February 25, 2010

Flyaround Views of the Space Shuttle & Earth

A video of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, flying near the International Space Station. It's a beautiful view, in a video about three minutes long. It's silent, because there is no air in space for sound waves to travel through.

February 24, 2010

Customer Service Reviews: The Apple Store, Downtown San Francisco

Letter to the Editor

I had a rotten experience yesterday with the battery for my personal MacBook. Sadly, it might have to be the last.

I like my Macbook. It does some terrific stuff. I especially love the iPhoto and iDVD software. However, I might not be able to buy another Apple computer because the customer service is simply not working for me. I would happily pay for expedited/personalized service, but the local genius bar doesn't accommodate my needs. I would take it to a competing repair shop and just pay out of pocket for better service, but there aren't any. What a bummer that Apple maintains such strict control over replacement parts! My needs must be different than Apple's target market. Perhaps I've been unlucky with my two MacBooks and two nearby Apple stores, but I shouldn't have to to rely on luck.

Here is what actually happened that showed me that my needs don't seem to match the Apple business model. The computer is less than a year old and turns itself off when the battery power drops to 66%. The "genius bar" in downtown San Francisco was staffed by a bunch of persons who looked and acted like they were teenagers full of caffeine, and no one could be bothered to check if the problem was actually my battery or my computer. They were rude, in a hurry, and did an overall bad job of providing the customer service that American businesses used to be known around the world for. In the words of The Prisoner, "I am not a number!"

They nonchalantly mentioned that if the new battery doesn't solve the problem, they will want me to bring my computer back and LEAVE IT FOR A WEEK OR MORE. The repair would only take a moment, but my computer had to physically wait in a queue. The couldn't just call me when I could bring it in. Please note that cost was not an issue on this repair, but time definitely was. I offered to pay more for expedited service. "Name your price!" I said, but to no avail. Honestly, my auto mechanic can change my car battery in about 10 minutes and perform major repairs in less than a day.

February 23, 2010

What is Olympic Curling?

Curling is a team Olympic sport in which stones are slid across a sheet of carefully prepared ice towards a target area. It is related to bowls, boule and shuffleboard.
Men curling in 1909 in Ontario, Canada
Photo by John Boyd

Two teams of four players take turns sliding heavy, polished blue hone granite stones across the ice towards the house (a circular target marked on the ice). The purpose is to complete each end (delivery of eight or ten stones [depending on recreational or competitive play] for each team) with the team's stones closer to the centre of the house than the other team's stones. Two sweepers with brooms or brushes accompany each stone and use stopwatches and their best judgment, along with direction from their teammates, to help direct the stones to their resting place, but without touching the stones.

February 22, 2010

Book Review: Extraordinary Popular Delusions in Economics

Extraordinary Popular Delusions (Dover Value Editions) by Charles Mackay

With the latest Frontline masterpiece airing on public television, and with some people still foolish enough to tout the elusive value of consumer confidence, EH reviews a book that was first published in 1814 and is so applicable that it's still in print today. Our edition is published by Dover and, sadly only includes the unabridged first three chapters of the original book. However, they are three very poignant chapters.

This classic survey of crowd psychology and short-sighted greed offers an illuminating look at three grand-scale swindles. Originally published in England in 1814, its remarkable tales of human folly reveal that the mass hysteria of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the junk bonds frenzy of the 1980s, and the recent real estate bubble that burst in the fall of 2008 were far from uniquely modern phenomena of greed and credulity. It happened before and, without sufficient regulation, will happen again.

February 17, 2010

Photo from Space: Space Shuttle Endeavor

Photo courtesy of Expedition 22 Crew, NASA, APOD
At just past 11 PM (CST) last Tuesday, NASA's Space Shuttle Endeavor docked with the Earth-orbiting international space station. Pictured above, Endeavour was imaged near Earth's horizon as it approached, where several beautiful layers of the Earth's atmosphere were visible from the awaiting space station crew. The blue band directly behind the shuttle is the mesosphere. The atmospheric layer that appears white is the stratosphere, while the orange layer is Earth's troposphere. The different colors appear because different gasses absorb/reflect light at different wavelengths. The different wavelengths appear to human eyes as different colors. That's why the sky looks blue.

This shuttle mission, which began with a dramatic night launch and will continue into next week, has many tasks planned. These tasks include the delivery of the much-anticipated Tranquility Module which includes a cupola bay window complex that will permit the astronauts even better views of earth, of space, and of spaceships approaching and leaving the space station.

February 16, 2010

Space Photo: Saturn's Small Moon, Calypso

Image from of Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA
Why is this little moon of Saturn so smooth? This past weekend, humanity's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft passed closer to Saturn's small moon Calypso than it ever has, and imaged the small moon in unprecedented detail. Pictured at left is an early return, raw, unprocessed image of the 20-km long irregularly shaped moon. Like its sister moon Telesto and the shepherd moon Pandora, Calypso has shown itself to be usually smooth, much smoother than most of Saturn's larger moons. A leading hypothesis for Calypso's smoothness is that much of the moon's surface is actually a relatively loose jumble of rubble -- making Calypso a rubble-pile moon. The loose nature of the small ice pieces allows them to fill in many small craters and other surface features. Calypso's extremely white surface -- not unlike fresh snow out in space -- may result from the continuous accumulation of fresh ice particles from Saturn's E ring.

February 12, 2010

The New "Elationship" Minefield

Photo courtesy of marcolm
Online dating can be a minefield of deception. There's the woman with the profile photo from 1992. There's the Don Juan who says he's single, but isn't. And now, there's the lover who seems interested only in an elationship. When it comes to online dating, some have come to expect deception, the posting of decades-old pictures, blatant lies about marital status, height, hair (or lack thereof), and people who seem really interested only to suddenly vanish. Now, there’s a new online dating pitfall: the person who doesn’t want to meet but is all too happy to e-mail, text, tweet, IM, or scrawl on your Facebook wall forevermore. This is the modern elationship.

February 2, 2010

Dinosaur's Real Colors Revealed!

For a long time, people have speculated on what colors dinosaurs may have been. For many years, they were drawn as large, gray or green lizards. Later, some artists' depictions of extinct animals developed colorful stripes and spots. But what color were dinosaurs, really? Well, Sinosauropteryx has now become the first fossil dinosaur to have its color scientifically established. Pigments have been found in the dinosaur's fossilized bones, allowing the dinosaur's true colors to finally shine through. The discovery of pigment-bearing organelles in dinosaur fossils may prove once and for all that dinosaurs' hairlike filaments, sometimes called dino fuzz, or proto-feathers developed into the feathers that we see on modern birds, paleontologists announced today.

The finding may finally allow us to see the true colors of dinosaurs and start to understand the role of color in dinosaur behavior. For the first time, we may be able to build dinosaur models with accurately colored feathers. The team, led by Fucheng Zhang of China's Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology, identified fossilized melanosomes—pigment-bearing organelles—in the proto feathers of dinosaurs. Found in the feathers of living birds, the nano-size packets of pigment are very small. So small that a hundred melanosomes can fit across a human hair.