A rare feat

15 June 2006

Instructions for viewing the planet Venus during the daytime:

1. Look up when the Moon is both up during the daytime and near Venus. Friday 23 June is a good instance coming up.

2. Go outside. Cover up the Sun with one hand. Do not look directly at the Sun. Then, with the Sun obscured, look for the Moon.

3. Keeping your eyes focused at the distance of the Moon, scan the sky nearby for Venus. It is pretty bright, so the trick is to just kind of relax and scan near the Moon for a minute or two. You’ll know when you see it.

The real problems with finding Venus during the day are figuring out what part of the sky to look in and keeping your eyes focused at the right distance, and having the Moon nearby takes care of both of those.

This is also one of those astronomy events that is cool irrespective of location–this will work as long as the Moon and Venus are both above the horizon. It will be tougher in cities because of air pollution, but the daytime aspect means that for now light pollution is irrelevant.

Don’t listen to the doubters on this one.

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I suppose the reformation produced by these meteors was like the appearance of the meteors themselves–of very short duration. I have no faith in any repentance grounded upon objects of faith.

-Samuel Rogers in Toils & Struggles of the Olden Times, talking about the 1833 Leonid meteor shower.

It is heartening that there are many smart, active, humane people out there. I spent the evening talking to my friend Elizabeth, who is midway through a graduate program in environmental management and back doing some research at Kiholo Bay here on the island. I reflected on friends in or recently graduated from law school, PhD programs, and so on. And I felt pretty good about social activism and an emerging liberal electorate.

Then, seeking more intellects vast and cool and sympathetic I read this freaky piece of news. We need more smart, active, humane people.

Lots of planets

13 June 2006

It happens fairly often that there are a bunch of planets in the same part of the sky. They don’t really make neat alignments, spreading out in a ragged line like runners a ways into their race. But standing in the parking lot outside a coffee shop tonight, I could pick out Jupiter bright in the East, Saturn & Mars close together in the West, and low above Mauna Kea, Mercury flickered spastically.

Not bad, lacking only Venus of the naked eye crowd.

It’s a good time to go stargazing or to a planetarium or perhaps `Imiloa Astronomy Center.

Anyway, check out the sky.

Philisophiae Naturalis Pricipia Mathematica, probably the most important single work ever published in the physical sciences.

So says Stephen Hawking, no less, in A Brief History of Time. Is this work by Newton important and influential compared to say, Fredrick Douglass? What does it teach us about being human, even if it explicitly defines the human universe? What does it say that we can point to specific works that tell us about everything else, but no single system of thought, let alone single idea, book, or religion, that tells us about ourselves. Why don’t we understant us?

Is that the most important thing out there?

Can we face trying to answer it?

And, just to muddy the waters a bit, the following:

Nothing ever sells a book except for a fit of collective insanity on the part of the public.
-Richard Aldington

Approximately 75% of firefighters in the United States are volunteers. If you live in a city of perhaps 100,000 or more people, there is almost certainly a cadre of paid staff who protect the municipal area, but many suburbs and rural areas are protected by volunteers.

Without entering into a discussion of sematics for ‘professional,’ versus ‘amateur,’ it is important to remember that these people have chosen to fulfill their civic responsibility by helping others in times of crisis. Volunteer firefighters are not blameless, nor are they saints, but they deserve to be recognized as contributing members of the community if they conduct themselves as such.

Most fire stations have the doors open when somebody is there, and they rarely shy away from visitors stopping by and introducing themselves. Getting to know these people before they show up in their official capacity can be a valuable contact, and who knows, you might even find yourself offering to help with something.

The best firefighters I know are not six-foot, square-jawed, weight lifters, but people who put effort and concientiousness into their duties. Find out who your local emergency service workers are, and you will both benefit from the knowledge.

How do we show time?

10 June 2006

I’m sure that I’m about the umpteenth person to be interested by the relationship between the Clock of the Long Now and the Antikythera Mechanism, but both are just too cool not to talk about some more. And while we’re talking about gadgets that display time, check out the Digital Sundial. I want one (of each, natch).

Each of those is so neat because the creators pretty much wear their temporal hearts on their sleeves. The purpose of each device is implicit in its design, though I think only the first one qualifies as having done that intentionally.

Solar time is another one of those deals, like the appearance of the Moon, that reveals more and more the closer you look at it. And one of those things that is very easy for us to dismiss as trivial because we have basically free substitutes in calendars and clocks and so on.

What to wear?

10 June 2006

Tickets from the San Francisco Opera arrived today. Very exciting–Marriage of Figaro and Madama Butterfly back-to-back. I am definitely looking forward to my first live opera experience. Given how large the difference usually is between recordings and regular live music, I expect that this will be even more dramatic.
To those who find too much colonialism, or irrelevance, or shrieking in opera, I have two words: Maria Callas. While the 20th century stuff on the radio today (with a chorus of sirens–ambulance not classically female–and sung in English to boot; double feh) was awful, I’ll take Puccini or Mozart any day of the week.
Anyway, I’ll probably go on about it again, but more H&PS (a la Ron Amundsen) soon.