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Comment: Not bad - sorry your scope is so small. ;) (Score 1) 146

by Shag (#46753623) Attached to: The Best Way To Watch the "Blood Moon" Tonight

I'm stuck spending the night at an 8.3-meter with a bunch of people who're tinkering with something called "Visible Aperture Masking Polarimetric Interferometer for Resolving Exoplanetary Signatures” - VAMPIRES for short. Unfortunately, we're not lasering the moon, or doing spectroscopy of it during totality like we did last eclipse (you can measure elemental abundances and pollutants in Earth's atmosphere that way, nifty). But at least we're somewhere that it all happens 2 hours earlier in the evening than on the west coast. :)

Comment: But what did he end up flying on? Not that easy. (Score 1) 144

by Shag (#46660449) Attached to: Hacker Holds Key To Free Flights

Most airlines have assigned seats. Most airlines have computers that know who's supposed to be in each seat and also know who's bought tickets. So on most airlines, that fake boarding pass is going to be pretty tricky. And using passbook is just a more hip way of the old "print a fake boarding pass" trick.

You could make a "no seat assignment" boarding pass, which often happens when a flight is booked full except for rows that are blocked (exits, front row of economy blocked for the handicapped, etc). Then you go to the gate, ask the gate agent for a seat assignment, all perfectly normal... except that you're not going to be in the computer, so at the very least, there's an element of social engineering.

You could make a "no seat assignment" boarding pass for an earlier/later flight, and if the computer at the gate were so dumb it didn't know about any flight but the current one, you might be able to "stand by."

Making a "no seat assignment" boarding pass for a different airline entirely ... well, they'd probably want to know why you had been sent over to them. And they'd probably want someone at the other airline to sign off on it. Odds might be a tiny bit better if the airline you chose was a partner, but not in a joint venture involving shared access to customer records. If Delta and Alaska both have flights between a pair of cities, make a fake boarding pass for the one that leaves first, show up at the other one after it's left, claiming you missed your flight and asking to stand by.

Of course there's also the non-rev standby category, but for that you need to fake an airline ID and uniform... and that's a lot more risky.

So I'm guessing this guy may be flying an airline that lacks assigned seats, and maybe isn't all that great at IT in general... which means congrats, you're getting flights on either Ryanair or something even worse, for £0 instead of £1 they usually charge. ;)

I don't know when I'll have the opportunity, but next time I'm heading through a certain airport where I have lounge access and am friends with the lounge staff, I'll see if I can make a few "modified" boarding passes and see what happens when they scan them, just for amusement. Like if I'm in economy on a domestic flight to Los Angeles, make one that says I'm in business class on the upper deck of a 747 to Tokyo, and see what they say when it doesn't show up in the computer.

Comment: Comparing Berkeley to Berkeley? (Score 1) 127

by Shag (#46630235) Attached to: State Colleges May Offer Best ROI On Comp Sci Degrees

Berkeley is, if the (UK) Times Higher Education Supplement Rankings are to be believed, one of the top 10 universities in the world - and top three in engineering and technology. I'm pretty sure that constitutes "elite" standing. But in this article, it's treated as a "top-tier public university." Is it both?

Comment: Re: The meaning of 'conservation' (Score 1) 188

by Shag (#46624435) Attached to: UN Court: Japanese Whaling "Not Scientific"

American deer are plentiful not only because their natural predators got beat back, but in large part because of conservation efforts by hunters all around the country that has preserved plenty of natural habitat for them to flourish in. This is the meaning of 'conservation' - we are not trying to turn the world into a petting zoo, we like to eat venison.

Or as someone high-up in a sustainability organization once said to me after a beer or two, "Sustainable development is about your grandkids being able to shoot Bambi, too."

Comment: Re:Ouch! (Score 1) 33

by Shag (#46416485) Attached to: Type Ia Supernovae As Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles

It's pretty sad when the 35 authors can take paper space acknowledge the culturally significant role that the observatory site has for the indigenous Hawaiians, but can't specifically acknowledge the people who took the data.

Uh, they can, and they did, but you'd have to read the remainder of the paragraph to discover that - and for some reason, they don't refer to me by my Slashdot username. ;) Occasionally I'll also proofread papers (I know more about English than astrophysics or cosmology) and get thanked for that, too.

The author list for peer-reviewed stuff is mostly full members of the collaboration - folks with Ph.D's, folks doing their Ph.D's on collaboration stuff, folks who wrote the custom data warehouse software, and of course Saul Perlmutter. (It never hurts to have someone with a Nobel in your author list, right?) I'm not a Ph.D, and probably never will be, although I'd like to finish my MSc someday. I am on the broader authors list for occasional "Astronomer's Telegram" announcements we send out after taking spectra of a newly discovered thing and figuring out what type of SN it is, how far pre- or post-maximum it is, and how far away it is.

Comment: Re:This is the Phillips relation - known for 20 ye (Score 3, Informative) 33

by Shag (#46414317) Attached to: Type Ia Supernovae As Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles


The relation between light curve width and how bright SN are has been known since at least 1993 (Phillips, M., 1993, ApJ 413, L105). This was corrected for even in the original work that won the Nobel prize. So, the 'they aren't quite so standard candles' has been known for 20 years - what they are is 'standardizable' candles.


I don't see the SuperNova Factory taking credit for discovering the relationship between light curve width and luminosity (the Phillips relation, which is indeed well-known, and made the discovery of Dark Energy with Type Ia supernovae possible).

Well... the Phillips Relationship is "well-known" in much the same way that these supernovae are "nearby" - to the people in that specific very narrow field of expertise. Yes, Wikipedia has an article on it, but I'd expect it to be unknown to the average adult walking down the street, the average amateur astronomer, the average Jeopardy contestant, the average undergraduate or first-year graduate astronomy student, or even the average science popularizer who isn't specifically dealing with supernovae. Just last month, I overheard one long-time amateur astronomer still telling tourists at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station that all SNe Ia are the same mass and brightness!

But anyway, as the 2nd AC said, the newer/more interesting bit is the relationship to progenitor mass, and the continued trend toward SNe Ia coming from diverse progenitors - i.e. the more we look, the more "exceptions to the rule" we find. We're already to the point where it looks like most SNe Ia aren't from single, Chandrasekhar-mass progenitors as was long thought to be the "norm," and the paper discusses some models for progenitors of varying masses that meet with varying degrees of success in attempting to match the observational results. I suspect the computational / theoretical / modeling folks will also have fun with it all.

Comment: Re:so how far off is this? (Score 4, Informative) 33

by Shag (#46413215) Attached to: Type Ia Supernovae As Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles

I don't think it's going to make a difference. In fact, I'm not quite sure whether the dark energy research that got the Nobel was strictly limited to type Ia supernovae - it was before my time, and since they were using high-Z (very distant) supernovae, they might have wanted more massive type II ones, or something.

For about a decade, people have accepted that some SNe Ia are "over the limit" (under arrest!) and have developed "double-degenerate" models of colliding white dwarf stars. As sky surveys discover more and more, it's started to become apparent that there are also some "under the limit." This project has studied hundreds of supernovae over the last decade, and looked pretty closely at how they evolve over time. The reassuring part of the paper is that even though these supernovae are nowhere near all the same mass blowing up every time, they're still within a reasonably sensible range (0.9 to 1.4 solar masses) and that by watching what brightness they reach at their peaks, and how quickly they decline in brightness, and looking at their spectral curves (all of which are among the things that this particular collaboration looks at), astrophysicists can calculate their masses, and thus make any necessary adjustments to compensate for that. And by the standards of astrophysicists and cosmologists, the math required to "standardize" progenitors of different masses is probably considered "easy." Of course, these are the same people who think "nearby" means 0.4-1.0 billion light years away...

Disclaimer: I am not an astrophysicist of any kind. I got involved in astronomy a decade ago, and took a few classes 5 years ago, but my roles are overwhelmingly technical or operations, and when it comes to science, I am always the "village idiot" surrounded by PhD's. I'm not the guy who'll give a lecture about what the telescope's pointing at - I'm the guy who'll fix the telescope so it points at it in the first place. I'll take data - in this particular case, over a 10-year project, I'll probably rank #1 or #2 in terms of amount of time spent taking data - but I don't do the analysis or write the papers. My background was in things like systems administration, spamfighting, web development, etc., as one would expect of someone with my user number here.

+ - Type Ia Supernovae as Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles

Submitted by Shag
Shag (3737) writes "Type Ia supernovae are used as cosmological "standard candles" to measure distance because of their strong similarity to one another. This has made possible, for example, the research into universal expansion that led to the Nobel-winning discovery of "dark energy." For years, astrophysicists believed white dwarves exploded when they accreted enough mass from companion stars to reach a limit of 1.38 times the mass of our Sun. A decade ago, the "Champagne supernova" (SN 2003fg) was so bright astrophysicists concluded the limit had been exceeded by two white dwarves colliding. Now a new paper from the Nearby Supernova Factory collaboration suggests that type Ia supernovae occur at a wider range of stellar masses. Fortunately, there appears to be a calculable correlation between mass and light-curve width, so they can still fill the "standard candle" role, and research based on them is probably still valid. (I took data for the paper, but am not an author.)"

Comment: There still seems to be plenty of data in science (Score 1) 139

by Shag (#46411569) Attached to: 'Data Science' Is Dead

Our current-generation workhorse instruments here at the telescope spit out tens of gigabytes per night as it is. The new camera we've been commissioning produces something like two gigabytes per exposure. And oh, yes, that data has to be archived, reduced, analyzed, etc., using things like IRAF or IDL. (Not my job.)

Comment: Re:Plenty More Reasons To Hate (Score 1) 742

by Shag (#46318693) Attached to: "Microsoft Killed My Pappy"

This, or at least some of these... although I can think of some you've missed. (PlaysForSure? Windows phones that couldn't be upgraded to new OS versions?)

The whole anti-trust mess could have been, should have been, a moment for Microsoft to really change course and do things differently and better. Timing-wise, it happened around the same time Steve Jobs returned to Apple and started killing off beige rectangular computers, and around the time Linux was starting to hit its stride and be seen as a viable alternative to commercial UNIXes. But other than ditching DOS-based Windows with all its vulnerabilities for VMS-based Windows which has turned out to somehow have plenty of them as well, and some of the time managing to arrive at a version that works reasonably well (2000, XP, 7)... I just haven't seen it.

Sure, Microsoft made people hate them and their products back in the day, but for the last 15 years it's been much more a problem of just failing to give people reasons to like the company or its products enough to perceive them as sensible options to whatever else is out there.

Comment: Three governments, you say? (Score 1) 299

by Shag (#46208667) Attached to: Online, You're Being Watched At All Times; Act Accordingly.

Well, gosh... considering my laptop contains stuff from my .gov job, and my .ca job, and another job for which the foreign-CCTLD email has stopped working, that's three countries right there.

(But that said, I'm about to rearrange some stuff on the drive so that if any representative of one government asks to access the machine, I log into the account that contains their stuff, and don't in the process give them trivially easy access to any stuff, passwords, etc. related to the work I do for the others...)

Comment: Re:Shouldn't have to run oil by rail (Score 3, Interesting) 199

by Shag (#45835523) Attached to: Oil Train Explosion Triggers Evacuation In North Dakota

Thank everyone against which pipeline? Keystone? Phase 1 has been operational since 2010 - and oh, look, it runs right through North Dakota. If I recall, phase 2 is built now too (somewhere else in the country) and phase 3 (part of Keystone XL) is under construction to connect those phases to the gulf coast. Oh, did you mean phase 4 of Keystone XL? That wouldn't even run through North Dakota... but if they build it, apparently that'd be another 2% of US daily oil consumption in pipelines.

I'd be very interested in knowing where this train came from and was going to, 'cos it sounds like it must not have been going where the perfectly good existing pipeline goes, or where any of the proposed bits would go.

"I have just one word for you, my boy...plastics." - from "The Graduate"