Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pledge Is a Blueprint for Change

Voter’s in the U.S. should pay scant attention to political attack advertising on television and radio in the last few days of this election cycle and read the “Pledge to America” authored by Republican members of the House of Representatives. This is a short document (a PDF with lots of nice photos) that they wrote for, and at the behest of a clamoring and suffering American public. It is similar to Congressional Republican’s 1994 “Contract with America” which provided a list of planned governing actions and promises to voters of that year’s elections.

Similarly, the “Pledge to America” outlines Republicans’ promises to "turn this ship around", with concrete actions that they will take if they are elected to a majority on November 2, 2010. The Pledge’s promises reference the Constitution and Constitutionality often.

If Republicans do gain a majority on November 2 (as they appear likely to) and follow through on the reforms, repeals, and economic resuscitation that is outlined in this document, it is clear that this country will again be headed down a path toward a stronger future. It’s a deal changer that will give the incoming freshman electees and veteran congressmen a blueprint for governing by the people and for the people.

Read it before you pass judgement and call it and the Republicans the same old same old political posturing. Holding the line against tax increases, cutting government spending, enabling job creation, fixing the economy, Congressional transparency, national security – there’s a lot to like in the Pledge if you want the country to get on track for a better future. There is a determination in the Pledge and in many Republicans, inspired by the Tea Parties, to answer the challenge set by the citizens of this country to do something about out of control government.

And as always, don't take for granted the outcome of any election. Nothing is a sure thing. VOTE!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Amp Up Your Music with Winamp

If you like to listen to music while working on or near your computer, like I do, you can't do better than Winamp's Media Player software. Like Windows Media Player, it plays many kinds of music files, video files, rips and burns CDs, organizes media files, and streams music and video from the Web.

But it goes miles beyond being a simple piece of software. With it you can access not only your music and video files, but music and video from all over the Web. In that sense it is much like iTunes, but whereas iTunes is generally a pay-for-play vehicle, most of Winamp's content is free.

The Media Library button (ML) on the Winamp player opens up literally thousands of listening and viewing options. Some of the menu items that can be found there are Shoutcast Radio, Shoutcast TV, AOL Radio, Song of the Day, OurStage Radio, Tour Tracker, Metrolyrics, and 7digital Music.

I'll talk first about the music since that is what I am most interested in with the Winamp player.

Every kind of music in the world can be found streaming through Shoutcast Radio, one of the menu items in the Media Library. If you like Pop music, there are hundreds of stations. If you like Japanese Pop music (JPOP) you can find forty or fifty stations. The same with Indonesian, or Indian, Instrumental or Heavy Metal. Not only is the choice of genre almost unlimited, but many of the stations can be streamed at different download rates depending on your Internet connection. At work I use a minimal download rate (32 bps, bits per second) so that I won't hog precious work bandwidth, but at home where I have more available bandwidth I use the best bandwidth available, which is usually 128 bps for the film soundtracks music station I listen to. The higher the download bandwidth, the better the fidelity the music has.

Some of the stations have on-air DJs and some stations play the music with the occasional station identification. Others are streams of commercial broadcast radio stations. In addition there is talk radio of every sort. You literally could not listen to everything Shoutcast Radio has to offer there is so much.

But for music, there are still more choices. AOL Radio is one of those choices. Here you'll find hundreds more radio channels to listen to. Easy listening, to classical, to Holiday-themed music. You can practically throw away your FM radio!

Then there's Song of the Day, which presents a song a day that you can download for free and play from new or unknown artists.

OurStage Radio lets you play new music in a bunch of genres and rate songs with a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Tour Tracker attempts to find touring information about the artist that is currently playing on your Winamp player.

Metrolyrics tries to find lyrics to the song that is currently playing in your Winamp player.

The 7digital service allows you the opportunity to buy what you are listening to, or other music.

And speaking of choices, in the Media Library there are also 30,000 Podcasts to subscribe to, download, and listen to. Learn a new language, listen to news, science discussion, car talk, and more.

As if all of that isn't enough to keep you busy, there are also over one hundred video streams on Shoutcast TV. In my opinion there isn't anything worth seeing there (if you can get something to work at all!).

My favorite place to go in the Winamp Media Player is Shoutcast Radio. Tune into Winamp yourself and you'll soon be finding something great to listen to as well.

Download the Winamp media player from Winamp's website. www.winamp.com

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Goldilocks Planet May Not Even Exist

Gliese 581
About two weeks ago, I was one of the only voices on the Internet raising a skeptical eyebrow at all the fantastic claims surrounding the alleged new planet, Gliese 851g. Now it appears that another group of astronomers from Switzerland have questioned the supposed planet’s existence using some of the same data as the original researchers. Using an expanded data set from the HARPS instrument on the La Silla telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, this group was unable to find evidence for the planet at all.

In a Space.com interview, one of the original researchers, Steven Vogt said that he was confident in his conclusions and found it odd that the Swiss researchers didn’t use data from the HIRES instrument on the Keck telescope at Hawaii's Keck Observatory which he said was needed in addition to the other data to reliably detect the new planet.

The new information was announced at an astronomy conference, as many new discoveries are, but it is the actual published scientific paper which needs to be scrutinized by other scientists before any conclusion can be come to.

My point is that the chickens were counted way before they hatched regarding Gliese 851g, and even if the planet is found to exist, it is still just a tug on a star, and any other information is speculation.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Astronomers' Excitement Misleads the Press and the Public

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced findings by several astronomers on Wednesday that they have found a planet on which the "chances for life on this planet are 100 percent,” as was stated by Steven Vogt of the University of California at Santa Cruz, one of the co-discoverers of the planet, in an AP article.

Based on the paltry information these astronomers have to work with, this statement is ludicrous. Even if they were to say there is a fifty percent or even a twenty percent chance, that would still be pie-in-the-sky daydreaming.

The only things they “know” about Gliese 581g are its mass, its distance from its sun Gliese 581, and its orbital period. Everything else they know is inferred from these few facts.

And the reason they know so little is that they didn’t find this planet through the end of an optical telescope and see it, or send a space probe to look at it. Nope. Instead they used a sketchy (to me) twenty year-old technique, which surmises a planet’s existence by measuring variations in the star's radial velocity. This is basically the star’s velocity as it appears to astronomers in spectrographs, which can be affected by the tugs of planets as they circle the central star. It’s sort of like staring at a tree on the side of the crowded New Jersey Turnpike and watching the leaves blow, and then guessing what kind of vehicle just went by. And who was driving it.

So for all these astronomers (and media pundits) know, Gliese 581g is a rock like Mercury or the Moon, bigger, but still just a rock.

But because this planet, which is supposedly three times larger than Earth, resides in what they call the Goldilocks zone (a place in a solar system a certain distance from a sun where a planet could support liquid water), a lot of energy is being given to the idea that it might have some form of life on it.

Let us recognize that Venus, an extremely inhospitable planet in our solar system, resides in this solar system's Goldilock's zone. It is its poisonous and thick atmosphere that make it uninhabitable, not to mention its 800 degree surface temperature.

The planet Mars also resides in the Goldilocks zone and may have had life on it, or may have never had life on it. It would most likely have liquid water on it now if it had a slightly denser atmosphere, and were therefore warmer. This may have been true in the past. The point is, it doesn’t now.

There is a moon of the planet Jupiter called Europa which may very well have life on it in liquid oceans under its cracked, but frozen surface. This extremely cold place is well outside the sun's Goldilock's zone.

The Washington Post article concerning this story also says that there are six or seven planets including Gliese 581g closer to this star than Earth is to our own Sun, including at least one Jupiter-type planet.

The close orbital proximity of all these large planets may wreak upon Gliese 581g unknown effects due to gravitational interactions between them. For instance, very large planets tend to attract or divert more asteroids and comets, possibly causing life-killing sized asteroids to smash into the surface of said planet at a more frequent rate than happens on Earth. It has been suggested that the dinosaurs and other animals on Earth may have been killed at one or more times by asteroids which smashed into the planet like 10,000 nuclear bombs causing a dust induced winter which killed off all but the heartiest species. This would make things very inhospitable for life if it happens once, but if too often, then life will never have a chance to get going before the next global killer comet or asteroid.

The very idea of a Goldilock's zone is something which is misleading and the press and the public are eating it up because it makes for great press. There are so many factors to consider beyond saying "Here is a rock that's in the right place, so it must have water and life on it."

Since there is no evidence that this is anything but a rock at a supposedly propicious distance from its sun, inferences beyond this are irresponsible, media grabbing, and wild speculation. Let's wait until we have real evidence in hand before making claims like these or even suggesting them.