Tuesday, September 30, 2008

baby lynx makes bread

Those paws are HUGE!!!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rhymes with Orange: dog/cat comic strip

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stuart Highland Pipe Band Gr II Loon Mountain 2008

We placed third as a band and won the drumming.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

1973 Alex Duthart/Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia drum salute

at the 1973 World Pipe Band Championships

Steven Whirter plays Alex Duthart drum salute

Alex Duthart: backsticking and stick clicking

World Pipe Band Championships 2008: Simon Fraser University medley

World Pipe Band Championships 2008: Simon Fraser University MSR

playing their march, strathspey, and reel set

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Alex Duthart/British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band: Drum Salute

surviving velociraptor attach

I could survive for 54 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

Created by Bunk Beds Pedia

Friday, September 12, 2008

escaping a hurricane by car

How To Escape A Hurricane By Car

Evacuating from a hurricane involves more than just getting into your car and driving away from the coast. Of the estimated 120 deaths associated with Hurricane Rita, 107 of them were related to the mass vehicular evacuation rather than the storm itself. With hurricane watches being issued for the Mid-Atlantic and a major hurricane approaching the Bahamas, we thought it was a good time to review the proper steps an individual should take when evacuating from a storm in a motor vehicle.


...Your Risk
Hurricanes rarely appear out of nowhere and modern forecasting technology typically gives citizens days to prepare. If you live in an area on or near the Atlantic Coast or the Gulf of Mexico, it's possible that you are at risk. If you live hundreds of miles inland, like in Oklahoma, you don't need to worry. Michigan? Yeah, probably not an issue for you either. Check with your local Office of Emergency Management or state government for information about whether your house is within an evacuation zone. Below are examples of hurricane evacuation maps:

...Your Threat
If it appears that a hurricane could head your way in a few days resist the urge to immediately panic. A storm deep in the Atlantic could take as long as a week to reach the United States coast after being named. Check with the National Hurricane Center, your local weather forecasters, newspapers and television to see how likely the threat really is and the timing of the storm.


Your Vehicle

The stress of an evacuation isn't just felt by your family. It is also felt by your car. Make sure that your vehicle is in good operating condition, fueled up and able to drive at least a few hundred miles. Things you'll need:

  • A full tank of gas
  • Insurance information and maps
  • Properly inflated tires with a spare tire
  • Phone charger
  • Functioning A/C (very important, especially when traveling with elderly or children. Also, if you have to turn off your car to save gas you'll want to cool down when you get moving again)
  • Flashlight
  • Money, specifically cash, to fill up your car multiple times

...Your Family & Pets
During the Rita and Katrina evacuations there were families that spent nearly a day in their cars, with an average time on the road of over 10 hours for Rita. Think about what your family and pets need to survive for at least one day in a car and possibly for multiple days on the road. This list below is just a start and may vary based on the age and special needs of the people traveling.

  • Water
  • Ice in a cooler if possible (it gets hot)
  • Non-perishable food, snacks
  • Toiletries
  • Clothing
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Music, games, cards and anything else to distract yourself and others
  • Toilet Paper — you may have to go on the road
  • Sanitary gel like Purell, see above
  • Medications
  • Pet items such as a leash

...Your Documents
As opposed to merely driving off for a regular road trip, leaving your home during an evacuation means, God forbid, you may not have anything to return to and you may have to register with the government for help or seek medical care. These are the basic documents you will need, though you should also consider other important information.

  • Drivers license and Social Security card for all those traveling
  • Health insurance information
  • A copy of your homeowner's/renter's policy, just in case
  • Certificate of vaccination for pets, in case you have to board your pet or enter a shelter
  • Photos of your house if you have time

...Your House
Assuming that you aren't suddenly caught off guard by the storm, it is important to protect your house from damage and secure items like patio furniture that could turn into missiles during a storm. The National Hurricane Center has a great guide outlining how to secure doors and windows.


...Your Routes
Every coastal state has their own evacuation route that shows, for the area, the best way to evacuate. These are large highways built to handle large traffic loads and, typically, designed to be adjusted for hurricanes. Unfortunately, during a mass evacuation these roads can become crowded and it may be better to take a different route. Assuming you have the option you should plan multiple ways of escape.

Try to avoid smaller roads you don't know well, since construction, flooding and other hazards can slow you down. Always prioritize official hurricane routes first because these are the areas where emergency personal will set up relief stations with fuel and water. In some situations, local officials will set up contraflow lanes in order to alleviate traffic, something that won't happen on other roads. During storms, most local authorities will waive tolls on toll roads and open up all of those lanes.

Examples of state evacuation routes:

...Your Final Destination
With a hurricane on your doorstep your first instinct is to get away, often with little concern as to where you are actually going. If you have family nearby — but further inland in a place that is safe from storms — then that is often the best place to stay. There's no need to spend a day on the road if there is a safe location just hours away.

If you have no friends or family to stay with, consider, as early as possible, booking an affordable hotel safely inland from where you are. You may have to try for a while as hotels along the route are quickly booked. If you can't find a place to stay or can't afford a hotel, the Red Cross and other organizations will set up shelters during a major storm. Check the radio for shelter locations.

...Your Departure Criteria
One of the biggest challenges for emergency planners is the presence of "shadow evacuation" situations, when a large mass of people who do not need to evacuate suddenly do, clogging up the roads for those who really need to get out. If you live far inland in a well-built structure in an area that rarely floods, then you may not need to evacuate from the path of a weak storm.

Consider the threshold for when you stay and when you go so that you avoid panic when a storm gets closer. Meteorologists use the Saffir-Simpson scale to determine the strength of the storm. Is it safe for you to stay during a Category 1 storm? What about a Category 3 storm? Check with local authorities to see what, if any, threshold your area may already have in place.

If local authorities order a voluntary or mandatory evacuation then you need to go as quickly and as safely as possible.


...Quickly To The Threat
If an evacuation is ordered or it seems likely that your threshold for evacuation is going to be reached soon, quickly gather your friends, family and safety material. Something important to look for is a hurricane watch or a hurricane warning.

A hurricane watch means hurricane-type conditions are likely within the next 24 to 36 hours. A hurricane warning means conditions are likely within 24 hours. If you are within a hurricane watch and the storm is stronger than you think you can safely handle, then that's a good indicator that you should leave.

...Carefully To Sudden Changes
Forecasters have gotten much better at predicting landfall for hurricanes and traffic planners have gotten much better at preparing roads for mass evacuations, but that doesn't mean either are perfect. Listen closely to the weather radio and news because the path of the storm might change and you could find yourself driving somewhere that's in the path of the storm.

Before Hurricane Alicia, our family fled from the south Texas coast to Houston to avoid the storm. When we arrived we found out that the storm had changed directions and was now heading towards Houston. Thankfully, the place we were staying was far enough inland to be safe.

During the Hurricane Rita evacuation we were following our planned route north when the radio announced that all toll lanes had been opened for the remainder of the evacuation. We were able to change our route and likely saved at least an hour in travel.

...Calmly When Confronted With Traffic And Communication Failures
Traffic is going to happen. There's just no getting around it unless you leave exceptionally early or the storm is minor. If you have a properly prepared car, you've considered all the routes and everyone in the vehicle can stand the trip then the best option might be to just continue forward as opposed to turning back or wildly deviating from your safe routes. Listen to the radio for guidance on how to avoid traffic or to get time estimates.

With everyone on the roads and jumping on their cell phones at once it is possible that it may be difficult to get through when the service is overwhelmed. We learned during Rita that, typically, text messages will get through when phone calls will not. If it isn't an emergency message try talking with people via messaging.


...Only When Cleared By Authorities
Once the storm has passed your instinct is going to be to race back home to see how your property fared. If your area took a direct hit it may not be safe to do so. There may be no power, no water, destroyed bridges and standing flood water waiting for you. Your authorities will tell you when it is safe to return.

...With An Eye For Debris & Water
Once you've been cleared to return home there may still be debris on the road. Be a vigilant driver and watch out for downed trees, debris and especially be wary of fallen power lines. One of the more frequent indirect storm deaths involves individuals driving over power lines and electrocuting themselves. If you see high water also be careful and turn around, don't drown.

Other Resources

This is a brief guide meant to get you thinking about what to do when hurricanes threaten your area. Your local news media and authorities will know better about your local situation and you know best as to what you can and cannot do before a storm. Rash decisions are often bad decisions. The more preparation you make the less likely you are to be in a situation where you'll make a rash decision.


[Photo Credit: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images, Evacuation From Hurricane Rita]

things you wanted to know about the hadron collider

10 Things About the Large Hadron Collider You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

Photo: Maximilien Brice, CERN

1. Why is it called the Large Hadron Collider?

The first one is easy: Large because it is really big. The LHC is a large circular tunnel with a circumference of 27 kilometers (17 miles), buried in the ground under an average of 100 m (328 ft) of dirt and rock.

In particle physics, hadron is a family of subatomic particles made of quarks and held together by the strong force*. Examples of hadrons are protons and neutrons. As you can guess from the name, the LHC uses mostly protons (with some ions) for its experiments.

Lastly, collider because the LHC accelerates protons into two beams travelling in opposite directions and then collides them to see what particles come out.

*There are four fundamental interactions: the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force and gravity. Despite initial observations of the elusive metachlorian by Jinn, QG, et al (1999) Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, the existence of "The Force" remains a controversial hypothesis unaccepted by most modern scientists.

2. Why is it underground?

Well, that's because finding 27 kilometers worth of real estate above ground is really, really expensive. Actually, the LHC uses a tunnel originally dug for a previous collider (the LEP or the Large Electron Positron collider), which was decomissioned in 2000.

All that dirt and rock also provide great shielding to reduce the amount of natural radiation that reaches the LHC's detectors.

3. Why is the LHC like a Werewolf?

Both are affected by the Moon! Like tides in the ocean, the ground is also subject to lunar attraction. When the Moon is full, the Earth's crust actually rises about 25 cm (9.8 in). This movement causes the circumference of the LHC to vary by (a whopping) 1 mm (out of 27 km, a factor of 0.000004%) ) but that's enough so that physicists need to take it into account. (Source: CERN FAQ: LHC, the Guide [PDF])

4. Why is the LHC like a Refrigerator?

The Large Hadron Collider is not only a cool particle physics gizmo, it's also a very, very cold one. Indeed, it is the largest cryogenic system in the world and is one of the coldest places on Earth.

To keep them at superconducting temperature, scientists have to cool the LHC's magnets down to 1.9 K (-271.3°C), which is lower than the temperature of outer space (-270.5°C). First, the magnets are cooled to -193.2°C using 10,000 tons of liquid nitrogen. Then 90 tons of liquid helium is used to lower the temperature down to -271.3°C. The whole cooling process takes a few weeks.

5. Who the heck is CERN anyway?

In 1952, eleven European countries came together to form the European Council for Nuclear Research (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire in French, which gave it the acronym CERN).

Two years later in 1954 it was renamed the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which would've given it the French name of Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire or the acronym OERN). Nobody liked "OERN", so the acronym CERN stuck.

If CERN sounds familiar to you even before this whole LHC business got started, that's because the World Wide Web was started by CERN employees Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau (See: 10 Things You Should Know About the Internet)

6. How much does it cost, and who's paying for it?

The Large Hadron Collider is nearly 30 years in the making - and costs the member countries of CERN and other participating countries an estimated €4.6 billion (about US$ 6.4 billion). Like those late night infomercials, however, we can say "but that's not all!" Extra things like detectors, computing capacity, and extra warranty (just kidding!) cost an extra €1.43 billion.

The United Kingdom, for example, contributes £34 million per year, less than the cost of a pint of beer per adult in the country per year (Source).

The United States contributed approximately $531 million to the development and construction of components for the LHC (with the US Department of Energy shelling out $450 million and the National Science Foundation kicking in the remaining $81 million).

7. How much electricity is used to run the LHC?

It takes 120 MW to run the LCH - approximately the power consumption of all the Canton State of Geneva. Need a better comparison? 120 megawatt is equivalent to the energy used by 1,2 million 100 watt incadescent light bulb or 120,000 average California home.

It's estimated that the yearly energy cost of running the LHC is €19 million.

8. How much data is expected from the LHC?

The LHC experiments represents about 150 million sensors delivering data 40 million times a second. The data flow is about 700 MB/s, or about 15,000,000 GB (15 petabyte) per year. If you put all that in CDs, it'll stack 20 km tall each year! Perhaps it's better to put them in DVDs. That'll just be 100,000 DVDs every year ...

To prepare for the deluge of data, CERN built the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid - sort of a super-fast, private Internet connecting some 80,000 computers to analyze the data (Source).

9. Okay, will the LHC spawn a black hole that'll eat my planet?

Every time physicists come up with particle accelerators, party poopers come up with doomsday scenarios on how they will destroy Earth: black holes, killer strangelets, magnetic monopoles, and vacuum bubbles.

Let's talk about them one by one:

Micro black hole: Basically it's a region in space where gravity is so powerful that nothing, not even light, can escape. Planet-eating black holes are created when massive stars collapse on itself (and by massive, we mean massive - even our Sun isn't big enough to create a black hole if it collapsed. You'd need 10 times the mass of the Sun.)

There is a remote possibility that micro black holes can be created in the collisions at the LHC. These black holes are small: about 10-35 m across (the so-called Planck Length) and puny in mass (less than a speck of dust). These black holes would evaporate in 10-42 seconds in a blast of Hawking radiation. Even black holes with the mass of Mt. Everest would have a radius of about 10-15 m across. It would have trouble "eating" a proton, much less the entire planet. (Source: Pickover, C. (1997) Black Holes: A Traveler's Guide)

Strangelets: These are strange matters that, like the Ice-nine in Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle, would turn all matters it touched into strange matters and eventually all of the planet will be transmuted into strangelets.

The problem with strangelet doomsday scenario, besides being very bizarre, is that no one has ever seen a strangelet. It remains a hypothetical particle. Previous particle accelerators that operated at lower energy than the LHC were actually better candidates to producing strangelets, and so far, we're still here.

Magnetic monopoles: These are hypothetical particles with a single magnetic charge (hence the name) - either a north pole or a south pole, but not both. Magnetic monopoles "eat proton."

Actually, physicists have been looking for magnetic monopoles for a long time - and so far they've never found it. By calculations, magnetic monopoles are actually too heavy to be produced at the LHC.

Vacuum bubble: It is actually a very interesting idea in quantum field theory. It states that life, the universe and everything aren't the most stable configuration possible. Perturbations caused by the LHC could tip it into the more stable state (called the vacuum bubble) and all of us "pop" out of existence.

In all of these cases - if micro black hole, strangelets, magnetic monopoles, and vacuum bubbles were a problem to begin with, they would've been created by cosmic rays already. The continued existence of Earth and the rest of the universe tend to discount the validity of these doomsday scenarios.

cat versus printer

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Alex Duthart: on pipe-band drumming drags

Dang, he's good!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

another one

astronomical brainabetizer