Built on Facts

Killing Time

As you’ve probably heard, ScienceBlogs is going to be silent for a day or two starting… 1pm today I think? I’m not sure, I don’t pay attention very well at our board meetings. And by board meetings I mean whatever happens to get posted on the internal message board. But apparently we’re upgrading the posting system (finally!) and that will help things run a lot more smoothly for us writers. I hear there’s even an equation editor, which I hope is true. Right now I have to typeset in LaTeX, render to png, save, upload, and write the img tag. Some automation will be nice. Eventually I hope to agitate the powers that be into enabling LaTeX in the comments as well so you can more easily write equations as well. Anyway, I think this means no posts tomorrow and/or maybe the next day. Everything is still visible, just read only both for us writers and the commenters. Everything’s expected to be done Saturday evening, but the announcement contained the phrase “until further notice” so take that under advisement.

Until then, there’s many other wonderful sites on this, the wide world of the internet. There the links to the right of course – I want to especially mention Swans on Tea because not long ago I wrote a post about leap seconds and completely forgot to mention that the writer of that site actually works for the USNO helping keep the time you and I all rely upon.

Via his site, I note this link which is a cause I’ve championed since I thought girls had cooties. Shortly put, fix your outside lights. Bad lighting makes the sky ugly, and runs up your electric bill unnecessarily to boot. Especially if you run high-intensity security lighting at your business, there’s some simple things you can do to reduce waste, glare, and light pollution without compromising safety at all. Give it a look!

I also just saw a featured new article on Wikipedia, about a lunatic masterpiece of physics and engineering. It’s called the Uno, and yes, I’d totally use it. It stands out in a crowd.

Also, here’s a very cool article from Bad Astronomy – a more or less real time view of an exploding star. There’s a throwaway comment at the end about relativity which provokes a discussion in the comments. I’m actually on the side that disagrees with Phil, but really it’s more of a difference in terminology than anything else. The velocity difference between us and any reasonable nearby star is pretty small next to c, and so we’re pretty much in the same reference frame. There’s nothing un-kosher about taking light travel time into account, and in fact failure to do so makes events at various locations difficult to keep in sequence. The photon itself experiences no time lag, but that’s immaterial as far as we’re concerned.

Congrats Florida on winning the BCS national championship. Will it make ESPN quit its frankly embarrassing love affair with the PAC-10? Of course not. But hey, that doesn’t detract from what Urban, Tim, and the rest have done. And let’s hope LSU is better next year. Much better.

A minor technical political point as well. Barack Obama is now the president-elect. He wasn’t until yesterday. The president is elected by the votes of the electoral college, which were certified by the senate Thursday. Here’s the video of it happening:

Notice the guy in charge of the proceedings: Dick Cheney, the President of the Senate. Biden’s VP debate grandstanding notwithstanding, in fact the only constitutional role of the VP is legislative in nature (barring the death of the president, of course). The VP presides over the senate, with the additional benefit of a vote in the event the senate ties. In practice presiding over the senate is deathly boring and isn’t all that meaningful, so the VPs delegate this task to a president pro tempore except during important ceremonial occasions such as this.

Regardless, I note it here because it’s an amazing thing to watch. Despite all the acrimony and fury of the last 8 years, we’re witnessing a peaceful transfer of the highest office just as we have for more than two centuries. That is something very few human beings have ever been able to say about their nations, and I count myself fortunate to be among them. Try to save any partisan commentary for later, by the way, because like probably everyone else on the internet I’m going to have a dedicated post for Bush retrospection and Obama anticipation.

That’s all folks. See you when the upgrade’s done!


  1. #1 Tualha
    January 11, 2009

    …barring the death of the president, of course…

    Or the president’s resignation, removal from office, or incapacity.

  2. #2 Matt Springer
    January 11, 2009

    True. Of those possibilities, death and resignation have been what’s happened so far. Incapacity has never been declared by the cabinet, but presidents have occasionally declared their own temporary disability during surgeries and that sort of thing, leaving the VP as acting president. Removal hasn’t yet happened.

    As an interesting technicality, the constitution designates the Chief Justice as the person who presides over presidential impeachment in the senate. The VP presides over all other impeachments – including theoretically his own. It’s a certainty that in the very unlikely chance this became an issue it would be challenged in court, but assuming the court follows a literal reading the VP would run the senate during his own trial. Not that this would make a difference; being the president of the senate doesn’t actually involve any real power other than the tiebreaking vote.

  3. #3 Donalbain
    January 12, 2009

    No.. Obama was the president elect before that. According to the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (Public Law 88-277), the President Elect and Vice President Elect are “persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the office of the President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained by the Administrator following the general elections held to determine the electors of the President and Vice-President in accordance with title 3, United States code, sections 1 and 2.”

  4. #4 Matt Springer
    January 12, 2009

    That seems to be for the purposes of facilitating a smooth transition. Normally though we’d take “[office]-elect” to mean that the candidate has been voted for and achieved the required number of votes. That didn’t technically happen until the electoral college votes were cast and confirmed.

    But it’s a point well taken!

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