Happy New Year!

2008 was an up and down year for me, so I'm ready to head into 2009! Lots of big anniversaries are coming up in 2009 - 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, 400th anniversary of Galileo's first use of a telescope and the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the throne. So that pretty much touches almost every aspect of my life - science education, astronomy and Tudor history. It's going to be a busy but fun year!

Happy New Year!

I'm ready to head into 2009, but I have to wait one additional second this year. See Bad Astronomy for the whole run-down.

One resolution for 2009 - write more on this blog!

A Texas Christmas dinner



Apologies to the vegetarians...

We decided to do Christmas a little different this year... TEXAS STYLE (in my mind I'm hearing LBJ at the BBQ for the Mercury astronauts in the AstroDome in The Right Stuff). We were tired of turkey after the birdzilla from Thanksgiving and we do ham at New Year's, so we decided to do a big BBQ feast instead. I should have put something in the photo for scale, since you can't really get an idea of how large the platters were... that was a lot of food. A lot of yummy, yummy food. :)

(Thanks to Dad for the photo!)

Picture of the Week #20



Earthrise, by the crew of Apollo 8, December 24, 1968. As many other blogs have noted, including today's entry on Astronomy Picture of the Day, this is the 40th anniversary of the Earthrise photo. This page from ABC (the Australian one) tells the story of the famous photograph.

I have always known a world where the Earth has been seen from space, but this photo never fails to move me. I can only imagine what it must have been like for people all over the world seeing it for the first time 40 years ago. Even when the Earth is only a dot seen from the outer reaches of the solar system (like in the photo I use for my blog banner), it's still home. And although it was written in 1942, long before we explored the solar system, T.S. Eliot said it best:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Remembering Majel Barrett Roddenberry



The First Lady of Star Trek has died at the age of 76 from leukemia.

From "Number One" in the original Star Trek pilot through to the voice of the computer in the upcoming J.J. Abrams movie, she has been a part of the Star Trek universe in every incarnation. I'm happy that I, like many other Star Trek fans, had a chance to meet her at a convention. She will be missed.

Back in business

I finally got all of the posts restored over on my science and skepticism blog... so I guess that means I don't have any more excuses to not generate some new posts over there now!

The Face of Copernicus



[This was the post I was working on when the blog went belly-up!]

I love it when astronomy, archaeology, forensics and history come together!

From The BBC:
Researchers in Poland say they have solved a centuries-old mystery and identified the remains of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

A comparison of DNA from a skeleton in Poland and strands of the astronomer's hair found in a book in Sweden almost certainly confirm it is his skeleton.

Archaeologists found the skeleton in north-eastern Poland three years ago in a cathedral where Copernicus lived.
...
Three years ago, archaeologists dug up a skull and partial remains of a man aged about 70, Copernicus' age when he died, near an altar at the cathedral.

Jerzy Gassowski, the leader of the archaeologists' team, said forensic facial reconstruction of the skull found that it bore a striking resemblance to existing portraits of the father of modern astronomy.

Scientists then matched the DNA from one of the skull's teeth and a femur bone with two strands of Copernicus' hair.


Full article

Article from The Guardian

Post from 2005 about the initial discovery

Something's broken...

So, if you've tried to go to my science blog (which I don't think anyone does, but just in case) - you will now be greeted with a WordPress installation screen. I think something has gone wrong with the "behind the scenes" stuff since all the files are on my server like they are supposed to be. But anyway, I'm trying to figure out what is wrong and if there is anything I can do about it. Figures, I go to write a real post about something other than a "Picture of the Week" and it goes belly-up on me.

Picture of the Week #19



The Greenwich Meridian, May 1998

I guess I was mostly in the eastern hemisphere when I took the photo, but moments before I was standing with one half of my body in one hemisphere and my other half in the other hemisphere. I had fun watching a kid jump back and forth saying: "Now I'm east, now I'm west, now I'm east, now I'm west."

Picture of the Week #18



M33, taken with the Prime Focus Camera on the 30-inch telescope at McDonald Observatory in 1997 (AASTRA participants took the images and then I combined them into the final color image you see here.)

In honor of the Galaxy Evolution meeting that I'm working at this week, I chose the lovely image of M33.

RenFest 2008



We made the annual journey east to the piney woods and the 16th century (or rather, facsimile of the 16th century). I didn't take a whole lot of photos this year and for some reason I mostly ended up with plants. It's not huge, but you can click on the horse above and go to the whole set on Flickr.

Picture of the Week #17



Comet Holmes, October 2007, from the 16-inch telescope at RLM on the University of Texas campus.

The first anniversary of the rapid brightening of Comet Holmes was last week, so I chose it for this week's picture. More about the comet is in this post from last year.

Ahhhh... an extra hour of sleep

I have a love/hate relationship with time changes. I love the extra hour of sleep this time of year, but I hate losing an hour in the spring. :)

Yeah, nothing profound in this update, but I have some sinus pressure tonight and I think I'm going to take an antihistamine and enjoy my extra hour of sleep!

Picture of the Week #16



Hubble Space Telescope test model, National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC. September 2006.

In honor of the recovery of the primary camera on the Hubble Space Telescope, I chose this photo from the NASM for this week's picture. While I was following the news on Hubble's "safe mode" issues, I was pleasantly surprised to see that an old colleague of mine is the Lead Mission Systems Engineer for HST!

Picture of the Week #14



This week's picture is a little different, in the fact that it is a photo that I didn't take or compile myself. This photo is from the TRACE spacecraft and is one of 21 spectacular images of the Sun featured at Boston.com's The Big Picture website.

Sunset from Hurricane Ike



This photo is from the evening before Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston, so the outer cloud bands had already started passing over central Texas. I think there was also some volcanic dust in the atmosphere then, which is what added some of the purple tint-- we got a stretch of really colorful sunsets (even when there were no clouds) courtesy of an Alaskan volcano around that time.

Click on the photo able to go to the Flickr set (only 7 photos since there were a lot that were very similar to one another)

Picture of the Week #13



Mars Pathfinder Lander and Sojourner Rover at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. September 2006.

The lander and airbags are actual engineering prototypes and the rover is a full-scale non-functional model built by JPL for the museum.

Picture of the Week #12



M 110 (NGC 205), satellite galaxy of the Andromeda Galaxy, taken with the Prime Focus Camera on the 30-inch telescope at McDonald Observatory in 1997 (AASTRA participants took the images and then I combined them into the final color image you see here.)

Picture of the Week #11



The Star of India, a star sapphire. American Museum of Natural History, New York. August 2006.

Another rock this week, but instead of a piece of Mars we have what is probably the largest star sapphire in the world. I loved the Gems and Minerals Hall at the AMNH and I never get tired of looking at similar exhibits in other museums. Lots of SHINY!

Picture of the Week #10



Moonrise after an evening storm, August 2005

Since tonight is the Harvest Moon for 2008 (at least according to the tradition of "full moon closest to the autumnal equinox"), I thought it was time for another moon photo.

Picture of the Week #9



Overview of part of the Texas Petawatt Laser. Robert Lee Moore Hall, University of Texas campus. August 28, 2008.

When I first heard about the giant new laser that UT was building, I had it in my brain that it was out at our Pickle Research Campus, so imagine my surprise to find it is in the basement of my own building! I've been a student or an employee in this building for 18 years (now, literally, half my life) and going to the laser open house gave me my first opportunity (that I can recall) to go to the first floor of this building. For the record, the ground level is the 4th floor. I know, it makes no sense.

When I was a student, the "technology in the basement" was a Tokamak, and now it's a big giant laser. At least there weren't any lawsuits or death threats over our nifty new piece of science equipment, unlike with the Large Hadron Collider.

Picture of the Week #8



The 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope on at McDonald Observatory, near Fort Davis, Texas. December 2003.

The dome of this telescope was the first Picture of the Week, but I figured it was time to show the telescope itself.

Picture of the Week #7



Fragment of the Nakhla meteorite that fell to Earth in 1911. American Museum of Natural History, August 2006

This meteorite is one of the SNCs, or "snicks", a class of meteorite that has one very interesting thing in common - they are all from Mars. This wasn't the first time I have seen a chunk of Mars, that honor goes to a fragment of ALH84001 in Washington D.C. (which I'll post a photo of eventually), but it is always thrilling to be just a few inches from a piece of another planet.

It's a good thing I don't knit

because I would spend all my time making amigurumi! I've seen some really cute geek-themed ones around, but this takes the cake - The Mythbusters!



Spotted at Craftzine.com and Original image at Flickr

Picture of the Week #6



Space Shuttle Enterprise at National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. September 2006.

One of the coolest parts of visiting the new Air and Space center was a chance to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise. And of course, one of the coolest things about the Enterprise is that its name was changed from Constitution to Enterprise because of a write-in campaign by Star Trek fans. Never underestimate the power of geeks in large numbers!

Picture of the Week #5



Section of the K-T boundary. American Museum of Natural History, August 2006

The arrow points to the iridium layer that lies between the Cretaceous (below) and Tertiary (above) layers this cross section. This is, of course, the famous layer that led the Alvarezes to hypothesize that a large extraterrestrial impact occurred at this time and ultimately caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. There is a section of the K-T boundary exposed here in Texas, up east of Waco, but I haven't had a chance to see it - yet!

Happy Amazing Birthday to James Randi!

Happy 80th trip around the sun to James "The Amazing" Randi! I can't remember the first time he came to my attention, but I know the first time I read some of his works on skepticism was in the Pseudoscience and the Paranormal class that I took in college in 1994. I've been a fan ever since.

Spotted via Skepchick

Picture of the Week #4



Venus and the crescent moon, May 2007

Not a lot of extra info on this one. I took this photo with my telescopic lens zoomed in and no tripod, so I'm kind of amazed that it actually came out.

Ugh



Garfield's expression pretty much covers it.

(Although in all fairness, I think some direct sunlight was falling on the sensor, so that bumped it up a little. And the temp was a bit cooler than 81 in the house because the windowsill was also in getting some sun.)

A little food blogging



It's been a while since I've posted anything I've cooked or baked, so I thought I would throw in a photo of the yummy salad I put together for dinner last Sunday. It's a mix of red curly leaf lettuce and romaine, with a slices of a hard-cooked egg (I steam them after seeing it in an Alton Brown cookbook), wedges of vine tomatoes, a sprinkling of shredded Italian cheeses, some cracked black pepper and a low-fat Greek salad dressing. In hindsight, I should have added a little of the prosciutto still in the fridge, but it was still quite tasty without it! Grand total - 340 calories.

Picture of the Week #3



Central peak of the Sierra Madera impact crater in Pecos county, Texas. December 2003.

In the fall of 2003 I took a class on the geology of Texas with my Staff Education Benefit, which was very fun and informative. As part of the course, we had to do a research paper on some aspect of Texas geology. The professor had a list of topics that people tended to choose from, but we had the option of suggesting our own topic. I had a growing fascination with Earth impact craters, and I knew of several in Texas, so that was what I proposed to do my paper on and it was accepted. It was a lot of fun to research and put together.

Shortly after the end of the semester, I went out to McDonald Observatory and on the way back we stopped and took photos of the central peak of one of Texas' impacts - the approximately 100 million-year-old Sierra Madera crater, which is pictured here. Below is an image I made for the paper from the USGS National Map Seamless Server which shows the rim of the crater, which of course is heavily eroded.

Kip!



I meant to write about this shortly after the talk so I wouldn't forget stuff, but of course here I am over two months later trying to remember all the mind-bending (and space-time bending) things he discussed.

Kip gave a lecture at UT back when I was a student (c. 1993?), so that was the last time I heard him speak in person. This time he came after being invited by two undergraduates, one of whom was my department's recently-selected Rhodes Scholar Sarah Miller (we're all quite proud of her!) and he made a point of mentioning that the reason he accepted the invitation was because it was students who asked, which I thought was very cool.

The talk was a good overview and synthesis of where we've come from and where we are going in the study of some of the weirdest parts of physics and cosmology. He started with an overview of relativity, black holes and the big bang and evidence for all of these. He spent a bit of time covering the search for gravity waves (which I think is what he talked about back in the 1990s when I last saw him) and the plans for upgrades to LIGO. He also spoke to the future areas of research for the primarily student-populated audience, especially areas like inflation and grand unified theory.

I'll leave you with a picture of the man himself, holding a black hole:

Picture of the Week #2



In honor of yesterday's anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, here is a photo from the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Apollo Boilerplate Command Module. I visited the center in September 2006, which was my first visit to the new facility, which is amazing to an air and space junkie like me.

From the information plaque at the museum:

NASA built several "boilerplate" Apollo command modules for testing and to train astronauts and other mission crew members. This one is made of aluminum with a fiberglass outer shell and has an actual command module hatch. It was used by Apollo astronauts, including the crew of Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission, to practice routine and emergency exits. The interior was later fitted with actual or mockup components to simulate the Apollo-Soyuz spacecraft and the five person rescue vehicle planned for use if an emergency developed during the Skylab program.

Boilerplate #1102A is displayed here with the flotation collar and bags that were attached to the Apollo 11 command module Columbia when it landed in the ocean at the end of its historic mission.

Height: 3.2 m (10 ft. 7 in)
Weight: 1,814 kg (4,000 lb)
Manufacturer: North American Aviation

Hello Dolly!



Yes, I know I won't be the first or last person to say that in regard to the new tropical storm that formed just east of the Yucatan peninsula. The storm is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico in the next couple of days. Right now the track takes it into Texas at the Mexico border as a tropical storm.

The reasons for this little bit of weather-blogging are 1) I'm a weather junkie and 2) I was born in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and lived there and in Houston for the first 8 years of my life, so keeping an eye on tropical weather was something I got from an early age. Even now, living in central Texas, we still have to deal with tropical weather, and not just from the stuff that comes in from the Gulf. We sometimes get the remnants of Pacific storms coming in from Mexico and dumping lots of rain on us.

Since we're having a pretty hot and dry summer here this year, a nice soak from a minimal tropical storm wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Right now the forecast doesn't take Dolly to hurricane strength, so maybe she'll turn out to be one of those helpful storms. But of course, we all know how quickly the forecasts for the path and strength of a storm can change!

Update 7-25-08



Well, Dolly has now come and gone, leaving a lot of rain in the Rio Grande Valley. We got some here in Central Texas (see the view from my back porch on Wednesday evening), but not as much as I had hoped. It looks like the Valley took a fairly bad hit, but so far I haven't heard anything of deaths or serious injuries, so that's good.

The trend is pointing towards an active season, although I can't imagine that we will see anything like the historic 2005 season. Only time will tell, but let's hope that if it is a repeat of the 2005 activity, it isn't also a repeat of the failures of that hurricane season.

Won't somebody please think of the produce?

Well, I wasn't expecting to get started on pointing to and laughing at religious nuts so quickly in this blog's life, but sometimes these things just fall into your lap. First there was Ray Comfort and the bananas (I'm linking to a rebuttal video) and now there is this guy electrocuting pickles (spotted via boingboing):



I think this is fruit and vegetable abuse.

Science education in Texas and hearing bloggers speak on creationism

I think "the good, the bad and the ugly" would also sum up the evening. The "good" was the round of applause for Chris Comer and her upcoming lawsuit and hearing some ScienceBloggers speak, "the bad" was hearing more about the big fight that will be coming over the revision of the science standards here in Texas, and "the ugly" is how the upcoming fight is probably going to be.

The two folks from ScienceBlogs were Ed Brayton from Dispatches from the Culture Wars and Josh Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas. The third speaker was Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science. Josh wrote up a post about the evening, with photos.

Just a few notes and thoughts from the evening:

The travesty of a law supporting "academic freedom" signed by Gov. Jindal in Louisiana is probably going to show up in Texas in January when our legislature meets again. The only way I can see this being derailed would be if a lawsuit has been filed and lost in La. before ours debuts, but I don't think there would be enough time for that.

Another thing we'll have to watch for is another round of fighting over the mention of evolution in our state science education standards. This is the current version that caused some discussion last time:

(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to:

(A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information;


So, we have the "strengths and weaknesses", but at least there is the "using scientific evidence and information" as a caveat.

The section that specifically mentions evolution is this:

(7) Science concepts. The student knows the theory of biological evolution. The student is expected to:

(A) identify evidence of change in species using fossils, DNA sequences, anatomical similarities, physiological similarities, and embryology; and

(B) illustrate the results of natural selection in speciation, diversity, phylogeny, adaptation, behavior, and extinction.


So, it will be interesting to see how this "evolves" in the "creation" of the new standards. (Sorry, sometimes just can't help myself!)

The other thing that will be interesting to watch in the near future is Chris Comer's suit against the Texas Board of Education for having to resign for not remaining "neutral" on the topic of evolution, which you can read about at the Wikipedia link up above.

These are all things that I'll be trying to follow and blog about over the upcoming months.

A small celebration

I paid off another credit card today! Well, sort of. Actually, I balance transferred the remaining amount on one card to the card that I paid off with my $600 economic stimulus check. There were two reasons I decided to do it. The first was that the offer was 6.99% for a year with no transfer fee and the second was that it meant that was one less credit card I have with Chase. I know many people have various banks/cards they dislike with a passion, and mine is Chase for the simple reason that they treated me like crap. Unfortunately I still have one card with them, but that one is next on the chopping block and then it will join its two previous siblings in the confetti pile.

It all started a couple of years ago when Chase, over a few months’ time, raised the rates on all three cards I had with them to the default rate, which was 29.99%. Was I late with a payment? No. Was I late with another card or my car loan? Nope. Did I go over my credit limit with them or another card? Again, no. The SOLE reason that they decided to essentially double my interest rates on the cards was that I had too much debt. So, in their computer, that made me a “risk”. Note that I always made more than the minimum payments on all my credit cards (not by much sometimes, but still always greater than the minimum) and by raising my rates they made it all that much harder to make the payments. So I really wasn’t at risk of not being able to pay the cards until THEY put me at risk by raising my rates (and therefore my minimum payments). Please explain the logic of that to me??? Yeah, I know, that’s just the way credit cards work. My Discover card did something similar, but not quite as high as the Chase rates. (Discover, though, will be next on the chopping block after the Chase cards go!) Meanwhile the rates on my Citibank cards have dropped and they raised my limit on one of them. Go figure.

The funny part is that I was going to have that Chase card paid off in about three or four months anyway, so I’m not really saving a whole lot by transferring (about $50 over the remainder of the time to pay it off), but boy did it feel good. I’ve been trying very hard to pay off my debts over the past year or two and I’m starting to make some headway, which feels good. I don’t care if anyone reads this blog post, it just felt good to write it! I’ve been reading some personal finance blogs lately and I’m inspired by some of the stories of people who have been able to eliminate debt in their lives. Hopefully I’ll be joining them in the next couple of years!

Picture of the Week #1



Dome of the 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope on at McDonald Observatory, near Fort Davis, Texas. December 2003.

While I am working on some real content posts, I thought I would go ahead and start my Picture of the Week series. I mainly plan to use my own photos to start, but I might slip in a NASA image or something from time to time.

This week is the dome of the 2.7-meter (107-inch) telescope at McDonald Observatory, constructed in the 1960s. The telescope was re-dedicated in 1995 in honor of Harlan Smith, the late Chairman of the Department of Astronomy and Director of McDonald Observatory.

Is it fall yet?



Ugh, I know I'm a native Texan and all, but this summer has already been really annoying. I'm sure most of it has to do with how wet and relatively cool last summer was, making this hot and dry one extra bothersome. We've been having some spotty showers for the past week or so, but they've all managed to not rain on Elgin. I got a brief shower one day on my drive home, but it was just enough to coat the car in a thin layer of dust-mud. But, on the upside, the distant showers have left us with some cool sunsets. I'll have some new ones posted on my Flickr pages soon.

See girls CAN do science!

... and do it quite well, thank you very much!

Spotted first at Skepchick: Girls Doing Science, Kicking Ass

Not only were all three top winners girls, but 47% of the entrants this year were girls. Woo-hoo! After just finishing the audiobook of Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason", this was just the little pick-me-up I needed. Now if more Americans could locate Iraq on a map... but I digress.

This is one of those news stories that at first glance, I'm very happy to hear, but then upon further thought, I wish it actually wasn't a big deal.

As part of my job doing astronomy outreach, I was leading a group of girls on a tour of our department and we were talking about how just a couple of days before - for the first time ever - when the commanders of the space shuttle and the International Space Station greeted each other after docking, it was two women shaking hands and hugging. And one of the girls, probably about 12 years old, said "It will be great when that doesn't have to be big news", or something close to that. I could have hugged her! Not only was she right, but if more girls her age have that attitude it won't be a big deal someday.

By the way, some of the bonus prize that some of the various winners (there are actually around a thousand prizes given out) get are a trip to the Nobel Prize ceremonies and naming rights for asteroids. How cool is that?!

Here's a round-up from Science News

Started a new blog

Because I really need another blog about as much as I need an extra hole in my head (or any other body part for that matter).

I know it is mostly friends and family reading this blog, but if you guys are interested, I've started a new Science and Skepticism blog called Sweet Yummy Reality. I'm not entirely sure how I came up with the name. I was kind of aiming for something to combat the image of "cold, hard science" I think, but there you have it. I have copied the science-related posts from this blog over there to stock it with something, although I just posted a new one and have a few others in the works. I'll probably mostly stick to the "science" part of the blog description, but given that I'm the person who gets all the UFO and 2012 end-of-the-world questions at work, there is bound to be some of the "skepticism" part too.

[Updated January 2012 - I've decided to close the blog mentioned above and move the posts over here to this one.]

Photos from Scarborough Renaissance Festival



After what I think was a 10-year absence, I finally went back to the Scarborough Renaissance Festival up near Dallas. I had forgotten how delightful this faire is! It's smaller (although expanded since the last time I visited) than the big Texas Renaissance Festival near Houston and has kept a less-commercial feel. Part of the charm is the creek and wooded area that runs through the middle of the faire, as well as the big leafy trees (as opposed to the pine trees at RenFest).

Click on the joust above to go to my Flickr photo set.

New bird photos



I've updated my Flickr bird set with some new hummingbird photos, as well as some of a male cardinal, a house sparrow and a white-crowned sparrow. Click on the hummer above to go to the set (the new photos are at the bottom of the set).

This means something



If you don't get the reference... here's a hint. And here is another.

I know, it isn't mashed potatoes, but I still thought it was funny. And yes, it is actually a hay bale that has been munched down by some cows.

Smile!



Two weeks or so, after a rough day at work (although I can't remember what had pissed me off, which just goes to show you how important it actually was), I walked out to my car to go home and while I was getting settled, something caused me to look up and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the car on the floor above me in the parking garage was smiling at me. It made me laugh and smile and lighten up from whatever had annoyed me earlier that day. I didn't have my camera on me that day, but a week or so later my boyfriend and I saw the car again and he snapped the photo above.

So, to whomever owns the smiling car, thank you for brightening my day!

Lucy!

No, not that Lucy... THIS Lucy! The date of March 11 has become a "seeing things with my own eyes that I never thought I would see with my own eyes" day. Six years ago on March 11, I was standing in Pompeii. This year, I saw Lucy.

Yes, we finally did our road trip to the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Tuesday to visit Texas' most famous 3.2 million-year-old visitor. The exhibit opened last August and closes at the end of April, so we didn't have a whole lot of time left. I think that waiting a while was a good move, since it wasn't very crowded there on a Tuesday afternoon during Spring Break. For a while we practically had the Lucy room to ourselves (save the docent and security guard and a couple with a little girl).

Obviously Lucy was the main draw, but she wasn't the only thing on exhibit from Ethiopia. From pre-historic times, they had some 1.6 million year old hand axes and some nice replica fossils and skulls of other species of hominids from the area. They also had lots of cultural artifacts, especially Christian processional crosses (some of which had some very intricate metal and woodwork on them) and an interesting collection of coins. They also had photos and a model of one of the amazing rock-cut churches in Ethiopia.

We skipped the exhibit movies, although I kind of wish now that we had watched the "introduction to Ethiopia" one at the beginning. I have to admit that I didn't know a whole lot about the country beyond the fact that it was mostly left alone by European colonial powers (probably due to its long history of Christianity) and that they export a lot of coffee. And of course that it is a rich source of ancient hominid fossils. There was an introduction to Lucy video that we also skipped, mostly since I've read both "Lucy" and "Lucy's Child" and know a fair amount about her discovery. They also had her namesake song - The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" - playing in the outer room. I was mystified that someone actually complained about that in the comment book at the exit. Maybe they missed the connection and just thought the museum was being cute...

The "Lucy room" as I've decided to call it, was surrounded by a magnificent mural of human evolution from our probable common ancestor with chimpanzees (approx. 6 million years ago) to early Homo sapiens, with explanatory text below it. Lucy herself was in a horizontal case in the middle of the room, with a full-size life-like reconstruction of her in a case nearby. On the wall next to the original fossils was a vertically-mounted replica with the bones placed three-dimensionally in their correct anatomical position. This was very helpful, since you lose the depth information with the way the original fossil is displayed.

I would have liked to have seen some comparative anatomy in the exhibit. The docent on hand did a good job of describing how some parts of Lucy are more human-like and some parts are more chimp-like, but it would have been nice to have a visual reference. I also think they were trying their best to dispel the "if humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes?" creationist canard. Of course, if you know anything about human evolution, that's a totally silly argument. But I'm guessing that a lot of the people visiting Lucy don't know that "common ape-like ancestor" is what a scientist would say, not that "man evolved from apes". So, they seemed to be careful about how they were phrasing Lucy's place with relation to modern man and apes (chimps in particular). (Although I would point out that the eLucy site does just that... it allows you to pick a bone of Lucy's and see it side-by-side with a modern man and modern chimp).

I would like to compliment the museum for allowing people to get a really good, close view of Lucy in her case. They could have displayed her in a way that kept the people at a distance or behind ropes, but thankfully that wasn't what they did. The case was horizontal, about 3 feet off the ground, and you could get right up along side it, lean over it and look through the sides. And I did. Again, and again. I'm not sure how long I loitered, but I decided to drink in as much of the view as I could. The odds of me ever seeing her again are slim so I tried to make the most of the time we had there.

I know there has been criticism and controversy over transporting such priceless fossils, but I'm so glad that Lucy is visiting the States. First, it was probably the only way I was ever going to get a chance to see her, and second, in a nation where a large fraction of people don't believe in human evolution, or evolution at all, it is important for one of our best pieces of evidence of evolution to be available for people to see with their own eyes. Unfortunately it wasn't convincing to everybody, judging by the "It's all lies" statement I saw in the comment book, but the majority of notes were far more complimentary. I don't know how many people might have their minds changed by seeing Lucy, but even if it is just a few, it's worth it. And for people like me, it was an amazing opportunity to see in person an important piece of the story of human evolution.

Last weekend's bread experiment



I think I actually first saw this recipe in the newspaper, but after seeing the results (and that it was so easy a 4-year-old could do it) on Jaden's Steamy Kitchen, I decided to give it a try. You can find one of her entries on it here, but I also suggest looking at some of the others. Not to mention all the other delicious looking things at the site!

For a first attempt, I'm pretty pleased. I think my yeast might have been a little anemic and I had the pot a little too close to the top elements in the oven (hence the very dark brown parts on the top), but overall I'm happy with it. The flavor was quite good!

Carl Sagan on a stamp!

Well, hopefully!

From the Cornell Chronicle:
A movement to immortalize famed Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan with a U.S. postage stamp was launched Feb. 11 for local media at the Ithaca Sciencenter.

Patrick Fish, founder of the Utica-based grassroots Sagan Appreciation Society, and Charles Trautmann, executive director of the Sciencenter, unveiled four renderings by three artists or artist teams of proposed Sagan memorial stamps that the society plans to submit to the U.S. Postal Service for commissioning.


You can read the full article and see the potential designs here.

Still being a bad, bad blogger

For this blog at least. I've had lots of updates on my Tudor blogs, and even a few on the stitching blog, but not much here. After an adventure at Christmas and getting sick then, and again after getting back to Texas, and then having to catch up on the stuff that didn't get done while I was in a fog from the second round of whatever was making me sick (I'm still not sure if it was a really bad allergy attack or a really short cold)... well, you get the picture.

I think part of the reason I haven't been posting that much here is that I'm not totally sure what I want to blog about. I've done some science blogging, some personal blogging and some totally-apropos-to-nothing bogging.I guess for now I'll just continue that!

One additional thing... a little bit of science blogging! I was thrilled to see the new photos of Mercury from the Messenger spacecraft. We only saw about 45% of the planet with the Mariner 10 flybys in the mid-1970s, and eventually Messenger will see those parts *and* all the parts the Mariner missed, and with better instruments and cameras. It's kind of amazing to me that there was still over half of a planet so relatively close that we haven't seen until now. At least with Pluto there is the excuse that it is so far away (and will finally be visited by a spacecraft in about 2015), but Mercury isn't all that far away. However, it *is* really close to the sun, which brings up its own interesting set of problems.

Enough science for now.. time for bed since I never fully got back to sleep after 5 a.m. this morning!