Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Listen to the planets sing

The physical spacing isn't right--which, granted, would be hard to do--but the periods obey Kepler's Third Law of planetary motion (as far as I can tell).

Mesmerizing, ain't it?

h/t Doug

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


"Mommy, when my hair was longer, it was heavier a little bit, but I was fast. Now that it's shorter, it's even lighter and so now I'm EVEN faster! Oh, and do you think I look different?"

Health Care Reform and you

So what does the new Health Care legislation mean for you? The Washington Post has a handy calculator. If you are doing okay financially, it most likely means nothing at all. But if you're hurtin' during these tough times, help is around the corner.

So what was it that we were supposed to get all worked up about here? The law saying that you have to have insurance? Don't we already have laws for that? (auto insurance)

I'm having a hard time seeing the impending Socialist coup...However, stuff like this makes me giggle:

How about:

In troubled times, the uneducated start making posters...


Stalin and Hitler, buddies once again!


A fascist, a communist and a Black Democratic President walk into a bar...

I've just spent 6 hours on a plane and an hour in a cab, so I'm sure you can think of better tag lines than these...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Moral Browsing

by John

Not long ago I came across an old friend on Facebook, who I knew from church about 12-13 years ago (has it been that long?!). We exchanged a few emails and our conversation quickly turned to matters of faith and morality. I recounted my long journey away from church, and she talked about how her own faith had only grown since we were in youth group together. While she claimed to be an open-minded Christian, she found it absolutely shocking that I did not believe in her god. Her main contention boiled down to not understanding how I could be a moral individual without belief in a higher power.

I laid out my basic belief system for her as a way of demonstrating how I can have morality, even when it isn't enforced from the outside (or inside, depending on ones perspective). My moral code is built around: "If your behavior or action harms others or prevents them from pursuing happiness, it is likely immoral. If it does not, and it brings you happiness, then it is probably just fine." Not that this is exhaustive or absolute, but it has kept me out of trouble over the past decade, and perhaps more importantly afforded me to much more happiness than the stricter, more convoluted moral code I learned in church.

My old friend countered that all of this was for naught if I did not love her god. No matter how moral I tried to act, I couldn't truly be good without her god. This was a real bummer to hear. Not so much for me, but for her. Here was an old friend, who because of her belief system was forced to condemn me as evil despite all of the good things I do. How does she sleep at night with such a burden on her mind?

Anyway, I tried to persuade her that things weren't so bleak. I pointed out that I have two young sons who have a father who takes an active role in their lives. I mentioned my nearly 10-year marriage to my wife. I cited my public outreach in astronomy education. But none of this mattered according to her worldview.

I then challenged her by asking where she gets her morals. If picking and choosing and adapting one's morals based on experience and lessons from others is wrong, what is the alternative? Does she derive them solely from the Bible? She said, yes, in fact she did. Well, if so, how does she decide which laws to ignore, and which to follow? She didn't quite understand. Well, for instance, I'm sure she ignores most of the laws laid out in Leviticus. After all, she likely mixes fabric, ignores the occasional mildew in the bathroom, and certainly doesn't routinely kill children who disobey their parents.

To be clear: I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with using the Bible to shape ones moral code. After all, my core belief is something that Jesus taught, and is often referred to as the Bible's "Golden Rule." But I picked this gem while ignoring all the silly stuff about stoning your kids and the instructions for owning slaves. I'm a big fan of the Beatitudes, but I'm not so into Paul's instructions to women. At best, a bit too old fashioned for my tastes. At worst, totally chauvinistic.

She countered by pointing out all of the evil deeds carried out by atheists, ranging from Stalin to Pol Pot. I tried to point out that such arguments don't get us anywhere because there are many people who do heinous acts motivated by religion, which doesn't necessarily mean anything. Should we just add up a list of sins committed by either side and see who "wins"? If so, we'd only prove that people are capable of pretty messed up stuff no matter where they get their motivation.

No matter what your religion, or no religion at all, in order to make it through this world you have to browse around for a good set of morals. The best of us are flexible about what we select and what we ignore, and are willing to change if there is a contradiction. Others must follow a leader, which requires less thought, but in the end it can work just as well. The worst among us insist they know the best way, and insist on a set of absolutes (cf Proverbs 12:15). Based on my experiences, this can only lead to using a nuanced set of mental gymnastics just to get through the average day (my coworker is gay, and I'm instructed to kill her, but she's so nice to me...). Isn't it just better to manage your own pursuit of happiness while allowing others to do this same? If nothing else, I've found that this approach relieves me of the stress of damning otherwise good people to hell.

So what got me thinking of all this? I ran across a Youtube video by Christopher Hitchens. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of the Hitch (Man, did he ever get it wrong about Iraq! And he still can't admit it.). But I do appreciate unconventional wisdom when I encounter it. I adopted a few additions to my moral code after watching this very clear exposition on the Ten Commandments. Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blog frequency

So how are we doing so far? Well, I can't tell. I can say that I've never kept a journal for this long. Thanks for reading and I hope to post more in the coming months. Brace yourself for an increased density of philosophical musings, more astronomy/science, and of course plenty of cute pictures and videos of Owen and Mar. If not, and if you want more posts, please bug us about it! Sometimes we need the motivation. Plus, we just love to hear from you, our viewing audience.
Note the bump at month 14, when Marcus was born :) I'm surprised our rate didn't increase again when we moved back to the mainland...

Hitting the links with Owen

I think it happens to all parents. It feels like you just give and give and give, and in the short term you have nothing to show for it except two screaming kids and a bunch of crumbs and smashed banana on your spot on the couch. Last weekend I had all of the above, plus a host of work-related deadlines and general grown-up pressures of the difficult type (like a letter in the mail from the city zoning office).

All of the stress piled up and turned an otherwise mild-mannered Daddy into a raging bull. I was over being a grown-up in general, and a parent in particular. I was having vivid fantasies of an alternate life as a dual-income, no kids (DINK) lifestyle. Just imagine: sleeping in on the weekends, long drives with no specific destination in mind, watching a full basketball game without a child getting injured in front of the TV. I must admit, there were more than a few instances last weekend when I was far from a model parent.

But then at some point during this week I got over my fantasies and realized how lucky I am to have two smart, sensitive, loving and hilarious little boys to call my sons. So on Saturday after putting in a half-day at the office writing telescope proposals I decided to take Owen on an adventure to a putt-putt golf course. As with many things in the greater Los Angeles area, the putt-putt golf course was about 25 miles, 4 freeways and 35-50 minutes away. Because of a major accident on the 60 West, the 60 East was backed up for miles and it took us about 45 minutes to get there. But it was worth it when the windmills and castles of the Golf-N-Stuff appeared on the side of the freeway. Owen said, "Whoa! Is that our adventure." It sure was!

Owen thoroughly enjoyed knocking the golf ball around the course using his signature, extremely-awkward golf stroke. Imagine a combination of hockey face-off, croquette stroke, and jungle explorer using a machete. On hole 8, Dad struggled on the par-3 volcano, ending the hole +4 because I couldn't get it over the lip of the mountain and into the caldera. However, Owen teed up, hit the ball through his legs standing backward and got a hole-in-one.

Later, on hole 11 the situation reversed. I got a birdie while Owen struggled to get the ball up the ramp and into the skee-ball like receptacles. So he decided to eschew the golf club and went for a more direct method of moving the ball:

(In the video, after I say, "Over there!" Owen says, "What the heck?! I can't believe that!")

After the golf course, we went inside to the arcade where we raced cars, shot some hoops and mini-bowled. We had enough tickets for two Blowpop suckers and a foam dart-like projectile. It was a good day out with the boy.

Oh, and on the way home I took the 60 W to the 710 N to the 10 W to the 5 N to the 110N, which was way better and only took 25 minutes!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Telling

Our good friends Jason and Julia stayed with us last week. They showed us a video in which they tell Jason's parents that Julia is pregnant (!). His mother's reaction is truly priceless. Enjoy!

Here's the long version.

Congrats Jason and Julia!