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The Best Way To Watch the "Blood Moon" Tonight

Shag Not bad - sorry your scope is so small. ;) (144 comments)

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. :)

2 days ago

Hacker Holds Key To Free Flights

Shag But what did he end up flying on? Not that easy. (144 comments)

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.

about two weeks ago

State Colleges May Offer Best ROI On Comp Sci Degrees

Shag Comparing Berkeley to Berkeley? (127 comments)

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?

about two weeks ago

UN Court: Japanese Whaling "Not Scientific"

Shag Re: The meaning of 'conservation' (188 comments)

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."

about two weeks ago

Type Ia Supernovae As Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles

Shag Re:Ouch! (33 comments)

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.

about a month and a half ago

Type Ia Supernovae As Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles

Shag Re:This is the Phillips relation - known for 20 ye (33 comments)


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.

about a month and a half ago

Type Ia Supernovae As Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles

Shag Re:so how far off is this? (33 comments)

for me a redshift of 3 or 4 is very much low redshift. Come to that, redshifts of 300 are low redshift.

Just as long as you don't claim things are "nearby." Even at the redshifts we deal with (0.03-0.08), you can't get a pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less.

about a month and a half ago

Type Ia Supernovae As Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles

Shag Re:Reassuring (33 comments)

I thought "Further research is needed" was code for "we have seventeen more papers in the works, all of which will cite this one and each of the others, thus inflating our g-index and h-index numbers."

about a month and a half ago

Type Ia Supernovae As Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles

Shag Re:so how far off is this? (33 comments)

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.

about a month and a half ago

'Data Science' Is Dead

Shag There still seems to be plenty of data in science (139 comments)

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.)

about a month and a half ago

"Microsoft Killed My Pappy"

Shag Re:Plenty More Reasons To Hate (742 comments)

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.

about 2 months ago

Online, You're Being Watched At All Times; Act Accordingly.

Shag Three governments, you say? (299 comments)

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...)

about 2 months ago

Military Electronics That Shatter Into Dust On Command

Shag Can't wait for it to reach the private sector (221 comments)

Miss enough payments, and all the circuitry inside your computer, your car, the home theater you got from Rent-A-Center, or whatever... *poof*

Of course, it'll put a lot of repo-men out of work...

about 2 months ago

Oil Train Explosion Triggers Evacuation In North Dakota

Shag Re:Shouldn't have to run oil by rail (199 comments)

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.

about 4 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Getting an Uncooperative Website To Delete One's Account?

Shag Re:Violate the TOS (171 comments)

Had to do this with MySpace once - their signup process accepted email address containing a + and their deletion process didn't.

After falsifying all the profile information and adjusting the age, my account left several publicly-visible comments about "Tom" and Rupert Murdoch...


about 4 months ago

Is the Porsche Carrera GT Too Dangerous?

Shag Re:Most are missing the point (961 comments)

While not professional drivers Walker and the driver were on a race team together and did plenty of circuit races. The guy driving has a GT3 so is more than familiar with the class of cars in question. Each had many more hours logged racing than any pilot would have flying before being able to get his flight license. It's easy to blame the driver, and it could rightly end up that way. However, the question of whether the car malfunctioned or should not be considered street legal should also be asked.

Among other questions. I have a friend/colleague at NASA JPL who has a Cayenne, takes it to Porsche Owners Club "track days" in the area, is actually a driving instructor for POC. He's had it almost a year, and so far the only troubles have been an engine fire on the track (some fluid overflow is positioned on top of the engine, whoops) and whatever has caused the car to currently be undergoing "open transmission surgery." I asked him about the crash, and he said he doesn't at all run in the same circles as Walker or Rodas, but that Rodas is enough of a professional that the idea of a car getting away from him is very surprising, and there will probably also have to be autopsies (gruesome, given the state of the bodies post-fire) to see whether someone had a medical emergency resulting in the loss of control.

So you've got a very highly tuned car, known for being a bit "finicky" and not immune to various parts failing, driven by a highly trained driver who's also not immune to various parts of him failing. I think I'll wait for the official report of the investigation.

about 4 months ago

Is the Porsche Carrera GT Too Dangerous?

Shag Re:Most are missing the point (961 comments)

Limit on that road is 45, yes? Strange kind of racing that doesn't go over the speed limit. ;)

about 4 months ago

GOCE Satellite Burned Up Over Falkland Islands

Shag Re:British territory? (107 comments)

Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas, as the Argentine people call them, are disputed territory. British forces usurped the islands from the Argentine authorities in the first half of the 19th century. OK, a stupid military government went to war to try to divert the attention of the Argentine citizens form the internal problems. And thanks to their military defeat democracy finally returned (18 months after the start of the war). But still, Argentina has the right to ask to have them back.

I dearly hope I'm not the only slashdotter who hangs around the UN, so that someone else can back me up on this.

Quite often, in the course of a meeting on something-or-other at the UN, subject-matter experts will be brought in for panel presentations.

Not terribly infrequently, one of the English-speaking experts, not knowing any better, will include a map of whatever (squid fisheries was the last one I personally recall) showing the Falkland Islands.

*ominous chord*

The delegate from Argentina will duck out of the room to call his capital.

The delegate from the UK will do likewise.

A short time later, the delegate from Argentina will ask for the floor, and read a statement to the effect that the Islas Malvinas rightfully belong to Argentina, and that the UK is bad and wrong and all that. The UK will then be asked if they wish to comment, and will read a statement to the effect that the Falklands have been under UK rule for some time, and that in keeping with its practice of divesting itself of various colonies and possessions around the world, and in keeping with the parts of the UN Charter about non-self-governing territories being helped toward independence, the UK would be delighted to be rid of them, squid and all - if the residents of the Falklands themselves were okay with it, and if the UK could be reasonably assured that granting the Falklands independence would not simply lead to Argentina immediately trying to take over them again.

And then, the delegates from the UK and Argentina will go back to being the best of friends, because they are after all diplomats and not the least bit personally interested in perpetuating this silly game.

about 5 months ago

WxWidgets 3.0: First Major Release in Several Years

Shag But what does it really mean in practice? (147 comments)

If I'm parsing this all correctly, this is great news because it means I can port my graphical C++ (or whatever language, with hooks to C++) applications from Linux to Windows or OSX (or from Windows to Linux or OSX, or from OSX to Linux or Windows, whatever the case may be) without having to worry about UI widgetry.

Of course, unless my applications are already written in a language WxWidgets likes, and don't make any calls to other platform-dependent things (DirectX, I'm looking at you), this sounds like it makes my job a little easier, but not a whole lot. Admittedly, I haven't tried porting graphical apps across platforms before, so for all I know, getting the UI widgetry right could very well be 90% of the work.

I'm guessing I'm still going to need my platform-specific compilers/SDKs/IDEs on each platform for this all to feed into, as well. On the Mac side (the last place I built a graphical app, and that was several large cats ago) I'm a little unsure how using this with C++ or whatever is going to save me time over using Xcode with ObjC.

I welcome responses or thoughts on the pros and cons of all this, either from the WxWidgets folks themselves, or from other devs.

about 5 months ago

What Apple Does and Doesn't Know About You

Shag Re:Does apple sell that info? (214 comments)

This may sound quaint, but back in the day, retailers and service providers knew their customers. In market segments where you can't just buy everything online, some still do. I'm on first-name basis with lots of people I buy things or services from in my small city. And honestly, I can get better service if they actually keep track of some info.

I have to get my car an annual safety check. If I forget, and the sticker is super out of date, I could get a ticket or something. Fortunately, I have a really great mechanic - so great that when I first started taking cars to him a decade or so ago, he was "just" a mechanic, and he now co-owns the service station. Great guy, seriously, and a good dad too; I run into him and his daughter sometimes around town. So I take the car to his station every year. Similarly, I have a dentist I go to. Years ago, we used to take turns driving each other's kids to school, so I've known his whole family for almost a decade now. Back then I didn't have dental insurance, but when I needed a dentist, he was the one I called, and when I got insurance, I stuck with him. He knows his stuff, and his support staff are all friendly too; his wife works the front office and his daughter that I used to drive to school does X-rays now. Of course, since I go there, my whole family goes there. So... real small-town Americana stuff, ya know?

Every time I see the dentist, we decide when my next appointment will be. Sometimes I have to change it due to work obligations. But about a week ahead of time, I get a postcard in the mail reminding me, and a couple days ahead of time, they give me a call to confirm. They're really good at this, and they apply it across their entire customer base, so they know ahead of time when somebody's cancelling/rescheduling an appointment and freeing up a slot that they can use for somebody who needs urgent work done.

On the other hand, the service station just puts a sticker on the inside of my windshield to remind me what month or mileage my next oil change should be at. They don't give me any kind of reminder about my safety check coming up for renewal - even though I consistently go to them, when I could go almost anywhere to get it done. On the rare occasions that my wife gets the car fueled (she isn't the do-it-herself kind), people at other stations will point out to her that it's coming up for renewal.

Scaling up a bit, you've probably heard the story about how Target knows us better than we know ourselves - guy notices that his regular ads from Target suddenly have a lot of baby-oriented things in them, wonders why, only later discovers that his daughter is preggers. Target knows what I buy and spits out coupons that are at least more relevant than Google ads. Safeway does likewise, and will even give me special offers above and beyond their "club card" prices on things they know I like (or think I might).

So if Apple collects that kind of data - customer records, usage records, behavioral stuff - for the purpose of providing better service to me, please forgive me if I don't immediately pick up a torch and a pitchfork and storm 1 Infinite Loop with the rest of the villagers.

Not to say that Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and the rest never do anything of the kind - right off the top of my head, "People you may know" features are actually fairly helpful - but the fact that Apple actually has a substantial "brick and mortar" retail presence that sells large amounts of physical, kickable things seems to help keep them from completely forgetting what "customer service" is about.

about 5 months ago



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

Shag Shag writes  |  about a month and a half ago

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.)"

A distinctly non-Apple unboxing experience

Shag Shag writes  |  about a year ago

Shag (3737) writes "My wife is a huge fan of James Bond movies, so this year's 50th anniversary "Bond 50" boxed set was the perfect birthday present. To keep her from guessing what it was, I provided an "unboxing experience" very different from the typical iProduct, featuring 4 boxes, 9 layers of wrapping, and additional weights. But like those other folks, I took photos of the process... unsurprisingly, she's vowed revenge."
Link to Original Source

United Nations names Ambassador to Aliens

Shag Shag writes  |  more than 3 years ago

Shag writes "Although searches for extraterrestrial intelligence have thus far come up empty, the United Nations appears to be preparing for eventual "first contact." Many media outlets are carrying the story that Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist who heads the UN's Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna — already charged with things like keeping track of satellites to prevent Kessler Syndrome and coordinating the international response to any earth-impacting asteroids — will be the first person to meet with aliens if they do show up."
Link to Original Source

Adobe co-founders, Blue Gene get National Medal of

Shag Shag writes  |  more than 3 years ago

Shag writes "Adobe co-founders John Warnock and Charles Geschke and IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer are among the recipients of the 2008 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, announced today by President Obama and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The awards will be handed out at an October 7 White House ceremony."
Link to Original Source

Thirty Meter Telescope to be Built in Hawaii

Shag Shag writes  |  more than 4 years ago

Shag writes "The planners of the Thirty Meter Telescope have chosen a plateau near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii as the site where the telescope will be constructed. (Cerro Armazones, in Chile, was the other possibility.) The telescope will use a mirror of hexagonal segments, like those first used at the Keck Observatory, but where each Keck telescope mirror is made up of 36 segments, the TMT mirror will have 494. Construction is expected to take close to a decade, once the permitting process is completed."
Link to Original Source

Finding planets by our nearest neighboring stars

Shag Shag writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Shag writes "A lot of astronomers look for planets around other stars, but a team in California have come up with a plan for finding Earth-like planets around Alpha Centauri B, one of our nearest neighboring stars, less than 5 light-years away. Manned spacecraft would take 100 millennia to get there at speeds we've already achieved, but if the faster speeds necessary for interstellar travel are ever attained, this star system could be an excellent first stop."
Link to Original Source


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