Monday, January 29, 2007


Ok, I started out on the experimental computer with FreeBSD. I scrapped that because I couldn't set up a GUI. Next I tried to install Solaris, I couldn't even get to the installer on that. Now, I tried to install Debian, but I was concerned when it didn't come with the GUI enabled. I was thinking that the entire fiasco with FreeBSD was going to happen. And it appears that it was close. After I installed Xfree86 (I know, don't lecture me about this) and GNOME, I was unable to start X. After long days of research, I found out the problem. I GOT THE MOUSE PORT WRONG! That was what was killing X, THE MOUSE!! Well, I found a workaround. Here it is:

Make sure you have X and gnome installed and set up (as much as possible). This is only a problem if you get an error that says something like: X Fatal IO error 104.

Install a tool that detects the port your mouse is called mdetect:

apt-get install mdetect

Now run it:


Take note of the port that it detects. Now, get back to the X configure screen

dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xfree86

Go through the process as your computer tells you. Now, when you get to the mouse port, don't leave it at /dev/mouse/inputmouse (or something like that) put it on the one that mdetect found. Now, start up X:


And voila, you X is as good as new (and it is).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Week-long blog break

Yep, as much as it pains me, I won't have much time to blog over the next week. Due to my extreme priority-skewing, I'm gonna have to spend the week doing some hard-core piano practice, to memorize 3 pieces in a month, basically. Hopefully, a week will do me some good. Now, I might be able to blog if I have extra time at school, but don't count on it. Oh well, see all of you next week.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Science Music Lovers, Rejoice!

I found a large collection of very good science songs done by a University of Washington, Seattle professor, Greg Crowther, and his band, Science Groove. The songs are done very well, and are freely available (which is the best part). The topics are far-ranging, but are generally centered on biology. Greg also maintains a HUGE database, appropriately called the MASSIVE (Math And Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere) database (bet that acronym took a lot of effort to be found). I listen to these on VLC on shuffle, every day. WE LOVE YOU GREG!!!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Horizons, Part 2

Ok, so, now you've figured out how to connect to the Horizons database. What do you do from there? Well, there are several things to do once you connect. The first thing you do is search for what you want. For example, lets pick poor old Pluto. Now, type pluto into the prompt line.

Horizons> pluto
Press enter. You should now get this:

Multiple major-bodies match string "PLUTO*"

ID# Name Designation IAU/aliases/other
------- ---------------------------------- ----------- -------------------
9 Pluto Barycenter
999 Pluto 134340

Number of matches = 2. Use ID# to make unique selection.
Select ... [F]tp, [M]ail, [R]edisplay, ?, :

This is something that is peculiar to this database, especially with planets and dwarf planets. The first entry is the barycenter, which only has meaning if the (dwarf) planet has moons. The barycenter is basically the point where the (dwarf) planet and the moon revolve around. The (eight) planets are so heavy, that the barycenter actually lies INSIDE the surface of the planet. So, there usually isn't that much of a difference. This probably has a use for scientists who need to know the barycenter of planets to launch probes or stuff, but for us, we just want "#999 Pluto". So, type in the number "999" (without quotes) and press Enter. You should get this next:

Select ... [F]tp, [M]ail, [R]edisplay, ?, : 999
Revised: Mar 24, 2005 134340 Pluto 999

Solution update to support Charon's 2005-Jul-11 occultation of 15th magnitude
star UCAC2 26257135. Fit to all available observations.

PHYSICAL DATA (updated 2006-Feb-27):
Mass Pluto (10^22 kg) = 1.314+-0.018 Density Pluto:
GM (planet) km^3/s^2 = 870 (R = 1137+-8 km) = 2.06 g/cm^3
Mass ratio (Mc/Mp) = 0.12 Radius of Pluto, Rp = 1151 km
Surface gravity = 65.5 cm/s^2 Geometric albedo = 0.3
Sidereal orbit period = 247.92065 yr Orbit velocity = 4.749 km/s
Escape velocity (km/s)= 1.3
Select ... [E]phemeris, [F]tp, [M]ail, [R]edisplay, ?, :

Now you have a whole bunch of data on Pluto. Now you can select one of several options. You enter "e" to get ephemeris, which are basically coordinates for where Pluto is. Getting these are a long arduous process that I'm not going to elaborate on now, probably because I have no clue how this works either. Now, you can enter "f" to store the data temporarily to retrieve it later from an ftp server (which I don't think you have much of a need for). Press "m" to e-mail the data to someone (or yourself). And press "r" to redisplay the data. When you're finished and want to search for something else, just press Enter and you'll be able to enter in another object.

Now, these are only a few options you can use. For other objects, you get other options. One thing to remember is, whenever you need help, just type "?". If that's not enough, then type "?!" for more details. Now, there's my summary on the Horizons service. Hope you all enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

NASA Horizons

No, I'm not talking about the New Horizons satellite. I'm talking about a service that has been done by NASA (specifically JPL) since at least 1996. This is just called "Horizons" (no "new"). This is a service provided by JPL that provides information for several (thousand) Solar System objects, including Ephemeris(es?) and basic geologic information. Now, I'll show you how to use the Horizons service with ease (actually it's not very easy, but it's useful). This is done by an internet protocol called Telnet. Telnet basically allows you to get into other computers over the internet. Now, there have been a couple of stories about Telnet being highly insecure, but if you're only using it for the Horizons service, then I think it's pretty safe. If you use it for other, more private, matters, you might want to use ssh (I'll go over this once I learn more about it).

First, get Telnet. This is usually not needed for most computers. If you have Windows, you can either use the out-of-the-box Hyperterminal or get some fancy-schmancy program I have no clue about. I will give instructions via the Hyperterminal. If you have linux, as I do, your computer should already have Telnet, but disabled. See the documentation for your specific distribution to find out how to enable it. The next 3 steps will be for Windows users, linux users could skip down.

Second, open the Hyperterminal. If you have Windows XP, you go All Programs> Accessories> Communications> Hyperterminal. If you have a previous version of Windows, you go Programs> Accessories> Communications> Hyperterminal.

Third, name your connection. This is a rather free step. Just name it whatever you want and click next.

Fourth, set up your connection. Now, for Telnet, you do not use the COM1, or whatever item you see in the last drop-down box. You click on that box and change it to TCP/IP (Windsock). Now, for the address, you put in and for the port you put in 6775. Click next and you're connected. Hooray.

Linux users, your job in considerably easier. Just open up the terminal and type "telnet 6775". Now you're connected.

It's getting late. I'll show you how to use it later. Need sleep.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Timeline is paused

Ok, due to lack of demand. I've suspended working on my timeline. Well, actually, I was thinking of reviewing Java concepts, because things have changed A LOT since Java 1.4. I'm starting to go over the tutorials again. Let me tell you, I think it'll be easier to optimize the timeline with Java 1.6. But, I've gotten lazy and unmotivated. Ok, that's it, I have GOT to advertise my timeline at school. But how?

Monday, January 15, 2007

All I can say is "wow". If that event was near me, and I didn't have to pay, I might even go there for a laugh.

Via........FSTDT of course!

Critical thinking in Schools

Now I, and many skeptics, personally associate critical thinking with science. Science is supposed to combat bad, pseudoscientific thinking. I mean, the word pseudoscientific, which means an unproven, usually duplicitous idea, is based on the word "science". Now, with all the emphasis of science on thinking critically, there is a weird thing that happens in schools (at least the one I go to). Critical thinking isn't really taught in science classes. Fact and theories are taught in science classes. The class where critical thinking is taught, is in English.

Now, when you think about it, English class is not a bad place to teach critical thinking. I mean, you learn about how to use language to persuade and change people's opinions on something. It makes sense that you should learn, along with how to persuade people, how to see through other people's arguments. And that's just what we do. In my English class, persuasion is done by appeals. There is logical appeal, emotional appeal, and ethical appeal. Logical appeal is persuasion through facts and statistics; it's the only appeal that matters in science, and is the appeal you look for when trying to analyze a claim for its authenticity. Emotional appeal is just what it sounds like; appealing to the emotions. Usually for this appeal, words that have a powerful effect are used; this is caused using loaded language. These words tend to be words with heavy connotations, such as fag, instead of homosexual. Now, if you were homosexual, which word would offend you more? The last type of appeal is ethical appeal. It basically targets the reader's moral standards. Although this can be used in tandem with logical appeal, it is an easy place to make false dichotomies (black-and-white decisions) or slippery slopes (if THIS happens, then THAT and THAT and THAT will happen [even though it probably won't]).

Now, this may not be an entirely bad thing. One thing that marks the weakness of an argument is the high reliance on emotional and ethical appeal. A properly thought out argument needs logical appeal also. Now, here's where the difference comes in. In science, you don't want ANY ethical or emotional appeal. They mean nothing. If gravity made you sad, it doesn't care, it will still pull down on you. Now in English, when you're trying to make a persuasive essay, if you rely only on logical appeals, your essay will seem very dull and highly unpersuasive. You need to balance it with emotional and ethical appeal for just the right amount of persuasion.

Now, apparently, English covers just the same critical thinking skills that science wants, even more. But there is a separate message for each. For English, you want all three appeals to achieve the maximum amount of persuasion, even if you have an untenable position. For Science, you ONLY depend on logical appeal, because logic is the only thing that describes nature. Luckily for me, I know the difference, but I think science classes should just mention how to treat claims and analyze them, even for just half a period, which isn't too much to ask.


Comments are now open to everyone. Thanks to a tip-off from my friend Larry, all people can post a comment. If this restriction kept you from posting before, you can now post freely, yay!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The End of String Theory?

I just finished reading two books that came out that criticize string theory. You may be familiar with them, you may not. They are Not even Wrong by Peter Woit and The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin. They're both pretty well written, though I liked Smolin's book a lot more. Now, when you compare the books solely on discussing string theory as a whole, Smolin's book takes the lead. However, both books do more than that, and can be used for other purposes. Now, I'm not going to discuss the arguments themselves in these summaries, that's for you to read. But if you're on a limited budget and can only buy one book, I might help in describing the styles in which they are written. You can decide which book suits you. Though, I must admit, there might be a bit of a bias, but it's my blog, so tough. Ok, so summaries are below the fold:

Not even Wrong by Peter Woit is the first book I read. It's strong parts were a fairly detailed explanation on the history of quantum mechanics. The first 10 chapters are dedicated to that. After that, he makes a fairly detailed attack on string theory. He concentrates on the standard model and symmetries on this attack. He also suggests some additional reading material for each chapter, which is good, in case you're interested. One fault, in my opinion, is that the beginning gets rather boring when you want to get to string theory. Once you get to string theory, it gets fairly detailed, maybe a bit too much. I also sensed some deep-down hostility toward string theory. I'm not sure where this stems from, but it adds some energy, and sometimes a bit of humor.

The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin was my favorite book. It was a bit longer than Not even Wrong, but much more enjoyable. Smolin's book is divided into 4 parts. The first part is a short (shorter than Woit's) history of quantum mechanics, and some of the implications. The second part is about the history of string theory. He goes over the first and second Superstring Revolutions, which he witnessed firsthand. He also makes his critique in this section. He has a much calmer attitude toward string theory, probably because he himself did some work on it. This critique is much more broad than Woit's, and isn't drenched in detail. Now, the third section is dedicated entirely to subjects that are alternatives to string theory. You don't hear much about them, probably because string theory is so dominant, but they're there, worked on by probably only dozens of people. He also goes over the advantages these theories have over string theory. In the last section, he goes over what happened in physics to cause the monopoly of people to go into string theory. He also discusses how the science has got awry, and the atmosphere created by string theory isn't exactly conducive to creative thought and diversity. It is mostly a description of a social phenomenon that has string theory has put on physics. This part is, amazingly, extremely interesting, maybe even more than the actual critique, and social scientists (or sociologists) might gain some insight into what's gotten into the physics community by reading this section. As you may see, I am heavily biased towards this book, but that's only because I liked it so much. This is a book I'd highly recommend, though if you can (or dare), purchase both.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year

I'd like to wish all of my readers a Happy New Year. As a tradition that has been going on with my family as long as I can remember, I went to a New Years Eve Party (Armenian, of course). And I feel that I must share with you what happened yesterday/today. I've noticed that I kind of have a schedule with parties and celebrations, especially those that I am new at. Now, the main thing people do at these functions is DANCE!! I'm not someone who really enjoys dancing, in fact, the first two hours, I just eat and stare longingly into space (or someone else [come on, just because I'm a nerd {ok fine, I know that didn't sound right, but I feel that I should be very social at these dances, but I just can't, and therefore, feel very lonely}]). Now, after I finish getting down in the dumps for the first two hours, I go to the guy you can always hang out with, the bartender. I know I'm a minor, but I don't drink anything, so don't get any wrong impressions about me. And when I'm with the bartender, and I watch him mix up various types of alcohol, I feel much more content. I've always had a liking for bartenders. I don't think it's because you can tell them all your problems, or that they're always open (I don't do that), but it's because they're like chemists. They mix stuff to make something new, and that's cool. Ok, I need to get back to doing what I have to do, but I might elaborate on this more.