This is your universe

Launched in June of 2001, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) orbits just outside of Earth's orbit around the Sun (in a position called the L2 Sun-Earth Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometers [approximately 1 million miles] away from Earth opposite the Sun).  This probe is being used to unlock secrets of the universe which we had never imagined.

I've always been a science and mathematics buff — especially when it came to astrophysics and cosmology.  I know, that makes me a serious nerd, but I accept that since my interest in these areas seems to be ingrained in my very genetic code and can't be given up or ignored.

So imagine my wonder and awe when I stumbled across the results that have been coming in from a little known satellite NASA launched back in 2001.

To give you an idea of what WMAP has come up with, consider the following factoids.

WMAP has accurately placed the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years old.  It's interesting to note that this is not a guess or estimate.  The margin for error on the data WMAP has provided is around 1 percent.

WMAP has also determined that the first stars formed much earlier than we had originally theorized.  According to the data collected, stars began to form about 200 million years after the big bang.

WMAP has confirmed that the universe is geometrically flat.  That's not to say it's only two-dimensional, but it does mean that Euclidian geometry applies over the largest distances in the universe.  This negates the theory that space-time is in some way curved (either positively or negatively).

Most interesting of all of the findings from WMAP, the data shows that the composition of the universe is significantly different from what we had imagined.

Matter (anything comprised of atoms, like solids, liquids and gasses) only make up 4% of the universe.  That means we (life in general) make up a mere fraction of the universe as a whole — not even enough to blink at in passing.

Cold dark matter makes up approximately 23% of the universe.  The findings show that the dark matter, originally thought to be the remnants of burnt-out stars, is more likely not related to normal (baryonic) matter at all but is probably made up of things like neutralinos or axions or other exotic astrophysical or quantum particles which we have yet to identify.  It's even possible that this material is formed by weakly interactive massive particles, the cosmological equivalent of exhaust which forms as a result of nuclear reactions.

The final 73% of the universe is made up of something even more exotic called dark energy.  The data show that this energy appears to be close to the "cosmological constant" theorized by Albert Einstein.  The large amount of this energy in the universe exerts a constant outward pressure on the cosmos resulting in steady expansion.  In fact, if more data can be collected, it might be shown that the big bang wasn't a singular event billions of years ago but is instead a steady explosion of the universe as it presses outward, forced to expand eternally by the ever-present pressure of the dark energy.

All of this data combined with other observable cosmological information solidifies the argument that the universe is expanding and that the expansion began a fraction of a second after the big bang.  This is called the Inflation Theory — that the universe will expand forever.  Given that dark energy makes up about three-quarters of the universe, WMAP data has even provided an estimate on the universe's expansion rate.  This number, called the Hubble constant, is 71 kilometers per second per mega-parsec with a margin of error around 5%.

Now I'm sure that all of this seems like gibberish to many, but it's entirely fascinating and extremely exciting to finally have some solid answers to some very old questions.  If nothing else, it certainly helps concrete the message that humans really are irrelevant in the scheme of things since we, together with every star, planet, animal, plant, nebula, liquid, gas, solid and other atom-based matter make up only 4% of what is in all practicality an infinitely large universe.

Feeling lonely?

Finally got a digital camera

I finally got around to buying a digital camera.  I had been looking at several models and manufacturers over the last few months.  Ultimately I got the Canon PowerShot S50, a 5.0 megapixel camera with plenty of features.  I had considered the limited edition black PowerShot G3, but that turned out to be far too much camera for me.  I'm not a professional photographer and likely never will be.  A disposable 35mm wasn't going to cut it though, so the S50 seemed like the perfect blending of what I needed now and what I might need in the future if I ever get the hang of it.  Once I get it setup and learn how to snap a few pictures, expect some gallery updates to follow.  I know I need to get some recent shots of The Kids.  I did say I would post pictures of my car.  Eventually I'll post some updated body shots of my workout progress.  Oh, and the darn thing can actually make short digital movies as well…  That could be interesting.  I'll keep you posted on my progress with the little gadget and will post new pics as soon as I can.

Killing the Good Samaritan

I stumbled across this article the other day and found it to be extremely insightful.  It did cause me to pause and wonder why people are the way they are despite our best intentions.  It's about a man who did the right thing and who was promptly attacked for it by the person he was trying to help.  I strongly recommend that you read it as I believe you'll find it to be as disappointing and revealing as I did (although we expect the worst from people, so I'm not sure why I was surprised by any of it).

They’ve gone too far

If you're not aware of the situation in Florida regarding a very ill woman with no chance of recovery, you've had your head in the sand too long.  Terri Schiavo, in a persistent vegetative state since 1990, is being tortured by the legislature and governor of Florida for their own political gain.  And I do not use the word torture in a flippant manner.  Despite the law clearly recognizing the husband as the person entrusted with making medical decisions for his wife, the governor and state legislature, at the behest of Terri's sick and twisted family, have passed a law which granted the governor the ability to override the husbands wishes and decisions.  I can't think of a situation that could better be described as reprehensible.

Michael Schiavo, caring for his wife since a chemical imbalance in 1990 caused her heart to stop and forced her into a persistent vegetative state, is now fighting more than a selfish family hell-bent on torturing their own daughter in the hopes that they'll get some satisfaction from watching her be maintained by artificial means.  Once the family had exhausted all of their legal options and found that the law clearly gave the husband the right to make medical decisions for his wife, they turned their attention on the Florida government in the hopes that they could be convinced to act illegally on their behalf.  In response to their failure to stop the husband from allowing his wife to pass on peacefully, the state legislature passed a law circumventing the courts and the existing law by granting the governor the right to override the husband.

It's more than offensive to think that any government body could circumvent the law and courts by creating a new law so specialized as to be practically useless in all other cases.  Hell, they call it Terri's Law for a reason.

Michael says his wife never wanted to be kept alive by artificial means (something we both share in common).  Her parents, in a demonstration of selfishness that makes Hitler look like Santa Clause, decided they knew better and that their wishes should override those of anyone else.

Not so, said the courts.

So the parents continually found themselves on the losing side of the legal battle.

When all appeared lost, the Florida legislature and governor stepped in, passing a new law granting the governor the right to override the husband's decisions (and therefore, by proxy, his wife's decisions).

Medical care in Florida has become fodder for losers who need some way to overcome their political impotence.  They have taken medical decisions away from the individual and those rightfully empowered to make them for others.  They have placed themselves between the patient and doctor and patient and family, clearly stating for the record that we cannot be trusted with such decisions.

There are many reasons why this is wrong, not the least of which is that governments should never get in the way of our medical care — regardless of whether they agree with our decisions or not.

What Junk-Head-Jeb Bush and his cronies in the state capitol have done is to spit in the eye of marriage (I thought Repugnicans wanted to protect marriage, but I guess they meant from us fags and not from themselves).  They have taken the medical decision of a loving husband trying to do what his wife wanted and made it a political tool in the hopes that they can gain votes from this.

Every medical expert on the planet will tell you that there has never been a single case of anyone recovering from a persistent vegetative state after more than three months.  Terri Schiavo has been in one for 13 years.

No matter what their intentions, her family and the Florida government have used her as a pawn for selfish reasons.  They have clearly stated that they don't care what her wishes were or that her husband is trying to enforce her wishes.

I think both her family and the Florida government should be sent to jail for torture, abuse, criminal misconduct, and violating the separation of powers.

But do not be fooled.  Her husband intends to fight this latest twist in a bizarre and horrific example of human malevolence.  And I think he will ultimately prevail.

The governor and legislature have violated the separation of powers in the Constitution.  They have violated the Florida laws which grant a husband the right to be the medical power of attorney for his wife when she becomes unable to make decisions for herself.  They have enacted a law which is so targeted that it clearly violates the Constitutional equal-protection clause.  It also violates the individual's right to refuse medical care.

I hope that, once this is done, Terri can be allowed to die peacefully and painlessly while her torturers (her family and the Florida government) suffer the consequences of their hateful, selfish acts.  Their actions are inhumane and should be treated as such.