One of my coworkers was on field trip today and stopped for lunch the tiny Nevada town of Moapa. While eating lunch, a man came to their table and said: “I’m President Carter’s son, Jack, and I’m running for the U.S. Senate.”

Jack, step away from the coattails. Sheesh.

Denver Post article states that this guy got hit by lighting while using his iPod:

 Live Media Site36 2006 0706 20060706 124339 Cd06 Lightning1
Notice the burn marks along the ears from the headphones. Most lightning actually travels up from the ground to the clouds and the current will follow any conductive material. Of course, small wires soon vaporize and the current follows the ionized vapors of the wires burning anything near by. In any case, if there is lightning anywhere near by, you should go inside and wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning to venture outside. (We do tend to break this rule at work especially during small mammal trapping. I hope with my new job I have a little more say in heading to shelter and following the rules).

Lightning kills a lot of people every year. One of the most dangerous types of lightning is positive lightning. Only about 5% of lightning bolts are positive yet they are far more dangerous. They typically travel up from the top of a cloud and then arc down to the ground up to tens of miles from the cloud. Ever hear of the “bolt out of the blue?” That saying probably is about positive lightning. It can hit over a hill or ridge and the victims don’t even know there is a storm nearby. Making things worse, positive lightning is usually 6-10 times stronger than normal lightning and bolts last much longer, up to 0.5 seconds. For more information on lightning, check out the excellent Wikipedia article.

A safe way to observe lighting is on you computer. Weather Underground (my favorite weather site) now has a lighting option on its radar images. Better yet, check out Strikestar, a commercial website that calculates lighting strikes and maps them from lightning detectors on users computers. It was just showing 110 strikes/hour just south of here in a storm that three people were injured in flash flooding near Boulder City.

Be careful out there.

On this 230th birthday of our great country, I have been finding it little hard to feel patriotic. Patriotism is more than slapping a flag sticker on your car, displaying a yellow ribbon or forwarding a patriotic email. Really, that is the least that we can do. Yes, I’ll fly the flag on the 4th and I’ll probably set off some fireworks and attend a barbecue, but to be a patriot you have to do more than that. When I think of patriots I think of the men and women that fought tyranny and did the right thing often under terrible circumstances. I think about Nathan Hale who was a spy for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and who was hung by the British after his capture.

Today, I learned about another American patriot. His name is Lt. Commander Charles Swift, and he is an attorney assigned to defend Salim Ahmed Hamdam. Hamdam is a Yemeni national and civilian captured in Afghanistan and brought to Guantanamo Bay. The US government said that Hamdam was a driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden:

“In November 2003, Lt. Commander Swift was assigned to defend Hamdam. Swift was ordered by his commander to secure a plea bargain. But Swift instead decided to argue that Hamdan should be accorded the rights and protections of the Geneva Convention and that the military commissions at Guantanamo were themselves invalid.

According to reporting in The Los Angeles Times, Swift was fearful of the dangerous precedent that could be set by denying international standards of justice even to terrorists.

‘I feel like we all won, that the rule of law won, and that is essentially what we are all about,’ Swift told the Times.

Swift also told the Associated Press yesterday that he had informed his client about the ruling by telephone. ‘think he was awe-struck that the court would rule for him, and give a little man like him an equal chance,’ Swift said. ‘Where he’s from, that is not true.’

Here is a man in uniform who could have done a perfunctory job, who could have seen Hamdan as an assignment, or as an evil and not a human being; who could have saluted and followed orders; who risked promotion and now faces certain retirement without it. He is the hero of Guantanamo, and his action and behavior should be a stiff slap in the face for those Beltway generals and admirals who whimper about Rumsfeld when they are safely out of uniform.”

Hearing this story, I felt a swell of pride for my country that I haven’t felt in a long time. Celebrating our patriotism means that we live under a system of laws that apply to everyone. Everyone, no matter what they did or how much they scare us, deserves to have the chance to have their day in court, have a chance to tell their story, and have a fair trial.

This is what makes America great. We need to do the right thing. The right thing isn’t slapping a magnet on the car or flying the flag. The right thing is being fair. We can fight terrorism without resorting to blind fear and fury that makes us take shortcuts and the easy way. It would be easy to take these people and lock them up and throw away the key. It’s hard to give them a trial and take the risk involved. But it’s the right thing to do.

Have a happy 4th of July. And while you are enjoying beer, fireworks, and barbeque, remember the real patriots like Lt. Commander Swift.

Tonight we are watching Terry and Morgan’s kids. Terry is stuck in California and Morgan has to work at 4:30 AM to 1:00 PM shift on July 4th so we are watching Derek (age 2) and Addison (age 1/3). It’s Caroline’s first sleepover which she made more interesting by being in naked mode most of the evening. Anyway, its pretty fun having a bunch of crazy kids in the house for the evening. We’ve got the Tour on and they are being very good kids.

Today is aphelion day — the day the Earth is farthest from the sun. The eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit means we are about 3 million miles further from the Sun then we are at perihelion. Of course our climate is dominated by the 23.5° tilt of the Earth’s axis so it is summer here in Syzdekstan. Interestingly, the mean temperature of the entire Earth is about 7% higher this time of year despite the sun being farther away. This is because the northern hemisphere has much more land mass than the southern and tends to heat up more. Link.

Shuttle-1

Nancy and Caroline enjoying a visit to NASA in Houston. In the background is a full size training mockup of a Shuttle (sans wings).

Today’s Shuttle launch was delayed because of bad weather. Since I was helping Rob move, I would have missed it on TV. (I also would have missed two awesome World Cup games). Being a science nut, I really get a visceral thrill watching launches. It is one of the few things in life that literally gives me chills.

This Shuttle launch is very special. It is only the second launch since the loss of the Columbia. NASA is still having problems with foam loss and safety and will probably immediately cancel the Shuttle program if another vehicle is lost. The main reason for using the Shuttle is to finish the nearly completed International Space Station which I think is a worthwhile cause. I also hope NASA manages to do a final mission to repair the ailing Hubble Space Telescope before it is expected to fail in 2008. As for Bush’s plan for a return to the moon and an eventual manned mission to Mars, I don’t think it is worth the billions of dollars for such a project. Yes it would be exciting and yes it would be a very proud moment for America, but I don’t think it is feasible now. I think NASA should focus on continuing robotic missions that have recently been very cost effective and greatly increased our knowledge of the solar system. We can take much greater risks with robots and they can do some wonderful science for us. For a more political examination of this topic, check out this interesting article on Daily Kos.

In any case, I will be following the Shuttle mission very closely. One of the best websites with a lot of technical details on the shuttle mission and a minute by minute explanation of the countdown, is SpaceFlight Now. Enjoy the launch and pray for the safety of our astronauts.

I have been a Weird Al fan for many years. His original music is hilarious (yes, his albums always have several original songs) and his parodies are fantastic. One of the cool things about Al, is that he always asks for permission from the artist before he parodies a song. Most artists are honored and flattered to have Al parody a song.

Now, Al doesn’t have to do this. US copyright law expressly permits the creation of parodies. Special thanks to my friend Robert who pointed out this NPR story about a record company trying to prevent Al from releasing a parody of James Blunt’s hit “Your Beautiful” called “You’re Pitiful.” Blunt gave Al permission to do a parody of the song. However, Atlantic Records, Blunt’s label, told Al he couldn’t release his parody. Although Al has the legal right to release the song on his upcoming album, he didn’t want to cause a conflict between his record company and Atlantic. So Al released the song for free download on his website. It’s good and worth the download. And you too, can help stick it to the man.

Nancy has gotten back onto the blogging scene with two new topical blogs. One is food and dining reviews and is called LV Taste Buds. A second blog is about Nancy’s one and only sports passions — the Tour De France. Since this Tour has been pretty crazy even on the first day, check out her news and opinion at TDF Couch Potato 2006. Check them out and please note that they also have been added to my Blogroll.

Today, Caroline, Nancy and I helped our good friends Rob and Karin move into their gorgeous new house in Pahrump today. They had been living next door in Karin’s parents house for a few months and most of their stuff was in storage in Pahrump so it was a pretty easy move despite temperatures peaking around 107° in the afternoon. They had been living in a small condo in Vegas that Karin bought when she was single so it is great for them to have some space. The commute to Vegas is pretty long but it is worth it to them. Congratulations!

From the National Weather Service:

Statement as of 1:40 am PDT on July 1, 2006

… Las Vegas sets the hottest June on record…

The average temperature for June 2006 was 90.5 degrees. This breaks
the previous June record of 90.3 degrees set in 1994. Las Vegas also
recorded an average low temperature of 78.2 degrees breaking the
previous record of 76.6 degrees set in 2000.