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Gary Hoggatt
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Once again: Science is awesome!
 
Many people were upset by the reclassification of Pluto as a "dwarf planet." But there was good reason for it: it turns out that there are a bunch of things in our Solar System about the size of Pluto, and Pluto isn't even the largest; Eris takes that crown, about 27% heavier than Pluto. (Although Pluto is slightly larger across)

So today, we list the members of our Solar System as being one star (the Sun), four gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), four rocky planets (Earth, Venus, Mars, and Mercury), five dwarf planets (Eris, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Ceres), and about 200 known potential dwarves. (There are also 182 known moons of these various planets, of which 19 are large enough that they would count as dwarf planets if they were in orbit around the Sun. Our own is the fifth-largest)

And in fact, it looks like a new dwarf planet may have been confirmed! New measurements of one of these candidates, (225088) 2007-OR₁₀ (known as "2007OR₁₀" for short), reveal that it's actually far bigger than was previously believed, but is simply dark enough that it was previously hard to see. In fact, it's actually the third-largest of the dwarves, covered (we suspect) in a steadily-changing surface of methane ice, and 1,535km across – a surface the size of Africa.

As its rather cryptic name suggests, 2007OR₁₀ was discovered in 2007, but hasn't even been studied enough to get a formal name yet. It's likely to get one soon; by the rules of the International Astronomical Union, as a trans-Neptunian planet it should be named for a god related to creation. (See https://www.iau.org/public/themes/naming/#dwarfplanets if you're curious about the detailed rules)

What's fascinating about this is that it highlights just how hard it is to see objects in our Solar System. Planets are only visible by the light they reflect from the Sun, or by their gravitational pull on other objects. If they aren't very reflective (like Eris, whose smooth, icy surface makes it the second-shiniest object in the Solar System; only Saturn's moon Enceladus is more reflective), or massive enough to see their gravitational pull felt across the immense distances of the outer Solar System (as only the gas giants are), then they are virtually invisible. We don't actually know how many dwarf planets we have, or how large the biggest of them are, especially once you get to the far outer reaches of the system where you would only spot an item by sheer chance.

Our discovery of planets is just beginning. Even as we are finally becoming able to see things smaller than the largest gas giants in other star systems – our catalogue of known exoplanets has 3,406 entries as of today – we can't even claim a decent catalogue of the smaller planets of our own system, because they hide in its vast deeps just like unknown species hide in the depths of our oceans.

You can see some useful lists of Solar System objects at the pages below, although note that they haven't yet been updated to include the larger size of 2007OR₁₀!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Solar_System_objects_by_size
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_natural_satellites
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwarf_planet
In a universe full of planets, 2007 OR10 is something special. It’s big, just slightly smaller than the size of Pluto. And it’s close, within our very own solar system. So how did it still manage to take astronomers by surprise?
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This appeals greatly both to the economist and the D&D player in me...
 
Somehow, I've discovered something even nerdier than Dungeons and Dragons: after finding a wand which can obviate the need for any material component which costs less than 25 GP, we realized that we could use it in conjunction with a number of spells using components worth nearly 25 GP to obtain perfect price information on the value of several important commodities, allowing us to corner the market.

Unfortunately, Dungeons & Arbitrage is a much less fun game than the one we started out playing. 
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So are you going to look for this magic wand?
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Look familiar, +Emily Parkhurst?

h/t +Jürgen Hubert 
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need another guy saying "my mother can only babysit on Sunday"
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More on +Starbucks Coffee and their horrible new rewards program and botched roll-out...
 
What's wrong with the new Starbucks loyalty plan? The answer is simple

There's a problem with the new Starbucks loyalty plan, +Steve Johnson says. And it's not just the inability to fit 125 stars into a cup.
First, I apologize to all the people who have been in line behind me at Starbucks in recent years.
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+Starbucks Coffee has driven their rewards program off a cliff.  I'll need 26 visits for a free drink at my usual venti blonde pace, instead of the previous 12.  They made the change while trying to sell it as "responding to customer demand."  Well, not this customer...
 
The announced changes to Starbucks' rewards program have angered a lot of customers — what's your take?
Starbucks has a lot of loyal customers, and one way the firm keeps them coming back is with their rewards program. The coffee company has announced changes that they say address the "no. 1 request we heard from members." Unfortunately, the changes are angering another batch of customers. In short, Starbucks is [...]
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Thirty years ago today, 74.130 seconds after liftoff, the Challenger fell. 

I want to write a long story about this – to tell the story of the people aboard and the people on the ground, of the crew and of the people who studied what happened, of the things that we learned and changed, of all the things we should remember about that day. But thirty years later, it still hurts too much for me to write it.

I can still see the two SRB's spinning out of control after the airframe disassembled, forming two horns coming out of an oddly round cloud, if I close my eyes. I can still remember the utter confusion and disbelief that followed, as nobody could even tell, at first, if they had actually seen what they thought they saw. I remember being so upset, that night, not being able to fully wrap my heart around it. And nightmares still sometimes wake me, of rockets falling out of a perfectly blue sky.

To the seven who gave their lives that day – CDR Francis R. Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, mission specialists Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, and Ronald E. McNair, and payload specialists Gregory B. Jarvis and S. Christa McAuliffe – you are not forgotten.


Photo: STS-51L as it cleared the tower, approximately T+2.7 seconds, 16:38:02 UTC, January 28th, 1986, seventy seconds before it began to disintegrate. The fatal failure of the O-ring on the right booster had already happened. Image KSC-86PC-0081, from NASA.
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About to watch Captain America: Civil War with my son!
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You are going to love it!
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A Fascinating Intersection Between Baseball and WWII History

If you like baseball or World War II history or, like me, both, then you'll be intrigued by the article linked below.  It details the story of how the Detroit Tigers Single A team, the Lakeland Flying Tigers, is MUCH more than just a riff on the parent club's name, but instead is a wonderful nod to the history of the Lakeland area.  Check it out!
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Just back from watching Batman v. Superman with my son. Really fun time! Wonder Woman stole the show!
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Thanks
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+Brandon Sanderson is the most prolific, industrious fantasy / science fiction author around right now.  Very excited about this next series!  Amazing how he can churn out so many great books, while other epic fantasy authors (which is just ONE of the genres Sanderson works in) get bogged down with years and years between releases.

I'm currently finishing up his February 2016 release Calamity, having just prior to that read his October 2015 Shadows of Self and January 2016 Bands of Mourning Mistborn series books.  And I still haven't read his Stormlight Archive novels yet!
 
The Apocalypse Guard
http://brandonsanderson.com/the-apocalypse-guard/

All,

I’m back from tour, and slowly recuperating (and getting ready for my trip to Dubai). Calamity, I’m proud to say, did fantastically. Thank you all for your support! I didn’t think we had much of a chance on the bestseller lists this time, as—because of quirks in the system—we were up against some very difficult competition. We took #1 anyway. Huzzah!

A lot of people have been asking if this is the end of the Reckoners. It is. The trilogy is finished, and came together wonderfully. However, as you all know, I’m unlikely to leave an ending without some hints of where the characters would go in the future.

I don’t currently have plans to do a direct sequel series, but the next project I’m planning is in the same universe. This is a new trilogy in the works with Delacorte (the publisher of the Reckoners), and it’s the unnamed project I talked about in my State of the Sanderson post in December. It’s scheduled tentatively for a 2018 release, and it’s called The Apocalypse Guard.

Here’s the pitch:

Over a decade ago, people started manifesting strange, incredible powers. One side effect of this was an awareness of alternate dimensions—some of these powers could reach into other realities, other versions of Earth. Though infinite dimensions are present, most of these are unstable, existing only as vague possibilities.

A few of these worlds, however, are stable. These real, alternate versions of Earth are sometimes very, very different from the one we know. And a bizarrely large number of them, it turns out, are doomed. And so the Apocalypse Guard was founded: an organization of thousands of scientists, engineers, and extraordinary individuals who save planets.

They comb the dimensions searching for stable worlds to contact. When they find one that is facing some kind of cataclysm, the Guard either finds a way to save the planet, or evacuates it. The process can take years, but so far the Guard has saved some dozen planets—though it has lost half as many to utter destruction.

Emma is the Guard’s coffee girl. On summer internship at mission control, she gets to witness—from a safe distance—their activities. During the events surrounding the rescue of a planet, however, a shadowy group attacks the Guard and throws it into chaos. Emma finds herself cast through dimensions to be stranded on a doomed planet the Guard had been planning to save. Cut off from mission control, woefully inexperienced, Emma has to try to meet up with the Guard or find another way off the planet before cataclysm befalls it.

In the tradition of the Reckoners, The Apocalypse Guard is a fast-paced, action-oriented story with roots in comic book traditions. This one is a little more science fiction and fantasy than it is superhero, and it will dig deeper into the mythology begun in the Reckoners. It is not a sequel to the Reckoners, in that it has new characters and a new story, but it might help answer some questions left by the end of Calamity.

It’s going to be a little while before I write this. Stormlight 3 takes precedence currently, and after that I’m thinking I should probably write the sequel to The Rithmatist. However, I’ve been mulling over this new series a lot, and even went so far as to commission some concept art.

I’ve only done this before with the Stormlight books, having Ben McSweeney (who ended up becoming the illustrator for Shallan’s sketchbook pages) do concept roughs for the characters, so I could have them as kind of a quick reference for how the characters look.

This was really handy, and so I had it done for The Apocalypse Guard as well. We put the characters together in an action shot, though keep in mind that this was mostly for my internal reference (and kind of as a proof of concept). This isn’t the cover art, and isn’t intended to be a finished “movie poster” for the books. More a cool piece of concept art trying to nail down character looks and outfits.

Anyway, enjoy!
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Science is amazing, and +Yonatan Zunger does a great job here explaining why.
 
We have observed gravitational waves!

This morning, the LIGO observatory announced a historic event: for the very first time in history, we have observed a pair of black holes colliding, not by light (which they don't emit), but by the waves in spacetime itself that they form. This is a tremendously big deal, so let me try to explain why.

What's a gravitational wave?

The easiest way to understand General Relativity is to imagine that the universe is a big trampoline. Imagine a star as a bowling ball, sitting in the middle of it, and a spaceship as a small marble that you're shooting along the trampoline. As the marble approaches the bowling ball, it starts to fall along the stretched surface of the trampoline, and curve towards the ball; depending on how close it passes to the ball and how fast, it might fall and hit it. 

If you looked at this from above, you wouldn't see the stretching of the trampoline; it would just look black, and like the marble was "attracted" towards the bowling ball.

This is basically how gravity works: mass (or energy) stretches out space (and time), and as objects just move in what looks like a straight path to them, they curve towards heavy things, because spacetime itself is bent. That's Einstein's theory of Relativity, first published in 1915, and (prior to today) almost every aspect of it had been verified by experiment.

Now imagine that you pick up a bowling ball and drop it, or do something else similarly violent on the trampoline. Not only is the trampoline going to be stretched, but it's going to bounce -- and if you look at it in slow-motion, you'll see ripples flowing along the surface of the trampoline, just like you would if you dropped a bowling ball into a lake. Relativity predicts ripples like that as well, and these are gravitational waves. Until today, they had only been predicted, never seen.

(The real math of relativity is a bit more complicated than that of trampolines, and for example gravitational waves stretch space and time in very distinctive patterns: if you held a T-square up and a gravitational wave hit it head-on,  you would see first one leg compress and the other stretch, then the other way round)

The challenge with seeing gravitational waves is that gravity is very weak (after all, it takes the entire mass of the Earth to hold you down!) and so you need a really large event to emit enough gravity waves to see it. Say, two black holes colliding off-center with each other.

So how do we see them?

We use a trick called laser interferometry, which is basically a fancy T-square. What you do is you take a laser beam, split it in two, and let each beam fly down the length of a large L. At the end of the leg, it hits a mirror and bounces back, and you recombine the two beams.

The trick is this: lasers (unlike other forms of light) form very neat wave patterns, where the light is just a single, perfectly regular, wave. When the two beams recombine, you therefore have two overlapping waves -- and if you've ever watched two ripples collide, you'll notice that when waves overlap, they cancel in spots and reinforce each other in spots. As a result, if the relative length of the legs of the L changes, the amount of cancellation will change -- and so, by monitoring the brightness of the re-merged light, you can see if something changed the length of one leg and not the other.

LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) consists of a pair of these, one in Livingston, Louisiana, and one in Hartford, Washington, three thousand kilometers apart. Each leg of each L is four kilometers long, and they are isolated from ambient ground motion and vibration by a truly impressive set of systems.

If a gravitational wave were to strike LIGO, it would create a very characteristic compression and expansion pattern first in one L, then the other. By comparing the difference between the two, and looking for that very distinctive pattern, you could spot gravity waves.

How sensitive is this? If you change the relative length of the legs of an L by a fraction of the wavelength of the light, you change the brightness of the merged light by a predictable amount. Since measuring the brightness of light is something we're really good at (think high-quality photo-sensors), we can spot very small fractions of a wavelength. In fact, the LIGO detector can currently spot changes of one attometer (10⁻¹⁸ of a meter), or about one-thousandth the size of an atomic nucleus. (Or one hundred-millionth the size of an atom!) It's expected that we'll be able to improve that by a factor of three in the next few years.

So what did LIGO see?

About 1.5 billion light years away, two black holes -- one weighing about 29 times as much as the Sun, the other 36 -- collided with  each other. As they drew closer, their gravity caused them to start to spiral inwards towards each other, so that in the final moments before the collision they started spinning around each other more and more quickly, up to a peak speed of 250 orbits per second. This started to fling gravity waves in all directions with great vigor, and when they finally collided, they formed a single black hole, 62 times the mass of the Sun. The difference -- three solar masses -- was all released in the form of pure energy.

Within those final few milliseconds, the collision was 50 times brighter than the entire rest of the universe combined. All of that energy was emitted in the form of gravitational waves: something to which we were completely blind until today.

Are we sure about that?

High-energy physics has become known for extreme paranoia about the quality of its data. The confidence level required to declare a "discovery" in this field is technically known as 5σ, translating to a confidence level of 99.99994%. That takes into account statistical anomalies and so on, but you should take much more care when dealing with big-deal discoveries; LIGO does all sorts of things for that. For example, their computers are set up to routinely inject false signals into the data, and they don't "open up the box" to reveal whether a signal was real or faked until after the entire team has finished analyzing the data. (This lets you know that your system would detect a real signal, and it has the added benefit that the people doing the data analysis never know if it's the real thing or not when they're doing the analysis -- helping to counter any unconscious tendency to bias the data towards "yes, it's really real!")

There are all sorts of other tricks like that, and generally LIGO is known for the best practices of data analysis basically anywhere. From the analysis, they found a confidence level of 5.1σ -- enough to count as a confirmed discovery of a new physical phenomenon.

(That's equal to a p-value of 3.4*10⁻⁷, for those of you from fields that use those)

So why is this important?

Well, first of all, we just observed a new physical phenomenon for the first time, and confirmed the last major part of Einstein's theory. Which is pretty cool in its own right.

But as of today, LIGO is no longer just a physics experiment: it is now an astronomical observatory. This is the first gravity-wave telescope, and it's going to let us answer questions that we could only dream about before.

Consider that the collision we saw emitted a tremendous amount of energy, brighter than everything else in the sky combined, and yet we were blind to it. How many more such collisions are happening? How does the flow of energy via gravitational wave shape the structure of galaxies, of galactic clusters, of the universe as a whole? How often do black holes collide, and how do they do it? Are there ultramassive black holes which shape the movement of entire galactic clusters, the way that supermassive ones shape the movement of galaxies, but which we can't see using ordinary light at all, because they aren't closely surrounded by stars?

Today's discovery is more than just a milestone in physics: it's the opening act of a much bigger step forward.

What's next?

LIGO is going to keep observing! We may also revisit an old plan (scrapped when the politics broke down) for another observatory called LISA, which instead of using two four-kilometer L's on the Earth, consists of a big triangle of lasers, with their vertices on three satellites orbiting the Sun. The LISA observatory (and yes, this is actually possible with modern technology) would be able to observe motions of roughly the same size as LIGO -- one attometer -- but as a fraction of a leg five million kilometers long. That gives us, shall we say, one hell of a lot better resolution. And because it doesn't have to be shielded from things like the vibrations of passing trucks, in many ways it's actually simpler than LIGO.

(The LISA Pathfinder mission, a test satellite to debug many of these things, was launched on December 3rd)

The next twenty years are likely to lead to a steady stream of discoveries from these observatories: it's the first time we've had a fundamentally new kind of telescope in quite a while. (The last major shift in this was probably Hubble, our first optical telescope in space, above all the problems of the atmosphere)

The one catch is that LIGO and LISA don't produce pretty pictures; you can think of LIGO as a gravity-wave camera that has exactly two pixels. If the wave hits Louisiana first, it came from the south; if it hits Washington first, it came from the north. (This one came from the south, incidentally; it hit Louisiana seven milliseconds before Washington) It's the shift in the pixels over time that lets us see things, but it's not going to look very visually dramatic. We'll have to wait quite some time until we can figure out how to build a gravitational wave telescope that can show us a clear image of the sky in these waves; but even before that, we'll be able to tease out the details of distant events of a scale hard to imagine.

You can read the full paper at http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.061102 , including all of the technical details. Many congratulations to the entire LIGO team: you've really done it. Amazing.

Incidentally, Physical Review Letters normally has a strict four-page max; the fact that they were willing to give this article sixteen pages shows just how big a deal this is.
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Time for a new profile picture, since I've dropped another ~17 or so pounds since the last one 11 months ago!
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Diablo III battletag: garyh#1615. Sometimes known as "garyh" on various messageboards.
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Voracious reader.
Introduction
I'm Gary Hoggatt.  I'm married to Emily Parkhurst and have three young children.  I work for for a large municipal government.

My interests include:
  • books
  • the interrelated realms of government, politics, economics, and history
  • Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs
  • baseball (Los Angeles Angels, Strat-O-Matic gaming)
  • soccer (Los Angeles Galaxy, Arsenal, Barcelona)
  • fantasy and science fiction (books, films, comics)
  • Transformers
  • vegetarianism
  • computer gaming (RPGs, strategy games, Blizzard)
  • technology
  • space exploration
Feel free to include me in any of your Circles in which you discuss such things!

Book Reviews

I enjoy writing book reviews, so if you're looking to be exposed to new books, circle me for those as well.  My reviews will mostly be in the history, biography, classic fiction, fantasy, and science fiction genres, but other genres will occasionally slip in there (usually recommendations from my wife, who has great taste in books).
Education
  • California State University, Sacramento
    Masters in Public Policy and Administration, 2002 - 2005
  • University of California, Irvine
    Bachelors in Political Science, Economics, 1996 - 2000
  • Los Amigos High School
    1992 - 1996
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I came here with my temple for a weekend retreat, and Hilltop is definitely a beautiful place for a group camp retreat. The setting is gorgeous, with amazing views of the Pacific, a wonderful natural setting, and great weather. The facilities were very nice for a camp / retreat. The cabins feature pretty comfy beds and ample restroom and shower facilities. The dining hall and social hall were very nice, and the food was great, including vegetarian / vegan options at every meal. The two outdoor worship areas are have great views of the ocean. To keep active, there's hiking, a pool, and basketball courts. In case you need an internet fix, there's wifi in the dining hall building, but not in the cabins, and cell signals are weak - but you're here for the nature and to spend time with your fellow campers, not spend all your time on the internet, so that's about the right about of connectivity for a place like this.
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Really fun place to go if you enjoy history and/or government. Lots to learn about both California history and its present here.
Public - 3 weeks ago
reviewed 3 weeks ago
Great grocery selection. My family really likes a lot of the TJ's store brand items. This location can sometimes get pretty busy, and sometimes TJ discontinues items we enjoy.
Public - 3 weeks ago
reviewed 3 weeks ago
This place has an AMAZING selection of beautiful imported paper for your art projects. My wife and I actually framed a variety of gorgeous paper from Hiromi for use as art in our home. A wonderful little treasure amongst the art galleries at Bergamot Station.
Public - 3 weeks ago
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Delicious food. Great place to go with friends and get the family style meal. Pretty crowded at times.
Public - 3 weeks ago
reviewed 3 weeks ago
Good food, and family friendly, too. I can sometimes be a wait to be seated if you come with a large group around dinner time, though.
Public - 3 weeks ago
reviewed 3 weeks ago
The staff was friendly and didn't mind my kids bouncing on all the mattresses to try them out. They delivered our new mattress and hauled away the old one the same day, and the delivery guys were very helpful.
Public - 3 weeks ago
reviewed 3 weeks ago