Friday, June 30, 2006

Latest Wage-Slavery Organization Softball Update.

Hola Nighthawks,

We are back on the winning track again after last night’s 16-2 victory over Mercer Roadkill at Cornell’s. We scored early and often, and played tight defense throughout the game. The win now puts us at 4-2 on the season.

On offense, we scored three runs in the first inning, capped off by Dave Hall’s inside-the-park home run. We added five more runs in the second, with Mike “I Should Get a Pair of Cleats” Blumberg’s opposite field triple one of the highlights. That was quickly followed by Damon Calzaloia turning a sure double into a single when he neglected to touch first base on his initial attempt to round the bag. We dented the plate two more times in the fourth, three times in the sixth, and three more times in the seventh to round out the scoring.

Dave Hall, Keith Cantara, Gary “GB” Bastarache, Mike Blumberg and Lisa Mammone scored two runs each. Randy Pendexter, Brian Labossiere, Jesse Grater, Damon Calzaloia, Dario Palombo and yours truly each scored once.

Fact: Arnold John “Jigger” Statz was a small, speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who played parts of eight seasons in the major leagues from 1919-1928. He played for the New York Giants, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Brooklyn Dodgers. His best year in the majors was his 1923 season with the Cubs. Statz batted .319 with 10 homers, 70 RBI, 29 stolen bases, led the National League in times at bat (655), was second in hits (209) and fifth in runs (110) and total bases (288). Among outfielders, he tied for the league lead in double plays (7) and was second in putouts (438) and assists (26). His big league career average was .285 in 683 games.

Well big deal right? Why, you ask, am I typing stuff about a 1920s outfielder with minimal power who had a short major league career? Well, here is, to steal a line from Paul Harvey, the rest of the story…

Statz was one of the greatest minor league players of all time. He was with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League in 1920-21, 1925-26 and from 1929-42. He did not play for any other minor league team. Statz holds all of the longevity records in the PCL: Most games, 2,790; most times at bat, 10,657; most runs (1,996), most hits (3,356), most total bases (4,405), most singles (2,564), most doubles (595), most triples (137), and was second in stolen bases (466); and for outfielders, most putouts (6,872), most assists (263) and the most chances accepted (7,135). By way of comparison, Willie Mays is the major league record holder for putouts by an outfielder with 7,095 in 2,992 career games with the Giants and Mets from 1951-1973.

He had more 200-hit seasons (11) than any other player in minor league history. Among all minor league batters he ranks fourth in career runs and sixth in career hits. His best year was probably 1926, when he batted .354 in 199 games, leading the league in hits (291), doubles (68) and triples (18) and tying for second in runs (150). He led PCL outfielders in fielding (.997) and putouts (577), making only two errors in 604 total chances.

Statz was also part of the legendary Angels team of 1934 that was probably the greatest minor league team ever. They won 137 games and lost just 50. Due to the length of the season (188 games that year), the league standings were split into two halves. The Angels won the first half with a 66-18 record, and also won the second half with a 71-32 record. The second place Vernon Tigers went 105-83 to finish an astonishing 31.5 games behind the Angels. The Angels were so good that the 1934 playoffs ended up being a match between the Angels and a PCL All-Star team that featured Vince DiMaggio (Joe and Dominic’s older brother) Buzz Arlett, Ox Eckhardt and Smead Jolley (all PCL Hall of Famers) to name but a few. The Angels beat the All-Stars four games to two.

Statz, who later managed the Angels after retiring as an active player, when combining his major league time with his PCL time, played in 3,473 professional games. His total of 4,093 hits is surpassed by only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose.

GB was handed the pitching duties and kept things moving at a brisk pace. He kept the pitch count low, and the Roadkillers were off balance most of the time against him. The defense was excellent behind GB. Randy Pendexter made several over the shoulder catches while roaming from shortstop into short left field. He and Kathy Cantara combined for a nice double play on a grounder hit toward the middle to end one Roadkill rally. Mike Blumberg made a nice play on a popup behind the plate at catcher. Dave Hall and Keith Cantara held down the fort in left and left-center. GB also helped himself out by making good plays on several balls hit back up the middle. Mike Rose played third and finished the game on the mound, and also punked us in the outfield when he agreed to let one of their guys hit the girls ball. Result: A rocket way over Keith in deep left-center for a triple. Hey Rositi, there’s nothing wrong with a little gamesmanship in a blowout, but let the rest of us in on the deal next time, okay?!?

View From the Bar: Cornell’s was packed as we went inside for some much-needed refreshment. The early part of the festivities was taken up with me trying to explain the meaning of “Batta Please!” to Dario. The ump, at the start of every half-inning, would announce “batter please” instead of the traditional “batter up” or whatnot. Brian and Keith were on top of it, and we relived the famous skits from both the Chris Rock Show and Chappelle’s Show segments that hit on some less than subtle variations on the theme that mocked the “Nuttin Honey” cereal ads that were popular a few years ago.

After a bit, it turned out that one of the ladies from the local womens league was having a birthday, and her teammates provided a cake. After helping to sing “Happy Birthday” very badly, GB and I went over for a sample of cake, and stayed long enough to see one of the gifts, a new driver, the sight of which compelled someone to say “nice shaft”.

We then rejoined the crew and watched as the Red Sox overcame a 2-1 deficit to beat the Mets 4-2 for their 12th straight win (nice catch Coco!). But speaking of birthdays, today is GBs birthday. Don’t forget to wish him a happy one if you see him today.

Oh, for those of you in conversation with Mr. Hall, duck when you answer a question that concerns events that are common knowledge, but momentarily have everyone stumped. The matter in question involved, as closely as I can paraphrase Dave, “one of the Sox who got hurt at second”. Both Keith and I were stumped, which seemed to agitate Mr. Hall. I was about to ask him if he could be a little more vague when I suddenly remember that Gabe Kapler popped his Achilles tendon last September rounding second base in Toronto, so I quickly gave that answer, and was just as quickly swatted in the shoulder by the enthusiastic Mr. Hall.

Friday Morning Random Ten:
Death Alley Driver, Rainbow
Walking to Babylon, The Angels
Life on Earth, Jack Bruce and Robin Trower
Muddy’s Gold, Chocolate Box
Gates of Urizen, Bruce Dickinson
Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love, Santana with Los Lonely Boys
Material Eyes, Pat Travers
Our Truth, Lacuna Coil
American Witch, Rob Zombie
Limbo, Westworld

Special thanks to everyone for your expressions of concern about my father. I appreciate it very much.

That seems to be all for now. The next action appears to be a doubleheader at the Medway VFW against the Berzerkers and the Bar Tab Legends on Thursday July 6th.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sky and Telescope Tuesday! Summer Solstice Catch-Up Time. Quick Red Sox Update.

Hola Amigos,

I'm back again after another unexpected absence, again to attend to family matters. For now, these matters are somewhat stable, so I'm taking advantage of the lull to update this blog for all six of you who keep screaming at the lack of recent posts.

Quick Hits: Happy Summer Solstice Eve. For we northern hemisphere dwellers, Sol marks its northernmost point in its apparent journey along the Ecliptic tomorrow morning, June 21st, at 8:26 AM EST. Conversely, this means it is the beginning of winter for my mates in Australia.

The Red Sox are, somehow, in first place by two games. This despite having been swept, then having swept two teams in back-to-back series in which both opponents had similar won-lost records going into each set of games. Oh yes, and they started last night's series with the Washington Nationals by starting a pitcher they claimed off of waivers from the KANSAS CITY ROYALS! Well, woonchanoit, but Kyle Snyder, he of the two (2) wins versus nine (9) losses career record with a 6.55 earned run average, managed to get the win in last night's 6-3 victory with five innings of mediocre (three runs allowed), but occasionally brilliant (six strikeouts) curve balls. Oh yes, Manny Ramirez launched his 18th homer of the year off of 211 centimeter (6-foot-11) pitcher Jon Rauch. The homer was Manny's 453rd career bomb that moved him past former Sox great Carl Yastrzemski. The series with the Nationals continues at Fenway park this evening.

Glenn Hughes and Edenbridge are scheduled to deliver us some new releases, and once I get my copies of their new CDs in my hands I'll spend some time at the keys detailing their merits. Now, on to the neat stuff...

Below are two excerpts from the friendly folks at Sky and Telescope. The first deals with the possibility that planets made of mostly carbon nay exist in orbit around a neighboring star, while the second hints that Native Americans may have depicted the supernova of 1006 AD in rock art.

Carbon Planets?

June 8, 2006 Exotic planets, dense with diamonds and graphite, might be forming around a nearby star. Astronomers announced this week that the disk around the young star Beta Pictoris is brimming with carbon, raising the possibility that abnormally carbon-rich planets might be forming there.

The rocky planets in our solar system are made mostly of silicate minerals such as quartz and feldspar. But last year, Marc Kuchner (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center) and Sara Seager (Carnegie Institution of Washington) presented models showing that silicate planets aren't the only possibility. If the protoplanetary disk from which planets form has more carbon than oxygen, then planets based on carbon minerals would be the norm.

Now, a team studying spectra from NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) satellite has found just such a disk. The well-studied debris disk that surrounds Beta Pictoris has almost 9 times more carbon than oxygen; whereas the Sun has only half as much carbon as oxygen. The roughly 12-million-year-old Beta Pictoris system is just 63 light-years from Earth, and has long been considered the classic example of an evolving young planetary system. But the extraordinary amount of carbon has researchers wondering how typical it actually is.

Aki Roberge (NASA/Goddard), who led the FUSE team, suggests that this disk might represent another kind of planetary system. Rocky planets in such a system would be distinctly different from Earth, and not just because the crust would be made of graphite (i.e., pencil lead) and studded with diamonds.

"Imagine a planet where water and oxygen are extremely scarce but compounds like methane, propane, butane, tar, and soot are all available in abundance," says Kuchner. "Life would be very strange on a carbon world."

Oh shit, don't let George W. Bush read this. He'll want to mount an intersteallar glider brigade to confiscate all that oil. On second thought, George Bush reading Sky and Telescope is as likely an event as me taking Jessica Alba on a Vegas vacation...

But carbon planets aren't the only possibility for Beta Pictoris. Roberge's team speculates that, alternatively, the Beta Pictoris disk might represent a carbon-rich phase that all planetary systems undergo — including ours. "Beta Pictoris could be like a time machine, offering us a glimpse of our solar system in its infancy," says Roberge.
If so, Roberge says she would expect to find other debris disks that are just as carbon-rich. Her team has only studied Beta Pictoris with FUSE so far; however, astronomers know of many more young disks that can be studied.

But if our solar system was just as carbon-rich in its youth, where did all the carbon come from – and where did it go? Conel Alexander, a cosmochemist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, thinks asteroids and comets might be to blame. A debris disk is a particularly violent place, where asteroids and comets routinely collide. The collisions literally knock the carbon-rich gas out of them, leaving excess carbon in a system with otherwise silicate planets. Strong stellar winds might have then swept away the excess carbon over millions of years.

Astronomers find evidence for this scenario in primordial dust particles in our solar system. Some of these dust grains retain their ancient carbon, suggesting that our system once had much more carbon. "But, nevertheless, these dust particles are not carbon-rich enough to explain the composition of the gases that we see in Beta Pictoris," says Alexander. "We need to consider a more exotic explanation."

Roberge and her team, who published their results in the June 8th Nature, suspect that new instruments will be needed to further explore the carbon-rich disk around Beta Pictoris, and to hunt for more. They speculate that the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, which may or may not be added to the Hubble Space Telescope, or the Atcama Large Millimeter Array, to be completed in Chile in 2012, will be sensitive enough to study the carbon-rich gas in detail.
"Maybe Beta Pictoris is a glimpse of our own solar system," says Kuchner. "Or maybe it's telling us about the starling variety of other kinds of planetary systems that might be out there."

I'm not as well trained as these folks, but it seems to me that our sun, as an older star, and its original nebula that eventually coalesced into the solar system, was made from "purer" stuff than the Beta Pictoris system. That is, the Beta Pictoris system resulted from the gravitational attraction of materials from stellar explosions that contained heavier elements, like carbon, than did our system. That would explain some of what this article details.

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Native American Depiction of Supernova of 1006 AD?

June 6, 2006 Two astronomers have proposed that a rock carving found in the White Tanks Regional Park, north of Phoenix, Arizona, may represent the supernova of AD 1006. If true, the carving would be the oldest known Native American record of a supernova, and the only known record of Supernova 1006 in the New World.

The carving shows a star-like object hovering above a scorpion symbol, which John Barentine (Apache Point Observatory) and Gilbert Esquerdo (Planetary Science Institute) interpret as the supernova appearing near the constellation Scorpius.

Supernova 1006 was one of the brightest in recorded history, visible in mid-day and prompting astronomers in Europe, Eastern Asia, and the Middle East to record its appearance and evolution. Barentine argues that the Hohokam tribe, which lived in the White Tanks area at the time of the supernova, also recorded the event. The supernova reached magnitude –7.5, about 15 times brighter than Venus.

However, despite media reports, leading archaeoastronomers remain highly skeptical. "Having looked at the White Tanks rock art panel, I am appalled," says Edwin C. Krupp, Director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and author of Archaeoastronomy and the Roots of Science. "Panels like this are not rare. There is no reason to link it to any supernova event. There is nothing persuasive about the imagery to support the extraordinarily detailed claim. The authors say nothing about all of the other imagery on the boulder and select two details for their discussion. These two details are in themselves dubiously interpreted."

"This Supernova 1006 petroglyph interpretation is nothing but assumptions and wishful thinking," he adds. Barentine admits that his conclusions are highly speculative. "The conclusion really hinges on whether this is supposed to represent a group of stars in the sky, and not an animal," he says.

In an effort to answer that question, Barentine and Esquerdo modeled what the night sky would have looked like at the White Tanks site on May 1, 1006, when the supernova first appeared. Both the supernova and Scorpius are visible above the horizon.

Still, experts doubt that the carving represents the supernova event, arguing that the star symbol could in fact represent the Sun, and the scorpion symbol could represent an actual scorpion — or something else entirely.

"We have no reason to think prehistoric Indians of the American Southwest saw a scorpion in the stars of Scorpius," says Krupp. "In fact, in North America, the stars of Scorpius are imagined as various figures but not as a scorpion."
"[The symbol] hardly resembles our constellation of Scorpius, much less anything we know about anybody else's," says Anthony Aveni
(Colgate University), a leading author on ancient astronomy in the Americas. "Color me highly unconvinced."

I hate to call "bullshit" on Krupp, but of all the constellations, Scorpius is one of the few that actually resembles that for which it is named. Besides, the little buggers are everywhere in this region. So why the naysaying?

The White Tank petroglyph is not the first Native American rock carving to arouse debate in the archaeoastronomy community. In 1973, a team of researchers proposed that a carving of a crescent moon and a star at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico might represent the supernova of AD 1054. The claim has elicited debate that continues to this day.

"I am a supernova skeptic," says Aveni. "Anthropologist Florence Hawley Ellis gave a very ethnohistorically well documented explanation of rock carvings with crescent and star: they are Sun watchers stations and what one is seeing depicted are the crescent moon and [an evening] star low in the west after sunset."

"No alleged rock art depiction of the AD 1054 supernova is either conclusive or persuasive," adds Krupp. "Very plausible alternate interpretations for these are available."

Barentine presented a poster on the White Tanks petroglyph yesterday, at the summer meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Calgary, Alberta. He plans on submitting it to a peer-reviewed journal soon.

If "very plausible alternate interpretations for these are available", then why didn't Krupp cite them? Again, I hate to call bullshit on the man, but it appears to me that he might be on the wrong side of this issue. Krupp writes a wonderful monthly column for Sky and Telescope called Rambling Through the Skies that occasionally touches on topics like this one, and he is usually very good at refining the information he has researched. I'll be following this story to see if Krupp develops any reasons to change his mind, or, if he can present evidence to back up his unusual certitude about his current stance.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Happy 6/6/06! New Class of Sub-stellar Objects Discovered.

Hola Amigos. Happy 6/6/06. The trembling numerologists in the audience will have their twisted pre-conceived notions about demonic significance confirmed by my playing a mix of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, Slayer and Candlemass CDs at my wage-slavery containment facility. Hey, what can I say? Those guys effing ROCK!!! And no, I do NOT plan on seeing the updated Omen movie. The first one was bad enough. Besides, my personal library houses volumes that are MUCH more frightening than that crap.

Anyway, I'm back at the keys after an unplanned break to take care of some family business that suddenly arose. You can thank my worthy correspondent and fellow space enthusiast Em Jeigh for the tip on the following story that features a new class of object, neither star, nor planet, but probably not a brown dwarf either. The interesting thing about these objects is that they appear to be independent bodies that have smaller bodies orbiting them. Excerpt:

Planet-like objects floating alone through space harbor disks of material that could make other planets or moons, something like miniature versions of our solar system, astronomers said today. What exactly to call any of these objects and systems is up in the air, however.

In one new study, six objects ranging in heft from five to 15 times the mass of Jupiter were observed. None are bound to stars. All are young and have disks of gas and dust
that resemble disks found around young stars. Our own Sun had such a disk, out of which asteroids, comets and planets formed, theorists say.

The scientists involved in the new research are calling the objects "planemos," short for planetary mass objects that were born in the manner of stars and do not orbit normal stars.

"Now that we know of these planetary mass objects with their own little infant planetary systems, the definition of the word 'planet' has blurred even more," said study leader Ray Jayawardhana from the University of Toronto.

Observations at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile revealed infrared radiation from the dust disks. There are no conventional photographs of the objects. The results of this and a second, related study are being presented today at the 208th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Calgary.

The new observations were of objects previously identified in work led by Katelyn Allers, then at the University of Texas at Austin. Allers used data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The discoveries are not the first of their kind, however.

Last year, a group led by Kevin Luhman at Penn State found
an isolated object about eight times the mass of Jupiter with an apparent disk of gas and dust. In a telephone interview today, Luhman said he prefers to use the term brown dwarf for all large, gaseous objects that are not orbiting normal stars. Brown dwarfs are generally considered to be much bigger than Jupiter but not massive enough to jumpstart thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen, the process that powers real stars and makes sunlight.

"I don't use the term planetary mass object," Luhman said. "They are really just brown dwarfs."

To understand the difference of opinion, one must first hear about the second new study, which further complicates the definitions.

In the other study, Subhanjoy Mohanty of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and colleagues looked at another so-called planemo and found evidence for a dust disk. The object, named 2M1207b, was discovered
in 2004 and controversially hailed then as providing the first picture of an extrasolar planet.

While clearly of planetary weight, at about eight times as massive as Jupiter, 2M1207b orbits a brown dwarf. Researchers suspect both objects formed at once by condensing out of an interstellar cloud of material—exactly how binary star systems are thought to form and unlike the typical process of planet birth.

The brown dwarf is about 25 times the mass of Jupiter but still only about 8 percent as massive as our Sun. Like all brown dwarfs
, it burns deuterium (which means it is at least 13 to 15 times the mass of Jupiter) but lacks enough heft to force thermonuclear fusion.

Jayawardhana, who worked on this study too, said: "It is quite likely that smaller planets or asteroids could now form in the disk around each one."

By using the term planemo, the researchers are purposely avoiding the debate over whether 2M1207b and the free-floating objects should be called planets. "Whether you call it a planet or not depends on your definition of the word 'planet,' whether it's a definition based on mass or one based on formation scenario," Jayawardhana told "In any case, we have chosen to call it a planetary mass companion, rather than getting into a debate about how to define a planet."

Such a definition is the responsibility of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which in recent years has been working—so far unsuccessfully
—to draft language that defines planets both big and small.

If a planemo is a planetary mass object, however, then why are Jayawardhana and his colleagues describing the setups they've found as miniature solar systems rather than miniature Jovian

"You can perhaps describe it as a big Jovian system too," he said. "The reason we describe [them] as mini-solar systems is because the central objects probably formed more like stars than like planets."

Luhman, the Penn State astronomer, doubts the IAU will adopt the term planemo. He said it is so difficult to pin down the masses of these things that distinguishing between a planetary mass object and a certain brown dwarf is very challenging. It makes more sense, he said, to call them all brown dwarfs if they formed in isolation and are not true stars.

Whatever the terminology, the findings suggest a whole new world of cosmic possibilities. "The diversity of worlds out there is truly remarkable," Jayawardhana said. "Nature often seems more prolific than our imagination."

Had enough? Let's recap: A brown dwarf is a radiating object that is more massive than Jupiter, but not as massive as the least massive red dwarf, say Proxima Centauri for example. However, brown dwarves do not radiate enough energy to burn hydrogen like normal stars.

This story reminds me of the "controversy" that popped up a few years ago when dozens of KBOs (Kuiper Belt Objects) were found orbiting the Sun at distances beyond Pluto's orbit. Some of the objects were a bit larger than Pluto (which is about half the size of Earth's moon), but some astronomers hedged on whether to call them planets or not. If memory serves, one noted astronomer even went so far as to suggest that Pluto be stripped of it's planetary title and relegated to being "King of the KBOs", which, as I just illustrated, it clearly is not.

In any event, I'm staying out of the naming nonsense and grooving with the idea of a new class of objects out there to tease the imagination. As Mr. Jayawardhana said at the end of the story: Nature often seems more prolific than our imagination." Okay, so it's not as cool as Clarke's "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine", but it will do for now.

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