Thursday, April 30, 2009

What Is a Telescope If Not a Time Machine?

If you haven't heard, scientists last week watched a star explode 13 billion years ago. Actually, they didn't really watch it. They detected some gamma rays and infrared radiation. From

(CNN) -- Edo Berger got an alert early last Thursday morning when a satellite detected a 10-second blast of energy known as a gamma ray burst coming from outer space.

Telescopes around the world swiveled to focus on the explosion, soon picking up infrared radiation, which is produced after gamma rays in this kind of event. Berger was ready to view the visible light, which should have followed.

It never arrived.

"We were kind of blown away. We immediately knew what that meant," Berger said.

What it meant was that he was looking at the oldest thing ever spotted -- an enormous star exploding 13 billion years ago.

The star was between 30 and 100 times larger than the sun and exploded 600 million years after the universe formed. Radiation from the explosion reached us last week. That's fantastic.

Next order of business: coming up with a better name for this deceased oldest known star in the universe than GRB 090423.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Think He's Starting to Understand Multiplication

Meyer has been doing spontaneous arithmetic lately. This evening he just blurted out, "10 nines plus 9 is 99."

Don't Expect Much Blogging This Week

My hard drive is fried. I'll try to get it taken care of soon.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Conversation While Gardening

Resha Kate: Here's your shovel, Daddy.

Meyer: Kate, that's not a shovel.
(To Daddy) What's that thing called?

Daddy: A spade.

Meyer: It's a spade, Kate. Not a shovel.

Aside from the obvious problems that arise when small children have access to gardening tools, planting a vegetable garden with the kids was probably the highlight of my weekend. I'm just glad that Meyer and Resha Kate don't realize that I'm an awful gardener.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Four Corners Marker 2.5 Miles Off

My dad alerted me to this disturbing piece of information. From the Associated Press:

News reports this week that the site of the Four Corners monument was off by a whopping 2 1/2 miles drummed up some concern that anyone who ever got down on their hands and knees to touch four states at once had lived a bit of a lie.

Don't lie to me, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. During two vacations (one in 1984 and one in 2001) I have taken detours into the middle of nowhere for the opportunity to be in four states at once. I would hate for those trips to have been taken in vain. (Well, not entirely in vain. I still have a Navajo sand painting from the second of these trips.) So what's going on?

The marker is 1,807.14 feet east of where it should have been placed, said Dave Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor for the National Geodetic Survey, which defines and manages a national coordinate system. That's about the length of six football fields, but Doyle calls the measurement a "home run" given the limited tools surveyors had to work with back then.

So have the millions of Four Corners visitors who have strained their muscles for the chance to have one limb in each of four states been lied to? No:

Not to worry, government officials say. The marker is indeed the only place where four U.S. states meet, even though surveyors were a little off when they set the marker in 1875. . . . "Where the marker is now is accepted," Doyle said. "Even if it's 10 miles off, once it's adopted by the states, which it has been, the numerical errors are irrelevant. It becomes the legal definition" of the Four Corners.

Should We Expect a Green Backlash From the Kids?

Happy Earth Day one day after the fact. I thought this was interesting. Emily Bazelon at Slate asks if we've gone too far in our efforts to raise a green generation. After telling the story of a six-year-old who is already rebelling against "Earth Day" dogma, she writes:

The concept of Earth Day isn't the problem. Nor of course is the gentle reminder that our dear, fragile climate is helped when you remember to turn off the lights or the water (especially if it's hot). Also entirely unobjectionable is the beginner's science lesson about why a warmer planet wouldn't be a great thing. The problem is overkill, and discussions or curricula that don't pay enough attention to what real 6-year-olds (or 9- or 12-year-olds) can take in and grapple with. This is when green becomes the color of propaganda.

(Personally, I think an over emphasis on climate change is part of the problem. Global warming is hard—especially for kids—to understand and observe and several loud, well-funded voices have gone to great lengths to deny that global warming exists, is caused by human activity, or is a problem worth worrying about. I'm not saying that we shouldn't teach kids about global warming. But if we focus more on the non-controversial and easy-to-understand concepts of waste and pollution, the climate—along with the water, the soil, etc.—will take care of itself, so to speak.)

Part of the problem with today's green education, Bazelon suggests, is its gloom-and-doom approach. Instead of fostering in young people an appreciation for the natural world, we have turned the environment into a "source of existential despair." In this regard, efforts to make kids more green are similar to past efforts to keep kids from using drugs. From a 2001 Time article about DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education):

The weakness in the old DARE program, as several studies suggest, was the simplicity of its message — and its panic-level assertions that "drug abuse is everywhere." Kids, program directors learned, don't respond well to hyperbole, and both the "Just Say No" message and the hysteria implied in the anti-drug rhetoric were pushing students away.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lest One Get Too Excited About Bullet Trains . . .

In 2002 in Tennessee Rep. Bob Clement ran against Lamar Alexander, a popular former governor, for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Fred Thompson. During the summer, polls suggested that the race was close, but by October it was clear that Alexander would win easily. Two weeks before the election, I saw Bob Clement speak at a Tying Nashville Together rally. In desperation, knowing that his chances to win were slim or none, Clement said that, if elected, he would work to bring Japanese- and European-style bullet trains to the United States. Up to that point, I had no preference between Clement and Alexander; but his embrace of bullet trains tipped my vote in Clement's favor. I love the idea of high-speed rail.

Thus I was delighted when President Obama last week revealed a plan to devote $8 billion of stimulus money to high-speed rail projects. Unfortunately, the plan is fraught with problems. For one, none of the proposed corridors go through Nashville (or any other city in Tennessee). Bullet trains would serve Birmingham and Charlotte and Louisville and Little Rock but not Nashville and Memphis.

Secondly, as Slate points out, high-speed rail isn't terribly affordable, either for the taxpayer or for the passenger. Moreover, the high-speed trains wouldn't be that much faster than current passenger trains. According to Slate, much of "the high-speed rail would be built using existing track, on which trains can't go much faster than 110 mph." (The term "bullet train" is probably too generous. "Arrow train" would be more accurate.)

So, while I'm glad that the President is talking about fast trains and looking for ways to bring them to the United States, I'll hold my excitement.

He May Have a Future as an Eyewear Model

Malachi in goggles and shades:

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Let Me Transfer You to the Poor Sap Who's Waiting on Your Platelets"

When I was in high school, the National Honor Society sponsored an annual blood drive. One year, my friend and I were responsible for signing up donors in the cafeteria during lunch. We were told to thank people who signed up by informing them that their donation could save six or seven lives. But instead of using the information to encourage people who signed up, my friend used it against those who didn't: "Well, you just killed six or seven people." I thought it was funny at the time. (I still do.)

I recalled the 1995 Perry Meridian High School blood drive this week when I called the Nashville Area Red Cross to cancel an appointment I'd made to donate platelets. As I may have mentioned before, the local Red Cross has a vampiric thirst for my blood and all its component parts. They often call me about donating plasma and platelets, and they have never taken "no" for an answer.

Several weeks ago, I made an appointment to donate platelets this week (because "I'll give you a call when I have a better sense of my schedule" was not an acceptable response), not knowing at the time that I would have no hope of getting away from work long enough to be hooked up to an apheresis machine for two hours (after a half hour of finger pricks, answering questions, and that sort of thing).

So Wednesday I called to cancel/postpone my appointment. (I say "cancel/postpone" because I had every intention of giving platelets at some point in the not-so-distant future, but I wasn't prepared to say exactly when I'd be available.) The person I spoke with at the Red Cross said, "That's OK, thanks for calling" before informing me that there was a particular person anxiously awaiting my particular platelets. Apparently, I am one of few platelet donors in the Nashville area with a B-positive blood type. ("B+: It's my blood type and my college grade point average.") Platelet recipients tend to have leukemia and other very serious illnesses, so by not donating I would be putting someone's life at risk. I would have to choose between my job and not killing someone. Fantastic.

On one hand, it's good to know that my donations aren't just wasting away in a refrigerated storage unit. On the other hand, I can't imagine that official Red Cross policy provides for telling donors that, by opting out of a donation, they are putting someone's life at risk.

Maybe it doesn't matter. I said I'd donate platelets, so I should donate platelets, even if I feel like I have a reasonable excuse not to. Donating blood is one of the few ways in which I actually follow Jesus' example of service and sacrifice. (Otherwise I'm a pretty lousy Christian.) In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus asks some guy to follow him. The unnamed guy responds, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father," to which Jesus answers, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Dad's funeral is a much better excuse for not following Jesus than having to make up a few hours of work, and it still didn't fly with the man from Galilee.

So thanks to Jesus (who always finds ways to make my life more complicated) and to the persistent folks at the Red Cross (who called me again yesterday morning begging me to reschedule), I will be donating platelets next Wednesday and will be taking vacation time to do so. Platelet extraction requires the donor to sit still for two hours with a needle in each arm. Fortunately, donors can watch movies while they give, so I'll probably rent something Tuesday night. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Note: In the picture I'm giving plasma, not platelets.

Related: "A New Picture of Myself, and What Happened to the Free T-Shirts?"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Useless Information: Letters and State Names

Last night Resha Kate, either because of the inclement weather or because she likes to be difficult, wouldn't go to sleep and insisted that I "snuggle" her. Snuggling usually means hanging out Resha Kate until I'm certain that she won't be waking up for several hours. During these snuggle sessions, as I lie in the darkness and silence waiting for my two-year-old to drift into slumber, I pass the time by coming up with word, letter, and number games. (See, for instance, this game that I played with myself while getting Meyer to bed back in 2005.)

Last night, I began by asking the question, "Do all 26 letters of the alphabet appear in at least one of the names of the 50 states?" The answer: "No. 25 if the 26 letters do, but no state name contains a Q. After answering my first question, I posed a second: "Which letter appears in the most state names?" (Note that this question is different than, "Which letter appears the most in state names?") I identified three letters that appear in the names of more than half of the 50 states. By my count:

  • The names of 36 of the 50 states contain an A.

  • The names of 33 of the 50 states contain an N.

  • The names of 28 of the 50 states contain an I.

Let me know if I missed anything.

Update: While I was in the shower this morning, I counted 26 state names that contain an O.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter From the Tinley Kids

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Shouldn't Be So Good

Good Friday is the most somber day on the Christian calendar. Not only did Jesus die a gruesome and publicly humiliating death; his friends and followers also had no idea that the cross wouldn't be the end of the story. As far as they were concerned, the person and way of life in which they had invested their entire being were dead. All of a sudden Jesus' disciples and supporters were like survivors of the Jonestown Massacre.

Good Friday was not and should not be a happy day. Yet I find myself looking forward to Good Friday, because, at my workplace, it is the first paid holiday in nearly three months (since MLK Day back in January). This year Good Friday for me is an opportunity to play with the kids, catch up on Super Mario Galaxy, and possibly run a few errands. Many years Good Friday is a beautiful spring day perfect for taking a walk outside or pushing the kids on the swingset. At least this year's Good Friday forecast is "strong storms and wind with a high of 64." Seems appropriate.

I understand why Good Friday is a paid holiday at my place of employment. (I work for the church.) But it always has seemed strange to me that all Nashville-area schools also get a day off on Good Friday. (Nashville is not alone in this regard. Such also is the case in Evansville, Indiana, where I went to college, and in the Atlanta suburbs where my sister teaches.) Of course, Good Friday is not the official reason why kids are out of school today, but it's no coincidence that each year these schools' "spring holiday" falls on the Friday before Easter.

If school districts and employers really want to appease Christians, they shouldn't cancel school and work on Good Friday. Growing up in Indianapolis, my school district wasn't so eager to push the limits of the Establishment Clause. I always went to school on Good Friday—I suffered while Jesus suffered. If I had left school to attend a Good Friday service during the school day, I would have jeopardized my perfect attendance record. (I went eight years, from fifth grade through my senior year of high school without missing any school.) For me to have participated in Good Friday festivities—"festivities" probably being the wrong word—would have required true sacrifice.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

April 8, 1994: One of the Most Important Days of My Life

15 years ago today the world learned that Kurt Cobain had taken his own life (allegedly) in his Seattle home. As someone whose devotion to Kurt Cobain in the early 1990s was second only to his devotion to God (and, if I'm brutally honest with myself, there were probably times when I was more devoted to Kurt), it was a rough day.

It was a Friday, and I had to work a short shift—from 4:00 until 8:00—at the Wendy's on the corner of Shelby Street and US 31 in Indianapolis. I heard the news on the radio as I was driving to work. I needed to talk to somebody, but I couldn't. (In 1994 few 17-year-olds had cell phones.) Instead, I was stuck at work, holding back my tears as I maintained the Superbar.

After work, I went looking for Tim Gober, a close friend and fellow Nirvana devotee. I finally found him at our friend Smitty's house. (As I recall, Smitty wasn't terribly upset but said that he would have been had Eddie Vedder, rather than Kurt Cobain, been found dead. We eventually forgave him.)

That night, sitting at Smitty's kitchen table listening to the radio play one Nirvana tune after the next, Tim and I decided to start a band. We'd been thinking about doing so for several months. During our 1993–94 winter break—in between morning and afternoon swimming practices—we made several trips to Guitars & More in Greenwood. That January, I bought a bass guitar, Tim bought a regular guitar, and we both bought practice amps. Tim took a few guitar lessons, and I tried teaching myself to play bass (drawing on knowledge from ten years of piano lessons and a brief stint as the first-chair French horn player in the Perry Meridian High School symphonic band). Come April, we weren't ready to start a band, but we couldn't wait any longer. Kurt was dead, and we had to pick up where he'd left off. (Seriously, we said that to each other.)

The following week Tim and I began practicing as a two-piece, writing songs, and looking for a drummer. Within a few weeks, Tim had convinced Brian Fuzzell, our class's best rock 'n' roll percussionist, to join the band on an interim basis. Brian was in another band with friends from another school, and these friends actually knew how to play their instruments. But Brian's primary band had been together for one-and-a-half years and had written one-and-a-half songs. When Tim and I first practiced with Brian on May 5, 1994, we'd already written three. (They were horrible songs, but there were three of them. Click here to download "Dead Frog," the first of those three songs. I warned you; it's awful.) Two months later Tim, Brian, and I played our first show, a six-song set at the TA Skate Shop on the east side of Indianapolis. We booked the show as Liquid Refreshment and played the show as Liquid Diet. By the end of the summer Brian's other band had dissolved.

For the next six years, the band (later known as Drywall and the National Biscuit Company and, in another incarnation, as Pink Mongoose and Three Hit Combo) was my top priority. It was more important to me than school. The band played a role in every close friendship I made between 1995 and 2000 and is responsible for many of the friendships that I maintain still today. Had it not been for the band, I'm not sure that Ashlee and I would have gotten to know each other; and I know at least one other married couple that wouldn't be together if not for Liquid Diet/Drywall/NBC/Pink Mongoose/Three Hit Combo. And were it not for Kurt Cobain committing suicide (allegedly), who knows if Tim and I would have been motivated to start a band in the first place.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Boston U. Represents the UMC in the Frozen Four

Don't expect me to start doing God's Bracket for the NCAA hockey tournament; I just needed an excuse to post a picture of the Hockey Jesus figurine.

Anyway, the Boston University Terriers are the only team from a religiously affiliated school to advance to this year's Frozen Four. And I'm happy to say that Boston U. gets a little money from United Methodist offering plates. The Terriers play Vermont on Thursday. The winner plays either Miami (OH!) or something called Bemidji State.

Only two other religiously affiliated universities were in this year's bracket: Notre Dame (Roman Catholic) and the University of Denver (United Methodist), both of whom lost in the first round. (Princeton historically has had ties to the Presbyterians but is officially nonsectarian.)

Mercyhurst College, a Roman Catholic school, advanced to the women's Frozen Four but lost in the title game to Wisconsin.

Here We Go

Ashlee and I attended Meyer's kindergarten orientation last night, thus beginning what likely will be an 18-year relationship with the Wilson County school system.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Who You Gonna Call? Ernie Hudson

Looks like a second sequel to the greatest movie of all time is in the works. From Comcast:

In September 2008, Columbia Pictures announced that, almost two decades after the last film came out, a new “Ghostbusters” movie is finally in the works. Recently, MTV spoke to Harold Ramis (otherwise known as Dr. Egon Spengler) about the upcoming film and got some exciting news. Most notably, Ramis dished that although the original actors (Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray) will appear in the updated version of the film, their roles will be slightly different.

Rumor has it that Ghostbusters 3 will feature a new generation of Ghostbusters and that Judd Apatow will be producing the film. These rumors have led to speculation that Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd, Jason Segal, and the like will be donning proton packs.

Rumors aside, re-read this sentence: "Ramis dished that although the original actors (Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray) will appear in the updated version of the film, their roles will be slightly different." Now answer me this question: "How many Ghostbusters were there?" If you answered "three," you're part of the problem. Absent from the parenthetical list of "original actors" is Ernie Hudson who played Winston Zeddemore.

Excluding Hudson is nothing new. His name didn't even appear on the promo posters for the original movie. But leaving off Winston Zeddemore in a list of Ghostbusters is akin to leaving off George Harrison in a list of Beatles.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Next Time Someone Asks Me Why I'm a Vegetarian . . .

. . . I might point them to this piece by Kathy Freston at Huffington Post. I am not entirely sure where all of these numbers come from and therefore cannot be entirely sure if they are accurate, but I feel safe saying that my being a vegetarian makes up for my using the dryer to unwrinkle my pants this morning:

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save:

  • 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months;

  • 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year; . . .

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would prevent:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much as produced by all of France;

  • 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages;

The article has many more numbers and factoids that paint vegetarianism as a green diet. (I'm still not entirely sure what happens to all the cows after we decide to stop eating them. It seems like we'll have to get through a couple generations of uneaten cows with longer-than-normal lifespans before we see the real benefits of the no-burgers-for-the-planet's-sake movement.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Just in Time for Passover: A Facebook Haggadah

This is great:

The Passover Seder, the oldest continuously observed religious ceremony in the world, tells the story of the Jews' Exodus from Egypt. Jewish tradition says that people of each generation must imagine that they personally had departed from Egypt, and the sages say that each generation must tell the story in its own terms.

The sages probably did not intend this.

Click here to see what the sages did not intend.

Hat tip: Steven Waldman