Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?

Comment Why should the government write these contracts? (Score 4, Insightful) 1083 1083

Time to un-ask the question - instead: Why do we let the government write these social contracts in the first place? The only roll the government should be to adjudicate the contracts in case of a conflict. People should write their own contracts. And why should being in a private contract give one special rights?

Special rights to special groups is how the government divides the people and enslaves us.

I think anyone that wants to bind themselves with such a contract should be free to. I don't see scrapping the rule of law (this is a state issue at best) as being a good idea. - the ends don't justify the means.

I celebrate freedom - not the end of the rule-of-law.

Comment Re:Watch a movie of V404 Cyg in the optical (Score 2) 58 58

My apologies. I should have marked the position of the variable star. I've just modified the web page so that the initial picture indicates the target -- click on that initial picture to see the movie. Thanks for pointing that out.

since you're doing such extensive image processing anyway, why not correct for the blooming of bright stars and make them all the same size and shape?

Well, in part, because I'm an astronomer, not a cinematographer, so my ability to make nice movies is rather limited. I could claim that there's some pedagogical value in seeing the ugly nature of the real scientific images, but, actually, that would just be covering up for the fact that I'm lazy.

Comment Re:Watch a movie of V404 Cyg in the optical (Score 4, Interesting) 58 58

Good idea. We astronomers try to eliminate such possibilities by measuring OTHER stars nearby and comparing their variations to those of the target. In this case, nearby stars didn't vary over the night, so we can rule out clouds in the Earth's atmosphere, which would have affected them all.

Now, it's possible that a cloud near the star itself could have something to do with this variation .... but the timescale for motions of such big objects is almost always far longer than a few hours. So, it's more likely that the variations are due to changes in the luminosity of the accretion disk around the black hole than to the motions of a big obscuring cloud in this case.

Comment Watch a movie of V404 Cyg in the optical (Score 4, Informative) 58 58

I've been using our university's observatory to take images of V404 Cyg for the past week. On Jun 23/24, the star underwent a particularly crazy series of variations: over a period of six hours, it fell to just 5 percent of its initial brightness, then recovered almost to its starting point.

I made an animated GIF showing the star's changes over this period. You can see it on my observing log for the the night:


That page also includes my full dataset, and pointers to additional reading.

The star is currently bright enough -- mag 11-14 -- to be studied easily with small telescopes. Anyone interested in joining the effort should start with the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) -- go to their campaign page at


Comment Systemd has been a surprise. (Score 1) 128 128

i had read all the negative stuff about systemd - expected a nightmare - updated a couple of machines - small learning curve - but guess what - I ended up liking it. The system found some bugs for me that had eluded me for a long time.

Big deal - I type systemctl start daemon (tab complete works here) instead of /etc/init.d/daemon . I suppose some of you are just too old to learn anything new. Yes change is work - and I'm lazy - but this is obviously the future.

And despite the disinformation posted here - you could remove systemd if you want - but it would be stupid to.

About systemd - Louder isn't righter..

Comment Reality hits the fan.. (Score 1) 1032 1032

Of course that is stealing. You also got scammed but two wrongs don't make it right.

Here is the rub - back in the '70s they started the 'open admissions' bit - anyone could get in if the government was helping fund the school. Drop-out rates were very high - but the schools REALLY like all the money coming in - the solution - lower the standards. The race to the bottom continues. The result - most degrees are worthless. (yes - new MDs scare the hell out of me)

Some examples - I just finished helping a new Mechanical Engineer fix a machine - I asked if the heater was proportional control or duty-cycle - he was actually a bright kid - just went through engineering school without learning even the basics of control loops(KU).

I told this story to a second student that is finishing up his Chemical Engineering degree - he also had no idea of even the basics of control loops (and yes real CE is all about control loops). He said he knows he is getting ripped off - non of his teachers have worked in industry - they have no idea of anything outside of academic parrot and preach. He met students from Brazil and was amazed - they were quite competent - had learned all sorts of stuff about chemical processing that he had missed out on. So now he is pissed - he realizes his degree isn't worth much - he will have to work as an intern and hopefully learn enough to keep a job. Yet, he has a massive debt.

The point is that going to school today gives one a sense of entitlement, a huge debt, and no portable skills. There is this idea of return on investment - learning to weld might be a better idea.

Comment Easy solution - switch to Debian (Score 0) 216 216

The latest release of Debian - called jessie is quite nice. There are good reasons to use an operating system that makes it clear what is free(as in freedom) software and what is not. Non free software can be fine - but often you and your personal information is the real product.

I would further say - without diminishing the work contributed by other distros - Debian is the heart and core of Open source software.

Comment Postmodernisim has infected Physics (Score 1) 364 364

Postmodernisim - the philosophy that really says that it is easy to be biased - so they don't even try.

And yes, real science is REALLY hard to do. So we get to the point where everyones opinion is just as valid as anyones else's - so if you have someone that believes in gravity and someone that doesn't - they should compromise?

Yes - we need theorists in physics - no we don't need theorists that build on unproven theorists that build on further unproven stuff. You end up with a bunch of junk that is worthless. (Yes - the results of science need to have some value - ability to predict things etc. )

There is a quote to this effect:

Give me four parameters and I can fit an elephant;
Give me five and I can wag its tail.
(The source of the above quote?? Variants have been
attributed to C.F. Gauss, Niels Bohr, Lord Kelvin, Enrico Fermi.)

Of course, producing worthless papers of speculation paid for with government grants (which come from people that actually work) - I suppose it is more fun than having to make it in the real world.

Comment Re:Crookes Radiometer (Score 4, Interesting) 265 265

Actually, just what I was thinking (today nobody remembers Crookes (I named a cat after him)). Key bit of missing information in the article - how good a vacuum? Really matters. And just measuring a hard vacuum as made fools out of a lot of people.

There are other possibilities - our country paid people to publish false and misleading papers (no - they have not been retracted) . This doesn't even become news IMO until it is published and replicated.

The amount of technology that has been 'borrowed' by the Chinese is mind boggling - unprecedented. Yet it takes a particular kind of culture to understand the technology in a way that lets them synthesize further progress. A lot of the papers I see coming out of China are just 'cargo cult science' - looks like science - but it isn't. It takes a particular set of values - held dear and close to the heart - to do real science.

The grant proposal industry has diluted the quality of papers so that a very small minority represent real science. I would think of this as likely just bad science once again.

Comment Link to the full article, freely available ... (Score 4, Informative) 21 21

... thanks to arXiv:


This event is VERY interesting and unusual because the microlensing event was observed from two very different places: on Earth, and from the Spitzer Space Telescope, which is many millions of km away from the Earth. Gravitational lensing occurs when a background star and a lensing star line up exactly in the same direction, as seen from an observer. Because Spitzer was so far away, it saw the lensing star line up with the background star first; then, as the lensing star moved in its orbit around the center of the Milky Way, the lensing star eventually lined up with the background star as seen from Earth, about 18 days later.

This lag in time between two widely separated observers seeing a lensing event will help us to figure out exactly how the two stars involved in the event were moving, and where they are, and other properties. Since most telescopes are located on Earth, in basically the same place, we almost never get this extra information.

Rah, rah, Spitzer! Rah, rah, OGLE!

Comment We just covered this paper in our class last week (Score 2) 43 43

I'm co-teaching a graduate course on exoplanets, and we talked about this paper in one of our meetings last week. Here's the link to our discussion of "spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres:"


You can read all our materials at



Comment Link to the full article, freely available (Score 5, Informative) 199 199

The summary has a link to a paywalled article (silly Ethan). The full article is freely available to all on the arXiv preprint server:


I'm peripherally involved with the supernova field, though I study only the nearby examples. There has been for years the understanding that IF a difference should arise between the nearby events that we can study well, and the distant events which appear dimly and vaguely, AND if we did not realize that such a difference existed, THEN we could reach incorrect conclusions.

Scientists in the field have worried about this for years. It's not a sudden new realization.

It's very pleasant to see that a space telescope -- SWIFT -- which was built to study one type of object (gamma ray bursts) has turned out to provide vital information on a different type (supernovae). Since it is in space, it can detect ultraviolet light, and so show us that some nearby supernovae emit different amounts of ultraviolet light, even though they appear similar in the optical region. This UV difference hints at differences in chemical composition between supernovae, which may indeed be significant when we try to study very distant events with other telescopes.

Fortunately, light from those distant events is redshifted into the optical regime, so we can use very large ground-based telescopes to see the same UV light and compare it to the nearby events.

It's a very interesting field to follow: things change on timescales of 3-5 years. And yes, we are more aware of the uncertainties in the business than some news articles might imply.

Comment Re:Frist Psot (Score 1) 323 323


Randal Monroe pretty much has this to say about the "freedom of speech" argument: "... but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express ."

I will never take an argument like yours seriously ever again. I will defend free speech, but I will not side with folks who use it to be jerks, which is what cyberbullying is.

"Ignorance is the soil in which belief in miracles grows." -- Robert G. Ingersoll