It’s the End of the World as we Know it

A rip-off of this YouTube video (Japanese, I think) with some captions added in, a Pink Floyd soundtrack dubbed over and the size of the asteroid stated as being 5 times larger, it is still *very* cool and very humbling to watch.

Given that they’ve taken such liberties with the original I can’t say that I trust the statements they make but it’s food for thought nonetheless.

It’s this kind of event that we hedge ourselves against when we finally manage to establish a presence off-world.

Posted under Science, Very Cool

This post was written by Marc
on September 20, 2008 at 11:38 pm

In Las Vegas for TAM6

Ooh La LaTAM6 is “The Amazing Meeting” ‘s 6th incarnation. Since I’ve been listening to and reading about many of these folks for years I thought it would be a lot of fun to attend this year to see these folks live and interact with some like minded folks.

TAM spans Thursday through Sunday but my chief interest was with the core Friday and Saturday presentations so that’s what I signed up for. Michelle and I flew down on Wednesday so we could enjoy some time in Las Vegas doing some of the “strip” stuff together before I went off to attend the TAM presentations.
As luck would have it, my mother decided she could join us, so Mich and her could have fun together when I’m not there. For the uninitiated among you, Mich and my mom get along together famously so this is actually a *good* thing… just ask her yourself! 🙂

On Wednesday (June 18) Mich and I arrived in Las Vegas at about 3:30 pm and immediately headed out to do a bit of exploring on the strip. Wow! It’s as hot as I remember from my last trip back in 2001. Every time you go outside it’s as if you are opening an oven door. 106 degrees and 5% humidity. Oh yeah baby!

Anyway, after bopping over to Treasure Island to pick up our show tickets for that night (Mystere) we headed over to Margaritaville and enjoyed some libations and split an excellent club sandwich (I recommend it).

Mystere was superb. I’m not sure if there’s a bad seat in the house. I sat 4 rows back from the stage about 45 degrees off of center. What a spectacle that was!

This is the third, permanent venue (not in tents), Cirque de Soleil that I’ve seen and I would recommend any of them. As amazing as Mystere was, my absolute favorite so far is “O” and I would go back and see that one again any day in a heartbeat.

Just one gripe so far, I’m sure this applies to all the hotels here, but I’m staying at the Flamingo (since that’s where TAM 6 is being hosted and I wanted to be close to the action) and MAN, do they ever nickel and dime you to death for EVERYTHING! When I got to my room and tried to access the internet I found that there was a daily charge for it ($13). In checking back to see the room descriptions I see that I had interpretted “Internet Data Port” as meaning actual access rather than merely the (needed to be paid for) potential for access. I haven’t had to pay for internet access in a hotel room in years.
Also, I just came back from attempting to access the fitness center where I was surprised to find there was a $10 a day access fee. Since I had shown up with just my workout clothes room key and my iPod I was not in a position to shell out for this. I’ve *never* had to shell out for a fitness center before.

I suppose it’s truly a capitalist venture. Not everybody who uses a hotel room needs internet access and far fewer still take advantage of the fitness center, so it could be argued that it makes sense to have folks pay for exactly the amenities that they use.

Thursday had us exploring the city (visited the Stratosphere – it’s definitely past its prime). As with the last time we were here, Caesar’s Palace is always entertaining. Enjoyed lunch at “Mon Ami Gabi” one of the restaurants associated with the Paris Casino and Hotel. On the outdoor patio you can watch the fountains of the Bellagio hotel go through their gyrations, something we really love.

That evening we attended “The Blue Man Group” show and, as expected, we loved it too. We saw them when we were last in Las Vegas and they didn’t disappoint this time either. Always lively and fun! Afterwards we had dinner in the Venetian “The Grand Lux Cafe” – another recommendation from me – the food is great. And the server girls in the casino are sporting easily my favorite outfits on the strip.

James "The Amazing" RandiFriday saw me at TAM 6 so Mich and my mother went on the town. Check out my Flickr set for pictures and some brief opinions from TAM 6. I won’t go into the content because, frankly, many others have already done that and they do a better job of it than I would. I *really* enjoyed watching the recording of “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe”, Neil deGrasse Tyson gave a great talk and, surprisingly, Alec Jason’s talk about forensics was fascinating. In truth I have to say I loved pretty much everything. The exceptions I noted in my Flickr stream.

That evening we ate at “The Eiffel Tower Restaurant”, again in the Paris Hotel. We had a great view of the Bellagio Fountains which are truly breathtaking at night.
The meal was incredibly expensive, but in Vegas you largely do get what you pay for. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a filet mignon as wonderfully tender as the one I was served. Exquisite!

That night I came down with a terrible cold and ended up missing the 2nd day of TAM 6. I was very disappointed (frankly I just slept and blew my nose all day) I REALLY wanted to hear Phil Plait’s and Michael Shermer’s talks. I understand there was a problem with the audio recordings made of TAM and that there is a chance that the DVDs may not be available for that day. I’m keeping my eyes open, I hope they are able to piece those together from audience-captured audio.
Just as bad, I missed Penn & Teller’s show that night. Mich ended up going alone as my mom had already purchased tickets to see Elton John that night.
Michelle as quite thrilled that she was seated only a couple of rows away from Adam Savage (one of the few TAM folks that she would recognize). Penn & Teller’s show was, I am told, fabulous too. 🙁 Next time!!!

Later Saturday night Mich came in after having won something like $80 on the slot machines (I was still recovering from my cold so I stayed in), but my mom came in at some crazy hour (2 am?) after hitting a jackpot and cleared $2,940 (before $900 was expropriated by “da gummint” – something puzzling to a Canadian where winnings are not taxable).

So Sunday morning started with a grand room service feast which we enjoyed before packing up to head back home.

Posted under Photos, Science, Skepticism, Travel

This post was written by Marc
on August 10, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Schlieren Photography

Continuing with my fascination for altered time and space perception (through mechanical means), I had not heard about Schlieren Photography until I saw this video on Slashdot Review over the weekend.

The balloon (what is it about balloons?) was one of my favorites, but the towel was cute. The shockwaves emanating from piston shots was instructive. In some cases you can actually see the bullet overtaking the shockwave from the initial firing of the weapon.

Posted under Science, Very Cool

This post was written by Marc
on May 5, 2008 at 7:56 pm

Near Relativistic Travel Question

I was listening to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe episode #128 where they discussed the realities of near relativistic speed travel. One thing I was not clear on was, what happens if you need to have a fleet of ships exploring all of them traveling to the same destination from the same destination?

2 scenarios:

1) You travel some tiny percentage of light faster than your companion ships.  Do you arrive, and now that you’re not traveling at the same speed as the other ships, have to wait potentially thousands of years for your fellow ships?

2) You’re all accelerating at exactly the same rate and traveling at exactly the same speed. But because of relativity, all other ships experience thousands or even millions of years for your journey and you, likewise experience such for their journeys? So, in effect, you’d all vanish relative to each other and you’d never see each other again?

I’ve sent them an email with this question but I’m sure they get so many that they won’t be able to respond (ah, the problems of popularity…).

Posted under Astronomy, Science

This post was written by Marc
on January 8, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Mich and I just finished watching Nova’s “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” on PBS.

I was very pleased to see that the ID proponents got their butts handed to them in their outrageous attempt to further dilute what is already considered to be a shaky science curriculum. We very much need to grow up, put away the fairy tales and begin to accept what life has to offer us without hiding behind our mother’s skirts.

What was very clear to me from the statements of the ID proponents was that the point of the judgment against their actions was completely lost on them. I too believe, as George W. Bush was stated to have said, that ID needs to be discussed and presented to students so that they understand these issues. But the proper forum for ID is NOT a science class. *Social Science* perhaps, for it’s relevance in society today, or mythology, for it’s quaint point of view for folks unable to grasp epochal aeons of time (check out my opinion in the 7th paragraph of this blog entry) .

I have to say that the scariest part of the show was the discussion about “The Wedge” strategy whose primary instigator seeks nothing less than a complete regression of folks’ literacy and life outlook to a more religious perspective. Let’s see… can we think of a time when that was the case?  Hmmm.. Yes, indeed, it was called “the dark ages”.

Posted under Metaphysics, Opinions, Science

This post was written by Marc
on November 17, 2007 at 11:33 pm

Hollow Point Through Gelatin

Again with the slow motion. As I’ve mentioned before I’m a sucker for time lapse and accelerated photography.

The world is such a product of our perception and, as amazing and full as the world as we know it is, step yourself down or up in time rate and it becomes a completely new realm.

There is so much that we don’t understand until we can look at it from a different time perspective. The growth of plants, the movement of animals, the explosion of a balloon. All of these are revealed to us as exciting dynamics so completely different from our initial conception when explored in an alternate time sense…

Posted under Science, Very Cool

This post was written by Marc
on November 16, 2007 at 9:38 pm

James Randi explains homeopathy

Wow! Pretty succinct… well as succinct as 14 1/2 minutes can be. But a very good description of Homeopathy nonetheless.

When I was younger I explored a lot of alternative practices and was very seriously considering entering the field as well. Fortunately, my grades in university in computer science were so much better than my grades in my pre-med subjects that they convinced me that my forte really lay in programming and analytical pursuits.

There is so much to know in this world that you often have to pick your authorities for the things you don’t have the time or inclination to pursue yourself. You end up trusting folks’ word and believe that they know what they are talking about. Of course, implicit in this is the assumption that they have either done the research themselves, reviewed the research first-hand or that their choice of a trusted authority has a good handle on the subject.
Homeopathy, was something that I was never able to reconcile with reality. The testing modality assumed “energies” that could not be measured and treatments that relied on “vibrations” or “energies” that could not be detected or explained.

The premise of “like cures like” was a wild stab in the dark from a pre-science era and was pretty cool reasoning for its time. But with the advent of the scientific method, understanding that perhaps 60% of anything you’d see a doctor about will fix itself ultimately anyway, and knowledge that the placebo effect is quite a powerful one, it seems clear that folks need to weigh the efficacy of such a questionable and unproven modality. Especially one that can be so expensive.

I *do* rather wish Mr. Randi had taken a few moments to explain Avagadro’s number a bit more carefully. Basically, Avagadro’s number expresses how many molecules would be contained in a quantity of a substance whose mass in grams is equal to it’s formula weight (thanks Wikipedia!). i.e. a mole of Carbon-12 atoms would be 12 grams. So his argument for the odds of finding even a single molecule in the quantity represented is modestly tainted

Posted under Opinions, Science, Skepticism

This post was written by Marc
on September 23, 2007 at 11:33 am