Sunday, July 31, 2005

Another blast from the past

Hark! Now the drums beat up again,
For all true soldier gentlemen,
Then let us 'list and march I say,
Over the hills and far away.

Over the hills and o'er the main.
To Flanders, Portugal, and Spain,
King George commands and we'll obey.
Over the hills and far away.

All gentlemen that have a mind,
To serve the King that's good and kind,
Come 'list and enter into pay,
Then over the hills and far away.


Here's forty shillings on the drum,
For those that volunteers do come,
With shirts, and clothes, and present pay,
Then o'er the hills and far away.


No more from sound of drums retreat,
While Marlborough and Galway beat,
The French and Spaniards every day,
When o'er the hills and far away.


The 'prentice Tom he may refuse,
To wipe his angry master's shoes,
For then he's free to sing and play,
Over the hills and far away.


Come on then boys, and you shall see,
We every one shall captains be!
To whore and rant as well as they,
When over the hills and far away.


We then shall lead more happy lives,
By getting rid of brats and wives,
That scold on both the night and day,
When over the hills and far away.

A Melancholy Moment on NPR

Hear on NPR at 8 pm

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said son
It’s time to stop rambling ’cause there’s work to be
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war
And the band played waltzing matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the
We sailed off to gallipoli

How well I remember that terrible day
when the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He showered us with bullets, he rained us with
And in five minutes flat he’d blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to australia
But the band played waltzing matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
And we buried ours and the turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again

Now those who were living did their best to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for seven long weeks I kept myself alive
while the corpses around me piled higher
Then a big turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, christ I wished I was
Never knew there were worse things than dying
and no more I’ll go waltzing matilda
to the green bushes so far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing matilda for me

So they collected the cripples, the wounded and
And they shipped us back home to australia
the legless, the armless, the blind and insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into circular quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thank christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played waltzing matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
and they turned all their faces away

And now every april I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving their dreams of past glory
I see the old men, all twisted and torn
The forgotten heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask me, what are they
Marching for?
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays waltzing matilda
And the old men still answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all

Waltzing matilda, waltzing matilda
Who’ll go a-waltzing matilda with me?

Planet X?

Mike Brown has done it again another large Kuiper Belt Object, apparently larger than Pluto!

Too little info to know what to think: this will of course re-open the "is Pluto a Real Planet" kerfuffle.
I wish people would just accept that astronomy is phenomenological, prone to classification manias, and often misguided in doing so - so we end up with inconsistent classes. BFD.

The other puzzle is WTF was going on in the outer system - that is shaping up to be a weird mass function and a weird distribution function. Somthing to think about.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Google bomb: Brad and Angelina in a Cosmic Context

Risa notes the fascinating rise of Cosmic Variance in the googling of "Brad and Angelina"

In the spirit of solidarity, and to promote accidental reading of physics, we provide a gratuitous link to Brad and Angelina in order to boost the Google scoring of this page.

They are now #2 on the list, lets go for #1.

iPod iChing - C^1

Keeping up the spirit, we ask the iPod a Big Question - complementing Clifford's String Theory perambulations (and, Clifford - shouldn't have skipped the podcast at #3 - the iPod Knows, and it Changes Everything!)

So, Mighty iPod... "Is the observable 3+1 space-time a continuously differentiable manifold almost everywhere?"

Whoosh, the Randomizer Whooshes...

  • The Covering: Rite of Spring 7. - Stravinsky
  • The Crossing: Tenesta la promessa - La Traviata
  • The Crown: Fools - The Lightning Seeds
  • The Root: Girlfriend is Better (Live) - Talking Heads
  • The Past: Adagio, Sempre Piano - Bach. Brandenburg Concertos
  • The Future: Whispering Your Name - Alison Moyet
  • The Questioner: (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding - Elvis Costello
  • The House:Greetings to the New Brunette - Billy Bragg
  • The Inside: Enjoy - Björk
  • The Outcome: Traveling is a Dream - Twin Sisters

As always, the Key as explained by Sean

Oh dear.
Apollo's Rite of Spring,
and a promise from the woman who strayed
Fools is best that can be achieved, and
The Root and Past is a bit of a downer.
Future and Questioner are reconciliation
House is a song of ultimate adaptability
The Inside - I wish
and the The Outcome is actually "row, row, row your boat" adaptation - "traveling is a dream"

I don't know - my sense is that the answer is that the question does not even make sense...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Original Operation Academic Freedom

A wannabe instapunk suggests an Operation Academic Freedom in May 2005.

Tanks, shmanks. An M1A has about as much chance against Harvard as the instapunk has outarguing a Professor of Women Studies.

Select Committees are the True Weapons of Choice in Operation Academic Freedom

How cute, "instapunk" is a creationist too. Loser.

Operation Academic Freedom - confession of an ideologue

Well, it's a fair cop; the PA Senate Select Committee knows we have been ideologically unsound and made our students feel uncomfortable with their indoctrination. So to stave off further investigation, we should open up and feifu zi yan, confess the error of our ways and throw ourselves on the mercy of the committee.

I not infrequently teach "Astronomical Universe" Astro 001 - a general education classs in which hundreds of trusting young undergraduates are entrusted to my care to be made wise in the ways of the Universe.

The class mostly deals with well established astronomical facts, some history, and occasionally the direction and future of ongoing research. Mostly standard stuff: Copernicus and Galileo; cosmogony, age and evolution of the Universe; formation of stars and planets; age of the Earth and Solar System; evolution of life and the Biosphere; prospects for life on other planets; good stuff, exciting and well established scientifically.

But, I, as matter of an ideological absolute, do often make many of the students feel uncomfortable, if not actually threatened; my actions lead to some students receiving lower grades, because I insist that some questions have unique answers, as determined by me, independent of the student's beliefs or past educational experience. I do this as a matter of personal philosophy; I feel strongly that their educational experience would be incomplete and inadequate if I did not push them to face these issues, and to realise that their knowledge may be incomplete or faulty.

Now, I want to emphasise that to the best of my knowledge no student has filed a formal complaint over this issue with either the academic ombudsman, head of undergraduate studies, department head or dean. But, I do acknowledge having received verbal complaints and informal statements of discontent about this issue on student feedback forms. It is possible that students are either not familiar with the complaint procedure, or they feel uncomfortable challenging a faculty member.

But I say to these students, and the august Senators of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: tough shit.

Astro 001, when taught by me, will continue to include exam questions requiring you to do arithmetic, quantitative reasoning and solving simple algebraic problems. If this makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened, deal with it. If you don't want lower grades, then knuckle down and study, you're the best academically this State has to offer. You could even come see me for help and advice.

This is an absolute matter of principle for me; I will not yield this prerogative to the state representatives - the curricular content and grading policy are decided by me, in my professional capacity. Mathematics are a critical component of understanding scientific reasoning and the chain of inference and hypothesis used in science. Teaching such matters is an essential part of the general education the students receive, as important as the dry facts of the Earth's age of about 4.5 billion years, or the onset and evolution of life and its dynamical interaction with the atmosphere and surface. The students must face mathematics and overcome what fears they have. I insist.

I hope that clears this issue up and the committee can dissolve.

Operation Academic Freedom - an aside

Remember, this is How to Tell a Witch...

Witch: I'm not a witch, I'm not a witch!
Bedevere: Er,...but you are dressed as one.
Witch: THEY dressed me up like this.
Villagers: No! nooo! We didn't! We didn't!
Witch: And this isn't my nose, it's a false one!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Operation Academic Freedom - part 1: probing the defences

I was forwarded an e-mail yesterday, it is from a high level university administrator, and has cascaded through several layers to me. It is not marked confidential and has been circulated widely among the university community.

The attachment is a letter from PA State Represenative Tom Stevenson, 42nd district. It demands a number of pieces of information in anticipation of hearings to be held later this year on Academic Freedom.

"What this select committee requests from you in order to get this inquiry initiated are several things:

  • a copy of your institution's statement of principles regarding student academic freedom

  • a copy of your institution's policy (or policies) describing the resolution of complaints by student's regarding violations of academic freedom

  • a copy of your institution's procedure for dealing with complaints, including a step-by-step description of the office or person handling the complaint, the make-up of the board that decides the validity of the complaint, the deadline for filing and the necessary content of a document of complaint.

  • data documenting the number of students in the past five years who have filed complaints related in any way to academic freedom, the means of determining the validity of complaints and the outcome of these complaints.

  • any action taken by the institution to correct the problem(s) that created the complaints.

The text of the letter, cleverly, states that the committee has knowledge of at least one incident - but they don't say which incident or which institution, so they're clearly setting a "cover-up" trap.

Oh, and they want all this by next week. Departments/faculty are directed to respond by friday. This week.

Interestingly, there were rumours a few years ago that a student organization was trying to "set-up" astronomy faculty in gen ed classes by asking leading questions on age of the Earth, Big Bang cosmology and personal religious beliefs. I know in one of my classes someone did persistently, and politely, ask:
the answers were: "4.5 Gyrs", "best bet cosmology" and "not pertinent".
To the best of my knowledge no one complained - the complaints were all about the "math" content and difficulty.

I do confess the "math" is both a matter of ideology and philosophy for me; and it is done knowing that some students feel threatened by algebraic equations and may receive low grades for failing to correctly identify the correct answers, as determined by me. I am a bit of an absolutist on this. It is a matter of professional responsibility.

Anyway, this answers one question - the PA Senate "Select Committee" is not going through the motions, they're going to find someone to make an example of, and I fear I know some of their target selection.

I would caution my colleagues who are spoiling for a fight - this must be resisted, but testifying to the committee is a trap. Representatives get real prickly in these hearings, any "lecturing" will be poorly received.

I expect the Universities to lawyer up; I also expect the administration to fight for the faculty on this one. Or else...

PS: all the information on policies that they want is on as found by 5 minute browsing through the PSU student info web pages. Don't these guys have staffers.

Shuttle - damage and modeling

A "heads-up" e-mail from a Large Computational Facility owned by NASA came yesterday afternoon.
It was a warning that a large fraction of the hardware was being set aside for shuttle tile damage modeling, maybe, starting today. Hope it really is ok, hope the models show correctly that it is ok.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

GRB050724 - short, hard and conclusive?

Swift scores again - it detected another short (less than 1 sec), hard gamma ray burst on sunday. See GCN for info as it comes in

X-ray localization was good - and RXTE caught the x-ray afterglow as well.

There are 3 candidate hosts or counterparts in the field. The "Energizer Bunny" team out in California pounced again, and have spectra (as do others). Two are stars. One (object D) is a low (z ~ 0.25 - tentative) Elliptical galaxy! With a variable radio source, maybe associated with the GRB (to be confirmed)

And, the most recent circular hints at a near-infrared counterpart in the outskirts of the galaxy.

If that is the case, it pretty much clinches the case for short, hard GRBs being neutron star mergers, as conjectured on many occasions, including in this paper.
Its location offset from, but near an elliptical galaxy is consistent with the binary neutron star merger scenario, something like 20-30% of NS-NS mergers in the local universe might be expected to take place in ellipticals, with the binaries offset from the stellar light due to their high peculiar natal velocities, but since the ellipticals tend to be large and have deep potentials, some NS-NS binaries are retained within the galaxies, rather than escape into intergalactic space.

The NS-NS mergers which take place either inside the galaxy, or in the centers of clusters of galaxies, are preferentially localised by their x-ray afterglow, because they are still embedded in moderate density warm gas - the NS-NS binaries that went too far out in to intergalactic space are embedded in gas so tenuous that the shock is late and weak, so the intensity of x-ray and optical emission is too low for detection with current instruments.

This all fits into a very neat elegant package, and confirms our previous conjectures and speculations.

Maybe, could still be surprises out there. But it looks real good. Real, real good.
Now we just have to figure the microphysics of how the energy gets channeled into a relativistic outflow...

LSST and Google - a partnership made in heaven

A comment downstream informs us that Google is already a partner in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope!

Way cool.

The LSST is a planned 8 metre class telescope designed for a very wide field of view, and will to a "synoptic" survey of the sky (or the little over half the sky it can reach, if only one is built).
Survey would cover the whole sky about twice per week, to a depth of about 24th magnitude (that's pretty faint), using a 3Giga pixel camera.
It would look for variability, including supernovae, near Earth asteroids, Kuiper belt objects, novae, variable star and galactic nuclei. It is an ambitious high priority project. It may give a handle on Dark Energy (everything being proposed now for extragalactic observing has a Dark Energy sub-plot) and will certainly provide serendipitous discoveries.

The LSST database will be very valuable, and large, searching it will take essentially all the resources that can be thrown at it.
I see google's interest. Clever people. When they registered they were just doing some prep work.

I look forward to it.

North Korea - a study in contrasts

A headline in todays Washington Post:

"After six-nation talks aimed at a nuclear-free Korean peninsula opened Tuesday, U.S. and North Korean diplomats returned to bilateral discussions...
Hill's assurances that the United States was ready to meet bilaterally with North Korean officials as often as needed was seen as a step in the direction being urged by China."


Lets Google our memory:

From the Washington Post in May 2004

Kerry also accused the administration of having no plan to deal with North Korea's rush to build its nuclear weapons arsenal. He derided the Bush administration's long effort to set up six-nation talks to resolve the impasse over North Korea's nuclear ambitions as a "fig leaf" designed to cover up its failure to have a coherent policy.

"I would keep them both going," Kerry said. "I would do the six-party [talks], but I would engage in bilateral discussions."

The Bush administration has argued that bilateral talks would reward North Korea for its behavior, and has contended that it is necessary to include the other nations to ensure a regional solution..."

Flip-flop, Flip-flop.

Not that anyone in the press will, like, notice, or anything.

Monday, July 25, 2005

a conversation about war

I was at a small social event this weekend; met some new people, was busy with things so I mostly kinda hovered and listened.
Turned out several of the guys there were ex-armed forces; Marine, Army and National Guard if heard correctly, were in for 10-20 years by the sound of it, sounded like NCOs. All were out now. And they started talking about Iraq and people they knew who were still active or reserve. Not a conversation directed at me, or done to inform me, more casual banter.

This was interesting in and of it self, it was also interesting because the bias in anecdotal information I would normally hear was not there - the people I know in the armed forces tend to be older, commissioned officers, and statistically they must be abnormal because the are much more liberal than published polls on armed force attitudes would indicate.

What was really interesting was the tone of the comments. They were all glad to be out. None were contemplating re-enlistment, though all would have been eligible I'd think, and desirable to have back I'd also think.
But the really interesting info was the second hand comments on their friends attitudes after doing 1-2 tours in Iraq this round; they were, shall we say, not positive in their relaying of their friends experiences.

IF this was representative, the army has 18 months, in my estimation, to get out of Iraq, or they will be done for for a decade. They will lose a significant fraction of their experienced NCOs and have no prospect of replacing them, except by rebuilding from the ground-up, a la post-Vietnam army.

Third hand, anecdotal, worthless. But interesting.

Hubble trouble - lets worry about that later

NASAwatch has a couple of blips on Hubble, which add up to news.

First, they're not going to worry about deorbiting now, so the development cost can be deferred and it can be made Someone Else's Problem. And it sounds like Ed Weiler has come out in support of keeping Hubble functioning and upgraded.

So the 4th (#5) Servicing Mission Back On, with WFPC3 and COS in? Who know what will be the deal next month.

It will be nice, but costly, to stretch HST for a few more years. What really grates is the obscene amount of money wasted on crash development of successive decommissioning and robotic options since O'Keefe's initial turn on this.
At this point, almost independent of the outcome, I just wish someone in DC would make up their f'ing mind and stick with a plan, any plan. There comes a point where the uncertainty and changed in direction are worse than any fixed course would have been.

Oh, and good luck on the Shuttle launch, but an inexpert glance at what they actually did for the last 2+ years, strongly hints that the net improvement in STS safety has been somewhere between zero and negligible (and I just hope the change was not negative...). The probability of critical failure is still 1-2% per launch.

Of course the number of ISS flights to be done seems to shrink by about 5 per announcement of flight schedules.
What worries me is that someone on the budget side may be under the delusion that shrinking the number of STS flights to ISS will actually safe significant amounts of money in the Exploration division, as opposed to just increasing the cost per flight... Purpose of all this is apparently to free resources to build two STS derived vehicles, a Shuttle-"C"argo variant, and a Big Dumb Booster to stick the Crewed Exploration Vehicle on.
Net effect of that would seem to be to double the cost of carrying out some tasks (ie launching crew with significant mass of something along, as two flights will now be needed). Some savings on heavy lift, or crew needing maneuverability but no cargo may be achieved, if all goes well. But this is not a breakthrough path in cost saving. Better wait for the Libertarians in Space to roll something out of the garages...

Summarising the WoT from a systems perspective

Sunday, July 24, 2005

gaman, gaman

Flott veður, fórum í afmœlisboð eftirmiðdaginn, svo í bláberjamó, týndum um 8 kíló í viðbót við annað eins í síðustu viku, komumst vonandi aftur í vikunni og svo kannski eina ferð í viðbót í nœstu viku

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Odin worship - why Real Christians wear bowties

The man's necktie has a varied history.

But, have you noticed there's a group of Christian Conservatives who always wear snazzy little bowties instead. Curious.

Well, the cravat and bandhana may have had their sensible origins, but the "hatband of the Exeter College Rovers" origin for the modern narrow, and useless, necktie sounds distinctly dodgy.
Now that was a time of nationalist revival, with serious interest in norse and germanic mythology, Wagner, all that. So, I think some young gentlemen from Oxford decided to mess around with people - they introduced the sign of the God of Hanging to western civilization - Óðinn was of course the "hanged God", having spent 9 days hanging from Yggdrasill. Sacrifices to him were hanged from trees, denied death by edged weapon. Serious Óðinn worshippers would have worn a noose or looped string around their neck; not that there were many people nutso enough to look to the God of Doom.
Until now that is.

Quite a coup really, getting a large fraction of men in Europe and the US for over a century to openly worship a senior pagan god. Do we think George Will and Tucker Carlson know, or just have an uneasy suspicion.

Geeks know of course, No serious geek would wear a tie unless absolutely required by social custom and family pressure.

For our next trick - discuss how the cross symbol mutated in the western church to become the hammer of Thor...
Well, it did in Iceland; but the orthography of the cross is interesting, the two-barred cross of the Eastern Church and the T-cross are arguably more representative than the western symbol.

If you really want to stretch a point, consider the radiation hazard symbol (the 3 triangle civil defence emblem) as a stylised Valhnútur - or the triceps version thereof.

Tee hee.

PS fjölskyldu fréttir - Annalísa og Didddi voru í bílslysi - ekkert alvarlegt, vörubíll bakkaði á jeppa sem vinkona okkar var að keyra, þau voru að fara með henni út í búð, Ásta var í skóla. Engin alvarleg meiðsli, bara marin og stressuð

Friday, July 22, 2005

iPod iChing - 1620 questions

Another friday, another lazy lite blog continuingSean's iPod iChing tradition

NB Clifford on Cosmic Variance is a convert

Todays question is small and cryptic...

Oh, great iPod. Is the other system at RA 1620 hosting a planet, and is it the candidate we have detected?

No, I am NOT talking about this system at RA 1620, I know that is a planet. Tee hee.

The Randomizer whooshes... Whoosh.

  • The Covering: Tom The Peeper - Act.1
  • The Crossing: Rat Race - Specials
  • The Crown: Það vantar spýtur - Olga Guðrún
  • The Root: Encore - Nessun Dorma - Carreras
  • The Past: Il Allegretto grazioso - Mozart
  • The Future: Love will tear us apart - Joy Division
  • The Questioner: I wanna be loved - Elvis Costello
  • The House: Longview - Green Day
  • The Inside: The Coast - Paul Simon
  • The Outcome: Everyday I write the book - Elvis Costello

As before, the Key as explained by Sean

Ok, I better start drafting a paper...

Important Events - why, yes we are looking surreptitiously
Current Obstacles - Rat Race - no shit, that it is!
Crown - best that can be achieved - this is an Icelandic children's song, refrain is "we need planks and stone" - it is about how you need some material and then have to work hard to get things done. We are indeed waiting for data.
Past Events - Nessun Dorma - hm, no one sleeps, the stars tremble, Encore! Woo hoo. But we have to hurry a bit.
The Future - Love will tear us apart - huh? Well, my collaborator is moving...
Me - I wanna be loved. Er, well, don't we all? This is academic of course. Love me for my science.
The House - ok, scientists will wait to see what happens in the long run, fair enough.
The Inside - The Coast? I'll have to look that one up - hm, not sure how to interpret that.
The Outcome - oh, yeah I like that.

I'll take that as a "yes".

Google the Universe

Seen on Making Light

Google appears to plan to provide a detailed Map of the Universe presumably to complement their wildly successful Google Moon - (zoom all the way in!)


Now, if they were serious, they could chip in some hard cash - buy open access to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey or pay for it to do the whole sky? Or become partners in The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
- the whole sky, live to google. That's the way to do it. Forward thinking they used to call it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rule of International Law

Reading the Grauniad newsblog about todays failed London bombings I was struck by several comments on the non-existence of "international law" - a meme that seems to be actively promulgated by factions within the US in recent years.

Now I Am Not A Lawyer, fortunately for me, but this did ring some bells in a recess of my memory.
A few seconds with google brings this up...

John Marshall and International Law

John Marshall became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1801 at the age of forty-six. During his thirty-five year tenure ( 1801-1835), he wrote opinions in approximately eighty cases involving international law. 1 Unquestionably until eight years before his appointment, Marshall's view of the world was largely insular. Only in 1793 did he begin to focus on international problems and to work toward resolving them through the application of international law."

Now I know precedent can be changed etc and so forth - but there does seem to be some wee bit of history on SCOTUS taking account of the laws and customs of nations - possibly up to and including the Treaty of Westphalia...
This of course not factoring in the "treaty" clause of the Constitution, or indeed the US signing the UN Charter (hell, the US wrote the UN Charter - don't complain now!)


Toys for the well equipped physicist

Had an interesting conversation with a moderately senior person at a large federal agency which provides funding for some of the physical sciences...

Apparently they, or at least some fraction of the agency people, have determined what many scientists have realised for a year or two: the most efficient way to transport medium amounts of data (10s of Gb) is with a high end iPod!
So said agency is buying 60Gb iPods by the bucketloads, and it is at least implicit that a well thought out rationale for compact portable data storage devices would permit purchase of iPods on grants (I got mine privately... didn't think any National Agency would tolerate me buying one as a data device, so that is a secondary use. One of the pains of being a theorist).
But check with your local Research Office before doing anything drastic.
And, as he said, you can also carry all your music with you.

The iPods really are perfect for this (for serious data, you need RAIDs or boxes of normal hard drives; for small amounts, memory sticks on USB interfaces and DVDs are fine); they are light, tough, small, have a firedrive connector and software to manage data, and if you turn off the auto-synch iTunes option they act as a normal hard drive. Plus you get the calendar, address book etc.

And, most physical scientists have been buying PowerBooks and G5 desktops as fast as they can get grants for them so iPod data drives fit into the whole data processing scheme for a lot of people.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Judge John G. Roberts - in his spare time

Congressional testimony for Appeals confirmation

" In addition, Mr. Roberts has devoted much of his time to pro bono work. For instance, he represented a class of District of Columbia residents receiving welfare benefits, arguing that a particular change in eligibility standards that resulted in a termination of welfare benefits without an individual hearing denied class members procedural due process.

In another pro bono case, United States v. Halper, Mr. Roberts was invited by the Supreme Court to represent Mr. Halper, who had been previously convicted under Federal criminal law for filing false Medicaid claims.

He successfully argued that the Double Jeopardy Clause barred the imposition of civil penalties under Federal law against an individual who had been convicted and punished under criminal law for the same conduct.
Mr. Roberts also participates extensively in the pro bono program of his firm, assisting his colleagues prepare pro bono appeals on matters such as termination of parental rights, minority voting rights, noise pollution at the Grand Canyon, and environmental protection of Glacier Bay."

Hm. Interesting.

Inside HigherEd also points out he has been involved in multiple cases involving academia - both sides

I guess it is too late to call him in for pro-bono cover against PA State Senate Select Committee Witch Hunts...

ex CIA open letter to Congress

Letter to Congress from former Intelligence Officers

I am putting this in because people should read it, and it should be highly linked for web and blog engine searches.

See also discussion on No Quarter

Be interesting to see a head-head match up between No Quarter and the 101st Fighting Keyboarders.

Remembering London - London who?

Intelligent Design: the Real Debate

A Comic View

My friends and cousins are scrutinising this for theological fidelity.
"Norse mythology is so fucked up..." indeed. As opposed to?

Any heresy will of course lead to punishment by an infinity of boredom, no heroic death for heretics.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

stupid muddle - no intelligence, no design

A heads up from a dKos diarist.

Kansas Board of Education accepted the creationist changes to the science curriculum and directed the curriculum committee to not make any changes to the draft.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Here is the story from the Kansas City Star

The science curriculum committee should resign, give the Board the rope. This is unacceptable direction for any working scientist with a responsibility to maintain standards of science education.

Here is a proposal for "science education" - this is the "Findings of fact (final)"! - it makes for nauseating reading; see for example pages 18, 25 and 53-55.
I have never seen such a pile of dishonest garbage.

PS Jesus' General points us to a Kansas letter to the editor which has it all wrong.
Intelligent Design requires a Cosmic Cow - and her name is Auðhumla (ok Audhumla for font impaired web indexers) - I mean how do you explain the Milky Way.
Noodly Appendages indeed.
Hello! Giant Squirting Udders! How else did Man get Cheese to Fight the Ice Giants!

Monday, July 18, 2005

capo di tutti capi

In fiction there is a persistent meta-theme of rise, hubris and fall. It is conveniently summarised by the stereotypical rise of a Mafia family:

First there is the Grandfather, who rises above the "street fighter" level, possibly through some contingent event (moving to America; moving from the East Coast to West Coast; moving from NorthEast to SouthWest; opening of a new market etc); this establishes the "Family" as an important player. Grandfather is a nasty piece of works and sets the stage, but only features in walk-on roles or flashbacks. The real story begins with Papa. There are also the "Women" (or reverse the gender roles, it matters not, the meta-theme can be stereotyped), they are often the prime movers, for good or ill, but the story focuses on the sequence of front characters, at least on first read.

Next comes the "Father": he is hustler, smart, street-smart, deceptively tough, ruthless, heart-of-gold (maybe); but fundamentally honourable - he fought his way to the top, and knows how it works - there is a "Code", and you may be tough but some things are out of bounds, even if it leads to setbacks; Papa takes the long view, his ambition is great but bounded, he knows his limits. This is the pinnacle of power for the Family, and now hubris sets in.

The "Son": the Son has it tough - Papa is on top of the world, capo di tutti capi, and he earned it. Papa has a posse of street-smart, intelligent tough assistants who are loyal, and the loyalty was earned; they are men of honour even as the destroy enemies and inflict collateral damage. Their rivals give them grudging respect, even the feds respect them; they control the streets and keep things from going totally out of control.
The Son has it hard - Papa is too smart to just give him it all - and there are Brothers and Cousins who might overshadow the Fortunate Son in an unfair way; sometimes it even seems Papa likes some non-Family Golden Boy even more than Son.
So, the Son has to earn his cred - he does a tour on the streets, not anywhere real bad, just enough to know he slung a gun and could have been in a real fight, if things had been a bit different. Here the Son starts making contacts and building his loyal posse. But his loyalists are mostly toadies, smart toadies, guys looking for an easy ride to the top, sucking up to the boss's Son, and deep inside he knows it - no one can really be trusted, unless they have shown real loyalty, by doing something dirty, violating the Code.
The Son despises the Code - it is for old fogeys, not capo di tutti capi. Rules are for losers.
Papa gives Son some business opportunities, an easy scam or two, maybe a pump'n'dump - so the pump is failing, Papa calls in a favour and someone from an allied Family primes the pump long enough for Son to get out with a success; and a favour owed - that will bite in the long run. Second scam works, softer target, Son is established and sent to run some territory. The posse grows.
Now Papa retires (or does he?); maybe someone else ascends to capo di tutti capi for a while, a player from a rival family; while Son gathers strength. Either way, eventually, the Son makes a move. Now he is capo di tutti capi. He will outdo Papa.
Initially Son plays by the Code; he is smart enough for that. But things are getting nasty behind the scenes. Something sets off a fight. Gloves come off; the opposition is crushed, in a no rules, cinematographic gore fest. No one will challenge the Son.

But, the rules are rules for a reason. Resentment builds. Papa's old posse may have been moved out for some Boni but they start talking, the other Families grumble, nothing overt, but behind the scenes Son's schemes start being subverted. The Feds are getting restless, they like it quiet, no blood on the streets please, and especially no collateral civilian causalties.
The Rule Number One is broken - the Son messes with the Feds; not in a fair fight, a hit, a revenge strike on a small player. Now their own are threatened, and Son gets taken down.
It takes time, it is messy, nobody ever likes this part, too gory, too messy, too many favourite flawed characters go off stage; the rise and hubristic days of glory are so much more fun on the screen.

But, the Greeks were right, hubris costs, and eventually the Son is taken down. Exile, jail, or worst of all, inglorious has-been.

And the cycle repeats; maybe another branch of the Family will ascend; or not. There is always someone else wanting to be capo di tutti capi.

festivities are over

Every year, shortly after 4th of July, the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts is held in State College and on the campus of Penn State.
It is a remarkably good little art festival for a very small town. Astonishingly so. Good fun. This year, unusually enough I made it to the festival (early/mid July is prime conference time); weather was lousy, hot, sticky and intermittent heavy thunderstorms, but it was another good one.

For the last few years, at the instigation of Prof Charlton and her horde of students, the astronomy department has held Astrofest during the art festival.
An extended open night over the 4 nights of Artfest, with public lectures, demos, activitities, including kids activities, and observing. Well, not much observing this year, but still.
Also, unusually, this year I had a chance to volunteer for one night, kids activities (good training) and then I was roving for wherever help was needed.
Even with the weather and lack of observing ~ 2000 people came. Astonishing, and most seemed to enjoy themselves. The talks get better and more varied each year (I can say that, I didn't give any), and the activities are run very smoothly, there is institutional memory, experienced people, and a lot of hard work by Prof Charlton and her core group of volunteers.

Till next year.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Friday iPod iChing - get the LED out

Another lazy friday blogging day; enough of this serious political crap.

So, Science did the 125 most important unanswered science questions - we've already done a couple of the Big Ones, so lets look at some of the little ones...

Oh mighty iPod - "Are there physical large extra (space-time) dimensions?" And as an auxillary question, are they Randall-Sundrum type, and can we experimentally access them?

The randomizer whooshes.... whoosh.

  • The Covering: Pourqui Me Reveiller - Pavarotti
  • The Crossing: Santa Claus is Coming to Town - The Cranberry Singers (don't ask)
  • The Crown: Allegretto - Julian Bream - Music of Spain
  • The Root: Sister Moon - Sting
  • The Past: Golden Years - Bowie
  • The Future: Presto - Mozart
  • The Questioner: Interlude VI - Mannheim
  • The House: Oliver's Army - Elvis Costello
  • The Inside: Love Her Madly - The Doors
  • The Outcome: Space Oddity - Bowie

Wow. I swear, I do a single "no high rated preferences" randomizer spin...
That's an answer.

As before, the Key as explained by Sean

So, what have we got -

Important Events: Why Awaken?
Current Obstacles: Santa Claus is Coming to Town?!
Best we can do now: Allegretto - that's got to be good
Past events: Sister Moon - had to look that one up - hm, gravity but no light - very good...
The Past: Golden Years! -- The Future: Presto - De Junge Mozart at that!
The Questioner: an anonymous New Age interlude, figures... ;-( Nice little tune though.
Other People: Oliver's Army !
The Inside: Love Her Madly - looking good for Prof Lisa Randall here methinks
The Outcome: Space Oddity!!! No shit!

That'd be a "yes". There are Large Extra Dimensions and they're Randall-Sundrum type, infinite, but with gravitons massive off-brane and no gauge field propagation.

Holy crap. The iPod has spoken.

Wrath of Khan

Lots of people have now pointed out a disturbing issue - starting with americablog - here is a good summary from Fistful of Euros.

Basically, summer of 2004, an al Qaeda communication link in Pakistan was captured and "turned", he continued feeding messages from aQ leadership to field agents, specifically some in Britain planning a London bombing campaign. The brits sat on this and planned to roll up the network.
But the the head of Homeland Security in the US announced the capture, coincidentally just before Kerry's speech at the Democratic Convention, unfortunate timing that. The brits, who were not warned, had to do a rush raid on the targets before everyone of interest was identified, some got away, and some as I recall had to be released because there was insufficient evidence against them.

There is now evidence linking the 7/7 bombers to this group, and a thought that if Khan had been kept secret for a while the brits could have caught the entire network, not just a part of it.

This is getting to be a nasty habit, this accidental blowing of cover operations by US administration officials.
Almost reads like a bad technothriller describing Clancyesque visions of inconsiderate politically motivated democrat hacks leaking classified info for political gain. Except the democrats are not in charge.

PS Good summary of the issues by Juan Cole on Informed Comment

Absolutely unfuckingbelievable.
Remind me of this.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Plame affair - talking points

Raw Story has posted the RNC Talking Points on the Rove/Wilson/Plame affair.
It is amusing to see who in the media, especially allegedly independent pundits, parrot such talking points verbatim.

However, one point struck me:

"Vice President Cheney: I don't know Joe Wilson. I've never met Joe Wilson ..."

Now, Joe Wilson was the head of the US embassy (Deputy Chief of Mission) in Baghdad in 1991. When Cheney was Secretary of Defense, and a minor military affair involving the US and Iraq took place. I suspect Wilson's name would have crossed Cheney's desk on some occasions.
I'm really quite surprised that Cheney does not remember. Maybe he is not a "details" person. after all he had forgotten about meeting Senator Edwards as well, shortly after having had breakfast with him.
Shame. Maybe some condition that is affecting long term memory.

There is much punditry on whether "everyone knew" about Valerie Plame's (PSU alumn!) position at the CIA, and whether even a crime was committed at all (if not, why did Rove not speak out publicly and say what the talking points are trying to point to now? Would have saved a lot of bother).

But, this misses an essential point - Plame was a no-cover agent; she is now blown, and anyone she associated with over a period of a decade is suspect. That is a fatal sort of suspicion to be under in some of the places she apparently worked.

Secondly, the idiot talking head Novak, also outed her employers, which was a CIA front. Now everyone who ever traveled abroad and listed that company as an employer or business contact is also blown. I don't know how big an operation it was, but you don't set up and maintain a company like that for one person who has been rotated to in-house operation for several years, as Plame apparently had.

So Novak, and the treasonous git who leaked the info to him, exposed an entire agency operation, destroying 10-20 years worth of deniable cover and groundwork. And one apparently aimed at tracking WMDs.

Words can not describe how unforgivably bad this was.
The people defending the administration on this issue are in very severe denial.

Or, more eloquently, what he said - ex-CIA agent Larry Johnson on TPMcafe.

Oh, and kos has Wilson's refutation of the talking points - the "addendum by a couple of senators to the intelligence committee report is a neat trick. Basically have someone on the committee add any old crap to a report as an unsupported appendix, and then cite it later as "the report says...".

PS from kos citing a Jeff Gannon interview with Wilson: "When I came back to Washington and was introduced to the war cabinet, President Bush introduced me as a true American hero, and I take great pride in that." - the Secretary of Defence, Dick Cheney, was hopefully part of GHW Bush's war cabinet. I guess he's just not a "people person", hard time matching names and faces after introductions.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

things that might worry me if I were the worrying type

Colorado dynamite theft, June 2005

Canda dynamite theft, June 2005

Norway, dynamite theft, May 2004 - dynamite stolen in september 2004 was found, have not heard this lot was found.

Missing tanker truck in NJ,Apr 2004 - hadn't heard this was ever found, certainly was not as of Nov 2004

Stolen propane trucks, Jun 2004 - might have been sold in Mexico

tanker truck stolen in Houston, Jan 2005

Widget desires

A handy dashboard widget would be a arXiv searcher

I don't know that I want it badly enough to write one, be more productive for me to spend the time reading arXiv...

which is not at all necessary, since Stephanie Wehner has written a free arxiv widget. Woo hoo.
Thank you Stephanie.

Also an APoD widget and, well, several hundred new ones, some of which seem useful and fun.

Monday, July 11, 2005

London bombs: Paddington not Edgware

What he said - the target was Paddington, not Edgware, and the 4th bomb was intended for another main BR station, but the bomber got lost and bailed.

Trouble with Tribbles

Chronicle of Higher Education has a revealing article about search committees and junior candidates who blog.

the Little Professor comments

I can understand factoring in what faculty candidates actually say, but not the mere fact that they choose to speak out.

After all, on the Net no one really knows whether you're a dog.

London - who done it

Love Will Tear Us Apart: Alternities II

Jah Dub Love Will Tear Us Apart

- from BoingBoing via James.

I prefer Yat-Kha's Tuva punk throat singing version, but this one ain't half bad.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Academic Rights in PA

Oh crap.

Bitch PhD nudged me into awareness of the fact that this piece of idiocy actually passed. Article is on InsideHigherEd where I had actually spotted it but got distracted by actual work like things and forgot to read it at lunch...

They presume to check the State Related Universities, not just the less known State University System (which you of course all know does NOT include The Pennsylvania State University (State Related only) nor the University of Pennsylvania (private)).

Sounds relatively innocuous, but they aggregate significant power to themselves, and I fear it is not at all well intended.

We'll see if they have a bite; expect a test case in the autumn. From the InsideHigherEd report it sounds like Evolution is a primary target along with a certain "I didn't get an A 'cause the Prof is a Libburral" set of students.

Bérubé will comment on this on monday. Should be amusing.

Friday iPod iChing - Grave Matters

Lazy friday blogging: we Ask the iPod - Will there be a confirmed detection of quadrupolar gravitational radiation in the next 10 years?

Woosh... the randomizer spins

  • The Covering: Lust for Life - Bad Livers
  • The Crossing: Seid uns zum zweitenmal willkommen - Mozart
  • The Crown: I Wish You Wouldn't Say That - Talking Heads
  • The Root: Henry Kissinger - Monty Python
  • The Past: Concerto: Autumn - Vivaldi
  • The Future: What I Can do For You - Sheryl Crow
  • The Questioner: State Trooper - Deana Carter
  • The House: Firebird: Introduction - Stravinsky
  • The Inside: Aisle of Plenty - Genesis
  • The Outcome:Boat Train - the Pogues

Hm. I swear I don't have "favourites" turned on; Boat Train just keep flipping up.

As before, the Key as explained by Sean

So, what do we have?
Important Events - Lust for Life, appropriate
Current Obstacle - Magic Flute, hm, we are welcomed for the second time
Best that can be achieved now - Talking Heads
Past Events - Henry Kissinger !! ;-) then Autumn...
Future - What I Can do For You - California centered
Questioner - State Trooper - I don't think so, but could be flattered
House - Firebird - are they the maidens or the monsters?
Inside - Aisle of Plenty
Outcome - Boat Train??? If the iPod is to be believed astrophycisist will spend a lot of time in drunk oblivion

So, politics led to vigour and a lot of talk. But I think this says LIGO vs 1.5 or 2 will find something and poor me will be one of the referees on the discovery paper. Ouch.

London bombers: single team, moderate local knowledge, and missed targets

Couple of comments: my initial reaction was a single bomber (team) could have dropped all the packages, but then thought it might take two; however a comment on Making Light has swung me back to a single team. Police now confirms bombs were on timers; I bet 5-10 minute settings.

Here is the tube map.

The bomber was working Circle line, pivoting around King's Cross. They took a train east, left a package timed for Liverpool Street, came back, sent a bomb on west out of King's Cross - and I bet it was intended for Paddington. Edgware Road makes little sense as a target, train was probably a minute or two late. They then dropped one on the Piccadilly Line and got out.
The bus bomb was either a mistake - they couldn't get back on the tube, or it detonated early (in which case forensics is about to blow the case and ID the bomber team) - or they realised the tube was shutting down and they abandoned the bomb and walked away. May be worth looking for two people taking a taxi near a bus stop "down route" from the bus around 9:30.

A well planned attack would have sent the fourth bomb to Victoria or Waterloo, but that is hard to make before everything shuts down, which is why I think they just left it and walked away. This was planned, but not incredibly well planned. I wish "terrorism pundits" on the telly would stop perpetuating the Myth of the Hypercompetent terrorist. It was probably two slightly nervous men in their mid 20s with one or two older men assisting the preparation and planning and resources from the outside through mail drops.
Other big question is whether explosive were commercial and stolen, or military and from a foreign source - and either way, whether they were tagged and therefore traceable.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London paths

Atrios points to a prospect comment on the path of the London bombs - I think the analysis on the political motivation is overdone though.

This looks like a singletwo slightly scared teams of bombers starting at one end with the priority target and then dropping bombs where they could with little regard for the exact target; someone working a route they're familiar with, not someone with deep familiarity with London Transport. A different pattern would have been much more disruptive - going for stations which cross-linked lines and had critical switches.

Hm, maybe two teams, not one; or they took a chance and put the bombs on 30 min timers, not 2-5 minutes. I'm betting one people jumping on the circle line going west, and one working Piccadilly - the bus might have been a mistake as was suggested by the media at one point.
So a small cell of people who've been in London for a little bit, but not long enough to really deeply understand how the place works. Bastards.


Hope my friends are all ok, and have a chance to read their e-mail soon. And reply to it...

Larry Bond (co-author of Red Storm Rising) wrote an interesting, if somewhat overparanoid and intense, techno-thriller called "Enemy Within" (1996).
It is illustrative of what a small, well resourced team of terrorists could do in an ideal scenario to a modern society (although the prevalence of cell phones and street cams would change things somewhat). Reality would have more things go wrong though, the illusion of the hypercompetent special forces type is nice, but unreal, and actual terrorists are even less likely to be hypercompetent.

I'm figuring the claim it was al Quaeda is correct, and am wondering if there is any truth to the blog speculations that al Zawahari videos are the code triggers. Could have been worse, I would not be surprised if the UK police roundups of suspected aQ cells did not disrupt a bigger planned attack earlier.

The London bombings need not involve a lot of people, someone with the expertise who received (from a foreign source?) a few pounds of plastic explosives could have done this. Looking at the locations and timing I suspect it would have been possible for one person, or team of two people, to have planted all the bombs (if they were suicide bombers, then clearly not so). But as few as 2 to as many as 10-12 people would be adequate.

Makes the question of what the aQ are planning regarding the continental US more disturbing. I would not be surprised (I would be dismayed and angry) if aQ attacks US transport or infrastructure targets inside the continental US within the next 3-6 months. I hope not, I fear they will.

Great. Terror works, it is scary.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Love Will Tear Us A Part

An Anonymous Coward, who is clearly way cooler than me, and definitely in touch with what matters, forwarded me most valuable cultural link.

That there exist Punk Tuvan Throat Singers should not come as a surprise, that they did a cover of Joy Division is, that Yat-Kha's version is also good is a delight. John Peel should have lived to hear this!

I wonder if they'd do a cover of the punk'd version of "Dansi, Dansi Dúkkan Mín".
It is highly disturbing that I can't think of that song (nor "Sigurður var sjómaður") without the punk version going through my head. I predict that will cause me trouble in the near future.

Anyway, go listen, it is a treat. If you like that sort of thing.

Thanks. You Know Who You Are.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Not that I'm taking it personally or anything; but can I advocate that the Vehicles Formerly Known As Sports Utility Vehicles be henceforth be referred to as FUV not SUV.

Short for Fuck U Vehicles, of course.

Disclaimer: some of my best friends drive FUVs, I can even understand why.

100 math problems

Brad deLong has an interesting challenge: 100 interesting math problems for non-science majors who need to learn real math

His number 2 is the Drake Equation. Fascinating as that is, he would be better served to generate student interest if he used the Date Equation

Other related problem to look at would be the Date Rate equation - which estimates the mean time between dates, given the estimated number of available dates.

Another problem is the "marriage optimisation problem" - namely how to decide when to pick a partner, under the conservative estimate of wanting to choose one lifetime partner as well as possible.
This is a somewhat non-trivial problem to formulate, and therefore left as an exercise to the student...
But the answer, as I recall it is simple: Estimate the total number of potential partners you will meet in your life; after you have met 1/e of them, pick the next one who is as good or better than all the previous ones. Marry that one.

The catch: there is a finite probability you let the best one go; your criteria may possibly change; and your estimate of the number of eligible partners is almost certain to be wrong.

Interestingly this explains one of the more ubiquitous phenomena around: why high school couples almost always break up at university. It also sheds some light on divorce patterns, and the problems associated with changing social environments (especially jobs) and moving to big cities.
Something interesting there, especially if linked to game theory problems of the equilibria for "cheaters" in populations with iterated interactions.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Deep Impact success! - link to Phil's Bad Astronomy

Here's the mission media page - cool pics

Be very interesting to see the data as it comes out, whether the subsurface material is pristine and what the composition is.
Lots of people got not sleep last night.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

iPod iChing - a Bet and a Gamble

Hm, longer hiatus than scheduled.
Turns out that maintaining proper spacing at 65 mph on interstates not only gives you adequate braking distance (trucker behind me please note for future reference), but it also means that the poor deer the SUV in front of you wipes out has enough space to bounce, come down, and go under the car, rather than through the windshield.

Still, our poor car has some mystery bits dangling from it now...
and it turns out that neither Big Kids nor Little Munchkins like being woken through screeching brakes and loud thumps.
Funny that.

So... a long time ago a I made a rash, and formal, scientific bet with Steve "The Big D" Thorsett, to the effect that a black hole-pulsar pair would be found by the 7th of February 2008. Scott and Paulo took side bets, against me... bastard, but sensible bastards, clearly.
I like creating win-win scenarios for observers - "win Nobel price/make Steinn look like a fool... which to choose"

Since the stakes are high, and the time is rapidly approaching, I intrepidly and timorously
Ask The iPod: Will I win the Bet?

  • The Covering: Cold and Bitter Tears - Billy Bragg
  • The Crossing: Ég Ætla að Skreyta Jólatréð - Ómar Ragnarsson
  • The Crown: Allegro Brandenberg Concertos - Bach
  • The Root: Satellite - Elvis Costello
  • The Past: Once in a lifetime - Talking Heads
  • The Future: Wages of Sin - Damien Jurado
  • The Questioner: I. Marcia Serenata Notturna - Mozart
  • The House: Everywhere - Billy Bragg
  • The Inside: Are you gonna be my girl - Jet
  • The Outcome:Purty Vacant - The Kingswoods

As before, the key is here

Wow. I gotsa believe. First time a fluke, second time weird. Now, just have faith.

Important Events - Cold and Bitter Tears
Current Obstacles - is a "I will decorate the christmas tree", hm, stop upgrading and start observing doods.
Best that can be achieved now - Allegro - no shit!
Past events - Satellite. Hmm...
then "Once in a Lifetime" - no shit!
Questioner - I Marcia? From Eine Kleine Nachtmusic - I can deal with that. Pretty triumphant.
Future - Wages of Sin - for someone, no doubt!
House - people everywhere, eh? "dig in boys, for an extended stay". But they all die at the end.
Inside - "you look so fine, I really want to make you mine"
Outcome - Purty Vacant! YES - I WIN! Or, does it mean I am vacant, not purty. Oh dear. Now I am confused...
I listen: "no point in asking us you'll get no reply"...