Free screensaver for your Nook: Moon

Thought I’d make the photo I took of the Moon last week into a wallpaper/screensaver for the Nook. Because who doesn’t want to look at our lovely satellite when they pick up their e-reader? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I edited it for the 16-shade grayscale of the Nook, and as always, you’re welcome to download and use it as a wallpaper; I just ask that you don’t change it or pretend you made it.

Click the image for the full size (600×800) version.

Hmm. WordPress is changing the image when I upload; the light halo is fainter in the original. It’s a tiny file so I’m not sure why WP is changing it, but hope you like it anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Night sky through a compact’s lens

I’ve been meaning to try photographing the moon with my Canon G12 for some time now; I finally got around to it, and I turned the camera on Orion, too, while I had stars on my mind. ๐Ÿ™‚ I do wish I had a better tripod, as my mini one tends to drift a bit when the camera’s tilted, its center of weight pulling it off in one direction. But to be able to take photos like this of the night sky on a compact camera…we really do live in the future. You know that, right?

ISO 80, f/8, 1/100s. 4 Mar 2012.

ISO 80, f/4.5, 15s. 6 Mar 2012.

Science Book Challenge Review: Dance for Two (Lightman)

When I was a junior undergrad, a fellow student–a physics major–recommended Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreamsย as one of his favorite books. Having had a small taste of physics in a mechanics course that fall, I was hungry for more–especially since we stopped just short of an introduction to relativity. I picked up a copy to read over winter break, and that novel became one of my favorites, as well. Five years later, I’ve finally gotten around to reading more of Lightman’s work.

Dance for Twoย is a collection of essays centered on the interplay, differences, and similarities between science and art. “It seems to me,” Lightman observes, “that in both science and art we are trying desperately to connect with something–this is how we achieve universality. In art, that something is people, their experiences and sensitivities. In science, that something is nature, the physical world and physical laws.” And pure science, he believes, offers a kind of immortality akin to that of great art:

“Hundreds of years from now, when automobiles bore us, we will still treasure the discoveries of Kepler and Einstein, along with the plays of Shakespeare and the symphonies of Beethoven.”

The essays are themselves artfully written, sometimes vividly poetic, sometimes almost musical in their composition. The opening piece, “Pas de Deux,” describes the physical forces acting opposite a ballerina with no less delicacy than we imagine of the dance itself. It is as if she dances not alone on stage, but with all of nature as her partner, each move paired in exquisite synchrony.

Lightman balances fictional narratives and beautifully detailed explorations of natural processes with autobiographical essays on his own journey as a scientist. These latter range from a humorous tale about a semester-long lab project gone awry (Lightman, as he learned, was destined for theory, not the lab) to a poignant reflection on the early age at which scientists reach their peak. Above all, he brings a beauty and a human touch to science prose that I can recall seeing in no other author save Carl Sagan.

There are occasional digressions from the main science versus art theme. In one, “Progress,” Lightman expresses his concern about society’s headlong rush to assimilate every new technology we create; he cautions that “we cannot have advances in technology without an accompanying consideration of human values and quality of life.” In another he advocates the pursuit of pure science–science for science’s sake–arguing that what may seem useless entertains, changes our worldview, deals in truth (“there is no greater gift we can pass to our descendants”), and more practically, paves the way for uses we cannot predict. “If we stop paying for pure science today,” he argues, “there will be no applied science tomorrow.”

In all, Dance for Twoย is a pretty easy read, though the essays do sometimes show their age, as when Lightman writes that the universe is approximately 10 billion years old instead of the current estimate of about 13.7 billion years. Regardless, it is a delight to read, offering interesting comparisons to art and an engaging reminder of what drives us to do science. I would recommend it as readily as any science book I’ve read, and I plan to pick up another of his books soon, myself.

Ratings:

  • Scienticity: 4/5. It’s not all science, but I think there’s more tucked in here than you might notice at first glance.
  • Readability: 5/5. This seems like one of the easiest reads I’ve picked up recently, in the best way–it’s simply clear prose, never oversimplified or patronizing.
  • Hermeneutics: 4/5. Lightman clearly knows his stuff. In one or two of the vignettes, though, I struggled to find his meaning or intent (fun as they were).
  • Charisma: 5/5. If I could give 10/5, I would; his prose is spellbinding.
  • Recommendation: 5/5. Unreserved.

Much-delayed photos from GRAIL tweetup, part IV

Here are a few final images from September. The last one was taken by a friend on her iPhone, since I had (for no good reason) left my camera in the car that day.

The coolest celestial globe I've ever seen. It's monstrously heavy, lifted enough by the fountain that you can--with effort--rotate it.

...like so.

The #DiscoveryHouse Bludgeon Whale.* This guy is solid metal, and very heavy. *No mammals were harmed in the naming of this whale. ๐Ÿ˜‰

On our way back to Orlando for flights home, three of us Discovery House folk visited Downtown Disney, where I saw a familiar--and wholly unexpected--sight. A genuine Guatemalan experience is Pollo Campero! My mom, brother, and I ate at one when we visited at the end of his year working in a Xela (Quetzaltenango) language school. I'm still kind of curious what a Guatemalan chain restaurant is doing in the middle of Disney/Orlando. Anyone?

[fin]

Much-delayed photos from GRAIL tweetup, part III

GRAIL’s launch was originally scheduled for the morning of Thursday, September 8, so we all got up and headed for the buses when it was still dark outside. Neil deGrasse Tyson ‘held court’ with a bunch of us as we waited in the parking lot; I don’t remember everything he talked about, but I do remember the Pleiades. They were overhead, and Tyson told us that, although the Pleiades does not comprise seven stars, it’s called the “Seven Sisters” because of ancient myths. The Greeks and Romans gave the subjects of their myths places in the celestial sphere, as you see over and over if you read Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Sisters was the closest they could come to matching a character/set of characters from myth to what they saw in the sky. (In the myth, Orion pursues the Pleiades until Zeus makes them stars, and the constellation Orion still ‘follows’ the Pleiades cluster in the night sky.) So they tried to make what they saw fit the myths they believed in.

Eventually, though, we boarded the buses and headed for our viewing site at the causeway. We had quite a while to wait, and I was so tired that, I’ll admit, I took a chair and nodded off. Too bad I did, because I saw a kind of crowd a ways down from where I sat; only later I heard that Tyson was still talking to everyone who stayed nearby. In fact, it sounded like he would have talked straight through the launch, if it hadn’t been scrubbed due to weather/wind concerns higher in the atmosphere.

Here are a few photos I captured on the causeway, at any rate. It looked like a beautiful morning, but clouds started to roll in by the first launch window.

Sunrise at the causeway.

Setting up cameras for the launch.

Waiting, as more watchers arrive.

Helicopter flying over from the south.

The view of SLC-17 from the causeway (plus some grasses because I like taking pictures with distant objects framed against near ones).

Wherein I get distracted by patterns, water droplets, light and shadow while I wait.