Showing posts from March, 2009

Texas science battle fought to a draw

Well, it's over. I managed to listen to yesterday's entire meeting of the Texas State Board of Education without throwing anything at my computer, which was definitely a personal victory. I commented over on the TFN blog that there is no way I would have been able to keep quiet if I had gone down there, so it was a good thing I decided to stay in my office and listen to the live stream.

The next big fight will be when we adopt new textbooks in 2011. There is also a chance that the Texas Legislature will move to rein in the BOE. Although if we move from an elected board back to an appointed one, there are potential problems there too (depending on who gets to do the appointing, of course).

Since a lot of other people have already chimed in with news, round-ups and some early analysis, I'm just going to link to some of them.

* Science Takes Hit in Texas - Press release from the Texas Freedom Network

* TFN also points out that It Wasn't All About Evolution

* Phil's round-…

Picture of the Week #32

Models of the inner planets from the Rose Center for Earth and Space and Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. August 2006.

Rare Earth?

In a happy synchronicity, the same week that I attended a lecture by Rare Earth co-author Don Brownlee, two posts on the same topic showed up on a couple of blogs I read. First was Kepler and the Rare Earth hypothesis from Chris Rowan's Highly Allochthonous, followed by A Habitable Zone by any other name… from Johnson R. Haas at The Planetologist. Go read their posts for much more coherent thoughts on this topic than I'll have.

The lecture was part of the M.E.L. Oakes Undergraduate Lecture Series, named for a physics professor who retired from the University in 2004. Dr. Oakes was very committed to undergraduate education (he was my professor for Waves and Optics) and when he retired, his colleagues established this lecture series in his honor.

Here are some of my notes and thoughts from Brownlee's lecture.

First off, a disclaimer of sorts - I haven't read the book "Rare Earth" yet (although it's on my Amazon wish list!). Brownlee co-authored the book with …

My state is driving me crazy

I love being from Texas (I was even born on Texas Independence Day). But there are some things that just leave me shaking my head. And unfortunately I've been shaking my head a lot lately...

I was going to write up my own summary of all that has been going on, but this post at the National Center from Science Education already did a great job of it:
With evolution sure to be a hotly debated topic at the next meeting of the Texas state board of education, with a bill just introduced in the Texas legislature aimed at restoring the contentious "strengths and weaknesses" language to the standards, and with a different bill aimed at exempting the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school from the regulations governing degree-granting institutions in Texas, there's no shortage of news from the Lone Star state. NCSE, of course, continues not only to report on the antics of creationism in Texas but also to help concerned Texans to combat them: Texans wishing to ex…

Astronomy from the sidewalks of New York

Spotted via Bad Astronomy, this New York Times article:
While Times Square is not known for star gazing — the celestial kind, that is — and few people would normally venture onto a pitch-black ball field in Inwood to see the constellations, two unrelated, if not unlikely, projects hope to turn the city’s night eyes skyward.

Jason Kendall, an amateur astronomer, and Katja Aglert, a Swedish installation artist, want to turn out the lights in different parts of Manhattan and, weather permitting, illuminate the night sky.

“How can you appreciate something you’ve never seen?” said Mr. Kendall, 41. “You’ll never get anyone to make the sky dark until you show them how beautiful it can be.”

“Hey!” Mr. Kendall said. “You wanna see Saturn?”

Wsam tentatively peered through Mr. Kendall’s telescope.

“I don’t believe it!” he exclaimed. “Saturn really does have a ring.”

I did a double-take when I saw the name of the name of the amateur astronomer - Jason Kendall - someone I know from work! He worked for…

Picture of the Week #31

The Hobby-Ebery Telescope at McDonald Observatory. December 2003.

This photo was taken from the TQ (or Astronomers Lodge as it is now formally known) at sunset. I only learned just a couple of years ago that the pink line visible at sunrise/sunset is called The Belt of Venus, which I thought was a lovely poetic name.

New camera!

A side-by-side comparison of my 2003 Canon point-and-shoot and my new 2009 Canon point-and-shoot (model SD780IS) that Dad bought me for my birthday (thank you again!). Finally I have a camera I can throw in my purse and not feel like I'm lugging around a lead weight!

We are Wizards

I've been hearing about We are Wizards (a documentary about Harry Potter fandom) for a while now and thanks to Hulu, I was finally able to watch it. And, if you're in the US, you can watch it too!

I had two 'double-take' moments while watching it. The first was pretty early in the film when I realized that the footage from a live PotterCast they used was the one I attended! The second was while watching the segments with Brad Neely and I recognized that he was driving around my hometown of Austin, Texas. It's still a bit weird for me to see places or people I know on TV or in movies... which happens a lot more often than I would expect.

Skeptics' Circle #107

In an attempt to start posting more than just the Picture of the Week, here's a link to The 107th Skeptics' Circle over at The Skeptic's Field Guide! Maybe one of these days I'll actually have something worth submitting myself.

I'll be posting a write-up of a lecture I went to last week by "Rare Earth" co-author Don Brownlee. I also saw that Lawrence Krauss will be giving a talk the week after spring break, so I'll do a write-up of that as well.

Picture of the Week #30

Gemini VII capsule at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. September 2006.

From the information plaque:
Frank Borman and James A. Lovell Jr. lifted off aboard Gemini VII on December 4, 1965. Their primary mission was to show that humans could live in weightlessness for 14 days, an endurance record that stood until 1970. Their spacecraft also served as the target vehicle for Gemini VI-A, piloted by Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Thomas P. Stafford, who carried out the world's first space rendezvous on December 15. These two achievements were critical steps on the road to the Moon.

Picture of the Week #29

The Eagle Nebula (M16) taken with the Prime Focus Camera on the 30-inch telescope at McDonald Observatory in 1998 (AASTRA participants took the images and then I combined them into the final color image you see here).