Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008...

So it's been almost a week since I bothered posting anything; I was bored/busy/in the middle of nowhere most of that time. But I did get to go to Finland to watch their TV for the Alamo Bowl.

Sometime soon I'll have a looking ahead to 2009 type post, but suffice to say I'll probably try to post here more often. And hopefully graduate n stuff.

As for 2008, it had its ups and downs and at this point my general feeling is 'meh'. So 2009 should be better, I hope.

And the 2008 leap second was pretty anticlimactic.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Last Christmas post, I promise. Just a bunch of christmassy videos. Because I'm lazy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

[Christmas Story 2]

Once upon a time, I had a lot of time on my hands (apparently) and wrote a short story about Christmas. Being the intelligent person that I was, I didn't finish it until after Christmas, and decided that it would stay safely on my hard drive until the next holiday season. Which was a bad idea, since my hard drive did not survive that long. However, thanks to the miracle of gmail, I've discovered the story again and this week am presenting it in segments. You can read Part 1 here; this is Part 2:

“I can tell you what Christmas is all about” said Linus from Peanuts, who had magically appeared in the middle of the group. “I can tell you the True Meaning of Christmas. Lights, please”
In the fields near Bethlehem, there sat certain shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the lord came upon them, and they were sore afraid.
RUN AWAY!” shouted the first shepherd (history, sadly, does not remember their names) and proceeded to do just that.
Wait!” the angel shouted “I bring glad tidings! This day in Bethlehem there is a baby born, a savior, in a manger!”
Uh…” the second shepherd said “I think you may have a wrong number.”
Plus,” the third shepherd added “only animals are born in mangers. Is a pig going to save the world?”
Stupid humans…” the angel mumbled, as he went off to find another group more receptive to God’s Message.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, three wise men noticed a bright new star in the sky. Because the star seemed to be getting increasingly brighter, and because of the somewhat shoddy nature of their astronomical training, they decided that this star was in fact no star, but a meteor headed straight for the earth. Using some simple algebra, they determined that Earth had a little less than two weeks left before impact.
Damn” Balthasar said “Two weeks…wow…well, there’s only one thing to do, I guess…”
Send a spaceship up with our non-existent nuclear weapons in an attempt to destroy it?” said Melchior.
No” Balthasar responded “go on vacation! Exotic Bethlehem, here we come!”
And so, the three wise men got on the phone with their three not-so-wise travel agents. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, it is nearly impossible to get a flight around the holidays. They tried everything they could think of to get on a flight.
I don’t mind not having an Aisle seat” Caspar told his travel agent “I’ll even fly economy…it’s that important!”

Look, if you won’t accept Visa, I’ll give you a partridge in a pear tree!” Melchior said.
Still, the travel agents would not budge. For twelve days the three wise men begged, pleaded with and attempted to blackmail the travel agents, to no avail. On the twelfth day, though, they managed to reach a deal: three economy class tickets on Air Judea in exchange for Twelve Drummers Drumming, Eleven Pipers Piping, Ten Lords a-leaping, Nine Ladies Dancing, Eight Maids a-Milking, Seven Swans a-Swimming, Six Geese a-Laying, Five Golden Rings, Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves and a Partridge in a Pear Tree—a hefty sum, but one the wise men were willing to pay.
Once the wise men arrived in Bethlehem, they realized that they were not quite as wise as they had thought. Because they had not made any hotel reservations, and the holiday rush was still going on (Bethlehem’s ski slopes were legendary in the Roman world), they ended up staying in a manger with a young couple with a small baby.
The baby cried all night long their first night there, and nothing they did could silence him. They offered bribes—Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh—but nothing would make the baby shut up. To make matters worse, a little drummer boy had shown up and was going pa-rump-a-pum-pum, rump-a-pum-pum, rump-a-pum-pum, all night long. Worst of all, the star slowly faded away and the three no-longer-wise men realized their mistake: there was no meteor threatening Earth, and they had spent their entire fortunes on plane tickets.
In the end, the three formerly-wise men got jobs at the local Wal-Mart, and they lived happily ever after.
“And that’s what Christmas is all about” Linus concluded.
“Gee, I totally understand now” Santa responded, not entirely unsarcastically.
Slowly, then, the group of embittered Christmas personages got to their feet, and surrounded a small tree. Together, they began to sing to the tune of “Hark the Herald Angel Sings”, “loo-oo-oo-oo, loo-oo-oo-oo…”
“God bless us, every one” said Tiny Tim, who had shown up simply for the purpose of providing a heartwarming ending.

Monday, December 22, 2008

[Christmas Story 1]

Once upon a time, I had a lot of time on my hands (apparently) and wrote a short story about Christmas. Being the intelligent person that I was, I didn't finish it until after Christmas, and decided that it would stay safely on my hard drive until the next holiday season. Which was a bad idea, since my hard drive did not survive that long. However, thanks to the miracle of gmail, I've discovered the story again and this week am presenting it in segments. Here's part 1:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all around the world, the sky was dark and snowflakes twirled1. Still, not everyone was filled with the spirit of Christmas. In a desolate snow-filled field, a lonely figure stood, watching the stars.
As the snowstorm grew in strength, another figure strode up. This figure, though, wore a ridiculous looking top hat.
“They got you too?” the first figure said.
“Yeah” the second responded “they just stuck a top hat on my head, said it had ‘magic’ in it and all of the sudden, thumpedy thump thump, thumpedy thump thump, off I went. Name’s Frosty, by the way”
“They didn’t even bother to give me a name” the first said “they just pretended I was Parson Brown, and then they abandoned me, and I ended up here. Didn’t even care about what I thought. God, I hate them.”
“Me too” Frosty said. “Let’s stay here, and never go back to them again.”
“Works for me” the first figure responded.
The two figures stood together in the field, and the snow started falling harder than ever. After a while, a small red light appeared in the distance. Slowly, it approached the two lonely figures. Before long, it had arrived—nine reindeer pulling an overweight man in a sleigh.
“Ho ho ho!” Santa said (for that was, of course, who the overweight balding man was). “I sense a distinct lack of Christmas cheer!”
“It’s not our fault” Frosty said. “We’ve been abused by the mainstream media for so long that we’ve decided to boycott Christmas until they treat us better, or at least give us some royalties”
“Hmmm…royalties…that’s not such a bad idea” Santa said. “I know what you mean about being abused, though. Can you imagine all the crap I have to do to keep up with all their expectations? How am I supposed to be able to see everyone while they’re sleeping, and know when they’re awake? Well what about when I want to sleep? Eh? You think they ever give me any time to sleep? Nooo…I haven’t gotten even a wink in the past 2,000 years. And they think they can make up for it by leaving me milk and cookies one night a year. ONE MEASLY NIGHT! You know, I’ve been about to quit several times now. I get all ready to quit and then, all of the sudden “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”. The next time I try to get out of this, bam, Miracle on 34th Street. You know, I think I’ll sit here and join you guys then. Rudolph, everyone else, go ahead and take a break!”
After a while, Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, came over to Frosty and whispered in his ear.
“Pssst” Rudolph said “Can I join you guys? I’d do anything to get out of this negative work environment.”
“Negative work environment?” Santa yelled, overhearing, “you have a negative work environment? What about me!!”
“You don’t have to put up with these bozos” Rudolph responded, indicating the other eight reindeer. “They’re total suck-ups! First they don’t like me at all, or let me play in any of their reindeer games, but then Santa says he likes me and whaddya know, they all love me and shout out with glee!”. “Plus.” He said, indicating Santa “you’ve gained a lot of weight the past few years”.
“Stupid Atkins diet…” Santa mumbled “they told me it would work”.
“Still” the first snowman said “all these other people like Christmas. Maybe we’re missing the whole point of it.”
“I can tell you what Christmas is all about” said Linus from Peanuts, who had magically appeared in the middle of the group. “I can tell you the True Meaning of Christmas. Lights, please”
1 Except, of course, for the large part of the world where the climate renders this impossible. But they wouldn't have snowmen there either. Hmmm. Ignore this note.
To Be Concluded...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What I've done all week...

So, in addition to working on grad school applications, pretty much all I've done this week is watch the Minnesota State Canvassing board rule on disputed ballots. It's strangely addicting considering how boring it actually is. You can watch it here, but it was getting a bit choppy this afternoon. Take a look at some highlights:

I'm pretty sure that Lizard People actually won this election.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday link dump...

So I figured I'd just start dumping interesting/amusing links I've found recently. Not much for now, but fun stuff includes:

  • This justifies all the time I spent playing Major League Baseball MVP '05 these past few years. And FIFA '06 all day today. If it's what pro teams do, clearly I'm not THAT lazy.

  • The Washington Post has a nice article about Leung Kwok Hung/Long Hair. Interesting read, meant more for the average US reader that doesn't know who he is.

  • I'm afraid that Grad School will inevitably reduce me to writing things like this. I really don't want to go crazy.

  • Finally, proof that Governor Rod Blagojevich is in fact a Lego Guy. This explains a lot.
So yeah, hopefully I'll have a random compendium of links relatively often on here. Funfunfun.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


This is M52:

It's an Open Cluster of stars. This past quarter, my group for my Observational Astrophysics class set out to figure out how far away from us the cluster was and how old the cluster was. We found that the cluster was 894 Parsecs, or 2915 lightyears away and somewhere between 400 million and 3 billion years old. Accepted values say that the cluster is somewhere between 3000 and 7000 lightyears away and more like 30 million years old, so obviously we were off by a little bit. Still, it was an interesting experience. I can't get the pdf uploaded, but basically here's what we did:

First, we got lots of data. We used a CCD camera with multiple filters, which meant we gwere able to take pictures with different wavelengths of light. The picture above was taken with a red filter. Some of the data we got was of Landolt Standard stars, which are stars which have a known magnitude in a variety of wavelengths. From here we were able to get factors which allowed us to calculate the actual magnitudes of the stars in the cluster in various wavelengths. From there, we made a Color-Magnitude Diagram, with the magnitude in the Visual minus the magnitude in the Red on the x-axis and the magnitude in the Visual on the y-axis.

Ordinarily, a Color-Magnitude diagram looks a little like this:

See that nice pattern of stars in the middle? That's the main sequence. Here's our graph:
Notice the complete lack of any sort of pattern like the main sequence. However, we were able to calculate a theoretical main sequence based on Absolute Magnitudes, which is the magnitude of each star if it were located at a distance of 10 parsecs. That graph looked like this:
That line of pinkish dots is what our data should look like. The distance to the cluster should be the distance between the line of the blue data points and the pink theoretical main sequence. That's how we got our distance of 894 Parsecs.

To get the distance, we just found the theoretically youngest star in the cluster, based on its color, and therefore spectral type. That explains why our estimate was way off--the published estimates simply found another star as the youngest in the cluster--a star we didn't observe.

So yeah. That's what I spent a large amount of time this last quarter, and about 10 hours Monday night, doing. It was complicated and annoying, but that's what we got. Astro is fun.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Bus Ride from Hell.

Yesterday, after finishing up some last-minute classwork and errands, I was finally officially on winter break. Since I now was a) without any class for almost an entire month and b) officially done with my physics major, I decided to celebrate by taking a nice long bus trip back to Minnesota.

I've used Megabus several times in the past, and for the most part haven't had any complaints. Indeed, the cost of the trip I took yesterday was a whopping $10, plus a 50 cent booking fee. Unfortunately, in this case, it appears I got what I paid for.

I left my room at approximately 1pm, and made it to the downtown Chicago megabus stop by 2:30. Since the bus was scheduled to leave at 3, and there was a bus labelled "Minneapolis" I figured I'd line up next to it and hopefully be one of the first people on. Unfortunately, at 2:45, this bus left without any people on it. Figuring that another bus would show up soon, and not realizing quite how cold it was yet, I waited around on the sidewalk and didn't take advantage of the "warming bus", which sat idling with the heat on for people to wait in (this struck me as a huge waste of gas and source of pollution and carbon emissions, but I'm not going to get into that).

About 3:10, I started wondering where the bus was, and getting a bit cold. Another important detail I've left out till now is that it was raining and I was wet. So yeah, not that pleasant. About 3:15, buses headed for Cleveland and Cincinnati showed up, but nothing for Minneapolis. My bus didn't show up until 3:25, once these two buses had loaded and left. I was among the first on the bus and lucky enough to snag two seats to myself, which made things a lot more comfortable. The bus driver put in a crappy Sandra Bullock movie and I settled in for what I thought would be a long but not too difficult trip.

At this point it's worth noting that the trip on the route we took should take about 7 hours and 15 minutes; the bus company allotted 8:15, allowing for stops and traffic and nonsuch.

About midway through the movie, I notice that we're on side streets instead of the interstate. In short order, though, we pass over the freeway, which is backed up with traffic. I figure that we're just trying to make decent time and avoid the traffic. Then we stop at a gas station for a few minutes before continuing on.

As the movie finishes, we pull into another gas station what seems like a small to medium sized town. Since we've been on the road for about 2 hours at this point, I figure we're somewhere in southern Wisconsin on the outskirts of Milwaukee. The bus driver announces that his windshield keeps fogging up and he can't see, so we'll have to wait here for another bus, which will arrive in 'a few minutes'. At this point, the Finding Nemo dvd is popped into the dvd player.

After sitting around listening to the annoying audio on the Nemo menu a few times through, I decide to go into the gas station to get a snack. The gas station maybe 100 square feet; we can barely fit 6 people in there. At that point I notice that the ATM says we're located in Northfield, IL. I assume at this point that we're in extremely northern Illinois, probably just south of the Wisconsin border.

That's not true, though. Northfield, IL, is located basically as far north as Winnetka, and is a whopping 8 miles from where I started my journey.

I get back on the bus to find the Finding Nemo dvd menu audio still playing over and over again; after another 5 minutes of this, somebody mercifully replaces Finding Nemo with An American Tail, which is the heartwarming story of a mouse named Fievel Mouskewitz, who would later go on to star in Fievel Goes West. Fievel's family, a group of inexplicably Jewish Russian mice, decides to emigrate to America, where (and this point was driven home my a very repetitive song) a) there are no cats and b) the streets are paved with cheese. Unfortunately, Fievel gets separated from his parents and searches the streets of New York City for them, getting into all kinds of mischief.

Because it's a Disney movie, I assume Fievel finds his family in the end. I don't know for sure (it's been about 15 years since I last watched the movie) because our second bus finally showed up before the movie ended. After moving all of my stuff over to the new bus, I was ready for the rest of the trip, and pretty sure that we could make decent time. At this point, it was about 7:30.

At 9pm, when pulled into Milwaukee (for those keeping score at home, that's 6 hours after we were scheduled to leave Chicago), I was ready to give up on the idea of getting home anytime before Christmas. Between getting on the new bus and arriving in Milwaukee, we watched a crappy Owen Wilson movie in its entirety.

After Milwaukee, we finally started making decent time. We ended up making only one more stop, theoretically for dinner, but the place we stopped had all of its restaurants closed down and I basically just ate candy. For the rest of the way, we watched Mighty Ducks, Superman and the first half of An American Tail (again!).

At 3am, we finally arrived in Minneapolis. And, naturally, the door to the luggage compartment was locked, the driver didn't have the key and someone had to climb in a smaller door and throw bags out one by one.

So that's the story of what I did yesterday. It was tons of fun. And I'm done complaining now.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I wrote this four years ago for Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving originated in the 1600s, when the “Pilgrims” arrived in America on the Mayflower. The “Pilgrims” were a group of seperatists facing religious persecution in Europe, so they came to America to persecute the Native Americans.

However, a Native American named Squanto brought them food when they were hungry and taught them many valuable lessons, such as how to sing with all the voices of the mountain, paint with all the colors of the wind and play American Football.

Only one of these skills has been passed on to the present day. American Football is a game where two teams composed of rather large humans collide, and throw a ball around. After every play, or “down”, there is a pause for a 5-minute commercial break. Watching, and playing, American Football is a common Thanksgiving activity.

On a side note, there are some American Football teams that are, quite simply, the root of all evil. Not to mention the Green Bay Packers by name, but, well, they are the root of all evil.

Thanksgiving also gives us opportunities to eat all kinds of foods that we do not normally eat, such as turkey. Turkeys are large birds (not unsimilar to American Football players) that run around waiting to be eaten by Americans on Thanksgiving.

Oftentimes, turkeys are accompanied by “Stuffing”, a substance with roughly the same texture and appearance as vomit, and gravy, which is stuffing with a little extra water.

Cranberries are another popular item at Thanksgiving dinners. Unfortunately, nobody is really sure where they come from, although there are some who claim that they are really small aliens trying to take over the world.

Perhaps the only thing that we eat at Thanksgiving that I would recommend eating all year long is Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkin Pie, with the right amount of whipped cream, can be a perfect addition to any holiday meal, its mouthwatering taste can haunt people for months, and some, including me, wait all year for November, pumpkin pie season…pumpkin pie…pumpkin pie…

Besides all the wonderful food, Thanksgiving is a time of reflection, prayer, and, well, thankfulness. I hope everyone (or at least as many of you as possible) will reflect and be thankful we have such good excuses to eat as much food as possible. Oh, and also that we aren’t Packers fans.

Of course, my thanksgiving dinner that year didn't involve pumpkin pie or turkey, but instead some not so great Thai food at a hotel in Bangkok. But whatever.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hello World...

So, considering that I may have gotten this blogspot url reserved over a year ago, this might seem like a weird/random time to start actually using it. But whatever. I figured that I might as well get around to writing things here semi-regularly. I don't know what form this will take--it's entirely possible that this could be the only entry here ever. But yeah.

I guess hopefully this will become a place where I can write random things about stuff I find interesting. Expect updates about politics, Space Elevators, the Minnesota Twins, Hong Kong and whatever the heck else I feel like putting in. We'll see how it goes. But for now, consider today day 1.