Solar Eclipse 2017

I was lucky enough to witness one of nature’s wonders today- the rare spectacle known as a solar eclipse. I live in Texas, so I was not in the path of totality, but the partial eclipse was still an awesome sight.

I was unable to take photos because I lacked the proper equipment, but I will share my experience as best as I can with words. I used three pieces of equipment to view the eclipse- my smartphone, with help from the NASA livestream, a pair of ISO certified glasses, which I obtained courtesy of my local astronomy association, and a camera obscura (i.e. a card that I tore in half and poked a hole in with a thumbtack.)


(Not pictured- my smartphone and the thumbtack.)

I got an early start viewing the solar eclipse from my smartphone, watching the live feed of the eclipse that NASA was streaming from Oregon. When I was able, I went outside to view the eclipse firsthand. I went outside at 12:08pm CDT, and followed the eclipse’s progress until 12:26pm CDT. The view through my eclipse glasses was sharp, and the dark curve of the moon was starkly visible against the sun’s orange crescent. When I began viewing, the coverage was ~15%, and before I went inside again the coverage was ~30%.

I went back outside at 1:00pm CDT. I viewed the eclipse through my glasses, and also decided to try using a little pinhole viewer I’d made. The pinhole viewer worked much better than I’d anticipated. I didn’t have to adjust the angles of the cards very much at all before the eclipse became visible, and though it wasn’t as big and clear as the view through the glasses, I could clearly see a bright little crescent of light on the card. The last time I viewed the eclipse, the coverage was ~50%.

Viewing nature’s wonders was its own reward, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least attempt to discover any superpowers the eclipse might have unleashed from deep within me. I haven’t tried everything, of course, but here are the possibilities I’ve eliminated.

I cannot stop time.

I’m not indestructible. (I still have a little scab on my chin that hasn’t miraculously healed.)

I cannot pass through solid objects.

I’m not a magical girl. (I tried shouting “moon prism power, make up!” but nothing happened.)

I cannot see the future.


It’s too hot for me to attempt to try super strength or super speed, and I haven’t had enough time alone to try to fly. If anyone else has any ideas on superpowers for me to try, leave them in the comments. I assign a very low probability that I received any superpowers at all, but I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain in testing it.

Keep your eyes on the skies, everyone, and happy viewing.

The Only Unstoppable Hero

As I look at the world around me, it’s becoming more and more apparent that I am living in a poorly-written fictional dystopia. The cartoonish villains, the convoluted plots, and the lopsided world building can only be effectively dealt with by one type of hero.

Enter the Mary Sue.

Mary Sue was first introduced in a Star Trek fan fiction parody. She was a character so perfect, so beloved, and so undeserving of all of her success and love that the reader couldn’t help but hate her. A Mary Sue generally acts as an avatar for the author to insert an idealized version of themself into their favorite fictional world. Because the character is pure wish-fulfilment, they can never lose.

When I was a kid, a Mary Sue Bridgett would often go on adventures with her favorite characters on shows such as Star Trek TNG, Seaquest DSV, and Batman. Mary Sue Bridgett was an amazingly accomplished 10 year old.

-Mary Sue Bridgett was a super genius with the highest IQ ever.

-Mary Sue Bridgett could speak every language.

-Mary Sue Bridgett was familiar with the culture and history of every alien race.

-Mary Sue Bridgett was best friends with every main character and was in every scene with them, even if these scenes were far apart and took place at the same time. Mary Sue Bridgett was omnipresent.

-Mary Sue Bridgett had an eidetic memory and could do complex mathematics in her head.

-Mary Sue Bridgett could break the fourth wall to solve any problem.

-Mary Sue Bridgett, if captured, could never be broken. Capture was difficult, though, because Mary Sue Bridgett was almost impossible to restrain.

-Mary Sue Bridgett’s superpower was to have the most convenient superpower in every situation.

-Mary Sue Bridgett was from an alien world whose civilization was perfectly enlightened, peaceful, and rational. Everyone on this world wore togas and discussed philosophy around public fountains in their spare time. I named this amazing world Xenon.

I’m  convinced that I’m not the only person with a Mary Sue version of themselves buried deep down. Perhaps you’ve had similar fantasies in your own youth.

Of course, Mary Sue characters rarely have to struggle to gain their amazing powers, but in the real world, people do. So to become the hero the world needs, we need to first imagine our own Mary Sue, priorities their most useful qualities, and then work hard to achieve them

I will never be a super-genius, but I can study and improve my mind. I can study languages, history, and mathematics. I can work out to build my physical strength. I can try to make my own world a little more like Xenon.

As the most important character in your story, it’s up to you to rise up and save the world. How will you become your Mary Sue?

Tuesday Link Rundown

Good Morning, universe.

My first link for this week is from Slate Star Codex . This is a viewpoint I’ve wanted to express for a while, and Scott Alexander has expressed it more eloquently than I could have. My only issue is that he provides heavy insight but light data.

Neutral vs. Conservative

Here is something to keep in mind when reading that- or any article about politics. Making political views a part of your identity can have devastating personal consequences when you are confronted with the bald truth. It accounts for a lot of doublethink.

A Fable of Science and Politics

  • How will you react to the revelation that you are wrong? How can we become most like the last person in the fable?


Moving away from politics, here is a useful tool for unmotivated writers.

Beeminder Write

Also, why the weather in space matters to you.

Living With a Star

This is just the type of relaxing, happy topic I research when I’m on vacation- did you know that accidental poisoning has surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the number one cause of accidental deaths in the US? I don’t mean to be alarmist, though- motor vehicle accidents have been on the decline.




Young Adult Dystopia and You

Featured image- Lelouch from Code Geass

You don’t quite know how it happened, but you’ve ended up in a young adult dystopian novel. You were aware that the political climate had been a little messy of late, but hey- politics are always messy. And sure, there has been a mysterious leap in the level of technology, but you’ve never been one to stand in the way of progress. Nevertheless, when you woke up this morning, you realized that society is highly stratified, children are participating in deathmatches, you are under constant surveillance, and your eyes are watering from all of the darned nanites blowing around in the polluted air.

Now that you’ve “awakened” to your situation, here is a handy guide to help you navigate your new reality.

Step One- Don’t panic. Take the words of Douglas Adams to heart. “Don’t Panic” should actually be your first step for any process, but it’s a bit more difficult to remember when you’re being chased by a cyborg shark cop than when you’re ordering a sandwich.

Step Two- Blend in. This will be hard, because you are special. For example, you might be the only person with more than one personality trait, like in Divergent, or you might be the only person left who reads real books, like in Fahrenheit 451. Either way, unlike the sheep around you, you are starting to question the system, and if you can’t hide this fact you will become a target.

Step Three- Find allies. Ok- I lied. You aren’t really special. There are hundreds, if not thousands, just like you. Unfortunately, like you, they are all trying to blend in. If you want to survive, however, you’ll need their help. To find the other malcontents, search for the nearest attractive and mysterious stranger. This stranger will betray you eventually, but in the meantime they can secure an introduction to the underground resistance.

Step Four- Win over the resistance leaders. Your attractive and mysterious stranger has an admirer, and they will mistrust you on sight. What’s worse, the admirer is one of the resistance leaders. You will need to strike an amazing blow to the government in order to prove yourself.

Step Five- Become the resistance figurehead. Congratulations; whatever you did in step four has completely blown your cover. You really should have been more careful. However, your act of defiance has inspired millions, and now the revolution has begun.

Step Six- Get Captured. Don’t worry- this is the easiest way to confront the true villain. The evil overlord respects you enough to capture and interrogate you personally, and he won’t kill you, because he doesn’t want to create a martyr. However, he will probably destroy a small city or an orphanage if you don’t do as he says.

Step Seven- Make a faustian bargain. The evil overlord will offer you a deal- compromise your ethics and help him to calm the agitated masses in exchange for some freedom for the people and the lives of your friends. You will have to ally yourself with the enemy in order to serve the greater purpose.

Step Eight- Become that which you despise most. Even after the bargain is struck, a rogue resistance soldier will kill the evil overlord. Because you were the resistance figurehead, you will now be the new overlord. You learn that being an overlord is more difficult than you thought, and that sometimes you must do morally grey things that hurt some segments of society in order to keep society functioning.

Congratulations! You have survived the Young- Adult Dystopian novel- unless of course you sacrificed yourself and your second-in-command replaced you. Still, job well done. Now it’s the next generation’s turn to overthrow the regime you’ve put in place.

Wednesday Link Party

For everyone who feels exhausted, demotivated, and stressed, here are some links that may help you.


  • I’m not often too tired to play games, so here is a link that will help you approach life in the spirit of relentless grinding… for XP! Level Up Life
  • If you work best with the help of others, here is a study room where you can work on your projects during quiet times and brag about them during not-so-quiet times. The site can also help you track your progress. Less Wrong Study Room
  • Finally, there can come a time when only a threat of potential loss can break through your demotivation. If you need extra help getting your butt in gear, this is a site where you put money on the line. Meet your goals, or lose it! beeminder

I also have compiled a list of methods I personally use to beat akrasia.

  1. Pre- commit to your goal. Don’t say, “I might do this.” Say, “I’m doing this.”
  2. Visualize success.
  3. Create artificial restraints. For example, put your alarm clock across the room to force yourself out of bed.
  4. Use immediate rewards to supplement long-term rewards. “If I start my homework right now, I can listen to the new album at the same time.”
  5. Build habits through a consistent schedule.

Wednesday Link Rundown

I don’t think I’ve done a link rundown on Wednesday before. Neat!


Radiolab: Hello

I’ve always loved dolphins, so this episode of Radiolab was a special treat. The highlight was a piece on the infamous Lilly experiment where a woman, Margaret Howe Lovatt, cohabitated with a dolphin named Peter while she attempted to teach him to vocalize in human speech. I’ve always seen this experiment described as not only a failure, but a disaster, so I was shocked when radiolab played Peter’s tapes and I heard how much he was able to learn, and how far he came from the beginning. Margaret also described a fascinating behavior, in that Peter would practice his vocalizations alone, without the promise of reward.

It’s a shame that the project was not planned better. If the working conditions had been better for both human and dolphin, and if the study had been more rigorous, I think some interesting findings could have been published. Dolphin communication is still a ripe field, and we are treading slowly to ensure we do it properly.
This is How Your Hyperpartisan News Gets Made- 10 Reasons Why You Should Be FURIOUS

In other news, the news is terrible. Get off your high horse, Buzzfeed, you’re just as bad as the rest.

It’s still clickbait, even if there’s a fake-out to prove a point.

You too, The Guardian.

NASA Lights the Sky for Solar Eclipse

A Mass of Viscous Flow Features

And yes, I know I post a lot of NASA stuff, but it’s all so wonderful!

World Building- Part 1

From Writing to Reality


I’ve always loved world building. There’s a certain magic to creating a place for my characters to live, and an almost godlike power in setting up and controlling an entire universe for them to inhabit.

I use world-building to write stories with a rich environment for my characters to explore, but why should we leave world-building to fiction? Societies and communities develop almost organically- each part are built in a patchwork fashion and problems are solved as they arise in the process. However, I prefer to look at things from the top down- to envision the society I want and then make it a reality.

When I was young, I would often write stories or create shoebox dioramas of the worlds in my imagination. As I got older, I became better at it, and I’d often have opportunities to practice at school. Several of my teachers, in different grades and all teaching different subjects, would give a similar assignment: build your own world and describe how it will work.

Sometimes this world would be a city-state, like in my History class. Sometimes it would be a country, like in my Civics class. One time, in art class, I even got to build my own space colony. Funnily enough, though I hadn’t yet read about Carolyn Meinel and Keith Henson, my colony involved mainly goats and hydroponic vegetables.

These assignments were mostly free-hand. The teachers didn’t want to give us the framework, but rather, for us to discover what was needed to build a society for ourselves. In this spirit, I’ve sketched out my own framework.

  1. The Environment. Where do people live? Is this a city, a space station, or a forest tree village? What resources does the environment provide? Is it stable?
  2. The People. What is the culture, religion, language, education level, and class structure of the people?
  3. The Economy. What resources do the people need and value? How are these resources distributed?
  4. The Infrastructure. This will include all of the mechanisms that help the other systems function, such as buildings, roads, electricity, water, education, hospitals, emergency response, etc.
  5. The Government. How do you create and enforce the rules that help all of the systems work properly? How are the rule-makers and the enforcers chosen?

Keep in mind that this is only a rough sketch, and that the systems are far more complex in reality. In fact, many of the systems are so intertwined that it’s difficult separate them. For instance, the economy can be a type of infrastructure, and infrastructure shapes the environment, as well. In the second part, we will look at this framework in more detail, and see how individuals can affect all of these systems once they get ideas about what sort of system they want.