Thursday, August 31, 2006

Killing Is Wrong

A simple answer to complex problems, good for many political debates: Killing is wrong.

Use liberally when discussing abortion, Islamic fascism, euthanasia, gun control, capital punishment, etc.

For example: "Killing is wrong, therefore good people need to carry guns to protect themselves from bad people who otherwise might kill them."

Or: "Killing is wrong, therefore if you kill somebody, you forfeit your right to exist."

It's true that not all debates can be argued this way. For some, you'll have to revert to "All men are created equal" or "humans are more important than other species." But those aren't as definitive, so try to stick to arguments where you can use the "killing is wrong" slogan.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

And you thought the dog owners in *your* neighborhood were weird. . .

A woman in Inner Mongolia ran into trouble (and another car) when she tried to teach her dog to drive.

The official Chinese government news agency, Xinhua, reports: "She thought she would let the dog 'have a try' while she operated the accelerator and brake. They did not make it far before crashing into an oncoming car."

Be wary if this fad takes off where you live!

. . . Seattle drivers are bad enough with humans behind the wheel.

Happy Wildfire Day, Martians!

Today is the Holy Day of Rívorí, the Goddess of Wildfire, on Mars.

I'm sure you know that Her holy day on Earth was only a few days ago, so I hope I'm not confusing you. It just so happens that the orbits and calendars of Earth and Mars are now aligned in late August together. Mars isn't directly overhead (in fact it's just about behind the sun still), but its planetary tilt is in a different direction in the solar system scheme of things, hence the seasons in different corners of the solar system map.

So just remember when next you want to curse something related to fire, volcanos, death, disease, devastation, discord, pranks, or cities, just yell/mutter, "Plague of Rívorí!" Try it. It's fun.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bureaucracy at Work

Whoever thinks that the government and megacorporations are in cahoots should have a talk with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. They require that permit applications be signed by a high-up owner at the same address as the address in the state's official company registry. For a large company with a multitude of addresses (and a multitude of official names, for that matter) in which the owner's employee with enough clout to sign the application almost certainly does not operate out of the same building as the one listed long ago in the state's database, this is terribly cumbersome and functionally impossible. And yet they'll make you do it.

Compare and Contrast

August 22, 2004, shortly after sunrise:

August 26, 2006, shortly after sunrise:

What month?

It's so dark and gray outside that it feels like winter has arrived.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Saga of the Little Yellow Flower

And thus the Arnica Whatchimacalia will be preserved for eternity at the University of Washington Botany Department.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

And another

And here's one of my grandfather, from my tent's back door, before sunrise today.


Apparently my dad's and my conversation about Venus and Saturn rising woke up my grandfather and made him think that everybody was getting up. My dad and I were still in our sleeping bags. . .

Where I've been lately

We had a great trip to Circle Lake. Beautiful weather. It was my fourth time to the lake and I believe this was the first time it was warm enough to go swimming (for me, at least).

My grandfather was the first one to the lake on Friday, but I got there second. . .

I took over 450 photos. Don't look at me like that. I needed something to keep me busy while (almost) everyone else was talking botany Latin.

So here's a picture from Saturday's sunrise:
That's Mt Stuart. It dominates the horizon.

And here's a little lake that's not on the map. It's just below the saddle between Circle and Venus.
Yes, I went for a swim.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

How about the moons?

Now that the IAU has drawn a line between planets and dwarf planets, and another between dwarf planets and small solar system bodies, it's time to draw a line between major and minor moons. I mean, take a look at Jupiter. Do you really want to memorize every single one of its 63 named moons? I think not. Therefore there must be a line drawn.

So let's use the same line as the one between dwarf planets and SSSBs: spheroidness. Which puts the divider down in the 4x1019 kg range, same as for dwarf planets.

Here's a list of planets (and dwarf planets which have major moons) and their major moons:

....."Rudolph" (maybe)
....."Gabrielle" (maybe)

And that's all you need to know.

In Memorium

In commemoration of Pluto's demotion from the ranks of planets, I purchased a placemat today.


Now that it's out-of-date, its price is going to skyrocket, right?

I suppose the good thing about all this is that Pluto is no longer an oddball. It has plenty of friends just like it: Xena, Santa, Ixion, Quaoar, and the rest.

I think kids should first learn the four terrestrial planets and the four gas giants, then learn the four largest asteroids and the four largest trans-Neptunian objects, then maybe differentiate between plutinos and cubewanos and Scattered Disk Objects and learn the four largest of each of those.

From Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. . .
to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars; Vesta, Ceres, Pallas, Hygiea; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune; Pluto, "Santa", "Easterbunny", "Xena". . .
to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars; Vesta, Ceres, Pallas, Hygiea; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune; Pluto, Orcus, Ixion, Huya; UX25, "Santa", Quaoar, "Easterbunny"; TC302, "Buffy", "Xena", Sedna. . .
to. . .

And yes, that Buffy.

One of Those Days

Have you ever had a day when you dropped an unopened, unshook can of pop and it landed on the floor in such a way that it broke open and sprayed soda all over you and your chair and your desk and your cubicle and your cabinets and the wall behind you and then dumped all but a fluid ounce into the carpet?

Yeah, well neither had I till today.

At least it was diet, so not so sticky.

This weekend

Tomorrow I shall go here:

And then on Saturday, perhaps I'll go up there:

Sunday, I guess I'll come back to here:

How many Earth years is that?

Today is the sixteenth anniversary of the landing of Viking 1 on Mars. In Martian years, of course.

Happy birthday, Viking 1!

It's dead now, don't you know? Ah, but those were the days. . .

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Race is going to begin soon.

I looked through all the teams on the new Amazing Race season before realizing something about the group shot on the main page:

I recognized the boat in the background. And then the Washington Mutual Building. And the whole rest of the skyline.

Yup, that's Seattle!

They start the race over in West Seattle, apparently. "Your first task will be to drive one of the marked cars due south ten miles to the airport. Just follow the planes overhead. Good luck."

I wonder if they come back at the end?

And why must I never see them when they're in town?

IAU Announces Tomorrow Morning

So, let's call it eight planets, okay?


And some other smaller stuff like asteroids, planetoids, centaurs, trans-Neptunian objects, Kuiper-belt objects, and other names that overlap. You can call these minor planets or dwarf planets or whatever you like. That's where these go:


And anything that orbits one of the above categories, we'll call a moon or a satellite. Unless it's like really really close in size. And we haven't found any of those yet. Thus go:


Back to the status quo, in other words. Except Pluto has finally been reunited with its heretofore unknown compatriots.


It is now time to put up your Halloween decorations. Or I suppose you can wait till tomorrow or Friday.

And don't forget to remove your Lammas decorations. Those are so three weeks ago.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Can o' Worms

As I'm sure you all know, the sixteen most massive objects in the solar system are:


"Xena" probably comes next, but its mass hasn't been pinned down yet. And then Pluto. And then "Santa" and "Easterbunny," most likely, followed by Titania, Oberon, and Sedna.

Note that I haven't said Charon or Ceres yet, which are the two objects the IAU listed right beside "Xena" in their definitely-planets-if-we-make-this-rule declaration. In fact, Charon is about half the mass of Sedna, and Ceres is less than a third the mass of Sedna. So why aren't Sedna, "Santa," and "Easterbunny" on the definitely-planets-if-we-make-this-rule list?

But then we run into another problem with the IAU's planet definition. They also state that the object should be almost spherical. This leaves off all but a couple asteriods (Ceres and Vesta). All asteroids ranked third and below are irregularly shaped.

But remember "Santa"? It's next in line behind Pluto and almost three times as massive as Charon (over four times as big as Ceres). But it's irregularly shaped. It's almost 2000 km long by less than 1000 wide. So is it a planet? Would the IAU really leave it off the list just because it's oblong?

. . . What would it be like to stand on such a planetoid as "Santa"? It would be as if the entire world were two huge mountains, with only a few level locations on the entire surface. At the top of the mountains (the ends of the long axis), the gravity would be 0.29 m/s2. At the bottom of the valley (the ends of the shortest axis), the gravity would be 1.1 m/s2. (Earth surface gravity is 9.8 m/s2.) You'd weigh over three times as much at the bottom than at the top! In fact, gravity at the low point would be almost twice as much as on Pluto, a more massive planet. Weird, huh?

Hm. "Santa" is oblong because it rotates so fast, they say. Its rotational period is 3.915 hours. Would you even be able to stand on top one of the mountains if it is spinning so fast? What's the escape velocity? 0.84 km/s. And at the top of the mountain, you'd be going 0.43 km/s standing still. So. . . you'd have to travel an extra 1452 km/h. Oh good.


I just finished off another bottle of Sriracha chili pepper sauce. It's been at my office desk the whole time and I think it took most of a year to go through. So it's not as if I'm chugging the stuff!

I'll have to go grocery shopping tonight...

Monday, August 21, 2006


We all know that certain planets rule certain zodiac signs. But now that we have new planets, this has to be rethought. In the past, Saturn has lost Aquarius to Uranus, Jupiter has lost Pisces to Neptune, and Mars has lost Scorpio to Pluto.

Of the three new planets (Ceres, Charon, and 2003 UB313 "Xena"), Charon would have no astrological effect, as the astrological Pluto is already Pluto + Charon. Ceres has been claimed to rule a variety of signs, and of those, Virgo makes the most sense -- taking it from Mercury, which still has Gemini.

2003 UB313 "Xena" would then have to take either Taurus or Libra from Venus (the only planet with two signs remaining). And since every other new planet has taken the second sign of an old planet, Venus gets to keep Taurus and 2003 UB313 "Xena" gets Libra.

If a larger Kuiper Belt Object is discovered, I'd say it just takes Libra from 2003 UB313 "Xena". Those planets take hundreds of years to orbit the sun, anyway, so they're not much fun.

Actually, 2003 UB313 "Xena" is a rather unusual Kuiper Belt Object (so far). Pluto is the largest of the plutinos (which all have a 2:3 resonance with Neptune). 2005 FY9 "Easterbunny" is the largest of the classic KBOs (or cubewanos), which don't get so close to Neptune. 2003 UB313 "Xena" is further out still, with a very eccentric orbit (but not as far out or eccentric as Sedna -- but Sedna is smaller). So maybe 2005 FY9 "Easterbunny" should be tracked as a ruler of a zodiac sign, as the representative of the major category of KBOs.

Or not.

So here's the list:

Libra........2003 UB313 "Xena" or 2005 FY9 "Easterbunny"

got chocolate?

Under my authority as King of Naraka, I hereby declare today and every Monday hereafter to be National Chocolate Day.

Long live chocolate! Yum...

Get back to work!

Yeah, you.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

How are you mnemonics?

So here's the would-be list of the twelve known planets:


Or if we lower the size threshold a bit:


Got that?


Friday afternoon golf. It takes a lot longer than I remembered.


Almost cheating:



But don't worry. He was better than I was. If only I could take my driving-range shots onto the course. And if I could have golfballs that don't sink when they land in the water. . .

Friday, August 18, 2006

Death to the Squirrels!

They've always been nasty, little, disease-carrying rodents, but now they've gone too far. A squirrel in Indiana sabotaged a power plant, knocking out electricity to 5,039 residents.

And worst of all, it was a suicide attack. This means the squirrels are serious! It's do or die, a fight to the extinction between the species. And who are you going to let win? The squirrels?

No! We must destroy them all before they destroy us!

The next time you see a squirrel, kill it. Step on it. Snap its furry neck. Tempt it with a bit of food and take a butcher knife to it. Whatever you have to do, it's worth it. It's the survival of the species we're talking about here. Death to the squirrels!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Things you don't want said about you

"If we were to hire a band of mutant orangutans, could they do a better job?"

And no, it wasn't said about me, so don't worry on that account.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How many planets do we have?

In preparation for the possible IAU ruling on the definition of a planet, which might include all mostly spherical bodies orbiting the sun, I thought I should tell you a bit about the three "new" planets they're considering for promotion.


Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid field between Mars and Jupiter. It is named for the Roman goddess of grain, harvests, etc. Her Greek counterpart was Demeter. It was discovered quite a long time ago. Your best chance for seeing Ceres this year is right now. Ceres was in opposition on August 12. So get out your telescope and look to the skies!


Charon has been known as the largest moon of Pluto, but Charon is more than half the size of Pluto, so those IAU types are talking about declaring it and Pluto a "double-planet system." The two are locked in rotation so that they always show the same hemisphere to each other. Charon is named for the ferryman on the River Styx, which is why he's right beside Pluto.


Xena isn't really named Xena, but I don't like the provisional name of 2003 UB313. That's just hard to say (and type!). Hopefully at the IAU conference, they'll finally announce its name, too. 2003 UB313 is way out beyond Pluto, in the Kuiper Belt. Actually, Pluto's in the Kuiper Belt too. It's a big belt. Xena is named for the warrior princess who crossed swords with Hercules then starred in her own very popular television show. Like its namesake, the planet Xena (okay, the planet 2003 UB313) has a satellite named Gabrielle. No really. Sort of. Until they give it a real name.

My dance card is full.

Between my dad's birthday Saturday, a golf tournament (through work) Friday afternoon, my weekly writing critique group Monday, hopefully a date Friday night, and now a backpacking trip Saturday-Sunday (which I may be able to merge with the date), my dance card for the next week is terribly full.

And here I thought I'd have a quiet, relaxing weekend at home. I'd catch up on my photo album (two months behind), get most of a chapter out of my head and into the computer, and--who knows?--maybe vacuum my condo. But no. I guess that stuff will have to wait till September.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Saturday afternoon to Sunday

Okay, I finally finished posting all the photos to Flickr. So let's finish the slideshow.

Here are some skis. Not ours. A group of three carried them up the hill so they could ski some runs on the snowfields.

On the way back down, we started running into more and more hikers. Lots of kids. Which sort of belied the "too technically difficult" stigma the Mountaineers at the lodge placed on the hike because of the snow crossings. Some of the younger hikers enjoyed the huckleberries quite a bit.

Instead of looping down around below a big snowfield, I started off walking straight across the snow toward where I could see the trail a half mile ahead. Steve followed me, but Kyle and Bruce didn't want to stray from the official trail (even though there were plenty of "trails" in that area, since it was just rock and snow. So Steve and I kept them in sight as they trudged down and across and we raced over the snow in a straight line. We got to the meeting point about ten minutes ahead of them. Here's a picture of me at that point.

The skiers took the same route Steve and I did.

So we went back to the lodge, ate dinner, and then the sun set. I ran (literally again) down to Picture Lake to snap some pictures. A man was there with tripod and big box camera. I tried to walk soft around him so not to disturb any timelapse shots he was taking.

I've been told this is the best of the sunset set:

At night, more stargazing, meteorgazing, and some dominos, scrabble, and connect-four.

The next day, after a breakfast I helped cook (I cut the muffins in half and scrambled two dozen eggs), it was time for another dayhike. This time was to Yellow Aster Butte, which was back down the road, north of the ski area. I only got one person to go hiking with me, but that's okay. I suppose I didn't try very hard to recruit anyone Sunday morning...

After a steep mile and a half, the trail levels out and meanders around the mountainside through endless meadows. Multitudes of flowers.

And wide-open views of Mts Baker and Shuksan.
I wish it had been this clear on Saturday! Do you see the little peak about halfway along the crest to the left of Baker? I was just the other side of that, playing cards on Saturday.

Within 500' altitude of the top, Yellow Aster Butte has a great many lakelets. This is only some of them.
Instead of climbing to the top, we headed down to the lakes. I wanted to go the bright blue one. When we got there, it was the same color as all the rest. Trick of the light, I guess.

I went swimming; Chunlin didn't. The water was cold, being right next to snow and all. Lunch and walk back and drive home, arriving back at 6. Gone for 49.5 hours.

Go India!

Happy Independence Day, India!

It's been 59 years since you shucked off the yoke of British rule and you're doing quite well for yourself. You're the biggest good country on the planet!

Your neighbor, Pakistan, celebrated independence yesterday, but they're not so cool. Military dicatorships can do that to a country. You're much better.

Yay, India!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Saturday 10:00 till 1:30ish

So, off we marched up the hill. Fog swept up at us, quickly dissolving into the sky along the ridgeline. Witness the next two photos, taken ten seconds apart from the same point, just in different directions:



When the fog rolls in, I don't stop taking photos. I just stop taking broad landscape photos. I focus on the little things alongside the trail. Like dew-covered lupine leaves:

From here on out, Mt Baker teased with us, showing us a shoulder or a foot. I guess we never paid enough for the striptease because she never showed her all. We sat at the viewpoint for an hour and a half, waiting. Despite the clouds, it was actually sunny. Thin clouds, you see?

Steve brought cards, so we played spades. Kyle and I won, 300± to 150±. The cards had animals on them. The queen of spades was the spotted skunk.

The clouds lifted somewhat, which meant a few things: the mountain view was even more definitely blocked, it got colder out because the sun was also blocked, and we could see down the hill to a little ice-covered lake the Mountaineers book calls 14-Goat Lake. We had time, so we went down there.

Most of the plants in that area were tiny. Mosses and the like. But there was also thistle! Ordinary Canadian thistle, growing way up in the rocks and snow. It was the tallest species around.

So here are some pics of the lake:


Can you see Mt Shuksan? This last one is the view from the campsite by the lake. I need to go backpacking there sometime, so I can explore around a bit more.

Only Steve and I ran down to the lake, Kyle and Bruce having stopped at the top of the last hill. Can you find Steve in this photo?

The hill was much steeper going up than down. Odd that.

More tomorrow.

Friday till Saturday around 10 a.m.

I left Seattle at 4:35 and lost 30 minutes due to heavy traffic north on I-5. When I arrived up at the Mountaineers lodge at Mt Baker, it was quite foggy. It cleared after sunset and shooting stars were visible.

When I finally went to bed, here was the view from my pillow:

In the morning, I finally saw Mt Shuksan out the window, so I ran (literally) down to Picture Lake to snap some photos.



I led a hike along Ptarmigan Ridge. Out of the 40 or 50 Mountaineers there, only three signed up for mine, and they were all young men. I wrote "SNOW" on the sign-up list, just so there'd be no surprises. I guess that scared off the women and middle-aged men. Oh well.

Here's the view from the parking lot:
Note the creeping cloud to the left. Its friends will enter our story later.

With a view like that at the trailhead, it makes you wonder why you want to actually exert effort. But we were there, we were ready, and we didn't have anything better to do.

A mile-plus in, we crossed the first snowfield on the trail (not counting the snow around the parking lot.
It was still icy at this point, but we made it safely across. It was the next snowfield that we had an injury on. As Kyle stepped off the snow and onto the rocks, he slipped, just about fell headfirst down the snowfield, and managed to turn around and stop himself by digging in with his fingers and knees after only fifteen feet. He didn't notice at the time (even when I asked), but he scraped up his knee quite a bit. A little blood, but no need for a bandage. We're manly men!

All in all, I figure we hiked on snow for two or three miles out of the total eleven that day.


More this evening! (Once I get home and upload more pics.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006


I've been going through my photos from this weekend up at Mt Baker. The scenery up there rivals anything I've seen yet this year, including California. I culled it down to 97 pictures to post on Flickr. . .

Friday, August 11, 2006

"Sisters in front!"

I walked over to the local mosque just now to take a look at the Peace March. They were, of course, running late. In fact, the Muslim contingent was still quietly filing out of the mosque.

Overall, the march seemed quite innocuous, full of naive idealists (and Muslims supporting their "sisters" and "brothers" in Lebanon). No Israel=Nazi signs like you get at similar protests in California and wherever. Seattle is just too polite for that sort of thing.

A woman handed out cardboard flags with Lebanon's printed on one side and Old Glory on the other, with the words "United We Stand" on the red bars of the Lebanese flag (in English and Arabic (I assume that's what it said)).

I counted about a dozen uniformed police, on foot, motorcycles, and bicycles. I counted about a half-dozen reporters and media photographers, most of them poised a block down the street to capture the oncoming horde (100 to 150 marchers). The county has people with walkie-talkies keeping an eye on things so they can tell the buses when to start re-routing.

The media awaits:

Rally in the parking lot:

The mosque entrance:

Our police, biding their time:

Muslims and moonbats mingling:
If I remember correctly, the man on the left in the tan shirt was the one directing traffic to get people organized. "Sisters in front!" he called out, trying to put a friendly face on this little parade.

At least this man is even-handed:
Oh wait. Do you think he means the Israelis are the terrorists? Nah.

This elderly moonbat asked me to take his photo with his own camera:
It looks like Israel and Afghanistan were added as afterthoughts. At least he has Darfur on there, which is where the Arabs are the unequivical agressors against the non-Muslims. And neither side there trusts the UN. I wonder why.

Many identical signs:

Fun for the whole family:
The slash-"violence" sign was another mass-produced one.

March spokesman and a journalist who's dressed almost as a parody of herself:

Some more mass-produced signs, ready for anyone:

I didn't bother to see what this man's petition said:
From what his sign says, he seems oblivious to the fact that the Palestinians want to push the Jews into the sea.

Our famed bike cops, waiting:

The whole thing seemed too boring, so I left and walked back to my office.