Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Sunday, April 8, 2018

UTRGV Observatory

from the Brownsville Herald

UTRGV observatory to be dedicated May 5

The observatory at Resaca de la Palma State Park officially will become the Dr. Christina V. Torres Astronomical Observatory during a celebration devoted to science and astronomy May 5.

The inauguration ceremony will get underway after 6 p.m. as night falls over a place with one of the lowest levels of light pollution in the Rio Grande Valley, said Mario Diaz, a professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Also, Diaz is director of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy at UTRGV's Brownsville campus.

Several years ago, Diaz shepherded the observatory and its 16-inch telescope from its perch at what was then the University of Texas at Brownsville to Resaca de la Palma State Park. The park came into existence in 2008 as part of the World Birding Center. At 1,200 acres, it is the largest state park south of San Antonio.

Diaz said his vision is to integrate natural science and space science on the site. He noted the park is a "true natural jewel" and home to a diversity of plant and animal life. At night, there is practically none of the competing artificial light that one finds in the city, making the site ideal for astronomical observations.

The site has a research mission as part of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy, and an educational mission for students from UTRGV and area public school districts. Teachers from the Brownsville and San Benito school districts are being trained as lead teachers for the effort, Diaz said.

The observatory sits about 100 yards from the visitor's center at Resaca de la Palma State Park and parallel to a parking area. Six pedestals are situated in a semicircle around the main telescope. Each pedestal is for mounting an additional telescope, of which there are two with a 12-inch lens, two with an eight-inch lens and two with a nine-inch lens.

On the day of the event, the main and auxiliary telescopes will be set up for star gazing. A computer controls each of them, Diaz said, so that they can lock onto specific stars, planets and celestial objects.

The observatory formerly was named Nompuewenu, which Diaz said is an Indian word that means "beyond the sky" in the native language of his mother's tribe in Argentina.

Diaz said he convinced the UTRGV administration that naming the observatory for Torres would be a fitting tribute. Torres was one of his first students here, and eventually earned bachelor's master's and PhD degrees. She was a Harlingen native who always advocated reaching out with science education to the children of the Valley, Diaz said.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

digital fabrication

Fab lab? Tres chic.

Soon You’ll Be Able to Make Anything. It’ll Change Politics Forever.

Digital fabrication—the process by which data are turned into things, and vice versa—is challenging fundamental assumptions about the nature of work, money and government. All over the world, people are already using a range of computer-controlled tools to make everything from foodfurniture and crafts to computershouses and cars. They’re sharing knowledge remotely, while moving toward community self-sufficiency locally. As these capabilities become widely available in the coming years, institutions and organizations will be caught flat-footed if they don’t start preparing now.

To understand the potential transformative impact of digitizing fabrication, a little historical context is helpful. Over the past 50 years, we’ve lived through two digital revolutions—one in communication and the other in computation. Together they have brought us personal computers, mobile phones and the internet, radically transforming our economy and lives. Digital fabrication is now a third revolution, building on the first two by bringing the virtual world of bits out into the physical world of atoms. The first two digital revolutions progressed at exponential rates, with computers going from filling buildings, to rooms, to desks, to laps, to pockets in the span of 50 years. Digital fabrication is now advancing in the same exponential way.

When you hear “digital fabrication” you might think of 3-D printers. Three-dimensional printers are indeed the most visible manifestation of this new phenomenon, but they are just one part of the current toolbox. There are also machines that cut precisely with lasers; larger rotating cutting tools to carve things like furniture; automated knives to plot out graphics; molds for casting parts, electronics tools to produce, assemble and program circuits; and scanning tools to digitize objects so that they can be transmitted and replicated. Together, these tools add up to a complete fabrication facility—a fab lab.

Fab labs function like town libraries for technology, supporting a mix of for-profit and nonprofit activities. Like a library, they’re used for education and entertainment, but like a factory they’re also used to produce products and create community infrastructure. The number of fab labs has been doubling for more than a decade, and there are now more than 1,000 worldwide, in locations ranging from the northern tip of Norway to the southern tip of Africa, from rural Alaska to urban Japan. Their impact inspired the city of Barcelona to make a 40-year pledge to produce everything it consumes, kicking off a Fab City commitment that’s been joined by more than a dozen cities and now whole countries.

It took decades for leaders in governments to even realize that the first two digital revolutions were happening, and they have been playing catch-up ever since—struggling to deal with the unintended consequences of life increasingly mediated through digital devices. Today, governments and communities have a unique opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive with a remarkable new technology, digital fabrication. They can help resolve the divisive debate between globalism and localism by sidestepping it, by letting bits travel while atoms stay put. Instead of diverging realities, digital fabrication allows us to literally design realities.

more at the original.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Lyrid meteor shower

Been a little busy lately. How are the night skies where you are?

from Travel & Liesure

A Radiant Lyrid Meteor Shower is Coming to Light up the Sky - Here's How to Watch

There will be shooting stars and a chance of fireballs early on April 23 when Earth busts into space dust left by an ancient comet.

Will you see a shooting star streak across the night sky this month? The oldest meteor shower of all, the Lyrid meteor shower, begins in mid-April and continues for nearly the rest of the month. If there are no clouds where you are, and you're under a reasonably dark sky, expect this annual celestial event to bring visible shooting stars on average every three to six minutes.

This April meteor shower happens every year. The 2018 Lyrid meteor shower will take place between April 16 and April 25, but it's due to reach peak activity on the night of Sunday, April 22 and into the early hours of Monday, April 23. The rate is expected to be around 10 to 20 shooting stars per hour, which makes it a medium-brightness shower. However, just occasionally the Lyrids can unexpectedly surge to 100 shooting stars per hour. Will that be this year?

Although the 2018 Lyrid meteor shower peaks on April 22-23, there's a rule of thumb for stargazers that applies to all meteor showers: look after midnight. Since that's when your location will be firmly on the night side of Earth, the sky will be at its darkest and the shooting stars will be appear at their brightest. However, since April 22 will see a first quarter moon in the sky until 1:46 a.m. EST, the chances of seeing Lyrid meteors will be highest between around 1.30 a.m. EST and dawn.

For the Lyrid meteor shower, where to look in the night sky is not hugely important. As the name suggests, the meteors appear to come from the small constellation of Lyra, the harp, which is rising in the eastern sky at dusk. That's called the radiant by astronomers. By moon-set, Lyra is halfway up the eastern sky, so ideally placed to gaze at without straining your neck. However, it's not so important to fixate on Lyra because shooting stars can appear anywhere in the night sky.

Can't find Lyra? It's easy to find because its brightest star, Vega, is the second brightest in the entire northern hemisphere night sky. Look east and you can't miss it.

Anywhere with a clear, dark sky. Both can be hard to find at this time of year depending on where you live. However, light pollution — including moonlight — can considerably dim all meteor showers. Picking a dark sky site is doubly important for Lyrid meteors because they tend to be rather faint, but anywhere out of town with low horizons will work well. As usual, the western U.S. will have a clearer view of the Lyrids meteor shower, with a higher chance of a clear sky in April.

Shooting stars occur when our Earth travels through a cloud of debris and dust particles in the solar system. When that dust collides with the Earth's atmosphere, it heats up and glows momentarily as shooting stars. Occasionally one will glow extra bright, and that's called a fireball. They occur rarely and last just a few seconds, so patient shooting-stargazers will have the best chance.

In the case of the Lyrid meteor shower, the dust and debris was left by comet Thatcher, which orbits the sun every 415.5 years and was last in the solar system in 1861. It will return in 2276.

After the meteor shower in April 2018 is over, the next will be the Eta Aquarids meteor shower. That begins on April 19 and last until May 28, peaking on the night of May 5 and into May 6. Again, just after midnight until dawn will be the best time to observe shooting stars.

Wherever you go for a glimpse of the Lyrid meteor shower, wait until the moon is down, grab a lawn chair, resist the temptation to look at your smartphone (its white light will completely ruin your night vision), and sit back and wish upon a shooting star.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Robin Williams

It was very tragic when Robin Williams took his own life back in 2014. He was just a little older than I am now when he died. His Parkinson's Disease and Lewy body disease (LBD) are two of the things that people seem to fear the most as they age: the loss of their own functioning brain. 

Robin's wife Susan sat down and wrote a letter to the American Academy of Neurology about Robin's illness and decline. It is heartbreaking to read. Someday, we will unlock the secrets of these horrible diseases, but countless people will die, horribly fearful and confused until that day. Here's yet another time I have to say, "Don't give me that 'intelligent design' bullshit"!

A few snips.

The terrorist inside my husband's brain

by Susan Schneider Williams
As you may know, my husband Robin Williams had the little-known but deadly Lewy body disease (LBD). He died from suicide in 2014 at the end of an intense, confusing, and relatively swift persecution at the hand of this disease's symptoms and pathology. He was not alone in his traumatic experience with this neurologic disease. As you may know, almost 1.5 million nationwide are suffering similarly right now.
Although not alone, his case was extreme. Not until the coroner's report, 3 months after his death, would I learn that it was diffuse LBD that took him. All 4 of the doctors I met with afterwards and who had reviewed his records indicated his was one of the worst pathologies they had seen. He had about 40% loss of dopamine neurons and almost no neurons were free of Lewy bodies throughout the entire brain and brainstem.
Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. Can you imagine the pain he felt as he experienced himself disintegrating? And not from something he would ever know the name of, or understand? Neither he, nor anyone could stop it—no amount of intelligence or love could hold it back.
Powerless and frozen, I stood in the darkness of not knowing what was happening to my husband. Was it a single source, a single terrorist, or was this a combo pack of disease raining down on him?
Three months after Robin's death, the autopsy report was finally ready for review. When the forensic pathologist and coroner's deputy asked if I was surprised by the diffuse LBD pathology, I said, “Absolutely not,” even though I had no idea what it meant at the time. The mere fact that something had invaded nearly every region of my husband's brain made perfect sense to me.
In the year that followed, I set out to expand my view and understanding of LBD. I met with medical professionals who had reviewed Robin's last 2 years of medical records, the coroner's report, and brain scans. Their reactions were all the same: that Robin's was one of the worst LBD pathologies they had seen and that there was nothing else anyone could have done. Our entire medical team was on the right track and we would have gotten there eventually. In fact, we were probably close.
But would having a diagnosis while he was alive really have made a difference when there is no cure? We will never know the answer to this. I am not convinced that the knowledge would have done much more than prolong Robin's agony while he would surely become one of the most famous test subjects of new medicines and ongoing medical trials. Even if we experienced some level of comfort in knowing the name, and fleeting hope from temporary comfort with medications, the terrorist was still going to kill him. There is no cure and Robin's steep and rapid decline was assured.