Sunday, December 23, 2007

Billions and Billions

I have been having great fun with Google Sky. It's amazing, some of the views of deep sky objects, particularly galaxies and clusters, that are there. I have been going through the nearest objects in the Abell catalog of clusters, sometimes the detail as you zoom in is breathtaking. But you also find that Abell is definitely not the greatest. It came out in 1957. The distance class I think was determined based on brightness, not redshift, and some of them definitely seem off. Also, I've run across some clusters you would think should be there are but not. I need to start noting those. You can query the Abell catalog here. You can also query the Zwicky catalog online here. I've also been putting in galaxies, groups, globular clusters, and supernova remnants (only 3). I then started on the Arp Atlas of Pecular Galaxies. These have a lot of interacting and otherwise interesting galaxies. (Halton Arp was somewhat of a heretic in the 1970's, positing that some large galaxy redshifts were non-cosmological in origin -- the result of a galaxy being spit out by another galaxy, rather than reflecting the expansion of the universe. He wound up moving to Europe.)

So, I was looking at Arp 280 (NGC 3769) and noticed the beautiful spiral NGC 3726 nearby -- with a comet headed straight for it (joke)!!! So I went to the Google Sky forums to see if anyone else had noticed it -- maybe I'd discovered a comet! But, others in the forums had seen it, but no one had identified it. So, I googled "NGC 3726 comet" and this was the 1st link. This says that the comet is Comet C/2001 RX14 (LINEAR) -- it was only discovered in 2001, pretty cool. The comet is here: 11:31:54.06 47:07:51.11

So I posted that to the forum and got kudoed by the moderator. Ooh, ahh, praise. I then answered another post about a Herbig-Haro object, and then posted the following to someone asking about clusters of galaxies:

Clusters of galaxies are the brightest extragalactic objects in X-ray astronomy. Here's a few of my favorites that google sky gives a wonderful view of:
  • Abell 426, the Perseus cluster, at 3:19:48 41.5117. This is the brightest extragalactic X-ray source in the sky. It's fairly close to us ( 76 Mpc; Mpc = megaparsec = 3.262 million light years -- this (and kpc Kiloparsecs) is the unit astronomers use for extragalactic distances). The central galaxy NGC 1275, radio source Perseus A, is crazy energetic. It looks like there's a spiral in there tearing into something else. Unfortunately, google sky's picture of the whole cluster is not the best. Note also, it's somewhat near the plane of our galaxy (the Milky Way), so there's a fair number of foreground stars obscuring the galaxies.
  • Abell 1656, the Coma cluster, at 13:00:08 27.9765 -- the richest cluster close to us (97 Mpc). The google sky view is beautiful, two giant cD galaxies (100 times as big as a normal large galaxy) in the middle. The bright spots in them are smaller galaxies in the process of being digested -- that's how the cD's get so big.
  • Abell 2151, the Hercules cluster, at 16:05:08 17.7293. This almost looks like 2 or 3 clusters merging. There are several galaxies that look like they are trying to be cD's. There are 3 pairs of interacting spirals. The google sky picture is wonderful.
  • Abell 2199, at 16:28:38 39.5513. This has a single central cD galaxy busily gobbling up smaller galaxies. The google sky picture has wonderful detail.
A426 is kind of disappointing -- in some parts of the sky the galaxies are detailed and full colored, others they are just blobs -- A426 is the latter. But the inlaid Hubble picture of NGC 1275, when I first saw it, blew me away. I spent over a year studying on this galaxy back in the day, suddenly you get to see a close-up!

I think I am going to donate some of my cycles to this particular group mind. The forums seem to have a fair amount of interest in astronomy and not a lot of knowledge.

Read the 4th book of Charles Stross' "Merchant Prince" series, "The Merchants' War. This was a very enjoyable read. This series now has several interesting threads running, I think he would write a dozen of these if he wanted to. The 330 pages doesn't seem like enough for the increasing number of threads tho.

Then read his latest near future novel "Halting State". This has some of the elements of the "Atrocity Archives" world stories -- geeky hero, spy thriller stuff, but only a passing reference to H.P. Lovecraft. This novel has some great concepts and bon mots, but for some reason didn't suck me in as it should have -- I put it down for several days twice.

Music goes well. Wednesdays at O'Neill's I've been getting to sing a few, play and sing backup on a few more. "Let the Good Times Roll" by B.B.King is working out, as is my reggae version of "All Along The Watchtower". I got drafted to sing the lead on "Roadhouse Blues" by the Doors. No one knew any more words than I did (the 3rd verse), so I did the 3rd verse, made up a verse, the 3rd and 4th lines of the bridge (that someone shouted at me -- "Save our city", "Right now"), then the 3rd verse. It was fun to do, I've got the words now, have to try it again.

Listening to Albert King live at Montreaux Jazz in 1973 now. After wanting to track down "Where or When" (Rodgers & Hart 1937), I wound up downloading Frank Sinatra "The Best of the Columbia Years 1943-1952" from iTunes. 97 tracks for $9.95, quelle bargain.

Last weekend went to Cornell for the graduation of my last child from college, woo-hoo!!!!! No more tuition payments!!!!! Drove back from Ithaca NY to Columbus OH in a nice snowstorm, but it only took 2 extra hours. It could have been much worse. Only saw 5 cars, 0 semis in the ditch.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Don't Know

So, "I Don't Know" was going to be the title of the song I wrote. But, my youngest's album was "I Don't Know Yet", so I thought "Agnostia", that sounds cool, probably pretty much means "I Don't Know", sold. Hence the title of the last post.

Then, 2 hours later, the Google moment. Man, the days of stoner wisdom are so far behind us now -- "You know, no one's ever thought of this before". Self-deception of this sort is now pretty much right out. So, googling "agnostia" comes up with:

  • A punk/experimental/black metal/christian(???) rock & roll band out of Ft. Walton FL that existed 2000-2003. They have a skull and X-bones in the O of Agnostia.
  • A 20-something's blog posting on Dating Agnostia.
  • A species of orc in
"There is nothing new under the sun." With 6.5 billion of us, this is true 99.999% of the time.

I think though, that "the google check" is a feature rather than a bug. Cause for the .001% of the time that you do come up with something original, you can know it.

Given, of course, that you googled the right term. Re some earlier posts, I was excited when googling "folk ontology" came up with nothing -- because everyone was using the term "folksonomy" instead :-(

Just finished the 4th book of The Merchant Princes series by Charles Stross, "The Merchants' War". This series is totally working, numerous interesting threads, the 336 pages seems way too short. This series is generally considered to be patterned after Roger Zelazny's "Amber" stories -- which after maybe 3 200 page novels was hopelessly confused in its narrative direction. Stross's series is the antithesis of this, at this point I think it could go on for a dozen books and still be coherent. Stross is definitely one of the strongest science fiction/fantasy writers out there now.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


So, I wrote a song! Woo-hoo! Left a sample on my youngest's cell phone (from the band room in the basement) so I wouldn't forget it -- then managed to make it upstairs and record it on the pc, with much more suitable lyrics. Very existentially angsty, totally suitable for a 14 year old, just what I was looking for!

Here's a great antitheist site: Putting numbers to it -- the site states: "In total God kills 371,186 people directly and orders another 1,862,265 people murdered." -- nice!

In other minor antitheist activity, I took exception to an article by a contributing columnist in the Herald-Leader, "Christians should lead fight against global warming". But based on "the enemy of my enemy", I e-mailed the author rather than writing a letter to the editor. I protested the presumption of moral superiority it implied and the exclusivism. We went through about 6 e-mails back and forth before mutually agreeing to a draw. He was a young guy with much more energy than me.

I noticed he chose not to comment on this interesting statistic, from a post at KASES forum: while the percentage of unbelievers in the US is now around 14%, of 74731 inmates in federal prisons listed a religious preference, only 156 or 0.209% were atheist.

Oops, just looking at this again, 18381 out of the total population of 93112 did not answer -- maybe something a non-believer would do? That is 19.7% -- which I think ruins this stat -- oh well.

I thought my birds had all deserted me. Last weekend, I saw only our pair of cardinals -- and a hawk/falcon that swooped overhead early in the morning. So I'm wondering, has the hawk scared everything off? (see prior post). But raking leaves yesterday (all done as of a few minutes ago -- only 45 bags as opposed to 60 last year -- the 3 trees we removed seems to have helped) I saw: purple finches, doves, sparrows, a starling, and juncos. So, the birds are still around. I also got a new feeder, and a metal birdbath to replace our ceramic one for the winter.

Music-out-wise, O'Neil's was a little weird Wednesday. The alpha guitarist Lindsay Olive and keyboardist Bob Hopps were backing Paul Hinberg (sp?) at John Michael's "Battle of the Bands". Plus harpist Dave Harrod was out of town. So, I was offered the principal guitarist role on Tuesday, but I had to go to my wife's xmas dinner. My bass player Ron wound up as principal guitar, and he and Harmonica Red were in charge.

Weirdness comes in when young turk Thaddeus showed up and got to play. I wound up backing him. The music wasn't too bad (compared to times in the past when I've gotten stuck playing with this guy), he gave up the guitar he was playing after 1 song (he perceived it as being out of tune, but I don't think it was the guitar). So his next 2 songs, he was jumping around, screaming, acting crazy, and used some obscenities. I was next to him on stage, I finally found a safe spot with the steps between us. But, this did not go over well with the management -- the guy was pretty scary, very much either naturally or chemically deranged -- and we were told to close down at 10 instead of 11.

Hopefully Thaddeus will find a more suitable venue for his performances. When Dave Harrod and some of the others told him he couldn't play at Lynagh's, he got real nasty and wound up being ejected by one of the bouncers very forcibly. That was pretty ugly, hopefully it won't come to that again.

Notice I have been remiss on music in. Hmmm, going into my iTunes to see what's been added lately, it looks like 3441 of my 6408 tracks have had their "Date Added" set to 11/9/2007 10:37pm. I guess that this was some upgrade activity? Too bad, I wouldn't mind having had that data retained. Anyway, new stuff (cut and pasted from an e-mail reply to my most excellent nephew Greg):

  • New Pornographers, Challengers -- reasonably catchy, 3 stars
  • Levon Helm, Dirt Farmer -- the drummer from The Band, a rock icon, 3 stars
  • A Girl Called Eddy, eponymous -- more chick pop, 3 stars.
  • Mike Bloomfield, If you Love these Blues, Play 'Em as You Please (1976) -- the greatest Jewish blues jazz guitarist of the 70s and 80s; interesting, lots of genres with descriptions of the type and instruments used. 3 stars.
  • Radiohead, In Rainbows -- I decided to pay 5 pounds. 4 stars, great work. If you want this for free, get it quick, I got an e-mail they are closing down the download site.
  • Prefuse 73, Preparations & Interregnums -- very interesting, orchestral hip-hop / electronica -- the star of my NYC techo cruise (blogged here), 3.5 stars.
  • Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover -- very catchy alterna-pop, 3 stars
  • We Versus The Shark, Ruin Everything! --- ditto.
  • Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Safe as Milk -- 1967 conceptual music (it's almost music ...). Surprisingly more conventional than the classic "Trout Mask Replica", 3 stars.
  • Carl Perkins, Sun Recordings -- the king of 50's rockabilly (he wrote "Blue Suede Shoes") -- I want the band to do "Her Love Rubbed Off", 3 stars.
  • Django Reinhardt, Crazy Rhythm vol 1&2 -- the greatest jazz guitarist of the 1930's (a Belgian gypsy) playing with his quintet (3 guitars, bass & violin), and with various small jazz bands, including Coleman Hawkins. 3 stars, with a half dozen 4 star tracks.
  • The Stella-Vees, Come Round Baby. A Lexington blues band who won some "best blues bands" in Memphis and Louisville last year. I have played with their drummer Steve and their harpist Fuzzy many times, and their guitarist Jason once or twice. Very nice production values, very well done. 3 stars.
Finally off the magazine stack, woo-hoo! Reading a new Charlie Stross, clear to read from now to the new year!