You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

A brown dwarf is not really brown, but cherry-red. 


It’s not cold; I mean, it experiences molten iron rain, you don’t want to put your hand on it.  First discovered in 1995, they’re too big to be planets, but too small to be stars, and therefore too cool (surface < 2500 degrees C) to sustain significant nuclear fusion in their cores.  You need to be at least eight percent of the mass of our Sun if you want to be a star, and then you’d only just qualify as a red dwarf.  (Most stars are red dwarfs, actually.)   But a brown dwarf isn’t nothing; it’s still a brown dwarf.  It can fuse deuterium into helium for a while (a few million years), and to achieve that it had to be about ten Jupiters (.01 solar masses) or larger.  So that’s pretty respectable.  Luckily for anyone looking for brown dwarfs, they can keep on glowing after that initial fusion period is over because they release gravitational energy as they contract.


Psst.  Hey, kid.  Wanna name a star?  You can almost certainly get away with it, purely for your own and your loved ones’ entertainment purposes, whether it already has a name or not.  Property rights are not easy to enforce for gigantic plasma balls trillions of miles away.  Oh, you wanna name one officially, huh?  Who are you supposed to be — Barnard

If you’re not Barnard you should probably just go for it, and avoid stuff like this.

“There are still a few stars left to be named but you must act quickly to secure a good one before they run out.”

(emphasis in original)

Because we’ve been (re)reading Cod this school year, I’ve been looking for fish treats, including Icelandic dried fish like the kind my UW classmate Geir brought in one day.  It looked like toenail clippings but tasted like potato chips.  Here’s some.   This could be haddock, or sometimes it’s saithe (Pollachius virens).  Both are gadoids, like cod.  Saithe is also known as coalfish or coley or lieu noir or (with its cousin P. pollachius) pollock.  Actually, it’s so well liked all around the Atlantic that it has many names, and there’s more information here, inlcuding the a clip of the sound they make.  But it might be a little difficult to recognize them that way, so look for a nice straight lateral line instead.


Many people have told me it’s a good idea to detoxify one’s attitude now and then by avoiding the news.  This has to be true to the tenth or maybe the hundredth power for comments posted to online news and editorials.  Ugh.  Vomit.  Purge.  I had a supervisor in Louisville who was just a little tech-phobic and — coincidentally, don’t mean anything by it — a devout Catholic.  Once after we’d been chatting about my excessive surfing on company time (!) I showed him a “Prayer to St. Isidore” I’d found in … Atlantic Monthly?  well, somewhere.  Meant a bit satirically by the magazine; St. Isidore has apparently been chosen as a patron saint of Internet users, and the official prayer basically asks for his guidance and protection along those wily intertubes.  Months later the boss asked me to find something in his office (no, really) and while rummaging around I found that Prayer to St. Isidore taped in a corner of  his monitor.  The original is here, fwiw.  I may not have shared his religion but I was sort of pleased to have retrieved this little tidbit of inspiration that he found useful.  (Hey, my birthday is the feast day of St. Clare of Assisi, patron saint of television!  Gnarly.)  Meanwhile, we of unbelief aren’t down with intercessory prayers to saints but we can easily remember these two commandments, as we venture through cyberspace: 

1) many of the assholes we seem to meet are mere sockpuppets of the one true Sphincter, so be of good cheer;

2) be not an asshole like unto those fallen ones, nay, but keep it up with the good cheer thing.

Tidings of the season, etc.

This and this and this.  And stocking stuffers, including several delectable dip/cheeseball/cheesecake/soup-enhancing mixtures from Judecraft Specialty Foods.  There are a million billion brands of dip mixtures out there, so why them?  Because they exhibited this year at Springfield‘s annual “Beyond the Unicorn” craft fair, and they had about twenty varieties of sweet and savory deliciousness  to sample with pretzel sticks or cookies, and everything I tried was just godly, and they were probably the most popular vendor at the fair.  Smart display and smart pricing that encouraged quantity buying, and Chicopee, MA is, well, not local local exactly, but still on the river.   The items I bought for myself, I haven’t bothered to turn into dip — they’re too useful in “real food.”   Savory Sun-dried Tomato and Bacon is great in tomato soup and clam chowder.  Nice smokiness, nice chewy bits of bacon.  Nom nom nom.  Judi’s Best Garlic Butter and Judi’s Best Bruschetta are two fabulous items from their olive-oil blend line, and their sweet stuff includes several sugar-free items.  I plan to actually bother to order from this place in the future, I mean before the next craft fair/pretzel-stick-inhaling opportunity rolls around, that’s how seriously good they are.

Related rates problem from my ancient calculus memory:  you know how fast the radius of your snowball is shrinking; you want to know how fast the volume of the snowball is shrinking.  (The rates are related — hence, related rates problem.)  Applet and explanation here.  (I also remember a similar quiz problem about an oddly-shaped sink with water level falling at a given rate.) 
The phase transition I’m waiting on at the moment is the evaporation of water from my clothes.



For a little extra credit, my people had the option of researching and writing about a children’s toy or game of their choice.  (Dunno how Call of Duty:  Modern Warfare 2 qualifies as a “children’s game” …?)  So here I see one person has discovered an item called the Girl Gourmet Cake Bakery, which makes

“…delicious 2-tiered mini fondant cake just like Duff Goldman of the hit Food Network series Ace of Cakes. No hot oven necessary- cakes are baked in the microwave in 30 seconds!”

If it’s even possible to make cakes in thirty seconds, where has my life gone?  For my microwave to do this, the flour would have to be made of plutonium.  Or I could leave the oven door open and blast the raw cake with an acetylene torch.  I just don’t really believe this.  But this reviewer has actually experienced it, and shares many useful details and suggestions for anyone thinking of buying this toy.

I get the sense from the following commenters that it’s a bit of an improvement over the Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker:

 “It was easy to do, we put it in the microwave and I walked away. I came back to the kitchen half a minute later to smell a god awful scent, and thought “that can’t be the cupcake” after we made another I knew for sure IT WAS! She made 4 in all for each of us and insisted that was dessert for that evening, It was so horribly tasting you couldn’t even force yourself to swallow the bite. As for the decorating appliance, GOOD LUCK with that.”

“GROSS! These cupcakes are the worst! Save your money and make cupcakes the old fashioned way. My 4 year old daughter only enjoyed icing the cupcakes. She would not eat them after the first try. As a matter of fact she no longer wants to eat cupcakes period. I think this has changed her outlook on cupcakes.”

“…if you hate your child get this….”

The people that I’ve cut the most slack about handing assignments in late are the same people fussing at me for not having their grades done and entered on Blackboard two days ahead of my deadline.  There’s a lesson here for me.  Hell, there’s a lesson here for Harry Reid.  I’m going to learn it, Senator, how about you?  Well, I’m still pretty young.  Relatively.  I’m a work in progress, right?  If this is true of POTUS and I’m seven days younger than he is, it’s surely true of me.

I was very happy to have caught Moyers interviewing Matt Taibbi and Robert Kuttner earlier.  It was pwnsome and I wished they would go on all day and talk and argue about everything in the world.

Compared to some of Syfy’s recent fecal offerings, Ice Spiders (airing today at 5 pm EST) is a masterpiece.  If not now, catch it when you can.  You’ll thank me; just suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours.  And why not?  If there ever were a secret military spider-silk breeding program led by Vanessa Williams, of course the spiders would need to be the size of ponies, and a Colorado ski resort would be their ideal hunting ground, and they’d pretty much have to feed by ripping people’s heads and limbs off.  Due only in part to the humans’ craptacular acting, the giant spiders also chomp down every scene they’re in:  they’re shiny and colorful, and can they ski?!  Hell yeah!  Watch them burn up those black diamond runs, squealing with delight, almost (dammit) catching Dumb Hunk Lead Guy, and tell me that doesn’t fill your heart with Christmas cheer.  As an extra-special Yuletide miracle, the military swoops in at the last minute to save at least a couple of our hero(in)es.  And visions of sequel-plums dance in our heads.


Are you facing grading hell?

“For the future, I strongly recommend avoiding a pile of grading before it happens.”

Oh!  Okay.



The Ratel Motel