Friday, March 30, 2007


i dont know if i'll ever get tired of these mario brothers spoofs! they crack me up.


live stage play...


beatboxing flute...


Thursday, March 29, 2007

peanut brittle

a while back i posted a ~7 minute video about evolution...

in order to not be one-sided, i thought i'd offer this little 2 minute video disputing the validity of evolution.


chuck missler makes an obvious point with that peanut butter prop. i, for one, have been grateful everytime i've opend a jar of peanut butter and not found new life! if those silly evolutionists were correct, you'd think we would have been able to grow at least one form of new life in one of those peanut butter jars that we've produced, packed, bought and sold over the last ~100 years! the next thing those crazy scientists'll be telling us is that quantum mechanics is real! ha! QM says there's a probability that if i sit on my couch long enough* (surrounded by the comfortable lighting of my living room writing blog after blog after blog on my new laptop), i will eventually fall through it. well, that would be pretty darned inconvenient now wouldn't it, scientists! sheesh! there are over 7 billion people on the earth... why havent we heard a single report about anyone falling through their couch!?!


* QM predicts i'd have to sit there many times longer than the age of the universe since the big bang++

++ if you belive in that sort of thing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

keepon keepin on

i've been having a not-so-spectacular day today. but then i found this video of the socially rhythmic robot, keepon, dancing to one of the best songs by one of my all-time favorite bands, spoon! keepon is definitely my new favorite robot! he is the result of a project developed by marek p. michalowski to study non-verbal interactions between kids and robots. i hope he's been as successful at his scientific study as he was at making me laugh heartily out loud! (thanks to rebecca, the skepchick.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

exacerbating inequalities

i admit that i don't remember hearing the name victor jara before arriving in chile. i read lightly about his influence in the chilean "cultural renaissance" in my travel guide book. my interest sparked when i saw that one of his most popular songs is called Te Recuerdo Amanda (see performance here).

i bought a compilation album of his as i waited out a long layover in santiago. the woman who completed the transaction was very excited to see that i was buying it, so i also became very excited to hear it.

his songs are relaxing and mellow, yet moving and intense, even though i don't understand most of the words. he reminds me of a chilean combination of leonard cohen and bob dylan. simple acoustic guitar behind deep folk melodies that sing of the political struggles of working people. this past saturday night i was charmingly serenaded with this song that bears my name... a beautiful rendition that nearly brought me to tears.

Te recuerdo Amanda, la calle mojada
corriendo a la fabrica, donde trabajaba Manuel
La sonrisa ancha, la lluvia en el pelo
no importaba nada, ibas a encontrarte con el
con el, con el, con el...

I think of you Amanda, in the wet street
running toward the factory, where Manuel worked
with a broad smile, the rain in your hair
nothing mattered, you were meeting up with him
with him, with him, with him...

Te Recuerdo Amanda tells a tragic story of two factory workers who meet outside during their breaks. innocent manuel joins the workers struggle and is killed, one of the many who never return to work after the break-ending sirens sound. it's a beautiful song and represents a good example of the political activism victor jara expressed through anecdotal tales of workers.

Jara's music helped found chile's nueva cancion (new song) movement which accompanied a revolution among the working class. they fought against the repression by the ruling upper class and eventually won with the victory of new president, salvador allende, in 1970.

Jara, along with singer violeta parra, continued to push for more rights for the people... placing himself as a target of the chilean right wing. On September 11, 1973, the chilean military staged a coup d'etat that resulted in the murder of allende, the appointment of (CIA-backed) augusto pinochet as dictator, and the arrest of victor jara. for four days, victor jara was held in the chilean stadium, beaten and tortured in front of other prisoners... and finally murdered, at the age of 38. he wrote a final poem, with broken fingers and wrists, smuggled out of the stadium in a fellow prisoner's shoe... "silence and screams are the end of my song."

he never stopped representing hope for the people, even though he suspected his death would result from the coup that september day in 1973.

it makes me think of my home and wonder who harbors such passion today in the struggle against the american neo-conservative right wing. why has it taken 6 years for the majority of the US public to really dislike the bush administration? how has pop-culture become so ridiculously indifferent to the growing social divide? when will we all recognize that the need to take responsibility for our actions by treating other people sympathetically should come before our overwhelmingly selfish pursuit of happiness through consumerism and consumption?

According to a UN study,

Today’s consumption is undermining the environmental resource base. It is exacerbating inequalities. And the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus are accelerating. If the trends continue without change — not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, not shifting from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, not promoting goods that empower poor producers, not shifting priority from consumption for conspicuous display to meeting basic needs — today’s problems of consumption and human development will worsen.

… The real issue is not consumption itself but its patterns and effects.

… Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%.

so much that we easily take for granted.... i'm happy i've discovered victor jara.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


i admit, i like this observing gig! tonight is the last night of my 5-night official training run on the gemini-south telescope. i'm in charge tonight which is a bit daunting... so many things to remember on this complicated beast. luckily, it's partially cloudy. in general, moderately bad weather is the WORST type for observing because you constantly have to check for clouds and re-acquire guide stars and pause observations that are crappy, etc.... but for tonight it relieves the pressure a bit because i dont have to be as efficient as i would normally want. you have to be efficient when people tell you things like "this telescope costs $X to operate per second, so make every second count!" yikes!

overall, this observing run has been quite nice. despite the complication and stress of taking other people's data and trying to not break anything, it's really fun to run gigantic telescopes. since we're doing several different projects throughout the night, we look at things in our galactic neighborhood right before focusing on a galaxy as it was when the universe was only a couple billion years old!

and the night sky.... nothing soothes my soul like mountain vistas and hundreds of visible stars in the sky. the southern night sky has certainly lived up to all my expectations. the new moon denied us any of the sun's nighttime reflection just a few nights ago and it remains too dark outside to see my hand in front of my face. at first i can only see constellations that have quickly become familiar: the southern cross, upside-down orion, and of course the bright "evening star" venus... i cant recognize too many more southern constellations yet without the aid of a sky chart.

after a few minutes my eyes adjust to the darkness and more and more stars pop out of the blackness. i begin to see the elongated fuzzy patches that cross over the whole sky in a long straight line. i cant quite focus on all the elusive white speckles when i look directly at them, but what i see just off the center of my vision reinforces why our ancestors named it the great milky way. in german, they call it "milchstrasse" which translates to "milk street". what is the name of the milky way in spanish? "calle de leche"? anyone?

i love just going outside throughout the night and letting my eyes become acquainted with the immensity of space over and over again.

another fun aspect of the observing in chile is the food at the lodge! there are chilean chefs who cook meals for us each day. i work for about 14 hours a night this time of year and try to sleep for 7-8... so it's nice that they cook food i can eat! the food this week has been very good, but almost everyday there has been some food item offered that i couldnt identify. this isnt necessarily a bad thing, in fact it's kind of exciting! i've tried everything i've encountered so far (even the intestine that showed up on a grilled plate in La Serena last week. i had one tiny bite and i'll suffice it to say that i did not have another). one meat looked like a cornish game hen that had all the bones sucked out of it so it looked deflated then fried. it turned out to be chicken. there was one thing that i didnt ask about because the consistency was quite like tongue, and i thought it would be better not to know. there's always chilean salad which consists of tomatoes and onions in a bit of oil. i've also had some great desserts that contain lots of various fruits and syrups!

sometimes while observing i have a hard time sleeping a full 7 or 8 hours... due to the altitude, maybe? this run i've had no trouble at all sleeping, which must be due to some combination of the elevated stress level of such complicated observing all night long... and the fact that i've been eating soooooo much yummy food!!

UPDATE: this image, captured by miloslav druckmuller in argentina with the patagonias in the foreground, represents almost exactly what i saw when i first arrived in chile in january.

you can see the wonderful comet mcnaught in addition to the long stretch of the milky way. above the comet and a bit to the right you can see a little fuzzy smudge, and then another slightly larger smudge further up to the right. these are little irregular galaxies called the small and large magellanic clouds... only visible from the southern hemisphere!

the large magellanic cloud harbored the closest supernova in 400 years... supernova 1987a! all of us dorks celebrated the 20th anniversary of this spectacular stellar explosion on february 23rd. i tried to take more observations of the supernova last week, but the clouds prevented my success :(

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


are you a "pop" or a "soda" person? or maybe you generically call all sugary carbonated beverages "coke"?

if youre an english-speaking north american, then the term you use is most likely determined by where you grew up.

i'm definitely a pop person... and i've gotten quite a lot of slack for it since i moved away from "pop" central: the midwest! (i may have picked up the southern "y'all" but i'm not giving up the "pop"!!!)

the map comes from a website that attempts to investigate "the great "pop" vs. "soda" mystery simply by people answering a few questions online... so go do it! the blue shows the "pop" regions, the gold/yellow calls the sugary beverages "soda" and the red shows where people use the undescriptive term "coke."

the strong regional dependence of the name really struck me when i was 14. i went to visit my aunt who was living in south korea... this required many long plane trips. i flew from cincinnati (note the spelling), ohio to chicago, illinois then got on another big plane to soeul, south korea. the truth came to me on that long plane ride from chicago. the korean flight attendent came around asking if i wanted anything to drink. i asked "what sort of pop do you have?" and without hesitation he asked, "are you from cincinnati?"

i was shocked!! how could he possibly have known i was from cincinnati just from that simple question? it must be the "pop!"

that was only the first lesson i learned about the fascinating differences that exist between people living in different places... as it was the beginning of my first international trip! and i'm sure that flight attendent was familiar with the various flights that connected thru chicago that day... but i was still mystified by his amazing deductive reasoning!

Monday, March 19, 2007

hometown baghdad

this weekend marks the 4th anniversary of the invasion of iraq. since march 19, 2003, 3218 members of the american military have died... 2619 of those in combat. Over 24,000 injuries have been officially reported. How many iraqi's have died? some estimate over 60,000, but it's very difficult to know for sure.

i feel numb to these numbers. somewhere they started to lose their meaning. i'm disappointed in myself when my eyes glaze over the news headlines that read something like "x US soldiers die in iraq from car bomb."

maybe this is why i'm so intrigued by a new documentary series called "hometown baghdad". the series follows three men in their 20s - Adel, Ausama and Saif. the first three episodes were released today... on the 4th anniversary. i watched them at video dog and soon they will be shown on youtube for maximum exposure. from what i've seen so far, these documentaries deserve as much exposure as possible. i'm very curious as to the story they will tell....

Sunday, March 18, 2007


just when i start settling into a satisfying comfort level in la serena, life decides to stick out its foot and trip me up... in the form of my purse being stolen last night!! it was not fun to reach for my camera at 4am* and realize my purse was no longer hanging from the back of my chair! of course, hindsight is 20/20, and i should have kept a tighter grip on my purse, but we were sitting at a table in the back of a not-too-crowded bar.

items lost: house keys, camera (sniff), wallet, chapstick, favorite pen.

the most hassle will be getting my chilean ID re-issued i think. i wanted to take a trip to argentina early next month, so i'll have to wait to get the ID before i leave the country. the house keys worried me for a minute, but it turns out that it's not very difficult to break into my house! i'm so ridiculously happy that i did not have my passport on me!

i was out with two chileans who helped me out with talking to a policeman we found downtown. the cop wrote down all the details on a blank piece of paper and assured me that i didnt need to visit the police station until next week when the official report would be filed....? it felt strange to walk away without any sort of documentation or a number or anything, but i was too exhausted to do question any further.

looks like i wont be able to publish new pictures for a while, but that means that i can sift thru the archive and finally display old shots! the good news is that i get to shop for a new camera. yippee! any suggestions on fabulous digi-cams? i had a tiny little canon powershot SD200 that i liked. no complaints really. it was perfect as a small quick click camera. but i'll definitely shop around to find something worthwhile!

*you might say, "wow, 4 am!? that's a pretty late night on the town!" that's true, but us astronomers enjoy a good night out! haha! and so do chileans as it turns out. plus, i needed to stay up late to get myself on a night schedule for the observing run that started tonight. new moon. it's unbelievably dark outside. perfect for exploring all the unfamiliar southern constellations. i'll never tire of seeing a galaxy (large magellanic cloud) extended in the sky with my naked eyes.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

missing the obvious

it's saddening when you realize someone that you have long admired turns out to be a casual bigot. garrison keillor, of "a prarie home companion" fame, wrote a horrendously hypocritical piece about marriage. when i first read the article i sort of sat back in disbelief that he would write such a thing... oh how my hopes have been crushed, garrison... why? i just dont get it. you have to read the article for yourself, and then read dan savage's savage (yet fair) critique!

Friday, March 16, 2007

mmm... food!

the spoof news organization, the onion, never ceases to amuse me! check out this headline:

McDonald's Stock Slides As More Consumers Turn To Food.

hahaha! even before i read fast food nation by eric schlosser, (or saw the movie) i decided to boycott fast "food" franchises. i got sick of the fast-paced, non-nutritious eating style summed up by the onion... "These days, people seem more interested in eating food than hormone-hybrid lab patties."

schlosser goes into many details behind what goes into creating the massive amounts of burgers and fries that pour thru fast food drive thrus everyday. one thing that really surprised me was his visit to labs where scientists re-create the smell and taste of everything!! the burgers smell like they do because of the added chemicals. i know that this phenomenon isnt limited just to fast food "food", but those chains certainly exemplify the principle.

i remember my mom telling me that as a child it was a BIG deal to go out to a restaurant or fast food place to eat. now, most US individuals and families go out several times a week! how profoundly this has changed society... when an effort has to be made to sit down at home together to share a meal. it's just one example of the domination of cultural evolution which continues to dominate the changes in humanity at the amazingly quick rates of less than a generation. i didnt have email until high school and now i cant even imagine working without the internet.... much less traveling internationally as i've been doing so often over the last few years.

one day i hope to live in a place long enough that i can produce food to eat from my very own garden. hope hope.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

happy pi day!

that's right. it's march 14th... 3.14

i can always remember this much: 3.1415926 but thats it.

but as you know it goes on and on and on and on...

pi has been known since antiquity... 19th century BC!! pi is defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, or as the ratio of a circle's area to the area of a square whose side is the radius. a circle with a radius of one has a circumference of 3.1415926... = pi.

for your own nerdy amusement, go to the pi query page. enter your birthday in the search bar (i entered 05261979 for may 26, 1979) and see at what position in pi your birthday occurs. i'm at 82,928,059.

now... where can i get some pie in chile?

UPDATE: just got back from a group meeting to discuss current issues in astrophysics and someone brought a pie! now i feel satis-pi-ed (i know, that was horrible. sorry).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

politics + stupidity + religion

wish i could take credit for this very clever creation. i might buy the shirt.

dont forget to read the full essay that goes along with the cartoon.

"Scientists the world over unanimously reject Intelligent Design not because of some unconscious bias of materialism, but because Intelligent Design is simply not testable. It makes no worthwhile predictions, nor does it explain the wide array of facts encompassing biology and other fields in the way that evolution can."

ps. venn diagrams are very useful tools. to see an incredibly clever use of them, check out indexed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

openly nontheistic

representative pete stark (D. - Calif), is the first openly non-theistic member of congress, as reported by the secular coalition for america. there are most likely other nontheists in congress.... if you assume that the US congress represents the people of america and somewhere between 2 and 10% of americans are nontheists (atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and agnostics).

'Although the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, the Coalition's research reveals that Rep. Stark is the first open nontheist in the history of the Congress. Recent polls show that Americans without a god-belief are, as a group, more distrusted than any other minority in America. Surveys show that the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office.

Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, attributes these attitudes to the demonization of people who don't believe in God. "The truth is," says Silverman, "the vast majority of us follow the Golden Rule and are as likely to be good citizens, just like Rep. Stark with over 30 years of exemplary public service. The only way to counter the prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so."

(i thanked rep. stark for his courage here:

Friday, March 9, 2007

my favorite robot

i had goose bumps the whole time i read this article about mini medical robots. they are inserted into the human body thru an incision then they can creep off to some deep area to take pictures and deliver drugs. i'm a little creeped out that they look like roaches or little beetles! but i'm also weary with the realization that humans are actually approaching the technological level where debate over our ethical responsibility regarding these robotic creations must commence.

i work with advanced technology for pure scientific research. i perform no tests on humans and, other than collaboratively contributing a wee bit to our universal knowledge base, what i do right now doesnt affect anyone in their day to day lives. i wonder what scientists and engineers think about when developing robotic technology that is used to alter and save lives... or when they create robots that mimic our skills, but lack our consciousness.

is the development of robotic technology inevitable? are there any kinds of robots that shouldnt be created (because they would take away jobs? because they could cause harm to humans?)? can conscious robots exist? if so, what makes a human a human and a robot a robot? consciousness and free will seem to me to be the phenomena most difficult to duplicate. science tells me that my body and brain are complicated collections of atoms that work together thru inevitable chemical reactions that i have seemingly no control over. but... i *can* contemplate the universe (as a career!) and decide what i want to do when i grow up and whether or not to commit a crime or drink a beer or where to go on vacation or anything. how does that happen? to the best of my knowledge, no one has figured that out, so how could this ability possibly be implemented in a robot? and if robots develop consciousness or relative independence, who decides the proper ethical behavior toward robots?

isaac asimov introduced three laws of robotics in his 1942 short story, runaround:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

south korea has just devised the first government-supported ethical code for robots (probably loosely based on asimov's laws). the "robot ethics charter" will set guidelines for how robots will be treated assuming service robots will eventually become part of daily life..... although they havent been bold enough to tackle the discussions brought forth last year by the European Robotics Research Network (EURON): should sex-toy robots be designed? Henrik Christensen from EURON claims "people are going to be having sex with robots within five years." this possibility has already been introduced to us by movies and TV shows... including the humanoid cylons on battlestar galactica (the only tv show i watch anymore... thanks itunes)!

anyway, i still think the medical beetle is creepy.... but the technology is definitely cool. it guides us to further consider the benefits of space exploration with the aid of explorers that are not nearly as fragile as our humanoid selves. my very favorite robots were developed by NASA to explore our rocky red neighbor: the mars rovers. They were designed to explore mars for 90 days.... but miraculously today is day 1130 for the spirit rover!!! this is absolutely astounding! go team go!

here's a video about the rovers from discovery news:

you can see the entire NASA-created animation of the rover from take off to landing on mars here.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

german heritage

i guess my trip to germany really sank into my system. nearly every non-native english speaker i've met over the last several months has made an initial guess that i'm german!? it surprised me the first time, but then it seemed natural as my family name is bauer, and my mom's maiden name is driehaus... but the consistency of this claim is what has really amazed me! very interesting.

another interesting thing is that no one can seem to tell where i'm from within the US anymore. when i moved to austin almost 5 years ago, i purposely picked up the endearing "y'all" because i think its cute. but i guess i've lost all other regional nuance to my speech. i also feel like i'm forgetting english little by little. there are way too many instances when i cant think of the right word for something... too bad i havent stayed anywhere long enough to fully pick up another language yet!! spanish is slowly coming along. this chilean spanish is amazingly difficult to understand though!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


here's a direct quote from newt gingrich:

"How can you have the mess we have in New Orleans, and not have had deep investigations of the federal government, the state government, the city government, and the failure of citizenship in the Ninth Ward, where 22,000 people were so uneducated and so unprepared, they literally couldn't get out of the way of a hurricane."

how insensitive can a single person possibly be?!?! this is absolutely unacceptable behavior.... especially for someone who cut educational funding in every way possible.

why are people even listening to him anymore?

he is my LEAST favorite potential presidential candidate in 08... and that says a lot.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

every human that has ever lived

i've discussed before the huge influence carl sagan has had on my perspective of the universe. i wanted to share a video representation of an excerpt (shown below) from his fantastic book, Pale Blue Dot.

"We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

gives me chills every time i read it!

Friday, March 2, 2007

lunar eclipse

in two nights, saturday night, march 3rd, there will be a total eclipse of the moon! folks lucky enough to be in western europe and africa will see the whole eclipse, while those in the americas can look to the moon as it rises to see the orange-ish moon, already passing thru the earth's shadow.

the eclipsing moon rises just as the sun sets... this makes sense because a lunar eclipse occurs when the earth is directly between the sun and the moon. the moon passes right thru the shadow created by the earth. partial lunar eclipses occur when the three spheres arent exactly alined and the moon passes thru only a fraction of the earth's shadow.

i got the diagram on the right from NASA's eclipse home page.