What could possibly be more awesome than a TORNADO MADE OF FIRE?!? Not much. This is a spectacular natural phenomenon that occurs in wildfires. It’s the same atmospheric process that causes dust devils- the difference here is that the strong updraft is from the heat of the fire, so it’s much more intense than a normal dust devil. The hot air rises rapidly and the surrounding winds happen to be flowing into the updraft at just the right angles so that the rising column of air gets a twist. From there the law of conservation of angular momentum takes over and the vortex becomes self-sustaining. This one was captured recently in Australia.

Also from the department of TOTALLY AWESOME: Warp Drives (like the ones they used in Star Trek) may actually be much closer to reality than ever thought. NASA physicist Dr. Harold White has recently done some tweaking of the theoretical design of the famous Alcubierre Warp Drive, originally proposed in 1994 by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. The original design, while theoretically possible, was completely impractical because it required more energy than a human mind can comprehend. But with Dr. White’s tweaks, the amount of energy required to run this thing suddenly became more plausible. Essentially the ship would be able to travel much faster than light, without actually traveling faster than light. It does this by literally compressing a region of space-time ahead of it and expanding a region behind it. The ship itself is in a bubble in which it never breaks the speed of light relative to the space-time it’s in. Think of it like surfing a wave of space-time. Granted, the amount of energy require to run the Warp Drive is still roughly equivalent to 1.5 million Hiroshima bombs, but with a little antimatter (about 500 kilograms) that number is not out of reach. The problem is that the idea hasn’t been tested in real life. So Dr. White and his team are currently attempting to actually warp space-time on a microscopic scale in their lab. Take a moment to digest that. Right now, we are attempting to warp space-time in a lab. It doesn’t get much more awesome than that. For more info on how the drive actually works check out this article on Extreme Tech or this article on Discovery News.


This is some scary shit.

We have some crazy weather headed our way in middle TN (see above graphic!) so A Few Good Shows is super quick today. GO:


Vitalic Noise presents CRAVE at TAVERN in midtown: I will be DJing along with resident DJs Losici and Dali Drama. FREE, 21+ 10pm

Chancellor Warhol, Sam & Tre, Gummy Soul, and Ducko McFli @ 12th & Porter. 9pm $10

Cheap Time, Leather Nightmare, King Karl, Psychic Hotline @ The Other Basement. 8pm $???


Dr. Dog w/ Purling Hiss and PUJOL @ War Memorial Auditorium. 8pm $20

Bass Drum of Death, Cy Barkley & the Way Outsiders, Thelma & The Sleaze @The End. 9pm $10

Scale Model, A Secret Policeman’s Ball, You Blew It!, and Direct Effect @ Springwater. 10pm $5



It may take many more days before NWS survey teams can finish their assessment of the damage from the April 27th tornado outbreak, but being the weather nerd that I am, I want to go ahead and share a collection of links where you can find preliminary reports on the tracks and intensities of some of the many twisters that touched down. Note that there is at least one EF-5 (the highest intensity with winds over 200 mph) tornado confirmed, and there could be more upgraded to that status as more damaged is inspected. NWS Memphis survey– covering parts of northern Mississippi. NWS Jackson, MS survey. NWS Hunstville, AL survey. NWS Morristown, TN survey. And finally, this graphic from the NWS Birmingham, AL survey. The most complete graphic I’ve seen:

So that’s the bad. Please make a donation to the American Red Cross or any other legitimate organization providing relief for those devastated by this natural disaster. Now for some good things to lighten the mood.

I will call the news of Osama bin Laden’s assassination good, but I certainly will never rejoice the death of any human being. While I am relieved somewhat, and do feel that justice has been done, I’m quite certain that the assassination itself as well as the celebrations will only give the rest of al-Qaeda even more reason to attack the US and its allies.

In even better and much much much lighter news, Moustache May has begun its final year of activity. I participated back in 2008 and am doing so again this year. Due to some very important meetings happening last week at my work, I was unable to start my stache until Friday, so I’m basically starting with a clean slate. Right now I look utterly creepy but hopefully we’ll get past that stage very soon as it fills in.

I came across this absolutely amazing new music video for the Supermen Lovers’ track “Take A Chance” and decided that it was the best thing to end this post with. Enjoy. (Via Too Many Sebastians)

So I’m thinking that some Fridays I’m gonna steal NPR’s “Science Friday” idea and write a post debunking some popular myths. Not gonna happen every Friday, but I’m gonna make a pointed effort to do it somewhat often.

Today we’ll tackle the myth about water spinning in opposite directions down the drain in the northern and southern hemispheres. This is simply not true at all. While large-scale weather systems do indeed follow this pattern due to a phenomenon called the Coriolis Effect, water going down a drain does not. Minute things such as imperfections in the angle at which a basin was installed, inconsistencies in the surface or shape of the basin, and any residual motion in the water itself are what determine the direction the water rotates when drained. Once the water begins to drain, the conservation of angular momentum takes over and any hint of rotational motion in the water, whether clockwise or counter-clockwise, gets amplified as it moves toward the drain, creating a vortex. This is the same law of physics that causes tornadoes and dust devils to behave the way they do. The classic explanation for this concept is the spinning ice skater. As he/she moves her limbs closer to their body the conservation of angular momentum forces their rotational speed to increase. They can then move their limbs further away and they will slow down again. So no, no matter what you’ve heard, water does NOT always drain counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. That being said, experiments have been done that show the Coriolis Effect can be seen in draining water IF AND ONLY IF all other forces are completely removed. A large and absolutely perfect cylinder-shaped container with one very small hole exactly in the center was filled with water and allowed to sit untouched for 24 hours to allow any residual motion in the water to die out. The container was perfectly balanced with extreme precision. The plug in the hole was then carefully removed and the water did eventually start rotating counter-clockwise, and continued to do so when the experiment was repeated. BUT clearly this only happens in extremely controlled conditions. In your sink or toilet, a myriad of other forces are orders of magnitude stronger and completely overwhelm the minute effect of the Earth’s rotation. Snopes has a decent debunking of this myth as well.

Tornadoes are different. I was asked about this yesterday, in the wake of the massive tornado outbreak on Wednesday. The Coriolis Effect does influence the direction tornadoes spin, but in a more indirect way. There have, in fact, been clockwise (anticyclonic) tornadoes documented in many cases in the U.S. There have even been a few storms that dropped multiple tornadoes, both cyclonic and anticyclonic, at the SAME TIME. As I said earlier, the Coriolis Effect is what causes large-scale weather systems such as hurricanes, low pressure systems, and high pressure systems to rotate the way they do. Low pressure systems and hurricanes always rotate counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. The opposite is true for high pressure (clear weather) systems. The storms which produces tornadoes are always associated with a large-scale low pressure system. The Coriolis Effect determines the rotation of that large-scale system, which in turn has an indirect influence on the structure of the supercell thunderstorms which spawn tornadoes. Tornadoes are far, far more common in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, and because the warm moist air which “feeds” these storms at the surface is moving in from the southeast, and the cooler, drier air aloft is moving in from the northwest, that setup naturally lends itself to counter-clockwise rotation, hence most but not all tornadoes in the U.S. spin counter-clockwise. This illustration from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory shows the inner workings of a tornadic storm quite well:

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Education has a website called NEWTON, with a forum of sorts called “ask a scientist.” This very question regarding the rotation of tornadoes was asked, and I found this particular response quite helpful:

At least the great majority of tornadoes rotate counterclockwise (as do all low-pressure systems) in the northern hemisphere, and clockwise in the southern hemisphere, for the reason (coriolis force) given by Eric Peterson in response #1. But occasionally, it would seem, northern hemisphere tornadoes do rotate clockwise: S. Flora’s book “Tornadoes of the United States” cites an 1890 article in the American Meteorological Journal. Its author, a J.P. Finley, states that, of 550 American tornadoes he studied, 29 were deemed to have rotated clockwise. I have not been able to find any “modern” study of this question. But I believe it could be true. The region of swirling air that contracts to become the tornado is not itself large enough in extent to have its rotation dictated by the coriolis force; rather, it “inherits” this tendency from the great masses of air whose movement sets the stage for the storms and any associated tornadoes. If the study cited is correct and representative, on occasion the direction of rotation is set by some other factor, perhaps the topography in the area where the tornado forms, for example.

So there you have it. I won’t have as much time every week to write up a post this in-depth, so don’t expect this every Friday, but I’ll do my best.

Eating lunch with the Darlins in the Bronx.

So I’m back! It was a blast and I’d do it all again in heartbeat. I don’t have time to give a full rundown, but quite possibly the most memorable moment was realizing that a tornado was hitting Brooklyn while Those Darlins were soundchecking in Bowery Ballroom. Here’s the official weather report from the NWS. Needless to say, tornadoes are pretty rare in NYC. Thankfully we were in Manhattan while all this was happening. Those Darlins have some great new songs on their new record, and their setlist for this tour is mostly those new songs, peppered with the favs from their debut, and the free single “Nightjogger” which you can download at the Nashville Cream. Basically they’ve taken on a bit more of a pure rock & roll character, and drummer “Sheriff” Linwood Regansburg has taken on a much more prominent role in the songwriting, and even sings on one of the new songs, though they’re not yet playing that song live. Stay tuned for more on them and more on the results of my photo documentary project.

Meanwhile, here are some awesome things I came across while catching up on all my RSS feeds:

Vaccines absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, do NOT cause autism. A new study explored every possible way that thimerosal containing vaccines (TCVs) could be linked to autism and there was none. Absolutely no connection whatsoever; the same findings as the many other studies that have been done to investigate the claims of the anti-vax crowd. In fact, the result hinted that the administration of TCVs between birth and 7 months may actually reduce the risk of autism. It’s very simple, get your kids vaccinated! If you don’t, you are a threat to public health. Vaccines are one of mankind’s greatest scientific breakthroughs and have saved countless lives. There will always be a miniscule (and utterly negligible) risk of a bizarre allergic reaction or other complication, as there is with any medication or vaccine, but that risk is far, far, FAR outweighed by the benefits. And those risks have now been proven once and for all NOT to include autism.

A pair of astronomers have made an official prediction that the discovery of the first truly earth-like exoplanet will happen in less than a year– May of 2011. They used a well-known methodology called Scientometrics to make this prediction. I’d venture to say that to me, nothing in the field of astronomy, or even science in general, is more exciting than the very likely possibility of life on other planets. The discovery of the first true earth twin is a major step in that path. I really hope this prediction comes true.

Five awesome facts about NASA’s next robotic mission to Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory (a.k.a. Curiosity) which will launch in late 2011.

23 amazing photographs from the 1940s and 50s of nuclear bomb tests conducted by the US Military. This New York Times photos series is utterly fascinating, mainly because of images 5 through 7. Most of us have seen plenty of images of the mushroom clouds created by nuclear blasts, but those 3 images are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. They were taken with a super high-speed camera and literally captured the blast at the very instant the explosion began. If I saw this image out of context I would probably think it was a microscope image of some sort of virus. The amazing irony here is that both a virus and an atomic bomb are incredibly destructive, yet in such completely different ways.

The actual scale of the observable universe, from the smallest possible thing the largest possible thing, is utterly impossible for the human mind to comprehend. Mathematicians came up with the concept of “orders of magnitude” to help with this, but I say it’s still impossible for any human to really grasp. But this fun little interactive Flash animation is pretty cool way of displaying the concept. (Via Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Twitter)

Weekend shows & weather

April 23, 2010

This weekend is actually pretty good in terms of live music in Nashville. Here’s what’s on my radar:

The biggest story tonight and tomorrow is probably Rites of Spring at Vanderbilt, featuring the awesome one-two punch of Phoenix and Passion Pit. The full lineup is at the RoS website, but the only bands I’m even remotely interested in seeing are those two, and maybe Two Door Cinema Club. I will be there taking pics for the Scene as usual.

Friday: If outdoors festivals aren’t your thing, Chicken Ranch Records out of Austin, TX is doing a badass showcase at the Basement featuring The Clutters, We Were The States, Tiger Tiger, and Jimmy Duke & the Riot.

Saturday: If outdoor festivals aren’t your thing and afterparties are, you’ll want to head to 12th & Porter where the weekly Y2K DJs Coach and Hands off Sam will be joined by none other than members of Passion Pit, who will have (or not, depending on the weather) played Rites of Spring earlier that evening. DJ Potamus is also on the bill. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Passion Pit’s DJ sets- they did at least a few of them at SXSW this year.

Sunday: Peelander-Z w/ Tim Chad and Sherry & The Man Power at Exit/In. I saw Peelander-Z there a couple years ago and it was a blast. The bass player was literally hanging upside-down from the balcony. Just be prepared for some major crowd participation if you go.

Another big story this weekend is the weather. As you can see from the NWS severe weather outlook to the right, we’re in the “moderate risk” category for severe storms on saturday. The current thinking is that some storms will beigin to roll in very late tonight, sometime between 11pm and 3am, and hopefully not drenching tonight’s Rites of Spring festivities. Then the real action will start up saturday morning and basically be a threat all day long, into the evening. This is not just a few storms with a little hail and some wind, there is also a good possibility of tornadoes, and that’s why I have a strong feeling much of saturday’s Rites activities will end up getting canceled altogether. I can only hope for their sake that the threat passes by the evening AND that no damage is done to the stage/equipment so that the headliners can at least still play.

Important weather things to remember for saturday: The Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma issues severe weather watches. A watch is for a large area of land and means that conditions are favorable for severe weather to occur, but it is not an immediate threat. Our local National Weather Service office issues severe weather warnings. A warning is usually for a county or even just a city area and means that severe weather is actually occurring and will hit your area soon, so take cover. There’s always confusion on Vanderbilt’s campus regarding the on-campus vs. the downtown Nashville tornado sirens as well. Here’s how it works: the downtown Nashville siren goes off if there is a tornado warning issued for anywhere in Davidson County. The Vandy campus siren only goes off if a tornado warning is issued that specifically includes downtown Nashville. Thus, sometimes the downtown siren will go off and the Vandy campus one won’t (example: a warning issued for SE Davidson Co./LaVergne), and frankly it confuses the hell out of people on the Vandy campus. But that’s how it works.

Please be safe and heed all warnings this weekend!

Weekend/A-Trak video

April 2, 2010

This weekend has a nice offering of musical goodness if you’re in Nashville. As of now I don’t have any specific plans other than Saturday, but first here’s tonight’s items of interest-

Heartbeater, Trophy Wives, The Goldroom (the Goldroom had to cancel), Waxeater @ The End. Heartbeater is becoming a fairly well-established live act in town, and they’re currently working on a debut album.

Majestico, My Tyger @ The Basement. Majestico is simply awesome, and though I’ve only seen My Tyger once at an 8 off 8th, they don’t disappoint, either.

Finally, my likely destination will be the Exit/In, where Wax Fang, How I Became the Bomb, and the Non-Commissioned Officers are playing their rescheduled show from Jan. (It was snowed out due to Snowmageddon ’10.) I also hear that Bawston Sean will be DJing before and between bands. A good time for sure!

For Saturday-

Fever Queen, How Cozy!, The Grayces, and Hanzelle @ The End. This is a benefit for the Tennessee Teens Rock Camp, which is a new co-ed offshoot of the now famous Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp. Seriously, if the fact that Fever Queen is a new Cortney Tidwell side-project isn’t enough to get you there, then surely you’ll go and pay the meager $5 cover/donation simply to support such an awesome program. And if you are around and able this summer, I also highly suggest volunteering for one or the other (or both!). You don’t have to teach an instrument or workshop either- there are plenty of other non-skill-requiring volunteer positions.

I will not be able to make it to this show as I’m attending someone’s private birthday shindig. But that’s okay, because I will likely be volunteering for TNTRC this summer.

A couple of random links of interest-

Fool’s Gold blog posted a pretty cool video/interview snippet of DJ A-Trak, as well as another video about his new project with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. It sounds totally off the wall and random, but it’s surprisingly good. Just be open minded and check it out…

I didn’t have time to find enough science-y links/content to fill it’s own post, so here’s your random science-related tidbit of the day: Here’s a video of the world’s largest artificial tornado, created with the ventilation system inside the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Germany. I think vortices are among the most beautiful things in nature, and have always been completely mesmerized by them. (Via Kottke.org and BLDGBLOG)

Have a great weekend!