Friday, November 5, 2010

Spielberg and Black Holes - What's the Connection?

For any of you long-time science fiction fans out there, you probably remember Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars as changing movie sci fi forever and bringing it into the mainstream of box-office success stories. What I've always loved about "real science fiction" is when it is written by a real-life scientist and not only entertains you, but educates you about some arcane field of science you may never have heard about before.

Imagine my surprise when I heard Dr Kip S. Thorne, The Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at California Institute of Technology, announce the link.

But first, let Amaryllis tell you about his talk at the APS conference.

Dr. Thorne started off his talk with a bang. Instead of the old man wandering on to stage to lecture the audience, an attractively dressed woman walked on to stage with a fuzzy witch’s hat, cackled evilly, then said, “Hit it!” and proceeded to sing a song about gravitational waves and black holes. After the song had finished, Dr. Thorne came on stage and explained that he had pulled a few strings to get his friend to perform before his talk.

Dr. Thorne then began his talk, starting by describing black holes. He presented a rubber sheet with a massive object stretching the center as a visual image. He then preceded to talk about some very recent discoveries about black holes, namely when there is a system of two black holes. In an instance where two black holes merge, he displayed a three dimensional animation where, as the black holes got closer to one another, they extend long fingers towards each other, which mesh, followed by the merge of both black holes. If the two black holes have opposite spins at the time when they collide, the newly created black hole oscillates between a vertical ellipsoid, a sphere, and a horizontal ellipsoid. On the four ‘corners’ of the oscillating shape, the original spins of the two black holes becomes evident as the shape becomes a horizontal ellipsoid. This effects reappears each time the black holes reverts to said shape.

This research break through just happened, Dr Thorne & his associates are modeling quite a few types of black hole interactions, and will be publishing a paper on their results soon. And Steven Spielberg is making a movie, Interstellar about it. Planned to release in 2012, so mark it on your calendars.

Visit Amaryllis to learn more and share in the fun.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sneak Preview of Spielberg's Newest Movie Pt 1

The Americal Physical Society conference was the last place I expected to hear breaking news from the entertainment industy. The APS conference started out much like any other scientific conference. After checkin, coffee and pastries we listened to noted professors from JPL and Cal Tech gave plenary talks.

The JPL talk was on global warming, and, sadly, was about what you'd expect. Not up to JPL's normal standards.

Let me have Amaryllis tell about the second talk by Dr Sean Carroll, Cal Tech.

The physics conference that I went to this had a talk from several people, the most notable of these to me being Prof. Carroll and Dr. Thorne. Prof. Carroll’s talk was about the arrow of time. The arrow of time, he explained, specifies a direction in which time can progress, but that it cannot travel backwards along the same path. This can be seen as evident from scrambled eggs. You can make scrambled eggs from eggs, but not vice versa. This concept is defined by the Second Law of Thermodynamics with entropy. He goes on to discuss entropy. You cannot have a decrease in entropy in an open system.

To hear it from the professor's mouth, try Arrow of Time.

But wait, you may be saying, what about Steven Spielberg? Alas, blogs should be short, so you'll just have to come back to read part 2.

Visit Amaryllis to learn more and share in the fun.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Paypal: Getting It Right

It seems so simple: Type in your bank routing number, account number, and type of account. But wait - they don't tell you: You can't make an error or you are locked out of Paypal for that bank with no way to go back and correct your mistake!

At least, that was the conclusion I came to after a frustrating 20 minutes of reading absolutely every page on their web site.

I have to give Paypal credit, they get straight A's in consistency. But like that old Microsoft joke about the helicopter, the information is technically correct but totally useless.

Here's the secret: You have to call them. And it's not easy to find the phone number. But Paypal's customer service line is 402-935-2050.

Visit Amaryllis to learn more and share in the fun.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Personal Invitation to Help Amaryllis

One theme of this blog is creation of wealth. A proven path to opening career choices is a college education. It is also the pathway to fulfilling dreams.

This article is devoted to helping one college student fulfill her dream of becoming an astrophysicist. I'd like to invite you to help by making a donation to defray the cost of her tuition.

Visit Amaryllis to learn more and share in the fun.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tuition Funding Part III - "A little help from my friends"

A friend suggested using PayPal for donations.

Seems reasonable. Nice web site, but hard to get all the information in one place. For example, there is a tricky caveat about the type of account you need to actually receive the money that is donated.

Then the widget is only a beta version, and yes, there are some issues. For example, it asks for a description, but the icon doesn't seem to show it. Then it gives you option to add dollars amounts, but they aren't showing up. And finally, when you set a goal amount, it doesn't seem to display the actual amount you set. Why?

Well, I'll happily post answers as things progress and my "education" continues.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Creative Tuition Fundraising Ideas - Part II

How to pay for an astrophysics degree?

Step 1, when child turns 15, go on welfare
Step 2, when child turns 17, apply for federal financial aid
Step 3, when child turns 18, child will receive numerous state and federal grants to pay for college.

But what if you'd rather work for a living?

Well, then it gets tricky.

If you earn enough to buy your own house, you probably earn too much to qualify for state and federal grants.

If you are extremely disciplined, you start a college fund for your child as soon as they are born and contribute $7,777 each year to that account if you'd like them to have the option of attending a private college. If you are content with a government-run school, you can save considerably less.

But what if you get sick and lose your job, but get well again before the child reaches college age? Or if your job sector contracts, you lose your job, you have to retrain in another field, and succeed in bringing your income levels up, but not your savings account balances?

Then it boils down to a line from an old Beatle's song "I get by with a little help from my friends."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Supporting Science Through Tuition Fundraising

What to do with a brilliant 18-year-old astrophysicist-in-training with no funds to support her higher education?

One of my husband's favorite radio shows is Clark Howard. He's great for money saving ideas, finding out about scams, and personal money management advice. In a frequent piece of advice Clark gives, he tells us that there are a lot of ways to get money for college. While he may be right in general, I'm not finding that to be the case in this particular instance.

Imagine the scene:
Beautiful red hair, bright personality, goofy sense of humor, well liked by friends, family and teachers.
Built her own telescope when she was 10 years old (with a little help from Dad.)
Uses her telescope at community star parties to show the planets, stars, galaxies, and other cool stuff to 40-100 people per party.
Learned calculus and basic celestial mechanics (plotting the orbit of a comet) before she got her driver's license.
High school valedictorian.
Has been accepted to a prestigious private college to pursue an astrophysics degree.

Her quest: To raise enough funding to complete her bachelor's degree.

She goes out to the internet to search for scholarships. Two hours later she emerges from her room in tears with no leads and ready to give up on her dream.

You see, her family doesn't qualify for Federal Financial Aid because they work for a living.
Father is a teacher, mother is a technologist. Together, they make just enough money to support the family, too much money to qualify for "needs-based" federal financial aid, but not nearly enough money to pay the estimated $60,000 needed for tuition.

What to do? Some ideas in my next post.