Image credit: Dr. Phil Plait/Bad Astronomy Blog

Rant warning: I’m about to go on a major rant. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There’s simply no way else to put it, science classrooms in Tennessee’s public schools are fucked. It’s clear that our Republican Governor Bill Haslam didn’t actually like the so-called “monkey bill” that will allow teachers in TN public schools to teach creationism and climate change denialism under the guise of “scientific weaknesses,” but unfortunately he proved to be a coward by finding the political equivalent of “having your cake and eating it too”- allowing it to pass without his signature. The bill is nothing more than Bible-thumping socially conservative legislators trying to create a seemingly politically correct path for religious-based ideas to be taught alongside thoroughly proven scientific principles in our public schools. Honestly the state Board of Education is who should be making decisions like this, not state lawmakers. The separation of church and state is made crystal clear by the US Constitution, and teaching pseudoscience that is solely based on religion- creationism and intelligent design- should never EVER be allowed in public schools. Climate change denialism, while not religiously motivated per se, is very politically motivated and not supported by scientific evidence. Both evolution and climate change are overwhelmingly supported by rock-solid scientific evidence. Both are large and complex topics, the minor details of which are constantly going to be debated/improved/clarified, but the overall facts of both are very certain. They are not “scientifically controversial,” they are only politically controversial. It’s times like these that I’m quite ashamed of my home state. Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy Blog has much better and more professional commentary on this than I, so I suggest reading his blog post about it.

However, things like this Elon Musk interview from last night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart bring me right back up when I’m down. Watch part 1 here and part 2 here, because you can’t embed Comedy Central videos on a wordpress hosted blog. :-( It’s awesome and inspirational to see people like him be successful. People who have both the money and the vision to do great things and push the boundaries of mankind’s knowledge and capabilities. Elon Musk is one of many who are pushing the human race forward. The religious right pandering morons in the TN legislature and our coward of a Governor are among those pulling the human race backward.

End of rant.

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Credit: NASA

Universe Today is currently running a pretty cool blog series called “13 Things That Saved Apollo 13.” They talked to NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill who came up with 13 key things that led to their survival. Yesterday’s post was part 2 of the series, focusing on the hatch between the Command Module and lander that wouldn’t shut initially. This malfunction actually turned out to be a blessing, because if they’d been able to shut it, it would’ve slowed down the later efforts that were vital to their survival. I look forward to the rest of this series.

One day over the weekend my girlfriend pointed me to an article about an east TN father who asked the Knox County schoolboard to remove a biology textbook that uses the phrase “the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 days” (regarding creationism) from its curriculum. That sounded like just the type of thing Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy would pick up, and sure enough he did. Thankfully the board and review committee is standing behind the book and it will remain in the curriculum. Let me re-iterate how important it is that creationism stay out of public school curricula- IT IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. These are public schools! The separation of church and state is crucial to our democracy and teaching anything from the Bible as a viable scientific theory in public schools is a clear violation of that. This book states that the story of creation in the Bible is a myth, and by strict definition that is completely true. I would even say that the statement doesn’t go far enough. It should go on to say that creationism is simply not true. Decades of research and cold, hard scientific evidence have proven beyond any and doubt that our planet and solar system is roughly 4 billion years old. The stories in the Bible are parables that have absolutely no scientific basis. Let’s keep them out of scientific discourse in the classroom, because they are NOT SCIENCE.

Grand Geyser

Grand Geyser

After way too long, I’ve finally gotten the photos from our trip to Yellowstone National Park on my flickr. We had a great time and I will never, ever tire of seeing that place. It is literally one of the most fascinating places on earth and everyone should go see it. It had been 9 years since I last saw it, and while reading some of the information plaques I realized that some major geologic changes had taken place just since the last time I was there. The place is just teeming with hydrothermal activity and is always changing. Not to mention that the scenery is absolutely gorgeous. So please go take a look at the photos. We also visited Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Grand Teton Park, and came back by driving through Colorado and New Mexico, making a quick stop at Philmont. Not only was the land beautiful, but we also got to see a pretty nice light show in the sky almost every night we were in Yellowstone. The Perseid meteor shower peaked while we were there, and with the absence of light pollution from cities, we could see them quite well. (That is, until the gibbous Moon rose around 11pm…) Literally, we could look up at any given time between sunset and Moonrise and see a meteor within a minute.

Some other random scientific tidbits:

A team of Swedish scientists, with the help of some other Chinese researchers, have discovered a very exact location and date for the birthplace of dogs. Apparently dogs originated from a group of tamed wolves about 16,000 years ago in an area of China south of the Yangtze River. Sadly, it’s also thought that those dogs met their fate in the stomachs of humans. (Via EurekAlert)

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of Apple’s new OS Snow Leopard. It’s not a total upgrade, since the last major update was called Leopard, but it is a significant advance in how the computer utilizes those multiple-core processors that have become standard over the past few years. It all boils down to the OS providing a way for applications to run multiple processes in parallel, or at the same time. Gizmodo has an article that explains it quite well, and I suggest reading it. I’ll probably be upgrading to Snow Leopard pretty soon.

And now I’m simply going to leave you with this incredibly creepy video using time-lapse footage of a rotting apple. No pun on the previous paragraph intended. (Via Kottke)

The Nashville Scene/Cream is sponsoring all the 8 off 8th Mondays during July, and each week the 8 bands will all perform covers from a specific decade- the 60′s through the 90′s. Tonight is 60′s night and the bands are:

Matt Friction and the Cheap Shots
Roman Candle
Eureka Gold
The Clutters
Kindergarten Circus
Ole Mossy Face
Jacob Jones
Millionaire Magicians

Tigers Con Queso will be on the lineup for 90′s night on July 27th. More info at Nashville Cream. I’ll be there tonight taking pics, so come on out. It’ll be fun.

Hipster Runoff posted the new single Got Nuffin from Spoon today. It’s a good song, so go grab it.

I’ve got a lot of science to dump on you today, so here we go…

Astronomers have been a little puzzled by our Sun recently because it’s been unusually quiet. We reached solar minimum, the lowest part of the 11-year cycle of sunspot activity, in 2008. Normally we’d be seeing some sunspots appearing, marking the beginning of the next cycle, but for some reason the Sun has been strangely quiet this year, and no one really understands why. This weekend marked the first real appearance of sunspots for the new cycle, breaking the stretch of puzzling silence. Space.com has more.

I’ve always loved the large-scale, long-term predictions and statements that Dr. Stephen Hawking is known for. One of his latest predictions/statements is truly fascinating. He proposes that we take a much broader view of the term “evolution” and include not only genetic information (internal), but also external information. Because we now have the ability to communicate external information we are now in a different stage of evolution. Just like so many of his broad ideas, this one really makes you think almost on a totally different level. Read more at the Daily Galaxy article.

Even though communication with NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander ceased last fall, scientists are still evaluating the data collected while it was in operation. The scientists used a specialized instrument on the lander to detect water ice clouds and even snow falling to the martian ground. Yes, I said snow. On Mars. How effin’ cool is that? Learn more about this phenomenon by reading the Universe Today article.

Also from Universe Today- a more substantiated version of the blurb I posted a couple weeks ago regarding the possible back-up to NASA’s new Constellation program. A video clip from the presentation made to an external review committee by shuttle program manager John Shannon has been posted on YouTube. Apparently NASA is taking this proposal pretty seriously and everyone there is waiting on the final word by an executive session as to whether they’ll keep charging ahead with the current plans for the Ares rockets or try this new plan to retrofit the existing external fuel tank/solid rocket booster system to work with the new Orion Crew Vehicle. Watch the video below. As Universe Today points out, this system would be MUCH cheaper and faster to implement. Honestly, I think there’s a decent possibility that they’ll end up going for this and scrapping the Ares rockets. Only time will tell. Full article here.

Not much in the music realm today: The biggest thing I read was that Jack White is planning a solo album…. I swear the guy must be a glutton for punishment. How can anyone be in 3 bands, run a record label, and still have time for a solo project? He’s a machine. That’s the only explanation.

Also of interest- How I Became the Bomb will be teaming up with Kindercastle for quite an undertaking: covering ELO’s Out of the Blue in it’s entirety on June 26th at Mercy Lounge. Obviously these two local bands are heavily influenced by ELO- HIBTB in the use of vocoders and Kindercastle in their use of thick orchestral string arrangements. According to the calendar both bands will be onstage along with an eight-piece string section. That means 16 people onstage y’all. That means this will be seriously EPIC y’all.

If you’re a Twitterer, you might find Tweemap interesting. It plots all of your followers on a map for you. Kind creepy but kinda cool…

EcoGeek reports on the first easily attainable wind power generator for the home. It mounts on your roof and generates 2,000 kWh per year, which is about 18% of the average household’s energy requirement. It ain’t cheap ($4500 plus up to $1500 installation) but apparently you can get some serious tax credits and discounts due to the stimulus bill and other statewide incentives. This makes me very happy. If I owned a house and could even come close to affording the unit, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

The National Weather Service has said that conditions are favorable for an El Nino pattern to form over the equatorial pacific ocean this summer. We haven’t had a strong El Nino in a while, so I fully expected one to develop this fall. The good thing is that El Nino ultimately leads to more wind shear in the areas where hurricanes normally develop, which makes it harder for them to develop/strengthen. But it also means more rain in the US southeast, and slightly above-average temperatures during the winter. However, most areas of the southeast have been experiencing a drought for many years now, so more rain is not necessarily a bad thing. For more info on exactly how El Nino works go here.

I love dinosaurs. We all love dinosaurs. They’re pretty awesome because they ruled this planet for several million years, compared to about 200,000 for humans. When we first discovered their remains, we thought they were related to reptiles. Then after some more discoveries and research, we thought they actually had more in common with modern day birds, and even that modern birds may have descended from dinosaurs. Now that last theory has had some pretty big holes shot through it. Turns out the bone structure of birds’ femur provides a major clue that birds simply evolved parallel to the dinosaurs, not from them. Via Science Daily. Read more if you’re interested.

Back tomorrow, and then that will be it for a while as I’ll be photographing at Bonnaroo all weekend.

I hope everyone enjoyed yesterday’s tomfoolery. Everyone seems to hate April Fool’s but I enjoy all the jokes. I always look forward to what kind of ridiculousness Google will cook up each year. Here’s the Wikipedia page with a history of their pranks.

Photo by Steve Cross

Photo by Steve Cross

Shoot the Mountain have been getting a lot of buzz lately and playing a lot of shows, but everyone’s been wondering when their first release would happen. Well, it’s finally happening on May 16th on Theory 8 Records, and it’s an EP (presumably self-titled?). A release show will happen on that date at the Basement with Totally Snake (WTF?!?) opening. They’re also playing on April 9th at the End opening for Appleseed Cast.

The Features just released details of their upcoming tour with The Dexateens. They’ll be hitting clubs all over the southeast, northeast, and midwest later this month and into May. Oh, and they’ll also be featured in the July issue of Nylon Magazine.

More comprehensive local music news coverage can be found at We Own This Town and Out The Other.

Four Russian cosmonauts and two European astronauts volunteered to be locked up together in a simulation of a spacecraft for 105 days. This is part of an experiment to study the psychological and physical effects of being stuck with 5 other people for an extended period of time in cramped quarters. The experiment will help scientists and engineers plan for an eventual manned-mission to Mars. This will be very interesting to monitor.

I’ve been reading a few different posts and articles over the last week or so regarding a recent vote on science standards for the Texas Board of Education. The board held a vote on several standards for science education and it was mostly a travesty, the biggest of which was the deletion of the statement that the universe is “roughly 14 billion years old.” Sure, there are several different numbers out there that vary by a few million years, but everyone in the entire scientific community agrees that it’s pretty damn close to 14 billion years. A variance of a few million years is NIL when you look at the big picture, and is definitely covered by term “roughly.” There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise! One faint glimmer of hope is that the board voted down a proposed change that would allow the teaching of “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. If this had passed, it would’ve been just one more way for Creationism to creep its ugly way into the scientific classroom. This article on the NewScientist blog sums it all up very well. I suggest reading it. I cannot get over the quote of board chairman Dr. Don McLeroy, who is quoted as saying, “I disagree with these experts. Someone has got to stand up to experts.” HA! Yea, you tell ‘em Dr. McLeroy! Tell those experts that they don’t know what they’re talking about! Afterall, they’ve spent the majority of their lives studying REAL science, FACTS and EVIDENCE… how could they possibly know what they’re talking about? I find it amazing that this man (a dentist) was able to get through medical school with such anti-scientific beliefs. I sure as hell wouldn’t want someone that dumb working on my teeth.

Ok enough ire for one day. I’ll leave you with this hilarious video clip from a 50′s sci-fi movie. I really hope this is how they dance in the future.

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