Archive for the ‘Weather, Natural Disasters, Space, Science & Tech’ Category

Mars probe discovers ice

Friday, June 20th, 2008

It’s official: there’s ice on Mars.

Another great lightning show

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

We’re safe and sound in Phoenix, having flown in from Tennessee yesterday with no Friday the 13th complications. :) Loyette was amazing; she didn’t cry or fuss at all during takeoff, and she literally slept through landing. At one point in the middle of the flight, she woke up and cried for about 10 seconds — but that was it. Otherwise she was completely calm for the entire flight. She’s an amazing baby. :)

Also amazing: the view out the left-hand side of the plane, where we were sitting, looking south directly into a thunderstorm over west Texas. Neither the photos nor the video that I took remotely do the sight justice, but just for a taste, here’s a photo:

Tstormair_3

It was really, really cool to see — the second time in a week that I’ve been treated to a great lightning show. This time, of course, we were watching it from 36,000 feet, so it was a very different sort of view. There was lightning every couple of seconds, flashing across the sky and lighting up the clouds in all sorts of awesome patterns. Absolutely incredible.

Here’s an archived radar image of what I believe is the line of storms that we were looking into:

Tstorm11pmradar

Hurricane season preview

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

My preview of the hurricane season is up on Pajamas Media. Perhaps the most interesting point is this:

There…seems to be a new focus among the [seasonal] forecasters on explaining the uncertainties inherent in their task. NOAA, for instance, now includes percentage probabilities along with its predictions of storm activity, somewhat like the margin of error in a public opinion poll. And the margin is quite high: “an above-normal season is most likely (65% chance), [but] there is a significant 25% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.” (Definitions here.) “This outlook is probabilistic, not deterministic,” NOAA’s introduction states. It is “based on predictions of large-scale climate factors known to be strong indicators of upcoming seasonal Atlantic hurricane activity,” but there are “uncertainties inherent in such climate outlooks,” which the percentage probabilities are designed to take into account. …

Still, despite these acknowledged uncertainties, and despite the recent failures, forecasters have soldiered on and tried their best to accurately predict the 2008 season. In fact, the Klotzbach/Gray team has based its forecast on a newly tweaked model, designed to correct some of the errors of previous years. Cynics might compare this to college football’s BCS, which has repeatedly changed its formula to compensate for previous years’ problems — the sports equivalent of “hindcasting” — only to see brand new problems develop in subsequent seasons.

On the other hand, this is how the science evolves, and Klotzbach and Gray are forthright in admitting that it is a work in progress. In any event, “hindcasts” based on the new model come much closer to the mark than the real-time forecasts did in all of the last four years, which is significant, since 2004 and 2005 were both well above average (and were under-forecasted), while 2006 and 2007 were below average (and were over-forecasted). “The new hindcast model improves upon our real-time forecasts by approximately 60%…over the period from 2004-2007,” Klotzbach and Gray write.

Read the whole thing.

P.S. Naturally, the comments are all about… you guessed it… global warming. *sigh*

Big Google is watching you me

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Google Street View has come to Knoxville.

For instance, here’s the place I just came back from — the Knoxville Visitor
Center on Gay Street, where the WDVX Blue Plate Special takes place
every weekday:


View Larger Map

And here’s a look at the Gay Street Bridge, seen from across the river in South Knoxville, with several downtown buildings, the Sunsphere, and the Henley Street Bridge in the distance:


View Larger Map

(Hat tip: Michael Silence.) More after the jump.

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Nature’s fireworks

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

As I mentioned earlier, a severe thunderstorm pounded North Knoxville this afternoon. I had a bird’s eye view of the storm from the parking garage downtown where I park for work, and I was able to capture several still frames of cloud-to-ground lightning from the videos I took with my digital camera. Here’s the best one:

MVI_6514-1

Here’s what the storm looked like on radar at that very moment:

Tstormknox611_2

A wider, animated radar view can be found here. There are more lightning pics — and other storm photos — in my Flickr gallery, and several of those photos are highlighted on my photoblog.

UPDATE: One of my lightning videos is now on Flickr as well. You can see several lightning strikes, including the one pictured above.

P.S. The thunderstorm gave way to a beautiful sunset several hours later. Here are a couple photos of that:

IMG_6525.JPG

IMG_6529.JPG

Again, visit my Flickr gallery and my photoblog for more.

No Shuttle for me

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Tried to watch the Shuttle & ISS fly overhead, but the sky was too bright and hazy (even the Moon is somewhat dimmed by wispy clouds, so the spacecrafts didn’t stand a chance). Anyone have better luck elsewhere?

Shuttle & ISS Wednesday night

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Assuming the Space Shuttle Discovery undocks as scheduled from the International Space Station at 7:33 AM EDT tomorrow (i.e., Wednesday) morning, there will be an opportunity tomorrow night for folks in parts of the southeastern U.S. to see the Shuttle and ISS flying overhead side-by-side.

Here in Knoxville, the 9:04 PM EDT flyover is just 11 minutes after sunset, so I’m not sure how visible the spacecrafts — particularly the dimmer Shuttle — will be. Certainly, there won’t be much to see if you’re west of Knoxville; the sky will be too bright. But the further east you go, the darker the sky will be at the requisite time. Thus, both the Shuttle and ISS should be easily visible in places that are east of Knoxville and reasonably close to the black line below:

Issmapjune11web

Along the Carolina and Georgia coasts, all across the Florida peninsula, and in the Bahamas, the view should be stunning, weather permitting. As I’ve said before: "Trust me: even if you’re not into dorky stuff like Iridium flares, this is well worth a trip outside at the proper time, if the sky is clear." The sight of "two distinct, bright dots, moving briskly across the evening sky in
tandem — two unmistakable beacons of the human presence in space" is "a really neat thing to see."

You can use Heavens-Above to check the specific viewing conditions for your location. If you’re in the U.S., just click here and enter the name of your city or town, then select it from the resulting list of locales. On the screen that follows, click on "10 day predictions for: ISS" and look for an evening flyover on June 11 (or for that matter, June 12 or 13). If you’re outside the U.S., select your country here and then follow the same steps.

It’s a shame the flyover is so close to sunset here in Knoxville, because from this location, the spacecrafts’ path takes them right past Mars, Saturn and the Moon:

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Steve Jobs is a genius

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Thinking about yesterday’s debut of the 3G iPhone, it occurred to me that Steve Jobs is a freakin’ genius. Not even a year ago, Apple released the original iPhone with a price tag of $599 for the 8 GB model. Barely two months later, the price was slashed to $399. Now, Apple has unveiled a new & improved iPhone — with a price tag of $199 for the 8 GB model. That’s half the most recent price (as Apple’s ads are happily trumpeting), and one-third of the original price.

Why does that make Jobs a genius, you ask? Think about it: if the price had been $199 all along ($299 for the higher-end model), would anybody have considered that cheap? Reasonable, certainly; surprisingly low for such a cool phone, probably. But people wouldn’t have been falling all over themselves saying, "WOW! What an amazingly great price!" to anywhere near the extent they’re doing now. By jacking up the cost in the first place, Apple made its eventual price point seem incredible, rather than merely good. Heh. Steve Jobs has us eating out of his freakin’ hands.

Speaking of Steve Jobs and eating, there is rampant talk on the Internets — even unto Drudge! — about Jobs’s physical appearance at yesterday’s WWDC keynote. Some have described Jobs as looking "sickly skinny" or even "dangerously thin." As one blog notes, many concerned Apple fans are "wondering if the pancreatic cancer has come back. Steve was diagnosed back in 2003 but that info was not released to the public until 2004 when he had surgery."

As I learned yesterday when I saw Drudge’s headline and tried Googling around to figure out what he was talking about, this is not the first time a Jobs keynote has caused frenzied Internet speculation about his health. A similar phenomenon occurred in 2006, to the point where Apple had to release a statement assuring everyone that Jobs was a-okay.

Since the CEO’s health seems to be of such concern to his adoring minions, perhaps somebody could use the new iPhone Software Development Kit to create an application that monitors and broadcasts his vital signs in real time. ;)

P.S. Meanwhile, at least one blogger is wondering whether Steve Jobs is Gimli.

Apple WWDC Keynote Livestream

Monday, June 9th, 2008

For all the Mac users and now iPhone users out there, Steve Jobs’s keynote from the World Wide Developers Conference is underway.  So far, iPhone 2.0 features have been discussed, including enterprise support and the SDK.  Later today, the next version of OS X will be discussed as well.  If you are interested in reading, MacRumors.com is liveblogging here:  http://www.macrumorslive.com/

UPDATE:  iPhone 3G Announced

  • 3G wireless
  • GPS
  • Improved battery life
  • thinner
  • improved audio
  • will be available in 70 countries

UPDATE BY BRENDAN: In light of a) the much faster connection speed,
b) the new lower price (just $199 for the 8GB model, literally one-third of what the first iPhones cost last June), c) the various new
cool features (particularly GPS), and d) the fact that my Sprint contract recently expired, I would like to offer the following
graphical commentary, which roughly sums up my feelings:

Iphonegollum_2

P.S. But, I ask again: can you use it as a modem???

Quote of the day #3

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

“So Drudge is starting his thing, that he does every summer, where he’s like, ‘It’s HOT! Global warming is REAL!’ And then in the winter, he says, ‘It’s COLD! Global warming is NOT real!” –Becky

Iconography

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Has anyone else noticed Google’s new favicon?

(More information here and here.)

Personally, I don’t like it.

UPDATE: In other giant-Internet-company news, Amazon is down! (Hat tip: Insty.)

McCain: Let’s go to Mars

Friday, June 6th, 2008

In an obvious and blatant attempt to shore up the crucial Space-Obsessed Law Professors With Highly Trafficked Blogs voting bloc, John McCain said yesterday he would like to put a man on Mars.

Sounds good to me, but what I want to know is, will we do the other things?

P.S. In other John McCain-related news, he’s apparently trying to fight off the "age issue" by making references that the youngsters of today will understand — like, for instance, comparing Obama to William Jennings Bryan.

The year was eighteen ninety-six, and John McCain was just sixteen…

:)

P.P.S. And yet more McCain-related news: he’s released his first general-election ad, in which he states: "Only a fool or a fraud talks tough or romantically about war. … I hate war.
And I know how terrible its costs are."

TPM’s Greg Sargent says "McCain is using his bio to achieve separation from George W. Bush," suggesting that "even if he’s
continuing Bush’s war policies, he’s different from Dubya in that he understands the costs in a way that Bush never did." The subtext, Sargent writes, is: "Even if that reckless chicken-hawk took us to war,
someone who actually understands and has experienced the costs of war
— someone you can actually believe — is here to tell you that we must
continue it."

So, to review: John McCain hates war, yet he wants to send a man to Mars, a planet which is named after… war. :)

UPDATE: Glenn links here, and says of my above joke, "somehow the Obama backers manage to make everything about Iraq… Heh." Hey, now! What’s this about "Obama backers"? I know it might be hard to believe, given my blog’s recent focus, but I repeat:

I am undecided. In fact, if you put a gun to my head right now
and made me choose, I think — *think* — I’d vote for McCain. But it’s
really entirely up in the air how I’ll vote in November. I like and
admire Obama, but that doesn’t mean I think he’d make the best
president. The best Democratic nominee, yes, but that’s only because
his opponent is such a lying, conniving, deceitful [bad word]. Against
McCain, he doesn’t have such an obvious "character" advantage (both
candidates are, as best as I can tell, generally good, decent and
honest, though of course not pure or perfect), and I’m not at all sure
who I think is, on balance, better on policy.

If that confuses you, consider this: "The portion of my brain that views politics as a sport can’t help
‘rooting’ for Obama (he’s exciting! he’s inspiring! he’s shiny!), [but] the
rational part of my brain, which governs my actual vote, is totally undecided
between Obama and McCain." Obama is the scrappy mid-major going up against the staid, boring, established program; he’s Boise State against Oklahoma ("They said this day would never come: a WAC team in a BCS bowl! Yes, we can!"), he’s Appalachian State against Michigan, he’s Davidson against Kansas. Or, as McCain might prefer to say, he’s Hawaii against Georgia. :) The point is, he’s fun to root for, and that fact bleeds over into my blog coverage. (Also, my blog coverage has just been generally Dem-dominated because that contest has been much more exciting since late January.) Moreover, it’s fun to poke fun at John McCain because, you know, he’s old. (In fairness, I’ve also poked fun at Obama for being messianic and cultish. Whee, humor is fun!) But none of that necessarily means that I support Obama, because in the end, politics isn’t a sport, and voting isn’t about "rooting" or making jokes, it’s about deciding the future of the country. So yes, I’m undecided. Really.

P.P.P.S. Speaking of the Red Planet, Andrew Sullivan this morning posted a picture from 2005 of Sunset on Mars. He should have included it in his "The View From Your Window" series!

T.S. Arthur forms

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

As foreshadowed below, Tropical Storm Arthur has formed — one day before the “official” start of the Atlantic season — from the remnants of Pacific T.S. Alma. It was actually designated a T.S. while over the Yucatan Peninsula. I’m out and about right now; details when I get home.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Arthur didn’t form over land; it formed “near the coast of Belize,” according to the 1:00 PM special advisory that designated it. It was over land by the time the 2:00 PM advisory was issued, which is what I was reading when I wrote this post on my cell phone.

No word yet from Alan Sullivan considers the NHC’s designation of Arthur “count-padding.” Anyway…

…TROPICAL STORM ARTHUR OVER THE YUCATAN PENINSULA…EXPECTED TO
WEAKEN OVER LAND LATER TODAY…

… MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS REMAIN NEAR 40 MPH…65 KM/HR…WITH HIGHER GUSTS. THESE WINDS ARE OCCURRING PRIMARILY OVER WATER WELL TO THE NORTHEAST AND EAST OF THE CENTER. ARTHUR IS EXPECTED TO WEAKEN TODAY AS IT MOVES FARTHER INLAND OVER YUCATAN.

After the expected weakening, Arthur could re-strengthen in the Bay of Campeche or the Gulf of Mexico, according to Eric Berger and Dr. Jeff Masters.

Alma could re-form as Arthur

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Will the first tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season be… the first tropical storm of the Eastern Pacific hurricane season?

SPECIAL TROPICAL DISTURBANCE STATEMENT
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
500 AM EDT SAT MAY 31 2008

AN AREA OF LOW PRESSURE…ASSOCIATED WITH THE REMNANTS OF FORMER EASTERN PACIFIC TROPICAL STORM ALMA…IS CENTERED OVER THE GULF OF HONDURAS NEAR THE COAST OF NORTHERN BELIZE. THE LOW IS MOVING SLOWLY WESTWARD…AND THE CENTER IS EXPECTED TO MOVE INLAND OVER THE YUCATAN PENINSULA DURING THE NEXT FEW HOURS. HOWEVER…SATELLITE IMAGERY AND SURFACE OBSERVATIONS INDICATE THIS SYSTEM IS BECOMING BETTER ORGANIZED…AND A TROPICAL DEPRESSION COULD FORM IF THE CENTER REMAINS OFFSHORE THIS MORNING. EVEN IF NO DEVELOPMENT OCCURS…LOCALIZED HEAVY RAINS AND FLOODS ARE POSSIBLE DURING THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS OVER PORTIONS OF HONDURAS…EL SALVADOR…GUATEMALA…BELIZE…AND SOUTHEASTERN MEXICO. FUTURE TROPICAL DISTURBANCE STATEMENTS WILL BE ISSUED ON THIS SYSTEM AS NECESSARY.

In some instances, a storm can retain its name when crossing from one basin to another. I forget the exact criteria for that, but I believe it has to do with whether the old storm retains its circulation, as opposed to merely its moisture. Given the NHC’s reference to the “remants of former” Alma, and the statement that “a tropical depression could form” (as opposed to re-form), I think they’re contemplating designating it as a new storm — in which case it would be named Arthur, if it reaches tropical storm status in the Atlantic basin. Weather Matrix agrees.

Meanwhile, weather Alan Sullivan, who correctly bucked the predictions of an active season last year, writes: “The Atlantic is way too active for so early in the season.”

Alma

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

The first tropical storm of the Eastern Pacific hurricane season (which starts annually on May 15, roughly two weeks earlier than the Atlantic season) has formed. Its name is Tropical Storm Alma, and it could cause a major flooding disaster in Central America.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts on Sunday — not that that means anything, of course. The first named Atlantic storm will be Arthur.