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28 August 2010

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Fundraising

Please donate. You can click on the title of this post or in the following link.

Light The Night Walk is The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's walk and fundraising event to pay tribute and bring hope to people battling cancer. Thousands of participants raise funds for vital, lifesaving research and patient services and, on these special nights, they carry illuminated balloons in a show of support from a caring community. Anyone can take part - children, adults and seniors are all welcome. This is a casual fundraising walk with no fitness requirements. There are many ways you can help.  Please donate to my efforts as my family and I walk for a cure.  Funds raised through Light The Night Walk support the work of hundreds of the world's best and brightest researchers in their search for better therapies and cures for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

25 August 2010

Rich exoplanet system discovered

Sometimes there are news stories that are just plain cool.  This one is one such story.  Not because it's ground breaking, or even particularly surprising.  It's just that these guys are detecting entire solar systems around individual stars now.  As our instrumentation gets more and more sensitive, we'll just keep up at it.

And it sort of raises the question of whether life could evolve on one of the moons of these neptune sized planets?  Pandora anyone?

Rich exoplanet system discovered

Artist's impression of the planetary system orbiting HD 10180 (Image: ESO) 
Astronomers have discovered a planetary system containing at least five planets that orbit a star called HD 10180, which is much like our own Sun.
The star is 127 light years away, in the southern constellation of Hydrus.
The researchers used the European Southern Observatory (Eso) to monitor light emitted from the system and identify and characterise the planets.
They say this is the "richest" system of exoplanets - planets outside our own Solar System - ever found.
Christophe Lovis from Geneva University's observatory in Switzerland was lead researcher on the study. He said that his team had probably found "the system with the most planets yet discovered".
New planetary system 10180 (Image: ESO)  
"This also highlights the fact that we are now entering a new era in exoplanet research - the study of complex planetary systems and not just of individual planets," he said.
The research has been submitted for publication to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Eso's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (or Harps) instrument was responsible for the discovery.
Harps measures the wobble of a star; this gives a measure of how much it is being tugged on by an orbiting planet.
"If there is one planet it will induce a little movement - the star will come towards us and move away," Dr Lovis explained to BBC News.
"And what works for one [planet] works for many."
With many planets orbiting the star, its movement becomes a very complex "superposition" of several different planet-induced movements.

Using Harp, Dr Lovis and his team were able to measure this and break it down, in order to calculate how many planets were in the system, how great each of their masses was, and even the path of each individual planet's orbit.
The researchers said the system around HD 10180 as unique in several respects.
It has at least five "Neptune-like planets" lying within a distance equivalent to the orbit of Mars, making it more populated than our own Solar System in its inner region. And all the planets seem to have almost circular orbits.
Dr Lovis said: "Studies of planetary motions in the new system reveal complex gravitational interactions between the planets and give us insights into the long-term evolution of the system."
False alarm? So far, the astronomers have picked up clear signals from five planets, along with two slightly "fuzzier" signals. One of these possible sixth and seventh planets was estimated to be just 1.4 times the mass of the Earth; if its presence in the system was confirmed, it would be the lowest mass exoplanet yet discovered.
It is also predicted to be very close to its host star - just 2% of the Earth-Sun distance, so one year on this planet would last only 1.2 Earth days.
Dr Lovis said he was 99% certain that this small planet was there.
"There are five signals that are really strong that we have no doubt, but we have another two with a 'false alarm' probability of 1%," he said.
Martin Dominik, an astronomer and exoplanet hunter from the UK's University of St Andrews said the complexity and structure of this system made it an interesting discovery.
"The richness of the system of planets around HD 10180 with its many characteristic features marks the way forward towards gathering the information that will put our own existence into cosmic context," he told BBC News.
He cautioned against describing this as the "richest system" saying that it was not clear whether other systems that had already been detected hosted further planets.
Dr Dominik added: "I am tempted to consider the detected system as one of the most 'informative' ones.
"Like most discoveries in science, the findings come with more questions than answers; but in my opinion, this is what really advances a field."

06 August 2010

Facebook snippet

Someone asked me a question on Facebook a moment ago.  Just thought I'd share:

Einstein said" There are only two ways to live life, one is as if nothing is a miracle, the other is as if everything is a miracle. Any thoughts on that?
Well, my thought on this is pretty much in line with Einstein if you interpret it as (2 separate thoughts):
Nothing is a Miracle: Science and logic rules reality. There is nothing supernatural required to give us the universe.
Everything is a Miracle: WOW! This is so fucking cool! We are made of frikkin star-stuff! We evolved from a single cell organism! That is so cool!
Basically, understand our place in the universe and how insignificant we really are, but also revel in the wonder and beauty that nature has wrought.

How facts backfire

So I saw this article in the Boston Globe about how people don't actually change their minds when confronted by facts (would explain a lot of republicans and theitards...):

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.
In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?
Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger(Read full article here.)

And of course, the first thing I did was make sure to evaluate things that I hold particularly dear, as well as examine any ideas or opinions I may have had or changed over time. I am glad to report that:
1.)  I am a human, and I DO fall victim to this from time to time.
2.)  I am also aware of this phenomenon, and I actively fight it.
3.)  I have embraced the truly active and honest skeptical approach in evaluating data, and I really think that I am as a person better for it.

One thing that seems to happen too often to people is that they run off to find articles that support their view for affirmation of their point of view so they can brush off these inconvenient facts.  Like rushing off to Fox News, Conservapedia, or some apologist's site.  Very, very few have ever intentionally exposed themselves to the other side and critically examined the information they are able to gather.  When I go to some sites, and there are only two root references (the Old Testament and the New Testament) I become suspicious of the actual support of the site.  Sure, they may have lots of papers by Ken Hamm or Kent Hovnid, but you look at the very basis of their work, and it goes back to...  well, I'm sure you know.  If I go to other sites, you see that things start from many different sources and ideas.  Some even fight against other ideas until the data ends up supporting the idea that makes it through the process into science.

I am proud to say that I have even changed my mind on several things over time, and that I will admit to these changes.  It's not a failing or flaw to see that you were wrong about something.  Denying that you were ever wrong is arrogant, and just plain stupid!  And I think that's another weakness of humans.  Sometimes a person will change their mind about something when they mental dissonance just becomes unbearable.  Of course, after they do so, they will obviously state that they have always held that opinion!  (I'm sure you have encountered that mentality before.)

So, what ideas and opinions have you changed your mind on in your time that you would care to admit to?

A Corporation is NOT a Person...

Okay, so this is old, old news.  Hey I'm over 40, so I should be allowed to move at the speed of print press or whatever...

Anyway, I was rather disappointed in the Supreme Court decision that allows a corporation to get around perfectly good rules and act as an individual.  I figure that we ought to take this analogy as far as we can then.  (And yes, this is not meant to be taken seriously, I hope that people can actually detect sarcasm and snark...)

Much like you can't decide to go out, but your foot decides to stay home, the ENTIRE corporation must support the action.  This way, if anyone in the corporation isn't in support of the action, they will be deadlocked.  And not just the board or CEO, but the entire corporation.  It's an all or nothing affair here.

Also, if any ONE person in a corporation is convicted of a crime on behalf of the corporation, then everyone in the entire corporation has to go to jail or whatever the punishment handed out is.

Everyone in the corporation shares the same credit rating!  That should be fun.

Okay, in all seriousness, I am very disappointed in this turn of events, mostly because one of the things that led to the founding of this nation was that people in Europe wanted out from under the corporations having undue influence on the affairs of state and laws of the land.  And this ruling just enables that.  Instead of the voice of the people, we have the voice of Exxon or Haliburton.  Not what any writers of the Constitution intended I am sure.  And it's even more sickening when we see who was really driving the bus on this vote.