in turn, changed how our culture views entertainment (and created "edu-tainment)". He also performed the characters of Cantus the Minstrel (the creepy flute player that wanted Moke to join him) and "Convincing John" (you gotta remember him! Listen to Convincing John and all your troubles will be gone!).

It's crazy to think that I was one of those kids Fraggle Rock was trying to reach. I hope Jim Henson knows it worked, even though I love Ultimate Fighting. I hope he also knows that I'm going to have my own child watch the same shows he made for my generation. They messages he tackled are still as valid today as they were 25 years ago. What better compliment can you give to a piece of art?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Manipulation of Beauty

I get a little annoyed at marketing campaigns that take themselves too seriously. With the Dove "Real Women" ads, I saw and respected what they were doing but couldn't get too emotionally involved.

This video, on the other hand, really impressed me. Gives a great recap of how much goes into making a woman "beautiful" enough to become an object of beauty, how appearance and individuality is manipulated to be worthy of being commoditized. (I've been reading Marx; can you tell?)

Despite the good qualities of this video, it's still advertising. Dove is making a bold statement not to empower women and changce the world, but to sell soap. If this campaign fails, they'll go right back to celebrity models and perfect skin.

While I appreciate that this ad works to change the status quo, don't forget that it will only be around as long as it sells. Any social good is just icing.

Separated at Birth?

Karl Marx vs. Jerry Garcia
- both were "counter-culture" in nature
- both have philosphies based on community and equality
- mostly, both have impeccable style

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Greatest Band of All Time

Boy, Man...

I, Andrew Heller, at 31.9 years of age, hereby declare that I am now officially an adult. It happened a few weeks ago. It wasn't turning 30 that triggered it. It wasn't moving out of my parent's house, getting married, going to grad school, or even finding out that I am going to become a father. I became an adult when I got life insurance.

To clarify, I only got life insurance (LI) because I'm going to be a parent. So yes, the 2 are linked. But emotionally, being a parent ands getting LI are two very separate things. The thought of becoming a parent forces me to deal with things like responsibility to others, making time for my child and my career, and partnering with my wife on all of that.

Buying life insurance, on the other hand, brings up the idea of providing for my family, being responsible to some who is depending on me for everything. All my life, Mom and Dad have been amazing. They paid the mortgage and never asked for a thank you. They got my college loans and paid for them without my involvement. I never had a financial worry, though I learned to be financially responsible at the same time.

Now, all those responsibilities are on my shoulders. Rent, life insurance, health care, and clothing all fall under my domain. Of course I have my wonderful wife to help me with all this, but that's a very "adult" thing anyway. I've taken a step into a larger world. And like Pandora opening her box, there is no going back.

Most of all, LI made me realize that I won't always be around. Life is a finite thing, and it's never as precious until you realize that we're are all here for a limited time. I'm happy with where I am in my life. Though I still feel young, I recognize that my "youth" is coming to an end. LI seems to be the one piece that closed the door on childhood. Like my parents, and their parents, and their parents' parents, I take up the chain in caring for the generation to come after me.

By the way, I felt the baby's feet tonight. They're up near Harley's breastbone. Baby L is so close!!!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Lyrics I'm Loving Right Now

Fathers be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers, who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too
- John Mayer's "Daughters" (a slow, bluesy waltz)

This song is about how the way we raise our children impacts the people they become, and then who their children become. As my daughter gets closes and closer, this songs becomes ever more relevant to me.


When the hangover this morning had a personality

And I cast my shattered mind over selected memories
I didn't even touch the light switch so I knew I'd never see
The haggard face that would be staring back at me.
The big light came through my window and it opened up my eyelids
and it snapped them up like roller blinds and told me things that I did.
I can't face another day and night of good ideas and complications
And I'm thankful that I didn't open another bottle of inspiration..
- Elvis Costello's "The Big Light" (upbeat, rockabilly swing)

This song is about the difficulties of recovering from a hangover and facing some of the embarrasing things done the night before. As my daughter gets closes and closer, this songs reminds of the life I used to live and how that is a reality I'll probably never relive. While this is sort of sad to me, the loss of youth, in a way, I understand that the baby will add new things to my life and help create a "new normal" for Harley and I. That "new normal" will include football.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Few More Reasons to Love the Eagles

Shameless and gratuitous. No wonder men love football. This is not how I feel of course. I only watch for the sport, for the drama. Yeah, and I read Maxim for the articles, too.

I hope this doesn't come across sexist. I don't hear much about cheerleaders being exploited for their bodies. Come to think of it, I'm actually surprised how little attention is paid to them; the action is almost always on the field (besides when they switch to commercials and need a filler shot).

The NFL is like a weekly soap opera for men, where the plot is never predictable and always in flux. These cheerleaders are like the Fabio-covers on trashy romance novels, just icing on the cake.

Ladies, you must understand that football is not for you. There is no schmuk-chair in the NFL for you to wait for your men to finish shopping. One day a week, we get to live the drama we've been socialized to avoid. The boobs are just gravy. Thick, luscious, eat-it-with-a-spoon gravy.

Baby's On the Way

The due date for Baby L has changed. Instead of 11/25, she will come anywhere between 11/15-20. Apparently, she is "developmentally advanced" enough to come out early. Just like her parents, she's a damn genius!! (Probably impatient too, but let's not discuss that.)

I just hope she doesn't come on 11/27, as the Eagles are playing the Colts in Indianapolis that day. That game should be sweet!! It'll be great to have my girl with me, too.

Does anyone know where I can get an Eagles newborn onesie?? I have one for next season when she's older, but she'll need one for the Superbowl. It's gonna happen!.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Everybody Loves My Blog

"By the way, I'm enjoying Andrew's blog a great deal. I especially liked the link to the animated map of the Middle East."
- Cousin Bill


Friday, October 06, 2006

Interesting Moon Facts

October 6th is the “Harvest Moon" – the last full moon before the Autumnal Equinox that allowed farmers to harvest all their crops into the night. Moonlight is just sunlight reflected from the dusty surface of the moon. The only difference is intensity: Moonlight is about 400,000 times fainter than direct sunlight. And it does some strange stuff:

1. Moonlight steals color from whatever it touches. In full moonlight, the flower is brightly lit and even casts a shadow, but the red is gone, replaced by shades of gray.

2. If you stare at the gray landscape long enough, it turns blue. As your eyes become maximally dark adapted, the blue appears. Yet if you look up at the full moon, it is certainly not blue.

3. Moonlight won't let you read. Open a book beneath the full moon. Even is the light is bright enough, you can’t make out the word. This is because moonlight not only blurs your vision but also makes a little blind spot.

This is all because of the human retina, an organic digital camera with two kinds of pixels: rods and cones. Cones allow us to see colors (red roses) and fine details (words in a book), but they only work in bright light. After sunset, rods take over.

Rods are 1000 times more sensitive and are responsible for our night vision. But, rods are colorblind. Roses at night thus appear gray. And, rods are almost completely absent from a central patch of retina called the fovea, which the brain uses for reading. The fovea is densely packed with cones, so at night it becomes a blind spot.

As for the blueshift, that is still a mystery.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The 'Lost' Video

**SPOILER ALERT** Scroll down the article to see the video clip. Helps explain the origins of the Dharma Initiative, the numbers, and the island. God damn, I love this show.

Still, I hated last night's Season 3 premiere. Not that I didn't like it, or that the story was bad. It was just so hard to watch our 'heroes' in such a terrible situation. There further into the episode, the worse it got for them, and the more depressed I got. I found myself wishing physical harm on the Others.

And what happened to our characters? Come on, Kate! Throw the handcuffs into the ocean and gouge out Ben's eyes! Instead, she just looks down and gets scared. Would the Season 1 Kate take her fate so easily? And since when did Jack take to violence (which I was happy to see)? Even Sawyer didn't seem as antagonist towards 'Zeek'.

The characters have been taken out of their element and seem to have gone through some fundamental changes. Off to Lostpedia for more research.

UPDATE: "I think they're trying to break them of their weaknesses. Sawyer - conning, learning to really, truly care about someone. Kate- running. Jack- stubborness." The Others are trying to create a utopian society and are 'fixing' the key players of the crash victims. (I love you Lostpedia!)

Visual History of the Middle East

This is amazing: www.mapsofwar.com Puts a lot of the things I've learned into perspective, both chronologically and in terms of scale regarding how much land each empire covered.

So who the hell were the Sassanids? Where did the name Calphilate come from? Excuse me, I'll have a lot of Wikipeding to do. (That was the first time I ever used Wikipedia as a verb.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

NFL - Week 5 Picks

Here is the schedule for Sunday's games,which includes each team's record (as of week 4) and my pick for the winner of each game. The key games to watch will be:

1. Dallas vs. Eagles
- both teams have been doing well, but who cares about that? It's the retun of TO to Philly!
- Philly hates TO and wants everyone to know it. The crowd will be out for blood, win or lose.
- As a fan, I have to give it to the Eagles.

2. Jets vs. Jacksonville
- this could be THE game of the weekend. Both teams have been looking good but not playing up to their potential.
- I gave it to the Jets because 1) homefield advantage and 2) they'll be hungry after their disappointing finish against the Colts last week.

3. Washington vs. Giants
- Both teams have had mixed success but are still looking good.
- This is a tough one. I forgot to highlight a winner, but I give it to the Giants. They have home-field advantage, and Eli Manning is looking to keep proving himself.


after meeting Sabrina Kahn at Tasti-D-Lite:

Sabrina: I’m finishing up my residency in Psychiatry and live up the street.
Andrew: Oh, we live just on 38th!
Stranger wearing gym clothes: Excuse me, are you in line? (very annoyed)
Harley & Sabrina: No, go ahead.
Andrew: Wow, she must have gotten all worked up at her spinning class.

chatting at the coffee machine at work:

Andrew: Have you been watching the Gene Simmons reality show?
Freelancer: No, I have not.
Andrew: Then if I sing the song “Lick It Up”, that won’t have any meaning to you.
Freelancer: No, it will not.
Andrew: I’ll sing it anyway. “Lick it up! Lick it up! Oh oh oh!”