Space Weather with Dr. Patterson

My father and I drove to UMKC Saturday evening to attend the first club meeting of 2013 for the Astronomical Society of Kansas City. We went an hour early to take in Astro 101 (topic: telescope mounts).

Astro 101 (topic: telescope mounts) Jan 2013
Astro 101 (topic: telescope mounts) Jan 2013

After sifting through club business, including some great observing awards and a new observing program for asterisms, our Education director, Jay Manifold, flashed through the observing highlights for the upcoming months.  He paused at the end long enough to introduce our special guest speaker, Dr. Doug Patterson, Professor of Astronomy and Physics at JCCC, and his topic “Space Weather: Understanding the Sun-Earth Connection.”

Dr. Patterson’s first slide, at first glance, did not appear to be related directly to space or weather.  He explained that besides astronomy and physics, his other abiding passion happened to be photographing race cars.  For the past twenty years, despite appearing quite youthful and brimming with energy, he’s been  teaching astronomy and physics at the Johnson County Community College.

Astronomy in academia really only requires a research computer and spreadsheet program.  Incredible amounts of data (terabytes upon terabytes) are freely available for astronomical researchers.

Dr. Patterson joked that he frequently tells his students that “Space is not empty!”

Highlights from his “Space Weather” talk:

  • Super Flare 1859 observed by Carrington (on 9/1/1859 around noon).  The flare took seventeen (17) hours to read Earth.
  • Birkeland and his aurora machine
Kristian Birkeland and his terrella experiment.
Kristian Birkeland and his terrella experiment. The Figure shows the whole arrangement with the new vacuum-box of 320 litres. Floor and ceiling are here made of 12 mm. steel plates, the pillars between are of bronze, and the sheets of plate-glass at the sides are 30 mm. in thickness. The experiment shows the “zodiacal-light ring”. It requires little magnetising of the globe (11.3 cm. in diameter), but a great discharge-current (up to 100 milliamperes).
  • Solar Wind discovery and proof

    • comet tails
    • Super-Sonic Model by Eugene Parker confirmed by Mariner 2 on way to Venus.
    • Voyager 1 is beyond solar wind and actually in interstellar space (first man-made ‘spaceship’ to be truly interstellar).

Dr. Patterson showed a video of the corona and sun from NASA’s solar satellites.  He also displayed an animation of a coronal mass ejection (CME).

Fluctuations in the solar wind compress our magnetic field.  Some of the effects on Earth include:

  • compression and fluctuations
  • electrical conductors embedded in Earth’s mag field
  • radiation & navigation airline flights over arctic
  • interference with GPS (and Google Maps)
  • In Mar 1989, we (the Earth) learned the hard way (Quebec w/o power for three (3) days).

As a result, NASA launched the Advanced Composition Explorer (real time plots available here of solar wind data), which gives us one (1) hour advanced warning.  This satellite is parked in a halo orbit at L1.  Real time space weather data is available at

Van Allen Belts

  • Discovered by Explorer 1, the first satellite we launched into orbit
Exporer 1 press conference
Pickering, Van Allen, and von Braun display a full-scale model of Explorer 1 at a crowded news conference in Washington, DC after confirmation the satellite was in orbit.
  • We just sent our second probe last year, a gap of over fifty years
  • Trapped radiation and particles
  • Why study the belts?
  • Low Earth Orbit (LEO) very cluttered
  • GPS already in the belts

The Van Allen Probes (fka Radiation Belt Storm Probes) were launched last year and Dr. Patterson had the privilege of witnessing the launch first hand, despite hurricane Isaac.  Note to self:  Rocket ion trails make great lightning rods.

Dr. Patterson concluded with a Q&A opportunity where several ASKC members asked cogent questions and received animated responses.

Dr. Patterson during the Q&A time after his talk (ASKC Jan 2013)
Dr. Patterson during the Q&A time after his talk (ASKC Jan 2013)

Due to the warmth of the evening (upper 40s or lower 50s), the club opened up the Warko Observatory on the roof of Royall Hall for a brief time.  A haze obscured nearly everything except the full moon and Jupiter.  Dad and I skipped the climb to the roof and headed home to Leavenworth.

Refuting the Luddite Fallacy

BookContenderI read three long articles this week, authored by journalists from the Associated Press.  Normally, I scoff at FUD, especially as it pertains to technology, and specifically computers.  I’ve spent the lion’s share of my life in communion with bits and bytes.  I’m extremely comfortable with my digital BFF.

But these three articles, under the AP Impact brand, presented a disturbing picture.  If the facts as presented are to be believed, I don’t really need to worry about my job being outsourced.  Instead, it will simply vanish.

AP IMPACT: Recession, tech kill middle-class jobs via the Wichita Eagle

Practically human: Can smart machines do your job? also via the Wichita Eagle

Will smart machines create a world without work? again via the Wichita Eagle

According to these three articles, not even doctors, lawyers and IT  (the latter two of particular interest to my circumstances) will be immune from this trend.

In modern usage, “Luddite” is a term describing those opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or new technologies in general.

If only I were a decade older.  Then I probably wouldn’t feel any stress concerning this developing situation.  I would be that much closer to retirement (and/or death).  Can I be nimble enough to survive?

The Luddite fallacy addresses the idea that technological advances can have adverse effects on structural unemployment. Most mainstream economists agree that the benefits technology provides to the economy as a whole (i.e. increased aggregate demand due to falling prices) outweigh the costs of the temporary displacement of particular workers, who can find other work as technology fuels economic growth.

“In Contemporary Thought” Wikipedia Luddite article

Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill?  Lord knows I have enough stress in my life to keep me up most nights already.  But I can’t help mulling it over.

If we eliminate jobs (is that a Republican’s wet dream?), what’s left to drive our consumer economy?  You can’t sell a house or a car to a robot or a computer.

On the other hand, I don’t want to protect or regulate jobs just to keep people employed.  The flip side (for the Democrats) being that most if not all people would be employed by the government.  How does this different from places like Communist China?

Neither extreme appeals to me.  Always before, technology has improved lives and provided replacement jobs in innovative initiatives.  It seems now that we’ve reached the zenith and the point of diminishing returns looms ahead (unless it’s already here).

I don’t even  have to blame SkyNet for our destruction.  We’ve done it to ourselves.

Ides of Dragon-uary

I finished something on the Ides of January that I started nearly two dozen years ago, literally half a lifetime for me, or two turns of the Wheel of Time as respects the Year of the Dragon. I know, I know.  I’m mixing calendrical metaphors again with my Julian and Oriental dates. I’m inspired by both Ancient Roman history and enamored of my birth year in the Chinese Zodiac.  Only three weeks remain of my favorite of the twelve years, not to rise again until the day after my son’s thirty-eighth birthday.  By that time, I predict I’ll be a grandmother, introducing my grandchildren to the fantastic worlds found in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit.

When I picked up the first book in this series, The Eye of the World, my daughter was less than a year old; now she’s a mezzo soprano graduate student at the University of North Texas.  Last week, I read the final book, A Memory of Light, in the Wheel of Time series.  I resisted the urge to write a review immediately upon completing the series, knowing from past experience, that I needed to ‘grieve’ for the series and its characters.  Whenever I finish an epic and beloved book or series, knowing there will be no more adventures, insights, intrigues, anything from that world, I fall into a funk, almost a depression.  For two or three days, I felt morose.  In some respects, being incredibly stressed and busy at work kept me from indulging in those doldrums.

I finally gave a rating to the book at GoodReads sometime on Friday, remembering to move it from my currently reading shelf to my read shelf in a fit of digital housekeeping.  I almost gave it four stars, but reluctantly, and probably against my gut instincts, I relented and gave it a full five stars (with a 4.5 qualifier in my short written review).  I give an unreserved five stars specifically to scenes containing Bela, Tam, Egwene and Lan. And I also adore the relatively recent additions of Androl and Pevara.

To the question of ‘Was it worth the wait?’ I am still unsure.  Despite the bright shining stars mentioned above, much of the final book annoyed me.  Why bother to bring back Moiraine if she amounts to a footnote in the Last Battle?  And the same could be said for Nynaeve and Rand for that matter.  Mat and the Seanchan – I still wish either or both of them had never cluttered up this series.  And Elayne seems to be taking Empire-building lessons from Tuon’s ancestor.

The questions I wanted answered remain unanswered.  The resolutions I hoped for did not occur, save perhaps in some oblique off-hand hinted at way.

And thanks to my impatience, I will be re-reading A Memory of Light in May, as I continue leading the discussion of the entire Wheel of Time series (currently in the middle of the 10th book, The Crossroads of Twilight) at the Fantasy Book Club Series GoodReads group.  From this point forward, everything I re-read will be dimmed by my foreknowledge of the end.  I should, perchance, take to heart the final words of the author(s) and let go, for ‘… it was not the ending.  There are no endings, and never will be endings, to the turning of the Wheel of Time.  But it was an ending.’

Shadow Box Racing Memories

Shadow box Christmas giftJust after Epiphany, Terry received a large box from our daughter containing two gifts. The largest one, shown at right, displays all three tickets and several cutouts from the program, memorializing our trip to the United States Grand Prix last November.  Terry displayed it promptly and prominently in our great room.

Great big thanks to Nic and Rachelle for such a thoughtful gift and keepsake.

Oh, and the second gift?  For her BFF, who still hasn’t stopped by to retrieve it.

Noir from Page to Screen – Signature Event Lecture by Mitch Brian

I sent an e-mail to my husband over lunch on Wednesday, asking if he wanted to accompany me to a lecture at the Central library branch that evening.  I hadn’t heard back from him by the time I left work and when I walked into the house Wednesday evening, he did not appear to be attired appropriately for a trip back downtown.  I grabbed us a very quick supper from the local Arby’s and then jumped back in the van for the thirty minute return trip to the Kansas City Public Library.

While I got parked in the garage by 6:30, the walk into the library and up to Helzberg Hall on the fourth floor took a few minutes.  The wine and cheese reception in the annex to the Hall had already been cleared away and one of the security personnel opened the door quietly for me to slip in during the introduction of Mitch Brian, already in progress.  I slipped into an aisle seat near the back and took out my new Note II to take notes with its stylus.  Reminiscent of my days with a Palm Pilot, only in color and at warp speed.  For an inside peek into Mitch’s brain, take a look at his answers to the Pitch’s Questionnaire from Aug 2012.

Mitch began animatedly with the adage “Good books make bad movies.” He went on to explain that good movies are when someone wants something. Goals or quests work well, creating drama. Chandler and Hammett both write plenty of plot which translates into great movies. Film is pre-language. Hollywood wants everyone to have the same movie experience. Dialog sets up action and comments on it, but is not the action. Mitch challenged us to watch out for the Action/Reaction pattern.

imageAdaptation. Dramatization dynamics of a scene. Reactions and argument. Details from the book. The literary work must submit to genre. Pay attention to point of view. Sometimes the camera is a character.

Mitch read from the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, from the end of chapter one and the beginning of two. Then he aired the same from the movie (starring Humphrey Bogart). Afterwards, he asked us what was missing? The audience correctly noted the rolling of the cigarette, the billboard scene, the pajamas, and calling a cab. What was added? The audience saw the shooting. Mitch noted the book is 100% observational. The first person point of view includes omissions. The movie uses the third person.

Mitch moved on to The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. He read the Phillip Marlowe introduction, then skipped to the end of chapter three, flowing on into chapter four. Again, the point of view was totally First Person. Mitch showed us the scene in the rare book shop he’d just read, again from the movie starring Bogart.  Did Howard Hawks maintain that point of view? Not entirely, for the audience could see the woman signal the next customer, yet Bogart missed it (and we knew he missed it).  From participant to observer. Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain takes hardboiled to the next level.

Mitch cut short his lecture, apparently feeling the need to stay within an hour time slot.  He began the Q&A session at about half past seven.  One of the questions from the audience front row caught my ear, as I recognized the voice from work.  I made sure to wander up front after the lecture to great him and meet his wife.

I hung around to ask Mitch if he’d read Agatha Christie’s  And Then There Were None (also known as Ten Little Indians), specifically because in one of the film adaptations (the one from the 60s that I watched recently on TCM). I wanted to know his thoughts on an author rewriting her own ending (Christie worked on that film and changed the ending completely from what she original wrote in 1939).  While he had read the book, which is one of the best by Christie, I got the feeling he hadn’t seen the film, but thought it interesting the author decided to rewrite the ending to be less grim than her original work.

When I first read the suggested readings for the Winter 2013 Adult Reading Program a few days ago, I could only find one or two that appealed to my tastes.  After the lecture, which I really hadn’t originally planned on attending (you can thank the KC Public Library and their Android App for that bit of serendipity), I overhead one of the librarians remarking upon Mitch’s short story, recently published (ironically on my birthday last fall) in the anthology called Kansas City Noir. Now that I’ve heard him speak, met him and heard at least one rave review, I plan to reserve a copy at the library of the anthology next week and try noir again.  Perhaps it will disprove the theory that bad books make good movies.

The End … Finally

I came home to a pleasant surprise Monday evening (January 7, 2012), delivered by my friendly postal employee.  I received my signed first edition hardcover copy of A Memory of Light one day early, the day before the official release:

First Edition Hardcover Received 1/7/2013
First Edition Hardcover Received 1/7/2013
First Edition Hardcover signed by Brandon received 1/7/2013
First Edition Hardcover signed by Brandon received 1/7/2013

As you can see in the photo above, Brandon aptly personalized my copy with the phrase ‘The End.’  I started reading this series twenty-three years ago and I nearly gave up hope, when Robert Jordan passed away, of ever reading the long prophesied Last Battle.  Soon, all my questions will be answered (or so I hope).

I stayed up two hours past my normal bed time to read the prologue and the first six chapters.  I’ve read another six chapters since then and will read a couple more before falling asleep tonight.  I predict that by Sunday, I’ll be posting a review here of my thoughts on the longest, sprawliest epic fantasy series I’ve ever read and whether A Memory of Light was worth the wait (and the hype).

Kansas City Public Library 2013 Adult Winter Reading Program ~ While the City Sleeps

After reviewing the suggested reading list for the adult winter reading program, “While the City Sleeps,” I only found three items of interest to me personally.  This does not mean you won’t find something that appeals to your tastes.  I added the following three titles to my ‘to-read’ queue:

I will probably skip the signature events this time around, but will try to make the book discussion in mid-February for Night Circus. I thought about attending the showing of the movie Apollo 13, but decided against it because it’s not at the Plaza Branch (which has a wonderful auditorium).  Besides, I own the DVD.  I’d just miss out on the book discussion for Lost Moon.

This will make my fourth (or possibly fifth) consecutive winter reading program with the Kansas City Public Library.  I can’t wait to see what kind of mug I will add to my growing collection once I turn in my reading log.

Movie Review: Lockout (2012)

Lockout (2012)

2.5 out of 5 stars

I regretted not adjusting my Netflix queue last week when I saw this sitting in my mailbox Friday afternoon.  I can’t even remember why I added it in the first place.  I suppose I was fishing for some non-existent intelligent and intriguing science fiction to watch.  Instead, I reeled in Lockout.

The plot has been done before, and done better.  The special effects were obvious CG and not completely well integrated with the filmed aspects of the movie.  The military tactics employed during the climax made me roll my eyes, as they were obviously used to create a dangerous and completely unnecessary CG dog fight between fighters and a falling orbital prison.

I did, however, get several chuckles from the snarky dialog, most of it emanating from the side of Snow’s mouth (portrayed by Guy Pearce with a convincing American accent).  The quotes page at IMDB for Lockout doesn’t really do them justice, as you really need to see and hear them in context to get the full impact of many of the punch lines.

I’d have to say, though, that Pearce is batting a thousand for appearing in scifi duds in 2012.  First this one, then followed by the much hyped and disappointing Prometheus.  At least his character in Lockout grows on your.

Cracked Honey Wheat Bread

Other ingredients1 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup cracked wheat

4 T canola oil (or butter/margarine)
4 T honey
1 cup KAF White Whole Wheat Flour
2 cups KAF Unbleached Bread Flour
1 T vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp yeast


Cracked wheat soakingUsing my bread machine, I placed the boiling water in the bread pan first with the cracked wheat to soak (min of 30 mins) while I gathered the other ingredients.  I added the honey and oil to pan.

Ready to mix∞∞∞

Then I added the dry ingredients, except for the yeast.  I made a crater in the mound of flour mixture and placed the yeast carefully in the crater.

I set a delay on my dough cycle (my bread machine includes a 20 min preheat feature I can add for all programmed cycles) and let the machine do the rest.  I prefer to back my bread in my oven, rather than the machine, so I almost always use dough cycle.

My Precious
My Precious (click image for rest of album)

[flickr video=8350532602 secret=d75c012cf5 w=400 h=327]

Once the cycle completes, remove the dough from the pan, shape it and allow the dough to rise, covered, for about 1 hour, or until it’s crowned about 1 inch over the rim of the pan. Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf registers about 190°F. Remove the bread from the oven, turn it out of the pan, and let it cool on a wire rack.


Check back in a couple of hours for updated photos and the results of my bread dough epiphany.

Cooling on rack
Cooling on the rack

First Snowy Sunrise of 2013

First Sunrise 2013
First Sunrise 2013 (click image for rest of album)

When I let Apollo out this morning at 5:30 a.m., I saw the moon.  I didn’t think much of that until I let him back in and it dawned on me (pun intended) that I could probably see the sunrise today.  Today being New Year’s Day 2013.  I was supposed to wake up to snow falling, not mostly clear skies.

I groaned, though, because even without a wind, the temperature plummeted over night to the lower teens.  I didn’t fancy standing outside for a half hour or more to photograph a sunrise.  I made a compromise and setup the tripod and camera in the as-yet-unfinished Purple bedroom, where the window faces east and doesn’t currently have a screen installed.  I could open the double-pane window and have an uninhibited view of the eastern horizon (with the exception of the leafless winter tree skeletons silhouetted against it).

I waited until five minutes after sunrise but should have hung around ten minutes or so longer.  Instead, I went outside to shovel the driveway and the stairs before the sun, which wasn’t supposed to be shining this morning, could melt the powdery stuff to ice.  The sunrise never produced any golden or pink overtones to the clouds, but it did become a bit more dramatic than what I photographed above while I shoveled snow.  Oh well, such is life.

Happy New Year!