Archive for March, 2014
In the next two months I’m giving talks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Montana State University in Bozeman, the National Science/Engineering Conference in D.C., the World Science Festival in New York, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and our Women in Science group at the Museum. These speaking engagements started filling up last fall, slotting into every other weekend and filling the gaps in-between with our production schedule and research.
It’s like I’m on the dock of a harbor stocking our ship before we set sail to unknown lands in pursuit of a rumor. I’m in the awkward stage before fledging the nest, having spent the last few weeks dreaming of flight. While I’m not a stranger to public speaking the thought of standing in a room and professing my non-expertise to a group of expectant and incredibly accomplished professionals is debilitating. I wake up in the middle of the night in a panic from nightmares that I’ve proven to be an underwhelming disappointment, a broken record clicking about the benefits of story-telling and high levels of energy.
All of this feels like puberty, like learning to walk on shifting sands. A few weeks ago my father made a comment about how some 24-year-old women are probably more focused on the dilemma of who they’re going to grab a drink with next, or wedding plans, their research and budding careers- not what they’re going to articulate to a branch of NASA engineers. While I wish I could focus on one or the other I’m still gripped with insecurity about asking someone on a date to see a movie like Particle Fever because I don’t want to come off as… involved.
I waffle between these worlds of arts and science, traditional museums and new media, between relating to the messages of people with decades of experience compared to my quantifiable fourteen months. My biggest reassurance is that if I felt like I had it all figured out, I’d probably be pretty boring.
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Amazing watercolor paintings by Nicolas Jolly
Nicolas Jolly is a French artist working with black ink. Black and white allows him to bring additional emotion to the scene by increasing the set of chiaroscuro. There is a large concern in the compositions of his drawings. The technique he uses,”fingerprint”, allows him to guide the eye of the observer through the various elements of the scene compositions. All convolutions bring dynamism and speed, amplifying the intense and dramatic effect. The subject is anime, dance and grows. It can accentuate a detail in the design and target emotion to convey. via
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How long will I love you?
About Time (2013), written and directed by Richard Curtis.
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Fun story: a friend/coworker of my wife’s back in our LA days was house/dog-sitting at a swanky place up in the Hollywood Hills. The owner of the home had a couple of extremely fat dogs; part of Dwight’s job was to feed them their lavish dinners, then, after a suitable interval, give them Haagen Dazs ice cream for dessert.
Anyway, one night Dwight is sitting in the living room with the dogs in front of the huge picture window looking out over the city, when he was startled by a noise. Looking up, he saw Paul Reubens standing outside with his face pressed against the glass.
“Oh my God!” Reubens shouted. “Those are the fattest dogs I’ve ever seen!” Then he disappeared.
Turns out he was a neighbor.
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Star Cluster M34
This pretty, open cluster of stars, M34, is about the size of the Full Moon on the sky. Easy to appreciate in small telescopes, it lies some 1,800 light-years away in the constellation Perseus. At that distance, M34 physically spans about 15 light-years. Formed at the same time from the same cloud of dust and gas, all the stars of M34 are about 200 million years young. But like any open star cluster orbiting in the plane of our galaxy, M34 will eventually disperse as it experiences gravitational tides and encounters with the Milky Way’s interstellar clouds and other stars. Over four billion years ago, our own Sun was likely formed in a similar open star cluster.
Credit: Bob Franke
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Nearly Every Star Hosts at Least One Planet
“The vast majority of stars in our Milky Way galaxy host planets, many of which may be capable of supporting life as we know it, a new study suggests.
Astronomers have detected eight new exoplanet candidates circling nearby red dwarf stars, which make up at least 75 percent of the galaxy’s 100 billion or so stars. Three of these worlds are just slightly bigger than Earth and orbit in the “habitable zone,” the range of distances from a parent star where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface.
The new finds imply that virtually all red dwarfs throughout the Milky Way have planets, and at least 25 percent of these stars in the sun’s own neighborhood host habitable-zone “super-Earths,” researchers said.”
Learn more from mashable: http://goo.gl/Tlix8d
There’s got to be life out there, if not elsewhere in our own solar system.
Unpopular opinion after the cut.
First: bobak is (rightly) a personal hero to me and geeky people like me everywhere. That’s not the unpopular opinion. That’s fact.
The unpopular opinion is that I think he’s wrong to draw the conclusion he does. That is, he’s wrong to conclude that the large number of habitable-zone planets we know to exist in the universe means “there’s got to be life out there.” It does not actually mean that.
We want it to mean that. People have always wanted to believe there’s some sort of purposeful agency beyond Earth. They used to populate the beyond with gods. Then science came along, and they began populating it with extraterrestrial life. But it’s still just drawing outré sea monsters in the white areas of the map beyond where we’ve actually been.
The problem with the position that Bobak (whom I don’t mean to pick on; most people who’ve expressed an opinion on the question seem to fall into the same fallacy) is espousing is this: We don’t know the Drake equation’s term for F-sub-l, the probability that, given a planet in the “habitable zone” where liquid water can occur, life will actually emerge there. Not just “we don’t know F-sub-l exactly.” We don’t know it at all.
Granted: the number of planets where life broadly similar to life on Earth might emerge is very, very large. The problem is that the probability of life emerging in such a place might be very, very small — even small enough as to make it so the one case of life emerging on Earth is the only case of life ever having emerged in all the universe, or at least in all the universe near enough to be reasonably investigated by us or our our descendants, which for practical purposes is the same thing.
People try to argue that it’s reasonable to assume that the value of F-sub-l is not so small as to make life’s emergence very unlikely. Just look, they say: Life emerged here on Earth. And it apparently emerged relatively soon after the planet’s crust solidified.
That’s true. But it’s also true that all the available evidence indicates that it emerged only once. That is, that abiogenesis only happened one time on Earth, or that if it happened more than once, that the record of all the other times besides the one that eventually led to us left no traces we’ve been able to discover.
The problem with trying to make an inductive case from that single act of abiogenesis is that, per the anthropic principle, the fact of life having emerged that one time doesn’t speak at all to the question of how likely that emergence was. Life may have been likely to emerge. It may have been extraordinarily unlikely to emerge. In either case, it needs to have happened that one time in order for us to even be here considering the question.
You can think about it like this: Say you come upon a multi-sided die, like those 20-sided dice that D&D players use, except this die has a very large number of sides: hundreds of sides, millions of sides, billions of sides; you don’t know. All you know is that when you happened upon it, the die was resting on the ground with the side marked with the numeral 1 facing up.
The question you need to answer now is, if you roll the die again a given number of times, how likely is it that you will roll another 1? Is it likely to the point of near-certainty? Unlikely to the point of near-impossibility? Or somewhere in between?
In this thought experiment, rolling a 1 means abiogenesis happens. What Bobak is basically arguing is that if he knows the number of rolls he gets to make is very large (that is, if the number of life-suitable planets is very large), then it is a near-certainty that he will be able to roll another 1.
But that’s not rational. Because for any number of die rolls, even a very large number of them, I can pick a value for the number of sides on the die that is large enough that even with that many rolls, the chances of rolling another 1 are so small as to be a near-impossibility.
It doesn’t matter that we came upon the die with a 1 already showing. That’s not an independent data point. It’s a necessary precondition.
I absolutely think we should keep looking for life beyond Earth. I just don’t think we should kid ourselves about what we do and don’t know about the likelihood we’ll find it.
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Um, to explain the tags on my last post. In case anyone hasn’t heard this version.
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George R.R. Martin Has a Detailed Plan For Keeping the Game of Thrones TV Show From Catching Up To HimFriday, March 21st, 2014
George has always been smart. It’ll work.
I enjoyed this interview a lot. Also, I may have just burned through all the GoT season 4 trailers and whatnot on HBO GO.
April is Coming.
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