The Messier catalog is weird

5 02 2011

Charles Messier was a French astronomer who lived from 1730 to 1817. He was a comet hunter. In the process of cataloging comets, he frequently stumbled across objects that, to him, initially appeared to be comets. He compiled a list of 110 of these objects, which is now called the Messier catalog.


M31 - Andromeda Galaxy

These Messier objects are now well known to nearly all astronomers. Most of these are spiral galaxies or globular clusters. M57, also known as the Ring Nebula, is a planetary nebula.

When I first learned about the Messier catalog and the reasons behind its creation, I was a little confused. Why would someone make a list of things they are not looking for? I suppose it makes sense that if you are committed to a somewhat repetitive mental task, you would want to make it easier for yourself to avoid common mistakes. That is the likely initial purpose of the catalog.

I suppose that through an 18th century telescope, it might be a little difficult to distinguish between a comet, a galaxy, a globular cluster, and a planetary nebula. While telescopes did enable astronomers to see deeper into space than they had in the centuries before, 18th century telescopes are put to shame by their 20th and 21st century counterparts.

Messier cataloged galaxies centuries before we knew what galaxies really were. It was not until the 1930’s that Edwin Hubble proved conclusively that they were, in fact, extragalactic objects and were millions of lightyears distant. In Messier’s time, people simply assumed that they were just nebulae.

Whatever the Messier catalog’s initial reasons for existing, it gives amateur and professional astronomers a great jumping off point for observing relatively nearby objects.


Initial impressions of Safari 4

26 02 2009

Apple released the Public Beta of version 4 of its Safari web browser on Tuesday. I like the new user interface. The tabs are now on the very top of the window. There is also a Cover Flow-like feature that will allow you to flip through previews of your bookmarks and history. There are a few things that I am not crazy about, too.

Safari 4 screenshotOne of the “features” that I am not too happy about are the tabs. I think that it is interesting to have the tabs on the top of the window, rather than having them below the address and bookmark bars. This is not necessarily something that I disapprove of, but it creates some confusion when working the UI. If I wanted to move a Safari browser window around in an earlier version, it is clear where I should click and drag: on the top bar of the window. With the tabs on top, the place to click becomes ambiguous. If I click on a given point within a tab, it could either allow to move that tab or move the entire window. I found that if I wanted to move a tab and one tab alone, that tab must be selected and then I must grab the handle on the right edge of that tab. I suppose Apple could change this, but since they seem to know what is best for everybody, they will not change it and try to pass it off as a feature, rather than a bug.

Something else that is not as terrible, but a little disconcerting, is the Stop/Refresh button. Now, it is no longer a “button,” in the traditional sense. It has been placed within the address bar, similar in style to the iPhone’s interface for its built in Safari browser. This was not as grievous a change as the tabs, but it can take some getting used to. If I had a say in the interface design, I would put the Stop/Refresh button back on the left-hand side of the address bar, where it is closer to the other controls. It is now isolated from the other buttons that I would typically use, such as Back, Forward, and Home. I realize that Apple is trying to mix design cues from its iPhone and Mac interfaces. I think that they are still figuring out what should go where and whether any of the iPhone UI design elements should be brought over to the Mac.

WP-screenshotThere is one bug that I found in the course of writing this blog post. When I tried to insert a link in, I highlighted the desired text and clicked on the “Hyperlink” button. It partially displayed the hyperlink dialog, grayed out the rest, and that particular tab became useless. I had to close that tab and reopen my draft. It was a minor inconvenience and expected for beta software, but the typical web user may not be as understanding. I suspect it has something to do with the new Nitro JavaScript engine that Apple has used.

As for speed, Safari 4 is blindingly fast. It’s noticeably faster on my old MacBook, which is running 10.4.11 on a 2.0 GHz Core Duo processor with 2 GB of RAM. As Apple has pointed out, and as I have confirmed for myself, Safari 4 has scored 100 out of 100 on the Acid3 Test. The Acid3 Test is a web standards-compliance test. Go test your own browser for yourself and see how it stacks up. To my knowledge, WebKit and Safari 4 are the only two available browsers with a perfect score on the Acid3 Test.

Overall, this is a great new version of Safari, but it could still use some work and is not quite ready for primetime.

A case for Indiana switching to Pacific time

30 10 2008

No, you not misread the title. I did imply Indiana should switch to Pacific time. Why? Why else would I suggest something this expensive and grandiose? Because it fits with my own selfish needs and desires. Hey, that’s why our own Governor, Mitch Daniels, got Indiana to adopt daylight savings time in 2006. But this blog post is not about Mitch Daniels and all the boneheaded moves he has made during his term as governor of Indiana. No, like many things, this is about me.

I have kind of a bizarre sleep schedule by Indiana standards. I go to bed around 2am. Wake up around nine or ten o’clock in the morning and then go about my day. I can get away with this because I work in the afternoon primarily and all of my classes are either in the late afternoon or early evening. I have taken flak for this, especially when I was in high school. Classes started at 7:30 in the morning, requiring me to be up by 6am. This made reconciling academic success with my sleep schedule highly problematic.

Recently, I came to a realization. To borrow a quote from Star Trek, “If there’s nothing wrong with me, then there must be something wrong with the universe!” I realized that I am not really a nocturnal person. I am actually a normal person who has been operating in a different time zone all along! So, when you go through my schedule again, it all makes sense. I go to bed around 11pm. Wake up around six or seven o’clock in the morning and then go about my day. For my Tuesday shift at work, I’m not showing up at 1pm, it’s really 10am. This morning, I a really early riser. I woke up at 4:30am (7:30am ET) and was at work by 7am. I am such a hard worker!

So my case is this, by switching to Pacific time, everyone will be three hours early. Of course, we can’t simply pass a law to make it official. No, leave all the office and classroom clocks alone. We should all operate on Eastern time, but think of it as Pacific time. That will carry people like a long, long way.

If you are confused, I understand. I cannot say I understand it entirely myself. Time zones have that effect on people. At least they’re good for the occasional bizarre blog post.

Weird milk jug

13 05 2008

Today, my mom bought a milk jug with a misprinted expiration date. Enjoy!