Thursday, March 27, 2008

Puny Earthlings

On several occasions this week, I found myself dealing with students discomfited by the universe. The Sun dying out was particularly perplexing for them.

"What will happen to us? What will we do?"

My reply was, "If we're still around in five billion years, we'll need an exit strategy." Truly, the students looked like I just killed their pets. The Greenhouse Effect also bothers them, but not in the "I should curtail my carbon emissions"-way.

"What will happen to the Earth if the runaway greenhouse effect happens?

"Um, nothing? The atmosphere will change, some living things will die as others flourish, and the rocky ball we live on will continue to orbit the Sun just fine. Oh, and the atmosphere has changed before."


I showed a few of my favorite images: the Peekskill meteorite and the Chicago meteorite. Obviously, very few people were affected by these events, and thus they are considered to be of no consequence. My students did not consider these impacts to be trivial, and strangely, most had not heard of the possibility that an impact contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs. One student has now deemed my class "creepy."

Since I was a small child, I've spent much of my mental life in outer space, so I guess I've become used to being part of the universe, a vast and awesome place. Just a part - not in control, not special, not important. And just amazed that from this tiny little land-locked corner of the universe, we can look out and learn so much.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day Off

Today I am not going to do any work, not even open up my work email accounts. Yup, it's my Spring Break, and I think I deserve one totally free day! The week has been both full and fun so far:

  • We drove up to Sacramento to celebrate my sister's birthday (a milestone) and my brother's birthday, too.(Travel tip - take Highway 99 instead of Interstate 5. Many more In-N-Outs.)
  • Quick detour to Oakland to visit Tim, Heather, and sweet baby River.
  • A lovely drive down the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur.
  • An impromptu St. Patrick's Day party.
  • Meals with family and friends.

And that's just Friday thru Tuesday! Much beach-walking has since occurred.

Other random bits:

  • Congrats to ASU's men's and women's track teams for winning the NCAA championship. Special congratulations to my former physics student Jacqueline for her third (!) national title.
  • My warm feelings towards my former students almost nullifies my rage at receiving a parking citation from ASU this week... you know, the place I haven't been since July? In a state I haven't lived in nor used my car in since July? Sigh.
  • Titan may have a sub-surface ocean.
  • I mourn the passing of Arthur C. Clarke, the author of the first science fiction I ever read.
  • Congrats to David on the Hugo nomination!
  • Congrats to my Greg on reaching yet more milestones this week!
  • I somehow imagine that test grades would be even better for certain students if they curtailed the mj use. Still, the second round of exams went better than the first round.
  • Why am I talking about grading?!?! It's my day off!

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


It's good to get a fresh perspective - Earth and its Moon, as seen by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Monday, March 10, 2008

Veiled Planet

Lest you tire of sunsets, here is otherworldly beauty - Saturn, from Cassini

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Instead of being bored of the perpetual sunshine, I'm just giving in.

Sunset at our secret park:

Sunset at Ocean Beach, witnessed by me, Greg, Jackie, and Chris:

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Ghosts I-IV

Nine Inch Nails just released a 36-track instrumental album called Ghosts I-IV on the website this afternoon. Ahhhh!!!! Ahhh!!!!! The servers are overwhelmed, so I haven't been able to complete my order yet, but the streaming audio still works. Ahhhh!!! Ahhh!!!!

Maybe I'll cancel class tomorrow - it's two hours of new music!!!! Ahhh!!!!!