Friday, March 18, 2011

What I Like This Week.

So I've been doing the things I like every Friday, whether or not astronomy related. Just because, maybe some other people would be interested in those objects too, or maybe to list stuff I might want in the future. There really hasn't been any reason to it. Originally I was just going to do gadgets, but there are already tons of great blogs out there on gadgets.

So this week, I like Dragon Age 2. I got it as an early birthday gift (my birthday is the 24th) and have been losing a couple nights of sleep to it already. It's a pretty fun RPG adventure game. It's got all the dwarves and elves and mages and, of course, dragons one could expect in a game. I'm not going to do a review, I haven't the patience for that, plus I haven't beaten the game.

Also, I have to be honest and say I wussed out in Act 2 while fighting a dragon boss and started playing in casual mode. Eff you dragon, eff you! It's kind of annoying to get you down to a sliver of health and then have my whole party wiped out. Anyways, just know that I like it, and maybe you will to if you are into RPG video games.

So that's all for this weeks what I like. I'm still pretty busy, I am going to go help set up for the neighborhood St. Patrick's Day party tonight. It's also by girlfriend's birthday, so special shout out to her. My alma mater, GMU, won their first round of the NCAA tournament, they are facing number 1 seed Ohio State next, it doesn't look pretty.

I am going to the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University tomorrow morning, which I am super excited about, if anyone can think of any questions to ask the MESSENGER team when I meet them before I leave tomorrow, let me know in the comments! Also, keep voting! And on a sadder note, I didn't get the position I applied for at the Space Telescope Science Institute, but hopefully there will be other opportunities in my future.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day and some Green Astronomy

Happy St. Patrick's Day! In the United States, this is the day where we celebrate the rich Irish culture of green things and vast amounts of booze. Although, usually the harder celebration takes place over the weekend. Everybody is Irish for a day! It also works well because this is when spring comes around again and things start getting green again.

With green in mind, lets have some green space science:


The MESSENGER spacecraft is arriving at Mercury tonight at around 9 PM EST. It's taken 7 long years to get there, and it has been quite the ride. It will be a few days before images start coming to Earth as the systems all need to be checked and everything given the OK. You can find out more at the MESSENGER webpage.

I'm on my way to a meeting, but when I get back, I'll have a post on Green Astronomy for St. Paddies Day.

EDIT: I forgot to mention, I am meeting the MESSENGER team on Saturday! They are going to be a part of the Thrill of Discovery Workshop that I am attending at the Applied Physics Lab and Johns Hopkins University. I am really excited about it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


So this time I want to talk a little bit about how I feel about internet and information 'piracy,' and near the end bring in how it's related to astronomy.

Internet 'piracy' is something that seems rampant, and always has been in modern internet history (pre-modern being before services like Napster and Kazaa). And most of it I think is wrong to call piracy, the majority of it is sharing. Piracy would be distributing the rights and works of others for your own profit and without the consent of the content creator. Sharing is someone saying 'here, check this out' and letting you experience something new. People have been sharing for as long as there has been piracy. It is letting your friends experience new music, movies, books, and other forms of artwork. No one complains when you lend your friends your DVDs, CDs, video games, books, or comic books. This is a fair thing to do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dark Matter

Dark Matter is dark. HA, good opening joke there... Yeah, I'm going to make this dark matter post as short as possible. I'm going to cut out all the glut you can find on Wikipedia, because really, who can't find just about everything they need to know there? Why? Because today is not my finest day for blogging. Seasonal allergies are kicking in and I'm pretty sure if have a haymaker of a hay fever, and I need to start feeling better before the weekend gets here. I also spent most of the day filling out application forms and those silly personality tests for a job offer I received. And answering questionnaires on the Life in the Universe Toolkit I've been working with. Plus, I think I am having withdrawal from my girlfriend going back to school after her short spring break visit. On the upside, I got Dragon Age 2 last night (an early birthday present), so I want to hurry up and get to playing that too.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day

Today is Pi Day, a holiday that celebrates the mathematical constant π (pi). March 14th is 3/14 in month/day date format (the crazy American standard). It is celebrated on this day because pi's first 3 digits are 3.14, the common approximation of pi.

Yes, it is a real holiday. The U.S. House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day in 2009, but it was created in 1989 by Larry Shaw of the San Francisco Exploratorium. In the European day/month format, the fractional approximation of pi is used, 22/7. Pi Approximation Day (or European Pi Appreciation Day) is therefore celebrated on July 22nd. More info on the holiday.

My favorite: Pumpkin Pi!

Pi is mostly enjoyed because it is a homophone of pie, which is delicious. It is not a lie, unlike cake. Pi is used to describe the relationship between a circle's circumference and diameter, as defined by the equation π = C/d. Pi is an irrational number, essentially meaning that the digits after the decimal extend infinitely with no repetition or pattern. The current record stands at 5 trillion digits. More from the Pi article on Wikipedia.

There is also an interesting and growing movement against pi, The Tau Manifesto. They support the establishment of τ (tau), where τ = 2π. Essentially, 2π represents sine functions and shows up in a lot of equations, especially in Calculus. The use of tau would remove the need for the added calculations and such. Ultimately though, it is mostly a matter of aesthetics, and has no real fundamental mathematical change, and thus not a huge following. It's mostly just a novel concept. For now, we should all enjoy pi!

EDIT: looks like Dark Matter one this weeks vote, so I'll have a topic on that tomorrow. I am considering doing another open question post next time. Like I did the first time, where I selected 3 reader submitted questions to answer.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


So after missing my usual 'thing that I like' and 'caturday' posts, I return to blogging. I had a great weekend with my girlfriend, but now she's back off at college since her spring break is over. I am counting my missed couple of days as my spring break from blogging, ha. Now I have a bunch of stuff to catch up on, but feeling a bit lazy.

Lets see, there are a couple of things... First, today is the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, for all those places where this dreadful event is celebrated. In the US, with the exception of Hawaii, Arizona, and various territories, this is the day that we loose an hour of sleep. So, I know a good amount of you are probably feeling the lack of an hour of sleep. The benefits of DST are still contested and there doesn't seem to be any solid evidence that it is worth it. Since we don't really have a huge agrarian culture, it doesn't change much, though it supposedly reduces energy consumption.

Next, I saw Battle: LA this weekend. It was interesting. It seemed a bit like an really long Marines commercial, if they were the whiniest Marines ever. There was some good action though, and they actually were intelligent and did some problem solving. Figuring out how to defeat the aliens seems believable the way they did it. And speaking of the aliens, they seemed pretty believable from my perspective. Disguising an invasion force as a meteor shower, stealing our precious water, massive use of drones with command-and-control, troops that are severely augmented to be unstoppable fighting machines, and not communicating with the indigenous population. If I were an advanced society capable of interstellar travel, I would do the same thing.

There were problems though. The aliens didn't seem as smart as they should be. Seriously, only one C&C center per city and placed underground? Why not out to sea, underwater, or in space, orbiting the Earth. And there were scenes just way to over dramatic to take seriously. Overall, it was a fun movie, nothing to original and full of cliches, but enjoyable.

Lastly, I got a toolkit that I am testing for the Night Sky Network (and therefore NASA) for outreach called Life in the Universe. I got my first chance to test it at the HCAS open house on Saturday night. Seemed like people enjoyed it, and I got some positive response out of it. It includes a number of concepts, some of which I might expand on in later posts. These include a timeline of Earth's history and the development of life, extremophile cards with facts on some of the extreme life that we know on Earth and may represent alien life, a presentation that explains the Drake equation, and habitability dice that shows how hard it can be to roll conditions suitable for life. Some interesting ideas and I am excited to be testing it out (there are a dozen clubs across the country testing this kit right now).