Q&BA full video chat session online

By Phil Plait | January 23, 2012 10:43 am

On Sunday, I did a live video chat on Google+ where I took astronomy and space questions from folks and answered them as best I could. It was a lot of fun, with several hundred people showing up! I did some minimal editing of the session and put it on YouTube for your enjoyment:

The video resolution is not that great, I know, and I’m working on solutions for that. I’m looking into recording the feed locally on my PC so that I can upload a better version. If you have suggestions, I’m listening (but anyone starting a PC vs Apple war will be eviscerated; be ye fairly warned, says I).

I’m also always happy to get suggestions from people too. I have plans to do this on a weekly basis, and would love to improve it. Whaddaya got?

[P.S. In the "Related posts" below I have some links to the old Q&BA v.1.0 videos. Those got to be so time-consuming I had to stop doing them, but things have gotten much better since then! I’m looking forward to doing this more often now.]

Related posts:

Q and BA Episode 7: By Any Other Name
Q and BA Episode 6: I Am Your Density
Q & BA Episode 1: Galaxies


Comments (12)

  1. Chris

    Real scientists use a Mac :-)
    (Sorry couldn’t help myself)

  2. Jan

    Don’t have time to watch the whole thing now, but I picked out a few random moments to get an idea. The result was oddly entertaining:

    “I’m small and this is huge … These -huge- things!…. These are HUGE! … Yes, this is live *funny face* … So much larger in fact, …. Really large … Observing it over and over and over again … *rewind* Over and over and over again… *rewind* Over and over and over again…”

    Perhaps not what you had in mind, but this way, I was entertained already. 😀 (Will watch the full things once I have more time.)

  3. astrojenny

    Hi Phil
    Here is the source of the Curiosity story from Space.com http://www.space.com/13783-nasa-msl-curiosity-mars-rover-planetary-protection.html
    Seems a planetary protection, anti-contamination measure was skipped during production of a set of drill bits for the rover. So the question is, will this cast doubt on any data from samples excavated using these?

  4. Wzrd1

    Well, my videos from my Mac are far, far better than my videos from my PC, but I suspect that may have something to do with the PC not having a camera attached or built in.
    As for resolution, unless you’re imbedding graphics, does it REALLY matter? What matters to most folks won’t be the ability to count facial hairs, but the content of the video, information wise. 😀

  5. Carlos Figueroa Castro

    Try using a wired internet connection, as well as a dedicated HD camera.

  6. Keith Hearn

    It looks like the bookcase in the background is in better focus than your face. I’ll make no comment on whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. 😉 Many webcams have manual focus, so see if there is a ring around the lens that you can turn to adjust the focus. It’s not at all obvious that it can be adjusted on many webcams.

    edit: Wait a second, don’t you have professional experience working with slightly out of focus optics? I guess you couldn’t just twist the focus ring on the Hubble.

  7. Lars

    Want better resolution? Get a better camera.

    To think I believed YOU to be the rocket scientist here … 😉

  8. redisforever

    Thanks for answering my question, though you did forget to answer part 2 of it. You answered it at 12:00, but still, awesome chat.

  9. In my limited experience, it appears that few astronomers use Windows machines. The late Bob Rood is the only one I can think of at the moment, but I’m pretty sure there’s another 1 or 2 at UVa that do. Another at NRAO runs a Mac with Linux, eschewing OSX… That’s about it. There’s one piece of software that’s Windows-only that I wish I could get for my Mac: MaxIm DL… Oh well.

    Anyway, perhaps you could get a DSLR with HD video capability & set it up looking over your monitor? You can set it to 1080p24 or 720p30 (and save bandwidth). Then you can take photos to rival your brother-in-law’s. Maybe dabble in some time lapse yourself?

  10. Wzrd1

    Folks, I prefer content over high definition video. If the content is usable, which it was, I find no fault.
    Phil’s graphic aids are usable at that definition level and low frame rate/codec issues, so it’s only a cosmetic issue. Real astronomers don’t go in for cosmetic issues, as is proved by quite a few images that are only a sparse 4 pixels large (OK, they DO repeatedly take a new image and average the sum and difference). 😉

    Astrojenny, it’s only a technical issue, as we’re reasonably well acquainted with Earth organisms, were we to see the same ratios of excretions, rather than different ones, the results would be suspect. Not to mention that any organism that might manage to have rode along would be environmentally challenged, to put it mildly. Were the bits fabricated and packaged in the deepest part of Antarctica, I’d suspect we’d have a SLIGHTLY greater chance of survival, THAT would be due to temperature tolerant, but the challenge then is LOW atmospheric pressure and hostile atmospheric chemistry (low O2 and REALLY low pressures). If the pressures were sufficient to permit a potential astronaut to breathe with only a mask, it’d be less low a probability of failure for an Earth organism.

  11. astrojenny

    Wzrd1 – Thanks. I realise the risk is a small one, but the planetary protection program works both ways, to protect the integrity of data received & Earth in the case of return missions but also to minimize risk that we contaminate Mars, if we haven’t done so already :)

  12. mrh

    Regarding the question about how to get your children to think critically and scientifically… I liked Phil’s answer, but I think an even better approach is to first ask the child “What do YOU think the answer is?” Even if it’s a question that they may have no idea what the answer is, this gets them to start using their imagination to come up with a possible answer according to their own current understanding of logic and science. They may be WAY off base to start… but then you can slowly start guiding them in the right direction by asking follow up questions. Always give them a chance to use logic and reason to try to come up with a hyphosis first. But sort of as Phil suggested, depending upon the question, once they have an “answer”, even if it’s wrong, ask them “Now how would you test that”? Don’t just do the experiment.. let them try to come up with what the experiment needs to be first. So not only are they trying to come up with the answer themselves, but also designing the experiment themselves also. And then actually do the experiments (if possible)

    I’ve been doing this with my daugther since the day she could talk, and a couple years ago, on the recommendation of her kindergarten teacher, they had her take various intelligence tests. On “fluid reasoning” (which I believe is the closest thing to critical thinking) she scored in the 99th percential with a score of over 150. And when she asked why I think she scored so high in that catagory, I asked her “Why do you think you did?” to which she replied “Umm.. because you always answer a question with a question?” DOH!! She’s onto me!! :)

    An example.. even as a 5-6 year old.. upon explaining to her what a black hole is.. I asked her “If you theroize about the existance of a black hole, before one was ever observed, but can not “see” one, how could you go about observing one to prove your theory?” And in about 2 minutes.. she came up with that if you could find a black hole that was activly feeding upon matter, and thus that matter disappearing into nothing, that could be evidence of a black hole.


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