Saturday, March 6, 2010

134340 Pluto, and his little brother Charon


Pluto, formally known as a Planet, has been recategorized by the International Astronomical Union on August 24, 2006 as a dwarf planet. Although no longer considered an upstanding member of the solar system (to borrow a phrase from 2 Skinnee J's), Pluto is now the largest member of the Kuiper belt. So it's not all bad for Pluto. Rather than being the smallest fish in a sea filled with giants like Jupiter, Pluto is now the largest member of a smaller sea.

But what about Charon. Charon is the largest of Pluto's moons, or rather that's what Charon used to be. Since Pluto is no longer a planet, it's inaccurate to call Charon a moon, a nickname for natural satellites such as the Earth's Moon that orbit planets.

At times Charon was even referred to as a double planet with Pluto because of its size compared to Pluto, just over half the size of Pluto. Indeed, Charon and Pluto are so close that neither actually rotates around the other. Instead they are deadlocked in an icy stare, with the same surface of each always facing the other.

Charon even used to have the unique characteristic among moons of being the largest moon in the solar system proportional to the planet which it orbited.

But no more. When Pluto lost it's status as a planet, Charon lost it's moonhood. Charon is now just another member of the Kuiper belt, and will always be second fiddle to Pluto in that sea. Even the International Astronomical Union hasn't bothered to define Charon's status, though if Pluto gets to be a dwarf planet it seems obvious that Charon should have the same designation.

For now, all we can do is wait until July 2015 when NASA's New Horizons robotic spacecraft will arrive at the Pluto-Charon system. Maybe then Charon will get the recognition it deserves. Though it seems likely that Pluto will still be hogging the spotlight.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

DVDs are the Best Argument for Electric Cars

So the commercials for the new Nissan Leaf got me thinking about how far away we are from large scale conversion to electric cars (or some version of electric-motor-drive car, such as the hydrogen fuel cell cars we keep hearing about).

The arguments in favor are simple. While the internal combustion engine is relatively efficient it cannot be as efficient as large-scale energy generation just because of scale. Although, the power has to come from somewhere, plugging a car into your home outlet would be significantly more efficient (and therefore less polluting) in the long run than running a small-scale power station under your hood. Designing a car around a small (non-explosive) and quieter electric motor also provides infinite possibilities for improvement in safety, aesthetic and spacious design.

Contrarians that suggest the technology can't be advanced to the level of internal combustion engines (in terms of distances per charge, torque etc.) are obviously ignorant of the Tesla Roadster.

The only argument left against large-scale conversion is the cost of changing infrastructures. And in this respect we should learn a lesson from the DVD. DVDs, short for Digital Versatile Disc or Digital Video Disc, were introduced in the United States as a video format in March 1997. In less than 12 years, we not only have another potential format change (to Blu-Ray High Definition video discs), but the preferred video format prior to DVDs (VHS) are no longer produced in the United States for major film releases.

The infrastructure built to sell or rent VHS tapes (including all players, display materials, related marketing and delivery infrastructure, etc.) have all been replaced for the delivery of DVDs.

Although the scale of the economy is different in many ways (i.e. DVDs are far smaller than cars), the principle of updating or changing infrastructure is similar. If you think about it, how many 10 year old cars do you even see on the roads anymore? Tomorrow when you're driving to work, look around and think about what the world would be like if 10 years from now, that's how many internal combustion cars you saw.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Donuts & Coffee

I haven't posted here recently because I've been overwhelmed with a head cold and trying to get our new office website up and running. I am getting over the head cold, finally, and the new website is up and running, and now I have to figure out how I get back into my routine.

Having spent most of my waking hours over the last two weeks working on the new website, in order to get it out into the world as quickly as possible, I now have to figure out how to calm down. Filling your time with work for two weeks straight changes the way you look at the world, and makes it difficult to relax. When the website finally went live and was debugged (for the most part) by Saturday afternoon, I had to forcibly stop myself from reaching for the computer every ten minutes to do more work. Although, it's great that, as humans, we're able to adapt to different conditions so quickly, it's also dangerous it you value balance.

What's worse is that I can't figure out if my routine is so comforting, then why do I stray from it when I get sick or busy? Why did I start drinking coffee when I was sick and now am back to having no interest in it? Isn't it typical to look for comfort food when you're sick, not foods you typically dislike?

And this is how it all comes back to donuts. Donuts are a food I enjoy, when sick, busy or going about my normal routine. And it's important to have certain elements of your life that are centering, even if those elements themselves have no center.

We are constantly changing and adapting but the simple things, the constants (like donuts and loved ones) are the things that help keep us balanced, that drag us back from the edge of darkness (like 100 hour work weeks). So remember how important donuts are and check out our new family law and mediation website, with circle designs inspired by, you guessed it, donuts.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We are all living in a bubble.

The Solar System is protected by a helium and hydrogen bubble from cosmic radiation. Although scientists were previously aware of the existence of the heliosphere (the name for this bubble), they only recently discovered (or hypothesized depending on how you read the article) the bubble-like nature of the heliosphere, protecting our solar system on its journey through the universe.

The heliosphere is one of the many elements that allows our planet to sustain life in s safe and nourishing environment, and our knowledge of how it works is very recent and constantly being updated.

Some might say the existence of the heliosphere is evidence of a divine purpose. It could also be extraordinarily lucky, a statistical anomaly that among all the stars in the universe was bound to happen somewhere. Or it could be a typical characteristic of a solar system, something which just happens to coincide with sustainability of life, like heat and light.

Either way it is damn neat. It is amazing that our ecosystem depends on the smallest changes, that we live and die by molecules in our air and water. And it also depends on a bubble of protection that is so big it keeps cosmic radiation away from earth despite being 75 to 90 astronomical units from the sun (i.e. approx. 7 to 8.4 billion miles).

Although, the scale can be intimidating at times it can also be comforting. Thinking about how small we are in comparison to the size of our solar system or galaxy or universe, can make you feel insignificant: 1 of 6.7 billion instead of just 1.

But think of it the other way. There is a wall of hydrogen and helium that is 6 to 7 billion miles away that keeps cosmic radiation from reaching you (as well as everyone else), which means you are connected to and have something in common with everything inside that bubble. You are not just connected to the water you drink and the food you eat on earth, you are connected to every other body in the solar system, even the distant Pluto (albeit a tenuous connection given the International Astronomical Union's revocation of Plutos' planetary status).

That connection is so awe-inspiring that I hope Pluto and I can still be friends.