Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Great Piece on Norman Borlaug, May He Rest In Peace....

"Norman Borlaug, who has just died at age 95 in Dallas, was an exception among living Nobel Peace Prize beneficiaries: he actually deserved the award, which he received in 1970......."

You can read the rest here....the author of the article makes this exquisite point at the end..

"The wonderful legacy of the Green Revolution that Norman Borlaug gave birth to should be better known, not only for what it brought to mankind, but also as a permanent lesson for the future. Honest science, when coupled with entrepreneurship and reliable government, can solve the major threats to human life. The oldest human plague, famine, has been eradicated through these means. The next human plague, whatever it may be, deserves similar treatment."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years On..........

I'm not sure why I feel compelled to write this, as there are plenty of other bloggers and pundits who will produce much more eloquent dissertations on the immediate impact and subsequent fallout from the events occurring on this day eight years ago, but for some reason I just feel as though I should.

Maybe for posterity? Who knows.

On September 11th, 2001 I was coming to the end of my morning commute on Nashville's interstate system, listening to the usual lackluster comic failings of the Bob and Tom show on the radio. Following yet another lamely attempted dick joke, Kristi Lee broke in to the broadcast with a news update about a "plane that has apparently hit the World Trade Center", which at first just seemed like another odd news item that would be explained away as some sort of tragic accident in which a few people died but would soon be forgotten. But instead of Bob and Tom making some wort of wise ass remark about the accident, you could hear a somber quizzical tone from the voices on the radio, as if something was horribly wrong about this news. After about two turns off the interstate I rushed to my desk to get online and find some more news about the incident as my sister was working in Manhattan at the time, and I was worried she might be near what I thought was a horrible accident. As soon as I got online, the second plane hit the other tower, and all naïve assumptions about this event being an accident vanished, and the sinister reality that this was a planned terrorist attack began to unveil its ugly truth. At first everyone in the office was pretty much ignoring the story and working on their business as usual, despite the news feeds blowing up on every major news site. Gradually the reality of the situation permeated the office until everyone started to go in to what I call "work cruise control" where everyone concentrates on the immediate task at hand, ignoring what's happening away from the office as a sort of defense mechanism. Finally the two towers collapsed and the pictures and video started to show up online. My attempts to contact my sister were -much like everyone else who had any family or friends in Manhattan- completely hopeless, and I began to fear the worst. My sister actually had plans to eat lunch with a friend at the towers that day, and luckily for me and my family, she had not been downtown before the collapse of the towers. I finally was able to reach her around noon because she had stayed home in the Brooklyn area, and she told me about the friend she was to have lunch with who showed up at her apartment covered in soot from the towers. The whole days events just seemed far too surreal to comprehend, and it wasn't until I got home and turned on the news that the reality of what had happened truly sunk in. I still remember how stunned everyone was at the time, and how little was known about who attacked us. This would change very quickly.

It was at this time that I -like many others- began to shift internally in my political perspectives about America, and what was important to me about these ideals. Suddenly my conspiratorial views about our government and the "hidden agenda of the elite secret societies" were flushed through the reality of the attacks, and became silly and meaningless in light of the real death and suffering that was occurring before my eyes. Instead of the villain being a "secret society" it was a real enemy who wanted to kill as many real American people as possible. It was impossible to imagine or even contemplate some kind of secret conspiracy that was as malicious and sinister as the people behind the attacks from that day. In what seems to be the reverse of what happened to certain other conspiracy-minded individuals, I transformed from a conspiracy nut in to a conservative/libertarian with renewed patriotic appreciation for the Great American Experiment. That transformation was further refined through the actions of all Americans in the following days as we as a country rallied around each other and did whatever we could to recover from the tragedy. I briefly toyed with the idea of joining the military, but my mom told me she would disown me if I did, so that idea was nixed. As much as I would do anything to defend this country, I could not entertain the possibility of my Mom having to worry about burying me after the personal issues she had recently been through. Family First, as they say.

I have found that I was not alone in this transformation process, and the blogosphere became my new outlet for discovery in my new found political leanings. I read tons of Stephen Den Beste, Glenn Reynolds, Bill Whittle, Jeff Goldstein and others, and laughed at my new favorite cartoons from Cox and Forkum. I actually ended up meeting Allen Forkum a few times at various Nashville blog gatherings. I have now landed comfortably amongst the small "L" libertarians at places like Reason.com, and have found solace in the study of Astronomy and Asteroids.

But todays anniversary made me realize how much I have changed politically as a result of the tragedy of the attacks, and I will never be the liberal hippie conspiracy freak I was at the time ever again. Certain fundamentals about life that are important to me are ingrained in the US Constitution, and I ignored them for far too long. Now I find new reasons to appreciate the genius behind the framers of that wonderfully exquisite document all the time, and I realize just how lucky I am to be a part of this great country.

I don't know why, but I've had this song stuck in my head all day.....

Finally, I want to say thanks to all of the men and women of the military who have responded to the events of those days with the same honor and courage that their forefathers did when this country faced similar challenges. I know I'm not alone in saying that in the weeks and months after that day no one believed that it would be eight years and counting without another successful attack on our shores. Thank you for your service in defense of our nation.

Update: This post from Cox and Forkum....for posterity or something..

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fun With Astronomy: The Galileoscope/SkyVoyager iphone App Edition

So my latest bad excuse for staying up until ungodly hours of the evening is:

Scanning the skies with a Galileoscope and an iphone, and more specifically the iphone app SkyVoyager.

The combination of low-tech in the Galileoscope (manual focus, one moving part) mixed with ridiculously hi-tech (accurately shows the sky from any location on Earth, at any time up to 100 years in the past or future, and can identify and detail everything in the sky in same the direction that you're pointing your iphone) makes for a pretty direct learning experience in terms of astronomy. I've started to catalog what constellations are at what certain angles from my limited view at my apartment (pretty much anything between south and northwest), which allows me to begin to understand the rotation of our galaxay as opposed to just our solar system.

I've played around with a taking a few pictures after my buddy Fin let me borrow his Olympus DSLR- here's one that I took without actually attaching the camera to the scope, instead using a second tripod behind it to line up the shot. Not very efficient nor practical, but hey-I just started cut me some slack. Jeeeez..

A shot of Jupiter which was also taken using the double-tripod contraption, which in retrospect, is substantially more difficult than you might imagine. Notice the moons, which come through a lot more clearly through the scope by itself.

And if you want to truly see how amazing this telescope is for $20 (Twenty Dollars!!!) here is a shot from Flickr Contributor "Zoeff", a member of the Flickr Galileoscope pool. You can find other amazing shots taken from this very scope over there as well.

Moon trough the Galileoscope

Moon trough the Galileoscope by Zoeff.
This is taken trough the Galileoscope at prime focus with a CCD chip. This shows the great quality of the doublet lens that comes with this 15$ telescope kit!

I used K3CCTools for capturing and stacked 50 frames or so with RegiStax.

The CCD chip is a particular type of webcamera that is extremely efficient in taking astronomy pictures via video, and then stacking each video frame through available software in to a single picture. Not only is the resolution amazing but it is also clearly a lot less of a pain in the ass than using two tripods. Apparently these webcams are difficult to find but aside from the cost of my iphone and service, the app and scope have only set me back $35.00. I can see how astronomy viewing habits could get expensive very quickly, which at the moment for me is not an option. I'm ok for now as I stare at stars like Tarazed, that are a mere 146 light years away, but this star gazing stuff is very addictive, and I foresee an inevitable ascension from novice to amateur status in my future.

And the answer is yes of course the SkyVoyager also can point out asteroids, in case you were wondering. I just have to learn to live with less sleep, that's all.