Monday, August 28, 2006

Removing Distraction

We are now well into the month of Sha'baan and in less than a month will enter the month of obligatory fasting.

We all lead very busy lives, but in order to improve ourselves spiritually we need to learn how to do one thing: remove distraction. In many ways, that is what Islam is all about. Our prayers are about removing distraction of our daily lives to focus several times a day, even briefly, on what matters. One of the great powers of the hajj is that you are removed from your daily worldly life and your sole focus becomes something else, something spiritual, something greater than you that by comparison makes your daily life seem meaningless; for a time, you get pure focus on the Big Picture.

Fasting removes a lot of distraction from our lives, it helps us focus on the spiritual self by decreasing focus on the physical self. But some people turn the month of Ramadan unfortunately into the exact opposite - focused on eating and socializing with some prayers thrown in.

There are so many prayers and other good things to do year round but there are a great many unique to the month of Ramadan that if we let the opportunity slip by it is gone forever. Yes, perhaps we may live to another year, but the opportunities of that year are gone never to be regained.

To get more out of the month, we may not be able to decrease our work hours nor may it even be appropriate to do so - work can be worship. But we can work on removing or at least decreasing distractors - TV and radio chief among them. We can also work on removing bad habits whatever they may be.

The key to success is often to commit to something small and stick to it. When it is easy, then add something else small, but just keep building. If we have backpedaled in some areas, we can try to move forward from wherever we are now.

The Prophet reminds us, especially in Ramazan, to perform the great act of worship, meditation. This is because the servant’s transcendence that accompanies it is even stronger during the special times and the special places of worship. One of the most significant outcomes of praying in these places and times, is the submissive meditation which was a delight to the Prophet (s.a.w) about which he had this to say: “And raise your hands to Him in prayer during the times of your meditation, because it is the best of all times in which Almighty Allah mercifully looks unto His servants He answers their prayers a whether whispered or said aloud’.

Another important aspect of the month of Ramadan is emphasis on reading Qur'an. Let us not just hear a chanting but meditate on meaning and learn from it. Reading the Qur'an is a great way to remove distractors - the Qur'an focuses on what is important, and in turn paying attention to it will keep you focused too.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Yes I really do find this stuff interesting....

Dinky Pluto Loses Its Status As Planet

Associated Press Writer

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- Pluto, beloved by some as a cosmic underdog but scorned by astronomers who considered it too dinky and distant, was unceremoniously stripped of its status as a planet Thursday.

The International Astronomical Union, dramatically reversing course just a week after floating the idea of reaffirming Pluto's planethood and adding three new planets to Earth's neighborhood, downgraded the ninth rock from the sun in historic new galactic guidelines.

Powerful new telescopes, experts said, are changing the way they size up the mysteries of the solar system and beyond. But the scientists showed a soft side, waving plush toys of the Walt Disney character - and insisting that Pluto's spirit will live on in the exciting discoveries yet to come.

"The word 'planet' and the idea of planets can be emotional because they're something we learn as children," said Richard Binzel, a professor of planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who helped hammer out the new definition.

"This is really all about science, which is all about getting new facts," he said. "Science has marched on. ... Many more Plutos wait to be discovered."

Pluto, a planet since 1930, got the boot because it didn't meet the new rules, which say a planet not only must orbit the sun and be large enough to assume a nearly round shape, but must "clear the neighborhood around its orbit." That disqualifies Pluto, whose oblong orbit overlaps Neptune's, downsizing the solar system to eight planets from the traditional nine.

Astronomers have labored without a universal definition of a planet since well before the time of Copernicus, who proved that the Earth revolves around the sun, and the experts gathered in Prague burst into applause when the guidelines were passed.

Predictably, Pluto's demotion provoked plenty of wistful nostalgia.

Buy AP Photo Reprints

"It's disappointing in a way, and confusing," said Patricia Tombaugh, the 93-year-old widow of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh.

"I don't know just how you handle it. It kind of sounds like I just lost my job," she said from Las Cruces, N.M. "But I understand science is not something that just sits there. It goes on. Clyde finally said before he died, 'It's there. Whatever it is. It is there.'"

The decision by the IAU, the official arbiter of heavenly objects, restricts membership in the elite cosmic club to the eight classical planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Pluto and objects like it will be known as "dwarf planets," which raised some thorny questions about semantics: If a raincoat is still a coat, and a cell phone is still a phone, why isn't a dwarf planet still a planet?

NASA said Pluto's downgrade would not affect its $700 million New Horizons spacecraft mission, which this year began a 9 1/2-year journey to the oddball object to unearth more of its secrets.

But mission head Alan Stern said he was "embarrassed" by Pluto's undoing and predicted that Thursday's vote would not end the debate. Although 2,500 astronomers from 75 nations attended the conference, only about 300 showed up to vote.

"It's a sloppy definition. It's bad science," he said. "It ain't over."

The shift also poses a challenge to the world's teachers, who will have to scramble to alter lesson plans just as schools open for the fall term.

"We will adapt our teaching to explain the new categories," said Neil Crumpton, who teaches science at a high school north of London. "It will all take some explanation, but it is really just a reclassification and I can't see that it will cause any problems. Science is an evolving subject and always will be."

Under the new rules, two of the three objects that came tantalizingly close to planethood will join Pluto as dwarfs: the asteroid Ceres, which was a planet in the 1800s before it got demoted, and 2003 UB313, an icy object slightly larger than Pluto whose discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, has nicknamed "Xena." The third object, Pluto's largest moon, Charon, isn't in line for any special designation.

Brown, whose Xena find rekindled calls for Pluto's demise because it showed it isn't nearly as unique as it once seemed, waxed philosophical.

"Eight is enough," he said, jokingly adding: "I may go down in history as the guy who killed Pluto."

Demoting the icy orb named for the Roman god of the underworld isn't personal - it's just business - said Jack Horkheimer, director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium and host of the PBS show "Star Gazer."

"It's like an amicable divorce," he said. "The legal status has changed but the person really hasn't. It's just single again."


AP Science Writers Alicia Chang in Los Angeles and Seth Borenstein in Washington, and correspondents Sue Leeman in London and Mike Schneider in Cape Canaveral, Fla., contributed to this story.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Twelve for now, and maybe more....

August 16, 2006

From Scientific American

The original definition of planet is wanderer, from the Greeks who watched these bright lights wander through the firmament of fixed stars. Observers discerned nine of these travelers over the course of human history, the last being Pluto in 1930. But recent discoveries of more objects orbiting the sun, both bigger than Pluto and similarly rounded in shape, called into question the arbitrary limit of nine, with some proposing that Pluto did not merit its planetary status. Now the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has crafted a new definition for what constitutes a planet that would expand the solar system to Pluto and beyond, encompassing 12 bodies in all.
Earlier this year, a special team convened by the IAU struggled to establish the criteria that defines a planet. Various proposals included size (mass) and orbit. "On the second morning several members admitted that they had not slept well, worrying that we would not be able to reach a consensus," writes Owen Gingerich of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and chair of the Planet Definition Committee. "But by the end of a long day, the miracle had happened: we had reached a unanimous agreement."

The new proposed definition of a planet is: a celestial body with sufficient mass to assume a nearly spherical shape that orbits a star without being another star or a satellite of another planet. By this definition, the list of planets in order from the sun now reads: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto-Charon (considered a double-planet system) and the newly discovered and officially unnamed 2003 UB313, otherwise known as Xena. The committee also proposed a new category of planets, called plutons, be applied to those bodies that, like Pluto, both take longer than 200 Earth years to revolve around the sun and have eccentric orbits outside the typical orbital plane.

The solar system thus gains its first double planet, the Pluto-Charon pairing, as well as several so-called "dwarf planets," such as Ceres, which, while only 952 kilometers in diameter, still fulfills the new planet criteria. In fact, there are at least 12 more planet candidates, including Sedna and Quaoar that the IAU will be called upon to include or dismiss during future deliberations, along with giving 2003 UB313 a proper name. For the moment, attendees will simply debate the proposed definition and vote on whether to accept it or not on August 24.

No matter the outcome of that vote, this new definition does not neatly wrap up all the confusion engendered by the multiplicity of bodies in our solar system. Pluto's two newly discovered satellites elude precise classification because they orbit the gravitational center between it and Charon and the proposal does nothing to distinguish between large gaseous planets and brown dwarfs. "Did our committee think of everything, including extrasolar planet systems? Definitely not!" Gingerich notes. "Science is an active enterprise, constantly bringing new surprises." Twelve planets may just be the starting point of a growing system.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I think Pluto should be demoted, at least to "minor planet" or "ice dwarf planet." You?

Aug 13, 12:24 PM EDT
Astronomers Struggle to Define 'Planet'

AP Science Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Our solar system is suffering an identity crisis. For decades, it has consisted of nine planets, even as scientists debated whether Pluto really belonged. Then the recent discovery of an object larger and farther away than Pluto threatened to throw this slice of the cosmos into chaos.

Should this newly found icy rock known as "2003 UB313" become the 10th planet? Should Pluto be demoted? And what exactly is a planet, anyway?

Ancient cultures regularly revised their answer to the last question and present-day scientists aren't much better off: There still is no universal definition of "planet."

That all could soon change, and with it science textbooks around this planet.

At a 12-day conference beginning Monday, scientists will conduct a galactic census of sorts. Among the possibilities at the meeting of the International Astronomical Union in the Czech Republic capital of Prague: Subtract Pluto or christen one more planet, and possibly dozens more.

"It's time we have a definition," said Alan Stern, who heads the Colorado-based space science division of the Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio. "It's embarrassing to the public that we as astronomers don't have one."

The debate intensified last summer when astronomer Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology announced the discovery of a celestial object larger than Pluto. Like Pluto, it is a member of the Kuiper Belt, a mysterious disc-shaped zone beyond Neptune containing thousands of comets and planetary objects. (Brown nicknamed his find "Xena" after a warrior heroine in a cheesy TV series; pending a formal name, it remains 2003 UB313.)

The Hubble Space Telescope measured the bright, rocky object at about 1,490 miles in diameter, roughly 70 miles longer than Pluto. At 9 billion miles from the sun, it is the farthest known object in the solar system.

The discovery stoked the planet debate that had been simmering since Pluto was spotted in 1930.

Some argue that if Pluto kept its crown, Xena should be the 10th planet by default - it is, after all, bigger. Purists maintain that there are only eight traditional planets, and insist Pluto and Xena are poseurs.

"Life would be simpler if we went back to eight planets," said Brian Marsden, director of the astronomical union's Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass.

Still others suggest a compromise that would divide planets into categories based on composition, similar to the way stars and galaxies are classified. Jupiter could be labeled a "gas giant planet," while Pluto and Xena could be "ice dwarf planets."

"Pluto is not worthy of being called just a plain planet," said Alan Boss, an astrophysicist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. "But it's perfectly fine as an ice dwarf planet or a historical planet."

The number of recognized planets in the solar system has seesawed based on new findings. Ceres was initially classified as a planet in the 1800s, but was demoted to an asteroid when similar objects were found nearby.

Despite the lack of scientific consensus on what makes a planet, the current nine - and Xena - share common traits: They orbit the sun. Gravity is responsible for their round shape. And they were not formed by the same process that created stars.

Brown, Xena's discoverer, admits to being "agnostic" about what the international conference decides. He said he could live with eight planets, but is against sticking with the status quo and would feel a little guilty if Xena gained planethood because of the controversy surrounding Pluto.

"If UB313 is declared to be the 10th planet, I will always feel like it was a little bit of a fraud," Brown said.

For years, Pluto's inclusion in the solar system has been controversial. Astronomers thought it was the same size as Earth, but later found it was smaller than Earth's moon. Pluto is also odd in other ways: With its elongated orbit and funky orbital plane, it acts more like other Kuiper Belt objects than traditional planets.

Even so, Pluto remained No. 9 because it was the only known object in the Kuiper Belt at the time.

When new observations in the 1990s confirmed that the Kuiper Belt was sprinkled with numerous bodies similar to Pluto, some scientists piped up. In 1999, the international union took the unusual step of releasing a public statement denying rumors that the ninth rock from the sun might be kicked out.

That hasn't stopped groups from attacking Pluto's planethood. In 2001, the Hayden Planetarium at New York's American Museum of Natural History unleashed an uproar when it excluded Pluto as a planet in its solar system gallery.

Earlier this year, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft began a 9 1/2-year journey to Pluto on a mission that scientists hope will reveal more about the oddball object.

The trick for astronomers meeting in Prague is to set a criterion that makes sense scientifically. Should planets be grouped by location, size or another marker? If planets are defined by their size, should they be bigger than Pluto or another arbitrary size? The latter could expand the solar system to 23, 39 or even 53 planets.

It's not an academic exercise - the public may not be open to a flood of new planets. Despite their differences, scientists agree any definition should be flexible enough to accommodate new discoveries.

"Science progresses," said Boss of the Carnegie Institution. "Science is not something that's engraved on a steel tablet never to be changed."

Friday, August 11, 2006

We need more of this in the world

Do I Have Enough? - originally posted at

I was doing some last-minute shopping in a toy store and decided to look at Barbie dolls for my nieces.

A nicely dressed little girl was excitedly looking through the Barbie dolls as well, with a roll of money clamped tightly in her little hand. When she came upon a Barbie she liked, she would turn and ask her father if she had enough money to buy it. He usually said "yes," but she would keep looking and keep going through their ritual of "do I have enough?"

As she was looking, a little boy wandered in across the aisle and started sorting through the Pokemon toys.

He was dressed neatly, but in clothes that were obviously rather worn, and wearing a jacket that was probably a couple of sizes too small. He too had money in his hand, but it looked to be no more than five dollars or so at the most.

He was with his father as well, and kept picking up the Pokemon video toys. Each time he picked one up and looked at his father, his father shook his head, "No."

The little girl had apparently chosen her Barbie, a beautifully dressed, glamorous doll that would have been the envy of every little girl on the block.

However, she had stopped and was watching the interchange between the little boy and his father. Rather dejectedly, the boy had given up on the video games and had chosen what looked like a book of stickers instead. He and his father then started walking through another aisle of the store.

The little girl put her Barbie back on the shelf, and ran over to the Pokemon games. She excitedly picked up one that was lying on top of the other toys, and raced toward the check-out, after speaking with her father. I picked up my purchases and got in line behind them. Then, much to the little girl's obvious delight, the little boy and his father got in line behind me.

After the toy was paid for and bagged, the little girl handed it back to the cashier and whispered something in her ear. The cashier smiled and put the package under the counter.

I paid for my purchases and was rearranging things in my purse when the little boy came up to the cashier. The cashier rang up his purchases and then said, "Congratulations, you are my hundredth customer today, and you win a prize!"

With that, she handed the little boy the Pokemon game, and he could only stare in disbelief.

It was, he said, exactly what he had wanted!

The little girl and her father had been standing at the doorway during all of this, and I saw the biggest, prettiest, toothless grin on that little girl that I have ever seen in my life. Then they walked out the door, and I followed close behind them.

As I walked back to my car in amazement over what I had just witnessed, I heard the father ask his daughter why she had done that. I'll never forget what she said to him.

"Daddy, didn't Nana and PawPaw want me to buy something that would make me happy?"

He said, "Of course they did, honey."

To which the little girl replied, "Well, I just did!"

With that, she giggled and started skipping toward their car.

Apparently, she had decided on the answer to her own question of, "do I have enough?"

Monday, August 07, 2006

In a way it is really cool, but on the flip side it is just another sad evidence of the crisis of global warming

August 07, 2006

Massive manatee favors Manhattan suburbs


NEW YORK - In the heat of summer, all sorts of tourists head north to cooler climes. This year, a manatee has joined the crowd, cruising past the nightclubs of Manhattan and continuing north.

The massive animal has been spotted in the Hudson River at least three times in the last week - first off the Chelsea and Harlem sections of Manhattan, then to the north in Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County.

"It was gigantic," said Randy Shull, who said he spotted the unusual visitor Sunday afternoon while boating at Kingsland Point Park in Sleepy Hollow. "When we saw it surface, its back was just mammoth."

John Vargo, the publisher of Boating on the Hudson magazine, said his alert about the sightings was met with disbelief by some boaters.

"Some were laughing about it, because it couldn't possibly be true," he said.

It is unusual for one of the creatures - often associated with the warm waters of Florida - to travel so far north, although they have been reported along the shores of Long Island and even Rhode Island.

"I'm 70 years old, and I've been on the river my entire life," Vargo said. "I've seen dolphins and everything else, but never a manatee."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ayatul Kursi translation and transliteration

I notice a lot of people end up at my site via searches related to ayatul kursi and I don't know if they are finding what they want. So here is a post specifically dedicated to ayatul kursi.

Ayatul Kursi is recommended for memorization, regular recitation, etc. Many people carry it on their person so it is handy to recite if they don't memorize it, and many people keep it in their cars, etc. It is said that reciting and reflecting on its meaning is a powerful avenue of protection, fulfillment of needs/goals, etc.

This is the transliteration/translation for Sura  Al-Baqara 255-257. (I think Sunnis do only 255 as ayatul kursi, Shias do all three ayahs.)
Allāhu Lā 'Ilāha 'Illā Huwa Al-Ĥayyu Al-Qayyūm Lā Ta'khudhuhu Sinatun Wa Lā Nawmun Lahu Mā Fī As-Samāwāti Wa Mā Fī Al-'Arđi Man Dhā Al-Ladhī Yashfa`u `Indahu 'Illā Bi'idhnihi Ya`lamu Mā Bayna 'Aydīhim Wa Mā Khalfahum Wa Lā Yuĥīţūna Bishay'in Min `Ilmihi 'Illā Bimā Shā'a Wasi`a Kursīyuhu As-Samāwāti Wa Al-'Arđa Wa Lā Ya'ūduhu Ĥifžuhumā Wa Huwa Al-`Alīyu Al-`Ažīmu (255).

Allah! There is no God save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him. Unto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with Him save by His leave ? He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will. His throne includeth the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous.

Lā 'Ikrāha Fī Ad-Dīni Qad Tabayyana Ar-Rushdu Mina Al-Ghayyi Faman Yakfur Biţ-Ţāghūti Wa Yu'umin Billāhi Faqad Astamsaka Bil-`Urwati Al-Wuthqaá Lā Anfişāma Lahā Wa Allāhu Samī`un `Alīmun (256).

There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.

Allāhu Wa Līyu Al-Ladhīna 'Āmanū Yukhrijuhum Mina Až-Žulumāti 'Ilaá An-Nūr Wa Al-Ladhīna Kafarū 'Awliyā'uuhum Aţ-Ţāghūtu Yukhrijūnahum Mina An-Nūr 'Ilaá Až-Žulumāti 'Ūlā'ika 'Aşĥābu An-Nāri Hum Fīhā Khālidūna (257).

Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein.

After getting woken up

in the middle of the night a few times over several years, I wish there was something I could do about it. (Yuck!)

A All Quality Time Entertainment
Staten Island, NY zip code
Phone: (718) 390-8999
Business Types:
Escorts, Miscellaneous Personal Services

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Public Schools are Good!

For people actually involved in the schools, we knew this all along. I've seen both sides of the fence and public schools are generally much better in education reform than private schools.

All Things Considered, July 26, 2006 · Public schools perform favorably with private schools when students' income and socio-economic status are taken into account, according to a new report from the U.S. Education Department. The findings counter a popularly held notion, that private schools outperform public schools.

But the report has generated controversy due to what some call its overly low-key release, on a Friday evening. That spurred critics to charge that the Bush administration, long a supporter of private alternatives to public schools, was playing politics by burying data it doesn't like.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings calls her critics' charges ridiculous, saying the administration strongly supports public education. But, she says, the administration also believes parents should have choices.