Am I The Cometary Kiss Of Death?


Earlier today I posted a really cool animation from the Stereo-A satellite which monitors the Sun. It showed Comet Ison and Comet Encke heading toward the Sun while being blasted by the solar wind.

Many people feel (or felt) Ison might be the brightest and easily visible comet of our lifetimes! Almost as soon as I posted to my blog new information began to arrive suggesting hopes would be dashed.

We are seeing reports online that molecular emission from the comet has fallen dramatically, meanwhile dust production seems to be enormous. What this could indicate is that the nucleus has completely disrupted, releasing an enormous volume of dust while significantly reducing emission rates. Fragmentation or disruption of the nucleus has always been the highest risk factor for this comet so if this has indeed happened then while unfortunate, it would not be a surprise.

However, these reports are new, and while they are undoubtedly valid, we do still need to keep observing the comet to be sure what is happening. Karl Battams, Naval Research Laboratory

Simply put, it’s possible the comet has broken apart or disintegrated leaving a trail of dust and debris.

All along scientists hinted this was a possibility. Comet Ison has spent hundreds of thousands of years&#185 in the darkest reaches of space. It was safely removed from any source of heat, light or gravity. Now that was changing and changing in a hurry.

Today’s revelation is preliminary info. It points to a likely outcome, but that’s no guarantee. The more comets we see, the more we realize how little we know.

&#185 – It is being reported Comet Ison’s orbit arounnd the Sun takes 582,666 years!

Moon Video That’s Even Better Than The Eclipse

I have never seen the Moon like this–never seen its motion so beautifully presented.

I stumbled upon the video at the bottom of this entry earlier tonight. I was already committed to talking about the lunar eclipse. No way to work this in without a great deal of explanation. I’ll share it on the blog.

Here’s the background (read as much as you want or scroll down to the video player–the video’s still cool):

The Moon always keeps the same face to us, but not exactly the same face. Because of the tilt and shape of its orbit, we see the Moon from slightly different angles over the course of a month. When a month is compressed into 12 seconds, as it is in this animation, our changing view of the Moon makes it look like it’s wobbling. This wobble is called libration.

The word comes from the Latin for “balance scale” (as does the name of the zodiac constellation Libra) and refers to the way such a scale tips up and down on alternating sides. The sub-Earth point gives the amount of libration in longitude and latitude. The sub-Earth point is also the apparent center of the Moon’s disk and the location on the Moon where the Earth is directly overhead.

The Moon is subject to other motions as well. It appears to roll back and forth around the sub-Earth point. The roll angle is given by the position angle of the axis, which is the angle of the Moon’s north pole relative to celestial north. The Moon also approaches and recedes from us, appearing to grow and shrink. The two extremes, called perigee (near) and apogee (far), differ by more than 10%.

The most noticed monthly variation in the Moon’s appearance is the cycle of phases, caused by the changing angle of the Sun as the Moon orbits the Earth. The cycle begins with the waxing (growing) crescent Moon visible in the west just after sunset. By first quarter, the Moon is high in the sky at sunset and sets around midnight. The full Moon rises at sunset and is high in the sky at midnight. The third quarter Moon is often surprisingly conspicuous in the daylit western sky long after sunrise.

The video is actually an animation with one frame per hour. I have never seen the Moon like this–never seen its motion so beautifully presented.

[jwplayer mediaid=”10610″]

video courtesy: Goddard Space Flight Center

Stars Over Hamden: Time Lapse Animation

I pointed the camera toward the sky. A few stars were bright enough to use to focus. This was going to be a 100% manually set shoot.

My intention was to go out and view Comet McNaught last night. For a variety of reasons (including disappointing results from others) I stayed home. Still, stars and sky were on my mind!

I pulled out the camera (aka Clicky), threw on my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (Thanks again Santa… how do you know?), picked up my tripod and intervalometer and headed out to the deck. After yesterday’s hellish storms it was good to be outside on a clear, nicely breezy, warm night. The oppressive humidity of the afternoon was long gone.

I pointed the camera toward the sky. A few stars were bright enough to use to focus. This was going to be a 100% manually set shoot.

I pulled back the zoom from its maximum focal length down to 100mm then snapped off a shot at f/2.8, 1 second, iso 1600. I needed to make sure the camera would capture something. It did. Zooming in showed the picture was pretty sharp.

The one second shutter was a critical number. As you’ll see in the animation the stars move across the sky. Hold the shutter open too long and the stars will be streaky blurs.

My last step was setting the intervalometer. I set it to six second intervals which gave me ten shots a minute.

I let it run for around 45 minutes.

The finished product was run through Sony Vegas 9, a video editor. Levels were adjusted, but there’s an interesting conflict between stars and noise if you bring the gain up too much. That’s a technique probably only learned through trial and error.

Originally this was uploaded to Youtube. It was compressed so much the stars virtually disappeared. This method is a little better, but I’ll probably work on another method this weekend.

New York City Photo Animation

Sometimes the easiest and fastest way to show stills is to make them into an Animoto movie. Enjoy!

Arnold Stang Has Died

Arnold Stang is on my ever increasing list of actors I wish I’d met. I guess I’d better get a little more proactive on that.

Arnold Stang.jpgArnold Stang has passed away. Maybe this won’t mean much to you–Arnold Stang isn’t a household word any more. He was a skinny, nerdy comedic actor known for his distinctive look and even more distinctive voice.

I just took a look at his IMDB resume. He was there as TV came of age. He was there when a single appearance on a variety show could get higher ratings than the Super Bowl! Those were heady days.

Stang did television, movies, commercials and animation voices. He was perfect at playing Arnold Stang. Typecast? Sure. But for Stang there was good work in being typecast.

Arnold Stang is on my ever increasing list of actors I wish I’d met. I guess I’d better get a little more proactive on that.

I remember Arnold most fondly as the voice of Top Cat, a smart alack Hanna-Barbera cartoon character from the sixties. Here’s a sample with Allen Jenkins as the voice of Officer Dibble

On The Occasion Of Rocky And Bullwinkle’s 50th Anniversary

As animation goes Rocky and Bullwinkle was déclassé. This was no Disney romp with full foreground and background movement.

Fifty years ago today Rocket J. Squirrel took flight for the first time from Frostbite Falls, MN (before Minnesota was even abbreviated MN) launched by his buddy Bullwinkle Moose. As a kid I watched this show religiously. It was always funny, always sharp.

As animation goes Rocky and Bullwinkle was déclassé. This was no Disney romp with full foreground and background movement. The characters was sketched. The backgrounds were static. There are 30 frames per second on TV. There’s no way there were 30 drawings per second on this cartoon.

Rocky and Bullwinkle lived and died on the strength of writing and acting. The pen and ink skill was far behind in importance.

Here is what’s probably my all time favorite YouTube clip: A medley of Boris Badenov, featuring June Foray, Paul Frees, Bill Ward and William Conrad.

Not A Good Day On The Internet

Today it is running so slowly I suspect my host has substituted a Commodore64 as the server!

It’s not a good techno day. I woke up to six emails. That’s too few–by far. What’s up with that? I’m sure in a few days, or weeks, I’ll hear from those whose emails aren’t getting here.

Maybe the mail problem is related to my website. Today it is running so slowly I suspect my host has substituted a Commodore64 as the server!

putty-cap.jpgThe attached image shows three numbers in the upper right corner. These show the server load. Anything greater than one means processes are queued. It sets up the Internet equivalent of twiddling your thumbs. Numbers is the mid-20s are scarily bad.

For most simple operations this slowdown isn’t obvious. However, when you use my database, like to leave a comment or search for an older entry, the website goes into suspended animation&#185!

It’s very frustrating because I know people abandon comments when the website isn’t responsive.

I’m not alone with grief today. Twitter seems to be down for the count. The latest tweets I can view are now three hours old.

Actually, a very few tweets must be getting through which is allowing the trending topics page to be dominated by the word, “frozen,” as is “Twitter is frozen.”

The Twitter status blog states:

Timeline delays this morning 1 hour ago

We are currently investigating a problem causing many users’ timelines to be delayed. We will update with status here shortly.

Twitter is amazing. I can’t remember any other web based service that’s had as many issues and are still widely used. How long can they dodge the bullet?

&#185 – This just in from my hosting company:


There was another user overloading mysql on the server. I have created an abuse report and suspended this user.

The load on the server has since dropped. This should resolve the issue.



Level 2 Tech Support

Roxie: It’s Not Easy Being Tiny

Important note: While it’s nearly impossible for people to receive medical care on the weekend for animals it’s no problem. The vet is open for business every Saturday.

roxie-gazes-from-the-afghan.jpgThis was a tough day for Roxie. She had an appointment at the vet. Like a human baby a puppy needs to be examined and inoculated.

Important note: While it’s nearly impossible for people to receive medical care on the weekend for animals it’s no problem. The vet is open for business every Saturday.

Before the exam I was asked to weigh Roxie. I set her down on the scale built into the waiting room floor–6.5 pounds. She has added around two pounds since joining us!

She is still tiny. Don’t let my close-up photos fool you.

Roxie was poked and prodded and had her temperature taken without flinching.

Surprised… was I surprised she didn’t even tense a little? Yeah. I was holding her, but that was obviously an unnecessary act.

After a pronouncement of good health it was time for Roxie’s injections. She got two and again it was without a whimper.

We came home and all was fine, but within an hour or so Roxie began to slow down. She spent much of the rest of the day in suspended animation. Helaine, prone to worry, worried.

It wasn’t until late this evening that the old Roxie returned. Not a moment too soon. She went back to running, retrieving and sometimes nipping.

Right now Roxie and I are on the sofa waiting for Stef to come home. One of us is sleeping.

Unfortunately next Friday Roxie goes back to the vet. Three shots today would have been too many. There’s one more injection to get.

Damn Weather

I created a flying animation to show where the danger was and labeled it as we normally do with a 2-line banner.

Just before air time tonight came word of a large water release from one dam in New London County (Southeastern Connecticut) and the overtopping of another. This is bad news. Any time a dam doesn’t do its job there’s a price to pay.

I created a flying animation to show where the danger was and labeled it as we normally do with a 2-line banner.



I came within around 90 seconds of not noticing and putting that faux pas on-the-air!

Phew–no YouTube tonight!

What Smart Guys Can Do With Computers

This video is a simulation of the precipitation field from Hurricane Floyd. It looks like radar, but there is no radar coverage where most of this plays out.

My friend Bob Hart is a meteorology professor at Florida State. Of all the people I know, he has the most intuitive mind as far as math is concerned. He immediately sees the route to solving, or in this case, visualizing complex math problems.

This animation is a simulation of the precipitation field from Hurricane Floyd. It looks like radar, but there is no radar coverage where most of this plays out.

Quoting Bob, “This 27hr run took 36hr on 42 cpus.” That’s a lot of calculations!

The Simpsons Movie

Stef had a friend in from out-of-town yesterday. With Helaine, the four of us had dinner out. Just a pizza. Nothing special.

The girls headed north, into Hartford. We went south, to North Haven and the movies.

There was never a doubt I’d see the Simpsons movie. I’ve been saying it since I saw he first trailer. This movie has gotten an intense amount of buzz.

Here’s the funny part – though I enjoy The Simpsons, I’m not a regular viewer. In fact, I can’t tell you the last time I watched an entire episode. Yet I’m totally comfortable with the characters and can identify most by name.

There has never been another program on television with as many identifiable on-screen regulars.

I’ve never walked in on Helaine watching The Simpsons. She still wanted to go.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Homer is the straw that breaks the camel’s back as far as Lake Springfield goes. With pollution out of control, an emergency is declared and Springfield is isolated from the outside world.

Does the actual story make any difference? No. It’s all funny situations and incredibly clever, well thought out, funny dialog.

I’ve read the complaint the movie is just an elongated TV episode. OK. I came because I like what’s on the TV show. That wasn’t a problem.

The animation seemed more richly colored than what’s on the tube, and with more spatial layers. This is 2D, have no fears. Still, there were times when it was drawn with a very shallow depth of field.

It’s funny that on IMDB, there are people listing continuity errors! It’s a cartoon. for heaven’s sake. Schwarzenegger was drawn with three fingers on each hand on purpose.

What I liked most about this movie was, it was about the Simpson family and though some of what they do is cartoonish, it’s a very loving, tight-knit family.

All the characters are as you expect from the TV show, but Julie Kavner deserves singling out for her emotional portrayal of Marge. I was especially impressed by a very poignant monologue from Marge which added much to the movie.

We both loved the movie. It’s a good movie to see in a theater, where you can enjoy other people’s laughter as you watch. I just wish there was more Krusty!

Blogger’s note: There was a trailer for the Chipmunks movie, coming later in the year. I smell giblet gravy.

My Friend Kevin

I say without fear of contradiction, Kevin Webster is the nicest man I’ve ever known or will ever meet. He is the proverbial ‘shirt off your back’ guy.

I got a call Thursday afternoon from Melanee Webster, my friend Kevin‘s wife. They were at Yale/New Haven Hospital getting ready to come home. It was Kevin’s wish.

I’m not sure what her exact words were, but I knew what she meant. If I was going to see Kevin again, the time was now.

This evening, after our early news, I made the drive to Cheshire.

I remember the first time Kevin and I met. We’re both ham radio operators. A mutual friend, Harold Kramer, had seen my antenna setup in the attic. He thought I’d do better if my wires were flying in the trees, so he called Kevin and another friend, John Fowler.

Kevin came to my house to do me a favor. He didn’t know me. He didn’t have to. He did favors for friends and strangers alike as a matter of course.

I was amazed as he pulled out a slingshot… something I’d only seen in Dennis the Menace cartoons, and shot a lead line into a tall tree. Before the afternoon was over, I had a wire antenna strung between two trees at the 80 foot level!

Where did he find the time? Kevin had four daughters and was extremely active in his church. He was always busy… and yet he was always available. That ‘busy’ and ‘available’ weren’t mutually exclusive was just part of his magic.

Kevin and I quickly became friends. We built radios together, went to computer shows and ham radio events and talked on the phone.

He was the ultimate technogeek. As the allure of ham radio was replaced by computers, Kevin adapted, becoming everyone’s ‘go to’ guy for tech support and help. As with antennas, Kevin helped everyone.

Sometimes, when facing a particularly puzzling challenge, he’d call me for advice. I’d like to think he was more savvy, but he inherently knew two heads were better than one and he didn’t have a jealous or envious bone in his body.

A few years ago, Kevin got into kayaking. One Saturday, he found a kayak for me to use so I could join him for a float on a lazy river. This river was well beneath his expertise, but he gave up a little to afford me a good time.

I say without fear of contradiction, Kevin Webster is the nicest man I’ve ever known or will ever meet. He is the proverbial ‘shirt off your back’ guy.

He was always up, always smiling, always laughing, even when he found out he had incurable pancreatic cancer. That was nearly a year ago. Too damned short a time.

I spent a good part of July 4th weekend last year trying to make sure Kevin would get the best care possible. My weather partner, Dr. Mel Goldstein (a cancer survivor himself and incredibly well connected) made calls to the top specialists in the field.

It was a holiday weekend, but time was of the essence. Dr. Mel just called them at home. I will never properly be able to express my gratitude for what he did for Kevin.

When I first discovered Kevin’s fate, I thought to myself, God must have made a mistake. Kevin’s not the one to take. It just doesn’t make any sense.

I’ve thought a lot about Kevin’s mortality over the past year. Surely he and Melanee have considered it more, but it was on my mind too.

In March, at a poker table in Las Vegas, I sat next to a man who was a counselor at a hospice in Texas. We talked about Kevin and my fears for him.

“No one ever dies scared,” he said.

I was taken aback. I asked him to explain.

He told me he had been with 800 people as they approached death and none of them were fearful as they approached their end. It was among the most reassuring things I’d ever heard. I wanted to write about it then, but I thought it might be uncomfortable or disrespectful if Kevin read it.

My hope is Kevin is not scared about what lies ahead.

My friend Harold and I walked into Kevin’s house tonight and into a downstairs bedroom. There was some hospital equipment, a bed with rails and Kevin sitting in a big chair.

It was tough to look. My poor friend has been ravaged by his cancer. His skin was ashen, his eyes sunk deeply into his skull, his breathing was shallow. His feet were in socks, but so swollen it looked like they were in casts. Later, when I helped him move, I saw his bruises from dozens of injections and probes.

At times, Kevin would just stop all motion and blankly stare ahead as if he were in suspended animation. It was tough not to think the end was coming right there.

He said a few words and acknowledged our presence, but I’m not sure how much he really understands right now. He’s sedated with opiates to control his pain. It’s a guess he was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Melanee sat by his side and gently comforted him. She is his life’s partner… the girl he met while they were both students at BYU. They were each other’s only tue love.

Neither of them could have anticipated this outcome when they pledged their love and lives to each other.

Kevin will soon be gone. His body is shutting down piece-by-piece. It’s tough to imagine he’ll live more than a few days in his current state.

Kevin’s last year was spent in pain, while suffering the indignity invasive medical treatment brings. And yet, if given the opportunity to stop the pain… end his life early… he would have said no.

He got to spend time with his granddaughter and watch another grandchild swell his daughter’s belly. He got to see another daughter graduate college; the second to do so.

He was proud when Marlene, his youngest daughter, a high school senior, trained and ran a race for charity in Miami. She showed maturity as she tackled an adult sized challenge.

Kevin spent a lot of the last year being up and happy and smiling and… well, he was just being Kevin. Until the very end, cancer could not strip him of that.

The sadness we experience when someone dies is often so overwhelming, we forget what it really means. We mourn the most those we love the most. As horrific as that pain is, it is worthwhile because of what we got in return.

Kevin, I will miss you every day. Our friendship will live in my heart forever.

Simpsons Trailer

Am I the last to see this? There was a teaser trailer, with cute bunnies, for the new Simpsons Movie a few months back. Now there is a full fledged Simpsons Movie trailer.

I’ve linked to the one that fits on my screen, but high definition wide screen versions are also offered. They are larger than my 19″ LCD screen can handle natively!

I don’t watch The Simpsons all the time, but when I do, I enjoy it. It might be the most well defined comedy on TV. It certainly has the largest identifiable cast.

Think about it. I can name more characters on the Simpsons than any other show that’s ever been on television! You can probably do that too.

The trailer knocks me out! It is the cheesy animation style I’ve grown to love, now in movie form. What I mean is, it’s still rough hewn, but with more detail, especially the backgrounds.

No – check that. The increased detail is totally in the backgrounds. The characters are just the same as they are on TV.

Did I mention the voice of Don LaFontaine?

Though one day late for my birthday, I look forward to July 27 and pray for cinematic magic. This move has the potential to be so good… or bad.

FedEx Memphis Thunderstorm Blues

I have been told, Fred Smith chose Memphis for the original FedEx hub because it was a central location with minimal overnight weather impacts (little snow – hardly any fog). Unfortunately, no plan is perfect.

Here’s a link to an animation of FedEx planes flying toward the Memphis hub with a strong line of thunderstorms off to the north. I have no idea who put this together, or how, but it’s very cool.

Amazing Landing Video

NASA has put together a movie of the Huygens probe’s landing on Titan! Holy cow! Even before I knew what I was looking at, I was hooked.

This movie, built with data collected during the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe on Jan. 14, 2005, shows the operation of the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer camera during its descent and after touchdown. The camera was funded by NASA.

Here’s NASA’s explanation, but you might just want to go to the video.

Blogger’s note: Since posting this, I have found the original (higher resolution – much clearer) animation on the Arizona State site.

Beware, at 83 mb this is a very large file. I thought it was worth it.