Saturday, July 6, 2013

Where are we?

I have no quibbles with Turbulent's latest post on scientific theories.  No one is more shocked than I, but then all Turd-bucket is saying is if you don't understand the meanings of concepts, it's hard to mount effective (or really, honest) arguments against them.

I have a different kind of point to make: we live in a unique time, the first in human history in which we have a relatively clear and precise understanding of our place in the universe.  Not our purpose, perhaps, but our physical location.  In life, it can be hard to know where you're going if you don't know where you came from or where you are.  Now, in the largest sense possible, it seems we know.

The coalescing material that became the Sun, Earth, and everything on it was seeded by the dying ash of ancient stars.  Those stars lived and died in the outer arms of the Milky Way galaxy, a 100 billion-star spinning disk the proportions of a vinyl record.  Surrounding this disk swarm hundreds of minor satellite galaxies, constantly shredded by their encounters with us.  A mere 40 record-lengths away, our sister the Andromeda galaxy rushes toward us, promising a great collision near the end of the Sun's natural life.
The Andromeda Galaxy (left), our nearest similarly sized neighbor, visible near the disk of the Milky Way within which the Sun resides.  This composite image illustrates what the night sky will look like 3.75 billion years from now.  (More on this collision at 

But this is literally our cosmic backyard; the universe is full of galaxies, as many as there are stars in the Milky Way.  But we finally have a clear picture of our cosmic neighborhood, the equivalent of a city if the universe were laid out on the surface of the Earth, which is presented beautifully by researchers in France in this video:

(Available for download here:

We live in the suburbs of an average galaxy that resides in a rural town far from the bustling cities of the cosmos.  There is nothing special about where we are.  Nothing special about where we came from.  The insignificance of our place in the universe is crushing.  But we have only now opened our eyes.  We have only now begun to comprehend.  It's only a matter of time before we ask the next logical question.

Where are we going?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Of COURSE humans are "the most superior animal on the planet"

Turd-bucket has another post up, this one full of fuzzy-wuzzy, lame-brain fake humility claptrap.  He actually casts doubt on whether humanity is the superior species on the Earth, which either means he has trouble grasping the basic definition of words or wants to appeal to environmental liberals in advance of a career in politics (the unthinkable horror!).

He implies people think we're superior because we're the most intelligent species, which is a difficult thing to objectively judge (here we agree).  But it's not INTELLIGENCE that makes us superior – it's the fact that the fate of all other species are subject to our will and whims.  We no longer face any serious predators, because we have vanquished them to the point of insignificance or extinction.  And if we had the will (and lacked the wisdom), we could wipe out any species we'd like to.  Thus, we are superior.

The more interesting question that never enters the mind of the Turbulent "Oh noes I poopied my pants again" Scientist is, "What does this mean?"  If we effectively own the Earth (and we do, at least at the present time), does this mean we are morally responsible for it and must place all animals under our protection?  Nope.  I suppose this could be viewed as a debatable point, but only if you make up a worldview in which this is a tenet.  Way more than 99% of all species that ever existed are extinct, so clearly there's nothing sacred about keeping species alive.

Which raises the key point: our own extinction is a very, very real possibility, if not a certainty.  And you know what animals are?  Resources.  Kill 'em off, and you throw away tools in your toolbox.    Who knows what gene will help us cure some disease or solve some other problem some day.  Same with the environment.  The Holocene (last 10,000 years or so) is a very nice climate for us to live in, and it makes perfect sense for us to try to maintain it by reversing global warming.  But if we warm the planet too much and end the Holocene, both we and the Earth will survive (but many individual people and species will not), which reduces our chances at long term survival.

It may not sound romantic, but evolution doesn't care – it's just a process, and one we don't HAVE to be at the mercy of anymore.  Anyway, for better or worse we ARE the superior species, although maybe not for long if lunkheads like Turd-bucket are the best thinkers we got.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why are aliens in movies as dense as The Turbulent Scientist?

I mean, really.  Beings from another world (they're always planet-bound like us) travel huge distances through a harsh environment, which requires technological capability far beyond our own, and when they get here they want to kill us, presumably for our stuff.  This makes no sense.  Of course, the reason they behave as stupidly as doofus-goat would is simply that they're a nice way to spice up a conventional colonialism or western-type action flick with pew-pew special effects.  But let's take these fictitious alien baddies literally and review why they must suffer from space-sickness (which, if part of these stories, would make them both more realistic AND infinitely more interesting).

Say you need raw materials for your space armada – one of the last places you'll go is the Earth (presuming you've arrived in the solar system and now must go somewhere to refuel or whatever).  Need raw materials?  If you need something light, skim it from the outer atmosphere of a gas giant.  If you need heavy elements, collect some asteroids.  Why not mine the Earth?  Because you're in space, and Earth's gravity is relatively strong.  Pretty much ALL of the cost of a rocket goes into getting into orbit.  In other words, in terms of energy use it is a very expensive proposition to come down, mine stuff, and haul it back into space.  Alternatively, asteroids have no significant gravity, and they're in the same environment your spaceship is.  You'd have to be a complete asshole to pass up the cheap asteroids – in other words, you're out to pick a fight, simply because you can.

Now let's assume you're on a colonization mission and don't want to share the Earth for any number of valid reasons – you're on a one-way trip, Earths are rare, you want to ensure the survival of your race/civilization, etc.  You don't want to destroy the environment because you want to use it, but you don't want humans to compete with you.  First off, it would certainly be most sensible for the aliens to take over some part of the planet and ignore the rest.  If you have the ability to get here in the first place, you can probably set up a practically impenetrable perimeter and muster a missile defense shield, which would effectively neutralize any threat we could pose.  But, if the aliens are assholes, they may prefer to wipe humans out (like making mosquitoes extinct instead of wearing repellent and using screen doors/windows).  This is not unreasonable.  What IS unreasonable is invading with ground troops or flying saucers and leaving yourself open to exploitation of some vulnerability (which is typically very, very dumb).  Why not just poison us?  Most likely there's some difference between our biologies that would allow them to tailor something that would kill us but be benign to them (smallpox-laced blankets, anyone?).  If they liked the local plant/animal life, they could even tailor it specifically for human biology.  We'd never even know it was an alien attack.  This is clearly the more economical and efficient path, unless they just really enjoy fighting.  But in that case they're probably pretty good at it and wouldn't have an easily exploitable weakness.  I'll admit though, aliens are alien, after all, so their reasons may not be obvious or even outwardly sensible.  BUT, given how evolution works, they would likely take steps to avoid complete destruction.

Does this mean Hollywood can't make an interesting alien invasion movie?  Hardly.  Should the writers/directors/producers take an afternoon to make sure the aliens' motivations/behaviors are not completely idiotic?  Of course!  And I guarantee you a much more interesting movie, with a more respectable enemy for your hero to defeat.  I beg you!  Just ask me or any one of the many excellent hard sci-fi novelists out there who successfully do this all the time.

If you just want to make shiny things and explosions for snot-dripping morons to goggle at, however, I know just the person to consult with.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

He's stringing you along again

Mr. Feather-feet; Dr. Dim-wit; Bird-brain; Fat-fingers.  I for one am impressed with the Turbulent Scientist's mastery of alliteration and applaud him for raising the level of debate to that of an elementary school playground.  Apparently Congress' example is rubbing off!

Have you ever seen such a defensive blog post in your life?  Before he even bothers to explain his topic of the day, he launches into a very anti-bird screed (do birds have fingers? and even if they do, would you consider them fat? or is he just demonstrating the profound depth of his ignorance yet again?), likening me to our feathered friends as a way to inoculate himself from the guano of truth soon to be raining down on his exposed scalp.  Besides, birds evolved from freakin' dinosaurs that ruled the Earth for over 100 million years, AND they can FLY, so why be hatin'?

What's he so defensive about?  String theory: a field of theoretical physics that tries to unite disparate branches of physics under a common framework, which involves thinking of particles as really small strings vibrating in extra dimensions of space.  Cool idea?  Hell yeah.  I even thought I'd be working on it one day (until I realized "ego >> mathematical talent").  But here's the problem: after several decades of work, a COMPLETE version of the theory still does not exist, and what parts of the theory do exist have yet to predict ANYTHING.

Does this mean it's not science?  Well, not exactly, because the goal is to predict something.  Unfortunately, even when they can't predict anything precisedly but suggest some type of unexpected result from an experiment run out of something like the LHC, they fail.

The problem here is that physicists may just be barking up the wrong tree.  I personally cannot assess that technically, but when you've been pursuing something as long as the world has been pursuing peace in the Middle East, and you have FEWER results to show for your efforts, maybe it's time to approach the problem from a different angle.  But this hasn't happened, because prominent string theorists like Brian Greene have been so successful at popularizing it that they've attracted most young physicists to the idea.  Being merely human, it's hard to abandon an idea and body of work you've built a career on, even if you worry it's all for naught.  The best place to check out more criticism like this is at Peter Woit's blog Not Even Wrong.

When alchemists tried to answer the question, "How can you chemically turn lead into gold?", it wasn't the answers that were wrong, but the question itself.  Like the question, "How many brain cells does the average person have to kill off to equal that in the Turbulent Scientist's brain?", which presupposes that that pathetic, putrid piece of pond scum has a brain at all.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar Sunday, and I have to talk about shrimp.

On the second most holy of American holidays (after Superbowl Sunday), I am reduced to discussing shrimp instead of what Jennifer Lawrence is wearing (OMGdidyouseethatdresssohawt!).  As usual, I am referring to some pile of word-ordure by the Turbulent Scientist.

He seems to suggest that those on the right are idiots who have pet shrimp that should NOT be permitted exercise.  This is clearly absurd, since the right has historically loved prisons (although now they prefer for-profit ones) and prisoners are routinely allowed exercise.  The Turbulent Scientist's characterization is dangerously close to an ad hominem attack, which should never be used by a true scientist.

The reason Huckabee and other conservatives misrepresent certain science projects as wasteful is simply that they make for good sound bites.  Sometimes this backfires, as when Bobby Jindal used federal spending on volcano monitoring as fodder for a pithy remark: "Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington."  Of course, the danger of such comments became clear several weeks later after an eruption in Alaska.

To be fair, one could argue that Republicans are not uniquely guilty of misrepresenting or exaggerating facts to make some political point.  But as any good parent would tell their child, that doesn't make it right.

But why do Republicans pick on science?  Is it because studies like the treadmill shrimp cost mega-dollars?  I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out what fraction $1000 is of the federal budget.  The reason is that scientists make up a pretty small and geographically diverse constituency group, so when they make such statements they're unlikely to lose many votes at their next election.  This is partly why, when asked to name the parts of the budget they'd cut, Republicans become curiously cagey.  They do want to cut programs – not because they're wasteful though – and such cuts won't be popular, so they don't want to risk voter backlash without having a good chance of actually getting those cuts.

So, good science gets scapegoated, and the Turbulent Scientist embarrasses himself again.  More importantly, are KStew and the pale guy still together?  Hope they mention that on the red carpet....

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"He is absolutely correct on this."

Turdblossom strikes again, but this time at least he was able to use the quarter of his brain that still functions (I think he overdosed on butter growing up) and recognize that I – as usual – was right after all.  To quoth: "ACTUALLY, before my friend, the idiot, calls me out on it, [blah blah sciencey blah] ...  He is absolutely correct on this."  I assume Knuckle-blisters over there only has access to his working brain parts for very brief intervals, since shortly before that admission he appears to claim I am unaware of the difference between actual butterflies and pictures of flies on sticks of butter.  I should have known my piercing, ingenious wit would fly right over his buttery noodle!

Enough about that blatherskite.  You ever think science is evil?  I don't, because I do it every day and humans are very good about rationalizing their behavior (Hitler never thought he was doing evil – even Will Smith knows that!).  Science is very powerful, and the arrow of time points to disorder, so evil uses of science are probably inevitable.  But what is so special about science?

Before I answer that, let me explain why my formidable mind has this topic at the top of its queue.  Recently the New York Times Magazine had an excellent piece on food companies, junk food, and rising obesity.  It's long, but absolutely worth the read (an impassioned endorsement here).  Bottom line: snacks are specifically formulated to make you eat as much of them as possible.  At some level, the companies are required to do this, since as corporations they have to – by law – maximize profits.  But without scientific methods, they wouldn't have succeeded so spectacularly so quickly, and with such devastating results for the nation's health.

Science is just a methodology, or way of doing things.  Observe some phenomena, come up with some guesses as to what causes/explains it, and try to figure out what guess, if any, is right.  The power of this approach doesn't emerge, however, until we keep track of everyone's observations, guesses, and tests.  In this situation, progress can be quick since bad ideas can't last.  Aristotle's ideas, for example, were completely wrong and yet persisted for TWO THOUSAND YEARS, because that's not what was done (and in the Platonic worldview, it should be sufficient to just sit around and think about things, just like some theorists I know).  When ideas are free – but falsifiable ones not tolerated – it's amazing what we can learn.

But, there's no moral compass: if you want to efficiently find out how to get people to try, buy, and become addicted to your food-like product irrespective of the consequences, then – as Greg Kelly would say –

To summarize:
1) Science is a tool, like a hammer: use it to build a house for your neighbor, or to bash his head in.
2) Plato and Aristotle were assholes.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Butterflies? More like Butter Flies...

I was feeling pretty good tonight — had a pie plate worth of salad (oh, the very best way to eat leafy greens), baked avocados with egg, and some strawberries in yogurt.  I was energized; so much so, I thought I'd jump online and see what the internet was up to.  Big mistake.

It was up to this.

First of all, is there anyone out there in the weather predicting community, anyone, who would claim, even for a second, that a butterfly's hapless flapping could cause any appreciable change in weather at any point?  Not if they are at all competent.  I mean, if the tiniest of pressure fluctuations could impact the weather so, what would the result of a baseball stadium full of fans doing "the wave" be?  Tornadoes, that's what.  While I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the turdblossom over at The Turbulent Scientist suggested that does indeed happen, he'd be — surprise, surprise — completely wrong.
What I think of the term "the butterfly effect."
The true tragedy is that the concept behind the term "the butterfly effect" is real and extremely cool, despite being poorly named.  Of course, turdblossom totally glossed over this point, so here I am to the rescue again.  The concept is that even if we can describe something completely with deterministic laws, it is practically impossible to predict the future.  Take Angry Birds for example: imagine you're shooting the bomber bird at a complex tower and need to time the drop of the bomb-egg perfectly.  If you're like me, it'll take several tries to maximize the elimination of those greedy pigs.  Sometimes, despite how similar the angle of launch and the timing of the drop is attempt to attempt, each try will get wildly different results.   Sometimes I crush all the despicable if delicious pigs, sometimes I miss each and every one.  Even though each attempt is very similar, the slight differences between them lead to very different outcomes.  Systems like this are called chaotic (yup, the technical term), and the study of such systems falls under the purview of chaos theory.

Weather can also be chaotic, but not because of butterflies.  Sometimes small differences in place-to-place temperatures, pressures, etc., can lead to very different weather predictions.  But these small differences are still much bigger than even a swarm of flies whizzing around a rancid pile of butter could produce.

And oh, let me just mention how CUTE The Turbulent Scientist's little tool is.  That's nice that they could paint a cheesy little sea monster on it.  You can't do that to my tools, because they're in OUTER SPACE:

NuSTAR, the great and powerful.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Some Data are Better Than Others

Some embarrassments on the interweb are not worthy of notice, but some must be stopped before they can spread their poison to the innocents.  It saddens me that I must be the one to debunk this tomfoolery, but someone must rise to defeat evil, or we're all doomed.

Firstly, I must concede that he is technically correct about data being data.  But he is soooo wrong about me having "data envy."  I mean, sometimes I literally get THOUSANDS of photons.  Know what I can do with them?  Lots.  And you know what's really cool?  They come (usually) from things millions of light-years away, not invented in some lame, Earth-bound adding machine.

However, these things I study do tend to always be "background dominated."  Hence the name of the blog.  Background is like static, or noise, in a detector.  Since we only get new telescopes, like NuSTAR, once in a blue moon, we work hard to detect the faintest things we can, which means searching for signals in the static.  That's what you see in the background of this blog — the noisy "background" from one of the detectors on the NuSTAR hard X-ray observatory.

The Turbulent Scientist's data are like imaginary friends.  Sure, you can invent tons of these "friends," but at the end of the day, they don't really exist.  I may not have as many friends, but at least they exist.  BOOM!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Speaking of this Turbulent Scientist fellow, I hear he simulates fake accretion disks around stars and black holes.  He calls the result of these simulations "data."  Let me tell you, that's just a bunch of hooey.  Can he compare his results directly to observations?  Heck no.  So he can say whatever he likes, and no one can point to REAL data and tell him he's either right or (more likely) wrong.  Is that science?  Look up the definition of science, and you tell me.

Just another reason to ignore this horror-show of a blog.  Bah.
Welcome.  I was all excited to share the wonders of my life and X-ray astronomy with the world, but then I happened upon The Turbulent Scientist.  Now I must devote this blog to undermining all the nonsense, baloney, absurdity, bunk, claptrap, foolishness, inanity, and thoughtless ranting prattle that that poor excuse for a blog is destined to become.  I mean, did you SEE the opening post?  First of all, it went on and on -- I nodded off part way through -- and at the end I could barely remember where I was or what I was doing, so little was said with so many pointless words.

This guy must be one incredible loser.  He probably doesn't even have the fortitude to change out of his PJs on a Saturday, and yet he thinks actual upright citizens will care about his two cents!  The gall!  With your help, humble Internet, we shall shame him back to the sad silence from whence he came.  It probably won't be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

I mean, I bought a soldering iron today.  Want to know why?  I'd like you to know why.  It'd make you a better person, the knowing, I can tell you that.  But you won't find out, not until HE has been exterminated!