Evening classes at Wichita State University were abruptly cancelled Tuesday evening, March 13, 1990, because of a tornado warning. There was no obvious threatening weather visible from the campus, so the Fortran instructor and I chatted for a while in the student union basement. Back in Michigan where he came from, he told me, they had real monster tornadoes, not the tame little wimpy ones that frolic on the prairie.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be cruising by our planet later this month:
Ranked in terms of distance from Earth, this will be the 20th closest approach of a comet dating as far back as the ninth century A.D., and the tenth closest approach since 1950. The minimum distance between 46P and the Earth (perigee) will be 11,586,350 kilometers (7,199,427 miles), occurring December 16, 2018, at 13:06 Universal Time, a little less than four days after the comet passes its minimum distance from the Sun of 187 million kilometers (98.1 million miles).
Don’t expect a thrilling show. Despite its close approach, this one will probably not be another Hale-Bopp. It may reach 3rd magnitude, but even so it will likely be difficult to see if conditions aren’t excellent.1 And if you do find it, it probably won’t look like the popular image of a comet with a bright nucleus and tail, but instead will be a circular cloud in the sky a little brighter toward the center. The moon will be bright then, too, which won’t help.
Oliver Heaviside never won a Nobel Price, although he was nominated for the physics prize in 1912. He shouldn’t have felt too bad, though, as other nominees passed over for the prize that year included Hendrik Lorentz, Ernst Mach, Max Planck, and Albert Einstein. (The winner that year was Gustaf Dalén, “for his invention of automatic regulators for use in conjunction with gas accumulators for illuminating lighthouses and buoys”—oh well.)
Here’s an interactive celestial panorama, courtesy of NASA and ESO. You can see both visible light and gamma ray views of the skies. Check out the gamma ray constellations, which are rather different from their traditional conterparts.
Cells at Work was by far the best show of the summer that I sampled (though the unheralded We Rent Tsukomogami deserves more attention than it’s received) and is probably the best “educational” show ever made. Here a real live doctor comments on the first episode, finding it as accurate as it is entertaining.
The 2018 winners of the IgNobel Prize were announced earlier this month, recognizing noteworthy research in many fields. Perhaps the most provocative this year was the Nutrition Prize, awarded to James Cole “… for calculating that the caloric intake from a human-cannibalism diet is significantly lower than the caloric intake from most other traditional meat diets.” I’m not sure I look forward to the diet books that Cole’s work will inspire.
Update: The above camera is off now, but here’s another.
Update II, May 19:
When the live feed ends, go to the YouTube page and look at the linked videos on the right to find another active webcam. Or check here.
Gunung Agung on Bali may be ramping up to an eruption. If so, this could be more than interesting on the densely-populated island. Agung’s 1963 eruption was VEI5, i.e., at least as large as Mt. St. Helen’s in 1980. It has some noteworthy neighbors nearby on the Sunda arc. Rinjani is visible from Agung’s summit when the weather is clear. Tambora is a bit further east.
Meanwhile, there is a state of emergency on Ambae in Vanuatu.
Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid? That was a topic investigated by one of the scientists honored at the 2017 Ig Nobel Prizes last Thursday. Other researchers receiving Ig Nobels studied such topics as didgeridoo playing as a treatment for sleep apnea and snoring, how exposure to a live crocodile influences gambling behavior, the size of old men’s ears, walking backwards with a cup of coffee, whether identical twins can tell themselves apart, and other recondite topics.
John Salmon mentions the Voyager spacecraft, which were launched 40 years ago in August and September. These, along with Pioneer 10 and 11, launched five and four years earlier, are four of the five spacecraft leaving the Solar System, and are the most distant man-made objects at this time. NASA is planning a quiet little celebration Tuesday.
I’m alive again after an unpleasant two weeks. I’ve got a lot of cleaning and catching up to do, so I’ll continue to be scarce here.
A few things that caught my eye or ear recently:
I have a little list of words and phrases that tell me everything I need to know about the people who use them. So does J Greely.
Mozart and Chagall.
There’s a live-action version of Tonari no Seki-kun. You don’t need to know Japanese to follow the story.
Bonus link: Vulcanologist Erik Klemetti counts down his list of the ten most dangerous volcanoes. If you’re thinking of investing in European real estate, forget Naples.
Dear [Beautiful but Evil Space Princess],
Every time I capture the hero, I get this overwhelming urge to spill the entire plan, including the way out. How can I stop myself from giving it all away?
Evil Underlord who can’t quite make the big leagues
Oh, Sweetie. This is a compulsion written into you by the author. You must use aversion therapy. Have one of your underlings dress up as the hero, and when you start spilling things, force yourself to do something really distasteful. I don’t know, pet a puppy or give sweets to children or something, until you break the compulsion.
It’s all right. If you manage to cure yourself, you can blend the puppies into a nice smoothie afterwards and it will make you feel much better.
I’m not a professional political scientist or sociologist. Then again, neither were Washington, Adams, Jefferson and that crowd ….
The election of Trump is, in many senses, stupid. However, it is far, far wiser and more in keeping with the idea that we, the people, are the defenders of the Republic to elect Trump than to elect someone who is beloved of Harvard. On the scale of errors one can make in a Republic, electing an arrogant and impulsive side-show barker is far to be prefered to electing someone whose fundamental goal is making elections irrelevant.
… humans have never had to deal with the problems that come from too much food and too much free time to consume it. We really have no idea what will come from it and how it will hurt or help society. There could very well be a huge upside to having lots of fat people. Perhaps when the zombie apocalypse comes, the zombies will eat the fat people and be satisfied, leaving the rest of us to regroup.
When I’m ruler of these lands, the people responsible for embedded, autoplay video will be torn to pieces and fed to the dogs.
I’ll never forget when John Updike reviewed a book on how FDR’s policies lengthened the Great Depression. Updike basically said that because FDR cared, and was trying, that was worth more than shortening the Depression.
Via Dustbury, who also notes that
That word “bipartisan” should set off an alarm: it almost always means that both sides are in cahoots and Up to Something.
A bit of spirited horticultural history, from a comment at an AoSHQ food thread:
One food arena where the US used to be the best in the world and is now near the bottom of the pack is cider (i.e. alcoholic fermented cider.)
Back in the Revolutionary War era cider was the #1 drink in the nation, far surpassing beer or wine or hard liquor. And people had planted the right kind of apple trees all over the country (as it existed then), so there was always a big supply of the raw material.
In fact, Johnny Appleseed didn’t go around planting edible apple trees — he went around planting cider apple trees! A detail that is now lost to most people’s imaginations of history.
“But wait,” you’re saying, “there’s a difference between edible apples and cider apples?”
Yes indeed. There are three fundamental “types” of apples:
“Sweet apples,” which is what we now think of simply as “apples” — the big crunchy sweet kind that you can eat.
“Sour apples,” now mostly known as “crabapples,” which are mostly useless except for making things with their pectin.
“Bitter apples,” now mostly unknown in the US, but still planted widely in France and England. THESE are the apples you are supposed to make true cider out of. As the name implies, they’re slightly too bitter to eat, but their chemical makeup is absolutely perfect for fermenting a delicious kind of apple cider, a process during which the bitterness goes away.
If you’ve ever tasted true cider made from bitter apples (which is what they serve you in Somerset and Normandy), you’ll know that cider made from sweet apples is atrocious by comparison.
And that’s the tragic part of our story.
Because of the arrival of so many German and Bohemian and Polish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century in the US, beer started to surpass cider in popularity nationwide, and then when Prohibition hit, cider production was stopped entirely. And what happened was that ALL — or almost all — the bitter apple trees in the United States were left to die or were torn out and make room for more useful trees.
So that by the time Prohibition ended, there was no longer any way to make true cider in any quantity, and as a result beer took over the casual drinking market almost 100%. Wine only started to make inroads in the ’60s and ’70s. But cider remain completely forgotten by then.
That is until about 8 years ago, when the “small batch cider” renaissance started in the US, with small startups making cider from apples.
Sweet apples, that is — because that’s all that we have in the US anymore! Yuck!
Cider made from sweet apples is just wrong to a true cider aficionado. So no matter how much effort these America cider microbreweries put into their product, it will never match up to French and British ciders.
In fact, until just a couple years ago, most American cidermakers didn’t even know about the existence of bitter apples and didn’t know they were doing it fundamentally wrong.
Finally a few people have wised up, and they’ve started planting bitter apple trees in the US again, but it will still be several years before they are up and producing in sufficient numbers to create enough true cider for the masses.
Until then, we must suffer with an inferior American product! Frowney face!
It looks like the Brickmuppet will get a reprieve from Matthew. Down in Orlando, William Luse might not be as lucky. He links back to his posts from 2004, when Charley and friends paid visits to the Florida peninsula.
Update: The Brickmuppet’s luck ran out.
Derek Lowe recently added another post to his “Things I won’t work with” file, this one dealing with a feisty nitrogen compound (“Recall that this is the compound whose cocrystal with TNT is actually less dangerous than the pure starting material itself….”) and anhydrous hydrogen peroxide.
I am told that I barely talked at all until I was nearly four, though when I did start chattering, it was in complete sentences. I was perhaps fortunate that this was back in the dark ages, when autism was a rare and exotic affliction and few people had even heard of Asperger’s.
Last week’s earthquake has been upgraded to 5.8, the strongest ever recorded in Oklahoma. I came across a gif of quakes in the 48 states from 2005 on. Keep your eye on northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas.
While I might have felt earthquakes at a greater frequency during the year I lived in San Francisco, during the past few years I have experienced a larger number here in Kansas than in all the years I lived in the allegedly more seismically-active west, most recently earlier this hour.
One of the few videos of a phreatic blowout on Iwo Jima turned out to not be phreatic at all. Instead it was heat affecting an old 16 inch shell from Iowa that had fallen into the ocean. As the spot inflated up and became the new beach it dried out and heated and “boom”. Volcanic artillery is something of a novelty. Cryptoshelling with magmatic release…