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Pale White Dots

[My story on the first images of extrasolar planets.]

[Here's the NASA page. And here's a link to images of HR 8799.]

Two teams of astronomers made stunning claims today that they have separately obtained images of planets orbiting two different stars in our galaxy. If confirmed, these would be the first direct images of "extrasolar" planets.

One team, led by Christian Marois, an astronomer with the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, Canada, said it has found a scaled-up version of our solar system, with three giant planets orbiting a star called HR 8799.

"I would have been happy with one planet, but finding three is absolutely amazing. I searched for these planets for eight years," Marois said in an interview.

The other discovery appears to be a planet orbiting the bright, relatively nearby star called Fomalhaut. Paul Kalas, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley, said the object clearly moved in a manner that shows it is orbiting the star. The images show a tiny, featureless dot in a vast belt of dust.

"I think it would look a lot like Neptune," Kalas said today at NASA headquarters when asked to imagine what the planet would look like up close. "Surrounded by a swirling disk of dust. In the background you see Fomalhaut's dust belt, circling the star. A maelstrom of dust."

The discoveries, published today in the online journal Science Express, mark a major step forward in the search for planets outside the solar system. Hundreds of "extrasolar" planets have been found in the past decade or so, but they were all detected indirectly by studying changes in starlight.

All the extrasolar planets found since 1995, including those reported today, have been "gas giants" like Jupiter, in many cases much larger still. At this point the sensitivity of the technology is such that only the biggest planets show themselves. Astronomers are making strenuous efforts to detect earthlike planets -- cool, rocky worlds -- that orbit stars in the "habitable zone" where water might exist in liquid form.

These distant planets are typically many millions of times fainter than the parent star and are washed out by its glare. But new astronomical techniques are coming online that can subtract the starlight and make it possible to capture the planet's reflected light if the planet is far from the star.

Until recently, two methods dominated the search for extrasolar planets. The first measures the "radial velocity" of a star. When a planet orbits the star, the starlight wobbles slightly. Scientists can measure the wobble and run the data through their computers to come up with a reasonable estimate of the size of the planet and its distance from the parent star.

The second technique looks for the dimming of starlight when a planet passes across the face of the star.

A major goal has long been to see a planet directly, and now both Kalas and Marois, acting independently, say they have succeeded. Kalas used the Hubble Space Telescope to examine Fomalhaut, which, at just 25 light years from Earth, is just down the block in the galactic scheme of things. Marois used two telescopes in Hawaii to study HR 8799, which is 140 light years away. Both stars are much younger and hotter than our Sun; any planets around them would be unlikely to harbor life, much less complex organisms.

Marois detected the first planet candidate around HR 8799 last spring. Then, on July 9, while on a commercial flight from San Francisco to Hilo, Hawaii, he discovered in the data on his laptop computer the apparent image of a second planet. That suggested he had found a planetary system and not just a single world.

"I wanted to yell, but I didn't say anything. I wanted to be in the rental car before actually expressing any emotion," Marois said.

Astronomers, however, are certain to invoke the famous Carl Sagan rule that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." The objects could be something other than what their discoverers perceive them to be. If, for example, the objects turn out to be much larger than currently estimated, they would be classified not as planets but as "brown dwarfs," which are capable of nuclear fusion but aren't quite big enough to shine like stars.

Alan Boss, a leading planet hunter and author of the forthcoming book "The Crowded Universe," said the three Marois objects and the Kalas object are all strong candidates for planets, but he said more investigation is necessary. Boss, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, said, "Nothing's a done deal in this business because we don't know exactly what the masses are."

Even if these really are planets, Kalas said, their detection would not represent the Holy Grail of planet-hunting.

"The Holy Grail would be to directly detect an earthlike planet," said Kalas. "What I think we have here is a prize along the way. We have a direct optical detection of something that's like Neptune."

By Joel Achenbach  |  November 13, 2008; 5:37 PM ET
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Next: The Bigger Picture


Extrasolar boodle? Let me go get everyone.

Posted by: -dbG- | November 13, 2008 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I'm here, dbG! If we get whales and a planet named Mianus, there really will be a party.

Posted by: slyness | November 13, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure SciTim is just *itching* to comment - and will do so, as soon as he gets off the train late this evening! In the meantime, I'll chime in...

1. The ground-based observations were done with Keck II, which SciTim hasn't yet used (though it is on top of Mauna Kea, near his faves IRTF and Subaru)

2. I must take issue with Joel's statement that "All the extrasolar planets found since 1995, including those reported today, have been "gas giants" like Jupiter".

Several smaller, possibly rocky planets had been identified through transits; see for example

Posted by: ScienceSpouse | November 13, 2008 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Slyness! Got the thing in the mail, will send yours shortly.

Maybe Mianus will turn out to be a non-planet like Uranus. (I can't believe I'm posting that).

Punchy. Going to bed.

Posted by: -dbG- | November 13, 2008 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Uh, the nerd/geek/dork numbers aren't supposed to add to 100. They are three independent measurements of different traits. You can be a geek but not a nerd or a dork or can be all three at once.

And explaining that makes me a what?

Posted by: yellojkt | November 13, 2008 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Need help:

There's an article on NYT re: giving birth at home. Didn't Joel write about that? Complete with a doula? I think this is why I started reading him lo, these many long segments of time ago. Anyway, if it was him, does anyone know where to find it? I need it for purposes of catharsis. GAAAAH!

Posted by: KathrynAPage | November 13, 2008 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Hmm, this talk of uranus too makes me think of U2.

I look in telescopes
They're closed but I see something
A teacher told me why
I laugh when planets cry

My study grows and grows
It frightens me you know
The old man tried to walk me home
I thought he should have known

Starlight, lost my way
Starlight, can't find my way

At Fomalhaut sun meets planet
At Fomalhaut sun meets planet
At Fomalhaut sun meets planet
At Fomalhaut sun meets planet

I'm running in the rain
I'm caught in my discovery
It's all; it's everything
I'm soaking through the skin

Twilight...darkened day
Starlight...lost my way
Starlight...night and day
Twilight...can't find my way

Can't find your way
Can't find my way
Can't find your way

Twilight...darkened day
Starlight..lost my way
Starlight...night and day
Twilight...can't find my way

At Fomalhaut sun meets planet
At Fomalhaut sun meets planet
At Fomalhaut sun meets planet
At Fomalhaut sun meets planet

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Yes, just a small white dot now, but just think where we might be in 50 years. That is, if we have a mind to.

I do have a stylistic question. I understand why you put "Gas Giants" in quotes, as the term is akin to jargon. But why "radial velocity," which clearly is not.

Unless, of course, the quotation marks were secretly ironic.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | November 13, 2008 6:34 PM | Report abuse

RD, radial velocity is not jargon and "extrasolar" is? I think you're pulling my leg.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 6:52 PM | Report abuse

I am so glad that I am not the only person who rated as Tri Lambda material.

I should have lied.

Posted by: --dr-- | November 13, 2008 6:57 PM | Report abuse

He's just condescending to the rest of us, showing off his "college degree" from a school in the "Ivy League", and flaunting his "high paying job" "writing" "for a living", at least until the last newspaper closes, and he's with the rest of us LIVING IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER!

(Apologies to the spirit of Chris Farley. I know I didn't do it very well.)

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Wow, waterfront property is so elitist, dude.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Now, living in a van IN the river, I probably could afford.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Radial velocity is not jargon because it has a specific meaning well understood all throughout physics, engineering, and even applied math. "Gas Giants" and to a lesser extent "extrasolar" are jargon because they have a well understood meaning only among astronomers and astronomy groupies.

But my intent wasn't to quibble with Joel, as this would be like a kid with a can of spray paint questioning the brush work on the Mona Lisa.

My intent was to make a subtle joke (so subtle only I got it) about exactly what kind of secret scientific knowledge Joel might have such that this term is suddenly worthy of ironic quotes.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | November 13, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Bc and Sctim (JA, too). Help us out with image. Image, for NASA, can mean many, many "thingies."

If taken by a camera by Hubble and relying primarily on light, rather than "taken" by a radio-telescope or other spectrum instrument, I guess these might be pictures.

I love all NASA visuals, but always want a colophon or sorts on how the image occurred.

Photography is always the default cognitive schema for these astonishing images.

So, help a nerdgal out.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | November 13, 2008 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Interdiscplinary jargon is still jargon, RD.

Elementary kids learn their planets and what a gas giant is without difficulty. On the other hand, I sure wasn't studying radial velocity in fifth grade.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Home Birth Kat -- our resident archivist on all things JoelA is not in. Look for Kbertochi here, often in the AM. She will answer when she sees this.

Wow. Imagine that if this is (was) Joel. I would guess not, since Iwould likely remember this...but, could be wrong.

Two of three children were nearly born in high speed cars on the Beltway at rush hour: CPDot2 with about six minutes to spare and CPBoy with a cool hand luke nine minute window. Home birth sounds like a good plan to me...

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | November 13, 2008 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Despite posting the link I never had time this morning to take the test (small sibling warfare erupted).

I too am Tri-Lamb material, 61, 26, 57.

Hi All, finally have a quiet night and the most on topic I can be is to say I watched the moon rise over a large cloud this evening as I was running errands. Very lovely (hope that is not too technical).

ScienceSpouse glad to see you posting

Posted by: dmd2 | November 13, 2008 7:19 PM | Report abuse

Just wanted to pop in and say good night to everyone. Of course, this topic leaves me totally out. I cannot add or subtract. It does sound "science fiction" though.

It has been a rough day of sorts. We had a young mother of two shot and killed yesterday. She accidentally shot herself while supposedly playing with the gun. I know this young woman's mother. My neighbor isn't doing well at all. They've moved her to ICU. And one of my dad's old friends has passed. I know we don't come here to stay, but it just seems we get more than our share here in this small town.

I didn't mean to kill the boodle, just needed someone to talk to. Continue with the science, I'm sure I'll learn something. It does sound exciting thinking about life as we know it existing on another planet.

Night, boodle. Sweet dreams.

Posted by: cmyth4u | November 13, 2008 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Good night Cassandra - sleep well - glad you have a place to talk.

Posted by: dmd2 | November 13, 2008 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh Cassandra, just so sad. Here we have the stars and planets and so many wondrous phenomena! But, then this. And, yes, you are witnessing more than a body's share of death. I do not know what to say but I am so sorry.

I am thinking of this from the first book of Corinthians, because the words are beautiful and about both stars and death:

There are also celestial bodies, and
bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one,
and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one
glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another
glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star
in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | November 13, 2008 7:43 PM | Report abuse

We've been observing you huminz for some timez.
The pyramidz are our emblem of ownershipz of this planetz.

You huminz been discovered long time ago. The only reason for sapient speciez to exist is to be intelligentz enough to take salt out of ocean and bring it back uphill.

Gut nightz Boodlerz.

Posted by: Braguine | November 13, 2008 7:47 PM | Report abuse

The dreaded rule of three, Cassandra. I'll be keeping you in my thoughts. Peace be with you.

Posted by: -jack- | November 13, 2008 7:48 PM | Report abuse

But by that logic, Wilbrod, none of those terms are jargon, in which case there would be no reason for Joel to put them in quotes at all.

Radial velocity means velocity (time derivative of distance with respect to distance) in the radial (outwards) direction, This isn't obscure jargon to anyone who knows anything about basic kinematics.

But that isn't the point. I was just making a joke that perhaps Joel was saying "radial velocity" in quotes the same way a millionaire would describe a lemonade stand as "high finance."

Stupid joke, perhaps. But not as stupid as this pedantic argument.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | November 13, 2008 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra - that is truly horrible. My best thoughts and wishes.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | November 13, 2008 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Pale white Dots:

evokes watered-whispy-blue dotted swiss fabric.

Dotted swiss use to be a young girl's classic dress fabric. Dotted swiss curtains hung in my grandmother's tiny living room. She rinsed the curtains in bluing, to give them that whiter than white glow.

Lying on her couch during nap time under those curtains, I first saw dust motes whirling. This is the experience that made me think about the universe and stars and life bigger than mine. Stars always make me think of those dust motes; an invitation to think about bodies at rest, bodies in motion.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | November 13, 2008 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Ride My Llama

Remember the Alamo
When help was on the way
It's better here and now,
I feel that good today.

I'd like to take a walk
But not around the block
I really got some news
I met a man from Mars.
He picked up all my guitars
And played me traveling songs.

And when we got on ship
He brought out
something for the trip
And said, It's old but it's good
Like any other primitive would.

I'm gonna ride my llama
From Peru to Texarkana
I wanna ride him good
In my old neighborhood
I'm gonna ride him good
In my old neighborhood.

And when we got on ship
He brought out
something for the trip
And said, It's old but it's good
Like any other primitive would.

Neil Young

Posted by: -jack- | November 13, 2008 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, when it rains, it pours. I hope things will improve in your community, and the hurting ones will be in my prayers.

Posted by: slyness | November 13, 2008 8:14 PM | Report abuse

The HIA team has a strong Québécois flvor. Lafrenière and Marois are former students of Doyon of the Université de Montréal. I looked on the unfortunately named CRAQ (Centre de Recherche Astronomique du Québec) web site and all three are or were member.

Doyon is director of the Mount Megantic Astrolab. They have a smallish mirror telescope (1.6m) but it's popular to develop instrumentation. Being an hour drive from Plattsburgh NY it is more conveniently located than Hawaii. One problem Megantic had was that each year there was more light pollution than the previous one, so there was a slow erosion in the signal to noise ratio. They created a Dark Sky Reserve around the observatory. A young engineer, Chloé Legris, was named scientist of the year by Radio-Canada for her effort in creating the reserve. It's more of a community activist job than a scientist job to convince the province, cities, counties and business to cut down on light pollution but the net result is to improve the "vision" of the instrument or at least to stop the slow decline.
It's open for visits in the summer, they have a replica (60cm) of the 160cm telescope the public can use. It's actually pretty cool, even during the day. We stopped by with the 4-5 years ago.

Klinkenborg of the NYT had a paper last month in the NatGeo on light pollution.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | November 13, 2008 8:16 PM | Report abuse

CP - As an itty bitty boy I recall seeing the dust motes in a beam of light from my bed. I remember my excitement when I suddenly realized that those motes were everywhere, but it was just the light bouncing off of them that made them visible.

So maybe this is what seeing this mote of a planet represents. A civilization peeking out over the blankets at nap time.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | November 13, 2008 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Stupid? "Stupid"? As has been so eloquently pointed out by the LoneMule & others, if we eschewed "stupid" conversations here, we'd have nothing left.

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 8:22 PM | Report abuse

RD, yes. And, that children can still discover the world outside of themselves in thingies like dust motes.....

dust bunnies? Not so much.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | November 13, 2008 8:22 PM | Report abuse

CP, I don't make much distinction between pictures and images anymore, particularly now that so much is digitized.

AFAIK, NASA seems to use the word - correctly - images pretty consistently

For my own purposes, I would consider a classic photographic plate (as was used for so many years in optical astronomy), classic negative image film, or even an instant Polaroid as "pictures" in the classic sense, as the data on the media were created directly from the photons of the original whatever it was that was being photographed.

Anything created secondarily from that, I'd consider an image. These days, so much astronomy seems to be done from digital processing of optical data, filtering, enhancements, etc. that I don't know that I'd call anything coming from an observatory these days a picture, other than in colloquial usage.

That's not to devalue them at all - in fact, imaging capture, enhance and represent far more information than old-style light-reactive chemical media could ever hope to. The digital revolution in astronomy seems to me to be what has made so many of the wonderful discoveries over the past 50 years possible (I'm including images from probes and satellites).

SciTim is a professional in this area, his expert opinion is what I'd consider the final word.

Having said that, I don't get the NFL Netowork but managed to get onto and am watching the Jets and Pats live on my laptop. How great is that?


Posted by: -bc- | November 13, 2008 8:22 PM | Report abuse

RD - I remember the exact same revelation, in exactly the same circumstances. It's a powerful tool, the ability to differentiate between the visible and the present.

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, BC, and sciTim will help I am sure.

I do think that images is very broad and inasmuch, is correct. However, when we use light rather than radio waves to generate the images, then they are picture-like.

To many NASA audiences, reminders of the range of images include picture-like, can be helpful.

So, I think these images are picture-like, which lends an immediacy about how to enjoy them. For me, at least, one of the great unwashed lovers of this stuff

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | November 13, 2008 8:27 PM | Report abuse

bc, those experiments are exiting to those guys (I've heard Marois on Radio Canada radio, he did sound like an excited 15 yo) because it's the first time they caught (or so they think) photons reflected from those planets. The other methods were indirect.
So yes I think these things are "pictures", if they are for real, since they are obtained from photons coming from the planet to the detector just like my boring pooch pictures.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | November 13, 2008 8:36 PM | Report abuse

At some level, I must have known this, but I just realized (because of a string of thoughts and Googling far too discombobulated to attempt to descramble) that next year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of:

"On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life"

I'm sure that it will be feted accordingly, but I'll have to ponder how I wish to mark the anniversary. The underlying concepts of the work are amongst the things nearest and dearest to my heart, and the silliness of classroom-time debates and other ephemera is sometimes disheartening to me.

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 8:38 PM | Report abuse

CP, I resent the pome.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | November 13, 2008 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Oh, my quiz score was: Pure Nerd - 63% Nerd, 28% Geek, 26% Dork

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Ah, thanks for explaining the ironic joke, RD. And you got it.

I'm not a fan of putting quote marks around jargon at all, unless it's an actual quote.

Frankly, I thought those quotes were just indicating to the IT editors where hypertext should be put.

You'll notice that in the article, _planets_ hyperlinks directly to NASA; it's reasonable to think that the other terms were envisioned as having hypertext too.

Only Joel knows, I suppose. Or Curmudgeon.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Oy vay is mir. Don't ask.

OK, you can ask. Never mind; I'll save you the trouble. Oy vay.

Left workk at 11:30, took two Metro (subway) trains and one bus, got to hospital at 12:40, per request, and registered. Walked into cardiology waiting room at 1:02, presented paperwork and test orders. In reasonable due course, a tech came and got me, and did my echocardiogram (with a doppler thingy: laid on my side and watched the valves of my own heart flopping around). Took about 40 minutes. Now almost 2 p.m.

Returned to cardio reception room. Was told someone had scheduled me for the wrong stress test, and they had to take me downstairs to "Nuclear Medicine" (or Nuculer Medicine, for some of you) to schedule the right test, meaning I had to take off yet another half day next week. Lots of discussion. Nobody knows how it happened. I called the number I was supposed to call, some guy named Sean scheduled the test. But even though he had all the right data in front of him, he scheduled the wrong kind of test, a non-nuculer (or non-nuclear, as the case may be) one. To do the nuclear, they have to specifically order the right radioactive goop for the test; they just don't have it lying around. (I suppose that's a good thing, I dunno.) By 2:30 they have taken me down to Nuclear and signed me up for next Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. (It can only be done in the morning, and takes four hours. I guess it takes that long for all the little radioactive "thingamajigs" (more technical jargon in quotes!! This is such a learned Boodle!!) coursing through my body to spawn zillions of cancer cells in my brain and other vital, semi-vital, and not-at-all-vital organs. (OK, maybe that won't happen.)

So there I am at 2:45, day shot, nothing major accomplished. And I have three different requests from three different doctors for blood draws. (So many people want my blood I should star in a Buffy episode.) So I figure what the heck. I went to the blood lab and an hour later had yielded 12, count 'em, a full dozen tubes of my very best 10W-40 O negative.

I had been fasting all this time, because the test and then the blood draws all required it. (And of course I'm diabetic, and getting woozy.) So at 3:45, I finally had lunch at the Subway on campus, and hoped the bus and subway home at 4:15.

And that was my wonderful day at the hospital. And now I have to go back Wednesday morning and do most of it all over again, another half or two-thirds day off my vacation time.

Aren't you sorry you asked?

Pitchers of planets, huh? Cool.

I've always disliked the word "images," under the editing rule of specificity. I am hard-pressed to think of a sentence using the word "image" or "images" that wouldn't be better and clearer with a more-specific word in it: photograph, infrared photograph, drawing, sketch, painting, whatever. "Image" is pretentious and high-falutin' in a lot of cases, too.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | November 13, 2008 9:29 PM | Report abuse

O-negative? That's hardly blood at all. It's more like iron-water, without any of the fun stuff that makes us unique individuals.

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Ever so slightly more seriously - I'm feeling for you, Mudge. It's so damned maddening to be stuck in the system (any system, actually) and be sidetracked by missteps & delays to and beyond the point of reasonable endurance.

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like they were bleeding you to get all the melancholy and evil humours out, Mudge. Just be glad you don't have to be cut of the stone, like Pepys. I've read the description and seen the diagrams, and they make me shudder. No anesthesia besides alcohol.

Posted by: slyness | November 13, 2008 9:47 PM | Report abuse

oh, 'Mudge, I'm so sorry. At least the nuclear fission-heat of the non-stress stress-test is deferred?

Posted by: Yoki | November 13, 2008 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Your imagery made me think of the ancillary functions of barber shops, slyness. I hope that when all is said and done, 'Mudge, that you pass muster.

Posted by: -jack- | November 13, 2008 9:55 PM | Report abuse


"I saw my image in the mirror."
"The image of a subset A ⊆ X under f...."

I agree with you, though. "Image" shouldn't become the "visual whachamacallit" of our age.

(Apologies for the heavy technical jargon here.)

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 10:11 PM | Report abuse

Geez, Mudge, wotta day. At least you can bask in the reflected glow of new extra-solar planets. With pictures. I'm so glad science is back!

And Cassandra, I'm so sorry for your run of trouble. I feel like those people are lucky to have you care for them, but I know all that caring is hard on you.

Thanks, RD, for explaining radial velocity. That's one of those things I feel I really should know and almost certainly learned at one time. Yet another victim, I suppose, of the useless information filling my brain.

From the last Boodle - yellojkt, y'all are all so sweet.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 13, 2008 10:17 PM | Report abuse

That did not sound like a fun day. Remind me not to get old.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 13, 2008 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Odd that your isotope delivery was sabotaged, Mudge. I feel for ya, that's one rough day.

I went home once after donating iron bilgewater to the vampires after fasting 12+ hours too... I was so woozy that I could barely cross the street safely, so I feel for ya. Glad you could make it to the keyboard to tap out your SOS for more anti-scourbics.

*faxing you some mojitos, crevichos, and puppyitos*

That's why they call 'em patients-- they suffer and still gotta wait.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 10:21 PM | Report abuse

If we are going to get down to the Platonic Ideal of "image", how is a chemically induced collection of reactions caused by photons any less "real" than one captured by electronics. It all comes down to the fact that we are all from Missouri and have to see it with our own bioelectrical photon receptors in order to believe it.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 13, 2008 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, I'm sorry for your day.

It becomes a chronic pain, thinking of so many young people die in the prime of their days for so little apparent reason. How much worse to know and care.

At least you know that they are not gone forever. The pain is for those left behind to struggle.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, "I saw my reflection in the mirror" is much better than "I saw my image in the mirror." Without question.

I didn't begin to understand your second example, so have no idea how to improve it

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | November 13, 2008 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Good night, Boodle.

Must confess, bobsewell just [insert Marvin the Martian voice here] *cracks me up.*

Outrageous and funny, and sort line-crossing, but appropriately. Excellent!

Posted by: Yoki | November 13, 2008 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Ha, Mudge, I bet you were plenty hot this afternoon, even without the radioactive goop.

FWIW, I find the word "image" to be more precise when in the context of rendered data files, but that's just me.

slyness -- ooh, Pepys and the stone... [bc shudders]. Yeesh.


Posted by: -bc- | November 13, 2008 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Pepys? Pepys? *One-time English doctoral candidate perks up her ears*.

Now, if we were talking Boswell's Diary, we'd really have something to say!

Posted by: Yoki | November 13, 2008 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Kathryn: Hi! I read that article today and thought it was interesting. I'm glad to see professional women giving birth at home and hope the doctors get a clue at some point that women don't need them to CONTROL everything, just to stand by in case they are needed. When they finally readjust their attitudes (round about the year 2400) then maybe everybody will go back to having their babies in the hospital/birthing center.

I don't remember Joel writing about this particular subject and couldn't find it when I looked around in various archives. I did find a childbirth-related topic from the Why Things Are column in 1993:

Posted by: kbertocci | November 13, 2008 10:56 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, think in haiku--
A vampire reflects not when
he images your neck

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 10:56 PM | Report abuse


Yoki, you may start and then perhaps one or two will join you to become a "we," oui?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, while I'm blushing from the (hmmm...., I think it was a) compliment, I'm also assured that tall Albertans are famously easily amused.

By the way, I'm told that some of my little homing pigeons have already gotten to their assigned roosts. It's starting to renew my faith in the postal system, I tell ya!

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 11:00 PM | Report abuse

kbert - And while it's only barely sort of kinda tangentially a little related (in the sense that children are involved), there's always the "Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment".

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Oh yes, another chicken came home to roost. Thank you very much, Bob S!

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Bob S. - I rec'd my commemorative copy. Thanks so much. It really was very nice of you to send us these copies. Outrageous, funny and nice, hmmm. You're just going to have to live with it, you've been outed. Rabblerouser Bob S. is a funny, nice guy. I know you're going to hang your hat on the outrageous part, but funny and nice is going to stick!

Posted by: Kim1 | November 13, 2008 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Well, I figured that the Achenblog logo on the label would help assure a safe and timely journey!

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Oui, oui, Wilbrod.

Think just of Dr. Johnson and Thomas Boswell visting the Hebrides, and seeing the local people dance "The America" and we're very nearly there.

But also Dr. Johnson's Dictionary:

Enough. (pn. enuff). def: Too much.

Posted by: Yoki | November 13, 2008 11:27 PM | Report abuse

'Oats' - A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

'nuff said!

Posted by: bobsewell | November 13, 2008 11:30 PM | Report abuse

jaysus god, man!

Posted by: Yoki | November 13, 2008 11:30 PM | Report abuse

/Whazzat? Looks up Boswell/

I'm Boswellian? I suppose I could start writing my biography of Wilbrod, then.

Who knows, maybe it'll generate some nice blackmail bone renevue for me.


Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 11:39 PM | Report abuse

Listen, Wilbrodog, Dr. Johnson may have called himself a hack, but even he had his price!

Posted by: Yoki | November 13, 2008 11:50 PM | Report abuse

* Hmm, time to junk "Wilbrodo, a Gnomish Tale," and go sniffing my tree diaries for extra dirt*


Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | November 13, 2008 11:52 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrodog, may I suggest for you a pen name, Bowwowswell.

Jeez, that Pats-Jets game turned out to be a barnburner!! Jets just won 34-31 in overtime. And in the frenetic race for the football tiara, LiT, bc and I all picked New England. O the shame!

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | November 13, 2008 11:52 PM | Report abuse

Yo! Aren't you supposed to be in bed and long asleep, Mr. Curmudgeon?

Posted by: Yoki | November 13, 2008 11:57 PM | Report abuse

'mudge - I wasn't particularly emotionally involved in either game, but both Pats-v-Jets & Hokies-v-'Canes turned out to be close 'uns.

And Yoki, I seem to remember a comment of yours from over an hour ago beginning: "Good night, Boodle." Not that I'd wish to encourage you to hasten your absence, because your presence is among my favorite delights.

Or were you perhaps using "Good night" in the multihandy "aloha" or "cheers" sort of way? I was initially taken aback at the flexible usage of "cheers" in England. It serves, in various contexts, as a stand-in for quite a few other terms.

Posted by: bobsewell | November 14, 2008 12:10 AM | Report abuse

And good night to you, sir.

Posted by: Yoki | November 14, 2008 12:12 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: bobsewell | November 14, 2008 12:13 AM | Report abuse

I will defer to Aloha on this, but: Even though it's seldom mentioned in the tourist guidebooks, I'm pretty sure that one of the translations of "aloha" (particularly when combined with the "hang loose devil horns" hand gesture) is, "Thanks for bringing your money, mainlander. Now leave, soon, quietly, please."

Posted by: bobsewell | November 14, 2008 12:23 AM | Report abuse

Curled up in fetal skimmerlurker position from the workload, but I'm real happy to see science back in force, although now I'm all queasy from remembering Pepys' stone story...I'm not an actual doctor 'cos I pass out at the sight (and smell?) of blood (once I passed out while donating blood 'cos I saw it spurt...told the tech I'm going to pass out, promptly did for a few seconds, scared the carp out of her :-)

Posted by: DNA_Girl | November 14, 2008 12:38 AM | Report abuse

As a most-of-the-time and usually spectroscopic scientist, I truck in graphs and figures. I occasionally construct images. Their constructed nature renders the use of the term "image" as unambiguously correct, if somewhat bloodless.

But what about "imaging detectors"? (a legitimate use of technical jargon, RD and Wilbrod). I think that the term "image" has come to be a term of art without too much conscious thought, so it is tough to find an authority that can be cited for a precise denotation. What I have picked up, however, suggests that "image" is genuinely preferable to "photograph" for modern astronomy and other photon-based sciences.

An image is different from a photograph, which implies that you are seeing a reasonably faithful representation of information that is potentially accessible to human senses, allowing for modest license in the form of selecting wavelength-sensitivity. The photo may be staged, but in principle it was possible for a person to place his eye in a certain place, at a certain time, and see just what the photograph shows. If you stray too far from human physiological capabilities, it would not be fair to call the image a photograph. An image is formed by devices whose properties are engineered to emphasize certain features of a scene, possibly in ways that are alien to human senses and which may not be interpretable as a spatial distribution of light from physical objects (for example: spectropolarimetry; Schlieren photography; interferograms. If you don't recognize these terms, that's why it is not legitimate to call them or their derivative products "photographs", because a photograph is a common term with a well-understood meaning). The engineered image produced by an optical system has defects that can be controlled and manipulated, but never entirely avoided. The system that collects the light from the optical image also is engineered. Electronic imaging involves another level of engineering and decision-making in the process of converting the detected light into something that you can see with your puny and limited human eyeballs. In principle, of course, this is no different from any other form of photography, but the jargon term "image" is a warning that you cannot necessarily interpret the image in the same straightforward way that you would interpret a photograph. "Image" means: "be thoughtful. Someone has manipulated what you are seeing, for purposes of persuasion. It is a technically sophisticated illustration, not a 'photograph'."

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 14, 2008 12:46 AM | Report abuse

DNA - Love it. Very emo is us!

Posted by: bobsewell | November 14, 2008 1:06 AM | Report abuse

Tim, dude, that explication is so exactly what I want more of!

I was considering pointing out that ANY "photograph" has already been artificially engineered by the choice of "film" media, as well as choices regarding focus, aperture, exposure time, print medium, blah, blah, blah.

I'm pretty comfortable with your approximation: "... a reasonably faithful representation of information that is potentially accessible to human senses ..."

Works for me.

Posted by: bobsewell | November 14, 2008 1:10 AM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Morning, morning, friends. That was lovely, CP, really, really, on time. I needed that.

It is good to have friends that we can go to with our troubles and problems. We can ask questions, feel free to unload. Yet, I keep thinking, wouldn't it be nice to tell my friends that I've written a book, I've discovered a fantastic cure, I've found a way to iron without standing or sitting, even without using an iron? I know I've become the queen of doom. I think my father surely had an eye to the "doom" part in giving me the name. You think?

Cassandra is a beautiful name, forgive my saying so, but let us not forget the history that goes with that name. This chick could fortell the future, but no one believed her. She was perceived as a great liar. Ouch. That hurt. Oh well, I could pay the price and have a name change, but I kind of like the name, despite the history.

TBG, when you get that job, and it will be a great job, see if they need a hearing-impaired anything? Tell them you know someone. Perhaps you might wait a couple of months before doing this. I don't know how the job hunt is going, but you'll do fine. My experience has been, don't give up.

A little story. Yesterday I had to visit the Social Service office. I needed help in filling out a form. When I asked to see the person that sent the form, I was informed that she wasn't there. The lady told me I would have to come back today. This is a six mile drive. I asked if there was someone else that could help me. Now remember I'm hearing impaired and these folks are talking fast and not really paying me that much attention. So I tell them, there are two, I don't understand what they're saying. Instead of writing down what they're saying, they get louder. Real loud because the other folks in the line are looking, and people stop talking. So the young woman tells me I have to come back today. I said is there someone else that can help me. She said no. I tell here I don't believe that. It was like I slapped her. I said to her, if the person I want to see dies in her sleep tonight, you mean there is no one else here to do what she does. She still clings to "no". I stand there. Finally she says, do you want to talk to a supervisor. I said yes. She tells me to have a seat. Before I can sit down, the supervisor appears at the door. Young woman, very nice. We fill out the paper, and I'm done. Isn't it lovely when all the puzzle pieces fall in place?

Have a great day, folks. It is suppose to rain here, and I need to do something for the collard plants. They're looking a might frail.

Slyness, Martooni, Mudge, Scotty, and good morning to all.*waving*

Time to swim.

Posted by: cmyth4u | November 14, 2008 6:01 AM | Report abuse

'morning all. I should have watched the football instead of the Canadien. 1-6 to the Bruins. Mind you the Bruins were "due", the Canadien being 10-0-2 in the last twelve against them. Oh well, that should make Scotty happy.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | November 14, 2008 6:37 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle.

Another dull day 'mongst the op-eds. The best is Christine Todd Whitman's elegant "I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so," chastizing the GOP for appealing to its "social fundamentalists" -- and then getting its butt kicked, just like she said it would. Keep up the good fight, Christine. (I'm just loving watching the GOP rip itself apart.)

SciTim, that was an honorable and even heroic defense of "image" -- but it falls just a tad short. Still, it was the best defense I could have ever expected. The high-water mark of your defense is that "image" is a generic word that covers some fairly obscure types of processes, which you then name: spectropolarimetry; Schlieren photography; interferograms.

But do you not see that you've shot yourself in the foot? The best description of a "Schlieren image" isn't "a Schlieren image"; it is the one you used yourself: Schlieren photograph. "Intererogram" is better than "interferogramatic image."

The defense of "image" rests on the assumption that it is a generic word that encompasses a variety of "things" that fall within it, but which cannot accurately be called "photographs" or some other more-specific word, because of different kinds of technology ued to produce that thing." And it is inescapably true that all sorts of new technology has produced all sorts of new "things" and "photograph" is misleading (or even wrong). Thus, the argument seems won.

(part II follows)

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | November 14, 2008 6:43 AM | Report abuse

Part II

But here's the problem: there *already* exists a perfectly good generic word that takes the place of "image," and it is readily available and known to everyone. It is dead simple, universally understood, easy to spell, only two syllabels. Unfortunately, this word isn't sexy and pretentious and "upscale" and scientific-sounding.

That word is "picture." There isn't a single instance where one can create a sentence using "image" where "picture" couldn't be substituted. (Wilbrod's haikus notwithstanding; poetic word choice isn't at issue.) But "picture" is too mundane, too straightforward, too...down-market, as the Brits like to say. Consider:

"NASA has released new infrared [or spectrographic] pictures of distant planets." But everyone would be fine with "images" in that sentence, wouldn't they/ Sounds more high-falutin' and scientific.

"The CT-Scan produces startling and detailed pictures of the human brain." We don't mind images of the human brain, but we don't like pictures of it, do we?

Why can't an x-ray image be just an x-ray? Why do we need the redundant word "image" tagging along after it? We don't -- except to add that teeny-tiny little nuance of scientific glitter. And that's what I'm choosing to call "pretentious" use of language. It's the same thing in calling teachers "educators," which is absurd.

What is the difference between "Teams of NASA astronomers are studying a variety of images of new stellar objects from the [XYZ] telescope" and "Teams of NASA astronomers are studying a variety of pictures of new stellar objects from the [XYZ] telescope"?

The answer has nothing whatsoever to do with technology, with interferograms or spectrawhatsiwhoosiitises, and the alleged technical correctness thereof. It is all in the nuance, the connotation, between "image" and "picture." You guys just don't wanna be caught dead looking at a bunch of pictures.

(And I don't mean to attack astronomers or even any kind of scientists; it's anybody who uses "images" or other upscale generic words instead of specifics or common words.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | November 14, 2008 6:48 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, Boodle. *reporting to the aerodrome*

Posted by: Yoki | November 14, 2008 6:48 AM | Report abuse

Mudge,---- to come to those kinds of conclusions, and to express that number of premises(not good language here)has to mean that you've been up all night. I just don't see anyone getting up with that many nuances to the brain this early in the morning. Of course, you must consider the person that is writing this. I would hate for you to be an enemy of mine. Or my editor for that matter. Everything would get thrown in the trash. As always I admire your ability to tear it up when it needs tearing up. A big smile.(smile)

Posted by: cmyth4u | November 14, 2008 6:59 AM | Report abuse

The story of Wendell the red necked wallaby doesn't have a happy ending. It fell victim to that great climate of ours.
Now how one would know a wallaby is a red necked one? Would a toothless wallaby with a Dale Earnhardt tattoo drinking beer from two cans strapped in its pouch while sitting on a car bench placed on the porch be a red necked wallaby?

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | November 14, 2008 7:07 AM | Report abuse

Tim did a fantastic definition of image. The problem with picture is that it carries a connotation of artifice and interpretation. One captures an image but makes a picture. Pictures are fanciful creations while images are objective attempts to interpret data in a meaningful way.

But words do carry meanings long beyond their original technological implementation. My wife's cell phone has a button marked "dial". And a collection of 8-12 songs by a single artist will always be an "album" no matter what form of media it is distributed on.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 14, 2008 7:12 AM | Report abuse

And not to step on DNAGirl's toes, but today's Sinfest captures a metaphor perfectly.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 14, 2008 7:17 AM | Report abuse

I tend to agree that "image" gets used because it has a certain technical je ne sais quoi that "picture" lacks. In the realm of connotations, there is a certain passivity in the act of engaging with a picture. A picture has definite intention. It will make your brain its ... plaything. You can be passive, 'cause the picture's in charge. An image is itself passive and demands that you do a little work to understand and interpret it. I think. Or maybe it's all the other way around. Connotations are a pesky business.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 14, 2008 7:40 AM | Report abuse

'Mudge, make sure you ask to see their license to handle the goop when you go back Wednesday... ;-)

Would Cassandra by any other name be as sweet? I think yes, for "our" girl, anyway. :-)

The Bruins' success to this point is always encouraging, but of course there's plenty of season left there. And I'm entirely satisfied with the Patriots' performance this year -- I just hope they can field 25 people or so by the time Week 16 rolls around!!! :-O

*planning-to-somehow-get-through-the-day-through-the-wonders-of-caffeine-after-a-low-and-slow-and-rather-foggy-Dawn-Patrol-sortie Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 14, 2008 7:46 AM | Report abuse

I agree with you on "image," Mudge, but one of your examples falls a little short... The trouble with just saying "x-ray" is that "x-ray" is an adjective. That would be like calling a digital camera a "digital."

Or worse... like when people call Adobe Acrobat just "Adobe."

Posted by: -TBG- | November 14, 2008 7:48 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all. Rain and gloom won't keep our spirits down today! I'm going to the mountains. Where it will be 20 and snowing by the first of the week.

Wow, remind me to stay out of the way when SciTim and Mudge start talking semantics. I love it, but wow.

Yoki, doctoral student in English? Eighteenth Century? I knew there was a reason I liked you so much! Seventeenth Century myself, although no more than a Bachelors.

Cassandra, I'm so glad you stand up for yourself. I've noticed that in this world, if we don't do it for ourselves, nobody else will either.

Posted by: slyness | November 14, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, you all.

I'm enjoying the very earnest discussion of picture/photo/image and would enjoy DandyLion's thoughts, as well. What has happened to him, does anyone know?

In my rather dust motted mind, (and non-scientific mind, to be sure) the distinction of the words is clear. Picture/photo is restrictive, limited information. Image is unrestrictive, free to go, at will, anywhere. The images in my head are unfettered by the frame of a picture/photo. ;-)

Charles K doesn't know it all, to be sure. Message to Charlie, government had no influence whatsoever in our choice of a hybrid over a year ago.

Good for you Cassandra, if we don't assert ourselves for ourselves, when the need rises, how can we do it for others?

If there is another planet somewhere, far far, away, earth's twin, is there an Achenblog there, too?

Posted by: VintageLady | November 14, 2008 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Good morninckzz all ye Boodlers. I'm late today. But that places me in position of watching the six o'clock.

Posted by: Braguine | November 14, 2008 8:07 AM | Report abuse

slyness! Who knew? Yes indeed, for my sins, I spent many years moiling for literary gold.

I ranged pretty widely (that was still permissible when I was in school, not like ten years later when it was deconstruction or bust, in the academy). Seventheenth Century was my first love, but I ended up working on a little idea I had about the irreconcilable paradox in middle English literature between what is spiritual and what is earthly, primarily examining the Chason de Roland. Turns out it *can't* be reconciled, noy by Yoki anyway. :)

And then at some point I looked up from the tomes and realized that I did not enjoy academic life one whit (sorry CP and the rest of you fine educators), and went and got myself into business school, which was a better fit.

Michael Innes has a great line in one of his Oxford novels, in which a student shows up at his tutor's door for the first time saying "I'm here for my Old English tutorial." And the professor roars out, "Old English! Call it Anglo Saxon! You don't call Latin 'Old Italian' do you?

Posted by: Yoki | November 14, 2008 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Because I am hopeless when it comes to science and deep discussions of meaning, I will just second everything Vintage Lady said. Especially the part about Cassandra. Way to go. Glad you got the service you deserved. Happy Friday all.

Posted by: badsneakers | November 14, 2008 8:12 AM | Report abuse

The wholesale infiltration of deconstructionism into all the soft academic disciplines is what has kept me from pursuing my lifelong dream of a doctorate in modern literature. The world needs a dissertation tying together all the multiple interpretations of Tralfamadore but I'm not going to read a bunch of Derrida and Foucault in order to do it.

And they might expect me to write in complete sentences.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 14, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

I prefer the term "Roentgen Rays." "X-Rays" ain't nothing but new-fangled technical jargon mumbo jumbo.

I've been thinking a bit more about jargon and why I get so annoyed when all unfamiliar terms are dismissed as "jargon."

Jargon is a type of slang. It is composed of shortcut phrases known only to a select group and are typically nonsensical, or at least ambiguous, without knowing the context.

The problem, of course, is that jargon can quickly become a kind of secret code used by the in-crowd. It can be exclusionary.

But just because a term is technical doesn't make it jargon. Terms like "linear acceleration" and "transverse stress" are not slang. They are technical terms whose general meaning can be deduced from their constituent words.

This is an important distinction because when people dismiss all unfamiliar technical terms as "jargon" they are implying that a deliberate attempt is being made to exclude them. The blame is implicitly being put on those who use precise unambiguous technical terms instead of those who are unwilling to learn those terms.

Although I understand completely why Joel choose to do so, given the harsh realities, I really do hate to see phrases like "radial velocity" in quotes as if they are some obscure Latin terms.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | November 14, 2008 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Yoki, I am an accidental professor! What I started studying in graduate school was

Kierkegaard and the idea of ethical projection of the self against a culture!

Danish overwhelmed me and I used to stay awake at night thinking about entropy and the environment....

I love reading David Lodge about U-life. Jane Smiley's Moo is midwestern U-based angst. Very good.

Mudge you are sorta right but are not acknowledging the relative precision of a basket term like image for the practitioner. But scTim, hey there: NASA images have a huge audience of non specialists. What I wish would happen is something like this:

radio telescope image

image made of false color techniques (explain f.c.)

"picture" of the edge of the solar system "snapped' by the Hubble....

composite image based on six years of data collected by three radio telescopes aimed at Alph Centauri

The image carries such clear detail that it seems like a photograph; However, this image is created from signals bounced...

In short, NASA needs to acknowledge its audience and the SCHEMA (hook hard-wired in our minds) about images that is largely based on our EXPERIENCE. We think "photographs." Teach us more, without sounding elite and technologically effete.

Mudge -- take an editorial chill pill. We cannot control the language but we can ask for clarity and modesty by the techno-nerds. (With love and affection.)

Off to teach, perchance to DREAM they will be edified....

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | November 14, 2008 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all.

Cassandra, you do indeed have a beautiful name. I hope you're feeling good today; deservedly so given your Paperwork Adventure yesterday. Well done!

Mudge, with that defense of the word "picture," you once again remind us all of why you earn your Boodle handle every day.

The term "image" has become the common usage for a great many things, and I suspect that in 10 years or so our discission will be as much a moot point as any discussion of analog sound recordings, offset printing or a McCain presidency.

Not a pretty picture, but I think it's more than just a figment of my imagination.


Posted by: -bc- | November 14, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Being a mostly non-imaging astronomer myself, please understand that I am attempting to defend my colleagues' somewhat jargonish use of the word "image", whereas in fact I prefer a less-generic terminology that more-precisely describes what the speaker/writer wishes to express. Bear in mind, however, that I have reason to believe that I am much (much!) more of a word-weenie than my colleagues.

However, I have much stinkier fish to fry. Specifically, the wretched creation spelled "disk" by know-nothing ignorami who are unaware that the word should be spelled "disc." I have been forced to reconcile myself to accepting "disc" as a manipulable physical object, whereas "disk" is an astrophysical phenomenon (accretion disk, protoplanetary disk, and so on). At least, astrophysicists (being OCD geeks and nerds) are aware that music and data are stored on Compact Disc™ or CD™, with a trademarked spelling.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 14, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Such a revelatory morning! (Is that a word? It should be.)

I completely understand, Yoki. I would have pursued advanced degrees in English (I was thinking research on Robert Herrick), but then I would have had to teach to survive, and even at a tender age I knew I wouldn't be good at that. So I ended up in public administration and had an excellent career as a fire department planner. My ability to write has stood me in good stead.

Blessings upon CqP and Dr. bia for all their hard work with the younglings.

Posted by: slyness | November 14, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Mornin' everybody...

Slow going here this morning. The usual cracks and pops and creaks somehow seem louder and even my aches have aches -- nothing a couple Aleve and a pot of coffee won't fix, but still... owie.

Mudge... I think your next foray into semantics should explore what "is" is (and no peaking at Bubba's papers).

dbG... found a new "handmade stuff" website you might want to check out: It's still in beta, but looking very promising.

Cassandra... you're my hero, y'know. :-)

Yoki & Sly... I'm surprised (but not shocked) to learn of your literary mining endeavors. I was an English major myself for a while and dreamed of a doctorate and tenure and wool jackets with suede elbow patches. But I fell in love with philosophy and psychology as well and set my sights a wee bit too high. I tried (and failed) to pursue a double major in English and philosophy, with a minor in psych, but life got in the way. My doctoral thesis was to be a reconciliation of Eastern and Western philosophy, to reunite the God and Godhead.

Which is why I now make fairy doors for a living. ;-)

Speaking of which... I had better get my butt out to the shop and get busy.

Peace out & Happy Friday everybody :-)

Posted by: martooni | November 14, 2008 9:00 AM | Report abuse

I'm profoundly sympathetic to Mudge's attempt to hold at bay the onslaught of vague flowery terms.

The spirit of William Strunk runs strong in this one.

But keep in mind that it could be far, far worse. Instead of "images" I have actually heard people refer to "examples of imagery."

Yep, there's a term that rolls off the tongue.

Come here kids and check out these examples of imagery from our visit to Grandma!

Posted by: RD_Padouk | November 14, 2008 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I am pretty sure, martooni, that Edward Casaubon is available as a new Boodle-handle, should you ever desire one. Talk about setting your sights high!

Some Boodle MOJO for the day, please, friends. The countdown clock seems to run faster with each passing hour.

Posted by: Yoki | November 14, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

The fairy doors are of far greater benefit to humanity than the dissertation would have ever been. And didn't Robert M. Pirsig beat you to that thesis anyways.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 14, 2008 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Do these planets have weeds?

Doesn't weed cause a slight wobble?


Posted by: russianthistle | November 14, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Interesting stuff today in Asia Times on how to fix the US economy.

And fabulous analysis by Ambassador Badhrakumar

Both are must read!

Posted by: Braguine | November 14, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Good morning all.

To me pictures are something that someone's brain played a role in. There's that human element. When DC draws a picture of a cat, it's her interpretation, her skill level. It might not look like a cat to me, but it's a picture of a cat. What S. Dali's brush did to canvas (also a painting because of the medium), it's a picture. Cavemen didn't draw images; they drew pictures. Image seems to imply data (ones and zeros), and photographs have something to do with Eastman Kodak. But what do I know.

Off to see the superheroes of contractors (Architect Guy, Wallpaper Lady, Light Man, etc.) Have a happy day all.

Posted by: LostInThought | November 14, 2008 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Probably, yellojkt. But it impressed the young ladies at the university. (being a very furry middle-aged Aqualung-ish gnome, I had to have something to go on besides looks and a beat up old VW Bus)

You're right about the doors, though... I've found that my little doors *are* somewhat of a benefit to humanity (if only in a Wee way). Renewable energy and a cure for cancer may be grander and more noble pursuits, but making a kid smile... well... I do what I can. ;-)

Posted by: martooni | November 14, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Alas, Cassandra, my rant was purely the product of this morning. I didn't spend the night thinking about it.

Cp, we don't control the language? You taxpayers are paying me (way too much) to do exactly that. And yes, I do it all the time. My least favorite one here is "law enforcement." Did you guys know we don't have police anymore? Nope. You can't find a police force anywhere in the country any more. They've all disappeared. Instead, we now have "law enforcement agencies." Seven syllables instead of two. What a wonderful improvement of the language. Like I've been saying, this is imply pretntious upgrading of an otherwise perfectly good, honorable term.

I think there's a wee bit of confusion about the image v. picture discussion: there are two aspects of it, not just the simple question of which generic term is better. My initial assertion was that *either* generic term was better than a specific, under the rule of specificity. Saying that you are studying an image tells the reader nothing, nor does saying you are studying a picture. But saying you are studying an x-ray, or studying an engioneering blueprint, or studying a spectrographic analysis, or studying a telescopic photo, tells you infinitely more than the informationless generic word.

Doctors shouldn't look at images or pictures: they should look at x-rays, CT scans, whatever.

Here in my outfit, we have "materials," which I am always ranting about (and changing), because that is equally meaningless. Instead, what we have here are almost always "publications," which is better but still weak. Better yet is "flyers, brochures, reports, bulletins, updates," whatever. Sometimes we have CD-ROMS. But materials? Yuck. Tells you nothing. (And it ought to be singular, as a collective noun; materials, plural, refers only to phsyical commodities used in the construction or manufacture of some other product or thing: cinderblocks, tar paper, sand, cement, stone, bricks, are all building materials. Flyers, brochures, xerox copies, and worksheets are all material, singular."

In the sentence, "The teacher talked briefly and then handed distributed materials to the class," I defy you to form a mental picture of just what it was the teacher handed out. You simply cannot do it. You can guess, but you don't even have a reasonable context to guess what those "materials" were. But if the sentence was, "The teacher...distributed workbooks, a reading list, a syllabus, and three article reprints," you know *exactly* what was handed out, and can easily form a mental image. That's why generic words like "image" [or picture]or "materials" or "law enforcement" are all bad writing. Suppose you said you were having "food" for dinner; is that helpful? (and does elevating it to "fine cuisine" help any?) If the word or phrase does not allow you to form a mental image of what it was, then that is simply bad writing. And as an editor, it is (usually) my job to fix it.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | November 14, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

You have much clearly elaborated on the distinction I was attempting to make. It's not the only differentiation that can be made between "picture" and "image", but it's the one in my lexicon.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 14, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

morning all
the fog is as thick as a good hearty warming soup this morning. Same as last night when the commute took some extra time.Usually when it is that thick I follow the yellow line,but i had to take a different route cause of some bridge repair in our community and there wasn't any lines.A dear friend sent me the goddess Anu to protect me on my journeys,thank goodness it arrived just in time for last nights soup journey.

I'd say that was some good mojo yoki

Posted by: greenwithenvy | November 14, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

SCC: "My initial assertion was that *either* generic term was better than..." should "neither."

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | November 14, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Good morning! First, Cassandra, congratulations on your perseverance with the Bad Beaurocrat. Isn't it interesting that the first woman was obstructionist and rude while the supervisor was immediately helpful? I hope the supervisor later explained some basic principles of behavior to the first woman.

RD, thanks for your musings on jargon. Although there is a great deal of jargon in the law, there are also perfectly good terms of art which are not jargon. I am very familiar with the idea that anyone using precise, well-defined technical terms is deliberately trying to exclude others from the conversation. I think this has been expanded to condemn persons who merely sound like they're smart because they use big words relevant to specific topics. This attitude encourages anti-intellectualism and contempt for professionals who must use specialized vocabularies - whether in law, finance or science.

I do like "examples of imagery". In its own scary way it is like poetry.

Boodle mojo to Yoki for her deadline. Tell those lawyers you'll give them a nice example of imagery if they finish on time.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 14, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Having food for dinner is much better than not having food for dinner. Or having something other than food for dinner.

I do get the eyeroll when I use "food" as the answer to "What's for dinner?" so I have tried to be more specific and have lately changed my answer to "whatever you can find in the refrigerator."

Last night I had two leftover mini-burgers from Matchbox that my wife had had first dibs on but declined.

The night before last it was a free burrito from Moe's (they were celebrating Election Day a week late). But now I'm just bragging about my acumen at cadging free food from chain restaurants.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 14, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

X-ray is also a noun (and perhaps primarily a noun): "a photograph obtained by use of X-rays." Webster's Collegiate (10th ed.), page 1369.

"X-ray (n., v. and adj.) Use for both the photographiic process and the radiation particles themselves." AP Style Manual, p. 281.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | November 14, 2008 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, I sympathize with your irritation with "law enforcement". I am often constrained to use this generic term because in any given case players may include police, sheriff deputies, state troopers, and narcs. Unless the distinction is important to the specific legal discussion it is usually simpler and often just as accurate to just say "law enforcement". I don't have to like it, though.

Yellojkt, my usual response to "What's for dinner?" is "Mice."

Inteferogram. I think this is what parents do to pre-teens and teens, just as the children specialize in interruptograms.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 14, 2008 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, you made me laugh.

In the small Eastern Ontario town where my grandmother was born and raised and died (hometown of Avril Lavigne and don't you forget it!) there was a common gossip-expression. "That woman is so lazy she'd sit down to do her ironing."

Posted by: Yoki | November 14, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

New kit!

Posted by: slyness | November 14, 2008 10:29 AM | Report abuse

*belatedly but heartfelt-edly setting the mojo fax on "inundate" and dialing Yoki's number*


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 14, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

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