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Looking for a truly Earthlike "Earth"

[My story in today's paper on the search for an "Earth" out there somewhere in the galaxy. See also Seth Borenstein's AP story on the same topic. Keep an eye out for a new book by James Kasting, "How to Find a Habitable Planet."]

It seems increasingly likely that, as they stare at the heavens, astronomers are going to find an Earth out there, or at least something that they can plausibly claim is a rocky planet where water could splash at the surface and -- who knows? -- harbor some kind of life. But it's also clear that, when they make their big discovery, the astronomers might want to hire movie director James Cameron to help with the special effects.

The roughly 400 planets that astronomers have found outside our solar system have not been Earthlike by any stretch of the imagination. Most are hot Jupiters, which is to say they're gas giants in scorching orbits.

They've also been pretty much invisible, their presence inferred from fluctuations in starlight. The planet emerges from the data. Astronomers will announce a new planet find with a graph, typically with a nice curving line that represents the periodic changes in starlight associated with the orbiting body. There are no pictures. Which is fine for scientists.

"To me, a spectrum is more beautiful than a picture," said David Latham, a Harvard astronomer who came to Washington last week for the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. "A spectrum can tell you about the physics."

Yeah, but what about seeing some clouds, continents, jungles? How about some flying reptilians or thundering ungulates? Why can't astronomers produce a planet that looks more like the "exomoon" Pandora from "Avatar"?

"Sorry, they have a bigger budget than we do," Latham quipped.

Finding an Earthlike planet is really hard. Even detecting one of those hot Jupiters requires prolonged observations that pick up extremely subtle shifts in starlight. Keep in mind that it's been only a decade and a half that we've been able to detect any of these planets outside our solar system.

But the hunt has been fruitful. Astronomers say it's increasingly obvious that the galaxy is lousy with planets.

Planets seem to be a natural byproduct of star formation. But from our vantage point, the feeble, reflected light of a planet is utterly lost in the glare of the star right next to it. Astronomers are developing techniques for blocking that starlight so that only "planetlight" remains. Such occultation requires exquisite engineering. It's just a bit like trying to write the Book of Genesis on a grain of rice.

In the meantime, most planets will be discovered through indirect techniques. The most common is the radial velocity method, in which astronomers study the slight Doppler shift in starlight as the star is tugged to and fro by an orbiting planet. Another technique watches for the dimming of a star as a planet passes in front of it.

An "Earth" is especially hard to detect because it is by definition small and fairly far from the parent star, and thus leaves only the faintest fingerprint on the starlight. Improvements in detection will be incremental; new discoveries are likely to carry some level of uncertainty. There won't be a single eureka moment, like sighting land from the crow's-nest of a ship and having immediate confirmation when the sailors wade onto the beach.

There will surely be debate among astronomers about whether the next Earth is sufficiently Earthlike. Astronomers will ask: Are we sure about the size and density? Is the orbit truly in the "habitable zone" of the star, where water could be liquid? Is this a stable, long-lived star like our sun or some hothead star that's been around only a few million years? Does the planet have an atmosphere? Does the atmosphere have water, oxygen, ozone, methane or some other signatures of life?

There was much discussion at the Washington astronomy meeting about a planet named COROT-7-b, discovered by European astronomers. In a NASA press release last week, it was referred to as the most Earthlike planet found so far. But in fact, it's only Earthlike in its size and density. It's about 60 times closer to the star than Earth is to the sun, and in those heat-lamp conditions may have a surface temperature of 4,000 degrees.

Several astronomers acknowledged in conversations last week that the planet-hunting field is vulnerable to hype. The news media are all too eager to get attention with sensational claims of alien-world discoveries.

Scott Gaudi, an astronomer at Ohio State University, says of the scientific process, "We make mistakes. We have uncertainties in our conclusions which we are aware of. But it's a net assimilation of knowledge."

"I think it's important that people understand that it is incremental," says Charles Beichman, executive director of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech. "We're going to have to have 10 incremental steps to get there. But we'll get there." The scientists behind NASA's Kepler space telescope, launched last March to search for Earthlike planets, are being careful with their announcements precisely because they don't want to proclaim a discovery that turns out to be a false positive. Kepler has already found five planets and is likely to find many more.

Astronomers are getting so bold as to say they will be able to examine the atmosphere of such planets to see if they have the kind of components that we associate with life. They might even be able to tell if a planet has weather, continents -- and jungles.

Green plants on Earth, for example, reflect a great deal of light in the infrared part of the spectrum. Scientists refer to this as the "red edge."

Says Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT, "If our eyes could see a little bit farther to the infrared, the world would be a completely different place. Plants would be as bright as fresh snow. And red. Very red."

So that's one of the dreams: Find a planet and look for the red edge.

Which might not work, of course, if the alien plants are blue.

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 12, 2010; 8:07 AM ET
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Reposting from last Kit:

Ah, this is sad indeed... Longtime strongman, still going strong, struck down in a pedestrian accident:


Posted by: Scottynuke | January 12, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

And I don't think Latham was kidding about budgets... *SIGH*

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 12, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Deborah Howell
Joe Rollino
Nobody let Joel cross a street today.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

But where are our Ringworlds and Dyson spheres?

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Why do we need to find a doppleganger for Earth? It's much more fun finding the planets that are different. I vote for Discworld.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Oh, we'd never see a Dyson sphere, yello, since it would encompass the only light source in its vicinity...

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 12, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Oh, dear. Miep Gees died in Amsterdam at 100 years old. She was one of the people (and, alas, the last one) who helped hide Anne Frank, her family and others. I went to the Anne Frank museum in 1965 and haven't been back since. But I do remember it vividly after almost 45 years.

Ms. Gees had a good long life, and she showed elements of courage, and clearly of love, which are seldom found, regardless of any generation one might be in.

Ah, well. Life does go on for some. And for others, their lives go on only in someone else's memory.

Posted by: -ftb- | January 12, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

You would see the black body radiation of the outside of the sphere emitting at flux density of the captured star divided by the surface area of the Dyson sphere. As usual, the physics are beyond me.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Goody, goody! Science...

Fascinating article in the NYT late last night for today's issue, titled "Hunting Fossil Viruses in Human DNA."

The latter part of the article about the borna virus and the hunt for fossil remnants embedded--and in some case diabled--in our DNA deals with how fossil viruses are also illuminating human evolution. The last five grafs deal with the virus protein syncytin.

Last graf:
But the syncytin genes we use today may have actually replaced an ancestral one that a virus bequeathed to the very first placental mammals. In fact, that infection may have made the placenta possible in the first place. “It was a major event for animal evolution,” Dr. Heidmann said.

Just a bit of additional interesting information to illuminate Linnaeus' mistake in using the term "mammals"--a group that includes monotremes, marsupials, and placentals. Hope to tackle this later today--in terms of deep time and recent breast cancer research.

Posted by: laloomis | January 12, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

At least somebody is making some money on the financial crisis.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

laloomis, JA writes the kit, and the boodle starts there. I'm more than reasonably sure he puts actual time and effort into the process, probably has some support staff helping to get it here for us. Today, JA gave us a nice piece on planets. Traipsed on down the the AAS annual meeting, paid attention, talked with people. Probably took notes. Digested the info, and put it into a really well-written article.

The boodlers then discuss the topic, taking various off-shoots into other, often funny, areas.

Go ahead. Give it a read. You'll see. Nothing about genes, or breast cancer research.

Posted by: LostInThought | January 12, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse


This is how some other Boodlers feel. Due to my proximity to the subject matter, I may not comment substantively on the Kit. Some of it is material that I will be publishing in refereed journals and so I need to be circumspect until it has been thoroughly vetted by my colleagues. I can tell you that I do not have any secret discoveries of Earth-like planets up my sleeve, only that I have an informed opinion on some methods of planet detection.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Hello, Mr. A. Glad to see another astro-kit.

One of my puzzlements about the search for Earthlike planets is the somewhat narrow definition we give to words like 'habitable' and 'life.'

I'm one of those folks who believe that 'life' might take many forms that are beyond our traditional three dimensional view.

In fact, there are many folks who view Earth-bound life forms as having multi-dimensional aspects beyond the physical.

Just saying there might be other ways to frame the astronomers' quest.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

SciTim: Thank you for your clearly worded post. While I had looked forward to your input, I understand, appreciate and respect your situation.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse


01000111 01101111 01101111 01100100 00100000 01001101 01101111 01110010 01101110 01101001 01101110 01100111

One your codes was incorrect by the way @

Posted by: omnigood | January 12, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Let's hope Earthlike Earths aren't *too* Earthlike. I'd hate to travel across a byoolin miles of space to find that the first place I land is infested by Starbucks.

Also, happy birthday, Tim Horton.

Posted by: byoolin1 | January 12, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

DNA_Girl and omnigood:
01001100 01001111 01001100 !

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I do not have much to add to the kit, but do have the same question as MsJS, what is considered earthlike and what would the definition of life forms be?

Also an observation, are the links at the end of the kit, i.e. Facebook etc new or am I just not very observant? I like it!

Posted by: dmd3 | January 12, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Maybe the intelligent life out there takes preventive measures to keep us from finding them until we get our act together a tad better.

YJ, As freaky as Discworld is, it's got to be better than Discoworld.

Posted by: LostInThought | January 12, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

And yes, a "byoolin" is a LEGITIMATE unit of measurement: It's the distance that light travels in 100 x (the eternity you spent on hold with the cable company) seconds.

Posted by: byoolin1 | January 12, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Ooh, I can't talk about planets we actually know about, but I *can* comment on the Dyson sphere concept.

The energy released by a hot object per unit area, F_* (F_* = energy flux from a star -- that's a variable, y'all) is equal to the temperature of the star raised to the fourth power, times a constant called the Stefan-Boltzmann constant. Fortunately, for fiddling with Dyson sphere concepts, we don't need to know the actual value of the constant. F_* = sb X T_*^4 (note that temperature is in Kelvin, which equals the Celsius temperature + 273.15 -- it is the number of Celsius degrees above absolute zero).

In order not to heat up infinitely and thereby burn up, the Dyson sphere (a hypothetical object enclosing a star and capturing all its energy for useful work) must balance all the energy it captures with a release of the same amount of energy. However, the energy density is diluted by the fact that the Dyson sphere is much bigger than the star. In fact, to make a habitable interior surface around a Sun-like star, it would be the size of Earth's orbit. Earth's orbit is 219 times the radius of the Sun, thus the energy captured and then released is 1/219^2 times the energy per unit surface area of the star. Thus F_sphere = F_*/219^2. This gives us a way to compare the temperatures: T_sphere^4 = T_*^4/219^2. Thus, T_sphere = T_*/sqrt(219) = 5800 Kelvin / 14.8 = 392 Kelvin = 119°C (5800 K is roughly the temperature of our star).

Whoa! you might say, isn't 119°C a little toasty? In order to maintain a comfortable shirtsleeves environment, the interior surface of the sphere only needs to absorb about 20% of the energy as direct heat. The other 80% is available for super-high-technology magic. Ultimately, all of that energy has to be released in order for the sphere not to overheat, so the surface temperature of the exterior would be the uncomfortably warm 119°C, not the balmy and wonderful (and unbelievably vast) interior.

There are many variables, of course, such as the luminosity of the chosen star and what the super-high-technology uses the star's energy to do -- if it channels most of it into a directed-energy beam for some purpose (propulsion, long-distance communications, weaponry), that would lower the temperature of the sphere. The practical upshot, however, is pretty much the same: instead of a star, there would be an object in space with the mass of a star (discernible by its effect on other stars, if any are sufficiently nearby), with the energy spectrum of an object at a few hundred Kelvin (like the surface of a planet), but hundreds of times bigger than a star. Pretty easy to detect through an all-sky survey, actually, like the recently-launched WISE mission. If any exist within a few hundred parsec, we should know within a few years.

I am not going to hold my breath waiting for this discovery. It is about the least likely of all possible concepts for detecting alien civilization.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Pretty: a Splendid Fairywren

another pic, sort of on topic:

Posted by: omnigood | January 12, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse


SciTim: If you're not going to hold your breath, neither am I.

I agree about the 119 C degrees thing. MrJS and I visited Phoenix in July once. The temp reached 119 F and that was toasty enough.

omnigood: What our planetary home lacks in quantity I like to think it makes up in quality. Pretty amazing that a relatively puny mass of galactic matter supports all the wonders that it does. Yeah, byoolin, we have to deal with the likes of Starbucks, but Earth's still an awesome place.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

The definition of the term "Earth-like" is fairly contentious, and depends on what one's technology is able to detect. If one can detect the object's size and mass, then Earth-like means "mostly made out of rock and heavy elements, with surface gravity within a factor of a few times Earth gravity." Temperature is highly problematic. Venus, for example, is extremely Earth-like (size, density, surface gravity, chemical composition, presence of an atmosphere, equilibrium temperature) in all respects except for actual physical temperature, which is much greater than the equilibrium temperature, due to its very effective greenhouse effect. Mars is considerably less Earth-like in many respects (much smaller, lesser gravity, cold equilibrium temperature, cold actual temperature), but it is more survivable than Venus.

Habitability is a problematic term, separate from "Earth-like". The working definition is warm enough for liquid water to exist on the surface, cool enough for liquid water to exist on the surface, enough air pressure so liquid water won't boil away even if the temperature is acceptable. You may perceive a theme in this discussion. Venus obviously is not actually habitable, but would fit an expectation for habitability and maybe its current condition is not actually inevitable. If the story were played again, Venus might be warm and wet. Earth is warmer than it otherwise would be, and Mars once was warmer (when it had a denser atmosphere), due to greenhouse effect. The outer solar system is strictly non-habitable -- except that we have the example of Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus, and Titan, each of which may well have an interior salt-water ocean, which would be similar to the majority inhabited environment on Earth.

It is possible that our fixation on water is too narrow a concept for habitability. We know that habitability and water go hand-in-hand for Earth life. Alternatives are conceivable, but so vaguely notional that it would be a problem to design a detection effort that could be meaningfully interpreted in the case of making no successful detections. The only alternative is to keep our eyes open for phenomena that make no sense, but for which we can't pursue a targeted detection effort. In the meantime, our targeted efforts will stick with water as a guiding principle.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

What ScienceTim said. I knew somebody understood the physics. If you find a large 'cold' object, it may be Dyson sphere. And if you find any three legged creatures with two heads, be very careful sneaking up on them. They panic easily.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I thought Dyson was a vacuum :-).

Posted by: dmd3 | January 12, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

In one of the offshoot books -- stories by other authors, set within Larry Niven's conception of a science fiction universe -- the human resistance on the Kzinti-controlled planet of Alpha Centauri A (Wunderland) discover a Dyson sphere left from the self-destructed galactic civilization of half-a-billion years earlier. They use the infrared detection method. The engineers had built something even more badass than the basic concept of a Dyson sphere, they built a Dyson sphere enclosing a black hole.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Water, eh? There's always something.

Thanks for the explanation, SciTim.

I was trying to estimate my monthly air conditioning bill if it averaged 119 C outside. Remember that twenty billion billion billion number from a few kit back? Well, my a/c estimate was looking sorta like that.

yello, I startled a whole herd of bi-cranial tri-peds once. Talk about mass hysteria!

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Congratulations! 'Bi-cranial tri-peds' is a Googlenope. At least it was.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

laloomis, JA writes the kit, and the boodle starts there. The boodlers then discuss the topic, taking various off-shoots into other, often funny, areas.

There you go again. What planet are you on? Hmmm??? If you'll look through the Kit archives, you'll see that many Boodlers play that ridiculous "Me first" game. Some of Joel's Kits are pretty much ignored completely by the Boodlers. Boodlers sometime warm up to the topic after several hours, sometimes even 24 hours later.

As for this Kit, how many can credibly comment? One certainly. Perhaps one or two or three others. The rest will probably make attempts at shallow word play.

Stop harassing me. Return to your lipstick-toting and tiara-wearing and sweet "cheeses" activities.

*coffee break is over, returning to necessary chores*

Posted by: laloomis | January 12, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I am 31st whoooohooo.......

Posted by: greenwithenvy | January 12, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I'm envious, green!

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Assuming away all of the other problems, would it necessarily require the "mining" (i.e. destruction) of all of the other planets to get the raw materials to construct a Dyson sphere? Presumably the superior planets would be expendable anyway since they would no longer have the benefits of solar radiation after the construction of the sphere. What would be the gravitational impacts on Earth's orbit with the construction of such a thing?

The great thing is that there are probably people who have thought through many of the implications. Somewhere, someone has actually taken time to consider the physics and engineering issues regarding this. It kind of reminds me of the space elevator, which is a lot "closer" to actual construction. For all I know, there may actually be people whose full time jobs are related to the eventual construction of the space elevator.

Posted by: Awal | January 12, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps my 11:21 was a tad over-geeky.

You think?

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

laloomis, many boodlers here can credibly comment, and others ask pertinent questions or make silly remarks. Yes, we go off-kit, so to speak, but there's usually something to it. Like a breaking news story, or a tangent that took another tangent.

As you know, you went way way way over the line when it came to revealing personal information after you were specifically asked not to do so. Your behavior was vindictive and cruel, and you know it. Continuing down that path is crazy. I mean wear a jacket with sleeves that tie behind your back crazy.

The woman has enough on her plate. Leave her, and the whole subject, alone. Since you seem to think that no one will stand up for a stranger, I will show you how wrong you are. I'm pretty good at not typing anything actionable; how's your track record on that?

Yeah, I wear lipstick. So? Does that offend you somehow? Are you an au naturel woman? Even if you are, how does my lipstick affect anything relating to you?

Also, your research skills are declining. You have to look further than the google results page, you know. Sweet cheeses wasn't me.

Posted by: LostInThought | January 12, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

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

Afternoon, friends. Well, Loomis, you got me there. I certainly fall in the category of those that cannot respond to this kit with any science at all. I like reading it though.

Still cold here, but sunny, with a few clouds. The sun just does not bring warmth. It brightens everything up, but just lacks warmth. Oh well, I would probably complain if it was gray.

Just wanted to check in. Have a great day, folks.

Posted by: cmyth4u | January 12, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I have no idea, Science Tim. I'm not remotely qualified to credibily comment.

*memo to self: Go to, see if they have "Deepening Your Shallow Word Play for Dummies." Consider expedited shipping*

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 12, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

The biggest problem with the Dyson sphere is that it is not gravitationally stabilized -- there is no net gravitational force on the sphere to keep it centered on the parent star, which means that some form of propulsion is required, or mysterious force-fields that can control the motions of stellar-mass objects. The mass of the sphere is difficult to determine, since we don't know what mystical methods of transmutation will be available to the aliens who build it, we don't know how thick it will have to be for mechanical reasons, and we don't know what mysterious technologies will be buried within it. Maybe the aliens wouldn't even live there -- it could be a remote power-production facility for aliens living in a more conventional space habitat, either a constructed habitat or planets orbiting a nearby star. The second biggest problem, of course, is structural integrity -- how do you build an artifact that will stay intact as you apply forces to keep it centered on a star. Only after defining those problems is it possible to determine how much mass needs to be mined.

Niven's Ringworld solution actually is more credible, though it has some of the same problems (mainly the gravitational instability and the requirement for mysterious matter for its construction).

Personally, my preference would be to construct some Earth-mass objects and set them into high-inclination orbits with respect to each other, with carefully-defined resonances such that they will be stabilized against collisions, thereby populating a stellar system of my choice with several habitable planets sharing the same space. You know, if I were an unbelievably advanced alien.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Trust me Loomis, nobody is harassing you. It's quite the opposite. LiT is speaking for most of us whenever she calls you out on your tedious random pedantic sideshows. While the boodle is a rather rambling chaotic functioning community, there are patterns, riffs, and themes. And then there is you.

You talk about what you want to without regard to whether anybody gives the proverbial rat's patootie or not. This would all be tolerable if you were entertaining or interesting, but you're not.

Worst of all, many of your recent posts have a crypto-racist subtext that is beyond disturbing. For example, you recently noted some columnist you bottonholed as being 'African-American' when her ethnic background had absolutely no bearing on the topic she discussed or whatever random tirade you were on at the time.

In our frequent metaphor about the boodle being a neighborhood bar, you are the loud obnoxious poorly groomed person that sits in the corner mumbling to herself psychotically. Every now and then we have to turn up the jukebox just to drown you out.

And if you dislike random humorous comments and shallow word play, you haven't been paying much attention for the last five years. It's what we specialize in and some of us are pretty proud of it.

Everyone who comments here has personality quirks that adds flavor to discussion, but you are usually as welcome to our talk soup as a turd in a punchbowl. I'm willing to stand corrected if there is anyone out there willing to come to your defense, but the only redeeming feature of your comments to the Achenblog is that they are easy to recognize and easier to scroll past.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

You sure shallow word play isn't a Scrabble game in the baby pool?

Posted by: LostInThought | January 12, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for checking in, Cassandra! You have a great day as well.

SciTim, I was engaging in mindless word play on-boodle whilst contemplating off-boodle the implications of a Dyson sphere around a black hole. I'm pretty dense (a bad attempt at a pun, sorry) in these matters, but found humor in trying to draw energy out of a region of space from which nothing can escape.

If I missed what you were getting at, it's my shortcoming not yours. I'm having a lot of fun reading your posts today. Thank you.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of inhabited exoplanets, the Vatican has recently condemned Avatar and the belief systems of its blue inhabitants.

The College of Cardinals is evidently pro-Simpsons, however.

Yellow people>Blue people.

Posted by: Awal | January 12, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Not to psychoanalyze too much, but for some people anger is a useful tool, to drown out other emotions which are too scary or disturbing. Hence, abused children who act out and are disruptive. And hence trolls.

I think you may have given the gift of anger, Yello.

Posted by: Wheezy1 | January 12, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Awal: I love the conclusion you've drawn. You're a hoot!

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Moving right along...

I think sentiments have been sufficiently expressed on boodle etiquette and we can turn to matters of substance.

FYI, although I didn't blog about it, I found this Ben Smith story at Politico, on the Clintons and their dwindling circle of die-hard supporters, to be pretty compelling:

ScienceTim, I think you can get as geeky as you want on the kit topic. Having a house astronomer is one of the great assets of the blog. Even if we don't understand every nuance of it, it's nice to know that someone is thinking it all through. Kind of like knowing that there's someone ready to roll at the nearby fire station. If there's a scientific conflagration, you can douse it.

Posted by: joelache | January 12, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I didn't mean to pick on you MsJS -- I didn't think I was doing so. I have a personal problem with the concept of the Dyson sphere, which is a favorite trope in hard science fiction but has such severe practical problems that I don't see it as being the technology of choice for any super-advanced civilization. It's hard to imagine what you could possibly want to accomplish if you had access to 100% of the energy output of a star.

I like Niven's Ringworld much better than Dyson spheres (even as my reading sophistication has grown to where I can barely tolerate his writing on the level of plot-driven story) because it goes after a basic credible problem, the provision of enough living space for the guided evolution of one species into many independent species and independent civilizations. The aliens who build it are not terribly concerned with controlling energy, they only want to ensure sufficient lebensraum. They have good reason (within the storyline) to believe that they will still be around by the time the star goes bad on them and thus be able to build another Ringworld around another star. They are sufficiently big thinkers that they would not anticipate a problem in moving the populations of many Earths. Alternatively, just move the whole Ringworld and put it into orbit around another star.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I meant to say: and for any injury I have done you, MsJS, I apologize.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

If there's a scientific conflagration, I intend to add fuel.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Trust me. I hate feeding trolls anything, but my Irish temper (long fuse, huge payload) gets the better of me sometimes. We have a fair number of newcomers to the boodle lately and not all of them are aware of the many irritants that have come and gone over the years.

I still miss the Lone Mule. And whatever happened to that nice Pop Socket fella? I bet he is a huge Sarah Palin fan.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

From the kit:
"To me, a spectrum is more beautiful than a picture," said David Latham, a Harvard astronomer who came to Washington last week for the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. "A spectrum can tell you about the physics."

About five years ago, I hosted a campus workshop -- NASA peeps, too -- about the rhetorical power of false-color images. And, the common-audience perception that these visuals are "photos." I love being around astrophysicists and their entourage of technical people.

Technical wordsmith that I am, my mission is simple: to help technical people communicate better with wide audiences.

I will use this quote from the kit. Why? Because most lay audiences really do not understand the beauty of spectrum and such data sets. We do not "see"; however, when scientists help us see, well

wonder and awe all around.

Thanks, scientists. I love you.



P.S. JA, love you too in a non stalker, boodle-kit way.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | January 12, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Rhapsody Wall Owl

Posted by: engelmann | January 12, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Ah, anger. The gift that never stops yelling.

Pop Socket was a Ron Paul man through and through.
I think he was caught remarking "When Palin can field-medic the wounded instead of field-dressing moose, she'll be worth voting for; America isn't a (censored) moose-burger franchise."

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 12, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

This may not get you into orbit but you'll only be a short bounce away.
Sorry, I don't know the employment particulars of the principles involved.

Posted by: Boko999 | January 12, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Your presence always brightens the day, not matter what the topic.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Very well done, Wilbrod.

I've been reading here for years, Yello, and I left and posted only on Error's site for weeks after a particularly egregious blow from the local blowhard, so I know what you mean about anger building up. I wasn't criticizing you, just remarking. Wordplay.

Posted by: Wheezy1 | January 12, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Oh gosh, SciTim, I wasn't offended or anything like that, truly. My bad (in a non-bad kind of way) that you thought it might be the case. I appreciate your concern about that, thank you.

I don't pretend to understand it all and readily admit to misunderstanding a bunch of it. It's all OK. I'm thoroughly enjoying your input today. Merci mille fois.

Through your eyes, I can see a certain elegance in the Ringworld concept. Very cool.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

ScienceTim, I think there was some kind of orbital configuration I saw that would make it possible for a few planets of similar masses to share the same orbit at different points.

I don't mean the lagree positions... something about a theoretical max of 120 planets? The diagram was dizzying.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 12, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Jk -- Irish temper (long fuse, huge payload)

In our house growing up, we remember well what my grandmother late of the old Sod would say:

Beware the anger of a patient man.

On tv now, the other Dyson guy, shilling for his ball-drive vacuum cleaner. What I want is the carpet sweeper from said Gran. Worked beautifully. Still, we beat carpets and rugs at her house two times per year: spring and fall.

My bacon number to Freeman Dyson is 1. Dyson worked with Saul Gass on a number of early operations research algorithms. I took -- and amazingly passed -- an 800-level class with Gass in the mid 1980s. I still blanch when I think about those exams. Operations research is to policy analysis what quantum mechanics is to physicists.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | January 12, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Speres here, spheres there, why is it that spheres get all the glory? What's wrong with cubes, pyramids, cylinders, ellipsoids and toroids?

About colorization. The funniest comment I've read about the LCROSS lunar impact last year was a guy complaining that for tens of millions of dollars all he was getting from NASA was bloody B&W photos! In 2009! The scandal!

But colourization can go too far. Mrs. D regularly cringe at colourized SEM pictures published in the non-scientific press (NatGeo in particular is a repeat offender). Those green and pink pollen particles are quite cute but alas, by definition, backscattered electron do not have real colours. Often the pics are published without any mention there were a few enhancements applied...

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 12, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Oh man, operational research. The bad flasjback. The Simplex Method. I'm going to be sick. Strike the line with the exxes and pivot the matrix about the corner with the Os, right?

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 12, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Funny. When I read about the "impossibly hot mystery planets" a few days ago, I immediately thought of some advanced variant of Dyson spheres.

Come on, Tim, don't be a fuddy-duddy! "hard to imagine what you could possibly want to accomplish"? Wormholes, man!

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 12, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

What Joel said:
01011001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01101011 01101001 01100100 01110011 00100000 01100100 01101111 01101110 00100111 01110100 00100000 01101101 01100001 01101011 01100101 00100000 01101101 01100101 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101101 01100101 00100000 01100010 01100001 01100011 01101011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 01110010 01100101 00100001

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 12, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Thanks yello, same to you.

Posted by: cmyth4u | January 12, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Good afternoon, all.

I've been busy today. I appreciate folks who stand up and call out a real wrong for the sake of trying to make it right, rather than to draw attention to themselves in front of a captive audience.

Moving on -

*Tim, it's been decades since I read any of the Ringworld novels, so I'm depending on my memories here. I'm with you on the ring/sphere question with regards to managing the amount of energy of the host sun to be used for living on the structure. Aside from the titanic engineering questions of holding such a thing together, I've always been perplexed as to how to keep the life on that ring surface from being bombarded by fatal levels of hard radiation.

Here on Earth, we have this wonderful magnetic field and a thick atmosphere that protects us from much of the worst of what the Sun puts out. The Earth's natural magnetic field is augmented by our planet's molten iron core and powered by the rotation of the planet, making it a giant natural dynamo, right?

Don't know how you'd do for a ring or even a hollow sphere versus a planetary body with some sort of natural magnetism.


Posted by: -bc- | January 12, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01100111 01110101 01111001 01110011 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01101101 01100001 01101011 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01101101 01111001 00100000 01101000 01100101 01100001 01100100 00100000 01101000 01110101 01110010 01110100


Posted by: mortii | January 12, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

SD -- ouchies. And, yes, doing them by hand on a grid. BLECHHH. I found a slide rule the other day; showed it to CPBoy and he said something like "With that? Why bother with math if that is your tool. Would make me be a theater major."

Haha. Funny. We may now begin the jokes:

You had a slide rule?
We had an abacus
.................shadows of stone
.................dust motes


Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | January 12, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse


The walls of the Ringworld are a thousand miles high. Eventually the atmosphere would leak over the top and the air pressure would decline, but they have a mumbo-jumbo hand-wave for that.

As you mention, more problematic would be replacing the effect of the Van Allen Belt. Perhaps with Van Allen Suspenders.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

"In the SEM, CL (cathodo luminescence)detectors either collect all light emitted by the specimen, or can analyse the wavelengths emitted by the specimen and display an emission spectrum or an image of the distribution of cathodoluminescence emitted by the specimen in real colour."

Granted, I don't think many of the tricked-up magazine images are actually utilizing this ability to color their images. Also, can't superimposing secondary and backscatter electrons generate a two-color image? It's been a while. :0

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 12, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Math has made a theater major out of many, CqP.


Posted by: -TBG- | January 12, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I have my own theories about what makes a theater major but it would be politically incorrect to share them.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

And, the world benefits because after a long day of mathi-ness, nerds need theater: SPAMalot, LotRs, RHPS, etc.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | January 12, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

And as long as there are theater majors the world will never want for waitstaff.

Posted by: kguy1 | January 12, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

This is an interesting and well-written article, Joel; I appreciate, as usual, the combination of humor ("lousy with planets") and information. Thanks also to ScienceTim for the explanation and discussion of Dyson spheres. I am deeply amused that you are not allowed to discuss real things, but can very fluently explain something that, as far as I can tell, someone just made up. Sounding science-like, they were.

This Kit allows me to relate a scary Boodle-worthy story. Ivansdad (the holder of several theater degrees, but never a theater major!) teaches at a good private university. He and his students were discussing movies. The kids were all impressed by the scariness of "Paranormal Activity". Ivansdad said the scariest thing he'd ever seen on film was still the first "Alien". The kids explained that no, "Alien" isn't scary because it is about, well, aliens, and there can't be any aliens. Movies like "Paranormal Activity" are, by contrast, scary because haunting could really happen.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

In the high school social clique continuum, the math nerds and the theater geeks share a lot more territory than either cares to admit.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I wanted to thank whoever from the last Boodle used the term "clearless".

Speaking of clearless, as a former defense attorney I enjoy the option of picking my clients. Pass.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I read about Dyson spheres in "Pandora's Star" by Peter F. Hamilton and the ones in that book were made of opaque force fields. The way they were discovered was when the star's light disappeared as seen from Earth. No need for vast quantities of matter and an interplanetary construction zone there. This Dyson sphere was built for containment of an alien race, though, not in order to reap the star's energy.

Posted by: Gomer144 | January 12, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Genesis on a grain of rice?. Ez: bs... DONE!

Posted by: Mitchavery7 | January 12, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

hey now - let's watch the theatre major jokes!


Posted by: mortii | January 12, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

cQp: I still have a slide rule. Alas, I've forgotten how to use it. To me, one of the greatest inventions was the calculator.

Posted by: Manon1 | January 12, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

You sure shallow word play isn't a Scrabble game in the baby pool?

Posted by: LostInThought | January 12, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse


I tried that. The tiles float.

Posted by: byoolin1 | January 12, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

The second and third graphs here are particularly appropriate:

Be sure to read the comments too.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

That's probably some fancy piece of kit you are talking about Jumper. Backscattered and secondary electrons views (dual or toggle display) are pretty much standard now but analysis is still pretty much limited to EDS (and WDS, on good kits) and x-ray don't give off real colours either.
There are so many surface analysis techniques now I'm totally lost. Mrs. D talks about slimy fish (EELS) and an English town (LEEDS) she has in some of her harware. I have no clue what it is.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 12, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Am I the only one thinking of a Dyson sphere as the yellow ball-shaped portion of a Dyson vacuum cleaner?

I suppose that one day, a cheap sci-fi video will employ Dyson parts for space ships.

Locally, our atmosphere is showing signs of warmth. The sun is perhaps not fading, after all.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | January 12, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I greatly amused the Boy one day by showing him my dad's old slide rule. Somewhere I still have mine. It was especially cool because it was round. Part of it was, anyway. It's been a long time.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Joel's in-boodle link about the Clintons was a fascinating read. It confirmed or supported some of my favorite theories:

Hillary's Senate tenure was solely a stepping stone to her presidential ambitions.

The Secy of State job was a way to gracefully retire when the aforementioned plan failed.

Her sense of entitlement was a major obstacle to her campaign and fed her dysfunctional strategy.

All the rats have abandoned the sunken ship. Bill Clinton ran as an outsider and remained one.

Even paranoids have enemies.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Don't objects have to be covered in gold or something in order for an SEM to make an image? So a true-color SEM image, if there is such a thing, would be fairly monochromatic.

Posted by: Gomer144 | January 12, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

HEY YELLO!!!! i resemble that graph! umm... wait i mean...


Posted by: mortii | January 12, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I vaguely recall a single time my boss asked our SEM tech for a two-color image using secondary and backscatter, I think it was. We used high-quality Polaroid instant film vended to high-end users. She used B&W as I usually did but we had color film available. I recall her growling at this assignment, and some sort of seat-of-the-pants placement of a temporary sheet of red cellophane or something. I stayed far away because of the growling.

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 12, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

"I suppose that one day, a cheap sci-fi video will employ Dyson parts for space ships."

One day happened quite some time ago, and here it is-

Posted by: kguy1 | January 12, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Hi all! Love the science kits!

CqP: I found my mother's slide rule one evening and she taught me how to do simple math on it. I took it into my Algebra I class the next day. I think I made the teacher's year. She lovingly showed it to each table of students and regaled all of us with tales of the good ol' days.

yello: lol. The response I usually get to #3 (for Mech Engineer) is "Wow" followed by a lengthy pause and then either "Bet there aren't many women/girls in that," or "So what do you do with that?"

Posted by: MoftheMountain | January 12, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

The "space photos" they publish in these articles are faker than hell, with super saturated bright colors. These are processed digital images touched up to generate interest, and more interest equals more grant money for astronomers. It is scandalous.

Posted by: screwjob11 | January 12, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse's a front page alert

Posted by: Awal | January 12, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

It occurs to me that if I dared criticize anyone for straying from the topic of conversation, the very heavens would resound with peals of unearthly laughter.

(Not laughing WITH me, either!)

Posted by: bobsewell | January 12, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

No there aren't a lot of women mechanical engineers and that frustrates my boss. She's touchy about the subject.

And welcome to the boodle. We need more of your kind around here.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

"Hardware Wars" (my 3:17) was made less than a year after "Star Wars" came out. It cost less than $10,000 and grossed over $1,000,000, a better % profit than the Lucas film. Not bad for a 15 minute film featuring space battles between steam irons and egg beaters. Lucas himself is said to have loved it.

Posted by: kguy1 | January 12, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I have my dad's old slide rules, as well. With (*get this*) real leather cases. Now I have to remember where I put them. I found a protractor recently, which segued me into some protracted thoughts. . . . and then I left the room.

As I shall do now.

Posted by: -ftb- | January 12, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Hi MofhM.

Stay often. Comment early.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | January 12, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

the last line is unfortunate and misleading:
"Which might not work, of course, if the alien plants are blue"
Infrared detects heat not color, the color of the plants is not important, temperature is important.

Posted by: jcarlosluna | January 12, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Yet if a plant absorbed infra red and used it for metabolism, it would not emit or reflect much of it. (is that even possible?)

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 12, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Log log duplex decitrig!
Log log duplex decitrig!

Posted by: woofin | January 12, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I have understood nothing said here today regarding Dyson spheres etc., but fortunately, that isn't necessary in order to enjoy the conversation and, ahem, get the humor in the Kit.

Posted by: badsneakers | January 12, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

ftb: My mother had two, a small, white plastic "pocket-sized" one and a big, yellow, metal one with double slides in a leather case. I guess for portability so the marks wouldn't be scratched and the slides would stay in? Who would carry a beastly 1.5ft long thing like that around? She apparently got the big one as a work anniversary gift about a week before the lab upgraded to calculators, so it's in mint condition.

yello: Thanks, glad to be here. ;) I certainly concur. Even my Society of Women Engineers group in college was mostly made up of chemical engineers.

Posted by: MoftheMountain | January 12, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse


Ah say, it's a joke, son.

///end Foghorn Leghorn voice

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I was friends with GT SWE president and often had lunch with her and her friends. She was a ChemE and one day I was making fun of the EEs taking Thermo For Non-MEs. She just looked at me and goes "And the first thing MEs do is assume no internal heat from chemical reactions, right?" I was stunned speechless and had to concede her point. Since then, I have never made fun of a ChemE.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I had a Statics prof lament the loss of slide rules. He felt there was a certain badge of honor to have a slide rule hanging from your belt. He called it a "phallic symbol of engineering."

My HP-41CV case had a vestigial belt loop, but I never wear it on a belt. I wouldn't want to look like a nerd or anything.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Oh my, slide rules. I had one, a plastic thing I bought at Eckerd's because it was required for chemistry. That's where I learned to used it and the only class I took where it was needed. (I didn't take physics, the teacher had a bad rep.) I even made a blue felt cover to carry it in.

Well, that's all this English major can contribute to the conversation. Even if I could find the slide rule, I certainly couldn't remember how to use it.

Posted by: slyness | January 12, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I have to admit I dumped my slide rule for calculator in college and never regretted it.

If any of the non-geeks are curious about the binary posts, here's a link to a binary-to-text converter.

And a link to log log duplex decitrig.

After hemi-demi-semi-quaver, log log duplex decitrig is my favorite phrase from the worlds of insider lingo.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Given the vastness of space, I have no doubt that there are other "earthlike planets". That said, Earth appears to be very special. It is not just a planet with the right constituent parts a correct distance from a G2 star but a binary planet. Planetologists tell us the monumental collision that created the Moon stripped us of excessive atmosphere that kept us from becoming Venusian.

What are the odds of such a closely matched collision happening in another star system to a bodies of the correct mass and composition?

Posted by: edbyronadams | January 12, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

In the hands of a skilled user, which is more powerful: a slide rule or an abacus?

Posted by: -bia- | January 12, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Since we have established that it is OK to insert off topic breaking news, I offer this important announcement.

I would like to once again state that we as a civilization need to rethink what should be considered "Breaking News" on the front page of online news sources.

We had lots of slide rules in our house when I was young, sadly never learned how to operate one. Like the mystery object that will fly past earth tomorrow, right over my head :-) Think I am missing the science/math gene.

Posted by: dmd3 | January 12, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I love hem-demi-semi-quaver, but I always forget which one it is. And how is it related to a crotchet(sp?)?

Posted by: -bia- | January 12, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

As far as calculation and nerds go, the HP12C is still the continues to be the item of nerd chic among finance geeks even though it's got less computing power than your average watch. I don't think the design or chipset has changed since the 70s. Each one is $60 of pure profit to HP.

It remains "cool" probably because the horizontal orientation and RPN entry make it a little more of a "club" to be a member of. It does not have a belt loop but does fit perfectly in a shirt breast pocket.

Posted by: Awal | January 12, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

lol! I had to take EE for MEs, which simply reaffirmed my major choice as "anything but EE."

B-b-b-but it makes the equations so much easier...

I wouldn't dare make fun of anyone who passed Organic.

Posted by: MoftheMountain | January 12, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

SCC: hemi-

Posted by: -bia- | January 12, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Gomer, the Au or Au/Pd coating is to avoid surface charging if the sample is a poor conductor. Carbon was even used in the old days. It's so thin it barely interfere with spectral analysis but it sure looks cool.
Man, Jumper, that polaroid thing dated you. I used them too, back in the stone age. But still, I missed the sliding rule era by a whole 4 years at my Engineering school. My older brother got the very last sliding rule course ever given there, ca. 1977. He was already a pro with his HP calculator so he didn't see the point of that course.
Calculator of that era were doubling up as decent flaslights, that was convenient if a little hard on the batteries.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 12, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

bia: In British musical terminology,
semibreve=whole note
minim=half note
crotchet=quarter note
quaver=eighth note
semi-quaver=16th note
demi-semi-quaver=32nd note
h-d-s-quaver=64th note

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Ah, MsJS, now you're talkin'. I know what a hemi-demi-semi-quaver is. I could even sing one, though they aren't really in demand. W might also talk about the Rule of Perpetuity. Binary code, not so much. Trade talk is fun!

I'll never get to wear the Boodle football tiara, since that would require the exercise of knowledge (who's playing, for example) or even guessing ability I don't have. I picture it as a sparkly collection of brilliants in the shape of footballs, linebackers, and maybe Hank Williams Jr. - just the thing to set off a nice hairstyle or the lack thereof.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I just want to know why it is called a "kit" and a "boodle"... (is there a FAQ for the blog?) As far as the off-topic forays go, I suspect it is due to the same lack of gravitational stability as yon wandering Dyson's sphere...

Posted by: wdrudman | January 12, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

"We" might talk. I bet W doesn't talk much about the Rule of Perpetuity. At least not with clearness.

I managed to get through my very hard-science oriented geeky university without taking any EE, ME, or Chem courses. Organic there was notorious, as was DiffEQ. I also escaped the computer courses, which at the time were done with hundreds and hundreds of punch cards which had to be in precisely the right order. Lord help the student who dropped a box - or whose friends switched just a card or two after a few beers.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, MsJS. I could have googled it, but the boodle is faster. It just raises more questions, though -- if a semibreve is a whole note, do those crazy Brits have a note called a "breve" that lasts for two measures? If not, why not?

I play (well, not recently, but it's an identity thing) the viola, and I played with an English pianist for a while. We had fun laughing at each others' terminology.

Posted by: -bia- | January 12, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I-mom: As a child I found myself playing charades at a Thanksgiving party. When my turn came I drew a slip of paper from the hat, expecting to get the name of a recent movie or TV show. I got hemi-demi-semi-quaver.

I asked my piano teacher about them at my next lesson. I've never forgotten after all these years.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I worked briefly in the art department of the old Washington Star. They had a number of graphics slide rules which were truly wondrous to behold: 18 inches of beautifully finished hardwood with brass fittings -- the kind of thing Thomas Jefferson might have owned. From a practical standpoint, the thing that everybody loved about them was their multiple scales. You could determine proportions between measurements in different units (inches, centimeters, picas, agates) without having to do conversions.

They had come with the large graphic-arts cameras that the Star had bought decades before, and were no longer manufactured. I understand there was quite a bit of wrangling about just who was going to get one when the Star closed.

Posted by: rashomon | January 12, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Here you go, wdrudman:

A little out of date, but it'll get you started.

Posted by: -bia- | January 12, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

wdrudman, you appear to have the Boodle's number. The Kit is the brilliant prose composed by Joel Achenbach (aka Joel, the Boss, Mr. A) up top. The Boodle, short for Kaboodle (Kit & Kaboodle, see?) is the comment section, often at least loosely related to the Kit topic. Reliable outlier topics: food, gardening, sciencey stuff (for non-science Kits), food, alien stuff (ditto), recipes, books, writing, and live-Boodling of sporting , entertainment, and political events.

I think this is a link to the FAQ:

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

That's fascinating, MsJS, and cruel. Did you ever play charades again?

Yup, there's a breve.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

DON'T GO THERE. I just got a malware warning about page.

Posted by: rashomon | January 12, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

And welcome, wdrudman! We enjoy newcomers.

Posted by: slyness | January 12, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

bia: That question tends to come up.

Breve is indeed what we'd think of as a double whole note.

The long is a double breve, or the equivalent of four whole notes.

It all dates back to the establishment of basic rhythmic patterns and has medieval roots.

I'm really tempted to refer all other questions on the subject to M***e, but I'm in enough hot water after the prior kit.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Imom, your post made me think, saw a picture of the Pats Super Bowl ring today (can't recall why). Does the Tiara share the same understated elegance of Super Bowl rings? :-)

Posted by: dmd3 | January 12, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

We've seen the malware flag before, and believe it is related to the ads, not the page itself. If you're more comfortable avoiding the page altogether, by all means do so. It's nice to have an area of common info, but participation is totally voluntary.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I took Organic in an accelerated summer class. That was when I started smoking to ease the stress. I passed.

Posted by: Manon1 | January 12, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I should mention that I am *allowed* to talk about the real stuff, but I must choose not to, as a matter of self-discipline. Whereas, when it is clearly in the realm of speculation, I have great freedom.

The Ringworld is equipped with a magically wonderful floor to block radiation from below, similarly for the sides by virtue of the mighty high walls. 1000-mile high walls would be quite enough to keep the atmosphere contained by a 1-g acceleration for a very long time, even with heating from the star and from radiation absorption causing the atmosphere to expand and boil over the top. The Earth's atmosphere is a decent radiation shield, though imperfect. However, bc, you may recall that the Ringworld engineers were from much closer to the galactic core than us, and were quite comfortable with a much higher radiation dose rate. Furthermore, the nature of their biology and society was such that they actively and ruthlessly culled obvious mutations from their own population. The evolution of Ringworld species only works because the engineers eliminated themselves from active participation for extended periods (perhaps a million years at a pop). As long as they have their thallium in the soil, they're happy.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Let me Google that for you. Let's see, "achenblog faq", first link:

To save you (and our other rather friendly newcomers) some time:

kit: post
boodle: comment section
boodlers: commenters

You are geeking me out with nostalgia. All my EE For ME courses were taught at 8 am by grad students as punishment for us not being EEs. They felt they were doing charity work (The English profs thought they were doing missionary work, but that is another issue). The only useful knowledge I gained was why power lines come in threes (fours if you count the neutral, five if you need a ground).

My son the future ChemE has Organic 2 this semester if I can get his financial aid snafu resolved before they kick him out of class. Organic 1 didn't scare him off, so there is hope.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Accelerated Organic may qualify as cruel and unusual punishment, Manon.

I-mom: Since we had Thanksgiving with the same crowd every year, post-meal charades was mandatory, as was the pre-dinner touch football game.

In addition to h-d-s-quaver, I've attempted to mime such gems as John Hancock's signature, Vitamin D, and hydrogen.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

@Ivansmom: I failed OChem because: a) it was at 8am (i was asleep by 8:15), b) my professor had a monotone delivery (two-dimensional "flat"), and c) his speciality was stereochemistry -- the difference between left- and right-handed isomers. The result was a brief switch to physics, followed by a drastic recast as a social and political philosophy major. In short, I'm a natural (for the AB).

@slyness: Thanks. I've been here for a while, more or less laughing to myself...

...I cut my teeth on Ringworld and the Kzinti... have not revisited it, but I always remembered Niven as a good read... no Arthur C. (who was?), but then AC didn't enjoy the same output...

...don't get me started... it will lead to an off-topic rant on Golden Age SF stories and their recent mistreatments by Hollywood... (I, Robot...) [though I had always hoped someone would do Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber as a miniseries... (I'm talking to you SyFy Channel)]

Posted by: wdrudman | January 12, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Pictures of the tiara exist, but some people prefer that I don't link to them. (Psst, mudge, the next payment is due.)

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

ah the achenfaq - those were the days...
btw - my den of darkness has ceased to exist...


Posted by: mortii | January 12, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Responding to jcarlosluna: Sara Seager, quoted in the article, actually was talking about NEAR-infrared light, wavelengths just outside the visible range (there's a very good evolutionary reason for that coincidence...). Near-IR light at about 850 nm (nanometers), the wavelength used in the EPOXI images to detect plant life ( and also used by Landsat for the same purpose, is still quite far from the spectral region in which objects at terrestrial temperatures are significant emitters in comparison to light received from the Sun. The cross-over point is at about 3000 nm = 3 microns; beyond that wavelength, terrestrial temperatures are such that Earth glows substantially brighter than it reflects.

Nevertheless, the bit about "unless the plants are blue" actually is a joke. A more likely color would be purple = rhodopsin, a chemical used in our eyeballs to detect light and used by some bacteria to photosynthesize. However, the waste products from rhodopsin photosynthesis are non-gaseous (though I can't quite remember what it produces...), and thus ill-suited to form the basis of a biology that could conquer the environment of an entire world. That is, unlike chlorophyll, rhodopsin cannot poison its competition into submission.

See? I can talk about SOME things, just not things that are matters of potential scientific dispute in which I have a professional stake.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Didn't they make a mini-series of The Martian Chronicles? And wasn't that other Will Smith movie also based on some SF story? And aren't the flying critters in Avalon just a rip-off of Pern?

***cackling maniacally***

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Check out these old beauties:

No, I'm not THAT old. But I remember these advertised in Scientific American when I was a little kid. (my dad subscribed for years and years)

I learned slide rule right about when desktop calculators were becoming affordable for the average middle income dad. I think I used my dad's once or twice for homework. It was bulky and expensive and had some kind of red wire display?

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 12, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

@yello ...please, it's more fun this way (but thanks)

Posted by: wdrudman | January 12, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

it was all downhill after "Starship Troopers"... *sigh*

Posted by: wdrudman | January 12, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth

A 7.3 quake off the Haitian coast.

Posted by: MsJS | January 12, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

edbyronadams: "Planetologists tell us the monumental collision that created the Moon stripped us of excessive atmosphere that kept us from becoming Venusian."

Sorry, man, you are mixing old news with newer news. The current best-supported theory for Moon formation is, indeed, the result of a monumental collision. It has gone in and out of favor over the centuries, but solid scientific analysis now supports it. In fact there are no other credible contenders at this point. This is the newer news.

On the other hand, the atmosphere is more difficult and your suggested mechanism is a bit dated, especially the comparison to Venus, whose problems probably are unrelated to this issue. The most persuasive (but still not extremely well-supported) theory has it that the Earth's first atmosphere simply boiled off into space from the molten cauldron that was the Earth in formation, as mighty impacts (but less mighty than the Moon-forming impact) generated enough heat to keep the Earth largely molten, even in the absence of the long time scales required for internal radioactivity to do the job. The Moon had to have formed after the Earth was mostly done, because the planet had already separated into lighter minerals floating atop a high-density mantle and core. That impact may or may not have been what eliminated the first atmosphere. The Earth then acquired a second atmosphere as the process of planetesimal accretion slowed, permitting the cometary bodies that also were colliding to leave their volatiles gravitationally-bound to Earth instead of boiling off into space. At last, the rise of photosynthesis gradually consumed the second atmosphere and has gifted us with the third. Some day, there will be a fourth and maybe a fifth.

Venus' problems remain a matter of investigation. The proposed mechanism for exchanging Earth's first atmosphere for its second, should have worked just as well on Venus, even without a Moon-forming impact. Much of the atmosphere may result from evaporating many of the things that on Earth are dissolved into the molten mantle and the oceans, as well as the thermal breakdown of various minerals. One theory holds that Venus is what happens if you don't have plate tectonics. Or, maybe not. I dunno.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

yello, mine was an evening course by adjunct professional EEs, which gave it a nice, bitter flavor in addition to the condescension. No lab TA ever spoke a hint of english, either. I don't know what I was supposed to learn there, other than how to solve the same equations I already learned in Vibrations using a different method. Eventually, I passed and was done with it. I'll keep my phasors Star Trek style, thank you very much.

Good luck to your son! It's been nice chatting, but it's my pumpkin time and there's no internet at home yet. Later. :)

Posted by: MoftheMountain | January 12, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

wdrudman -- but we *love* rants here! Well, most of them. Some of them we have learned to scroll past.

Posted by: -ftb- | January 12, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Ivansmom -- have you started the second Stieg Larsson book yet? I'm almost at the 200-page mark. I'm not sure about this one. I'm actually getting a bit bored, in fact. Nevertheless, I shall slog my way through it. I'm finding quite a few Swedish words for the first time, although I can figure out the meaning pretty easily in context, and he occasionally throws in some common English usage. There are tons of 7-11 stores in Stockholm (probably in every larger city), so that shows up in the text.

Next (maybe) on my list is "In Code" about mathematics written by a father-daughter team. She apparently was a math prodigy from her very early years. It's been sitting on my shelf for ages. One of my law school classmates told me that he had read it and thought it was cool to share with his niece to show her that girls and math can indeed mix, and mix well.

And then there's the Molly Ivins biography.

Yep. So many books, so little time.

Posted by: -ftb- | January 12, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Alas I was pre-injuneering many many years before the microprocessor was invented and the transistor was only in little tiny Japanese radios.
Half our class were Korean War vets with their fancy bamboo slide rules they picked up one way home. We kids were relegated to making a choice between plastic (negs temperature variation) or aluminum, that I chose (negs, keep the slides clean or it froze up)slide rules. Got one unit for taking the course on how to slide.
The organic chem prof announced the first day that anyone staying until the end would get a passing grade. Only thing I remember, which I can't remember just now is the the class of chems that smell like (hydrogen sulfide) in mixed company.
While working at the Amdahl startup I bought a desk top calculator that was very useful when the power failed in the office to find the way out to the parking lot (many ha ha's from the IBM code breakers.)

Posted by: bh72 | January 12, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

wdrudman - Did you ever read "The Way the Future Was"? I think it was by Pohl, about classic sci-fi, unlike SyFy, aptly renamed since it long ago lost any 'Sci' to go with the 'Fi'. I remember reading Heinlein juveniles, where the pilots computed trajectories, etc on slide rules, and Mars and Venus were habitable. That was also back when the general public believed that science would solve our problems.

Posted by: km2bar | January 12, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Sneaks, I have no idea what you guys are talking about, but I'm REALLY enjoying the geekfest. I know (and love) many engineers and scientists, they're some of the most fun people around.

Posted by: MiddleofthePacific | January 12, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Summer school organic chem was my most brutal pass ever-- the lack of air conditioning and a heat wave didn't help, either.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 12, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

THE MOVIE "Avatar" said it all. We need to keep dirty humans out of other planets and limit them to this dying planet. It would be nice if all the humans stopped having babies so Earth could be rid of them too!

Posted by: cloudyone | January 12, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I'm also having a great time reading today and yesterday, too. I'm sort of learning something and having fun. I say "sort of" because I think I'm grasping stuff but have no independent confirmation of this. Perhaps I'll try using the Boodle to talk about some of it with the Boy. If I can make myself understood to him then there's hope.

He's puny right now. Bad Mommy Moment (before school): "I don't feel good." "Eat your toast." "If I do it'll come right back up." "Then eat it so we can find out now if that happens." [Boy finishes toast & OJ on way to school.] [During first class period, breakfast comes right back up.]

I haven't started the Larsson yet, ftb. I'm in the middle of another Swedish mystery, set in Uppsala, by Kjell Eriksson. I've read several of these things, set in Sweden or Denmark or Prussia or something, recently. They're always set in the dead of winter and I've really been regretting my timing - I can't even get warm by reading.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Organic chemistry...STINKS!

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 12, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

In my way of thinking, we are working on how life begins right here on Earth. Hard. And may figure that out and be able to calculate how likely extraterrestrial life is independent of any "amazing" planet 373 light years away with "liquid water" - or even a long-dead Martian bacteria.

So the discovery of simple life elsewhere will likely be of little utility to us or somehow give us some great philosophical insight.

Colonization by humans in present human form may also be impossible without some sci-fi FTL device. Though post-human AI machine life we may someday be able to create may indeed be able to not only live in places in the solar system lethal to humans..but if designed for long, near eternal lifespan and hard radiation resistant - may travel to the stars.

Our greatest payoff would be getting a SETI hit from an advanced civilization elsewhere that would be interested in communicating with us, or capable of it, or that we would be capable of detecting and understanding (for almost 100 years, New Guinea tribes have been able to pick up radio anywhere they walk - but the signal has been invisible and uknown to them because they lack the technology to pick it up and the awareness it even existed.)

An advanced civilization would be a game-changer, even if we were never able to physically travel - if we agreed to share each's "encyclopedia of Everything".

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | January 12, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

@km2bar - I did not read much Pohl... my arc went something like this: Asimov/Clarke/Heinlein (Bradbury doesn't count -- too soft), Niven/Herbert/Harrison, Anthony (Macroscope !!), Saberhagen/Zelazny, Card/Stasheff, college... [slashes do not denote collaborations -- I had a tendency to devour an author's entire oeuvre at once, to the extent possible, filling with new releases (in paperback... kid on an allowance)] I'm sure I am missing a few... I still have most of the 300-500 books in boxes in my garage... (some were swiped by younger brothers)

Posted by: wdrudman | January 12, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Uh, I may have missed something here, I'm not real hip to the hyper, but "Avatar" was fiction, right? Not a documentary?

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I stopped seriously reading novels about twenty years ago... just about the same time I was plopped down in front of a computer for eight hours a day... coincidence?

Posted by: wdrudman | January 12, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

wrudman... I read your post as saying "I stopped seriously reading vowels..."

This is after thinking you were complaining about Golden Age San Francisco stories. Clearly I'm not one of the pointy-headed science types here (but I'm married to one!).

rashomon... I just downloaded a proportion wheel app for my iPhone; I don't know where my physical wheel is hiding these days.

Posted by: -TBG- | January 12, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Well Ivansmom, it's a documentary on how to make billions out of mere hundreds of millions.
I'm not sure I'm ready to see it.

I've just seen Mr. Cameron's old flame's, Kathrin Bigelow, movie "The hurt locker" and it's a good one. It cost only tens of millions, so to speak, but it's really good. There are no blue people though.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 12, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

i've just been reading more about Miep Gies and her passing yesterday, and I found that I actually started to cry. I have Anne Frank's diary in the original Dutch and have gone through it many times (I can figure out a lot of it, knowing the story, of course). Perhaps what saddens me the most is the knowledge and recognition that not many people today would do what she did and take the enormous risks she, her husband and the others took.


Posted by: -ftb- | January 12, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Sending off some good mojo to Haiti, what did that place ever do to deserve such a long history of misfortune.

ftb, I will hold out hope that while there may not be many there will always be enough good people to make a difference when it matters. What we need to do is pay more attention to the few and not the many.

Posted by: dmd3 | January 12, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

ftb... with all the strife in the world I'm sure there are people all over who are taking those same dangerous risks to help others. We're just not hearing about them.

Posted by: -TBG- | January 12, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

TBG -- I haven't seen my proportion wheel for years, either. I like to think that it retired to some sunny tropical island, along with my haberule, t-square and triangles. Maybe running a small tiki bar.

Posted by: rashomon | January 12, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Ah, Fred Pohl.

Most folks around here know I'm awfully Zeliglike -- spent some quality time with him some years ago (he'd probably describe it today as quality time spent with the young lady who was accompanying me).


Posted by: -bc- | January 12, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

rosh... I think my waxer and light table might be down there, too, at that tiki bar.

Posted by: -TBG- | January 12, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

This actually refers to the previous kit, but I can't resist posting it, without comment:

Posted by: slyness | January 12, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Are there gorse in Haiti?

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 12, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Wow... and they didn't even go to the Police Academy... headline on the WaPo home page...

Leesburg runaways turn themselves into police

Posted by: -TBG- | January 12, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

RE: WETPAINT SITE: I've been convinced that Wetpaint is not a safe site. My desktop is currently crippled by a virus that started up while I was on the wetpaint site, and I definitely did't click on any ads. I love the Wiki concept and look forward to a day when it is much more prevalent. But for now, I would advise everybody to stay away from it.

Posted by: kbertocci | January 12, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

I think it is terribly, terribly clear that I need one of these:

Perhaps for my birthday?

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

So I IM'ed Daughter the headline from the WaPo home page and she replied with this link...

Posted by: -TBG- | January 12, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

That's a shame, kb. I'm sorry I linked to it now. Does anyone have an idea of another place we can put the stuff so there's still a FAQ available to newbies?

Posted by: -bia- | January 12, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I'll just say, without backboodling further, that I'm extremely sorry the "necessary chores" don't take up 24-7.

Posted by: abeac1 | January 12, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

About that headline, TBG... Ow!;)

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 12, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

It was a process called transfuzzification, TBG.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | January 12, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

I actually dabbled with a slide rule in elementary school...

And then Dad brought home an Apple II.


I am not wdrudman, BTW -- good to see you here, Senator! ;-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 12, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Good gracious, Google blogs are so easy to set up it's ridiculous.

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 12, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Jumper... but with a wiki anyone can add or edit information without logging in or having admin privileges.

Posted by: -TBG- | January 12, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Anyone else watching American Idol?

Posted by: -TBG- | January 12, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

TBG, what's your opinion about the departure of Simon Cowell?

OK-- I risked my laptop, made a quick raid on the Wetpaint site, copied the FAQ to my blog, here's a safe way to view it:

Posted by: kbertocci | January 12, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, my desktop pc is completely fried now--won't boot in any mode known to man. Poor thing, it's trying very hard to start up but all we can get is the blue Windows logo screen. So sad. Thank goodness for the laptop.

Posted by: kbertocci | January 12, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

I am watching TBG, and reading about Haiti at the same time, odd juxtaposition.

Posted by: dmd3 | January 12, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Science Tim, thanks for the info.

Still, my main point that Earth is a very special place, unlikely to be replicated in other star systems holds. I like the impacts story and the idea of stored heat. The whole radioactive decay thing as the sole driver of plate tectonics has never appealed to my own intuition. Of course, without that recycler of minerals, the wide variety of life we see on Terra simply would be unsupportable. I have also wondered how much friction from the tidal interaction with Luna has to do with driving Terra's internal heat.

Posted by: edbyronadams | January 12, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Organic Chem 2 was at 8 am, taught by an utterly uninteresting assistant professor who realized he had a student revolt on his hands.

He ended up a member of the National Academy of Sciences (at the same university)

And years later, the university's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences had such difficulty getting its students through basic chemistry, that they hired chem students for study sessions. That dean is now the incoming president at Florida State, in a radical break from the Florida tradition of handing out state university presidencies to unemployed politicians.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | January 12, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

TBG-I watched. Like a moth to a flame. I always say I won't then I can't help myself. Is it just me, or did they not focus as much on ridiculing the deluded as in the past? That was my favorite part of the audition shows.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | January 12, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse

182 wooohooo......D'oh you guys are too much

Posted by: greenwithenvy | January 12, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

You've got an alive individual on the Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen list:

This young soldier from Bakersfield is alive and well. The soldier who is the first from San Antonio to die in Afghanistan in 2010 is the one whose name should be listed.

Posted by: laloomis | January 12, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

The moon probably has all sorts of important effects that we take for granted. It certainly moves enormous volumes of water around.

The Miami Herald has a few daylight photos and terribly sketchy coverage from Haiti. The University of Miami and many others are organizing relief.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | January 12, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

The Red Cross is internet-jammed. The International Aid part of it for donations. I guess that's the only good news.

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 12, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

I feel horrible about your computer. I hope it can be resuscitated. I use Firefox and some very valuable plug-ins. Adblock Plus hides all ads, including those very annoying WaPo pop-ups. AVG Safe Search will warn if you are about to open a malware page and will also note threat levels in Google searches.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Me, too, kb. Hope you can bring it back to life.

Yello... I'm looking forward to your Restaurant Week reports.

Posted by: -TBG- | January 12, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Good evening, all.

All reports I've seen re. the quake that struck Haiti today indicate a great deal of destruction and injuries. I'm sure that the the US government and international relief organizations will be sending support ASAP. They're our neighbors, time to head over and help.

I've made jokes on the Boodle for years about how if we humans find Earthlike extra-solar planets we'd probably do what we always do with new territory -- figure out how to make money from it. Exploit it's natural resources or develop it (for humans) to take adavantge of it's location or uniqueness as a travel destination. If it's useful real estate, someone will figure out some way to sell it, won't they?

If there is intelligent life there, I expect that they won't have anything to do with us if they can avoid it.

Or their first communication with an Earthlike world with an advanced civilization will be to tell us that our assistance is needed Very Much and to be Greatly Appreciated in a Banking Matter of Very Great Importance. In order to facilitiate the deposed Prince of Qwertyuiop's recovery of his fortune's worth of Colonic Methane Crystals, he needs an offworld Bank to store them in temporarily. We would be Very Muchly well-compensated for Our Very Kind and Knowledgeable Assistance (Promise to You 15% of the net). And could we very much please send them our wonderful Earth bank account #s and Interstellar Banking Routing information?

Thank You Sincerely Very Much-
Most Exaulted Prince of QWERTYUIOP (deposed)


Posted by: -bc- | January 12, 2010 11:32 PM | Report abuse

Going back to the previous Kit, I had considered the term "Palindrones," but thought that it should refer to fans and supporters.

After all, the drones we use in the Middle East are remotely-controlled devices, incapable of independent thought, going where they are directed and doing as they are bid.

Get close - if you are willing to, of if you dare - and have a look inside.

Nobody's home.



Posted by: -bc- | January 12, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

Mmmm.... brains!


Posted by: -bc- | January 12, 2010 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Off to bed, but I leave you with this recipe for Mulled Wine, for the next time we need to head to the bunker, or for those of you in the South still suffering from the abnormally cold weather.

Posted by: dmd3 | January 12, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

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

Good morning, friends. I've been up for some time now, so just decided to "get up". When I got home from church conference last night, I made chicken and dumplings. They look okay, not sure about the taste. I made them for the Bible study today. I hope someone shows up. With the cold weather, folks don't want to leave home.

Well, it's Wednesday, the busy day. It's suppose to be just a tad warmer today, but the weather folks have been making that promise all week, and we're yet to feel that! I truly hope so.

Mudge, Martooni, Scotty, Yoki, Lindaloo, and all the boodle, have a lovely day, stay warm.

Slyness, are you still walking? I can hardly stand up now, and I would probably have to call 911 if I tried walking. I have an appointment with an orthopedic specialist next week. Perhaps there is hope for me yet.

Please remember the people of Haiti in your prayers and gifts.

Posted by: cmyth4u | January 13, 2010 5:24 AM | Report abuse

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

Good morning, friends. I've been up for some time now, so just decided to "get up". When I got home from church conference last night, I made chicken and dumplings. They look okay, not sure about the taste. I made them for the Bible study today. I hope someone shows up. With the cold weather, folks don't want to leave home.

Well, it's Wednesday, the busy day. It's suppose to be just a tad warmer today, but the weather folks have been making that promise all week, and we're yet to feel that! I truly hope so.

Mudge, Martooni, Scotty, Yoki, Lindaloo, and all the boodle, have a lovely day, stay warm.

Slyness, are you still walking? I can hardly stand up now, and I would probably have to call 911 if I tried walking. I have an appointment with an orthopedic specialist next week. Perhaps there is hope for me yet.

Please remember the people of Haiti in your prayers and gifts.

Posted by: cmyth4u | January 13, 2010 5:24 AM | Report abuse

Sorry about the double posts.

Posted by: cmyth4u | January 13, 2010 5:26 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle. Did something I haven't done in decades last night: went to bed at 8 p.m. and got almost 9 hours of sleep. 4 to 5 is normal for me.

I was a bit mystified this morning to see the news on WaPo and especially on TV about the earthquake in Haiti, which Joe Krebs on NBC-4 this morning referred to as a "tiny island." My thought was not only is it a fairly large island, compared to about 20 or so other Caribbean islands we can all name, but also that it is only half an island. The other half, IIRC and according to WaPo's own map, is the Dominican Republic. To listen to the news and read the reports, the DR was apparently unaffected -- or at least, there's no reportage from there, yet anyway. But I gotta wonder if Krebs (or his newswriter) knows anything about Haiti and the DR. (Memo to Joe K: "Haiti" isn't the name of the island. The island is called Hispaniola. 22nd largest island in the world, 10th most populous, most populous island in the Americas.)

Sweet curdled and aged wheel-like milk product.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | January 13, 2010 6:58 AM | Report abuse

For you non-DCers mid-January is a time of great rejoicing and feasting. No, it's not King Day, it's Restaurant Week. Restaurants of all cusines and price levels offer 3-course dinners for the price of $35.10 (the cents go up a penny each year insuring that inflation erodes any profitability) excluding drinks, tax, tips, parking and coat check. So while the prices sound cheap, it's real easy to be north of Benjamin in a hurry.

The trick then is to pick a restaurant that offers the best value and that is harder than it looks.

We tried two different steak places and while I started it as a boodle entry, it turned into a blog post.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 13, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

Morning all, a cool 20 degrees in the Queen City this morning. Yes, Cassandra, I'm walking, but 20 is the cutoff. When it's below that, I ride the exercycle. Since it's on the cusp, no excuses today!

So sad, the news coming out of Haiti. I hope we get relief in the country today. Wonder if the feds will send an urban search and rescue team in? The closest would be in Florida, I'm guessing. That probably would be a good idea, but the order needs to go out, like, yesterday.

Have a pleasant day, all. We are looking for some warming in the next couple of days. It can't come too soon!

Posted by: slyness | January 13, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

Oh my stars and garters, what a simply delicious sunrise!!! Not only lots of high clouds to catch the red & golds, but just enough clouds on the horizon to allow one to effortlessly watch the sun rising into view, red-orangely huge and awesome.

*hoping-the-coming-dawn-provides-some-comfort-to-the-Haiti-quake-survivors Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 13, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

Yet more evidence that a Venn diagram of college coaching and reality shows no joint set:

*shaking my head*

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 13, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

'morning all. You're lucky to have a sunrise Scotty. It's still dark and snowing (finally!) in these Northern latitudes.

The snow badly need to be refreshed. It's more yellow than white around the kennel we call home.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 13, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Scotty, your Venn diagram looks like a couple of sweet cheese wheels to me. But you're right: no overlap. My guess would be a pair of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blues.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 13, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

I can't go to the WaPo's main page - those pictures! I donated to a charity I believe strongly in, which has a string of clinics in Haiti and trains local doctors, Partners In Health run by Paul Farmer. They sent an e-mail last night saying they were shaken up but are still standing and are sending help into the city.

I find it disturbing that U.S. officials are saying they "stand ready to help" but have not yet been asked, or cannot contact Haitian officials. So send the help anyway. Shades of Katrina.

Posted by: Wheezy1 | January 13, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

About Haiti, my friends run a small medical clinic in the mountains. See this:

You can donate specifically to this effort.

Medicine for Peace includes mental health services in all their relief projects.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | January 13, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, you all. My houseplants are as happy as Scotty with the warm sunshine pouring in on them this morning. Old friend potted africian violet has about a dozen violet blooms. A lavender plant that didn't get in the ground this fall is now about three feet tall and blooming happily under a southern exposure liv. rm. window. The Amaryllis (somehow, somebody always gives us one(Red Lion this yr.) is up and should be showing bud bloom next week. None of them are blooming stars and garters, tho.

Shriek, our snow is old, but still white, a puzzle when I consider the critters roaming around my backyard early in the morning.

Posted by: VintageLady | January 13, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for that link, CqP. If they are friends of yours, they must be doing good. I sent a small donation.

Posted by: slyness | January 13, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

cOp, thanks for the link! I've never heard of this group, but clearly they are where they are needed. With an office in the District for contributions and information, I'll donate and see about others doing the same.

Posted by: VintageLady | January 13, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Will now take myself to JA's link/story.

Posted by: VintageLady | January 13, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Wheezy, it's not that cut-and-dry. The UN, USAID, and the Red Cross are all responding, as is OAS. With the exception of OAS, that's a lot of Americans (a local rescue team from Fairfax County, VA, one of the best in the world, is already on it's way, as in the team from LA County, CA.) The US can't really just show up...protocol must be followed, even in these circumstances. If every country sent teams, they'd be all over each other, making things worse, not better. A coordinated effort is required. Once the UN gets a grip on things, my guess is they will lead the mission, and call for the specific help they think is needed. (Haiti is an original member of the UN, and it is reasonable to guess they'd be more inclined to accept leadership from the UN than the US. Uninvited military troops landing on their soil could be misconstrued. There's also the issue of their other (closer) neighbors, and how they'd take to that.)

Posted by: LostInThought | January 13, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I hope the double post means you will fax me double chicken and dumplings, Cassandra. What a wonderful thing, for this cold weather.

I could not help viewing some of the Haiti damage with the eyes of a building inspector, seeing some collapsed walls without rebar on the news.

I can only hope that prayers not often made get extra attention.

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 13, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Part of Canada's DART response has been sent to assess the situation and give advise on what needs to be done. I understand the head of the UN delegation in Haiti was killed, coordination will be difficult with such widespead damage.

Posted by: dmd3 | January 13, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Glad to hear that the Fairfax and LA USAR teams are headed to Haiti, LiT.

FEMA contracts with some of the larger fire departments to maintain supplies, materials, and rescue personnel for disasters such as these. With luck, they will deploy today and hit the ground running.

Mr. T has a good friend on the Fairfax team. After the Oklahoma City bombing, we were priviledged to be in a meeting where he and others who went talked about their experiences. I had goosebumps the whole time.

Posted by: slyness | January 13, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

While DART is heading to the area, the Haitian government has not yet requested their assistance, which is required before they go in. Permission to land in the DR is pending. It's reasonable to assume that requests for help and permission to land are forthcoming.

Think about crazy would we have been had Chinese troops landed in Louisiana without our permission?

Posted by: LostInThought | January 13, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

OAS, what a joke...Anyone want to take a stab at how far along this OAS program got in Haiti? Its accomplishments? And wasn't the collapse of a school in Petionville, Haiti, in November 2008 a wake-up call?,2933,450346,00.html

According to CNN, Haiti was a catastrophe waiting to happen:

Relevant grafs:

Citing that World Bank assessment, the Organization of American States said in a report on its Web site, "Among the numerous factors explaining the extent of the loss of lives and goods are the absence of land use zoning and building guidelines, and comprehensive enforcement mechanisms." The OAS report added Haiti has no national building codes.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Timothy M. Carney told CNN that Port-au-Prince was particularly at risk because it grew rapidly from a population of about 250,000 in the mid-1950s to more than 2 million today, all with little oversight.

City planners had called for the surrounding hills to remain undeveloped in order to protect an aquifer. "That didn't happen," Carney said. "People started building up those hillsides."

Instead of building concrete structures, they built shanties, he said. "My fear is that they all fell down."

Posted by: laloomis | January 13, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Landing US troops in a soverign country without prior permission from that government can easily mistaken for an invasion.

I imagine many countries are somewhat leery of us, given the US track record over the past decade.


Posted by: -bc- | January 13, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Add to the mix the plate tectonics of Haiti. Good explanation and graphics at this science blog website.

The Caribbean is contained on its own separate little plate; a rather diminutive part of the tectonic jigsaw that is the Earth's crust. It is surrounded on three sides by the much larger North and South American plates, both of which are moving approximately westwards with respect to the Caribbean plate at around 2-3 centimetres a year.

Posted by: laloomis | January 13, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

LiT, I know you're right. It just grates on me that there has to be a delay. At least WaPo changed those pictures on the front page.

Loomis, I fail to see the point in blaming the victims at this time. Not that that has ever stopped you before.

Posted by: Wheezy1 | January 13, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, y'all.

LiT makes a lot of valid points regarding Haitian sovereignty, protocol, and decision-making. All of the teams sending support to the region want pretty much the same thing, and recognize the value of at least a hemi-semi-demi-coordinated effort.

Ever since Katrina I find myself wanting U.S. personnel, whether military or civilian, not to be in charge.

Posted by: MsJS | January 13, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

The UN still has a pacification/policing mission in Haiti. Its main building collapsed, most likely killing the Head of Mission, an Algerian, and many other staff. China (People's Republic of) was reporting 8 soldiers killed and a couple of dozen missing in the collapse of a barrack. Brazil is reporting 4 dead soldiers as well. The US component of the mission hasn't spoken yet but a Canadian reporter was saying US barrack(s) had collapsed too. Hopefully they were empty at the time.

It will be a holy mess . The flood after hurricane Jeanne showed that the country's lack of transport infrastructure is a major impediment to bringing aid and relief. It will be easier around Port-au-Prince/Pétionville near the epicenter but the rest of the country will be SOOL, as usual. A bad situation overall.
Haiti's already the poorest country of the Western hemisphere, they didn't needed that.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 13, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Given the ingenuity and geographic diversity of the A-boodlers, I'm finding a lot of valuable info about the situation right here.

I'm very impressed and also very grateful.

Posted by: MsJS | January 13, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I heard the point made repeatedly on NPR this morning that construction in Haiti is close to collapse much of the time. I don't think laloomis is necessarily blaming the victims here -- it's important to understand that if a wide range of Haitian buildings are generally near collapse and follow no meaningful building code (viz. Jumper's comment about the lack of rebar in collapsed concrete walls), then the extent of devastation and the extent to which you can anticipate people trapped in building rubble is probably far greater than anything the search-and-rescue teams will be used to dealing with.

I hypothesize that recovery from this disaster may demand a gigantic level of involvement in creating building codes and providing aid in building structures according to those codes, with independent inspection to curb local corruption. If the US provides aid in the form of subsidizing US construction companies, with local hiring for unskilled and semi-skilled labor, Port-au-Prince probably could be rebuilt far superior to its pre-quake condition and with substantial benefit to the Haitian economy and US construction firms. Very sad that such loss of life and disruption is required to instigate such a boom.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 13, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

One thing everyone needs to remember is the condition of the runway(s) at the airprort, for any support being flown in. They may be heavily damaged, but in any event, somebody's got to check them, get the tower running and operational, etc. You can't just send a giant transport plane and hope it lands OK without any support from the tower. They can't just fly south until they see a big island and decide to set down somewhere flat.

Also, try to remember it's only been less than 18 hours. You can't just find a bunch of big planes, get crew and personnel, load the damn things with the proper supplies, and then fly anywhere from five to ten hours to get there (depending on where they're starting from). We have to assemble the rescue teams and fly them from Point A to Point B, etc. Ditto supplies. Yes, in an ideal world, it would be nice if we could launch rescue missions at the snap of the fingers, but you have to think about the logistics. But we don't have C-131s sitting on taxiways and loaded with food, water, tents and generators just waiting for a disaster somewhere in the world.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 13, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, excellent points. I think they've given up on Haitian airports, and are looking at to the DR for those purposes, adding another aspect to the protocol issues.

Posted by: LostInThought | January 13, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Good points, SciTim and Mudge.

Here's a link to a recent press briefing by the UN Sec-General.

It appears they are engaged in a lot of simultaneous efforts, even as they try to account for their local staff. These include road clearing and coordinating the arrival of heavy equipment and various support teams. The Sec-General is also sending another person to Haiti to act as UN top dog locally until the existing UN team members are accounted for.

Posted by: MsJS | January 13, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

It's moments like this, when those old-fashioned sea-planes would be very handy.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 13, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

bc, we just have to paint our helmets blue. Or better, wear a blue beret.

Posted by: russianthistle | January 13, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Could be, LiT. Fortunately at the moment, Preval has pretty good relations with DR, so that may help. But there is still the overland transportation question-- gotta move the personnel and supplies probably a hundred or 150 miles from DR to the Port-au-Prince region. A lot of mountainous terrain with horrible roads. Logistically just a nightmare, if speed is a concern (which of course it is).

Gotta remember, too, this is the country that used to be headed by the Duvaliers and their Ton-Ton Macoute. It isn't enough to say simply that it is "poor"; it also has a culture that keeps it that way. It's all fine and dandy to suggest that being in a high-seismic region that need stronger building codes. But they need so much else as well that building codes are way down on the list.

Preval seems like a decent guy, but I suspect there's very little he or anyone else can do. The country was actually making a tiny pit of progress until this came along. Very sad.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 13, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Mo, my head hurts to.

Posted by: russianthistle | January 13, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Wheezy, get a clue. Better yet, learn how to read. Do you THINK? Apparently, not. There's plenty of blame to go around, but not for the victims.

And there were risks being in Haiti (and other dangerous parts of the world, for that matter) for the U.N....before the quake, because of violence.

Jean-Marie Pierre, a staff member of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) died of stab wounds on 25 January in Petion Ville, Haiti. Theodore Lovansky, another Haitian staff member of the Mission, was murdered in Port-au-Prince, the capital, on 7 March.

Apparently, Haiti was trying to make an economic rebound with its new hotels. Makes me wonder what building codes were used for them?:

Haiti has far more problems than what major relief efforts in the aftermnath of the quake will solve.

Posted by: laloomis | January 13, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

LiT... doesn't Rush Limbaugh know a bit about the Dominican Republic?

Posted by: russianthistle | January 13, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Tim, you and I are such kindred spirits when it comes to dirigibles and seaplanes.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 13, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, I'm guessing that one of the first large transport planes landing in the DR might have helos on it. Make covering that 150 miles a bit speedier, and locating places to land somwhat easier, too. But military logistics isn't my bag, I really don't know what plans are for a situation like this.

But I'd think that helicopters (and fuel, support crews, pilots, etc) would be a good start.


Posted by: -bc- | January 13, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

AT-AT Walkers would be handy too. Do you thing George Lucas has any spares?

Posted by: yellojkt | January 13, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

According to the AP, the UN has stated the Port-au-Prince main airport to be "fully operational."

One of high-priority tasks of the UN at this time is to get the main roads cleared, presumably so everything coming into the airport can get to where it's needed.

Posted by: MsJS | January 13, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Now there's the pot calling the kettle black when the kettle is really silver. Googling and thinking aren't the same thing, you know.

Remember the M*A*S*H* episode where they showed the home movie of Frank's wedding? Picture the bride. Anyone come to mind?

Posted by: LostInThought | January 13, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

No questions helos would be the optimal local transport method, bc. But a transport can only carry two of them, plus you then need all the backup support and fuel--probably another two transport hops. I think the quicker overall method would be to dispatch one or two helo carriers as well as at least one (maybe both) hospital ships (if we haven't already done so). But once again there is the lead time and travel time. And the question of whether the US is going to make a maximum all-out effort or not.

I think the USNS Comfort's back in Norfolk. She can get to Haiti in maybe three days, but I have no idea what her deployment readiness is. She got back from Nicarauga in July. USNS Mercy's on the West Coast, so no help there.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 13, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

New kit, same thread.

Posted by: -bia- | January 13, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

The new kit is a front pager.

Posted by: MsJS | January 13, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

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