Less Than 1,000 Days Until the Next Total Solar Eclipse in the United States

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will be visible in some areas of the United States. This is now less than 1,000 days away. The event has been a long time coming. While the last total solar eclipse to be seen in the United States occurred in 1991, that event was limited to Hawaii. Before that, the last solar eclipse visible from the continental United States was on February 26, 1979.

While the 1979 event tracked across Oregon, Washington and Montana, people in 12 states will see the 2017 event. Both eclipses started in Oregon. The earlier one then tracked up into Canada. The 2017 eclipse starts in Oregon, travels across the central United States before finishing far out to sea beyond South Carolina.

A total solar eclipse is a rather rare occurrence. Estimates place the likelihood of any point on Earth experiencing one only every 400 years. This is not absolute, however. Several Oregon locations saw the 1979 eclipse and they will see the 2017 event as well. For them, experiencing two solar eclipses in a little more than 35 years is quite unusual. Closer yet are the cities of Carbondale, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Residents there will see the 2017 eclipse as well as another in April, 2024. This separation of less than seven years for these two eclipses is very unusual. Of course, it may be hundreds of years before these cities see another.

To be a total eclipse, the moon must completely obscure the sun, for an observer standing on Earth. This can occur monthly, at New Moon. Ordinarily, however, the moon passes either above, or below, the sun’s position, as viewed from Earth. As a result, the moon’s shadow normally sweeps across open space. On rare occasions, as the moon passes directly in front of the sun, a shadow is cast upon the surface of the Earth. If the sun is partially obscured, a partial eclipse results. If the sun is completely obscured, a total solar eclipse occurs. The moon is much smaller than the sun, of course. In fact, the moon is some 400 times smaller. In an astronomical twist, the moon is also 400 times closer to the Earth. This makes the apparent size of the moon very close to the apparent size of the sun. When the moon passes directly in front of the sun, it is able to completely eclipse the sun, for some viewers on Earth.

The shadow cast by the moon, however, is very small. Depending on the distance between the Earth and the moon, which varies somewhat, the moon’s shadow will darken a strip of Earth about 70 miles wide. This strip is called the Zone of Totality. Those people located within this zone will experience a total solar eclipse. Those near, but outside, will see a partial solar eclipse.

On August 21, 2017, the sun is eclipsed for as much as 2 minutes and 40 seconds at the maximum point. Hopkinsville, Kentucky happens to be located at this point. People not located there may see a shorter eclipse duration. Those located outside the zone of totality will only see a partial eclipse. Some cities that will experience totality include Nashville, Tennessee, Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri. The 2017 eclipse will potentially be seen by millions of people located across the United States.

Each total solar eclipse is unique, but there are similarities. The Earth will darken over time as the moon obscures more and more of the sun. This is the partial eclipse phase. As totality approaches, the amount of sunlight striking the Earth will be greatly diminished. The sky will become similar to twilight. Colors normally seen at sunset will be visible during the day. Birds, animals and insects will be fooled into believing that night is falling. Some will return to their nests or roosts. Nocturnal creatures will begin to emerge. These effects often happen even if a total solar eclipse occurs early in the morning. After totality ends, another partial eclipse phase occurs until the moon passes beyond the sun’s location.

The biggest factor that cannot be predicted with certainty is the weather on August 21, 2017. Cloudy weather could obscure the eclipse for interested observers. As a result, many people examine historical weather patterns in order to determine prime eclipse viewing locations. Since the 2017 event occurs in August, there are some rather promising weather possibilities. In Oregon, the August weather tends to be sunny and dry, perfect eclipse conditions. Morning fog, storms, or clouds, could thwart eclipse viewers, however.

Idaho and Wyoming residents will also experience the 2017 eclipse. The weather in these states could allow a very good eclipse viewing experience. The eclipse occurs fairly early in the day, lessening the possibility of localized thunderstorms.

As the total solar eclipse tracks across more states, from Nebraska to South Carolina, the possibility of inclement weather increases. These locations will experience the eclipse later in the day. Afternoon storms, or hazy weather, could be encountered. Such weather could limit the eclipse experience.

Many US cities have already begun planning for the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. The event represents an opportunity to entertain tens of thousands of visitors to cities located within the zone of totality. With proper attention to details, cities can provide a favorable eclipse experience that also highlights the attractions of the local area. Weather permitting, of course.

Bonus Facts:

– the distance from the Earth to the moon increases each year. In less than 1.5 billion years, the moon will not be close enough to produce total solar eclipses. After that, only partial or annular eclipses will occur.

– when the moon eclipses the sun, the sky darkens enough to allow planets and bright stars to be seen in the daytime. On August 21, 2017, the bright star Rigel should be visible low in the south. – Albert Einstein predicted that a total solar eclipse could provide direct proof of the General Theory of Relativity. He postulated that the eclipsed sun would cause light to be bent, for an observer on Earth. This would be proved as stars located behind the sun would appear to be shifted in location. This visual evidence was demonstrated during an eclipse in 1919.

– as the moon passes in front of the sun, it blocks enough sunlight that the solar corona, the super heated atmosphere, becomes visible to people on Earth. The shape of the corona is different during each eclipse as it is influenced by the level of magnetic solar storms, which constantly changes.

– ancient civilizations did not understand the science responsible for total solar eclipses. Eclipses were attributed to supernatural causes and thought to be bad omens.

– the theoretical maximum duration of a total solar eclipse is about 7 minutes. The 2017 eclipse is less than half this duration, at 2 minutes, 40 seconds for those located in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

– the sun is not safe to view during any portion of the partial eclipse phase. Even if only 1% of the sun is visible, observers risk damage to their eyes through direct observation. At this eclipse stage, the sun appears to be dim enough to view. Unfortunately, the lit portion still transmits full force sunlight to the optic nerve. Because the level of light is so much lower than normal, the observer feels no urge to avert their gaze. Moreover, the optic nerve does not contain pain receptors so victims are unaware that their eyesight is being damaged. Proper eye protection is vital for all observers of the partial solar eclipse phase.

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Unlike Last Season, Early Schedule Will Challenge Cubs In 2017

The celebration has ended, the 108 year drought is over, and baseball on Chicago’s North Side should return to normal. In other words, fans of the Cubs can go back to worrying.

Several big concerns face them as they look toward the 2017 season, in addition to the nearly impossible task of topping the World Series Championship they earned in October. No team has won the Fall Classic back to back in this century, although a much shorter span than the Cubs endured between titles.

That trip to the World Series was made easier by the early schedule, an arrangement the Cubs will not enjoy next April. Chicago did not play a winning team until April 18 against the Cardinals, which was their fifth series of the season. The Cubs did not play another winning team until May 2, when they played the Pirates. Spending the first month against the likes of Cincinnati, Arizona, Atlanta, and Milwaukee would provide nearly any team with the confidence needed to carry them through the most important stretch of the season. To emphasize just how important a hot start is, examine the National League from last season.

All four of the teams who reached the Division Series posted winning percentages over.700 during the first week of 2016, led by the Cubs and Nationals winning eight of their first nine games. The Giants were victorious in six of their first eight, and the Dodgers won seven of their first ten.

The advantage of opening against non-contenders will not be available to the Cubs in 2017, when the early part of their schedule features matchups against the only two teams that had winning records against Chicago last year. They open in St. Louis on April 2nd, a Sunday night game between the two rivals that will be broadcast on national television.

What could make that initial series even more troubling for the Cubs is the strong possibility that one of their most exciting players from last year will be playing for the opposing team. Center fielder Dexter Fowler, Chicago’s spark plug at the top of the batting order, is a free agent. Many baseball writers have projected St. Louis as the most likely team to sign Fowler. After the series in St. Louis, the Cubs must play the team that nearly eliminated them in the NLCS. The Dodgers, who won both of their regular season series against the Cubs in 2016, have the opportunity to avenge their playoff loss on the opening weekend in April.

The hot start Chicago used to build momentum for their World Series run last year is far less likely to befall them in 2017, simply because of the competition. Instead of opening against last place clubs like San Diego and Cincinnati, the Cubs will be tested right out of the chute by teams expecting to be contenders.

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Science Research Funding Under A Trump Administration – What Will Happen?

Right after Donald Trump won the presidency, scientists and researchers got together to stage a large protest with signs and marched on Washington DC to make their case for research funding fearing that academia would be cut off from those 10s of billions of dollars in money flows to themselves and their institutions. Apparently, academia is worried their gravy train will end, and maybe they are right – but protesting won’t work. Academia is already in serious challenges due to the outstanding college loan debt default rates. Is this a perfect storm for science? Let’s look at this a little closer shall we?

There was an interesting article in Scientific American in the January/February 2017 issue titled; “Ending the Crisis of Complacency in Science – To survive the Trump administration, scientists need to invest in a strategic vision that mobilizes social change,” by Matthew Nisbet which stated:

“As newly elected president Donald Trump takes office, the scientific community faces the likelihood not only of unprecedented cuts in government funding for research, but also of bold new attacks on scientific expertise as a basis for policy making and decisions. Trump campaigned on a pledge to eliminate as much as $100 million in ‘wasteful climate change spending’ and there have been reports of plans to severely cut funding for NASA and other agencies.” The article also talked about the NIH funding of Stem Cells and how they might turn back to the Bush years on that type of science funding. There was a point in the piece about the need for scientists to do better with PR and media so the tax paying public would be more supportive. In fact the author of the article suggested better cooperation with journalists was important to change the narrative to continue climate research funding.

Interestingly enough, the NIH and NSF and other big research funders are under the executive branch of our Federal Government. Academia is worried because they chose the wrong political side and academia had brain-washed our kids towards a leftist, socialist skew – they are in fear now, but they’ve allowed that academic bubble to build – academia has caused their own demise, with their High IQ’s they still don’t see it. What do I think of this as the founder of a Think Tank?

Well, here is my assessment; My gosh, that article was so out-of-touch with the new political landscape. In fact, Donald Trump’s Administration is a breath of fresh air for science, and he’s about the only one who can save scientific research and academia from their current path towards a cliff.

Sure there will be cuts in all the ‘politically correct research’ that many in academia are now calling “science” and yes there will be cuts in Global Warming research – after all, it is academia that continues to go with that IPCC globalist narrative that climate science; it’s “settled” by consensus (what?). The climate scientists hypocrisy is epic – you see, if it is settled then there doesn’t need to be anymore science research there, we already know right? Now then, we have to determine if we should act on that research or not to cut human emissions of CO2 (which by the way is only 3% of the total CO2 output of this trace gas). Academia can’t have it both ways and say it is settled, because if it is then there is no need to keep funding their incredible PhD level academic salaries then. Let them find something else to study or get a new line of work.

Sure there will cuts to BS science and waste – there is a ton of it, admit it. I see the grants being awarded by the NSF, NIH, and some of that crap is a waste. With the Trump Administration – the good science stays and the crap goes – there will be plenty of money and research for GOOD science. Academia will have to adapt, just like businesses do. Remember it was one of theirs who said; “Change is the only constant” so they will have to deal with it. No more sniveling.

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The Artistic Way of Programming

12 years back, when I started my formal classes in computer science, the first thing I learnt was “data” means “information”. A few days after that, we started conventional programming, where code and data were treated separately. For example, only data can be passed as the functional arguments. It was difficult for me to digest that “code, which is also information, is not treated as data”. I strongly felt that this will increase complexity of softwares in the long run.

A system does three things – read, transform (processing data), write. In other words – the mathematics (the transform part), and the effect of that in real life (the read/write part). The data transformation is indeed a mathematical concept, and with the help of read and write we make the mathematics (the transform part) useful to the real world. Bringing the “transform” part fully inside mathematical domain has its own benefit of using mathematics without fear (possible errors) for the analysis of the system, making the system more tractable mathematically. The catch is to treat both the elements of transformations, data and functions, equally.

Initially, code used to be bigger than the data, so sending data over the wire was feasible. But with time, data becoming huge, sending code to systems over the wire becomes the need, resting the data on the systems intact. With big data, the need of the hour is to treat the code as data, so that the code can be taken as argument to another meta function on a system having huge data which expects an algorithm for transformations.

Roughly speaking, codes are algorithms, algorithms are mathematical functions, functions are in turn actually look-up tables, i.e. data. Hence with this principle, all codes or functions are data.This is exactly the cornerstone of the functional paradigm. The functional programming is programming with functions, they treat functions and data likewise. Another principle I love, to control complexity, rules should not be complex itself.

Thumb rules rewritten for the functional paradigm:

Read-write and transformations(algorithms) should be separate.
Use immutable variables. Discourage use of reassignment statements.
Discourage side-effects (input/output or changing any variable in-place), every function should ONLY return its expected result.
Use referentially transparent functions (sometimes it is called pure functions) with no side effects, i.e. if x = y, f(x) and f(y) should be same forever.
Unit testing is a must for each function.
One of the main design patterns should be followed is to use expressions instead of instructions, i.e. it should be declarative in nature. Discourage use of loops like for/while – use recursive statements as shown above to calculate sum. Tell computers what needs to be done, not how to do it – it reduces error, especially edge cases.
With the need to control the complexity of the system and the advance design, the design pattern for the functional composition can be made to follow some basic algebraic structures, which in turn becomes more robust.

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Are You at Risk of Being “Uberized”?

If you’re like many Business Owners and Leaders you probably feel pretty good about the position you hold in your market… so did the taxi cab companies and drivers before Uber became a reality. Now they are scrambling and trying to find a way to survive… even to the point of trying to get political help in different cities to stay afloat.

Disruption and Commoditization have impacted virtually every industry today. There probably isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been impacted by a disruptive organization entering their market and stealing some of their market share. Uber is an excellent example but there are many others that have been equally disruptive. Companies such as LegalZoom have taken billions of dollars away from attorneys over the past several years. They captured and disrupted a document and transaction-based business and turned it into a commodity by substantially lowering the pricing of document preparation… impacting attorneys all over the country.

Amazon was an early disruptor to the entire book business… taking significant market share away from Barnes and Noble and Borders who were recognized giants in the book industry. And we certainly can’t forget about Blockbuster’s demise when Netflix entered the market. They were the unquestioned dominant leader in video rental and were virtually replaced overnight by an unknown company with a new disruptive business model that matched the needs of customers at substantial savings.

Even though these examples are in completely different industries there is one common thread that runs through all of them… they didn’t believe anyone could disrupt their dominance in their market. While it’s awesome to believe in your product or service, it’s dangerous to think there isn’t someone waiting in the wings to take away your position. Unlike any other time in history, we are now seeing new companies coming into traditional industries from many unrelated areas and establishing a disruptive model and capturing significant market share. This trend is only going to continue now that it has shown massive success over the past few years. So what can you do, as the leader of your business, to either avoid or minimize the impact of this potential disruption?

While commoditization is difficult to combat with products and services over a long period of time, there is at least one alternative that appears to withstand the test of time and delivers differentiation in the market… your CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

It is difficult to continually come up with new products and services to satisfy the ravenous appetite customers have today. Just when you think you have the best and leading edge product or newest service, someone comes in and “one-ups” you and takes away the leading spot. While you might remain there for some period of time, it is difficult to remain at the top for extended periods of time. Apple is one of the few that has been successful at this… but it took them many years of living in the shadow of Microsoft and others before they became the dominant leader. Today, Microsoft is in this unenviable position and trying to fight their way back to the top… especially in the race for the Cloud.

But these are behemoth companies… not the SMB market. They can throw billions of dollars at innovation and products and hope they find a winner. The small and mid-sized business (SMB) can’t be this frivolous with their cash and making too many product/service mistakes can wipe out a business before anything comes to fruition. The proven alternative to this madness is to focus on the ONE THING that is completely in their control to design and deliver… their CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

Customer Experience has both short and long term advantages. It is something that can be created and implemented within the year but last for many decades to come when implemented properly. And by properly I’m not talking about telling all your employees they need to be nicer to the customer… that never works for the long term… every company can be nice to their customers if they try. This isn’t the answer… this isn’t the differentiator… but it’s on the right track.

Creating a customized CUSTOMER JOURNEY that is built upon a very well defined Customer Experience Process (something we call Customer Experience Mapping) is what allows companies to reap these rewards for many years into the future. Think Disney… they created “the happiest place on earth” and continue to deliver this experience year after year after year. This didn’t happen by holding a meeting and telling all their employees and characters to be nicer to their guests… it happened because they have a very well defined Customer Journey that is built on a foundation of a well-designed and executed Customer Experience.

Nordstrom did the same thing many decades ago. They started selling shoes… then clothing… all at high prices. But they started with a very distinct process inside the organization for delivering an incredible customer experience day in and day out. Zappos followed this same model… sold shoes… one of the ultimate commodities in the clothing industry… and they dominate today. They don’t give discounts and silly things like “one day only” sales (every day)… they simply deliver a remarkable Customer Experience to every customer every day… and their customers love to buy from Zappos. And it has worked out pretty well when you consider they went from zero to over $1 Billion in revenues in less than 10 years and were sold to Amazon for more than a billion dollars. Not a bad model if you ask me.

One way to avoid being COMMODITIZED and losing customers is to design something even new entrants can’t copy… the experience you offer. If your Customer Experience is so incredibly amazing and remarkable… WOW… every single day with every interaction, this creates immediate differentiation and a long tail of success. It is the ultimate weapon against commoditization or even new entrants into a market. For a new disruptive entrant to take away market share they would need to be so much better and cheaper than anything you offered… which is difficult to do today. And for those of you that are saying to yourself right now, “Yea but we’re different, we do a good quality job and treat our customers well so we aren’t at risk,” I would offer you some instant advice… take the blinders off and get real with looking at your business. This is living in a fantasy world… this isn’t looking at your company from the eyes of your customer… they are seeing something very different. And if someone came into your market today and offered a completely different (and awesome) experience to your customers at or below your price they would be gone in a heartbeat.

Achieving long-term dominance doesn’t happen by “being nicer to your customers” and thinking you have created differentiation… you haven’t. Being CUSTOMER OBSESSED and creating a process based CUSTOMER JOURNEY that has a well laid out and documented CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE PROCESS at the heart of it is what will help you avoid being “Uberized.” This strategy gives you differentiation, uniqueness, and a special place in your customers heart and mind… it gives you the “long tail” of success.

I would strongly and passionately encourage you to learn more about why and how this is completely different than what you are probably doing today. If there was ONE THING TO FOCUS ON IN 2017 it would be to create a strategy based around a well-planned Customer Journey which incorporated an incredibly awesome Customer Experience by Mapping out all the experiences your customer will receive when they interact with your business (there are usually over 20 for most companies in the SMB market). If this is of interest and you want to learn more, let’s grab coffee and I can share how some of the best companies in the world have followed this path… for decades… and still dominate in their industries. I think you will find it a fascinating discussion…

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