Monday, February 25, 2008

KT Tunstall Explains the Loop Pedal

Since the loop pedal plays such an important part in KT's live performances (like this), I thought I'd have her explain to you how it works.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Spy Satellite and Space Junk

The US military just destroyed a spy satellite with a missile strike.  Let's forget, how unlikely it was that the satellite would have hit near anyone if they had just let it reenter the atmosphere on its own.  Let's also forget that this strike was a simple way to make a flawed missile defense system look good (I am sure that the path of the satellite was much more predictable than any real incoming ordinance).  Let's also forget about the worry that the strike could contribute to the militarization of space.  What I want to concentrate on is the possible effect of all the junk that the explosion produced, and the resulting danger to satellites and astronauts.

The photo above shows about 10,000 objects of baseball size or larger in low Earth orbit tracked by NASA.   There are perhaps 600,000 objects  larger than a centimeter which are too small to track.  

Now if that doesn't sound worrying to you, note that objects in such orbits move around the Earth at more than 17,000 mph (27,000 kph), and the energy of an object goes as the velocity squared.  That means being slammed with a 1 kg object at orbital speed involves as much energy as a 60,000 kg 18-wheeled truck crashing into you at 70 mph (113 kph), except that in the former case the energy is concentrated into a much smaller object.  This is what being hit by a tiny object going 17,000 mph looks like:

So how many pieces of space junk did the spy satellite strike create?  Well, it is estimated that the Chinese destruction of one of their satellites in 2007 increased the amount of space junk by about 30%.  

[It is fair to note, as Rampant Clam's Comment points out, that the Chinese satellite was in a more stable orbit than the US satellite, so what the Chinese did was far worse because it created much more long-lived debris.]


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

This is the heart nebula.  Never lose your sense of wonder.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Physics Factoid: Composition of the Universe

This pie chart shows what makes up the Universe.  Amazingly, about 96% of all the mass-energy  in the Universe is invisible in the form of dark matter or dark energy.  I'll do posts on each of them, but briefly, dark matter is related to ordinary matter except it doesn't interact with light, so it is invisible and doesn't clump into planets and stars (unless you count these); dark energy is a mysterious energy which is causing the Universe to expand faster and faster, and may well be the inherent energy of space itself.

Of the 4% of the Universe that is in "normal" matter, most is in interstellar and intergalactic gas--only about 1/10 (0.4%) of the total is in stars like our Sun.  Finally, all the elements other than hydrogen and helium make up less than 1/10 of that slice (0.03%--not shown).

[Image credit: NASA] 


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Huckabee Can Win the Nomination

As I write this, VA was just called, and MD, and DC have not been called.  [Update: McCain just won MD, which is assumed in the calculation below anyway.] [Update 2/15/08: Romney has endorsed McCain, so assuming his delegates will support McCain it is now extremely difficult to see how Huckabee could win.  This does not take away from the point of my post: the press said a Huckabee win was impossible, when it was not.] [Final update: Huckabee has now conceded.  Of course the point of this post was never that he would win, but that the press said it was impossible when it was not.]

I am not a fan of Huckabee.  In fact, I find some of his rhetoric very troubling.  But I am sick and tired of the media trying to decide the race.  They were wrong about Obama for the longest time, tacitly assuming Clinton would inevitably be the winner.
Obviously it is still mathematically possible for Huckabee to win the Republican nomination.  In fact, it is not at all unreasonable.  Consider the following scenario.

As of now (not including MD & DC, VA's 63 added in), Huckabee has 241 delegates, and McCain has 729+63=791 delegates. Suppose that McCain wins all the remaining blue states (less conservative states) and Huckabee wins all the remaining red and purple states (more conservative states).   Let's also give Huckabee Guam, American Samoa or the Virgin Islands, which have 9 delegates each.  That is, 
McCain wins MD,DC,RI,VT,HI,OR, for 143 delegates, giving him a total of 935 delegates.
Huckabee wins OH,TX,WI,MS,PA,IN,NC,KY,ID,NM,SD,NE, Guam, American Samoa,Virgin Islands, for 703 delegates, giving him a total of 944 delegates.

Huckabee would have a plurality of delegates.  Neither of them would have a majority, so it would be up to Romney delegates to decide.  Would they really pick McCain over Huckabee?  I doubt it.

So, while perhaps unlikely, it is certainly NOT mathematically impossible for Huckabee to win the nomination.
And if he did win, the press, which is always so eager to pick the winner, would haven been proven wrong once again.  So, dear reader, if you are a member of the press, I urge you not to jump to conclusions.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

KT Tunstall

I thought I'd take a little break from politics and science and write a music review.

KT Tunstall is a Scottish pop star who burst onto the scene with her debut album, Eye to the Telescope in 2004.  Her big hits from the album are Black Horse and the Cherry Tree and Suddenly I See.  In 2005 she won Best British Female Solo Artist.    She has a fresh, lively style, melding interesting rhythms, singable melodies, and a raspy, soulful voice.  Her newest album, Drastic Fantastic, was released this past September.

Most intriguing of all are her one-woman performances.  She uses a looping device to lay down rhythm and backgrounds, which she creates by pounding on and strumming her guitar, stamping on a tambourine, singing, and even making kazoolike sounds  with her hand and mouth. [Here is a post with KT explaining how it works.] The video above is KT doing a cover of the Jackson 5 song I Want You Back

There are various versions on YouTube of KT doing other songs by herself, notably Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, but there are no album versions of her I Want You Back cover at the moment.
Which brings me to an important point.  We all need to pay for music.  If you are sampling songs, or want a version that is not available from a paid music site, then by all means use YouTube or some free music site.  But if you want to keep listening to something which IS available from a paid site, such as iTunes, please lay out the 99 cents.  If you don't pay for it, you're either asking someone else to take up the slack, or you're saying the artist shouldn't get paid.  Imagine going to work, creating beautiful things that people appreciate, and then being told that you won't get paid for it after all because people found a way to take it for free.

Anyway, in summary, KT Tunstall rocks.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Who Won Super Tuesday

There will be debates for days over who won Super Tuesday.  Clinton won a few big states by small margins, Obama won many small states by big margins.  Their cumulative vote total was very similar.  They picked up nearly the same number of delegates.  Clinton won slightly more, but most of her lead is due to (unelected) superdelegates she had before. So the cumulative total of elected delegates,  according to CNN on 2/6 at 10 AM, is Obama 707, Clinton 706.

But one thing is not in doubt: Democrats won yesterday.  Let's assume that John McCain will be the Republican nominee.  Well, in each state that voted, whether the order on the Democratic side was Obama-Clinton, or Clinton-Obama, they each had more votes than John McCain in that state, except in his home state of Arizona.

Here is a list of states and the order of results, with O for Obama, C for Clinton, and M for McCain.  Sometimes direct comparisons were not possible because totals were in state delegates instead of voters, or there was a primary only for one side or the other.  

AK (state delegates; OC | M 4th)
CO (state delegates; OC | M 2nd)
ID (state delegates; OC; no Repubs)
KS (state delegates; OC; no Repubs)
NM OC; no Repubs
MN (state delegates; OC | M 2nd)

Now to be fair, there were three competitive contenders on the Republican side dividing the vote, and only two on the Democratic side.  But consider, for example the deep red state of Alabama, where you would expect Republicans to be way ahead (300K means 300,000; all numbers from CNN):

Obama 300K
Huckabee 226K
Clinton 223K
McCain 207K
Romney 100K
Paul 15K
Edwards 7K
Giuliani 2K
other Democrats 3K
other Republicans 1K
Total Democrats= 533K
Total Republicans - Paul=536K
(I leave Ron Paul in a separate category, because I think in an Obama-McCain race, a good fraction of the Paul supporters will vote for Obama.)


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Tuesday Message


Sunday, February 3, 2008

"Yes We Can" Song

Below is a link to (and embedded lower resolution version of)  a beautiful music video montage by of the Black Eyed Peas about Barack Obama's central message of hope.  It is political poetry stirringly sung.

Link to high resolution version:

Lower resolution embedded version:

[the video clips are from Barack's New Hampshire "concession" speech]


Friday, February 1, 2008

Obama's 2002 Speech Against the Iraq War

In October 2002, the same month that Hillary Clinton voted for the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002" (that's its actual name), Barack Obama delivered a speech at an anti-war rally in Chicago.  This video montage presents an abridged version  of the speech, delivered by people from across the country.  Below is a full transcript (from Wikisource).  Virtually every word Barack said still rings true today.  That's what he means by judgement.  If you can honestly say that Hillary demonstrated better judgement about this issue-of-the-decade, then by all means vote for her. 


Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances.

The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars.

My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain.
I don’t oppose all wars.

After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income – to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.  But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.

You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.

You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.

You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn’t simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil.

Those are the battles that we need to fight. Those are the battles that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair.

The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not – we will not – travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.