Saturday, August 2, 2008

Rumor, Rumor (Oh it's Gotta be True!)

For the last day or so there have been rumors floating around the interwebs that the Mars Phoenix team has "consulted" with the White House prior to some announcement of some sort of new and intriguing data of some sort. It is very tempting to speculate. (It's even more tempting to script out a scenario of Shrub being utterly baffled by the idea of another planet: "Hunh. Well that's real inneresting. Any oil there?")

Here's what we know: The TEGA instrument may be capable of recognizing organic material, but it's not capable of detecting life. We've already determined that the soil chemistry is such that it could support some kinds of plants (asparagus was the example given repeatedly). The microscope is of sufficient power and resolution that it would be able to identify bacteria if they were present, but spokesmen are saying that bacteria have not been spotted. Water was positively identified in the TEGA earlier this week. That can be taken as exciting, but it's really just a final confirmation of something we knew pretty well from a number of other lnes of evidence. So what's the upcoming announcement? Aviation Week weighs in with a reasonable take. The article says the announcement will probably about the middle of the month, or possibly as late as early September if further confirmation and testing is required.

BTW, anybody recognize the source of the post title?

In which RSS leaves me ReSSt deprived

A week ago, I figured out how to use RSS feeds. And dear God, I've hardly come up for air since. My "trends" page says I've read 7239 items in those seven days. To be fair, it's more like I've skimmed over 7239 headlines; I have probably actually read only one in ten of those items. But the efficiency of RSS over browsing is immense: everything gets compiled on one page, so you don't have to wander from site to site to see what's new. I have said several times I like newsletters in my e-mail. I like RSS feeds even better.

I just need to set aside a little time for, you know, little stuff like sleeping and eating and breathing. But I think all that trivia is less important than keeping up with a dozen newspapers and 70 or 80 blogs.

August 21, 2017

I did end up watching the webcast of the solar eclipse early Friday morning. It was pretty cool. Just a few minutes before totality, a bank of clouds rolled in, and things looked bad. The announcers pointed out there was a break coming, and you could almost hear them holding their breath. The crowd let out an enormous whoop when the clouds moved past just before the "diamond ring" phase. The corona was much less complex than during a magneticlly active phase of the sun; after the eclipse ended they showed some photos comparing the corona to other eclipses during sunspot maxima. The difference was very interesting- I had never made that connection before.

I had commented that the webcast was the closest I ever expected to get to a total solar eclipse, but after it ended, I Googled "next US solar eclipse" and found this picture at the Exploratorium:

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cross the entire US! I was excited to see how close the line of totality came to Oregon; perhaps, I thought, I would only have to get to Portland...

So I went looking for a more detailed map. Turns out, I don't have to go anywhere; I can just sit outside my favorite coffee shop and watch. Wow! (Full size image here)I guess this means I gotta keep myself alive for another 9 years. For those who don't live in Oregon (sorry 'bout that), here's a full US thumbnail showing the path of totality.You can find the full sized US map and more detailed regional maps here, and the site's home page has lots of great information. Also, check out the Google map the author has created. It's a wait, but it ought to be worth it!

Friday, August 1, 2008


This is a test post.

OK, there's apparently some sort of corruption going on with site meter right now, and I wasn't able to access the blog. So temporarily, I've taken the counter down. Leave a comment so I know you visited!

Thursday, July 31, 2008


BBC has a couple of articles about the OneGeology project (here and here), intended to provide geologic map coverage of the entire planet online. The initial target is to get 1:1,000,000 coverage, with higher resolution as allowed. OneGeology is a project of IUGS-CGI, The International Union of Geological Sciences Commission for the Management and Application of Geoscience Information. As best as I can tell from their website's home page, they don't actually have maps available yet- lots of information about the project, but no maps (again, as best as I can tell). The "showcase" page does have links to online resources that illustrate the various uses of geologic maps; that'll have to do for now.

As a longtime fan of geomaps, I look forward to this project being implemented in full. Geologic maps can be found on the web, but they're scattered all over the place.

Follow-up: Maps here. Haven't figured it out yet, but playing around...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Can You Say "Skynet?"

Ben the Batman pointed out the vidclips out to me. They're kind of amazing, but very, very scary. I'm just sayin', if a guy in his teens or early 20's can do this on a shoestring budget with a laptop and and a paintball gun, what does that say about the possibility of the Terminator, or to choose a more obscure robotcalypse, the Mark III from Hardware? The latter got uniformly bad reviews, but I kind of liked it. Even the soundtrack (find a copy of the song Order of Death by Public Image), which was also panned. Just keep in mind, this is real. This can be cobbled together with almost nothing. Wait 'til Boeing starts manufacturing them.

Actually, after seeing how these look embedded, you're better off going to YouTube (double click the images) and watching them full screen.

The first clip sets up the game:

I think he may have diddled with the software a little more, the game becomes a little more elaborate, and he throws in a couple of other scenarios- bikes, ninjas on trampolines, and an invader in a Jeep.

Happy Birthday, NASA

For those of you using Google today, you'll notice a bunch of odd little pictures making up the logo. I do wish they had a larger version (or at least someplace I could find it easily). It took me by surprise when I got on the innertubes this morning- my homepage is iGoogle, so their friendly logo is nearly the first thing I see when I turn on the 'puter each day. I clicked on it to see if I could figure out what the event was: turns out today is NASA's 50th birthday. With that in mind, today's logo makes better sense.
I may disagree with some of NASA's spending decisions (for example, I think the International space station is an enormous boondoggle), but overall, the various space programs represent what seem to me some of humanities greatest achievements. Just a few (of many) examples: the Hubble imagery, which gives us pictures of awesome beauty, the Mars Rovers and their ongoing exploration of a planet stunningly similar and stunningly different from our own, the Cassini probe, sending data from a gorgeous world nearly ten times farther from the sun than Earth (with a tip of the hat to ESA's lander, which sent the single most stunning astronomical image I have ever seen- for a later post) and the MESSENGER probe, which I've written about here and here, and to which I need to return eventually. I know some argue about the "enormous" cost of funding NASA, but if you look at the cost compared to other expenditures, NASA's cost is trivial.
Happy 50th Birthday! May your next 50 be even more productive, and give us more to be amazed about and proud of.


I haven't seen Wall-E, and probably won't until it's out on DVD, but I've been a big fan of Pixar Pictures for a long time- even before their first feature, Toy Story, came out. They had an animated short that played at our local summer festival, DaVinci days, several years earlier; I think the name was Tin Toy, or Tin Soldier, or something like that, about a tin toy soldier trying to stay away from a (comparatively huge) drooling baby. It was hysterically funny. I just found a link to a high-res version of the short that precedes Wall-E, Presto. Others have told me that Wall-E is brilliant, and that the short is terrific. It is. Bravo! Messieur Pixar!

Happy Feet

This video went viral a couple of weeks ago, so there's a good chance you've already seen it. This is a pretty high quality clip though, and it won't hurt you to see it again. There's something goofy and trite and appallingly naive about the whole thing. But there is also something profound and moving and ever so hopeful about it. It's yet another manipulative attempt to mess with my inner grinch that works.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Republicans and Rodents

JOHN MCCAIN GETS MOLE REMOVED FROM FACE, July 28 Republican White House hopeful John McCain, who has been treated for skin cancer in the past, said Monday he had a small mole removed from his face during a routine dermatological check-up.Full story at

They decided to leave the mouse hanging off his nose. They have no idea how to remove his inner rat, and the bats in his belfry are a lost cause.

Sorry, this was too obvious to leave alone. And I know that moles and bats aren't rodents.

Auditory Illusion

I've always wondered if there was an auditory equivalent to optical illusions. BoingBoing had a clip today of a very interesting example. As soon as the clip stops, hit play to repeat it; do this a couple of times. Keep in mind that you're actually hearing the same sound segment repeatedly- it does not shift higher even though it sounds that way. Weird.

There's an explanation that I don't really understand at the original post.
Followup: There's a better explanation at Wikipedia.

Solar Eclipse Friday...

...Or, as the Exploratorium calls the event, the "Sun-Eating Dragon." The above is a diagram lifted from this NASA website showing the path of totality (full-sized here). The eclipse will start in Northern China, the right side of the blue band in the map above, and move westward, ending in Northeastern Canada. (Followup: Oops, got this backwards- it starts in Eastern Canada, moves eastward, and ends in NE Asia after passing across N. Europe) In the US, only Maine will see a bit of the partial eclipse, just after sunrise. The Exploratorium will be doing a live web broadcast here starting at 6:30 AM Eastern, 3:30 AM Pacific (10:30 UT). Their eclipse page is here, with a variety of links to eclipse-related info.

I've seen a number of partial eclipses; those are awesome enough. A total eclipse would be a real mind-blower, but I think this is as close as I'm likely to get.