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November 27, 2002

A Good Beginning

Nothing helps start a day quite like Ella and Louis in a coffee shop.

November 26, 2002

We Saw Kermit!

Last Friday afternoon Leslie and I were passing by Macy's main store in New York, and we got to see the one and only Kermit the Frog officially unveiling the store's Christmas window displays, which this year feature Kermit and the rest of the muppet gang. A brand new Kermit helium balloon will also be featured in the Thanksgiving Day Parade this year. Despite a sudden torrential downpour it was great to see our favorite frog in person as he cracked wise with the Macy's spokesman, and we love the windows. To my considerable pleasure, Leslie announced "Best. Windows. Ever."

Pino's Kermit image from IconArchive.com

November 22, 2002

Samantha the Python Has Died

Samantha, the largest captive snake in the world, who for a decade dazzled a million visitors a year, died at her home in the Bronx Zoo yesterday. She was old.
(from Samantha's NY Times obituary)

I regret to say that I had never seen Samantha, for despite five years of working in New York City, I have never made it to the Bronx Zoo. She sounds like a majestic creature, and I hope the pigs are tender wherever she is now.

Thanks, Leslie!

November 20, 2002

Eclipse Chasers Beware

I seem to be on an astro-post kick, so:

Planning on chasing the December 4 total eclipse in Australia? Better be careful; of its visitors the Astronomical Society of South Australia warns: "we don't want to send them home in body bags". You probably ought to check out their eclipse guide, just to be safe.

Binary Black Holes Discovered

A pair of galaxies known together as NGC 6240 are colliding with each other 400 million light-years away in the direction of Ophiucus. Researchers have just announced that each of these galaxies contains an active black hole--this is the first binary black hole identified. The two objects are spiraling in towards each other as the galaxies interact, and will eventually collide.

Thanks, Mom!

November 19, 2002

Leonids or ...

Bust. I got up at 4:00 AM (EST)--most unlike me--and went outside to try again. Procyon had risen out of the New York City glare, Sirius was bright as ever, and Jupiter was brilliant, but that was about it. A high hazy cloud layer was coming in. I could see the bright stars of Orion and had moments where I could see down to fourth magnitude, but it was just too cloudy, and got worse while I was watching. I gazed over the roofs at Leo for ten or fifteen minutes and didn't see a single meteor. The full moon was socked in behind the haze when I went back inside.

I had good intentions of trying again at 5:20 but didn't make it, so I can't report whether it was cloudy or not. I see from one comment that others had better luck from Queens, and I hope that all of my readers had better luck than I did this year. Oh well, last year was good, and I'll remember that :)

November 18, 2002

Preliminary Leonid Report

No meteors yet.

I went out at 11:00 EST (4:00AM UT Nov. 19) and took a look from my northern NJ street. At first I could only see the brightest stars, with a brilliant moon and a few fast-moving wisps of low clouds. After a minute or two I was able to see Lamba Orionis (mag 3.4) and I'd estimate my limiting magnitude to be around 4 in that part of the sky.

I was looking lower to the east, however, which although farther from the moon's glare is badly affected by New York City's. Procyon (mag 0.4) was the only star visible down there, and it would take one heck of a bright meteor to shine through.

Provided the skies are still clear things should be better for both northern New Jersey and NYC residents as Leo rises up into the southeastern sky, and the moon moves to the west. I'll be getting up at 4:00 AM and neighbors will see me stalking down the street, shuffling through acorns and fallen leaves as I crane my neck for Leonids.

Best of luck to all of you!

Leonid Watch

The Leonid meteors are upon us, and tonight may be the best night to try and see them for almost a hundred years.

Joe Rao's excellent Sky & Telescope article gives many details, and NASA's Bill Cooke gives advice on where and when to look (one looks, of course, toward Leo, which will be rising in the east around midnight Eastern Standard Time, and slowly crossing the southern sky. The initial peak is expected tonight (November 18) around 11:00 PM EST. The second peak will be six and a half hours later, around 5:30 AM EST the next morning. This latter peak should be more favorable for observers in North America as that continent will be more directly facing the incoming meteors. Yes, the moon will be full, but that won't stop the show. The main obstacle with pre-dawn viewing is the dawn itself, so it's best to get started early before the sunrise washes out the meteors.

Last year I got up in the wee small hours and stood in the street in front of my home craning my neck (a few neighbors were doing the same thing, somewhat reducing my worry that I'd be taken for a peeping threat to the neighborhood). The spectacle was well worth it, even in my substantially light-polluted sky. After a while a stiff neck prompted me to lie on my back on the cold sidewalk, where I stayed for quite some time, just staring at the sky. This year I'm concerned about the weather, but I'll definitely be trying for both peaks. Even a glimpse of this shower will be worth the lost sleep.

If you're feeling ambitious, you can try to take some photographs. There are some beautiful examples out there from previous years.

The Leonids are bits of the dust trail from Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, left in Earth's orbital path when that comet swings by every thirty years or so, and this year, like last year, Earth will be passing through fresh, particularly dense patches of debris, yielding as many as a thousand meteors an hour from good, dark locations. After this year astronomers believe that the Leonids will be greatly diminished for a period of at least ninety-six years. For most of us this will be our last chance of seeing them at their peak. Don't miss it!

The folks over at Metafilter have been oddly quiet about the shower. I hope things will pick up tomorrow ;)

November 14, 2002

Broadway Revisited

I overlooked (gasp!) an email from Monday suggesting more good ways to get cheap Broadway tix. Actually, I received this even before posting Voyageman's link. If you liked that one, you'll like this one too. Don't miss it!

Thanks Leslie, for the link--my apologies for not posting it sooner!

Taxation Without Representation

New York City's mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to start charging income tax to commuters again. Those of us who work in NYC but live in New Jersey are already paying state income tax in New York, but we haven't had to pay income tax in the city since the "commuter tax" was repealed in 1999. This time it's six times as big: 2.4% in the $100,000 bracket. Commuting costs themselves are already high, and interstate commuters already pay more income tax, at least around here. I generally don't mind taxes because I appreciate the things they pay for, and I realize that the city has a multi-billion dollar deficit in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and the midst of the current recession. But as Leslie pointed out to me, this is a tax paid by people who can't vote against the mayor. Blech.

November 13, 2002

The Astrolabe

Language Hat particularly tipped me off to the great astronomical links which have been appearing at plep. Thence comes this interesting site about the astrolabe. Good stuff, with a handy links page. They'll even sell you an astrolabe, computer generated for the coordinates and date that you request, and printed on card stock. The fifty page book it comes with is probably worh the US$25 all by itself.

We saw some beautiful astrolabes in the Musée des arts et metiers while in Paris, along with many other wonderful instruments and devices. I'll have to step up the pace of my Paris posts, because I've still got some fun stuff to share.


Let me just say, plep is an amazing site. The author is putting up twenty plus items a day, and each of them is a discovery. This site has become a daily read for me (although damned if I can keep up), and I highly recommend it! Thanks to Language Hat for the tip!

Send Your Name to Mars

I found this via The Planetary Society:

As an interesting public outreach the good people at NASA will allow anyone, adult or child, to submit their name for inclusion on one of several DVDs which will be taken to Mars via one of the 2003 rover missions and photographed on the surface. You can submit your name here, but hurry up, you've only got two days left!

Yes, they did this before, for the Polar Lander :(. Please let's all keep our fingers crossed for this one.

New Ring Membership

Songdog.net is now a member of the sixdegrees blog ring, so head to the Rings and Things at lower right and check out the neighbors!

Spam Sucks

I especially loathe this new bogey, referrer log spam. Whoever's been spamming my log, you can stop, or you can force me to remove the list of referrers. So far I've been filtering out your ads when I see them, but I'm sure you can beat me at that game. Do us all a favor and just lay off. Nobody here is interested.

November 12, 2002

Broadway Discount Alert

Metafilter user Voyageman recently posted a great resource for New York theater-goers: BroadwayBox provides a convenient alternative to waiting in the extraordinarily long line at the TKTS booth. The site isn't brand new (although I was unaware of it) but I thought I'd take the opportunity to spread the word :). Thanks, Voyageman!


I just set Songdog.net up for BlogChalking. This initiative aims to make online searches for blogs more successful by having participating bloggers provide geographic and demographic data about themselves which is formatted and included on the main page of their sites (mine is over in the Rings and Things section at lower right). It will probably take Google a few days to reindex this site, but once this happens you should be able to find it by searching for "blogchalk United States New Jersey English" or things like that. Have a go and see who you can find near you! Oh, the BlogChalking folks ask new participants to do this:

This is my new blogchalk:
United States, New Jersey, , , English, , , . :)

November 08, 2002

Terrifica vs. Fantastico

I've been meaning to reblog this for days (from Boing Boing):

Here in New York City we've got a caped crusader whose sworn duty is to protect women from making bad decisions in bars. But not all decisions are made upon sober reflection in the Big Apple, as we've also got us a super villain ...

November 06, 2002

The Call of Antarctica

Cargo worker tightening straps (NSF photo by Alexander Colhoun)Inside an Ice Cave (NSF photo by Alexander Colhoun)Elephant shaped stone carved by wind erosion (NSF photo by Josh LandisCarrying the fuel line (NSF photo by Bill Haals)Halo Display (NSF photo by Lisa Beal)South Pole Infrared Explorer (SPIREX) telescope (NSF photo by Ginny Figlar)

Boing Boing has linked to a great collection of photos taken by people working in the U.S. Antarctic Program. I've been fascinated by Antarctica for years, and would very much like to go there someday to visit, or even perhaps to work.

Antarctica offers unique opportunities for scientific research, from the astronomical observation afforded by its remote location and dry, dark skies, to the continent's own unusual geological and biological features. Workers go there to do their own research or to work as staff or contractors for the NSF. (I notice that the pictures are hosted by the Raytheon Polar Services Company, part of the defense contractor's Technical Services company).

If you're interested in the place I recommend you check out Kim Stanley Robinson's novel, Antarctica. You might also check out the Loney Planet guide to the continent.

Photo credits:
Halo photo by Lisa Beal, NSF
Fuel line photo by Bill Haals, NSF
Cargo and Ice cave photos by Alexander Colhoun, NSF
SPIREX photo by Ginny Figlar, NSF
"Elephant" photo by Josh Landis, NSF

Well ...

I guess we'll see how the right wing runs things for a while.

My apologies to any non-U.S. readers who were annoyed or confused by yesterday's call to civic responsibility. Any international readers out there? Hello?

November 05, 2002

It's Election Day

Please get out and vote!


I see from my referrer log that someone actually came here after querying AltaVista for "naked big boys on the net." Great. I'm in the top 20. Welcome to Songdog.net! I'm glad to see all this technology working out so well ;).