QuarkNet 2010: Day 2

Today at QuarkNet we built a reservoir for the alcohol. One of the teachers who has been involved with QuarkNet for a while had the PVC already cut for us, we just needed to assemble it. The reservoir has magnets on each end, which will be attracted to magnets on the outside of the tank. The magnets are offset a little, so that as the tank is turned upside down the top of the reservoir always points up. This is going to make it incredibly easy to load alcohol into the chamber.

Here's the reservoir:

There's felt inside which will increase the surface area of the alcohol to aid in its evaporation.

After lunch we assembled the light strip that we'll use to illuminate the fog, making the tracks easier to see.  Another QuarkNet veteran prepared the wood and provided us with excellent instructions.  We had to do a little wiring and soldering, but it was pretty easy. 

Here's the light strip:

and illuminated:

Added to the setup from yesterday we have:

Tomorrow we'll build sensors to measure the magnetic field on the surface of the plate.  I guess we'll also add the magnets.  Maybe we'll even be able to make some clouds.

QuarkNet 2010: Day 1

I'm participating in QuarkNet 2010 this week at Stony Brook University. QuarkNet is a workshop they have been running since 1999 (I think) for high school physics and chemistry teacher, and pre-service teacher as well. This year each participant is building a cloud chamber which we'll use to measure the momentum of cosmic rays.

I took class at Stony Brook while I was a grad student there with the same professor who is running this workshop, Helio Takai, and in that class we were working to improve a previous cloud chamber design. It was a really fun class (for which there were no assignments or homework) but there was only one cloud chamber. In this workshop we are each building one, and we get to bring them back to our schools for demonstrations next year.

Here's the basics about how the cloud chamber works:

A metal plate is placed above a styrofoam cooler filled with dry ice and alcohol. Metal feet/legs extend down from the plate into the solution to conduct heat out of the plate. On top of the plate is an upside down fish tank, with a reservoir of alcohol in the top of it. There is a temperature gradient between the cold metal plate and the top of the fish tank at room temperature, which causes the alcohol to evaporate and then condense in a layer about an inch think at the plate.

This "cloud" is supersaturated, and when cosmic rays (electrons, positrons, protons) pass through the fog you can see their trail. A magnet is added under the metal plate to create a magnetic field, which affects the path of the charged particles that pass through the cloud. By filming the cloud chamber in operation for a while we will be able to extract frames during which an interesting event happened and calculate the momentum of the particle.

God Prefers Atheists

I always figured that if God did exist, and if he was a reasonable God (a lot to ask, I know), that I'd be okay because I try to be a good person, for no other reason than I think it's the right thing to do.

Long Term Energy Plan

People are not going to like this, but something has to be done.
  1. The price of gas has to increase. We can wait for the supply to diminish to the point that the market raises the price, or the government can levy higher taxes to manipulate the price at the pump. Gas should be at least $5 per gallon. The money raised by taxes can go to support R&D for alternative energy sources, and the higher cost of travel will encourage people to conserve by buying fuel efficient cars, car pooling, taking public transportation, walking/cycling more, or by simply traveling less.
  2. Encourage the production of more nuclear power plants now that the moratorium is over. Nuclear energy is not the long term solution, but it is a major step in achieving oil/coal independence. There are so many reasons to build new nuclear plants:
    1. The moratorium didn’t shut down old plants, so now we have 104 nuclear power plants operating in this country that are at least 30 years old.
    2. New nuclear technologies have been developed that are more efficient than old technology. This means that the energy they produce is cheaper.
    3. Safety is the biggest concern of opponents of nuclear power. New nuclear technologies are safer than the ones currently in use.
    4. The storage of spent nuclear fuel is not as dangerous as people make it out to be. Read Richard Muller’s book “Physics for Future Presidents” for more information.
    5. In America, more people have died working in the coal industry this year than have ever died working in the nuclear power industry.
    Three Mile Island was a success, not a failure. Of course things might go wrong; people make mistakes and equipment malfunctions. That’s why there are so many backup systems and safety measures in place. The events at Three Mile Island showed us that those systems work.
  3. Public and private sectors both need to invest in wind and solar energy. My money is on solar energy, but current technology is very expensive and minimally efficient. Over the next 50-100 years, solar cells will get cheaper and more efficient, and we will either incorporate them into structure we already have (solar shingles for instance) or build large solar farms, or both. After the initial investment this energy is essentially free, requiring fees only to maintain equipment and eventually replace it. No burning of fossil fuels, no storing or nuclear waste, just cheap, clean electricity.
All of these steps need to be taken in order for us to have the energy we need. If we choose to start now, the process will be less painful. If we wait, times are going to be tough. Some countries are already on step two, so if we want America to be an important player in the energy market a hundred years from now we have to start playing catch up. I think we can do it if we stop letting politics get in the way of things that really need to get done. I fear this might be too much to ask for.

There Is No God (And You Know It)

Someone posted this old article on /r/atheism on Reddit today. It's Sam Harris and it's from the Huffington Post in 2005. Read the entire piece here. It's short and well written, like Harris' other works. Here are a couple excerpts.

On what atheism is:

"The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious."

In reference to the "people of faith" that died during Hurricane Katrina:

"Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: these poor people spent their lives in the company of an imaginary friend."

Why atheists can be the most humanistic and compassionate people:

"Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is -- and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all."

How Are We Not Outraged?

We have been hearing about this oil spill in the Gulf for almost two months now, and I just realized that I am furious about it. Up until now I have been reacting like I normally do to the news. I shake my head and scoff at the failure of our politicians, the corruption of government regulations, and the greed of CEOs and shareholders.

When I first heard about the spill I thought, “Wow! That sucks. They better get that taken care of soon. I’m sure they will.” I was fucking wrong. Seriously, how are we not outraged? People should be rioting outside BP’s US headquarters in Houston. I mean fucking rioting! Would rioting make the oil spill stop? No, but it might make us feel a little better.

I still see people buying gas at BP stations. WTF?!?!? Have they not been listening to the fucking news? How could you voluntarily give your money to a corporation that is single-handedly destroying the ecosystem in the Gulf? AAAAHHHHH!!!!!

What can we do about this?


Reddit Find - "Sorry atheist ladies. No luck for you."

I'm sure they're all very upset about it.

Observations at Church

I had to go to church on Saturday for my wife's friend's wedding.  A Roman Catholic church to be exact.  Here are a few observations:

1) For a Roman Catholic church, it was quite modest.  It is surrounded by trees and large sections of the walls are glass.  You seem almost to be in the forest yourself.

2) It is fucking scary listening to people recite prayers or saying things in unison.  It's like they've all been brainwashed into some sort of crazy cult...oh, wait...nevermind.

3) The one part of mass that I actually really like is the "peace."  If you are not familiar with Catholic mass (I'm not sure if other sects do this) at some point during the service everyone turns to the people around them, shakes hands, and says, "Peace be with you."  I think this is great.  Strangers turning to strangers and wishing each other peace in their lives.  People really do seem sincere when they do this, and it is not necessarily a religious act.  I would like to experience that more.

4) Church etiquette for an atheist or non-Christian:  When everyone rises for some reason, I rise.  I don't do any of the praying or the crossing or anything, but I stand to be polite.  When everyone kneels to pray, I just stay seated.  There's no way I'm getting down on my knees for anyone. (insert gay joke here)

What do you think?

What a Jackass

Yesterday we had an assembly at school 9th period (the last period).  I appreciated this because 1) the auditorium is air conditioned and 2) because the auditorium is near the main entrance/exit.  Once the final bell rang, I bolted out the front door to my car, hoping to beat the buses and traffic on the LIE.  I get to the Northern State on the Sunken  Meadow and there's fucking traffic already!  It's only 2:30, what the fuck?

Then I see this asshole:

I guess he didn't see the myriad of signs stating that commercial vehicles are prohibited on the parkways and that there are low bridges.  He also failed to notice the sign right before the bridge (you can see it just to the right of the trailer) that says the bridge is only 11'6".

It's a good thing this happened so early.  I bet the road was cleared within an hour, in time for the normal cluster-fuck on a Friday afternoon.

Oh! One time on the way home from college I sat in traffic for about two hours on the Cross Island Parkway, which is only 10 miles long, because some jackass rented a U-Haul and got stuck in the underpass at the Southern State.  Some people...

Patchogue-Ecuadorian Relations

A lot of people have heard about the 2008 murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue, NY, my home town. It was on CNN, the NY Times, lots of places. The event shined a light on the anti-Hispanic sentiment that is common on Long Island. Recently the ring leader of the Patchogue-Medford High School students who went out looking to beat up "Mexicans" was sentenced to 25 years for 1st degree manslaughter.

But that's not what this post is about. In this week's issue of The Long Island Advance there was an article about the Mayor of Lucero's home town, Gualaceo, coming to Patchogue. Marco Tapia Jara met with the mayor of Patchogue Village, Paul Pontieri, and Deputy Mayor Steve McGiff. Mr. Jara also traveled around the village and had a chance to meet with some of the many immigrants from Ecuador.

Mr. Jara said, "The people here are very grateful. We can say our villages are alike. This gives us the idea that Patchogue welcomes harmony." I am not quite sure about that, myself, but it is nice to hear this sentiment from a visitor. Mr. Jara was also able to reunite with his brother and sister who left Ecuador for Long Island when he was young.

Mr. Pontieri is planning on visiting Gualaceo soon to visit Lucero's home town.

I think this is a great way to share culture and ideas, and hopefully to promote tolerance. Although, the mayors of the towns are obviously already tolerant. Perhaps there should be an exchange program for young people in Patchogue and Gualaceo to see learn about each other's lives.

Mr. Jara continued, "The politicians from the village of Patchogue support the families of Ecuador. We have confidence in Patchogue. From my heart I have a feeling of happiness."

Atheist Blogs

I definitely need to spend more time browsing the many great blogs on the Atheist Blogroll, but I have recently found a few blogs that look really cool. Rather, they found me.

Laughing in Purgatory: It's all about Atheism, parenting, and comedy.

This blog has only been around for a few months, but it is updated regularly. Andy runs the site, and it is interesting and funny. I'll be adding this to my new Atheist RSS feeds.

Sober Without Gods:An oasis of free thought and expression for those who seek to live a sober life based on reality & rationality with the support of people who've been there.

This is another new blog, and I really like the idea of it. Fortunately I don't have any problems with drugs or alcohol, but even so I always resented the 12 step programs for excluding atheists and nonbelievers. Apparently AA is bullshit anyway (see Ed's post here) but it still pisses me off.

Atheist Revolution:Breaking free from irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism in America

This blog is amazing. Vjack has been running this site since 2005 and it's really well organized and written. One of the things I really like about the site is that Vjack enjoys giving advice to new bloggers, and there are a lot of tips and suggestions for improving your blog and getting more traffic. Better yet, the advice it tailored to atheist bloggers. Needless to say I'll be spending the next couple of evening perusing the Revolution.

As always, check the Atheist Blogroll for these and other great sites by and for atheists.

Bible for Atheists: Genesis 21 & 22

Genesis 21

Not much happens in this chapter. Sarah bears Abraham a son, Isaac. Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael out of his camp at the request of Sarah. Hagar and Ishmael are dying of thirst in the wilderness but the angel of god came to them and showed them where to find water. Again god says that he will make a great nation of Ishmael.

I think this is interesting because it confirms to Jews and Christians that their god is also the god of Muslims, and that they are a legitimate Abrahamic religion.

Genesis 22

This chapter is a real doozy. It exhibits one of the worst aspects of religion. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac and Abraham obeys without question. Of course, when Abraham gets Isaac on the altar and is preparing to kill him the angel of god stops him. It was all a test to see if Abraham “feared” god.

This is a prime example of how religion is bad for humanity. People will commit crimes, murder included, because it is “commanded by god” or in the name of god. This chapter of the bible teaches us that this is good. The command of god is more important, even, than our very own children.

This world would be much better off if people cared first for their fellow man and second for their invisible god.

Stairway to Heaven

I was camping this weekend and Ramble On came on the iPod we were listening to. Ramble On, as you may know, has references to The Lord of the Rings:

“In the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, but Gollum and the evil one, crept up and slipped away with her.”

There are other references to The Lord of the Rings in the Led Zeppelin songs “The Battle of Evermore” and “Misty Mountain Hop” and some people believe “Stairway to Heaven” is also about LotR, but I read somewhere that the band denied that.

Even if the band wasn’t purposefully referencing The Lord of the Rings, listening to “Stairway to Heaven” always makes me think about Tolkien’s world.

“In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings…”

This line alone would not make me think of LotR, but taken with the others I interpret this to be about Tom Bombadil. Tom is the songbird because he sings everything, and the “tree” is Old Man Willow because that is where the hobbits first encounter Tom.

“In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees…”

Smoke rings, as far as I know, don’t occur naturally. Bilbo and Gandalf smoke their pipe weed and blow smoke rings together in times of peace. This line sounds like some character longing for those relaxing days.

“…and the forests will echo with laughter.”

Makes me think of the Ents, but they don’t laugh much. Not that strong of an argument for this one.

“There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West, and my spirit is crying for leaving.”

In Tolkien’s mythology/history of Middle-Earth, the elves awoke in the east and traveling west, toward Valinor where the gods lived. The elves that remained in Middle-Earth, and those that traveled back from Valinor, have a spiritual urge to return. Around the time of The Lord of the Rings the time of elves is fading and the era of man is beginning. Indeed, in both the books and the movies we have scenes showing the mass exodus of Middle-Earth by the elves.