Fascinating Fact Friday - Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice

Today is the first day of summer, so it's fitting to have today's Fascinating Fact Friday be about summer...

  • The first day of summer is called the Summer Solstice. It's the longest day of the year and the day when the Earth's axis is most tilted towards the sun. Other planets have a summer solstice too. For instance, the last summer solstice on Uranus was in 1944 and the next one will be in 2028. Side note: In the Northern hemisphere, the Earth is further away from the sun in the summer than the winter. It's the tilt that matters, not distance from the sun.
  • The "dog days of summer" are named after the dog star Sirius, in the Canis Major constellation. The ancient Greeks believed that Sirius brought the hot temperatures of the summer. Sirius is the 5th closest star to our solar system and the constellation Canis Major contains 2 of the 8 closest stars to Earth. In ancient Egypt, summer solstice preceded the appearance of Sirius. They believed that Sirius was responsible for flooding the Nile, which they relied on for their crops. This was such an important day for them that their year started on this day.
  • In 1902, Moses B. Cotsworth tried to implement a new calendar that had 4 weeks per month. To do this, he had to create a new month, which he put between June and July and called Sol, because the summer solstice would fall into this month. It never caught on. But if implemented and if my math is correct, today would be Sol 3, 2019. 
  • The hottest days of the year is not on the longest day of the year, summer solstice, but rather about 3 weeks later. In Texas, we call that day July...
  • Watermelons are a vegetable. They are part of the cucumber, pumpkin, and squash family and are 92% water. Another side note: They are also excellent eaten cold with a little salt on top and make an easy, healthy sorbet.

So welcome summer this weekend with some sorbet and thank the tilt of our Earth for bringing us the warm weather (in the Northern hemisphere).

Fascinating Fact Friday - It's been an interesting week in space

Space Moon Image

I love space. The stars, the planets, galaxies, moons, and black holes. The science behind space is crazy cool. 

This week, scientists at Baylor University announced the discovery of a massive mass of metal under the surface of the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken basin. The South Pole-Aitken basin is a crater on the far side of the moon (you won't see it from Earth) that is 2,000 kilometers wide, about the distance from Waco, TX to Washington, D.C., and 8 miles deep. They believe it is the result of an asteroid impact and this mass of metal could be remnants of that asteroid. 

As often happens when I find an interesting story, I end up in a rabbit hole of googling other stories. And that led me to some fascinating facts.

  • Two days ago, on June 12, an asteroid named 2019 LB, with a diameter of 180 ft flew by the Earth at 14,000 mph. It was expected to come within 0.02333 astronomical units (AU) from the Earth. 1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun. For reference the moon is 0.0025696 AU from Earth. So 2019 LB was about 9 times farther away from Earth than the moon. So this wasn't really something to worry about...

  • On this day in 2002, 2002 MN, a 240 ft asteroid, came within 0.008 AU of Earth. That's 3 times closer than the moon. We discovered it 3 days after it happened...

  • On this day in 1949, Albert II became the first monkey in space. I find the details kind of sad (the US and Russia sent many animals into space before Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961), but this monkey and the ones before him proved that humans could survive going to space. I read a fascinating book many years ago about the race to space. I highly recommend A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey, by Michael D'Antonio.

  • There are 6 people in space right now. They are Nick Hague (USA), Alexey Ovchinin (Russia), Christina Koch (USA), Anne McClain (USA), Commander Oleg Kononenko (Russia), and David Saint-Jacques (Canada). The ISS travels 5 miles per second and circles the Earth every 90 minutes. This means that it is frequently passing overhead. Enough that NASA helps you Spot the Station. I've seen it go overhead once. It was pretty cool. You have to catch it in the early morning when the sun isn't up yet, but the sun's light can reflect off the ISS. It moved across the sky really quick and was gone in under 10 minutes (and that's one of the longer passes where it went almost directly overhead).

  • NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is preparing the Mars 2020 rover right now to prepare it for launch July of next year and you can watch them build it live! They are literally taking pictures with the rover on their cell phones as I type this :-)

So take some time this weekend to look up and think about all the people and other stuff passing through space above us.

Fascinating Fact Friday - 5 Reasons to Get Your Sleep

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I've always been a night owl, but I have noticed that I really, really, want more sleep these days. I watched this TED Talk a couple nights ago and I think I need to go to sleep asap. 

This week's Fascinating Fact Friday is about sleep.

  • Sleep is needed not only after study to help you remember, but also before. (Does anyone remember college...) Sleep deprived test subjects had a 40% learning deficit compared to the ones who got enough sleep.
  • Men who sleep for only 5 hours a night have the testosterone levels of someone 10 years older. It basically aged them by 10 years! 
  • A study found that in subjects who only had 6 hours of sleep a night for a week, 711 genes were distorted in their activity, some had increased activity and some had decreased activity. To be more specific, the genes related to your immune system had decreased activity and the genes associated with promotion of tumors, stress, and heart disease had increase activity.
  • Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, we have data related to what happens when you lose or gain an hour of sleep. In the spring, when we lose an hour of sleep, there is a 24% increase in heart attacks. In the fall, when we gain an hour of sleep, there is a 21% reduction of heart attacks. 
  • The World Health Organization has classified nighttime shift work as a probably carcinogen. Think about that... 

Scientists don't really know why we sleep, but clearly sleep is very important and very underrated. Humans are the only species who deliberately deprive themselves of sleep. You never see a dog deciding to stay awake. They know what's going on. They sleep whenever possible. I envy Moose and Champ for this ability.

Get some rest this weekend everyone!

What to Wear Over 50

Over 50 Fashion Header

I'm going to go a little off topic here... I work in a corporate job in the male dominated industry of construction. My day to day interactions can run from everyone from plant personal to the CEO, but I'd say engineers and technical teams make up the bulk of my day. I want to dress professionally, which frequently means suits. I do love a nice suit. It's so easy to put on a suit and a nice top, some heels, and you are ready to go into any meeting.

But I've started noticing that I was just wearing suits lately. I wanted to branch out some, but was finding it difficult to dress my self in slightly more causal, yet professional, outfits. Google and Pinterest searches seemed to bring up either basic black suits with a white button down or cute outfits that were a little too casual for my style. 

There's also a ton of fashion bloggers out there with great outfits that I love, but they are more suited to going out to dinner on the weekend. I mean, I absolutely love Lucy's Whims, but I'm probably not wearing any of those outfits to work or to Target on the weekend...

Then I thought, I have a blog, maybe I should take everyone with me on this over 50 fashion journey. Maybe one other over 50 woman who is trying to expand her fashion horizons will find some inspiration here. Maybe even some young woman, just starting a career in a male dominated industry, is wondering what to wear because she doesn't like suits and I can help her too. This will also help me get over hating seeing pictures of me, so here goes...

Ok, it's kind of a suit. I'm embracing the skinny pant. And I remember a time when I wouldn't even consider 3/4 sleeve jackets. I mean, I have a jacket on because I'm always cold, right. As far as the top goes, I love this flowy top from White House Black Market. So much so that I have it in white too.

Clearly the best part of this outfit is that Moose and I match :-)

Over 50 Fashion 1_sm

Or maybe I never post another picture of me... we'll see where this goes...


Google AR Animals is the Coolest Thing I've Seen in a Long Time

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Holy crap y'all, there's a shark in my office! And then a wolf and a panda bear and penguin. (Yes this is what I do at lunch...)

I learned about Google's augmented reality (AR) animals last night and had to go look it up. Turns out that it's already live in Google search for many animals. You can look at a life sized shark, panda bear, penguin, horse, wolf, alligator, tiger, Shetland pony, raccoon, macaw, pug, turtle, Labrador retriever, lion, and brown bear for sure. Sadly hippopotamus and giraffe do not work, yet...

Augmented reality takes digital things and puts them into real life via your phone or mobile device. AR has been around since the early 1990's but didn't really hit the mainstream with the Pokemon Go craze of 2016/2017. Pokemon Go was really the first place where people interacted with AR. Without most people even realizing it, the Pokemon characters people saw in the "wild" were augmented reality. And did you know that Snapchat's filters are also augmented reality.

AR blends into a person's perception of the real world. You can stand next to them, move around them, and take selfies with them.

But AR is used for much more than games and entertainment. AR is used in my industry, construction, to help people visualize how a building system, or even the whole building will look when completed. It is also used for training and product presentations.

AR has also been used to in archaeology. AR can augment archaeological features onto the current landscape, so archaeologists can look at an area how it used to be. Surgeons are using AR to provide patient data in the same way fighter pilots have heads up displays in their helmets. AR can help find veins and project holograms to help guide surgeons during procedures.

Apps like Google Lens place AR information on top of things of interest, like landmarks, and can show you the most popular items on a restaurant's menu. Don't be surprised when marketing and ads show up in here too.

Since it is also fascinating fact Friday, I'll throw in some additional facts:

  • The first mention of something that could be called augmented reality was buy author, L. Frank Baum. His idea of an electronic display that overlays data onto real life, is exactly how we see it used today, 118 years later.
  • It wasn't unit 1975, when Myron Krueger created the Videoplace, that AR and VR technology started coming to be possible.
  • In 1990, former Boeing researcher, Thomas Caudell coined the term "Augmented Reality".
  • The Virtual Fixtures system developed at the U.S. Air Force's Armstrong Laboratory in 1992 was one of the first AR systems.
  • Since then, it was mostly been used for research and military uses until it moved into gaming with Niantic's Pokemon Go in 2016.

I have been waiting for a while to see what Magic Leap does with AR and they finally started talking about actual physical products last year. To be really wowed about the possibilities of AR, check out their website.

I love the idea of AR. As I type this post, I think about how real it really is. If I print it, it's a real piece of paper, but what is it as I type? It's digital, just 1's and 0's inside my computer. Yet it is real to me. So what about AR. Is that shark in my office? Well, obviously not really. But my reaction to it when it suddenly appeared all full of teeth next to my head, was very real. So in a couple years when the shark, or whatever, can react to me, do we start to consider it real?

So back to the AR animals...

You have got to try this this weekend. Show it to your kids. Heck show it to your neighbors. It's freaking cool, especially the shark. To do it, just pull out your phone and google an animal (maybe start with the ones I mention above). Scroll down until you see "Meet a life sized (your animal name) up close." and a a View in 3D link. Click that, wait for the animal to appear, then click AR and follow the instructions to bring animals into your house. 

I haven't pulled up all these animal yet, so I know what my plans are for this weekend...

Fascinating Fact Friday - the Kilogram is no Longer a Physical Thing Anymore

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I posted about this back in November when scientists decided to redefine the kilogram, but this week it became official. The kilogram isn't based on a physical thing any more.

For almost 130 years, the kilogram has been based on an actual, physical mass of of platinum-iridium alloy, specially housed outside of Paris at the Bureau international des poids et mesures (BIPM), or International Bureau of Weights and Measures in English. The problem with this is that physical things lose atoms and decay.

But now, the kilogram is fixed forever because it's based on Planck's constant. The kilogram is now defined by tow famous equations: E=mc^2 and E=hv, where h is Planck's constant and v is energy. The new kilogram's mass is equal to the energy of 1.4755214 times 10^40 photons that are oscillating at the same frequencies as the cesium 133 atoms used in atomic clocks. Here is the whole equation in case you were wondering.

This means that scientists can describe mass in terms of raw science. If aliens came to Earth tomorrow, we could mathematically explain to them how much something weighed (its mass on Earth) with science and not have to show them the old kilogram in the cylinder outside of Paris.

The kilogram was the only basic unit of the international measurement system still defined by a physical thing.

Other units of measure used to be based on physical things too. For instance, a second used to be defined by the number of pendulum swings. Now it's the time that it takes a cesium 133 atom to go through 9,192,631,770 cycles of releasing microwave radiation. Harder to count, yes, but way more accurate. And science and technology today need that level of accuracy.

The meter was originally defined as one 10 millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator, along the meridian through Paris. Then in 1791, it was redefined based on a specific platinum-iridium rod housed in the same location as the kilogram. Today, a meter is defined as the distance that light travels in one-299,792,458th of a second.

As an interesting side note for those of us still using Imperial units, a foot has been defined as exactly 0.3048 meter since the International Yard and Pound Agreement of 1959 (technically they agreed that a yard was exactly 0.9144 meters). This agreement also defined the pound as exactly 0.45359237 kilograms.

We use these unit of measure all the time and didn't realize that they are all based science. I have always loved the idea that science defines the world around us.

Fascinating Fact Friday - The Betamax went on the market on this day in 1975

Never Trust a Computer

Fascinating fact Friday - On this day in 1975, Sony began selling the Betamax in Japan. It was the first home video recorder and was considered superior to it's rival, the VHS made by JVC later that same year. But it lost out to the VCR in the format wars. Mostly due to cost and recording time. It's still a great lesson in why better doesn't always win in the market.

Being a technology junkie, I had to say something about the Betamax and the VCR on the Betamax anniversary. Growing up, my father always had cutting edge tech. I remember our first VCR, microwave oven, satellite dish, and Atari (we still have all of them I think). I definitely got my love of tech from my dad.

The image in the post shows my first computer, a TI-99/4A. My dad gave it to me when I was about 12. It cost $525 and had a 256 byte CPU. It was connected to a little black & white TV and I could save my programs, written in Basic, on a cassette player. Since my first computer, I've had a long list of technology including PDAs and more cell phones than I can count.

In 1965, Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and CEO of Intel, wrote a paper asserting that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years, while the cost of computers is halved. This is known as Moore's Law. It has basically held true through the early 2000's. That's how my old TI-99/4A progressed so much that we hold significantly more power in the palm of our hands today.

My friends' kids seem to think that computers have both been around forever and also didn't exist during their parents' childhood, along with things like color TV. The first computer was created by Charles Babbage in 1822, yes, 1822. The first mouse wasn't until 1964. It was made of wood.

Here are some other fascinating technology facts.

  • The first mechanical alarm clock, invented by Levi Hutchins in 1787, could only ring at 4 a.m. My dogs are currently still using this alarm clock.
  • The first ever VCR was made in 1956 and was the size of a piano. It was invented by Charles P. Ginsburg.
  • Nokia was founded in 1865 as a paper manufacturer (they even made toilet paper in the 1960's). Nokia’s first mobile phones were released in the 1980’s.
  • 97% of people type words into Google just to see if they spelled it right. The other 3% are either lying, spelling bee champions, or my parents who still look words up in the dictionary to figure out how to spell them.
  • The very first domain name registered was www.symbolics.com. Originally a computer company, it is now the home of the Big Internet Museum.

When I got that TI-99/4A, I didn't imagine that I'd hold a computer in my hands or that they would be all over my house, connected to the internet and talking to other computers. Or that I'd be talking to Alexa to get the weather each morning. (Who remembers calling time and temperature?) I can't wait to see what cool technology we have in the future.

Cygnus NG-11 Docked to the ISS as they Transit the Sun

I have wanted to take a photograph of the ISS transiting the moon or sun for some time now, but I just haven't been at the right place at the right time with my camera in the right settings. 

The ISS passes over Dallas pretty frequently since it circles the Earth every 90 minutes, but I have only been lucky enough to see it go overhead once. I got up early to see the it go overhead and try to get a shot. There was no transit, just a quick, ~10 second, pass over my house. I didn't get a shot but it was pretty cool to see knowing it was the ISS. 

When I saw this image tonight I was blown away. It is a picture of the ISS with the resupply ship Cygnus NG-11 docked to the Canadarm2 articulated arm. If you look really close, you can see the tiny Cygnus attached to the much larger ISS. (More info on the shot here.)

image from spaceweathergallery.com

The First Image of a Black Hole is Amazing!

_We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago_

I know that everyone probably saw this image everywhere yesterday, but I would have to turn in my geek card if I didn't say something about it...

This is the first ever image of a black hole. It took a team of over 200 people at Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) to make this come together. The event horizon is the theoretical boundary around a black hole beyond which no light or other radiation can escape. The event horizon of the black hole is at the center of the black area in the picture.

Derek at Veritasium has an excellent video explaining what you are, or in his case since he posted the video the day before the announcement, will see in the image. It's worth a watch just to hear why if you were standing at 1.5 Schwarzschild radii you could look out and see the back of your head.

Einstein predicted the existence of black holes when wrote his general theory of relativity in 1915. Since then, scientists have been able to determine the presence of black holes using the data of objects in space moving around them, but we have never actually seen one. Until now.

This image is an amazing feat of science that required an interdisciplinary team that included astrophysicists, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. The black hole in the image is at the center of the galaxy M87. It is 55 million light years from Earth and has a mass of 6.5 billion times of the Sun. I'm not going to even bother converting that to miles because it's not really a distance we can fathom. This was basically like me taking a picture of an orange on the surface of the moon with my iPhone.

One thing I really like about this accomplishment is that Katie Bouman, a grad student at MIT, led the development of the algorithm that created the image. This is Nobel Prize worthy stuff and I can't wait to see her name up there with the 51 women who have won the Nobel Prize to date. Here is an excellent TED Talk from 2016 where she describes how the image was going to be captured. 

There are so many reasons that this image and what led up to is are amazing. Einstein predicted mathematically it long before we have the equipment to see it. We actually still don't have the equipment to take the image since it would take a telescope the size of the Earth to do. Instead, it took people all over the world, working together, with their clocks synchronized to the atomic clock, and an algorithm developed by Katie Bouman to put an image together of a black hole 55 million light years away. And let's not forget that the light in the image left the M87 55 million years ago. 

This image will change our understanding of the universe and I hope it encourages lots of kids to get into science.

(For more information from the National Science Foundation where I got the image go here.)


The Internet in 3D

Every man takes the limits of his vision_3D_LinkedIn

This was going to be last week's Fascinating Fact Friday post, but between some procrastinating on my part and because I thought that everyone needed to get 3D glasses to fully experience the coolness of this post at home, I decided to post this at the beginning of this week instead.

I learned last week that I can make my photographs 3D images in Photoshop, so I obviously tested it out on two or three or twenty photos to get the hang of it. I didn't have 3D glasses, but I did have flash filter gels, so I grabbed the red and cyan gels and started playing around with 3D. 

So how does red / blue 3D, also called an anaglyph, work? The 3D images contain two differently filtered colored images, one for each eye, usually red and cyan (blue). When viewed through the 3D glasses, each eye sees a different image, a red one shifted to the left and a blue one shifted to the right, revealing an integrated 3D image. The visual cortex of the brain combines these images into what we perceive as 3D.

If you think about regular vision, each eye sees a slightly different view of the world. Think about how what you see jumps back and forth when you look through just the right eye and then just the left eye. Your brain combines these two slightly different views into what we know as 3D or what we see as depth perception.

Unfortunately, you can't experience 3D without 3D glasses, so if you don't have flash filter gels, you can go buy some cheap 3D glasses on Amazon and if you have Prime get them by this weekend. Then go search red blue 3D images on Google images or even better, on YouTube (I especially love this short dinosaur story), and look at the results through the 3D glasses. It's a pretty cool way to look at the internet.