Monthly Archives: September 2006

Shuttle Atlantis and the ISS

How about these suckers for cool astronomy photos: The Space Shuttle Atlantis performing its inspection just off of the International Space Station in transit across the sun!

From Thierry Legault: Image of the solar transit of the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle Atlantis (50 minutes after undocking from the ISS, before return to Earth), taken from the area of Mamers (Normandie, France) on september 17th 2006 at 13h 38min 50s UT. Takahashi TOA-150 refractor (diameter 150mm, final focal 2300mm), Baader helioscope and Canon 5D. Exposure of 1/8000s at 50 ISO, extracted from a series of 14 images (3 images/s) started 2s before the predicted Transit duration: 0,6s. Transit band width on Earth: 7.4 km. ISS distance to observer: 550 km.

It’s worth checking out the full-resolution photo here.

peed: 7.4km/s. ISS size: 73m. Distance between ISS and Atlantis: 200m


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Sports As Education

Many people, myself included, consider sports to offer invaluable lessons in discipline, commitment, delayed gratification, and teamwork. “A Healthy body breeds a healthy mind.”

But apparently, whether the sport makes the individual or the already-defined individual picks the sport, the following table shows some interesting correlations.

Division I Graduation Rates for Entering Classes of 1996-99, by Sport

Men’s Sports


Federal Rate







Cross Country/Track















Ice Hockey
























Water Polo






(Note that GSR is an adjusted rate which corrects for transfers)

With a proper disclaimer to differentiating between correlation and causality:

JUST IN CASE THERE MIGHT BE A CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP: Unless you are completely convinced you are the next NFL superstar in the making, if you want to graduate from college you should probably steer clear of Baseball or Football. Invest that time in your studies instead!

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Rocketbelt Convention 2006


More photos and links here.

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The Torture Bill

This issue will continue to damn our country until we substantially change course. It evokes incredible passion because it is so central to the notion of fair play, rationality, and reasoned law that have been the American brand worldwide for centuries. Now, we have traded that core value for a double standard, where the US executive branch can stand outside both US and international law, and deny due process to ANYONE arbitrarily. Imagine our founding fathers facing that sort of enviroment in Britain of the 18th century. Taxation without representation is mild by comparison.

The liberal blogosphere is full of vehement disclaimers which, while extreme, certainly echo much of my own frustration and shame at the passage of the latest Bill.

Here is one example from John Scalzi:

I’m proud to be an American, but I’m tired of being ashamed of my government. I’m tired of having to count the seconds until this bilious waste of a president is shoved out the door in January of 2009. I’m tired of hoping that some members of the president’s political party might actually put principle over political expedience, particularly when it concerns the Constitution. And I’m tired of waiting for the opposing party to actually grow a goddamned spine and become an opposing party. I’m tired of wondering why the people we elect to lead us don’t seem to actually understand what it means to be American, and to be moral, and to do what it right for us. And I’m tired of having to look so hard for genuine leadership as opposed to the sham idiot version we have now. I feel like Diogenes, and I’m coming up short.

I’m tired of being led by moral cowards. I want better for myself, and for my country.

Here is a more reasoned post From Sean Carroll over at Cosmic Variance:

The Senate has voted 65-34 in favor of S. 3930, “A bill to authorize trial by military commission for violations of the law of war, and for other purposes.” Here, “trial by military commission” means that, if you are an unlawful enemy combatant, you have no right to a trial by your peers or any other basic protections of the Bill of Rights. (Who counts as an “enemy combatant”? Whomever the government says. Even U.S. citizens who haven’t even left the country, much less engaged in combat? Yes.) And “other purposes” means torturing people.

I remember when Republicans used to look at government with suspicion. Now the motto of the Republican Party is “Trust us, we’re the government, we know what’s best and we don’t make mistakes.”

Acording to Glenn Greenwald: During the debate on his amendment, Arlen Specter said that the bill sends us back 900 years because it denies habeas corpus rights and allows the President to detain people indefinitely. He also said the bill violates core Constitutional protections. Then he voted for it.

To my surprise, I actually completely agree with the following statement from Senator Hillary Clinton:

“The rule of law cannot be compromised. We must stand for the rule of law before the world, especially when we are under stress and under threat. We must show that we uphold our most profound values…

The bill before us allows the admission into evidence of statements derived through cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation. That sets a dangerous precedent that will endanger our own men and women in uniform overseas. Will our enemies be less likely to surrender? Will informants be less likely to come forward? Will our soldiers be more likely to face torture if captured? Will the information we obtain be less reliable? These are the questions we should be asking. And based on what we know about warfare from listening to those who have fought for our country, the answers do not support this bill. As Lieutenant John F. Kimmons, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence said, “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive interrogation practices.”…

This bill undermines the Geneva Conventions by allowing the President to issue Executive Orders to redefine what permissible interrogation techniques happen to be. Have we fallen so low as to debate how much torture we are willing to stomach? By allowing this Administration to further stretch the definition of what is and is not torture, we lower our moral standards to those whom we despise, undermine the values of our flag wherever it flies, put our troops in danger, and jeopardize our moral strength in a conflict that cannot be won simply with military might.

I find this evolution to be a horrific corruption that strikes at the very heart of American values in being above reproach, and in having checks and balances on Executive power.

Unsurprisingly, almost every Republican voted for the Bill. My only consolation is the hope that perhaps with the upcoming mid-term and Presidential elections enough Democrats will be elected to force the Republicans to live with that uncomfortable balance weilded by a liberal administration long enough to want to eventually overturn this corruption. Of course then we will have a whole set of additional problems to manage fom liberal excesses, but at least the moral double standard, and the shame that goes with it, might be retired.


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Now Even The Teenage World is Flat

Having trouble in your math class? Physics problem sets getting you down? Behind on that term paper?

Just do what most American companies are doing these days. Outsource your Homework.

For $2.50 an hour (or $100 per month for unlimited hours) you can receive live, personal, online tutoring from a trained educator holding at least a Master’s degree in your field of study through TutorVista of Bangalor India. This obviously spells trouble for the American companies struggling to demand rates of over $40 an hour.

“We’ve changed the paradigm of tutoring,” said Krishnan Ganesh, founder and chairman of TutorVista, which offers subjects ranging from grammar to geometry for children as young as 6 years old to adults in college.

“It’s not that the U.S. education system is not good. It’s just that it’s impossible to give personalized education at an affordable cost unless you use technology, unless you use the Internet and unless you can use lower-cost job centers like India,” he said over a crackly Internet-phone line from Bangalore. “We can deliver that.”

Many of the tutors have masters degrees in their subjects, said Ganesh. On average, they have taught for 10 years. Each undergoes 60 hours of training, including lessons on how to speak in a U.S. accent and how to decipher American slang.

“It’s made the biggest difference. My daughter is literally at the top of every single one of her classes and she has never done that before,” said Robison, a single mother from Modesto.

“I like to tell people I did private tutoring every day for the cost of a fast-food meal or a Starbucks’ coffee,” Robison said. “We did our own form of summer school all summer.”

What does it say about our country that India can do a better job educating American kids than we can, and for one 1/15th the cost to boot?

And I bet that even with kids benefiting from international economics, the Teachers’ Unions will complain within the year because money that could be going into their failing system is heading offshore.

More on this topic here.

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NASA’s Oportunity Rover Reaches Victoria Crater

From NASA:

NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity reached the rim of “Victoria Crater” in Mars’ Meridiani Planum region with a 26-meter (85-foot) drive during the rover’s 951st Martian day, or sol (Sept. 26, 2006). After the drive, the rover’s navigation camera took the three exposures combined into this view of the crater’s interior. This crater has been the mission’s long-term destination for the past 21 Earth months.

A half mile in the distance one can see about 20 percent of the far side of the crater framed by the rocky cliffs in the foreground to the left and right of the image. The rim of the crater is composed of alternating promontories, rocky points towering approximately 70 meters (230 feet) above the crater floor, and recessed alcoves. The bottom of the crater is covered by sand that has been shaped into ripples by the Martian wind.

The position at the end of the sol 951 drive is about six meters from the lip of an alcove called “Duck Bay.” The rover team planned a drive for sol 952 that would move a few more meters forward, plus more imaging of the near and far walls of the crater.

Victoria Crater is about five times wider than “Endurance Crater,” which Opportunity spent six months examining in 2004, and about 40 times wider than “Eagle Crater,” where Opportunity first landed.

This view is presented as a cylindrical projection with geometric seam correction.

Image Credit:

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Bush Administration Caught in Science Censorship and Cover-up

According to Paul Thacker at Salon:

In February, there were several press reports about the Bush administration exercising message control on the subject of climate change. The New Republic cited numerous instances in which top officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and scientists at the National Hurricane Center sought to downplay links between more-intense hurricanes and global warming. NOAA scientist Thomas Knutson told the Wall Street Journal he’d been barred from speaking to CNBC because his research suggested just such a link.

At the time, Bush administration officials denied that they did any micromanaging of media requests for interviews. But a large batch of e-mails obtained by Salon through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that the White House was, in fact, controlling access to scientists and vetting reporters.

When NOAA press officer Laborde was contacted to discuss the e-mails, he denied that interviews were subject to approval from White House officials. Confronted with his own e-mails, however, he said, “If you already knew the answer, why did you ask the question?”

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