All posts by MADSCI

Space and Science Party – Dragon Con 2014


Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirls.
1) It is a fun game
2) Its gonna be a great party.

Folks, I’m awesome, but I could use some help. If you are at Dragon Con 2014, if you are working Space & Science in particular, I could use some stuff:
Food, Booze, A good music list (on a good interface, God knows I don’t want to run it from my laptop.), some tails and ears, an appropriate handstamp, appropriate games and prizes.

I’ve got a lot of plans and I’d like it if you felt you could contribute. We can shift this to a private facebook page if it works better, but contact me.

Practical Astronomy – More tales from the dumb engineer

Below you see the future of astronomy… the 32 foot RV. Yeah, not really. But one year we decided to go there.

As I mentioned before, we had a big array of image-intensifying cameras, attached to videorecorders. The goal here was to look at meteors, determine the spectra of the plasma they emitted, then determine what the meteor was made of. (Having a landed meteor to compare results with was imperative.) HEY LOOK, we know what the Stardust spacecraft is made of, we can measure its spectra and use that as a starting point.

SO, we flew to Reno, loaded up an RV, and drove 2.5 hours into the desert. (According to the timeline, it was January 2006, I remember it being October and earlier, but obviously my brain is corrupted by caffiene and meetings.)

Exterior View

Projected landing zone (seen below) middle of nowhere.


Battle Mountain, NV-750px.JPG

Seriously, we drove to the town of Battle Mountain, our “staging area” which is as close to BFE as you want to go, then we drove 15 miles south of town and turned off into the desert. (It is a bunch of sage brush, not a foot tall, in every direction.) after five or ten miles of sage-brush and dirt road, we stopped at a little turn-around, which let us turn the RVasaurous around.

(picture below is just plain stolen.)

We were expecting a re-entry around 2 am, time may be mistaken, it has been at least most of a decade. We got out the cameras and set them all up a couple hours ahead of time. 1 am sharp, the sky went from clear from horizon to horizon, to utterly blocked. By 1:30, there were snowflakes the size of silver dollars falling everywhere.  Visibility was exactly 1 star, which seemed a plausable enough direction to point the camera.

As an added bonus, we turned off the RV so that the infrared camera could take clearer pictures. The battery (which we had tested pre-mission) suffered a sudden and traumatic end-of-life event. The wide-spectrum cameras all went dark. I overrode objections and re-started the RV. Running on RV power, they labored to get the wide-array back on line. I used the pointing camera to stare at a very lonely star, and soon enough we had word that the mission had ended.

The mission wasn’t actually a complete failure, there were some guys flying around in a big ole jet plane with an identical array. They got some good photos…but never shared the data.

We spent a few hours packing all the gear back up and storing it for flight back to Huntsville. We were all exhausted and mad, but it all got packed. Then, the sun coming up, we looked for the road. 

Ok, I went outside and kicked stuff. The fluffy snow was sagebrush, the flat snow was dirt and occasionally road. I aimed the hundred-thousand dollar contractor-supplied equipment (The RV) between the piles of fluffy snow, ran the windshield wipers against more fluffy snow, and pounded Red Bull to keep my eyes open. 

Took most of an hour to get 5 miles, another 30 minutes to get back to the hotel. I just went to my room and died.
p.s. There are NO bathrooms on that road between Reno and BM. dang. 

I-80 near Battle Mountain, Nevada
from Walkoverstate

Solar Storm Alert – Exciting Times

An X-class flare is the big dog. Of course, x 1 – 10, the flux can go a long way from where it is, but this is the first x-class in a long time.

I’m stealing pictures from, support them!

The 10 MeV proton flux got up to 1E3 protons/cm2-s-sr. This is a solid storm flux. It appears to be dropping already after only a few hours, so the region of danger is already passing for many things, but – looking at the stair step – the main body of the storm could still be coming with yet more 10 MeV flux. That could lead to “real” storming levels.

There will be a geomagnetic storm, however, the Kp levels today are so low that Thursday’s storm will be mild. Probably only reaching the highest latitudes. (Alaska, Canada, maybe Washington – Illinois, but I’d doubt Ohio)

The really interesting thing is how correlated this is to the magnetic inversion event. I’d say that the south-pole flip of the sun led to this set of Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) and X-ray flares. How? Heck if I know. I’m not sure I know why the sun’s poles flip every 12 years. I don’t know much more than the solar “jet stream” has been stalled out in the middle latitudes for months and now the streams should move back to the poles.

From the Green Sun Plot ( the real color can’t be seen by humans, it is 94 angstroms – extreme ultraviolet – which is caused by hot flare gasses with a temperature around 0.5 keV or 6 million degrees Celsius) The excitement is still on the equator, but the “general messy areas” are spreading back toward the poles. A month or so ago, the whole sun was a plain green ball. Now it has a lot of action. This indicates that there is a lot of high-altitude magnetic field line action, which is heating the surface of the sun.

Is this common for the decent from solar max to solar min? Yes. Big events occur during this process every time, but we might now be able to get a better grip on the why. (not me of course, real solar physicists with better models of the solar layers than an old textbook.) Exciting times, folks, exciting times.

A few tidbits to whet the appetite – The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival

In view of the upcoming holidays for gift-giving — Christmas, Chanukah, Yule, Kwanzaa, etc., I thought I’d post a few excerpts from my books to whet your appetite.

The Displaced Detective Series is a science fiction mystery series in which the brilliant hyperspatial
physicist, Dr. Skye Chadwick, discovers that there are alternate realities, and said alternates are often populated by those we consider only literary characters. Her pet research, Project: Tesseract, hidden deep under Schriever AFB, is her means of looking in on these continua. In one particular reality, continuum 114, a certain Victorian detective (who, in fact, exists in several continua) was to have died along with his arch-nemesis at the Reichenbach Falls. Knee-jerking, Skye intervenes, rescuing her hero, who inadvertently flies through the tesseract wormhole connecting his universe with ours, while his enemy plunges to his death. Unable to send Holmes back without causing devastating continuum collapse due to non-uniqueness, he must stay in our world and learn to adapt to the 21st century.

So I thought I’d give you a taste of the start…



Prologue—Objects, Subjects, and Beginnings

A tall, dark figure, clad in formal Victorian eveningwear, strode briskly down the shadowed street, casually swinging his silver-embellished walking stick. No carriages had passed in the last half-hour, and only one hansom cab had wandered by ten minutes before, its horse’s hollow hoofbeats echoing between the buildings. The gas street-lamps were long since lit, but between them were patches of deep darkness, patches entirely too broad for comfort in these circumstances. Beneath the brim of his silk top hat, eagle-sharp grey eyes darted about, studying the shadows, alert and aware. For well this man knew that danger lurked in the gloom this night, danger peculiar to him alone; and he was alone. So very alone.

But not for long. He was headed to a specific destination. To the one man he knew he could trust, the one man who would stand at his side regardless of danger—for had he not done so, many times before? Was not this the reason for the deep, if largely unspoken, bond of friendship between them?

His friend would help. There was no doubt in his mind on that point. Already today two attempts had been made upon his life, and well did this man need help.

“Not far now,” the words breathed past thin, pale lips. “Almost ther—”

The words died on said lips.

A hulking, brutish shadow materialised from the alleyway in front of him. The elegant man in the top hat ducked just in time to avoid the lead-weighted bludgeon that swung through the space his head had occupied fractions of a second before. Instead, the silk hat took the brunt of the blow, flying across the sidewalk and into a puddle in the gutter, its side crushed. Flinging up his cane and grasping each end in his hands, the gentleman dropped into an Oriental horse stance, and prepared to do battle.

“’Ere, now,” the other figure said, in a coarse growl. “Hit’s th’ end o’ you, it is. Me superior won’t be ‘arvin’ it, an’ Oi means t’ see ‘e don’t ‘arve ta.”

“You can try,” the gentleman replied, calm. “But better men than you have tried, and here I stand.”

A guttural, angry sound emerged from the assailant, and the cudgel swung again, this time with enough force to crush bone. Deft, the gentleman caught it with the center of his cane, but to his chagrin the walking-stick, his weapon of choice in many a similar street altercation, chose that moment to give up the ghost. It snapped in two, splintering and cracking. He snarled his own irritation, and flung the pieces aside when he realised there was not enough left to use as a decent weapon.

Then he began to flit and weave as the other man smirked and lunged at him, swinging the club repeatedly, as hard as he could. It was a dance of death, and one wrong move by the gentleman would have serious, possibly fatal, consequences.

But the man in the evening dress was not without weapons; no, his best weapons were permanently attached to his person. The alert grey eyes watched, looking for some opening; and when he saw his chance, he struck like lightning. A fist shot out at the loutish face, catching the hit man squarely in the mouth just as he realised his danger and started to shout for help. All that came out was a grunt, however, and the assassin fell to the pavement as if pole-axed, with both lips split.

The gentleman hissed in pain, grabbing his fist with his other hand for a moment to let the worst of the discomfort pass before examining the damage.

“By Jove, he has sharp teeth for such a troglodyte,” he murmured, peeling off the ruined black kid glove to expose the bloody knuckles beneath. “Completely through the leather and into the flesh. I shall have to have this disinfected, for certain. No time for that now. Go, man!” He turned swiftly to resume his journey.

A crack resounded from the brownstone close at hand, and the man felt a spray of stone chips strike the side of his face. He flinched, and a sharp curse left his lips. He took to his heels and rounded the corner of the street, then disappeared into shadow.

* * *

Not ten feet away from the gentleman, though invisible to him, an elegant blonde woman in a white lab coat stood between tall, electronic towers. Behind her, concentric rows of computer consoles were manned by two dozen scientists, engineers, and technicians. Surrounding all of them was a huge, domed room carved from solid pink granite.

The woman stood for long minutes, silent, watching.

Finally one of the technicians broke the electronic silence.

“So, Doc, whaddaya think?”

“What do you think, Jim? How were the readings?” The woman turned toward him.

“I’ve got bang-on, Dr. Chadwick,” Jim noted, glancing down at his own console, brown eyes darting about as he surveyed his readouts. “But I can’t say for everybody else.”

“Rock steady at Timelines,” someone else called.

“Sequencing looks good…” another said.

“Software’s running nominally.”

“Hardware’s humming right along…”

On it went, from console to console. Finally the woman nodded.

“Perfect,” she purred in deep satisfaction. “We’ve got our subject. Page Dr. Hughes and have her come down.”

“On it, Doc,” Jim grinned, reaching for the phone.

This is book 1 of the series! Four are already published, with more on the way!

For more, or to purchase this and more books in the series, go to my website, or find it on Amazon. Or to purchase The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus, consisting of the first four books,  go here.

-Stephanie Osborn



Predicting Solar Cycles – Dalton Minimum

There is a new paper out that – while I agree with some of its conclusions – uses the same fallacy as the Global Warming papers. I just want to point out that I can disagree with a paper, even when I agree with its conclusions.

The paper is “An empirical approach to predicting the key parameters for a sunspot number cycle” by H.S. Ahluwalia. The link to the paper is here.  He proposes that the measurment of the Earth’s Geomagnetic field average (Ap) can be used to predict the behavior of the sun. The problem is that Ap doesn’t have a long history. He has two solar cycles, less than 30 years, to make his point. That is a lot like taking a short run from 1968 – 1998 and trying to predict the next hundred years. (ie. Global Warming)
Full-size image (21 K)
Take a look at the figure above. (Figure 3. from Ahuluwalia’s paper) Yes, we have a lot of sunspot data, but it doesn’t really seem to be predictive. Only a few of those curves are really similar mathematically. (Yes, I’ve run a gazillion models to predict the future using sunspots of the past – for example is 16 to 17 similar to 18 to 19? – but ChiSquared correlations haven’t been good, except when predicting the past, when they do pretty good.) Now that we have STEREO satellites in place, measuring the magnetic field on the sun, we should be able to model the dynamo of the sun. (someday might not be soon, the sun is amazingly complicated.)
Maybe the Earth’s magnetic field is finding data that STEREO hasn’t found yet. Maybe the sun is already sending signals of future Dalton Minimum behavior. In honest fact, that is likely true. The Human Eye sees some sort of correspondance between cycles of old, the Dalton minimum of old, and the present conditions. This is just reviewing Sun Spot numbers and “seeing” a pattern that – so far – no mathematical model replicates. However, there isn’t any way to compare 2 sets of any data to 2 cycles and call anything Science. This is just a model which matches twice, but might not ever match anything ever again.  This is a fallacy of “short data.”

PS. I rate it 60/40 that we are going into a solar minimum. We really won’t know until the next cycle… so this argument can continue at the same time in 12 years. But, I’m disprovable. If in 6 years the next solar max comes roaring back for a major solar max… I’ve been disproven. My “eye” doesn’t predict that sort of behavior. My “eye” sees a small cycle occurring for 12 years, then EITHER a bigger cycle – ending the Dalton set – or a fall off with no cycle apparant for 50 years. After 12 years, if the next cycle is still equally small and doesn’t show any characteristics which are mitigating, I’m going 80/20 for a Dalton minimum. Of course, with my timing, I’m planning for the next “Carrington Event” for 2090 +/- 5 years. (I’ll refine that number when we’re a bit closer, ya know, but I’m willing to put money at 100/1 for something like that.)

Black Holes as Dark Matter

Synopsis: Planet Search Finds No Dark Matter Black Holes

This is a traditional “lack of evidence” report, which is consistent with our current knowledge. I.E. no evidence of a ton of little black holes out there. By little I mean “planet or moon massed.” This doesn’t mean that space doesn’t have a lot of those black holes, but not sufficient to replicate the dark matter theories.

Does this kill my “dark matter is black holes” theory? Nope. I was aiming for microscopic black holes. Even a mass of 6e24 kg (earth sized) is a small black hole – about a centimeter across. Yeah. The Schwarzchild Radius RS seems to scale linearly-ish with mass – so something 7 steps of mass smaller than Earth would be 7 steps in size smaller. So the sizes of black holes we are looking for are from 10 micrometers to 10 angstroms. (Yeah, you couldn’t really fit normal light INTO that hole for it to try to escape.  Still, these microscopic black holes would weigh from a low of around a trillion tons to a high of … like a moon.

Think about it. An invisible object – so small that it was literally invisible – would weigh as much as a mountain.

Well, we haven’t found any of those, and I’m not sure how we’d know it if we found them, but if we still need dark matter at the end of the equation of the universe, it is probably hiding out there.

dark matter

The Engineer’s Baby

Hey Daddy, can I borrow the credit card?

    Yeah, ok, so that happened. Maybe not this kid, but like I’ve said in the past, this ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve never made that good on the money front, sadly enough, engineers ain’t rich. Oh, the salary is pretty good, but the college was expensive and kids, well, they take up every bit of money you thought you had.

    I’ve mentioned before that you can’t really plan your expenses. You have to take a “games theory” approach to your life. The final goal is an income higher than your out-go. When you have a kid you can’t really know expenses far in advance. So, reduce everything else. Sure, a bigger house gives advantages in storage and comfort, but a smaller house gives your a few hundred dollars a month, you’ll need em. Same with the car, the vacations, the hobbies. Sooner or later you cut your life down to the bone…and then you have to evaluate based on credit. Because the expenses are frequently things which require you to use the credit card. Yeah, 5000 here and a couple hundred there, sooner or later it looks like you’ve spent a lot of money. 
     Now, having no idea when one of those multiple kilobuck problems are going to show up, you have to work your credit downward and evaluate annually on how you are progressing.  So, you probably have all that by yourself. If you didn’t well, you may or may not chose to believe me. In either case, what have I got to offer you?

Diapers: I evaluated several brands, oddly enough the “all natural” products actually performed better than most of the others. However, the cost basis (cost per diaper) was too high. Look, just because a diaper can hold twice as much as the competition, doesn’t mean you can leave them in place twice as long. You still have to change the wet ones. The store brands that I tried didn’t work. This involved leaks on the bed – major clean-up every morning.
What was our middle brand? Luvs, I think they managed the middle of the pack in price and quality. I have eliminated morning leaks at this time. (size 3 for my 1 year old.)

Baby Food: Try those Bunny Grahams – OMG I love those things. I give some of them to the kid. At 13 months, we are dropping out baby food. We make a big pot of oatmeal once a week and she gets daily re-heats of a cupfull. She’ll eat the veggies & chicken mom eats, but it has to be small cut. Chereeos are amazing.

The Bottle: Cheaper formula is usually fine, but get the kid off of it when they hit 1 year old. It is made of mostly sugar and while the baby needs the calories for the first few months, the toddler doesn’t.

Dr. Visits: Yeah, I wish I had a solution here. Insurance is expensive, hospital visits are very expensive. Turns out that it is cheaper to not have insurance 9 years out of 10. Its that 10th year that can ruin you. If you happen to be between insurances when you hit the hospital, work out a deal with the office to pre-pay. They’ll charge you about 1/5th what they charge the insurance agency. Like I said before, without insurance I was to be charged 6,000. With insurance, after they paid, I was charged 1,500. Doctor costs were a couple thousand on top of that, even after insurance.

Cameras: I know, $200 bucks you ain’t got. My first baby didn’t need it. Does this one? Well, a good monitor lets you sleep easier. You can look at the picture and see if she is getting up or not. Saves you the hike. With a good camera, you can hear her breathing, which is often the big worry…good reason or not. I recommend against the internet cameras – if you don’t know much about tech. They can be hacked. The cameras with dedicated monitor screens are pretty cool, give you very good pictures and can’t be remotely hacked. Get the cords away from the kids. Either pin the cords to the wall, or put the wall plugs 3′ up. The baby will reach through the crib bars to grab the cord and wrap it around her neck. Keep it out of the way and tight. (I keep the crib legs pushed up against the outlet.)

I’ll recommend that you get a big chair you can recline in, you’ll need something like that for putting the baby down and get plenty of excercise, you’ll need it. Yeah, spending money on kids is usually worth it. Makes the whole process more fun..however, you’ll never have enough money.

The Recent Coronal Mass Ejection (Solar Storm)

Dr. Woozley warned me Friday that there was a high probability for a huge CME – thats a coronal mass ejection – over the weekend. A CME is when the sun throws off a chunk of hot gas, possibly weighing more than a planet, and the temperature is enough to blow out electronics in space and mess up the magnetic field enough blow out electronics on the ground. This really is in my job description, so I went to work. I didn’t report anything on here for various reasons, but after some research, I didn’t worry as much as he did.

Why? Well, lets take a look at I recommend everyone take a look at the sun everyday, and since I like my eyeballs, I use the web instead. Right off the top their x-class flare warning was 15%. (big worry) I looked at it and guessed about half that, but since the CME was hiding behind the sun, I went ahead and took their numbers. Ok, better than 1 in 10 of a big event. So, How big? I looked at the previous events, some previous years, and compared some magnetic field strengths, and decided that an X-class wasn’t going to top 3 on my scale. (A Carrington event is an 11, but the usual number we use for comparison is the October 89 event, a solid 9.)

Ok, so a 3 on my scale can shift the Kp index pretty solidly a few points, if we can get Kp above 5, then we are set for a badass geomagnetic storm. Something we would need to be very concerned about. I checked the current Kp… and it was 1. Well, a 3 storm and a 1 Kp … might make it to 4 Kp. One storm just doesn’t really affect the Kp very much, usually a set of storms, a week of bad space weather… it just didn’t look like it. Ok, so no geomagnetic storm.

How about a solar storm? Below is a picture of the sun during the Bastille Day solar event. A classic 3 on the Hawk-scale.

Image from the SOHO spacecraft of the intense solar activity on the sun taken Oct. 27, 2003, at 9:24 a.m. EDT.

Next is a picture of the sun today.

Now, I’ll agree that the sun’s magnetogram LOOKS like a butterfly chart. With a couple high-density regions (1723) which could produce a particle-rich event. But it just doesn’t have the “feel” of the hot sun of the 89 or 2001-2003 time period.

Current sun magnetic field diagram:

This is a butterfly chart:

AND, since solar maximum is ON NOW, any major solar storm this cycle produces will be produced in the next two or three years.  But… the sun isn’t selling me on a major storm. I decided that while there was a possibility, I’d say it wasn’t going to happen at sufficient energies to cause a major worry.

Now, there was a solar event which did produce a good amount of protons and Kp in the 4 region. There is evidence on the far side that we could see more of these and the geomagnetic field could get a good charge. If it keeps up or gets worse, I’ll be in touch.

However, the aurora in Alaska is lovely, I wish I were up there this week.