Distant Vision

October 8, 2009

Courtesy of Richard Massey (who just sent this link round by email), here is President Obama holding an Astronomy Night at the White House. The man is always a hypnotic orator – but hearing him tell a crowd of schoolkids how Galileo changed the world is just magical. Love it.

He looks through a telescope at a double double star that is one hundred sixty light years from Earth. (Epsilon Lyrae I think). Definitely a far-sighted politician.

Mind you, Gordon Brown’s February Oxford speech was pretty damn good too. (Here is my post on that). Maybe I am a sucker for the purple words, and should concentrate on the money ?

Obama Bicycle Sneakers

August 8, 2009

Sometimes its worth having kids. Even when they steal your laptop, when you get it back you find they have left behind bookmarks that brighten your day. My favourite recent easter egg is Barack Obama is your new bicycle. I  cracked up.

The man is some kind of superhero / pop star / saint. Of course a few right wing nutters hate him just as much as they hated Clinton, but they don’t seem to dampen the sales of Obama sneakers. I really shoulda got some.

Can this last ? Keep him away from Dallas.

Oh and I quite liked this too.

Obama and the last scattering surface

January 21, 2009

What a fine day. I saw Obama’s inauguration and attended a colloquium by Rashid Sunyaev.

The three hour East-West time difference was just right. I was able to catch the inauguration speech on TV and still get in to work before coffee. It was a beautifully crafted and well delivered speech. Emotional but not mawkish. Had just enough content to avoid being vacuous, but not so much that his freedom of action is blocked once real world compromises are needed. And very promising from a rationalist point of view .. he said “we will restore science to its rightful place”, mentioned “curiosity” as one of the “values on which our success depends”, and even mentioning “nonbelievers” is very unnusual in America. You can see Andrew Jaffe’s take here, and read the speech here.

Sunyaev’s talk was fascinating. He is of course just a tad well known for things like inventing the “alpha disk” paradigm for accretion disks, and predicting the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect; but in 1970 he also predicted acoustic oscillations in the CMB power spectrum. I didn’t know this. Its in this paper, published in Russian in 1970, and in translation in 1972.  He said that Zeldovich almost stopped him stating that such observations could measure Omega, because obviously these fluctuations could never be measured ! So now he has a new wacky prediction : seeing beyond the surface of last scattering by looking for the imprint of emission lines produced during the preceding recombination phase. These should produce tiny wiggles in the high frequency end of the CMB spectrum; measuring them could for example tell us the pre-stellar abundance of Helium. Sunyaev said that expert opinion is divided on whether these wiggles can be measured, but the twinkle in his eye let us know the right answer…

Here Comes the Sun

November 5, 2008

The rains have ceased; the skies have cleared; the Sun is treacling down upon our heads. As I walk the streets, strangers smile their cheery hellos. All seems clean, new, and bright. We can start again. Obama did it.

Last night we went to a neighbourhood election party. This was great fun. Lots of whooping and hollering, and the kids ran out on the streets. At 8 p.m. the California polls closed. At 8.02, fifty four electoral college votes were called, and Obama was past the post. This was so cool, because our neighbours felt like they did it.

We Brits reminisced about a similar day in 1997, when Tony Blair did it. Suddenly politics was all shirt sleeves and optimism. But that didn’t work out quite as we hoped … OK. Hands up. Which of you has Won’t Get Fooled Again playing nervously in their heads ? “Meet the new boss … same as the old boss…”

Tell me it isn’t so.