Dad, where is the Space Station?

During the middle of last week I revisited a site I haven’t browsed to in a while. Heavens-above.com can be used to, among other things, determine when the International Space Station is visible in your part of the world. You plug in your lat and long (or choose your city from a menu) and the site will tell you when you can see the ISS float by with tables showing the time, the direction, the azimuth etc. I used to do this more often a few years ago; I’d grab Suzanne and we’d rush outside and watch this bright dot go overhead. I’d marvel, and Suzanne would pretend to be interested. It was more interesting to watch it magically appear or disappear in the middle of the sky as it came out of or went into the Earths shadow. I also used this site to predict Iridium flares which are awesome. Should do this again sometime…

Anyhow, this week I saw that on Friday night it’d be visible for a good 10 minutes going from horizon to horizon with a maximum altitude of 60-odd degrees (not too bad on the neck muscles) and an amazing magnitude of -3.2. Very bright indeed.

So, when I got home Friday night I had about an hour to give Jett and Ashton a quick lesson in orbital mechanics and an even quicker history on the construction of the ISS. I’m pretty sure they got the gist of it all; that the ISS goes around the Earth, it’s a joint project between the Russian, American and European space agencies, that it needs to be around dawn or dusk if you want to see it etc.

So, with that in mind I thought we’d bring up NASAs own tracking map so we could see exactly where it was, and so we could run outside at the right time, but unfortunately that map is turned out to be hopelessly inaccurate at the time. Not sure why, maybe it misread the time/timezone from my system clock but it seemed to be way out. So we made do with the map at Heavens-Above.com which was fine. We saw that it was flying right over London, England and its path would bring it over Perth via India all in about 35 minutes. Pretty fast!

So, at the appointed time which turned out to be about 5 past 8 we wandered outside and turned it into a competition to find the space station first. It wasn’t hard. We all knew it was coming from the north-east. When it came it was easily the brightest thing in the sky besides the moon. Ashton asked me if I was really serious about Sirius being the brightest star. Haw Haw.

So, yeah we watched it for a few minutes. A silent, bright light floating by. I think Ashton lost interest pretty quickly but Jett stayed the whole time.

The thing is, for the rest of the night and for most of the next day Jett would ask, “Dad, where is the space station now?” and he’d demand to get back into the computer to use the “space map” to find it. This would happen about every half hour. Once he found out where it was, he’d run around the house and give status updates to Suzanne and Ashton. “Mum, it’s over Japan now!” He asked me to find pictures and the names of the current crew too. I wonder why this has captured his imagination so much? And I wonder how long it will last.

Next weekend I plan on breaking out the old telescope and pointing it at Mars which is currently close to opposition. Moons’s a bit bright now, so we’ll wait a week.

Global Warming: I’m not listening

Global Warming: I'm not listeningNothing pisses me off more (well, ok, lots of things piss me off more… I’m easily pissed off. But for the sake of agument let’s go with this) than people who either seriously or jokingly say “So much for Global Warming, it’s so cold outside today!”

Listen up and I’ll explain:
Increases in the amount of greenhouse gases make the world warmer. They are called greenhouse gases because they trap heat, being transparent to sunlight coming into the atmosphere, and opaque to various wavelengths of infrared radiation emitted by matter warmed by the sunlight.
The atmosphere becomes more energetic, and thus more active. Heated objects expand, so does heated air and water and land.
Now, there is a temperature gradient from the equator to the poles because of the angle at which the sun’s rays strike the Earth.
The Southern hemisphere has more water and a continent at its pole. The Northern hemisphere has most of the world’s land, and a small ocean at its pole.
Thus the two hemispheres heat unevenly. The Northern hemisphere heats faster because it has more land and because that’s where most of the human-caused emissions occur–it’s like dumping feathers–they spread out eventually, carried by the wind or water, but first they pile up.
The continent of Antarctica is surrounded by a circular current of water and a circular current of air that helps to keep it cold, even as the southern hemisphere warms. It is also very high. It is the highest continent. Much of it is more than two or three miles high–because of all that ice.
Antarctica is a very conservative mass. Since it takes vastly more energy to melt ice than to warm air or water, it is taking a very long time to warm the high plateau of East Anarctica.
At the other pole, however, the ice is floating on water for the most part. Heat dumped down the temperature gradient is melting this ice. Thermal expansion and heat absorbed by open water is melting this ice from below.
This makes for a much more variable and turbulent system. The land in the Northern hemisphere is warming, while the sea warms more slowly. Except in the North. The land and the sea are both warming there because they are the bottom of the temperature hill.
Canada and Australia have warmed twice as fast as the world as a whole, for example, They are near the bottom of their respective temperature gradients. The West of the USA has warmed at close to the Canadian rate. It is cut off from the sea by the Rocky Mountains.
Now, when you pump more heat into an unstable system, like the Northern Hemisphere, it becomes more unstable.
Think of a lot of hot air–it flows upward and pole-wards. Cold air has to flow the other way to make room. Thus, the more you heat the tropics (and the land), the more hot humid air flows northward, and the more likely the cold air is to dip southward, especially in the American and Canadian West.
It normally does this. In a warming world, it can be counted on to do this more.
Thus, this year you have a jet stream which has dipped down as far as Florida and Arizona. There is a high pressure area over the North Atlantic which is helping to lock this dip into place. Europe is also cold because it has its own dip of the jet stream. Siberia is not that much colder than usual.
Last year was exceptionally warm. All years have been exceptionally warm for the last decade. But it has been exceptionally cold in North America. This is something that happens normally sometimes, but you can expect more of it while the world warms. The cold air and the hot air have to mix somewhere and somehow.
In other words, you can expect more blizzards in odd places and at odd times. Warm humid air is a good way of carrying heat and water. But eventually it has to dump its heat and its water. If the place is cold enough, whumpfff! you get a massive amount of snow, or hail, or rain.
While the global warming deniers have been clipping the charts to focus on the last ten years, claiming that it’s getting colder, and on the USA, where it IS colder than elsewhere, but not that much colder than winters were like when I was a kid, the world as a whole has continued to warm.
It’s a kind of tunnel vision, or horse-blinkers, that horses who don’t want to be distracted by where they are going put on, so they can pretend they’re not going any where.
Last year was one of the warmest on record globally. This year is likely to be another.
And take note: it doesn’t matter how much snow falls or ice forms in the winter if the summer melt is greater than can be replaced. You can have very cold winters or normal winters, but the ice gets thinner every year. The area may yo-yo almost up to “normal” for the last few thousand years, but it’s going, going, gone! –at least in the summer.
We don’t have to worry about Antarctica because the bulk of its ice is protected by the sea bed, which has a sort of bowl like “lip” that keeps water from flowing under the main bulk of East Antarctica ice.
Of course, when water warms enough to melt the ice back off of this lip, it will pour into the bowl and then the East Antartica ice sheet will be threatened with unbelievably rapid collapse (over centuries, all the same).
This is unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, but is one big wildcard hidden in the deck for our species as a whole.
In short, the human race is living in a fool’s paradise. The long-term effects of things we are arguing over now could really, really do a lot of damage 10,000 years from now, or for that matter in 500.
The precautionary principle says we should be careful, even about the unknown unknowns, let alone the known unknowns, the known knowns and those rara avis, the unknown knowns, the stuff we know is true but don’t know we know is true, such as the fact that global warming deniers are completely full of BS and a lot of them know it. How many BSers know they are BSing? We don’t know. A lot. I am assuming all the people with a vested interest know that they are pursuing their vested interests, not the truth. That would be anybody with a vested interest (or mental or emotional investment) in coal, oil, natural gas, the wrong sort of bio-fuels, planes, trains and automobiles, not to mention the consumption society and mass affluence Euro- or American-style.
Well, that would be nearly all of us living in Fools’ Paradise, wouldn’t it?

Listen up and I’ll explain:

Increases in the amount of greenhouse gases make the world warmer. They are called greenhouse gases because they trap heat, being transparent to sunlight coming into the atmosphere, and opaque to various wavelengths of infrared radiation emitted by matter warmed by the sunlight.

The atmosphere becomes more energetic, and thus more active. Heated objects expand, so does heated air and water and land.

Now, there is a temperature gradient from the equator to the poles because of the angle at which the sun’s rays strike the Earth.

The Southern hemisphere has more water and a continent at its pole. The Northern hemisphere has most of the world’s land, and a small ocean at its pole.

Thus the two hemispheres heat unevenly. The Northern hemisphere heats faster because it has more land and because that’s where most of the human-caused emissions occur–it’s like dumping feathers–they spread out eventually, carried by the wind or water, but first they pile up.

The continent of Antarctica is surrounded by a circular current of water and a circular current of air that helps to keep it cold, even as the southern hemisphere warms. It is also very high. It is the highest continent. Much of it is more than two or three miles high–because of all that ice.

Antarctica is a very conservative mass. Since it takes vastly more energy to melt ice than to warm air or water, it is taking a very long time to warm the high plateau of East Anarctica.

At the other pole, however, the ice is floating on water for the most part. Heat dumped down the temperature gradient is melting this ice. Thermal expansion and heat absorbed by open water is melting this ice from below.

This makes for a much more variable and turbulent system. The land in the Northern hemisphere is warming, while the sea warms more slowly. Except in the North. The land and the sea are both warming there because they are the bottom of the temperature hill.

Canada and Australia have warmed twice as fast as the world as a whole, for example, They are near the bottom of their respective temperature gradients. The West of the USA has warmed at close to the Canadian rate. It is cut off from the sea by the Rocky Mountains.

Now, when you pump more heat into an unstable system, like the Northern Hemisphere, it becomes more unstable.

Think of a lot of hot air–it flows upward and pole-wards. Cold air has to flow the other way to make room. Thus, the more you heat the tropics (and the land), the more hot humid air flows northward, and the more likely the cold air is to dip southward, especially in the American and Canadian West.

It normally does this. In a warming world, it can be counted on to do this more.

Thus, this year you have a jet stream which has dipped down as far as Florida and Arizona. There is a high pressure area over the North Atlantic which is helping to lock this dip into place. Europe is also cold because it has its own dip of the jet stream. Siberia is not that much colder than usual.

Last year was exceptionally warm. All years have been exceptionally warm for the last decade. But it has been exceptionally cold in North America. This is something that happens normally sometimes, but you can expect more of it while the world warms. The cold air and the hot air have to mix somewhere and somehow.

In other words, you can expect more blizzards in odd places and at odd times. Warm humid air is a good way of carrying heat and water. But eventually it has to dump its heat and its water. If the place is cold enough, whumpfff! you get a massive amount of snow, or hail, or rain.

Graphs can show anythingWhile the global warming deniers have been clipping the charts to focus on the last ten years, claiming that it’s getting colder, and on the USA, where it IS colder than elsewhere, but not that much colder than winters were like when I was a kid, the world as a whole has continued to warm.

It’s a kind of tunnel vision, or horse-blinkers, that horses who don’t want to be distracted by where they are going put on, so they can pretend they’re not going any where.

Last year was one of the warmest on record globally. This year is likely to be another.

And take note: it doesn’t matter how much snow falls or ice forms in the winter if the summer melt is greater than can be replaced. You can have very cold winters or normal winters, but the ice gets thinner every year. The area may yo-yo almost up to “normal” for the last few thousand years, but it’s going, going, gone! –at least in the summer.

We don’t have to worry about Antarctica because the bulk of its ice is protected by the sea bed, which has a sort of bowl like “lip” that keeps water from flowing under the main bulk of East Antarctica ice.

Of course, when water warms enough to melt the ice back off of this lip, it will pour into the bowl and then the East Antartica ice sheet will be threatened with unbelievably rapid collapse (over centuries, all the same).

This is unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, but is one big wildcard hidden in the deck for our species as a whole.

In short, the human race is living in a fool’s paradise. The long-term effects of things we are arguing over now could really, really do a lot of damage 10,000 years from now, or for that matter in 500.

The precautionary principle says we should be careful, even about the unknown unknowns, let alone the known unknowns, the known knowns and those rara avis, the unknown knowns, the stuff we know is true but don’t know we know is true, such as the fact that global warming deniers are completely full of BS and a lot of them know it. How many BSers know they are BSing? We don’t know. A lot. I am assuming all the people with a vested interest know that they are pursuing their vested interests, not the truth. That would be anybody with a vested interest (or mental or emotional investment) in coal, oil, natural gas, the wrong sort of bio-fuels, planes, trains and automobiles, not to mention the consumption society and mass affluence Euro- or American-style.

Well, that would be nearly all of us living in Fools’ Paradise, wouldn’t it?

Worlds without number

And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying:

For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.
And by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth.
And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.

The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

Government, patriotism, war and truth

Just some quotes I ran into a couple days back. This kind of stuff makes me think.

Joseph GoebbelsIf you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
Joseph Goebbels (1897 – 1945)

Herman GoeringNaturally the common people don’t want war . . . but after all it is the leaders of a country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or parliament or a communist dictatorship. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.
Hermann Goering (1893 – 1945)

George BushYou gotta keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propoganda.
George Bush

My fortieth birthday present: a limo ride

I’ve always loved Hummers, especially the first 1992 civilian release of the original military model. It was big, boofy, chunky and said “Don’t mess with me”. I’m not that much of a fan of the H2, and the H3 not cool at all; I would rather push my Toyota than drive an H3. I’ve bought a small collection of Hot Wheels Hummer which Jett has taken over, and I realise that this is the closest I will ever get to owning the real thing.

From the first time I saw it I thought that it’d make a killer limousine. I started seeing them on TV in around 1995, and I thought that if I could get one out here to Perth it’d make a great business and make me oodles of money. Unfortunately I was never in a position to get the idea off the ground. Still I think it took to about 2004 before I first saw a stretch Hummer limo on Perth roads.

Suzanne made me  insanely jealous a few weeks ago when her school-mum friends got together as a going-away party night activity when ours and another family left our old suburb. She lauded it over me, too. “Guess where I am?” she texted. And every time we’d see a Hummer on the road after that she’d casually mention “I’ve ridden in one of those, you know”.

But, this ride of hers planted the seed of an idea in her mind. This would make a great 40th birthday present for me. I have an aversion to parties and such, especially those in my honour, so this would be a good low-key affair. It took a few weeks of meticulous planning in secret to pull this off without me knowing. And I am so impressed that neither of our kids divulged the secret. I knew something was up about a week ago, but Suzanne made me promise not to pump them for information. I’m pretty sure I could have made them crack, but I was a good sport and didn’t really apply myself.

So we turned up at her parents place and I find a bunch of family there too. OK, good. I knew this much already. Actually, a few things were going through my mind on the way there… perhaps it was a bungy jump; I even thought she might have somehow gotten me onto the show “Wipeout“, but they probably don’t film in Perth.

Anyhow, the limo pulled up and I must say I was really surprised and happy we drove around Fremantle and Perth eating sushi and listening to cheesy rock music videos. See the photos below

My analysis of the Nintendo Wii

The Nintendo WiiRather than a bunch of smaller presents each, Santa bought us one big “family present” for Christmas. He got us an extra set of controllers with Nun-Chucks, and set of Wii Remote Plus. He even managed to slip in the Wii Fit Plus package which he must have known Suzanne really desired.

After opening the boxes on Christmas morning we fired it up to test it out. I did a quick RTFM, but in the end I didn’t really need to. The system is easy to set up and configure. All I really needed to know were some technical details like the range of the controllers so that we didn’t stand too far back.

We were presented with the Wii menu. From here we could play a game, connect to a network for updates and internet browsing, or adjust the settings like date/time and location. These configurations were all easily found, changed and saved. Connecting to the WiFi network was as easy as supplying the passphrase. We don’t intend to do a lot of web browsing on this, but hey… it’s handy for system updates and adding Wii “channels”.

We found navigating with the Wii Remotes to be an easy learning curve; simple and intuitive. I’ve never owned any other form of Nintendo game so I thought it might be a chore to learn the buttons but it wasn’t difficult at all.

So after familiarising ourselves with the controls we thought we’d put it to use and play some games. First up was Wii Sports, the default game included in the packaging which is a collection of 6-8 games like Tennis, Bowling, Boxing and a few others. It took us a few minutes each to learn each game, but that’s to be expected from something completely new.

The next game was Wii Sports Resort, which is a collection of about 20 mini-games plus a plug-in to the Wii Controller which makes the controller more sensitive and precise. This sensitivity is needed for almost all the games like Golf, Frisbee, Sword Fighting, Basketball and Archery. You eventually learn that you get rated on each performance with points. Once you reach 1000 points you become a “Pro”. There’s also a handful of “stamps”, another form of reward for “achievements”. So far I’m a pro on Sword Fighting and Archery.

Typical Wii-fit playerThe Wii-Fit bundle includes the Wii-Fit Board which enhances the Wii-Fit game. It’s a balance board which is remarkably sensitive to the slightest shift in weight. Using the Yoga section of Wii-Fit showed me that I have absolutely no balance. The Wii-Fit Board can also be used with other games such as Raving Rabbids, which my mum had coincidentally given to us as a Christmas gift. It opens up new possibilities in the game such as sitting down on the board and using it as a sled, or standing on it sideways to use it as an interplanetary surf board. It’s great fun.

I have found, however, that we have been putting in more time on the Wii that I would like. Sure it’s Christmas, it’s school holidays and it’s the new novelty but I was surprised to find that we had logged an average of more than 6 hours a day on it, actively playing games. This week we had our first Wii-free day and we intend to ration out trigger time from now on. I think the kids can play as much Wii-fit as they want as that will help with balance, strength and general fitness. But other games should be doled out in small amounts. Hopefully the novelty will wear off, but not too much. It’s a fun system, and some games like Wii-Fit can be a great benefit if used properly.

Accelerated Decrepitude

brsm_jf_sebastianSo I’m 40 today. I don’t want to make a big deal of it, but I’m sure Suzanne has something planned. Pretty sure we’re going to the local pub tonight for a pizza dinner, which is about as elaborate a party as I want. I’ve already got some well wishes from facebook and, as always, the guys at potf2.com.

It’s just another day, but I suppose it’s a milestone of sorts. I’m officially old now. But at least Ashton reassures me that I’m not really old. I guess to a seven year old child you’re only old when you are hunched over with wrinkles and coke bottle glasses.

40 turns up a lot in scripture and is commonly found as a measurement as some substantial amount of time for endurance or preparation: it rained for 40 days and nights during the flood. Moses spent 40 years shepherding his people in the wilderness, and also spent 40 days up Mt Sinai (twice!). King David ruled for 40 years, as did Solomon.  Elijah fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, as did the Saviour.

So with 40 being a theme of time and preparation I can say I’m fairly excited about whatever is to come in the rest of my life. I guess. I dunno. It will all sink in when I need to choose “40 or over” instead of “39 and under” in online surveys. Also I need to plan to get my motorcycle license, and have an affair with my hot, blonde 19 year old secretary.

A week off work

So I had the last week off work. I had to work New Years day which was tediously boring, even though there was an active Known Issue alert which affected only West Australian customers which had to do with WA no longer observing Daylight Savings Time. The code works fine if you’re north of the equator or if you always observe DST, but since WA is south and we only trialled DST for three years we found there’s a bug when you change calendar years.

Golf in DunsboroughBut it was all a non-event and I came through unscathed so after catching the train back to Mandurah we drove down to Dunsborough to visit my parents. Natalie and Dave were there which was cool too. Some of the highlights were playing golf at Simmo’s, and watching Star Trek on the large theatre screen. I doubt mum has ever seen TNG or DS9. She remembers the old series so seeing the familiar characters was a kick for her. My old nemesis Eric Bana was even in it. At Simmo’s we played a round of mini golf. Somehow Suzanne managed to beat me, but Jett had the best score of all, managing to pull off triple figures! Then we all had ice creams. We didn’t tell the kids that  we had a banana split at Simmo’s while they were out at the movies the day before with my mum watching Alvin and the Chipmunks.

The rest of the time down there was a mix of walking the dogs, hunting for golf balls, swimming down at the beaches at Dunsborough, Yallingup and Meelup. For some reason we didn’t get many photos while we were away.

But, like all good things it came to an end and we had to come home. On Thursday we visited Abingdon Miniature Village which is near us on Pinjarra Road. The grass was manicured to within an inch of it’s life and looked fantastic. It’s quite a surprising little place. I had my reservations about going and seeing some crappy little model houses, but there’s more to it than this. Besides the model houses, there’s a model railway with tunnels and bridges and waterfalls, there’s a nice hedge maze to get lost in, and a smaller “running maze” with no walls for the kids to play on. There was mini golf, a big sand-pit play area, an old heritage Tea Room (way overpriced, so we had McDonalds) and a little boutique. I had a better time than I thought I would have.

Stuck in the maze Using our heads to get out of the maze Bird's eye view of the hedge maze

Giantess Ashton Bird's eye view of the circular labyrinth Bayleaf Farmhouse

On the Friday we had some old-ish new-ish friends for dinner. “Old-ish new-ish?” I hear you ask? They’re kinda old for me and kinda new for Suzanne. I used to go to Church with Adam and Elissa many years ago, but lost touch. I found Adam on facebook a while ago, and our nosey wives also managed to communicate and make friends with each other. They’re on vacation here from their home over east and so we had arranged to meet up mostly so that Suzanne and Elissa could commiserate and comfort each other about having such nerdy, quirky husbands.

The geek centre of the universeExplaining my relationship with Adam is strange… He was (and always has been, funny that) a couple years younger than me so I can’t really remember have that much to do with him in Church when I was young. I do remember, though, that he was into Star Wars when I was also into Star Wars. I can’t remember who invited who, but  I remember attending some Star Wars fan club meeting with him at some school. I think it was in Maylands…? There was munchies and a quiz and talk of collecting and rumours of new movies; I’m pretty sure it was before Return of the Jedi. I remember Elissa and my sister Natalie hit some kind of jackpot one afternoon when they made a call from a public payphone near our Church meeting house in Greenmount. They dropped their coin in and the whole coin box opened up spilling 20s everywhere. I lost contact with both of them for the longest time until about 6 months ago. I remember hearing rumours that he was a Bishop or a Secret Agent or something like that. Adam joined in on a couple of my idiotic facebook status updates, Elissa and Suzanne compared notes on which of us was nerdier.

Anyhow, I was happy to have them and their family over for dinner and take them crabbing. I appreciate that they took a night out of their valuable holiday time to catch up with some guy they haven’t seen or heard from in twenty years and meet his family. Their kids are cool and seemed to be alright playing with mine. Their oldest can even quote Lord of the Rings which ain’t bad. I think they all enjoyed crabbing, which was strictly catch-and-release only. I’d be glad to have them over again so we can compare collections in more detail.

Elissa and Suzanne Adam documents a catch. A vortex of intelligence, sophistication and sexiness