Staring at the Sun and other Follies

As I got on the highway driving home last night, I was heading west and looking right into the sun around sunset. This is fairly normal. What isn’t normal is that there was a solar eclipse going on. A fairly amazing one with about a quarter of the sun’s disc covered. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m not supposed to look directly at the sun. But it’s unavoidable when the sun is that low in the sky and you’re driving straight towards it. Besides, how can looking at 75% of the sun be any worse than looking at 100% of the sun which I have to do on most days?

Anyway, it confirms my theory about astronomical events. The more they are hyped, the less worthwhile they are to see. Things like Halley’s comet which was hyped all my life as supposedly being the most amazing thing that man would ever see, turned out to be so obscure that you could look right at it and not even know if you saw it or not. Most other highly promoted astronomical events turn out to be a similar waste of time. I’ve seen many previous solar eclipses that were allegedly “the last eclipse that will be seen in 20,000 years, etc. etc.” (and used appropriate filters to look at them, of course). They were all rubbish. And usually, if you read the fine print, they’re really saying something like “the last eclipse that will be seen in 20,000 years that covers exactly 63.5% of the sun and can be seen on a Tuesday in the month December during the Reagan administration” or somesuch.

The really spectacular things I’ve seen in the sky I usually don’t hear much about before hand. Like the eclipse last night that I had no idea about until I saw it. Or a couple of years ago when I watched an event that turned out to be the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in the sky – the nighttime re-entry of a space shuttle over Texas. I just happened to see something on the local news about it and we walked outside a few minutes later and there it was.

The other interesting event today is that Microsoft found some goofy “think tank” that it could pay to issue a “study” claiming that all us Open Source and Free Software folks are a bunch of communists out to destroy the American way of life by standing up to poor, helpless corporations like Microsoft. I’d never heard of the “Alexis de Tocqueville Institution” prior to this but it appears to be one of those a “money for bogus research” places. The author seems to barely even grasp what software is, so it’s hard to take seriously his opinion that sharing my source code with others is a threat to the free world. As people stop laughing at the thing, I suspect a few rebuttles will be springing up across the web. The Roaring Penguin already has one up.

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