Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Children's TV

Used under the Creative Commons license. Attribution: James Good

My kids (age 2 and 3) get to watch 30 minutes of TV during the week. Monday through Saturday they alternate watching a show of their choosing at 7pm, before jammies and reading books before bed. Here are some thoughts on children's television.

Shows I we love:
Phineas and Ferb - Insane engineering and imaginative inventions coupled with the very laid back attitude of the two main characters makes this a show I don't feel bad letting my kids watch.  It is entertaining and (I think) helps kids feel they can do anything (even if it violates the laws of physics).  Kids should feel like they can do anything.

Sesame Street - it was a staple of my childhood and it makes me happy that my kids enjoy something that I also enjoyed as a kid.

Shows I tolerate my kids love:
DinoDan - Has dinosaurs in it.  And the animation dinosaurs are superimposed on real action.  OH NOES - DINOSAURS ARE REAL!  But they never eat anyone... weird.  My kids love it.
Max & Ruby - (I still think Max & Ruby's parents are off boozing with Dora and Diego's rents) Overbearing older sister forces younger brother to do weird things.  Younger brother attempts to simultaneously be nice to his sister and annoy the hell out of her.  Seems fairly realistic.  Except for the older sister's patience... what is she a Saint?

My kids also love Dora (my son) and Diego (my daughter).  Dora has the weird effect that it instantly puts me to sleep.  It is her weird eyes that don't point in the same direction.  When she stares at you, I think it hypnotizes me and I instantly fall asleep.  Therefore, I leave the room during Dora.  

Shows that are not allowed on the television in my house:
Wonderpets - stupid duck. If I have to hear about things getting "SEERWEOUS" one more time I will lose my shit. 'Oh no, the stupid pink unicorn is stuck in the mud... we must help him.' If that is the worst thing that happens today - I vote best day ever. The animation (or is it claymation... I really cannot tell) makes me want to vomit.

Barney - Stupid purple dinosaur. Annoying purple dinosaur.  BAD DINOSAUR, BAD DINOSAUR!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NASA Space-based Images of Alabama Tornadoes

A combination of Visible and IR data of the EF-4 tornado track through Alabama.  Vegetation appears as pink, while teal shows the absence of Vegetation.  The giant swath going from lower left to upper right was the EF-4 tornado.
In an attempt to help the victims of the Alabama tornadoes, NASA has been investigating using its network of Earth sensing satellites to help define areas affected by tornadoes.  This is the first time NASA has attempted to use this specific instrument, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), to characterize tornado damage.  The picture above is a combination of a visible image and an infrared (IR) image.  The combination helps to define areas affected by determining where there is live vegetation.  This is especially useful in remote and rural areas.

Why would they be interested in doing this?  Well, it turns out that insurance companies use the National Weather Service data to determine whether or not someone has been effected by severe weather.  If you are in a remote area, where there may not be a lot of weather stations, your claim may not be accepted as part of the damage from a given storm.  (Or, that is the story I have been told. Someone out there is free to comment and clear up any misunderstanding I may have).  So, next time you might be tempted to think what has NASA, or for that matter Earth science, done to help regular folks, you can think of this story.

Read more about this story here: Unique Space Image of Alabama Tornado Tracks

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An excellent Get Fuzzy!

A really funny comic from the strip Get Fuzzy:
Get Fuzzy

That is how I feel after the children eat me out of house and home.

For anyone not familiar with the phrase "All your base are belong to us" read this wiki.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Haiku Monday - epic fail

Epic Failure
Epic fail today
to produce a quality
post while staying sane

Friday, May 6, 2011

Alabama Tornadoes - NASA's First Hand Account

Tornado Tracks from the rare EF-5 tornado in late April 2011.  Full size picture link. Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.
There is a really great story I found on the Science@NASA website called: A Story from the Tornado Zone.  It is an excellent read.  The author, Dauna Coulter, found herself in the middle of ground zero of the huge storm that spawned dozens of tornadoes as it ripped through Alabama and Mississippi.
Tornado Tracks by EF rating.  Photo Credit: NWS

Most amazing was the EF-5 tornado that traveled through the northwest corner of Alabama. From the article by Dauna Coulter:
"This kind of set up in the atmosphere is extremely rare. We have a number in meteorology called the EHI (Energy Helicity Index)4 that indicates the likelihood of tornadoes developing. With an EHI over 2 you can expect some tornadoes. Over 5 and you can expect some significant tornadoes. The EHI predicted by computer models the day before this event was 10, and that prediction was correct."  -UA-Huntsville meteorologist Tim Coleman
 So, what was the science behind this huge, dangerous storm?  Well, the story goes as follows:  A large area of cold air traveled to the southeast out of the Midwest, following a cold front which was associated with a ground level low pressure area.  The low pressure pulled hot, most air up from the Gulf of Mexico area. Remember, fluids flow from high to low pressure. In addition, there were extremely strong winds with strong wind shear above the moist air.  All of this combined to create wind rotation and an increase in speed as the air gained altitude.  This is the exact formula for tornadoes.

Some other links to check out:
- National Severe Storms Laboratory Picture of Rotational Tracks.  This is an amazing picture showing the spatial extent of this storm.  Truly awe-inspiring.

I will add more links as I come across them.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Testing Einstein - NASA's Gravity Probe B confirms relativity

Space-time around the Earth and Gravity Probe B

We are living in exciting times.  The results of the NASA's Gravity Probe B experiment will one day be written up as one of the classic experiments of modern physics.

Gravity Probe B was launched in 2004 to test Einstein's theory of general relativity.  For the non-physicists in the crowd, this was the change to gravity that Einstein introduced.  Gravity was thought to be well understood by simple Newtonian physics.  You through a ball on Earth, it follows a ballistic trajectory explained very simply by college freshman level physics (neglecting atmospheric drag anyway).

Einstein introduced the idea that gravity can simply be described by the geometry of the situation.  It generalizes Newtonian gravity and special relativity (also Einstein's creation) into a geometric description of gravity based upon the idea of spacetime.  Very basically, the curvature of spacetime is directly related the energy and momentum of anything subject to the gravity.  It was revolutionary.  Still is I believe.

Gravity Probe B will test two different effects.
Gravity Probe B was launched to test the effects of Earth's movement, both around the Sun and spinning on its own axis, on the gravitational environment near Earth.  General relativity tells us there should be two different effects seen near Earth: Frame-dragging and Geodetic precesion.

The frame-dragging is due to the rotation of the Earth around its axis.  The geodetic precession is due to the mass of Earth moving through spacetime.

Through some very impressive engineering the Gravity Probe B satellite uses spinning gyroscopes to measure the two effects.  The team who developed the experiment needed to do invent and develop some serious equipment to perform this experiment.  They invented 13 new technologies for this experiment.

In addition, the precision of this experiment was amazing.  They need to be able to measure the drift of the gyroscopes to a precision of 0.0005 or 5/10000 of an arcsecond.  An arcsecond is 1/3600 degrees.  So, they needed a precision better than 1/7,000,000 of a degree.  Amazing!  Truly Amazing!

Some links of interest:
Gravity Probe B project page
Gravity Probe B wiki page 
NASA Press Release about results

Monday, May 2, 2011

Traveling, illness, death and birthdays

Hiking trail near Boulder, Colorado
All of last week I was at a workshop in Boulder, Colorado.  It was my first time at this workshop and the first workshop I have been to - as opposed to a conference.

The basic differences between a workshop and conference is this: scale.  A conference is typically much larger, has concurrent session going on, and has many topics covered.  A workshop is typically smaller, has only one track of talks, and is based on a singular topic. 

During a conference, there are typically a few times during the conference that nothing is going on that is of interest to me.  So I go and work in the hotel or at a coffee shop or something.  I tend to be ultra-productive during these times, finishing up little projects, writing up research papers, or really digging into something I just haven't had the time to get to.

I found out last week that a workshop does not allow this to happen.  I was in talks and discussions from 8 am until 5 pm everyday.  I learned a crap-load.  But I was exhausted.  COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED.

Before I left, my daughter, Sweet Little Hellion, was sick with pneumonia.  Not bad, but she was down and out for sure.  So before I left on travel, I spent time taking care of her and trying to leave Beautiful Wife as much free time as possible as she (BW) was going to be stuck dealing with the Berserker Brood for the week all on her lonesome.  So I was more than a little tired when I left for my trip...

George Marie, first member of the Berserker Brood.  RIP.
On top of all this, BW called me bright and early last Wednesday morning telling me she was bringing George (our cat) to the Vet hospital.  She was obviously very sick - couldn't stand up on her own, hadn't used the litterbox in a few days, wasn't taking food or water.  We had to put her down that morning.  Kidney failure.  Super bummed.  Nothing really strikes chord of grief like your family dying and George had been a part of my family since I first met my wife.

Funny thing about George, she was a girl cat named George, George Marie in fact.  BW has a goofy sense of humor and she had ALWAYS wanted to have a pet named George.  This stems from her love of all things looney tunes.  And looney tunes would do a bit based on the book "Of Mice and Men" about a little "wabbit" name George.  She was all full of attitude, all 7 pounds of her. 

George was 11 years old when she died.  All she ever wanted out of life was to lay in my lap - all day long.  When I was doing my PhD courses, she would lay on my lap under the table for the hours upon hours of homework I would do.  During the last few years my patience for having another little furnace on my lap after I put the kids to bed had diminished markedly.  I regret not having a little more time for her.  I regret not getting to say goodbye.  I really wish I could have been there when she died.

So that morning I had to have breakfast with 3 work colleagues, my former boss and a big-wig in our research discipline.  Supposed to schmooz and network... I failed.  Oh well.

Worse than that is explaining to a soon to be 2 year old and soon to be 4 year old that their kitty is not coming back.  Then explaining all about death.  Nothing makes you feel less adequate as a parent than having to explain all about death.  And how you have absolutely no answers and there is nothing anyone can do about it...  sucks, big time sucks.

Happy Birthday SLH!
Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt
From Wikimedia Commons

On top of all that, we celebrated Sweet Little Hellion's 2nd birthday yesterday.  Beautiful Wife made a carrot cake from scratch (oh, the god's know I love carrot cake... so good!) with yellow frosting - SLH's favorite color.

Little Berserker Spawn refused to eat on the princess plates, so I spent most of dinner having a little talk with him about the situation in the other room.  Trying to make him see it from her point of view.  Limited success.

After almost throwing a fit about not wanting to eat on Princess Plates, LBS didn't have any trouble wearing the pretend play high heels his little sister got as a present from my wife's brother and his wife... Don't worry, I have blackmail pictures.  MUUHAHAHHAHAHA! (evil laughter!).

Haiku Monday - Live before I die

Start Celebrating
Stand for something not nothing
Live before I die

- Stolen Inspired by Social Distortion
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