Planet Hunting Gets Rocky

space, astronomy, astrophysics


(You or your institution will have to have a subscription to Science to click through the link above.)

When it comes to extrasolar planets, smaller is better--at least for astronomers, who long to find worlds like Earth. A European team now has taken a step toward that goal by spotting the smallest planet yet found circling an ordinary star. The planet weighs in at 14 times Earth's mass, and although the astronomers have no direct evidence of the planet's composition, it may be the first known alien world made mainly of rock, rather than gas, in a planetary system like our sun's.


The planet races around µ Arae at less than 1/10th of the distance between Earth and the sun. According to models of planetary formation, an object of that size is too small to have coalesced farther out as a gas giant and then migrated toward the star. Rather, Santos says, it probably formed near its present orbit by accumulating a hot core of rock and a relatively small gaseous atmosphere.

Because the planet does not cross directly in front of its star, the team cannot confirm its inferences by measuring the planet's radius, says planetary theorist Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington, D.C. Still, Boss finds the logic convincing: "They seem to have found what I would call the top end of the range of terrestrial-type planets. This is a very encouraging sign that we will find a lot of lower-mass rocky planets in the next 10 years or so."

This is wicked. We'll find many more like this in the coming decade (by 2010). I expect the announcement of an Earth-sized planet areound a Sun-like star to be within the year (end of 2004). I also expect the same but in an Earth-like orbit will be found within three years (September of 2007).

Joe no longer an FSF Licensing Volunteer

blogging, open source

Well, folks... I feel the need to use this blog more like a diary at the moment. What a treat. Be prepared.

I've been dismissed from the FSF Licensing queue. (What's that? If you send email to, it used to go to me and Dave Turner... the GPL Compliance guru at the FSF).

Why? Well my answers were sloppy and inconsistent.

This is highly disappointing to say the least... to put it in perspective, I didn't feel this bad and disappointed when SIMS rejected me the first time as a PhD student (It's not easy to get in here... mostly because we're very small.). I really enjoyed the challenge of answering and solving people's conundrums with free and open source licensing.

I can see the FSF's point, of course. They want essentially volunteer lawyers and/or law students to be able to provide precise, consistent answers to licensing queries. I am no genius and am far from brilliant. When I set out to solve a problem, it takes a number of tries and it doesn't happen immediately or fast or the right way the first time.

That can be a liability if you're the FSF and the community of free software folks around the world rely on your advice.

Still, I can't help but think that I could have done better if I had known I was on thin ice. I've never been fired from a job, ever. I like getting things done and getting them done right. I like helping people and free software is definitely one of the major forces in the world right now enabling people to help themselves and their kin.

So, I'll retreat and attempt to beef up my skills in the licensing arena... I don't know how I'll do it. There's very little short of becoming a licensing attorney that I can do... I thought about starting a wiki entitled "The Annotated GPL". Let me know if you read this and think it a worthwhile endeavor.

(licking my wounds in retreat)

Keep your eyes on the EFF's E-voting Archive

elections, certification/testing, reform, vendors, standards, copyright, news


Keep your eyes on the EFF's E-voting Archive. Among some of the recent additions are Electronic Voting Machine Information Sheets (authored by yours truly). We'll be adding an information sheet for each DRE on the market and in use this November.

Electronic Voting Machine Information Sheets

These have all been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-only license.

Ernie Miller's 100th INDUCE Post


Aaronsw makes Wired...

blogging, feeds


You know the youth is on track when we've got peeps like Aaron in the mix.

UPDATE: Holy shit! Cal turned Aaron Swartz down? What the hell does it take? Maybe we only let stupid people in... I feel ashamed.

WHO: Aaron Swartz, an 18-year-old computer whiz who in 2000 helped develop the popular Web-content distribution software RSS.


WHEN HE GROWS UP: Now that Swartz has been palling around with Lessig, he's liking law. "Four years ago I probably would have said I'd be some kind of startup guy," says Swartz, now entering his freshman year, "but the law seems really interesting to me. It's a system of rules, like computers are and you can hack it by finding the implications of those rules. Go to a judge, show your hack, and the judge has the power to change the world based on your conclusions."

GO CARDINAL: A native of Highland Park, Illinois, Swartz has long had his eye on the San Francisco Bay Area. He applied to only Stanford and UC Berkeley. Cal turned him down. Maybe the recommendation letter from Lessig greased the wheels in Palo Alto.

UPDATE: Aaron gets a whole 2/3 of a page...

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