January 19th, 2010

[LINK] "For sale: two space shuttles, slightly used"

The Independent has the news.

US space agency NASA is running its own January sale, cutting the price tag of two space shuttles from $42 to $28.8 million (€29.21 to €20.04 million).

Space Shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour will be available for delivery to "education institutions, science museums and other appropriate organizations" from July 2011. They are being retired this year as the US Space Shuttle program is halted in favor of a new space exploration program named Constellation.

NASA originally announced plans to sell the Space Shuttle Orbiters in December 2008, estimating the cost of making safe a shuttle, preparing it for display and transporting to a US airport at $42 million (€29.21 million). Since then, the agency has updated the tasks required, shaving six months and some 30 percent from the asking price.

[. . .]

NASA is also offering the main engines from retired space ships to a good home for no charge, according to reports in the US media. The engines were originally offered for $400,000 to $800,000 (€278,415 to €556,831), but lack of interest has reportedly forced NASA to scrap the charge. Any buyer with the funds to arrange transportation and handling of the three-ton engines can now take them off NASA's hands for free.

Responses must be sent to NASA by 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, and more information can be found on NASA's website.

[LINK] "Dieppe bilingual sign bylaw meets opposition"

I've frequently visited Dieppe as a shopper, and I've always been surprised at the lack of bilingual signage. New Brunswick's official English-French bilingualism is substantially a sham, I think, and it isn't English that's disadvantaged. Government intervention, in the form of a law mandating bilingual signs, doesn't upset me at all, although the part allowing French-only signs but not English-only ones does take me aback.

Dieppe's proposal to require all commercial signs to be bilingual or in French only ran into some opposition on Monday night at a special meeting

More than 100 people turned out for the special council meeting to discuss the reforms.

Many in attendance endorsed the concept of a bylaw that called for bilingual signs, but others chafed at the proposal of having French-only signs.

Ian Morris told the coucillors that he feels French-only signs are discriminatory.

"It's more like you're sticking it to the English people, you know we can do this and we're going to pass a law here that's going to be French only," Morris said.

Situated next to Moncton, Dieppe is the fastest growing francophone city in the province with a population of roughly 18,000. The two cities have become a retail hub for the Maritimes and even with that recent growth, the majority of commercial signs in Dieppe are still in English only.

[. . .]

Daigle read from a letter from Bud Bird, a former Progressive Conservative MLA and MP, who called Dieppe's actions a set back.

"I'm surprised that it has not been strongly opposed by New Brunswickers everywhere," the letter said.

Several francophone residents from Dieppe also complained about the provision that would allow for French-only signs.

Michel Carrier, the province's official languages commissioner, also sent a letter saying the French-only signs or even English-only signs should be allowed for cultural or social institutions that cater only to those groups, such as daycares, churches, radio stations or newspapers.

Tony English, a Dieppe resident, told the council he agreed with keeping the provision for allowing signs to appear in only one language in specific circumstances.

"I absolutely support the bilingual part of this bylaw. I just hope it's modified perhaps not to remove the French-only [provision] but to make it more explanatory," English said.

[LINK] Some Haiti links

  • mindstalk pointed me to this Matthew Yglesias post which made the point that before the earthquake, things were actually starting to look up for Haiti economically.

  • The Guardian carries the story of cruise ship visitors who are spending luxurious time in Haiti despite the crisis. Is it immoral or only bad optics for Haiti's only economic mainstay?

  • Joe. My. God lets his readers know how they can ship medicines to HIV-positive Haitians.

  • Marginal Revolution wonders why the footage from Haiti has been so graphic. Does it fit into a tradition of seeing Haiti as barbarous?

  • Finally, Douglas Todd makes the very salient point that American (and other) journalists who are covering Haiti shouldn't respond by simplistically invoking God (his mercy, his wrath) to respond to the catastrophe.

[LINK] Two Centauri Dreams links

  • First, the possibility of diamond oceans on Uranus and Neptune is broached.

  • Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley demonstrated about ten years ago that the high temperatures and pressures found inside planets like these can turn methane into diamond, and in fact that the diamonds settling into Neptune’s core could account for the excess heat radiated by the planet. Now a team led by Jon Eggert (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) has explored the conditions under which diamonds melt, and has shown that, like water, liquid diamond when freezing and melting produces solid forms atop liquid ones.

    To melt diamond requires high pressures, which has made measuring its melting point extremely difficult. But the pressures found inside gas giants, and the high temperatures that go with them, should be enough to do the job. This Discovery News story notes that Eggert’s team subjected a small diamond (about a tenth of a carat) to a laser beam, liquifying the diamond at pressures some 40 million times greater than at sea level on Earth. As they then reduced the temperature and pressure, solid chunks of diamond began to appear at about 11 million times sea level pressure with a temperature of some 50,000 Kelvin.

    The diamond chunks, like tiny icebergs, did not sink but floated. Eggert believes an ocean of liquid diamond could explain the fact that, unlike the relatively close match we find on Earth, the magnetic and geographical poles on Uranus and Neptune do not align, and can be offset by as much as 60 degrees from the north-south axis. Put an ocean of liquid diamond in just the right place and the magnetic field displacement makes more sense.

  • Second, the prospects for planet formation around Alpha Centauri B, the dimmer of the two Sun-like stars in the Alpha Centauri cluster, seem quite good.

  • Astronomers Ji-Wei Xie, Jian Ge (Nanjing University, China) and Ji-Lin Zhou (University of Florida) have created a series of simulations to estimate how long it takes planetesimals embedded in a protoplanetary disk to accrete into planetary embryos. This is rapidly becoming the key issue. What we know so far is that the mass upper limit of a planet in this system is 2.5 Jupiter masses around Centauri A and 3.5 Jupiter masses around Centauri B. That leaves us with the possibility of lower-mass planets if this system will allow planetary embryos to form. The problem is that most simulations have assumed a disk of such embryos as the starting point and have followed planet development from that point.

    [. . .]

    Ji-Wei Xie and team reopen the case by extending Thébault’s work to include the effect of binary inclinations. They develop a new model tested through simulation to study whether the zone from 0.5 to 2.5 AU around Centauri B may allow planets to form. The simulations vary the gas-disk density as well as the binary inclination and work with variables like planetesimal mass distribution, impact rate and the fraction of accreting collisions to come up with a conclusion: Planetesimal accretion into planetary embryos takes significantly longer in this binary environment than around single stars, which does not favor the formation of gas giant planets, but the formation of smaller, terrestrial worlds is possible.

    I love modern astronomy. In case you didn't already know.

    [BRIEF NOTE] On physical stereotypes and sexual orientation and Shakespeare

    A recent feature in Details magazine, Simon Dumenco's "Is This A Gay Face I See Before Me? "

    If William Shakespeare were alive today, a couple of things would be certain. Gawker commenters would be linking his name with gossip-column blind items ("What married wordsmith was seen canoodling with another man at The Box?"). And Perez Hilton would be scrawling pearl necklaces onto his paparazzi shots. Not just because of his famously homoerotic sonnets but because Shakespeare seems to have had—let's be blunt here—a serious case of gayface.

    We have this from no less an authority than the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, which in March unveiled a newly discovered portrait some historians think might be of the Bard. "This Shakespeare is handsome and glamorous, so how does this change the way we think about him . . . and his sexuality?" wondered a statement from the trust to the press. In other words: "Gayface!" (the new way of saying "Dude looks totally gay!"). Which suggests that the contemporary compulsion to pin down sexual identity has no limits, not even the grave. Because somehow it's important to us to think we "can just tell" that even guys who have been dead for 400 years were gay.

    [. . .]

    The Bard is a rather obvious magnet for gay rumors—and not just because he wore tights and was in the theater. There is the matter of his queer circle, says London gay-culture historian Rictor Norton: "If Shakespeare was as good-looking as this portrait demonstrates, then it is easy to see why he attracted the attention of his first patron, Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton"—a reputed dabbler in manly hookups. But, Norton adds, "we should not read the subject of the portrait as gay because of a certain softness about the eyes or whatever."

    Or wait—maybe we should. "It appears that Shakespeare's eyebrows are higher here than in others of his portraits," says Nicholas Rule, a researcher at Tufts University's Interpersonal Perception & Communication Lab. "Women have a greater distance between their eyes and brows than men do"—and on a guy, those lofty brows might be subconsciously perceived as "gay." (Quick, somebody measure Ryan Seacrest's brow rise!) Rule adds that "the corners of his mouth are not turned down, as in some other portraits of him, which gives the hint of a smile." And subtly smiley portraits—think the Mona Lisa—suggest femininity.

    This sort of thing is entirely convincing to me. It's a well-known fact that queer men are able to pick out other queer men on the basis of small differences from the heteronormative norm, in language or in gestures or in clothing. At least, they are able to do so with men in the same culture; men in other cultures, now, are more tricky. The past is another country . . .

    So, do you think that he was, y'know? The sonnets are famously homoerotic and all.

    [CAT] "2,000-year-old temple dedicated to cat goddess found in Egyptian port city of Alexandria"

    I'm pleased that Bastet had more devotees for longer than we thought. The scene from Sandman featuring an emaciated, neglected Bastet longing for offerings saddened me.

    Archaeologists have unearthed a 2,000-year-old temple that may have been dedicated to the ancient Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet, the Supreme Council of Antiquities said Tuesday.

    The ruins of the Ptolemaic-era temple were discovered by Egyptian archaeologists in the heart of the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C.

    The city was the seat of the Greek-speaking Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled over Egypt for 300 years until the suicide of Queen Cleopatra.

    The statement said the temple was thought to belong to Queen Berenice, wife of King Ptolemy III who ruled Egypt in the 3rd century B.C.

    Mohammed Abdel-Maqsood, the Egyptian archaeologist who led the excavation team, said the discovery may be the first trace of the long-sought location of Alexandria's royal quarter.

    The large number of statues depicting Bastet found in the ruins, he said, suggested that this may be the first Ptolemaic-era temple dedicated to the cat goddess to be discovered in Alexandria.

    This would indicate that the worship of the ancient Egyptian cat-goddess continued during the later, Greek-influenced, Ptolemaic period, he said.

    Now, off I go to cuddle with my Shakespeare. Present-day cats need extra care.