Science Feed

'One small step ...'

I can tell you exactly where I was at 3:17:40 p.m. Central Standard Time 40 years ago today. My brother and I had been called from our play outdoors to come inside and watch astronauts walk on the moon. Even as I have trouble some days remembering what I did a week earlier, that memory of the Apollo 11 lunar module landing will forever be vivid in my mind. As a kid, space travel fascinated me. My dad helped nurture it by spending summer evenings with us staring up at the vast West Texas skies. So I had no problem... Read more →


The science of debt denial

The lead story in today's New York Times' Science section is about denial (yeah, I'm a bit slow getting to the paper today). It's not a topic I would normally read, but the article begins with a look at a shopaholic who was in serious denial about her habit and its resulting debt. The rest of the article deals with the many other types of denial, which all of us engage in occasionally, for personal, work related and, yes, financial reasons. But, according to the article, "the ability to look the other way, while potentially destructive, is also critically important... Read more →


Taxes and Al Gore's Nobel Prize

Today's one of those good news, potential bad news days for Al Gore. More on the use of the qualifier "potential" in a minute. First, let's look at Al's decidedly good news. The former Veep got the news today that he and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He obviously is very gratified to have the Nobel Committee recognize his efforts to educate folks about global warming and work toward ways to stem environmental disaster. You can read the award announcement here. But Al is human, despite his dance moves to the contrary.... Read more →


To infinity and beyond!

Yesterday evening the space shuttle Atlantis blasted off from Cape Canaveral and is en route to the international space station. The photo below is one of the main reasons I've been enamored of the U.S. space program since I was a child. View of Earth, over the edge of the shuttle's payload bay, as captured by a video camera aboard Atlantis. Image courtesy of NASA TV. This most recent shot of our planet from space sort of reminds me of that great shot of Earthrise, photographed by Apollo 8 astronauts in December 1968. I had that as a poster in... Read more →


Astronomical alert

Tonight take a minute to check out the sky. You'll see a Blue Moon. By now, we all know that when a calendar month contains two full moons, the second one is the Blue Moon. But Sky & Telescope magazine says that's not necessarily correct. According to an article about the astronomical phenomenon, investigation of farmers' almanac items from 1819 to 1962 that refer to more than a dozen Blue Moons shows that not a single one was the second full moon in a month. Rather, there's a seasonal pattern. Full details can be found in What's a Blue Moon?... Read more →


Weighty and otherworldly issues, taxes included

Is it just me, or does this photo look like a collection of dishes filled with M&M candies? Artist’s conception of calcium ions traveling down the accelerator at a high velocity toward the rotating californium target. Photo courtesy of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Public Affairs office. Click here for a brief video of the process. That was my first thought when I flipped to the Science section of today's New York Times and saw the picture (and accompanying story; registration required). What, I wondered, was the scientific hook for those melt-in-your-mouth goodies this time? Something to do with the... Read more →


Dang! Pluto's been demoted

And I so liked that goofy dog! Sorry, couldn't resist. I'm just using a pitifully poor joke to temper my sadness that the International Astronomical Union, instead of going with the proposal that would have made our solar system larger by three orbs (mentioned earlier today in my post "Taxonia"), opted instead to deplanetize poor Pluto. Of course, the late change also creates similarity #4 between tax writers and astronomers: course reversals late in the deliberative process! But it's too bad Pluto lost its planetary status. The thing's so far out there anyway, and so cold. And I'm kind of... Read more →


Can we call it Taxonia?

Astronomers apparently are a lot like tax legislators. Similarity #1: The U.S. tax code often seems as complex as the science of astronomy and also requires specialized tools and experts to help explain its workings to regular citizens. Similarity #2: Like Members of Congress who are forever fighting over tax laws, astronomers also like to debate (and debate and debate) arcane issues in their specialized field. Witness the latest issue roiling skywatchers worldwide: Members of the International Astronomical Union have spent the past two years defining what exactly is a planet. A vote on the new designation guidelines is scheduled... Read more →


Money can't buy you ...

Love, according to the Beatles, or happiness either, according to professors from, in part, the University of Michigan. OK, so Blue researchers might not be as lyrical as John, Paul, George and Ringo. But they say the connection between how much green you have in the bank doesn't necessarily translate into seeing life through rose-colored glasses. In fact, the more money you earn generally means you are likely to spend more time commuting, working and doing other things you feel you just have to, rather than want to, do. And all these activities, say the professors, tend to provide us... Read more →


Real rockets' red glare

NASA did its part for America's 230th birthday celebration today, launching the Space Shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven from Cape Canaveral. It was the first ever July 4 launch of a manned spacecraft. One of my earliest dreams was to be an astronaut. I had to abandon that dream when I realized that it would involve proficiency in math; yes, much more mathematical prowess than it takes to compute taxes! But I never gave up my love of our space program. So many of my childhood memories are of NASA accomplishments. I was very young, but I remember... Read more →


Move over manatees

Life in the Sunshine State apparently agrees with bald eagles. At least state wildlife officials think it does. Wednesday, they removed the national symbol from Florida's list of threatened species. The state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also voted to lessen protection of Jimmy Buffett's environmental cause celebre, the manatee. The oddly endearing sea cow has been downgraded from endangered to threatened status. Florida's three-tiered wildlife protection system (not to be confused with the state's two-tiered property tax regime discussed here and here), includes endangered, threatened and, at the lowest level, special concern classifications. While it's comforting to see wildlife... Read more →


Give now, get back at tax time

Once again, the world has mobilized to help victims of a natural disaster. In the wake of this weekend's deadly earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (more than 5,000 dead, 2,000 injured and 200,000-plus left homeless; latest details in this Washington Post foreign bureau report), international aid is pouring into the country. A good chunk of that relief money no doubt is coming from Americans. Unfortunately, this is becoming an all too common occurrence. Since the 2004 tsunami (sparked by a quake also originating off Indonesia) and Katrina, Wilma, Rita and the other hurricanes of 2005, we're all too aware of the... Read more →


Time to prepare for Mother Nature's less maternal side

During this string of hot and dry spring days, it's hard to image that 25 years ago today, Austin suffered a deadly flood. Austin's Memorial Day Flood of May 24, 1981, killed 13 people, destroyed 600 homes, flooded dozens of businesses and left $36 million in damages in its wake. The picture below shows damage done to a car dealership along Shoal Creek. The power of water has always captivated me. Much of the fascination is because I grew up in desert West Texas, where not a stream was to be found. The only "river" we ever saw was from... Read more →


Line right up

Taxes are about numbers, right? I just got this e-mail from reader Dan M. with some intriguing numbers: This coming Wednesday, at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06. That won't ever happen again. I'm usually a night owl anyway, but I definitely will be up tonight watching the clock, although not the one my grandmother left me! Read more →


Escaping the fat police

No, I'm not talking about outrunning overweight lawmen like Sheriff Buford T. Justice or Boss Hogg (OK, he wasn't a cop, but he owned law enforcement in Hazzard County). I'm talking about being free of those incessant fat-free folks who want us all to eat cardboard so we can live longer. If I get an extra 20 years but can only eat tasteless crap during that time, what's the point? Quality over quantity, people! Being a woman with body image issues (is that redundant?) I occasionally tried to follow the latest weight-loss trends. I'd spot a diet soda among my... Read more →


Catching up on Pop Culture: Not Surviving, Al Gore and changing times for movies

A look at items that caught my eye (and ear) this week, and are tangentially tax-related. Read more →