Worn Out by Bad Data

I have a problem with some spectra I took last fall at our observatory, and despite having a list of 4-5 things I want to blog about, I’m just worn out tonight.  It’s hard to keep banging your head against a problem.  I’m really good and experienced with spectroscopy, but this problem has been kicking my ass off and on during the last month, and I’m not rid of it yet.  Wish me luck.

Originally published at Mike Brotherton: SF Writer. You can comment here or there.

Scenes from Launch Pad (includes Presentation Slides)

Launch Pad 2011 ended last week, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts to share before they faded.  I also want to point out a post on the SFWA blog that links to some participant webpages where they discuss their workshop experiences:

Five students, James Cambias, Greg R. FishbonePembroke SinclairDeborah J. Ross, and Jennifer Willis are blogging about the workshop.

First, every group has been great over the years.  This one was, too, and in particular it was amazingly diverse in terms of audiences reached by the attendees.  We had folks who wrote for Analog, for mainstream magazines and newspapers, for YA and middle-grade readers, and more.  They were also as energetic and enthusiastic as any group before, maybe more, and I saw the genesis of many stories based on workshop lessons or inspiration.

Guest instructor Stan Schmidt was wonderful, and perfectly in synch with my vision and goals.  More science.  Better science.  Get it right — it’s better than wrong!  The application to fiction was a nice contrast to my science lectures, and helped tie things together.

The weather was less than ideal, but we got to look through telescopes big and small.  Or at least at the start of operations of the big one (2.3 meter), which started a little late due to a thunderstorm delay.

Weather was perfect for the hike, and a couple of moose came out to be seen.

We had a couple of minor medical emergencies, unfortunately par for the course.

We changed dorm rooms, which seemed an improvement over the old ones.  We changed class rooms, which had some pluses and minuses.  Airport travel went amazingly smooth compared to some years.

The group was about as large as I ever want.  Too big and it’s expensive, logistically difficult, and less intimate.  Still, I like to take as many as possible, and I’ve got funding for at least one more year at this stage.

I promised attendees that I would post the lecture slides (in powerpoint, below).  These are primarily based on introductory astronomy classes I’ve taught, and the images generally come from the textbooks Horizons by Michael Seeds and Cosmic Perspectives by Bennett et al., both of which I can recommend.


Light and Astronomical Tools

Motion, Gravity, Energy, and More

Planets Here and There


Galaxies (there are a few things here I want to updated/revise before next year)


Attendee Henry Stratmann, a cardiologist as well as a writer of science fiction and fact, graced us with two well-received presentations concerning human biology in the space environment.

Space Medicine

Sex in Space (G-Rated)

There are a few other presentations by guest instructors that I may be able to secure and post, but don’t have handy today.

It’s always a lot of work, but also always a great time hanging out with like-minded creators talking about topics I love.  Participants have continued to be uniformly happy and enthusiastic about the workshop, which pleases me immensely.  It’s very satisfying to have a vision and see it come to fruition.  Now I hope to continue to see the ripple effect bring more astronomy to the world at large.

Jim Verley and I are reviewing the evaluations, looking to make adjustments to make a successful program better.  We will also be trying to secure a guest instructor for next year, after which we’ll announce dates for 2012 and an application window.

Originally published at Mike Brotherton: SF Writer. You can comment here or there.

Saying No

I did it today, finally, when I should have been doing it a lot more this year per my New Year’s Resolution.  I was asked to referee a paper about quasars that sounded pretty interesting, something most of us do in the astronomy community when we have time both to learn and to help exercise some quality control in our field.

I didn’t have much of a choice given my current schedule and work obligations.  A colleague from China just arrived to stay with me a couple of weeks to finish a paper, among other things.  Anyway, I wanted to celebrate saying no.

I’ve been saying “no” to blogging, too, unfortunately, this past week.  I probably worked 70+ hours running the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers (including about 15 hours of actual lecture from me) and had to cut back on other things to keep my sanity and energy levels.  I will be blogging about another very positive experience soon.  Every year has been great, and this year in particular had an enthusiasm that was fantastic.

Have to go do some things I’ve already said “yes” to now, but be empowered to say “no” once in a while.  It’s good to have a life and to do things of your own choosing regularly.  When you say “yes” too often, even when the stuff is fun, you lose that power.

Originally published at Mike Brotherton: SF Writer. You can comment here or there.

Argentus Celebrates Neptune

Launch Pad is sucking up all my time, but I wanted to point out an article I wrote that’s just been released.  Check it out:

Neptune has just completed its first full orbit since being discovered in 1846. Steve H Silver marks the anniversary in his latest issue — Argentus: Neptune [PDF file] — with articles by Mike Brotherton, Michael A. Burstein, Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, Marianne Dyson, Heidi Hammel, Bill Higgins, Chris McKitterick, Christian Ready, Diane Turnshek and himself. There’s also artwork from Kurt Erichsen, Brad W. Foster, Sue Mason, MO Starkey, and Steve Stiles.

[Thanks to Steven H Silver for the story.]

My contribute focuses on the moons of Neptune.  Triton is pretty damn interesting.

Originally published at Mike Brotherton: SF Writer. You can comment here or there.

Blast Off!

Launch Pad 2011 has begun, and with fewer problems than ever! Only a couple of short delays, and everyone to Laramie on schedule. Now for the real stuff, starting tomorrow morning…

I think a few attendees are blogging about this, and one or two may be writing articles, and I’ll post links when I have them (feel free to leave in the comments, too).

Originally published at Mike Brotherton: SF Writer. You can comment here or there.

Separating Art from Artist…Except in the Case of Tarantino

Mostly I think that readers and fans should separate art and artist.  Cliver Barker does not want to sign your book in blood.  Stephen King is not a serial killer.  The author of that true-to-life book about the Green Berets is an overweight housewife from Sacramento.  Atheists can write convincingly about the religious, and vice versa.  With a good writer who has done their research, their characters will be real and full of attributes and knowledge that may not fit in with the author’s at all.

Then, I must admit, there are cases where what you see is what you get.  I’ve written before about Tarantino’s apparent foot fetish.  Well, now there’s more.  The Quentin Tarantino Toe-Sucking Email that will Haunt Your Dreams.  It’s pretty much what it sounds like.  As far as I can tell, it’s real and not a hoax.  Too detailed and weird not to share, especially after the previous blog post.

Originally published at Mike Brotherton: SF Writer. You can comment here or there.

Official American Astronomical Society Statement over Proposed James Webb Telescope Cancellation

This is a huge issue to me personally and my professional field, so expect me to continue to post news about this as I get it.  I’d heard some grumblings in some quarters about the schedule and budget of the project, as well as the possibility of termination, it’s still shocking to me and the field if it happens.  Not quite like the Supercollider and U.S. particle physics back in the 1990s, but close, I think.

Anyway, here’s the statement.  If you have the slightest inclination, please do contact your congress members.


AAS Informational Email 2011-06

Subject: AAS Releases Statement on Proposed Cancellation of the James Webb Space Telescope

Kevin B. Marvel, Executive Officer

The AAS Executive Committee has released the following statement
related to the proposed cancellation
of the James Web Space Telescope.

American Astronomical Society Statement on the James Webb Space Telescope
Adopted 7 July 2011

The proposal released on July 6 by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies to terminate the James Webb Space Telescope would waste more taxpayer dollars than it saves while simultaneously undercutting the critical effort to utilize American engineering and ingenuity to expand human knowledge. Such a proposal threatens American leadership in the fields of astrophysics and advanced space technology while likely eliminating hundreds, if not thousands, of high-tech jobs. Additionally, this proposal comes before the completion of a revised construction plan and budget for a launch of JWST by 2018. The United States position as the leader in astronomy, space science, and spaceflight is directly threatened by this proposal.

The JWST is the highest-ranked mission in the National Academy of Science’s Astronomy and Astrophysics decadal survey released in 2000 and remains a high priority for the Nation’s astronomers in this decade as well, as the revolutionary successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. This survey, conducted once every 10 years by hundreds of the Nation’s leading scientists, prioritizes — based on scientific merit and impact — projects proposed by the scientific community that require significant government support for completion. These reports represent a community consensus on the efforts necessary to advance our knowledge of the universe. The potential of JWST to transform astronomy underlies many of the activities recommended in the 2010 decadal report released last August. JWST is designed to observe well beyond Hubble’s capabilities. It is expected to serve thousands of astronomers in the coming decades to revolutionize our understanding of our place in the Universe, just as Hubble has done since its completion and launch just over two decades ago.

The JWST’s completion, launch, and operation will unveil new knowledge about the earliest formation of stars and planets and on a wide range of additional advanced scientific questions, including many not yet formulated. As was true with the Hubble Space Telescope, recognized as a tremendous success by the public, scientists, and policy-makers, building the most advanced telescopes comes with the risk of unexpected costs and delays. However, the whole Nation can rightly take pride in the engineering and scientific accomplishment that the completion and launch of such instruments represents. With the help of important international partners, we are the only nation that could lead such an effort; we should not shirk from completing the project when the most difficult engineering challenges have already been overcome. As stated in the Casani report, an independent review of project readiness completed late last year, “The JWST Project has made excellent progress in developing the difficult technologies required for its successful operation, and no technical constraints to successful completion have been identified.” The mirrors stand ready and waiting for integration into the spacecraft. The telescope has passed both preliminary design review and critical design review. It is time to complete construction and look ahead to JWST’s launch and science operations.

The American Astronomical Society calls upon all members of Congress to support JWST to its completion and to provide strong oversight on the path to this goal. Too many taxpayer dollars have already been spent to cancel the mission now; its benefits far outweigh the remaining costs. We must see the mission through. We are a great nation and we do great things. JWST represents our highest aspirations and will be one of our most significant accomplishments.

Originally published at Mike Brotherton: SF Writer. You can comment here or there.

The American Astronomical Society on the Proposed James Webb Space Telescope Termination

AAS Informational Email 2011-05

Subject: House Subcommittee Proposes Canceling JWST along with Additional Cuts to NASA’s FY2012 Budget

Kevin B. Marvel, Executive Officer


As part of the annual appropriations process, subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee are the first to draft proposed appropriations bills for the coming fiscal year.  On July 6, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice and Science posted a press release and the draft bill language on their website for the bill that funds NASA, NSF and other science related agencies along with the Departments of Commerce and Justice.  On Thursday, July 7 at 10:15am, the subcommittee will “mark up”, or debate, amend and rewrite proposed legislation.  It is highly likely that the bullet points included in the press release will remain intact in the final marked-up version of the bill.

The press release is here:

The draft bill text is here:
(note, the specific language cutting JWST is not included in this bill, it will appear in the subcommittee report, which should become available after the markup, which takes place on July 7 at 10am).

A summary table of the top-line funding for each department or agency is here: http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/FY_2012_CJS_Summary_Table.pdf


The bill represents a proposal from the House for the funding levels for FY2012, not an actual reduction or cut.  The Senate must act and the two houses must meet and resolve differences in their funding proposals before the bill is finalized and sent to the president for his signature.  Often, this process takes many months and sometimes even ends in an omnibus appropriations bill being created instead of individual bills being passed.  In any event, this proposal from this appropriations subcommittee is but the first step in a much longer process.

Along with the proposed termination of the JWST, NASA’s overall budget is proposed to be reduced by $1.6B compared to last year’s level and $1.9B lower than the president’s proposed level for NASA.  NSF is also impacted, with a proposed budget about $907M less than the president’s proposed level, but in-line with last year’s funding level.

Other cuts are mentioned in the press release, but it is difficult to assess their impact until the full report language is available.  In some years, reductions actually represented movements of one area of work (e.g. the Deep Space Network) from one budget line to another. When the full details become available, the AAS will issue an Informational Email describing them and their impact.

What to Do Now

Obviously, this proposal from the House Appropriations Subcommittee for CJS is upsetting.  The astronomy community knows the value of the JWST, recognizes that nearly all technical hurdles have been overcome and that a review of the program’s management, budget and completion plan is nearly complete.  It is important to remember that the release of the House versions of the appropriations bills is just the first step in the lengthy appropriations process.   For now, this termination is a proposal and one we should take seriously with the knowledge that making a few communications now to legislators will not be the end of a process, but merely the beginning.  The outrage and upset the community is experiencing cannot be merely today or this week, we must ration our energy to effectively participate throughout the whole appropriations process.

When it is particularly effective for AAS members to write or contact their members of Congress, we will issue an Action Alert.  Action Alerts should be read carefully and, if possible, acted upon expeditiously.  We only send them when the action of our members will have a direct and positive impact.

If you haven’t met your member of Congress, don’t know who they are exactly or aren’t quite sure how the appropriations process proceeds, take the time now to educate yourself.  The AAS provides a web page under the public policy pages that allows you to identify your members of Congress and obtain their contact information.  The AAAS maintains a comprehensive web page that provides educational information about the budget process with historical information about funding as well as regular updates on the appropriations process throughout the year at www.aaas.org/spp/rd.  Other resources are linked to from the AAS public policy pages.

AAS Statement on Proposed JWST Cancellation

The AAS leadership is crafting a statement on the proposed JWST cancellation, which will be released today and is working to formulate responses to the other proposed cuts to science that the subcommittee’s press release describes.  We will keep our members informed and help find ways to have a meaningful impact on the appropriations process.

Originally published at Mike Brotherton: SF Writer. You can comment here or there.

A Conservative shows off his stupidity over why he thinks US Liberals are “dumbest creatures o

I was going to let this one go by.  I really was.  But it’s such a good example of how conservatives use the “Big Lie” of 1984 to paint their enemies as guilty of what they themselves are guilty of, while painting themselves as the opposite of what they are.  No, really, I’m not just being biased or hypocritical, even though that’s what they’d say (without providing facts).

Anyway, from The Telegraph comes…

The Science is Settled: US Liberals really are the dumbest creatures on the planet.  I’ll have to remember the name James Delingpole so next time I see it, I can put him below Anne Coulter on my list of conservative idiots who have less than nothing to contribute to healthy discussion about any issue of importance.

Here is the first choice quote:

“No really they’re stupid because they’re not interested in facts. They just want to construct their pretty little narrative about the world, regardless of whether or not it has any bearing on reality. And then they want to dump it on us. And ruin our lives. So not just stupid but evil too.”

That’s from his “libertarian friend” and he thought (I’m sure!) the words were “very harsh” until he watched a video of Chris Matthews on Hardball talking with some others about global warming issues.  Then, guess what, he changed his mind!  Wow!

Then he says:

They [Matthews et al.] think the main reasons for the public’s growing scepticism on Climate Change are 1. The media has been far too balanced on the subject and is not pushing the eco-message hard enough. 2. Big business is funding Climate Denialism. 3. Evil Conservatives – led by Evil Talk Show Hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck – are deliberately telling lies about Climate Change. 4. The Republican party is “anti-science”.

Delingpole then “refutes” the points in a stupid, clumsy fashion, mostly by waving his hands and blustering.

The first issue is one that takes more than a single statement to support or refute.  You’ve got to know the state of the world to know what is appropriate, but while I am an optimistic guy, the environment is a troubling problem and I know when it comes to climate change that the media fails.  They do want “balance” so even if 99% of scientists have reached a conclusion, they’ll trot out one of the rare ones with an opposing viewpoint to “balance” the story, which of course unbalances it.  There aren’t always two equal sides to every story.  Even so, Delingpole’s one lin refutation is not a climate change story, but a story about oceanic disaster as “proving” somehow that the media is not balanced and does push the eco-message hard enough.  So…where is the eco-action to match?  But it’s definitely true that so-called “balance bias” has been helping climate change deniers and the US Liberals aren’t wrong about it.

Second issue.  Delingpole doesn’t say anything denying it, wisely, just complains that other groups spend more actually spreading the word about what scientists have actually figured out.  Just this week I saw variations of this story discussing how Exxon-Mobil has been funding climate deniers, particulary Willie Soon who has a background in astrophysics.

Third issue.  Ha ha!  Our boy is showing his chutzpah now!  I remember Rush Limbaugh back in the 1990s going on and on and on about how volcanoes put out more CO2 than humans do, which meant that human-created CO2 could not be a problem.  Or sometimes he was talking about CFCs and the ozone layer.  Either way, that’s a lie.  Unless Delingpole thinks it’s ok to ignore facts in favor of a pre-existing bias?  Naw…that’s the lying liberals lying about the never lying Rush Limbaugh…

Final issue.  Great balls of fire chutzpah!  The Republican War on Science makes a great starting place to read about the facts of the matter.  The Republicans have politicized science in an attempt to suppress evidence that might lead to policies they don’t like.

I’m not going to paint ever conservative out there as one of the “dumbest creatures on the planet.”  I will call this one individual out for being one of the most offensively hypocritical creatures on the planet, and likely one of the most biased (I’ll assume he’s not an idiot and when he’s wrong, he’s intentionally wrong to make people mad).

This opinion piece is polarizing.  It tries to confuse the issues of science and science reporting that Chris Matthews and friends have correctly identified.  It’s just ridiculous that any media venue, even one with an open political slant, would publish error-ridden and offensive crap like this in anything but remarkably overriding bias, or in search of flame bait to drive up hits and revenue.  I bet Delingpole is the same, feeling smart and smug that he’s brought himself so much attention and gotten people to snap at each other over political leaning rather than over issues he doesn’t want anything done about.


Originally published at Mike Brotherton: SF Writer. You can comment here or there.