Saturday, June 27, 2009

Asperatus (?)

There's been a lot of fuss over the last three weeks or so about a new class of cloud form, the so-called "asperatus" (which is supposed to be pronounced, I understand, to rhyme with "asperagus"). I say "so-called" for several reasons. First, I don't think anyone (who knows what they're talking about) is claiming that this is a truly "new" class of clouds; rather it may be a class that has existed since before the dawn of humanity, but has never been given a formal name and recognition. This is not unique, or even unusual, in any branch of science- pushing science forward often involves recognizing as distinct things that have been right in front of our collective faces for as long as we've had faces. Second, there has been a rush to name all sorts of cloud structures and textures as "asperatus," as if it's a done deal- as if the meteorological community has already accepted and condoned this name. It hasn't. Third, since it hasn't been accepted as a formal term, the criteria for determining that a particular cloud, or sky full of clouds, should be described as asperatus, do not exist. As a result, all of us cloud watchers have different ideas of what that term does or should mean.

In my mind, this rush to put up (albeit beautiful) pictures labeled"asperatus" is more likely to lead to confusion rather than forward motion and resolution. On the other hand, having a wide variety of examples available for examination and study can only be useful. My compromise is shown in the title: unless and until this name is formally adopted, the term should be written as asperatus(?).

While these have been described as "rare," my perception is that, here in western Oregon, we get these types of clouds several times a year, most often in late spring and fall, and most often in association with (what seems to us) a fairly unusual combination of high humidity and temperatures. The dewpoint according to accuweather just after taking these photos was 64 (typical summer dewpoints around here are about 45 to 55), and the temp was about 80. These are from Wednesday June 3, and were taken between 7:00 and 7:10 PM (actually, I need to check my camera's clock to be certain of the time), near the corner of 16th and Monroe in Corvallis, Oregon (Outside The Interzone). I think I've accidentally overwritten one of the original photos with a processed version, but otherwise, I still have the originals. All of the below are heavily processed to bring out the contrast, but are a more accurate repsentation of what I remember than the sort of gray, washed-out photos as they came out. Click to enlarge. Beautiful!
Looking ~SSW over the OSU campus
From the parking lot off 16th, looking ~SE.
Same as the previous location, looking ~ESE, a few minutes earlier.
Looking east along Monroe Ave.
Same as above.

Several sources have put out articles on this proposed classification over the last few weeks, including The Daily Mail, The BBC, and National Geographic. Many more stunning photos can be found at The Asperatus Gallery at Cloud Appreciation Society. (I subscribe to all four of those in RSS, but if you like a steady dose of pretty cloud pictures, about 5 a day, the latter is a treat. Front page here; incidentally, these are the same folks who are pushing for the new designation.)

Finally, I asked a blogging meterologist what he felt about this (as I described it) "media blitz" over "asperatus." I was pleased to see his reaction was pretty much the same as mine. Take it away, Weather Moose...

Honesty in Advertising

You can expect it from Uranus.

Another fine product from Uranus:

From the 1974 film "The Groove Tube." I remember this as being one of the funniest films I saw as a high schooler, but I couldn't remember its name. I did remember Brown 25, though, and through the power vested in me by Google, I hereby present a small taste of the culture in which I matured. Or not.

Does anyone else remember this film? Is it still out there in the "cult" section somewhere? DVD? Online? I'd love to watch it again, 35 years later, and see if the whole thing holds up as well as these clips.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ethics, Responsibilty and Sanford

The typical liberal position on sexual ethics, which I share, is that as long as everyone is consensual (and legally able to consent) and no one is hurt, "it's not my friggin' business!" Was I disappointed by Clinton? Sure, but the truly disgusting aspect of that whole fiasco was the way the self-appointed moral police (including Sanford himself, btw) on the right believed that somehow his personal choices were their business. So this preface is to point out that, while I feel bad for Sanford's wife and family, and for his mistress (who maybe should have known better, but nevertheless does not deserve the hounding she is undoubtedly enduring), and the many others on the fringes of the governor's life who will deal with personal stress in one way or another, Sanford's sexual choices are his alone. They're not my business.

However, that said, there are two ENORMOUS issues here. First, and perhaps less important, is the fact that Sanford apparently paid for this jaunt with funds belonging to the State of South Carolina. This is theft. Do you honestly believe he would have reimbursed those costs (as he now promises to do) if he hadn't been caught? Furthermore, we have here a person who wants to turn away federal funds for education, food supplements, health care and so on. Despite the righty noise machine's claims, the feds are not shoving those funds onto S.C.; that state's legisalture has overridden Sanford's attempts to block them. In other words, representatives of the people of South Carolina want to receive those funds, and by proxy, so do the citizens of that state. Sanford is simply a representative of a very tiny minority. My personal opinion is that all of these officials want to have their cake and eat it too, in a political sense. They know that others will override their attempts to block federal funds, but they believe they can earn political points by making a show out of vocally opposing such funding. The fact that this is tiresome and pandering hypocrisy is obvious.

But the fact that Sanford sees his state's funds as either his own personal credit card, or (my belief) debit card, casts an entirely different (yet predictable) light on the situation: "Big Government" is too big when it helps people make ends meet and stay alive and healthy as they weather tough times. "Small Government," one "small enough to drown in a bathtub" in the famous phrase, has plenty of resources to shell out (or loan) $12,000 dollars for an official of that government to fly around the planet to visit and party with his preferred penis-sheath.

Now explain that to me.

That alone, to me, is such a breach of trust that, at the very least, a full accounting of this man's expenditures should be undertaken, with the possibility of indictment looming large. But wait! There's More!

The second issue, which I think is even more important, is this: the man just picked up and disappeared. His staff didn't know where he was. His family didn't know where he was. His security, presumably (6/27- they didn't; see this article for the reason why), didn't know where he was. Now ask youself, "If I just didn't show up for work for five days, with no warning, no explanation, and no contact information, what would likely result?"


This man is in command of the state national guard. He's in charge of law enforcement. What if there had been a rash of tornadoes or other natural disaster? Who would take charge and responsibility? I presume the lieutenant governor... but he wasn't the one elected, was he? Aren't there some formalities involved in handing over responsibilty to a second? And Sanford has been discussed as a presidential contender?

Now the thing that prompted this rant is the following quote from an article in the NYT this afternoon:
“I wanted generally to apologize to every one of you all for letting you down,” Mr. Sanford told the gathering of his cabinet secretaries in a mahogany conference room in the ornate state Capitol complex. “Part of what it means going forward is every one of you all has specific duties to the people of South Carolina that you have to perform, that is with or without me doing right on a given day.”
So, in other words, he's saying, "Yeah, I just committed a gross dereliction of duty, and I'm sorry you guys were inconvenienced by that. Get used to it; it might happen again." Then there's this:
At the meeting, he gave no indication that he was considering resigning, despite growing calls for him to do so by members of his own Republican party as well as Democrats. Instead, he compared himself to the biblical King David, who he said “fell mightily, he fell in very significant ways, but was able to pick up the pieces.”
So. We have delusions of grandeur. We have what I take as an admission that this may very well happen again. We have a sense of entitlement to taxpayer dollars, while living in a time when people can't feed themselves or their chldren, and at the same time claiming that government is bad because it takes money away from people.

You know what that sounds like to me?

This guy should be removed from office yesterday.

And what he chooses to do with his one-eyed trouser snake has nothing to do with my reasons for saying so.

What I Think

Context here.

And Sometimes It's Not

Sigmund Freud is attributed with the quote, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

To Rush Limbaugh, though, sometimes an affair is not just an affair. It's a perfectly reasonable and rational response to creeping islamosociocommunifascism, and the pending take-over by the brown people- whether they're wearing brown shirts or not. And the fact Sanford conducted this gross dereliction of duty on the government's dime is irrelevant.
"This is almost like, 'I don't give a damn, the country's going to Hell in a handbasket, I just want out of here,'" said Limbaugh. "He had just tried to fight the stimulus money coming to South Carolina. He didn't want any part of it. He lost the battle. He said, 'What the Hell. I mean, I'm -- the federal government's taking over -- what the Hell, I want to enjoy life.'"

"The point is," he added, "there are a lot of people whose spirit is just -- they're fed up, saying to Hell with it, I don't even want to fight this anymore, I just want to get away from it." (From TPM; audio at the link)
To which Freud would respond, I think, "...and sometimes it's not."

Steele Blathering

Michael Steele is Steele at it. In a recent interview, he made the following remark. It's clear to me that when you actually hear the conversation, the implied meanings can be much clearer and quite different than the meaning you take from a written transcript. Since the transcript made a total of zero sense, I listened to the audio.

Is it possible to make negative sense? But anyway, these are some really great times! That much is clear.
BECKMAN: And the people who are out of work, you know, they’re not much concerned right now about, about who saves them, whether it’s the private sector or public, they just want to be saved."

STEELE: Yeah, that’s true, but there’s a danger that lies in that. And I think that’s where an appreciation, if not an education, of the consequences of certain policies has got to get talked about and people really need to understand. You know, it’s like the guy who, you know, is in the water and you know, he wants to get saved from the sharks, but then — from the sharks — but then he gets picked up by a bunch of pirates or, you know, or some bad guys. You know, what’s worse being in the water or being in the boat where they’re beating the heck out of you every day? So, you know, the reality of it is, it does matter who saves you. It does make a difference who is throwing you that lifeline because there could be things attached to that lifeline that may in the long run not save you as much as you think you are being saved.

(Hat Tip to ThinkProgress)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More News to Make Conservative Heads Essplode

As if the poor conservatives haven't enough to deal with... now they're going to have to cope with the world being (at least partially) dependent on buying fossil fuel (natural gas, particularly) from Nigaz. (From BBC, at least 'til they take it down...) The above is a screen capture and you should be able to click it for full-size. In fairness, I'm sure the Russians and Nigerians were thinking it would be pronounced "Nye-Gaz," but still. Welcome to instantaneous world-wide communication. And cultural misinterpretation. I expect they might rethink this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wednesday Words

I got two comments on last week's words, both saying they'd like me to choose my favorites. I had hoped to avoid that option, but the masses have spoken. So here are Dean's submissions. Mel?

irolleg - "Igor, what are you doing for Easter?"

enalayew - Mario saying "He will nail you."

and here are three more to fill out the five:

goestick- what all the fashionable witches will be riding this Halloween.

wednesso- the steam-pressed coffee many customers drink on this day of the week.

pankessi- the sound pancake batter makes when it hits a skillet that's preheated to the perfect temperature.

Catching Up

Lots of good conversations and diversions the last couple of days, but I'm still avoiding news for the most part, with the exception of some favorite blogs. I went through today and deleted about 1000 RSS items I will never get to, but that left me with over 500 that I at least want to skim over. Mock, Paper, Scissors (front) seems to have been busy (given the news, no surprise), but a regular feature "Fashion Week Continues" struck me as particularly comical... quite a feat, considering all the other laughs I've had from that site in the last hour or so. The picture just begged to be captioned. So I captioned it.

Sanford Cracks

Photo captioning contest over at MPS! Gonna win me a 5 day parking pass for the Columbia, SC airport.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Interzone People: Celina

Celina is another of the many folks who hang out here that used to be a barrista. I worked in a restaurant for a while... I make it a point to never patronize the place. I think the fact that so many ex-employees spend so much time here says a lot about the nature and atmosphere of my favorite coffee shop. This photo was taken just after several hours getting her first tattoo; she was not feeling her best, and her right shoulder blade was a little weepy. I thought she pulled off a nice smile, under the circumstances. I had a chance to see the final result yesterday. It's a gorgeous arrangement of roses around the corner of her shoulder, framing a large peony closer to the middle of her shoulder blade.

Celina is currently a grad student in archeology. I don't know the details of her work, but I know it involves central Oregon Native Americans. Last summer she was doing field work in and around the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, basically identifying and mapping archeological resources, but I don't know that those data will be the basis of her thesis. She had a pretty stressful fall term... the learning curve involved in moving from a BS to an MS is startling to everyone who makes that choice, but she seemed to get the hang of it over the last 6 months... or at least, not to be stressing over it as much.

She has an absoutely beautiful puppy, Newton, seen in a not-terribly-good photo below. Newton is the goggie whose face is pictured. He's grown even more in the month since I took this picture. I enjoy pointing out that "Newton" and "newton" are apparently both units of force. The other dog is Pilgrim, who made a guest appearance in Rawley's "Interzone People" post.

Boehner Goes All Hoekstra on Us!

Surprise, Surprise! ...not.
From here, hat tip to EB Misfit.

Parking Space Cross

I'm actually a little shocked by how moved and saddened I am by the topic of my previous post. So I've gone through some funnies, and I feel a little better, but I just don't feel like dealing with any more news and politics for the time being. I have scads of photos that have been accumulating, so I think I'll spend most of the rest of the day processing, editing, resizing and posting those. Here are three I just took a couple of minutes ago.

This is looking across the street at the back end of the soup shop, from outside the Interzone:
A closer look at the white lines marking the limits of the two parking spaces:
Now, standing in front of the parking meter, and looking back at the parking marking:
(Click on the last one for bigger) I thought this was brilliant and funny... though I'm sure many people's heads will go all 'splodey. It also looks like a stencil, so I'll have to look around and see if I can find other examples. I do know someone who does guerilla stencil art... I'll have to ask the person next time I see them if they're the one responsible for this streetside sillyness.

Followup, Friday, June 26: I later realized that if you stood in the appropriate spot, the sunlight glistening off of the paint took on a lovely glow... which just seems to make it funnier. Jeebus laid down his life so you could park safely. (Click to embiggen)

Followup 2, a few minutes later: Commenter Stephen Moore asked, "Is that Grim Reaper, with scythe, behind Jesús?" When I first read it, I didn't see what he was talking about, but if you look at the silhouette in the white paint of the parking cross above the stencil, GR's waist is about the cross strut, the scythe up near the crack with the grass growing in it, and his head in the middle. It just gets better.
More parking Jesus's spotted!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tears for Neda

I haven't said much about Iran so far in this blog, though I have left comments in others' posts on the subject. Basically, I've felt I don't know enough to be able to say anything. But between a nice analysis I read this morning, from yesterday's NYT, and this, I have to raise my (albeit electronic) voice along with the growing clamor: FREE THE PEOPLE!

I was thinking of starting this by commenting that she reminded me of Sandra Bullock, and listing the various personality traits that I immediately started projecting onto her as a result... then pointing out that in reality, I know nothing about her. There's a good piece at The Independent that points out there's so much we don't know. But according to the piece this much seems fairly clear:
Yesterday the BBC's Farsi service reported that Neda's full name was Neda Agha-Soltan, and that she had been stuck in traffic in her car with her music teacher when she decided to get out "because of the heat" – "just for a few minutes", said her fiancé, Caspian Makan "[and] that's when she was shot dead".
She got out of the car to cool down for a moment, was standing on the sidewalk, and was shot in the heart by a rooftop sniper. She died in moments. Though I'm not recommending either, there are two youtube clips I have watched. The first is edited, and is set to U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday." The second appears to be more or less the original, raw footage. Watching these seemed to be more of a responsibilty than something I actually wanted to do. In fact, I had told a friend earlier today that I had seen thumbnails of the large graphic photos, and links to the videoclip, and that was enough. I really don't do gruesome very well.

But after I read the article, I felt like this poor young woman deserved a few moments of my time; a final gesture of respect from a complete stranger on the other side of the world. Suffice it to say, I couldn't watch the ending of either. Not because of the gore, but because the tears and snot were coming out of my face in only slightly smaller volumes than the blood coming out of hers.

Did she give her life in a good cause? No. It's not clear she had any connection to "the cause," other than trying to cool off in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her life, in fact, was brutally taken from her, for no particular reason, by a rapacious thug that I personally would be happy to castrate with a sledge hammer.

The pain and anger I feel right now are simply not expressable. My best wishes to all my Iranian brothers and sisters in your fight for freedom. Your pain is excruciating; I share it. I hope you understand that the world is watching. I hope you understand the world will remember your courage and heroism. And I hope you understand the whole world is shedding tears for Neda.

Followup: I meant to wrap this into the post originally, but forgot. Now it seems clumsy unless I tack onto the end. From niacINsight, in this post. First, it's nice to see that the protesters can still find some moments of levity...

Then comes the attraction of the day. Two water-spraying machines. They’re huge, the size of a bus but taller, with fenced windows and two water-guns on top of each. We burst into laughter. They don’t know how to use them. They shoot second floor windows, anti-riot police and the people, including girls in tight manteaus. It’s more Zurich than Tehran. One machine is stuck. They don’t know how to drive it. It’s a hot day, the sun is intolerably shiny and it feels good to become wet. Much of the time, the sprays are not powerful. It’s as if they’re watering grass. And it just does not fit the horror that’s in the air, the aggression with which the people are hit with batons. A beautiful day. It has been beautiful throughout the past week. You wonder whether nature is ironical.

Next, it's also nice to realize that the government thugs are not entirely easy with doing their jobs...

If we want to go forward we need to pass through tear gas. So we ask a car to give us a lift. Then there is an attack. They cannot tell enemy from other people although they want to show everything is fine and they’re only after trouble-makers. There is a woman who is being beaten. She’s horrified and hysterical but not as much as the anti-riot police officer facing her. She shrieks, ‘Where can I go? You tell me go down the street and you beat me. Then you come up from the other side and beat me again. Where can I go?’ In sheer desperation, the officer hits his helmet several times hard with his baton. ‘Damn me! Damn me! What the hell do I know!’

I ask myself, ‘how much longer can these officers tolerate stress? How many among them would be willing to give their lives for somebody like Ahmadinejhad?’

This is Asinine!

I generally try to keep my criticism of NASA pretty light, and I think it's accurate to say that, in my opinion, there are few if any government programs that inspire more awe and amazement per dollar... scientifically, that can be expressed as "2A/$." Sure, they've made some dumb mistakes, but who hasn't, and more particularly, what agency- public or private- hasn't? NASA's difficulty is that their mistakes are television and newspaper lead stories. If that were the case with the military, who hide behind "national security" to justify their secrecy, or, let's say, just as one itty-bitty example, the banks, who hide behind proprietary business information and labyrinthine and dishonest accounting to keep their secrets, NASA's Fubars would be dismissed by pretty much everyone.

But NASA, this decision is just plain asinine: NASA criticised for sticking to imperial units. (New Scientist)

Magnetic Hoop

is the best explanation I can come up with. I'm not much interested in sports generally, but this is an awesome clip; my hat's off to the little guy.

Thinking Like an Astronomer, Part II

I debated posting this as a "followup" to yesterday's post, but it's too long already. However, to understand the context of this post (which is btw number 700), you'll need to read or at least skim through the previous one. Go on; I'll wait. There are some very funny bits, if I do say so myself, wherein I suggest a number of ways in which we can redefine cultural conventions in accordance with astronomical and physical standards...

Ok, you're back. I got the following reply to yesterday's comment:
64. JediBear @Lockwood: This isn’t science-vs-culture. As I pointed out, culture had it right in the first place. Before we called them solstices, english-speakers referred to the days as “midsummer” and “midwinter,” correctly noting their positions in the middle of the respective seasons.

I suspect it’s actually meteorology (a science, of sorts) that’s brought us to the pass where culture and astronomy find themselves arrayed together against the calendar.
I hope this isn't too dry, but one of my deepest concerns is that so very few people seem to understand what science is. This is especially the case when I read scientists talking about, and misrepresenting, the nature of science. So the below is my attempt to clarify some of the issues here. (If this kind of thing interests you, click on the "Nature of Science" label. And leave a note. The topic fascinates me, and I could go on and on, but I don't have sense that most people are interested.
68. @JediBear- exactly: a different culture, in a different place and time, defined them differently. We don't live there. We live here, in this culture. So for a minor splinter of this culture (us astronomy nerds) to unilaterally declare that the vast number who are not astronerds are "mistaken" is more than a little presumptuous. Perhaps an analogy would help clarify: this culture defines "Christmas" as December 25. It also has a mistaken belief that this date is the anniversary of the birth of a person called "Jesus Christ." The fact that this is a mistaken belief does not change the date of Christmas. So, JediBear, yes it is science vs. culture. And as I perhaps haven't said clearly enough, when science tries to dictate to culture about what it should believe- particularly about a matter that is so trivial- I don't see any good coming as a result. As I did say in my previous comment (59), "There is some truth and value in these endeavors, but to single-handedly declare that nearly everyone else is “wrong”, and a few astronomy nerds are “right”, with respect to what I think we agree is a culturally-based word, is at best silly. At worst, it’s heavy handed overreaching, and it’s the kind of thing that makes many people hostile to science."

If you want to treat it as a joke, then we're in agreement. That's what I was trying to get at in the latter part of the above post. However, if you see science as the final arbiter of what is right and wrong for a culture to do, believe, and celebrate, then you put yourself in the same position as religions, and you deserve the same disdain with which I hold them. Science is not about "truth," whatever that means, it's about evidence. The evidence is that you and Phil are dissatisfied with the dominant definition of seasons- and I'm not trying to criticize or denigrate that dissatifaction. The evidence is also that you are in a very distinct minority. All I'm trying to say is that defending your position with the cloak of SCIENCE, and announcing to the world "I'm right and all you poor sods are wrong," is not going to convince people, and is potentially damaging to the general attitude toward science.

The issue of "seasons" is not what we're discussing here. What we're discussing is the proper use and role of science. If you want to turn science into a faith-based dictatorship that imposes arbitrary standards, based on accurate, repeatable, observations that, nevertheless, have no significant impact on the lives of most people, and that, sadly, most people don't know or comprehend, that's your right. It's my right to point out that I think that's a really, really bad idea.

Likewise, to argue that people in the English middle ages celebrated the solstice as "midsummer," therefore they're right, and the vast majority of modern citizens are wrong, seems a little ridiculous too. What do you and Phil think about wearing scarves around your mouths and noses to prevent breathing the bad air that causes the black plague and malaria (malaria literally means "bad air")?

Just sayin'...
We'll see if the "April Summer" people comprehend what I'm tryin' to "splain.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Thinking Like an Astronomer

Followup (a bit later, after thinking about the fact this post needs a summary statement): Shorter "bad seasons" claim: "If you consider the word "seasons" without considering weather and climate, it doesn't mean anything, so it needs to be redefined in astronomical terms. Likewise, if you consider the word "dinner" and ignore the fact that it is made of food, and it gets eaten, the word doesn't mean anything, so it needs to be redefined in astronomical terms."

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomy blogger, actually responded to one of my comments on his post The Soooooooooooolstice, and I'm feeling irrationally pleased with myself. These Uber-bloggers somehow find time to post a lot of fun and informative posts, as well as conduct their professional lives, and maybe read some of the comments... to find time to reply to a few seems beyond the call of duty. So my post here is to summarize the gist of our conversation. If you take the time to read through to the end, I think you'll find a nice rewarding laugh...

In the original post, Phil starts off with this:
Tonight marks the summer solstice, the midpoint of summer (and what you’ll hear many people mistakenly call "the first day of summer"). The exact moment of the solstice occurs at 05:45 on June 21, but that’s June 20th in my part of the US (11:45 p.m. for me in Mountain time).
(Click through on the "...mistakenly call..." link to see his original post regarding "bad seasons," and his argument that summer, for example, should start on April 6 and end on August 6.) Now I don't know about where you live, but here in western Oregon, April 6 is absolutely not the "beginning of summer." Neither, as I point out in my comment, is June 21, most years. "Summer," in the sense of weather, activities people engage in, the clothes they wear, and biological activities, like flowers, fruits, bird behaviors and so on, typically really gets going around July 5. There is a semi-facetious saying in Corvallis that it will rain on July 4, then you won't see a cloud until September. (btw, the word "insolation" in the latter part of my comment refers to the total amount of incident light energy from the sun during some period of time.)

7. Lockwood Says:

I disagree with the “bad seasons” idea. Seasons are first and foremost climatic; the concept exists because the expected weather at various times of year have (and still do, to a lesser extent) determined what people have to do to survive. Where I’m sitting, at 3:00 Pacific time, we’re still having spring weather… and we usually are at the summer solstice.

If you want to talk about intensity of insolation, I’m on board. If you want to talk about the meaning of the word “seasons,” this is bad bad astronomy.

Phil responds,

48. Phil Plait Says:

Lockwood (37): [actually, I was (7), but no biggie] I make a point in the linked article that defining seasons climactically is silly, since different places have different climates. In that case, why define them at all? In reality, having any hard and fast definition of seasons is rather silly, but if we’re going to do it, it should at least be somewhat logical.When people say “Today is the first day of summer” how is that any more right than what I am saying?

...which is really a claim that the word "seasons" has no meaning, so the "rational" thing to do is to define them astronomically, in conflict with the experiences, expectations, and conventions of the vast majority of people. I have little problem when astronomers want to redefine Pluto as a "plutoid," "plutino," "dwarf planet," "minor planet," or whatever damned term they've come up with in the last few hours (OK, maybe a little problem). But science is based on empiricism- the idea that first-hand experience which can be reported, replicated and shared, is a valid and important basis upon which knowledge claims can be built. And while, yes, experts such as astonomers deserve special status in terms of the validity granted to their knowledge claims in certain areas (as do geologists, electricans, farmers and so on in their respective areas), I argue that a culturally embedded word such as "season" having an astronomical correlate and cause does not give an astronomer license to redefine such a word in the face of the experience, the empirical evidence, shared and, yes, known, by the vast majority of the world's inhabitants who are not astronomers. In fact, carried to its predictable conclusion, such license might lead to some fairly unintelligible results. Science cannot answer all questions, and scientists need to understand the areas in which their opinions carry great weight (and generally they do), and in which areas their opinions carry no more than anyone else's. Too often, with respect to the latter, they don't.

59. Lockwood Says:

Phil (#48) says: "I specifically say here that I am avoiding using weather in my reasoning.” OK, so let’s avoid referring to “fusion” when reasoning about stars. And the “different places have different climates” argument seems more than a little facile. Yes, Churchill, Manitoba has a different climate than Key West, Florida, but I’d be willing to bet that the climate is warmer in both places from June 21 to Sept. 21 than it is from ~April 6 to ~August 6. Another way of putting it is that August 6 to Sept. 21 is much more “summery” (sorry, another cultural reference that isn’t defined in astronomical or physical terms) than is the period from April 6 to June 21 for the vast bulk of inhabited extratropical areas in the northern hemisphere. Within the tropics, of course, “the seasons” aren’t a terribly useful concept; climate is much more contingent on regional geography than on the sun’s position in the sky. I didn’t bother getting into the heat inertia issue; I’m assuming that’s evident.

Phil, I can relate to your desire to nail things down, and your tendency to look for astronomical nails. Many of my physics friends tend to look at things the same way, and I tend to try to rationalize ways in which geology is the root cause of everything on earth. There is some truth and value in these endeavors, but to single-handedly declare that nearly everyone else is “wrong”, and a few astronomy nerds are “right”, with respect to what I think we agree is a culturally-based word, is at best silly. At worst, it’s heavy handed overreaching, and it’s the kind of thing that makes many people hostile to science.

Looking back, this seems to have a sterner tone than I’d prefer, over an issue that (again, I think we agree) is pretty trivial. So. Here are my suggestions for clarifying and physically defining common cultural concepts with an Astronomical and Physical Approach:

*Colors will no longer be named; we will teach people to refer to them by their frequencies. So, for example, “yellow” will henceforth be called “589 nm.” This has an added benefit in that people may come to comprehend that so called “microwaves” (which will now be called “0.1 to 10 cm”) are actually much less energetic or “dangerous” than visible light.

*ALL astronomical bodies that do not sustain fusion will be referred to as “STAR FAILs!” Let’s put this silly planet-plutoid-dwarf planet issue behind us for once and for all.

*The periodic table needs clarification too; it just keeps getting more and more cluttered:
1-Hydrogen; 2-Helium; 3- Metal. This will allow even kindergartners to memorize the entire thing.

*All physical entities will be referred to by their masses and appropriate stoichiometric chemical formulae. Care must be taken to calculate the molar proportions rather than mass proportions. Living entities should probably be designated as “O” for organic, 15 (see below). Non-living matter resulting from the death of a once-living entity will be likewise be distinguished with a “16″ notation, for “post organic.” Using myself as a simple example, I should henceforth be addressed as (roughly) 100kg H10M6(15). Post mortem, I will be recalled by the same designation, but my corpus will be referred to in the present tense as 100kg H10M6(16)

*Musical Tempos will be redefined in terms of a range of pulsars. I have provided the groundwork for this conversion by finding the periods of three well-known examples, but I leave it to others more musically and astronomically knowlegeable to fill out the list and match them to corresponding passages of music. The notation in sheet music and scholarly research should use the appropriate astronomical designations (in parentheses below), rather than their common English names:
Crab Pulsar 0.033403347 s (PSR B0531+21)
Vela Pulsar 0.089298530 s (PSR B0833-45 or PSR J0835-4510) (Phil, why does this object have two designations?)
Vulpecula Pulsar 0.144457105 s (PSR B1937+21, sometimes written as PSR B1937+214) (!!!! Again? This isn’t science!)

*Musical notes will henceforth be designated by frequency (rather than by wavelength, to keep music distinct from light). Who was the dingbat that used letters, which aren’t defined physically, to describe music, which is first and foremost a physical phenomenon of both Stars and STAR FAIL’s! (the latter provided they have atmospheres of H, He, and/or M)? So, for example, “middle C” will now be referred to as “261.626 Hz.”

*Speaking of letters, this system is entirely culturally-based and needs to be brought up to tight, Mathematical Standards, worthy of being described as “Science.” Here’s my suggestion: each letter will act as an equivalent digit in a base-26 numerical system. So “and” represents 1*676 + 14*26 + 4 (base 10, our “native,” cultural base. We’ll work on that cultural influence later), or 1044. 1044 has a variety of meanings, which can be represented by using sub- and superscripts (though not in the word processing utility I’m working on at the moment. 1044 can act as a conjuction, it can imply addition, and it is a logical operator. Converting the English language to its base 10 equivalent will effectively and logically convert all discussion in that language to a series of calculations- the accuracy and truthfulness of which can be simply and quickly tested with a mere calculator. No more spin zone. No more propaganda from the anti-science and science illiterate. The lies and avoidance of truth will no longer be possible! Puntuation is currently an unresolved problem, but enormous strides forward are expected from research currently underway.


*(Hope you enjoyed this discussion. I did)

There is plenty more to be said about this kind of issue- libraries full of books worth, in fact. I'm not going to write them today.

Followup 2: I went back and reread the "bad seasons" post, and one bit I had missed before popped out, which I think deserves recognition. Phil makes the argument that daylight duration is the important component of the concept of seasons- which I basically acknowledged when I remarked on the intesity of insolation. However much that metric might appeal to a person whose data is best acquired at night, I would argue that for the vast bulk of us, the prevailing weather and climate is more of a factor in our lives from season to season than is the duration and position of the sun's passage across the sky. Additionally, the climate component, whatever it might be at your location, is better aligned with the traditional seasonal divisions than with Phil's choice.