The Apollo Leap


They Went to the Moon
& Discovered Our Earth

This famous shot of the Earth rising above the Moon’s horizon was taken half a century ago by astronaut Bill Anders, helped by Frank Borman and Jim Lovell. But it didn’t come to light until a few months later. When it did, it went straight to my wall.
Like millions of teens, my room in 1968 was a dizzying array of passions and people I admire. There was a spot for the Earthrise shot next to a tongue-stuck-out Einstein, a bonnet-clad Che, a nearly nude Brigitte, Beatles, Hendrix, and Caetano Veloso to boot.
So, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin finally touched down on quaint-named Tranquility Base 50 years ago this Saturday, the deal was already done. Still dauntingly impressive, but the new world had been discovered the previous December. And it was blue.
To this day, we’ve yet to know another heavenly body that, despite being rock-solid, appears translucent and blue in space like no other. No other has oxygen and water enough to nurture life’s exuberance, all packed into such a transfixing image.
No one but this planet is suitable for the likes of us. And never before it was so close to being murdered by the very species that depend on it the most. In 1969, Earth’s blueness was a revelation to be cherished. Now, it’s our only argument for survival.

GO FOR GLORY. BRING BACK ROCKS
We’re bound to this ship, no matter how far we may go. And we haven’t even got far. In fact, we couldn’t really go anywhere without carrying our home with us. Since that’s impossible, whatever we do to our home, will determine the fate of its dwellers.
Even those who’d like to leave it and live somewhere else, know that it’s a one-way ticket out of life. And maybe to the relevance they’re sure won’t be achieved here. Bon voyage to them, there’ll always be a need for pioneers. But I’m staying put, thank you very much.
The Apollo 11 trip to eternity remains one of mankind’s greatest achievements. But it’s also one of our biggest failures, as we did little to step beyond it, and now it’s as great as a masterpiece in a museum: intriguing but shut away from reality, an end on itself.
We’re inspired by that moment, as we should, and we relish its significance, for it reflects all that’s great about our nature. It transcended everything around it: the nation that finally placed a man on another world; war; the politics; all of it.

THEY PUT A MAN ON THE MOON
But it was but a moment, now lost in time. In five decades, we went from the unshakeable hope for the future, the human genius and the power of technology, to the far-out opposite end of clarity; we simply don’t know how we’ll get through this crisis.
We knew then that a trip to the Moon would be remembered, and celebrated, and it could trigger a new era, fulfilling our destiny as wanderers of the great beyond. Now we’re actually afraid that there won’t be anyone left then to mark its first century anniversary.
For over 200,000 years, we’ve walked all over this planet, explored every nook, probed each hole, went down all abysms, and climbed up mountains high and higher. We dove its deep oceans and tested its fiery volcanos. We died and were reborn many times.
Our civilizations are built out of this world’s dust and bones. But one thing our journey hasn’t quite led us to yet is to the harmony of coexisting with the sphere that supports us. We have nothing on the serenity that the pale blue dot floating in the vacuum exudes.

SOMEONE HAS TO TELL THE KIDS
All we’ve built now conspire to destroy us, and we should be so lucky if, in the process, Earth’s spared. We may not see this, but if it survives us it may no longer be blue and ethereal as it looks now. It’ll have to be violent to rid itself of the plague of us.
And yet the fight to reverse course and start it over, even if not from the very beginning, is not just possible but our best shot. It’s either that or reckoning with angry kids we’ve sentenced to live and die in a poisoned era. That or we will choke on our own mistakes.
It was thrilling to believe we’d stepped up, and anyone could be a guest of another planet. Even that the very fuel and raw materials, (more)
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* Window Seat
* Space Odor
* The Last Apollo

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Space Lighthouse

ISS@20, Life Amid Stars
Enters Its Third Decade

Here she comes. And there she goes. 16 times a day. The International Space Station, which completed 20 years in orbit last week, is humankind’s friendliest eye in the sky, a silent witness watching over us at every turn of our home planet.
It’s been an amazing ride and view. Just the sheer technological mastery necessary to keep it afloat, and the wealth of scientific data it provides daily, are enough to fulfill its lofty dream of being the space outpost of everyone of us, Earthlings.
Built by 16 nations, it’s been the temporary home to 230 highly trained rocket scientists who could even play some football up there: the ISS is almost as long as the field, or the equivalent of a six-bedroom house. They’re wiser with their time, though.
The station is a scientific research hub, from life to physical sciences, from astronomy to meteorology. For instance, the yearlong study monitoring twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. Mark in Houston, Texas, and Scott, racing overhead at five miles per second.
Above all, the ISS‘ greatest achievement is being a beacon to our best aspirations, of harmony among nations, working together to build a better future. As such a beautiful dream is far from becoming reality down here, it’s crucial that it survives in space.

A BLUE WORLD, ROUND AS PIE
Watching it sliding soundlessly above high mountains of clouds and vast water mirrors, allows us also into a truly surprising realization: all ground noise we make, tall buildings we erect, and border walls we raise, are invisible and meaningless from the air.
The ISS sees no wars, hate, hunger, tragedy. It does, however, observe the terrible ways we treat Earth, and from above it’s easy to see the pollution of the air, the desertification of land, the smoke of wildfires caused by our abandon. And that’s beyond sad.
From up there, lies and climate change denials can’t be heard either, which is probably good. But not seeing rising sea levels or lines dividing people, doesn’t mean that we’re unaffected by them. All it takes is, well, an astronaut, to report their deadly impact.

THE THIRD BRIGHTEST IN THE SKY
Just like the dream behind its conception, the ISS is also vulnerable: a little debris the size of a quarter can disable it and risk the lives of its dwellers. And it’s also susceptible to the whims of near-sighted (more)
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* Space Droppings
* Heavenly Palace
* Meanwhile, Up There

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Reaction Wheels

Satellites Die, Visitors Speed Up
& Black Holes Rule the Milky Way

Paraphrasing Lady Michelle Obama, when reality goes low, lift up your eyesight at the universe. (It wasn’t really like that but we’ll stick with her wisdom anytime anyway.) Things are rough on the ground, but out there, they’re still stunning.
Was Uoumuamua, the rare interstellar object that’s just visited us, an alien ship? What about those two satellites that signed off almost simultaneously? Or the black hole at the center of the Milky Way? Will it ever bring back my silk socks?
We allow ourselves to be intrigued by the puzzling and the silly in equal matters. It may become impossible to hold on to our grip on an ever evolving set of circumstances. Life keeps tricking us but we always manage to keeping on coming back for more.
The unpredictable world of lately, what with changing climate conditions and unprepared leaders making stupid decisions, tempts the wisest among us, and it’s OK to seek refuge by just looking at the sky. Never mind most of what we see took place ages ago.
Except when it doesn’t. We count on predictability, even as we complain we’re bored. Thus our light take on the possibility we’ve just met a messenger from another world, the surprising synchronicity of two man-made machines, and, well black holes.

WHEN SATELLITES STARVE TO DEATH
When Dawn (2007) and Kepler (2009) started ‘running on fumes’ last week, within two days but far, far away from each other, it wasn’t a galactic sendoff for love-stricken robots. Their expiration dates had already been stretched by many years; it was time.
They were but exhausted; something to do with reaction wheels, as NASA would have it. Both Dawn, sent to probe the asteroid belt, and Kepler, hunter of exoplanets, ran out of fuel. Too much of it went to fire up thrusters and prevent them from spinning.

They’ve outlived retirement and outdone their missions, though. While Dawn became first to orbit multiple extraterrestrial bodies, Kepler‘s found 2,600 planets, a tiny sliver of them loosely resembling Earth. Now, who do you know that did at least one of those things?
MILKY WAY, YER HEART IS A BLACK HOLE
Lying on the wet grass of my backyard, I used to check the stars, track satellites, trace trajectories into the big beyond of our home galaxy. But I’ve never pictured a black hole staring right back at me. They eat everything. That kid wouldn’t be here had he known.
In fact, neither none of us would, if the hole that dares not having a name (Sagitarius A, NASA, really? Why not Black Hole Alley, then?) would exercise the same gluttony towards us as it’s doing to that poor star hanging off its mouth.
A thing about space, or what we think we’re seeing of it, is that its vastness is never bland, and permanent rebirth (more)
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* Gatekeeper of Outerspace
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Heard That?

New Reasons to Have
Nightmares in October

Times have been so scary that not even Halloween spooks kids anymore. Which is fine and won’t spoil the fun out of it. Fake blood? Phony zombies? Made-up vampires? Bring them all on, for who isn’t in badly need of a break these days?
And yet, unlike the ‘horrors’ summoned on Oct. 31, nightmares do exist to torment us. Having one at sleep is haunting, but it’s worst when it keeps vigil and frightens the daylights out of us when we’re wide awaken. Nicely, we prepared a short list of them.
Let’s let the former lie quietly for now, as no one can foresee what a tired mind may conjure when the body finally finds comfort under blankets. Some dreams rattle on, while others slip by unnoticed. But there’s no telling what they’re really about.
The other kind is all around, though. Disturbing visions that palpable reality urges us to bear from dawn to dusk have the added weight of shared experience. How some react to them has often been the stuff wars are fought for, and children are beheaded.
Here are five of the most petrifying, or almost. Not for the feeble of spirit, if there’s even anyone left with such a luxurious prerogative, the bullets of this season’s list are saturated with the fear that a rabid future biting its own tail lies ahead.
It’s not that All Hallows Eve ceased to be a playful way for kids to get acquainted with their ‘dark side.’ Or that there’s no longer sense in make-believe terror. It’s just that the whole world now has gone well beyond what Halloween used to suggest.

A DARK MATTER GHOST CALLED WIMP
Oct. 31 has also been turned into a celebration of the unseen. So-called Dark Matter, that is. 85% of the total mass of the universe remains invisible and undetected, so what you think you know wouldn’t explain the size of the cosmos. Or yours.
It’s out there, though, and one day, yup, it may get you good. For if for an unforeseen event, you’d come into contact with a field full of Wimps, nuclear forces holding your nuclei and protons together would simply vanish, leaving you looking like, well, nothing.
Without something to hold your cells, organs, and body together, needless to say, you’d lose your you-know-what for the very last time. So keep pretending that what you can’t see can’t hurt you at your own risk; the universe doesn’t give a flying… shooting star.

A SPIDER WEB-COVERED LAKEFRONT
That’s a classic, the creature that shares with bats and black cats the iconographic triad of horror. Except that they’re paralyzingly frightening to over 30% of humans. Now imagine the phobic landing on Aitoliko lagoon, in Greece.
Recently, its lakeside got fully covered by Tetragnatha spider webs. The tiny species, which is not the only one periodically taking over acres of land, does like to spook distracted travelers such as yourself.
Picture yourself sinking your feet into the sticky trends and watching thousands of spiderlings crawling up your legs and calling you daddy. Now, now, they’re not poisonous. And consider it your personal experience of the true spirit of Halloween.

INSOMNIA-INDUCING BUGPOCALYPSE
Speaking of weakly particles, as T.S. Eliot once said, the world ends not with a bang but a whimper. For most of us, the prospects for a mass bug extinction may sound more like a relief, and good riddance at that, and not something to care about.
That is, if you’re not into food. Or wouldn’t mind coming across dead bodies laying all over, unable to decay. Animals starving to death and a global collapse of agriculture. And the end for our last food source in case of a climate change-triggered famine. Apart from that, you’d be fine
So, insects may multiply with global warming, but in the end, just like us, may perish exactly because of it. So be careful (more)
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* Stay Awake
* Everything Must Go

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The Far Out Job Report

Help Wanted: Island Cat Keeper,
Beach Bookseller or Tourist Ninja

You hear about the great gig economy and how ‘robust’ is the job market right now, and wonder what are they talking about. The reality on the ground is far grimmer, and the last call you got was for a go-getter, as in getting lattes for the millionaire 25-year-old star-up boss.
Fear not, you’ve got options. Understandably, you’re now a creature of habits, so change is laborious. But you’re also broke, which is bad regardless of age. So, given all life experiences you’ve accumulated so far, it’d be foolish not to consider the alternatives.
Granted, that’s a cliche of advice-given book writers. But besides doing better than say, elderly dishwashers, their brand of counseling has at least one B.S.-proof factor on their favor: they sell it. So have you already got duped by job listing boards? the Web will see you next.
About those listings: don’t sign up for them. All they want is to collect your info and compile a massive database, so to attract funding from investors, and provide golden parachutes to top executives. Plus, if you check one, you’re checking them all; the market is the same.

OUT THERE BUT NOT MUCH
But you knew that. As you did about asking tips from people who short of picking you apart, just don’t mind saying anything to actually get rid of you. Which, granted, not even you can blame them for. By now, your ‘pitch’ sounds as exciting as going to bed at 7pm.
Speaking of which, you could be a NASA ‘professional sleeper,’ if you weren’t up so many times at night to pee. Or go to China to be a ‘mourner‘ for hire, or a ‘panda fluffer.’ Those bears are notoriously fussy, though, and other people’s grief is not easy to handle either.

BETTER THAN SUMMER READING
No. Instead, such well-honed skills you’ve mastered for so long may be better served for more imaginative tasks. Like selling books in a tropical island. That pricked up your ears, didn’t it? Minimal wages but what perks. Say, do you like summer, sun and sand? You’re hired.
As for the competition, let us let you in on a secret: they want pretty young things, and frankly, that’s a huge mistake. No offense, but the young will take it as easy as vacation time, and wind up neglecting their duties. That’s when a pro like you have the edge. Go for it.

SWORD & MASK, YOU’RE A STAR
Know what happens to ‘pro queuers,’ who stand in line, waiting for somebody else’s newest iPhone to come out? they get beat up. Often. And ‘chief listening officer‘ is another name for customer service rep, that human punching bag that gets it from everyone and everywhere.
May we suggest instead fighting back and becoming a ninja in Japan? We know, it sounds outlandish but if you think about it, it’s not that you’ll need to obliterate deadbeats like a Yakuza and swear allegiance to some shady boss. Believe us, it’s all mostly for show.

THE GREEK GOD OF KITTENS
You’d be working for the City of Tokyo, and your job will be to entertain tourists. No Asian relatives? no problem; just think what an ice breaker for striking a conversation that would be. Which is just as well: your spouse will never tell you to get out again.
But the real cherry on this pie is taking care of 55 cats on an idyllic Greek island. You, walking on a beach like a god, with no one but the demanding, albeit wise, felines to report to is as close to (more)
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* Run for Cover
* Small Classes
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Rock On

Immigrants to the Solar System
& a Stone That Predates Humans

No one knows how many of them are out there. They travel light, fast, and come from lifetimes of distance. Surveillance may catch a few, but this is too vast a place to easily spot them. Some fear them like the end of times. Others call them refugees, or vagrants, or immigrants.
They’re asteroids, meteorites, shooting stars. They may come to visit: one zipped by Earth’s orbit last year, on its way out of the Milk Way. But long ago, Jupiter captured another; it’s now a permanent resident. Like those that come crashing to die among us, they’ll keep on coming.
The fear, of course, is that they do have the potential to end our civilization. Just like that, and there’s damn little, or pretty much nothing, we can do about it. Geological data, i.e., extracted from rocks, plus statistical probability, prove that such a literally earthshaking possibility does exist.
Twice in the past an incoming high-speed ball wiped nearly all life on the planet, changing evolutionary history in the process. So we try to keep track of them, but even if we could see them all at a safe distance, we’ll probably would’t have time for anything but to go mad, and then die.
Not Oumuamua, though, the object that crossed incognito our zenith last September. When it reached the sun, we knew that it couldn’t possibly be from within our system, like all the others, race-ending or not. When it left it, it’d become the very first interstellar little world to came and say hi. Or rather, a Hello, Goodbye. I must be going.

THE THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN
Of course, Shakespeare was right. So was Carmichael, and so was Sagan. After being given such a noble provenance, linking us straight to the most distant heavenly body we will never get to see, who wants to have anything to do with an errant piece of rock? But it’s been said, they’re inevitable.
In fact, without denying we’re shinning stars and all that, life may have been brought down to this Pale Blue Dot, which once thought of itself as the center of the universe, by a lowly slice of outwordly dust, teeming with what would blow air through our nostrils. Hey, cheer up. We’re all rock stars.
Or whatever. The hominids who act as if they own the place they know nothing about, and are just about to put it on fire, couldn’t bear thinking that they don’t count. But in reality, they don’t. (more)
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* The Undreamed World
* World Snatchers
* It’s Fly By Us

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Window Seat

In the Vast Universe, There’s
Just One Place for All of Us

Good news for those planning on catching that last rocket out of Earth: you may take my seat. After careful consideration, I decided that I’m not booking that flight. The upside is that I was never really good at packing light. Or committing to a one-way ticket to anywhere.
But don’t get me wrong. Neither I gave up on having a pulse, nor I’m now for comfort over smelling new sights, even it takes smelling bad for months too. Trust me, shreds of my soul would fill the backpacks of those pioneers-slash-refugees boarding the spaceship to a new Terra.
Recent news that not one, but three new exoplanets have potential to surrogate us may have pricked up beaten ears, tired of the minor chords of our final symphony: warmer years, rising tides, growing masses of the starved and homeless. Those who can’t stand this one-note samba, are ready to rock. Ciao.
I wouldn’t maximize my cards just yet, even if this is no figure of speech: collectors have chased me for years. Also, I’m in no rush to make snide comments about silly fools, hahaha, building a fleet toward a breathable future. For it’s what may actually happens.
One thing seems probable: the last to embark will be the hardest at work to make such exodus an option, not an escape plan. And even as a dwindling bunch – hey, who can put up with so many storms before jumping ship? – their wishes match that of the most hospitable place we’ve ever known: right here.
By the way, I’m not one to believe that we’ll be missed. It’s likely that every species, along with nature itself, will be cheering our departure, and the very conditions that made us possible will heal and thrive once we’re out of the picture. Without us, they’ll all do just fine. But with us, chances are that Earth will look like Mars in less than a century.

LIKE PATCHING UP THE TITANIC
Which is as much faith as I’d put on us as anyone would about a virus: it’s ancient, no one knows where it comes from, it’s lethal, and when it leaves, people throw their hands up and give praise. And yet, even viruses can be beneficial, I know, but tell that to those who got on their way. So, am I saying we’re good as plagues? you damned right I am.
That being said, for as long as I breathe I’ll be partial to those fighting for reversing the clock. They used to practice (more)
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* The Undreamed World
* Worlds Away
* Red Shift
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Play Dough

But Why Didn’t They
Call it The Big Pizza?

The world would laugh, if it’d even care, about the little idiosyncrasies New Yorkers seem to invest themselves with so much passion one would think that the fate of humankind is squarely pinned on them. Case in point: pizza, local fast food extraordinaire.
Now, we know, would it kill us to exercise restrain and abstain from such prosaic subject? We’re not above it, though; yesterday, when we were cold and short of cash, it seemed like a good idea. But fear not, for we approach the beast with utmost respect.
For even for pizza there’s a certain way of eating it, if far from solemn, that denizens of this great cesspool are proud of mastering early on. And then there’re all the wrong ways to be ashamed doing it. Just ask the Mayor, who was caught eating the holy dough with fork and knife.
Anathema, nothing less. After all, the whole combo of flour, cheese and tomato sauce may have been invented in the old country ages ago, but the slice and the ‘fold and eat with your hands’ maneuver have been both trade-marked right here, on the streets of the five boroughs, just like steaming manholes and yellow cabs.
What? You have a problem with that? No one should be surprised if many an argument has flared up or settled down over a steaming pie, and for that dwindling minority with a pocketful of change, nothing is as affordable and substantial than a 4am slice by the curbside.
But alas, not even pizza is that New Yorker, and as with many other city-by-the-river staples, it’s been appropriated by the world, many times over, gritty, warts et al. Perhaps one day we’ll all be talking about pizza like we do today about the old Times Square. But we digress.
We’re living in other times, that’s for sure, even if equally lean. Definitely diminished slant on little localized treats, though, as they plan on printing a pie in space and making a slice last longer than a heat wave. Never mind us old farts, for kids are unlike to mourn the demise of such a 20th century food relic.
Big Apple? Who were they kidding? So, fine, it was supposed to evoke the original sin and all that, besides looking a bit more photogenic in tourism ads. But the likelihood of seeing someone eating apples on the streets of New York was never bigger than spotting a kangaroo at a subway stop, or a beret-wearing mime.
Although we’re sure those have also been spotted somewhere around here. In any case, we thought about getting a quick survey on wonders of this thousand-year snack, that can proudly be a meal on its own right. Just don’t bring pineapples anywhere near one or we’ll scream.

MORE ITALIAN THAN ITALY
Inevitably, as with many scrumptious foods we’ve been indulging for centuries, the old loaf of bread covered in cheese and herbs (predating even the ascension of tomatoes, around 700 A.C.E.) came from the ancient country. Many trace its earliest reference to Virgil’s Aeneid, written almost 800 years before that.
To some, it was a baker in Pompeii, Publius Paquius Proculus, who invented it some 2,000 years ago, and in fact, a relic of the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed his city and Herculaneum is a fossilized round dough that strongly resembles some of the culinary achievements of ‘The Original Ray,’ in New York.
For the typical Napolitan, for instance, there’s nothing else but Marinara and, Ok, once in a while, Margherita, and we’ll spare you from the origins of these two common pizzas. We said hold the pineapples before but New Yorkers are known not to be above some sausage, (more)
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Earth Day


With the Planet This Hot,
What’s There to Celebrate?

Heavenly Palace


As Tiangong Crashes Down,
Star Dreams Remain Aloft

Has the world gone mad? A camelback rider could’ve said that about the Sphinx in 2550, then under construction. And so could a tourist during the rare pink snowstorm that blanketed Europe the other week. Some may say it about the Chinese space station’s plunge into Earth.
It’s reassuring to see that reality can still top whatever buffoonery the orange rerun of Mr. T. may come up with. What? NASA is inviting people to add their name to the cargo of that soon-to-be launched sun probe? Well, nature has a couple of penguins taking selfies for you.
Not all is fun and cookies however, in the realm of the bizarre and out of whack. Like some nut, high on proving that god existed, who crashed her car on a pole on purpose, with her two kids strapped in the back seat. They all lived but god’d better not help her get back the children.
Or a guy who ran the cops to the ground, and beat a record that shall not speak its name (or get on the Guinness Book): he spent 47 days without going to the bathroom. They wanted to recover some drugs they say he’d swallowed, but after watching him on the throne for six weeks straight, they couldn’t take it anymore and just gave up.
Guess what science came up with, just so we’re clear we have no idea what we carry around in our bowels? Not one but two unknown human organs in less than a year: the mesentery and the interstitium. They’re with us since our bodies got the latest upgrade, circa 30,000 years ago, among the biggest organs in the body. But only now got their own billing.

WE WILL BE LIVING AMONG STARS
The man sitting on the White House toilet, tweeting, is quickly running out of tricks to cover up his con, but life, in the words of that great Jurassic Park philosopher, will always find fresh ways to shock and awe us. Even when it takes, say, a couple of thousand years. Or we’re unaware of its wonders.
Shorter and much more recent is our history building space stations. Since way before the Skylab ended six years of watching over us and precipitously rained in pieces over the Australian town of Esperance, of all places, in 1979, we’ve been trying to stay aloft each time longer.
Mir, which lasted 15 years and managed to survive the breakup of the Soviet Union, before breaking up itself and falling back to Earth in 2001, upped the ante. And the beloved International Space Station, the current title holder that completes 20 years in orbit this November, is still sitting pretty on the night sky.

THE FALLING BROKENDOWN PALACE
Do not blame the Chinese for trying. Here’s a land where the impossible takes place everyday. For millennia. From building a quasi-replica of Paris to having a number of metropolises sitting on empty, awaiting its much slowed down population growth, China gets it. But Tiangong 1, its first space station, is coming back to Earth.
Where? No one knows. The prototype was not supposed to last pass the two-year mark, in 2013, anyway. These things cost a lot to maintain. They say the next one will be bigger and better than this small but highly-sophisticated space bus. Still, a refrigerator-sized leftover chunk may surviving reentry. So look out.
Even if what goes up has to come down, eventually, whatever happens above has been considerably better, and nobler, that what’s going on down here. For to keep people up there takes our best and the absolutely limit of our capacity as living beings. Astronauts make us proud.

CHERISH THE FRESH & THE UNEXPECTED
Yes, the world has gone completely insane. But just as it’s crucial to know all about thorns, let’s not forget to caress the petals. The fiery universe, or universes, are expanding to the speed of life, but we’ve been given a bubble to breathe in and grow. We’re the guardians of the guardians that protect us.
We’re not excelling at it, that’s for sure. But let’s not confuse (more)
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* Space Droppings
* Ungrounded
* Meanwhile, Up There

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Albert’s Pie

Stephen Hawking’s Not Having
Pi on Einstein’s 139th Birthday

When Albert Einstein was born on this day in 1879, in Ulm, Germany, the Number Pi, the ratio of a circumference of a circle to its diameter, had about 527 decimals, including the three inicial digits that identify it: 3.14. In 1945, three years after Stephen Hawking’s birth, it had 808.
It’s now 68,719,470,000 digits, a record set in 1999. March 14 is a day to mark how far it’s come, even as few know exactly what to do with its constant expansion; to celebrate Einstein, whose work has enlightened the world; but to also feel sad because Hawking died yesterday, at 76.
As it goes, it’s fitting that they both passed away at the same age, since their lifetime contribution to modern science stand as two crucial brackets of human knowledge: Einstein‘s Theory of Relativity, published in 1905, and Hawking‘s continuous efforts to unify it to Quantum Mechanics.
But he’s better known for advancing our knowledge of black holes, a concept developed from Relativity’s space-time, even if it wasn’t called that way or coined by neither of them. It’s simply become one of Cosmology’s most fascinating sources of research and public amusement.
They were both fascinating and complex figures, who towered over their times. But for all their achievements as scientists, they both imprinted their names on the larger context of humanity’s quest to survive, even as both were so critical of how many ways we’ve been pursuing to annihilate ourselves.
Einstein survived Nazism and, despite his research having led in part to the nuclear power that still threatens the world, was a pacifist and denounced totalitarianism whenever he could. In some ways, we’re glad he’s not here to witness our insane revival of the horrors he faced and fought against.
And Hawking, who at 21, was given five years to live, following an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis diagnosis, beat the odds and became, if not the longest, certainly the most famous survivor of the terminally debilitating disease. Despite the complexity of his mind and life, he became a folk hero of sorts.
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But perhaps the most enduring quality these two giants share was their ability to transcend the obvious, the rational, the expected. They’ve opened paths that mankind will track for centuries to come, and ushered bending-time universes, parallel realities, and galaxy-eating dark stars.
While we improve on the telephone, rather than leaping into tomorrow, we’re left feeling orphans of another age when dreams were not measured by the size of our fears, or could be stopped by the blind inevitability of weapons.
One day, we too will be traveling through the vast beyond, and think about our own event horizon.
We’ll keep on adding to this now stratospheric circle, whose size Archimedes got started crunching around 200 BCE, and William Jones symbolized it in 1706, with a Greek letter, to that 1988 March in San Francisco, when Larry Shaw celebrated it by walking in circles and eating fruit pies.
So today, Happy Birthday, Albert Einstein. Have a Great Trip, Stephen Hawking. So long and thanks for all the pie.

Good Morning to All

Happy Birthday to Ya. Would
That Be Cash or Credit Card?

Minds of the practical kind know it all too well; birthdays can be expensive. And tricky too, specially if it’s your own mate’s, who happens to be picky about that sort of thing. Something else is increasing the overall price of celebrating you being around: the song everybody sings. (Don’t you dare, if you know what’s good for you.)
Good Morning to All, the tune American sisters Patty and Mildred Hill wrote in 1893 for school children to sing, somehow became Happy Birthday to You in the early 1900s, through a very serendipitous journey. Along the way, it changed copyright owners, got thrown into a corporate balance sheet and became very expensive indeed. 
Technically, every time someone sings it, which probably happens worldwide thousands of times a day, someone, or rather, some institution collects some dough. It used to be the estate of Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman, who were given credit for the new lyrics in 1935. Now, rather than pay up, some want this tradition changed.
Which means, there’s a new Happy Birthday song around the block, after a radio station in New Jersey set up a contest and chose a winner to replace the old tune. But it’s unlike that you’ll be hearing it sang by a group of underpaid waiters at your local diner anytime soon. These things take time.
Which is just as well. Nothing to remind you of its passage than that over familiar melody, and those repetitive chorus, which by the way, get different lyrics in different countries, not necessarily only its translation. But in English, it may only underline how old you really are. And that’s almost unbearable.
That could be also what’s behind WFMU‘s idea, when it teamed with the Free Music Archive to replace the copyrighted song. But the main point was to send the new one straight to public domain, so no one would (more)
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Seen From Above

Pictures of Earth at Night From
Space: Stunning Beauty & Concern

Watching Earth from 199 miles up has changed how we see ourselves, our cities and the planet, thanks in part to photos taken from satellite and by the astronauts at the International Space Station. As they’re staying ever longer up there, aerial photography has greatly improved.
All that these recent photos have in common is that they’re all night pictures, but boy, aren’t they striking. They’re also surprisingly revealing and instructive about what’s going on down here. Hopefully, they’ll become valuable tools for raising awareness and change.
Credit should be given to NASA which, despite its current shoestring budget, still manages to wow us with some of their ongoing projects. One such program is the Earth Observatory, which is a comprehensive six-month study, using high-resolution night images of Earth, to ‘gain insight on human activity and poorly understood natural events.’
The now little government agency that still can often works in conjunction with other scientific research teams, such the National Geophysical Data Center, NOAA, as well as the European Space Agency. The ISS is also an integral part of such programs, as it orbits through different patches from satellites.
Whereas the Earth Observatory is a set study, the astronauts are free to photograph Earth following their own instincts. And photograph away they do, to stunning and quite meaningful results. Whether they direct (more)
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Nocturne


If the Night + Number
Eight Equals Infinity

A completely unscientific survey shows that, in some languages, the word night is made up by the letter ‘N’ and the number eight. Thus, eight night, in English, ocho noche, in Spanish, huit nuit, French, acht nacht, German, otto notte, Italian, oito noite, Portuguese.
Given that N is the mathematical symbol of infinite, and eight also means the same, those who pay attention to that sort of thing (conspiracists?) believe that night must have something to do with the void, the end, the dark. Which seems obvious. Or not. Whatever.
It’s all coincidence, say those who need a bit more of scientific basis before jumping into Philology assumptions. That list of languages, they say, which also should include Hindi (aat raath), are all derived from the Indo-European branch, so they are all related. Bummer.
And then, of course, they proceed to demolish the argument by mentioning all the hundreds of other languages in which the words night and eight have no way of knowing anything about each other, so to speak. Linguists of all accents were ecstatic, and so were everyone who simply can’t stand another pseudo Synchronicity.
No wonder so many tongues are disappearing. By the way, the fact that many false theories percolating the Internet these days would be easily dismissed if more of us would’ve paid a bit more attention in school is just a small consolation. In this case, however, is also a bit sad.
That’s because the theory was so elegant, we’d have loved if it’d make any sense. Even as it doesn’t, the implicit imagery of the flawed link between the word, which rules when the sun is away, and the number that’s essentially two stacked up zeroes, soothes our jaded minds.

THE NIGHT HAS EYES
Is it the fact that, squeezed in there somewhere, there’s also the concept of slumber, dreaming, and even the Big Sleep itself, with its closing of the eyes and cessation of all possible senses? Or is just our own grey matter, again playing the tricks it learned once it no longer relied on its Reptilian past?
We’d add two other, completely unrelated and also as unscientific as they come, arguments to justify if not the illusory link, then our own volition to go along with it: one, we’re lazy. Secondly, we’ve been searching for a (noble?) excuse to publish these three amazing pictures. Yes, there you have it.
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* Wide Asleep, Short Awaken

The Earth at Night (top), a cloud-free composite picture that NASA has put together out of over 400 satellite images of nighttime lights, has become one of the space agency’s most downloaded images, and that’s saying a lot. It was originally compiled to ‘study weather around urban areas.’
Greg GibbsCapturing the Night (middle) shows the Milk Way rising over the Australian horizon, next to the Magellanic Clouds. It’s part of a collection of stunning pics of the night sky, whose inspiration dates back to the Comet Halley’s second visit to the 20th century, in 1986.

Jason Hatfield‘s Exploring the Night depicts our home galaxy rising above a hiker, him, and the Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, as sole witnesses. The proportion between observers and the observed is almost accurate. The shot was a Smithsonian‘s annual contest finalist.
We could’ve called this post Below the Horizon, or Why Not Talk About Nine, or even Why Six Is So Afraid of Seven. But they all would skim over what the night does to every living being, and the tides, and nature itself. Also, they all ignore something else entirely: the Moon.
But as for the infinite, we really know nothing about it.

(*) Originally published on March 3, 2013.

Farewell Dive

Cassini Bids Bye Bye With Last
Jump Into the Rings of Saturn

The spacecraft that’s been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years, is executing its final dive today. It’ll be a grand finale, fireworks and all, as it’ll crash while taking the last of thousands of pictures and videos it already took from the ringed giant.
It was a risky triumph for NASA, for the $3.4 billion, plutonium-powered probe swung up close by us, in 1999, to use Earth’s gravity to shoot up towards Saturn. A mishap could’ve been disastrous, but it was worth: we’ve learned so much with the little probe that will die today.
These expensive and far-reaching missions always prompt questions as to their validity. It’s no different with Cassini. Many doubted its science, and to some politicians its cost-to-dividend ratio could never be compared to, say, another monstrous taxpayer-funded sports arena.
Since it’s hard to quantify the exact impact Cassini‘s will have on our knowledge – apart from, well, so much more than we knew before -, projects like these may be on their way out. While it traveled to Saturn, nanotechnology, for instance, experienced a quantum leap.
Advances in computer science and robotics, as well as the entry of private enthusiasts in the field of space exploration, may assign a different role to organizations such as NASA, and the European and Italian space agencies, that collaborated to make the Cassini project an astounding success.

A TRANSCENDENTAL STEP IN SPACE
For, however be that as it may, the orbiter, and its hitch-hiker, the Huygens lander, dropped on Titan in 2005, represent a staggering milestone. Its secrets will still challenge us long after everyone alive now is gone. That, by the way, is the only form of immortality that makes sense.
It’s the part when space as a metaphor to the human adventure on this planet resounds the most transcendental. That’s how Italian Giovanni Domenico Cassini, and Dutch Christiaan Huygens, both mathematicians, remain alive and even more relevant today than during their XII century existences.
The Cassini journey has also an added benefit: allowing mankind to witness a complete cycle, which started (more)
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Moon Shadow

Here Comes the Darken Sun,
But Let’s Just Say, It’s Alright

So the great solar eclipse of 2017 is coming to America and we, for ones, are only too glad about it. What, with all that’s going on, the thought of spending time with such a fascinating cosmic event surely beats most of everything one’s been watching on the news lately.
By now, however, every media, the Internet, your close friends, and even your deranged uncle Bob, have already told you all that is to know about it, maybe more. So here’s just a few historical and/or interesting pics to entice and inform you. Call it your personal mini visual tour.
Hover over the photos and click on them and on the links, for data and stories. Eclipses have been teaching us since time immemorial, and while many feared that the sun, or the moon, wouldn’t survive the penumbra, others like Edmond Halley, were open to learn. The one in 1919, for instance, proved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

The one visible in 1966 at the bottom of South America led NASA to launch 12 rockets from a beach some 30 miles from where a little boy risked losing his eyesight to watch it through a photo negative strip. Luckily, that pair of eyes survived to experience many others since.

All ancient civilizations studied and documented cosmic phenomena. Comets and meteors, supernovas and moon eclipses, all had tremendous impact on our history on this planet. But things heat up considerably whenever the sun is concerned, and when the day turns into night, well, that’s not to be ever taken lightly.

We gaze, therefore we are. To many of us, this may be our very last solar eclipse, so we’d better make it good, just in case. Choose well your eye wear, pick a good spot, and make up a decent excuse to be there. Gee, the way things are going, the sun coming back after just a few hours may be the best news we may be getting for a while.

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The Undreamed World

Forget Exoplanets. Here’s
the Ninth, the X & the Quirky

When things get rough on the ground, we can always look up. Seven and half billion currently trudging along on this big rock can take solace that the universe is vast and beautiful and always available. It’s also uncaring and violent, but we won’t get into that today.
Part of this soothing feeling is because we don’t know what’s up there. Astronomers wonder if there’s an undiscovered giant orbiting the sun. And another Earth-sized one. And a quirky object too. Or none of the above. We learn a lot by simply not knowing much.
But it’s fun to wonder. Or is it? The cosmos is so disproportionally big that no single mind can wrap itself around it. Large but short of infinity, it baffles and ignores us, while we dream on. Or have nightmares about it. It doesn’t care, but to us, it’s the stuff of, well, you know.
Heard about Nemesis, the sun’s evil twin? Or the identical Earth hidden behind the sun? Both are reasonable guesses, but their currency can only be exchanged at an imaginary box office at the end of the galaxy. One of them is actually a sci-fi movie plot. We may find out some day, but math will probably get there first.
The breakthrough era of exoplanet discoveries and look-alike solar systems has nothing on such suspicions. They date back to the 1800s, when hot-as-the-sun disputes drove many an even-tempered scientist to near madness. Math always gets there first. But even after a century, we’re still way too far behind.

THE SECRET TRANS-NEPTUNIAN COLOSSUS
Planet 9 has been orbiting the slumber of astrophysicists since they first studied the solar system. Something massive has been disturbing Earth’s siblings practically from the universe’s inception and wild youth, back in 2016 minus 4.6 billion years ago. Maybe we’ll find out what.
Mankind owes Percival Lowell the hunt for this ninth planet. His calculations missed the giant but led to the discovery of Pluto, 15 years after his death, a century ago last year. But Pluto can’t explain the orbital disturbances, and that likely doomed it too.
In 2006, the International Astronomical Union downgraded it to dwarf planet, giving grief to many. That left the spot #9 empty, and astronomers have a hunch that its next occupant resides in the area beyond Neptune, a kind of suburbs of the solar system, if you’d insist.
But we may be still years away from direct detection. After all, those outskirts lay at least 300 times farther from the sun than the Blue Planet, and whatever lurks there it’s simply too hard to spot from our backyard. But we might. Just hold off the welcome B-B-Q for now.

A POSSIBLE BRAND NEW TWIN OF EARTH
Taking about burbs, the Kuiper Belt, an area fraught with debris possibly left over from a planetary explosion, and from where most comets come out shooting, may be the neighborhood of yet another unknown object. But this time, it’s of a cozy, Earth-sized scale.
Astronomers suspect that it’s the source of disturbance of the Belt’s 600 objects they’ve been monitoring. Considerably closer to us, and much smaller than Planet 9, it’s been nicknamed Planet 10, but not everyone wants to be quoted on that or even is on board about it.
The scientific community has a healthy skeptical attitude about new claims, specially something they may missed for so long. Humans love a thrill, however, and the spectacular discovery of a new planet (more)
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World Snatchers

Relax, There’s a Chance It
Will All End Up With a Blast

The danger of normalizing something so terminally outrageous is that it makes us all numb, complacent, vulnerable. Suddenly, yesterday’s inconceivable is today’s inevitable, and what we’ve been resisting against for millennia finally breaks through and flips us all into ashes.
Take meteorites, for instance – what? you thought we were talking about something else? One just zapped by Earth this week and didn’t even make to the front pages. NASA says there may be a couple more with our street address on them, heading our way. What then?
There’s an underfunded agency tracking so-called near Earth objects, sizable enough to cause harm. But size was relative in the dinosaur demise, 65 million years ago. Bigger rocks have hit the planet before and after, with little notice or damage. Luck us.
Still, if the risk is in the angle and substance, not scope or even speed, so be it. Few remember but in 2013, the world was expecting an asteroid to pass at large, when out of the blue, another, unknown, exploded over the skies of Russia. Luck was indeed in the angle.
Call us paranoid but when the eruption of the Vesuvius finally made it to the headlines of the day, it’s likely that the lava was already eating the town by its borders. And even if it caught some overly worried like us in its wake, most of the cautious had already made out of the joint.

THE HARMLESS FLEET & THE UNDETECTED KILLER
The unsettling thing about 2017 FU102, the near-Earth asteroid that zapped by us Sunday, was not that it passed at 0.6 times the mean distance of the Moon, but that it’d been discovered only four days before. Ok, so it was a 10-meter rock, that at the most, would’ve probably smashed a car, if it’d crashed.
But by the same measure of anticipation, had it been a thousand times bigger, even with over a year of advanced notice, there’d still be little for us to do. What, with our current state of affairs, many would’ve likely spent millions trying to prove that it was all NASA’s invention.
At the end of the day, it is the luck of the draw that we haven’t been hit yet. And, to some extent, spending millions trying to come up with a way to divert these civilization killers may not count on many supporters. But the alternative sucks: what to do in the waiting months till the inexorable?

METEOR SHOWERS & THE NEW FIREBALL SEASON
There are many who appreciate regularly scheduled meteor showers, multiple annual night presentations sponsored by nature, going on since before we came into the picture. On the 22nd this month, for example, we’ll have the Lyrid Showers, and who knows what does heaven have in store for us.
But the er big stars of every year is the Perseid, on August, the November Leonid, and the Geminid in December. There are more, some not big enough to have a name. By all accounts, showers are benign and entertaining, when it doesn’t rain, of course. Kids love them, perhaps because they happen late in the evening.
Another thing altogether is dealing with the term Fireball Season, possibly coined by H.R. MacMillan Space Centre astronomer Derek Kief. One can’t help it but to fear the implicit ominousness of such (more)
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Spacing Out

It Could’ve Been Worst,
But Keep Your Eyes Open

Done complaining? you’re actually very lucky. While you were asleep the other night, Earth almost got hit by an asteroid nobody knew about; you were closed to turn into confetti. See, things are not that bad. In fact, as you whine, a lot keeps happening right above you.
For instance, an old satellite just woke up from its slumber and began beeping, just like that. And you should also count your graces for not being a soon-to-meet-its-maker astronaut: they could accuse your deceased body of spreading microbes to outer worlds.
All this proves is that life, a train The Famous Pale Blue Dot Photo of Earth, Taken by the Voyager 1, on Feb. 14, 1990always ready to take off, keeps on tracking, and you’d better stand clear of its closing doors. Don’t want to be dragged down to a dark and narrow tunnel, watching riders go about their business inside, while you’re handed your papers outside it.
Speaking of tunnels, you may live in one and may not know about this, but since Tuesday, Nov. 8, a heavy fog came down, and a lot of people seem stunned, walking like zombies and foaming at their mouth. Something to do with some bad new – the 11/9, the say -, but don’t quote us on that.
The point is, you may think that it’s all unacceptable, unfair, and you won’t put up with it one little bit. Well, good luck with that; the next few years will be very depressing, indeed. You’ll find plenty of reasons to wallow in pools of disappointment and drown in wells of sorrow.
Or, after mourning the missing opportunities for a sec, you could lift up your chin up and catch a glimpse of the sky; it’s amazing how things are busy up there. For a change, that sobering realization that you are, after all, small and barely count, does put things in perspective.

THE MOUNTAIN THAT MISSED EARTH
Even your jubilant Uncle Bob, who can’t wait to corner you at Thanksgiving to tell you, ‘I told you so,’ knows that, among the infinitude of worlds out there, there’s a rock with our address and a clear mission: wipe out zealots and bigots and racists and misogynists with one swapping gulp.
That you don’t consider yourself ‘them’ makes not an iota of difference; you know you’ll be gone too. So, asteroids and meteorites usually top anyone’s list of civilization killers. On Nov. 1, a previously unknown one ‘almost’ became it. 2016 VA zapped within 0.2 times the moon’s distance from us.
It does seem far, but the thing is, either way, we didn’t know about it until it was too late to do anything. Now, put that ‘sobering realization’ in the context of your troubles, and you may catch a whiff of our drift here. Happens all the time. So, as the Brits say, chin up old chap.

THE GHOST SATELLITE THAT WOKE UP
Truth to be told, we track a lot of space rocks, but it’s impossible to track them all. As if we weren’t busy enough with that, we also track over 500 thousand man-made debris, all traveling at top speed, that we sent aloft and now are menaces to our survival out there.
Among them, are some of the Lincoln Experimental Satellite series, like the LES1 that almost immediately after launch, in 1965, malfunctioned and went dormant for 46 years, at the wrong (more)
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Journey to Forever

The Challenger Explosion
& Its Thunderbolt Lessons

It was the U.N. International Year of Peace, and ‘We Are the World’ was a big hit. On its second visit in a century, the Halley Comet was at its closest to Earth when a melting Chernobyl reactor caused the world’s scariest nuclear disaster. But right off the bat, 1986 marked the worst tragedy of the space age.
On January 28, the Challenger Shuttle exploded on live TV, killing all seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, who was to become the first space civilian, but turned out to be the last teacher to be nationally mourned and eulogized in the U.S. It’s been downhill for educators ever since.
It was the Reagan era, and footage of him will probably be all over the airwaves. In a year of yet another flawed immigration law, his administration would be caught selling illegal weapons to Iran and arming the Contras to top Nicaragua’s democratic elected government.
The 30 years that now separate us from the Challenger explosion also equal the entire length of the Space Shuttle Program, which folded in 2011. Before that, another group of astronauts perished in 2003, when the Columbia, the program’s first space-worthy vehicle, tragically disintegrated while reentering Earth’s atmosphere.
These tragedies, along with the program whose many achievements are now part of our daily lives, look now so far back into the past, that even the ideas that inspired it seem remote. NASA doesn’t even have a comprehensive space plan currently running.
A MAJOR MALFUNCTION
It’s also easy to forget how close we all came to believe that space travel would be a new century routine, and many are quick to point that it was exactly that kind of sense of false security that led to the fatal errors causing the Challenger’s demise.
Perhaps. What’s for sure is that, without daring mistakes, we wouldn’t even have gotten to the Moon, and how uninspiring our age really is if our dreams nowadays have to come attached to a mandatory bargain price tag. Unlike weapons and conspiracy theories.
McAuliffe was slated to conduct the first high school science classes from space, to a Internet-less world full of teenagers who still cared about the subject. Instead, children along millions endured her spectacular dead, and that of her co-travelers, broadcast live.

TEACHING CHILDREN WELL
Such brutal awakening may have also marked, at least symbolically, the beginning of the end of Americans’ appreciation for the role of teachers and educators. It’s a curious phenomenon, promoted by half-witted politicians and their austerity policies.
Even though science and innovation was one of the tenets of U.S.’s ascension to its world power position, an entire generation grew apathetic and spoiled by the inventions that surround us. Science school grades have never been so low in average.
That’s probably why, instead of tele-transportation and weekly trips through the Solar System, we’ve got only a better iPhone (more)
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Christmas Cometh

It’s Beginning to Look
Like It’s Busy Out There

A full moon and Asteroid 2003 SD220 (NASA has a rot way of spoiling the fun for everybody with these coded names), are two rare events for a Christmas Eve. But you will see only one of the them. Just don’t be skittish: there’s no way neither of them will hit us anytime soon.
The moon, which hasn’t looked this big since 1977, is 28 times closer to us than that cigar-shaped rock, however large it is, so no alarm. And it won’t return before your 25th-generation nephew dies of old age either. But it’s good to know that we’re keeping an eye on it, just in case.
So, even if your Uncle Bob brings up that time when the moon split up violently from Earth, ions of years ago, don’t lose your appetite over it. It now sits far – and still pretty, thank you very much – from us and, most likely, is moving even further.
As for rocks falling off from heavens and finishing us all off, well, there’s really not much we can do about it at this time. So let the comet come, and the comments pour with the wine, and laughter freely flow. For what else is there to do?
We’re stardust and to ashes will return, so enjoy the preternaturally warm weather in some parts of the planet, before it gets unbearable, and count your blessings. Not everyone is so lucky but they’re all still important to your own worth in this life.
Up above, astronauts watch over us, and all around us, people go out of themselves to do good, specially when no one is around. Lend a hand, if you can. And even if you’re standing in the soup line, give yourself a break; we’re very glad you’re still around.

Silly Males

Gary Drinks Gas, Georgio Loves
Rugs, But Huug, He Just Laughs

Pardon our Sanskrit, but here’s another stream of WTF stories. Our files are always bursting with these little gems of human drama we often know not how to dispose of them, and easily grow attached to what they’re about. So let us skip the obvious, the cheap shots and the mean spirited, lest not be us, someday, the object of similarly deflating jeer.
One thing is for sure: we’ve never heard of a 12-step program for gasoline drinkers, a habit made even more lethal if one smokes. Then again, the nefarious Cigarette Man of X-Files fame, is actually a devout waterskiing champ. Who knew? If you like to be stepped on, why not bring your own, favorite rug to help others do the job? Just don’t laugh at that Dutch man: he can’t help it if the joke’s on him.
Perhaps it’s Fall’s arrival, which always catches us off-guard, or the foolishness of pondering about water in another planet. Both concepts are as difficult for us to grasp as climate change: we know both are facts of life, and yet we’re not ready to book a trip to Mars, nor are we prepared to say anything inspiring about winter around the corner.
THE HUMAN LIGHTER
We hear that some people drink too much. That’s a club we got expelled out a long time ago, and are still sore about. Not in our wildest (more)
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It Blogs the Mind

Conversations Across the World
& the Comfort of Fellow Bloggers

No wonder blogging is on its way out; it’s something I do. No surprise that yet another little pleasure of mine is about to be retired; it’s happened before. Till then though, let me partake with some of my fellow travelers on this mostly thankless endeavor.
I’ve known none of them in person, enjoying their company from afar: they sit at their desks in faraway lands and I don’t even get up to greet them. Ah, the cyberage: sharing most inner feelings but not our own collective breath. But I digress.
Blogging is a necessity to some, an escape valve to others. An open line with the world or a rescue rope amid inclement waves. It’s all but a hobby, or it wouldn’t last. More like distant voices that ebb and flow and add their own colors to an increasingly grey and noisy world.
Thus some stay and persevere, posting with the consistency of someone who’s chained to a dialogue with invisible foreigners they could never invite to dinner. Others walk away, stolen by life’s petty urgencies, or lost to the realization that it simply can’t be done.
I’ve found much solace from across the ocean, and meaningful feedback from someone living in a tent in Africa or a prairie in Australia. Which is more than all my loved ones combined, who mostly ignore that I even have a blog, could provide me if I’d asked them. At the end of the day, however, I blog to appease myself.

WRITING LETTERS ON THE SKY
At this point, I’ve promise myself to quit it a few times already, just like an addict lies to himself just enough to get to the next hit. Right after one more post sent out there to fight the good fight, I feel the same comforting relief junkies must feel with dope running in their veins.
But I get sick with angst, I doubt myself, and roll on the littered ground of crappy sentences and too easy ways out of my almost unbearable urge to write these posts, ignoring and in despite of my best judgment which always yells at me: what for?
In fact, I’m aware that it’s partly this lack of self-awareness that allows me to cut myself a break and write just this one, before (more)
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Rain (Forest) Check

The Amazon’s Skydiving
Spiders & Other Updates

Wonder what’s up with that other, more vital Amazon? Turns out, not nearly as grand as with its namesake commercial enterprise. In fact, weak regulations and public apathy have made its country host Brazil far from a safe harbor to the world’s largest rainforest.
Illegal logging continues rampant all over. Then there’s a just-established, and disturbing, link between its wildfires and Atlantic hurricanes; plus an expected ‘Godzilla’ El Niño season. But never mind climate change: worst of all are those pesky skydiving spiders falling all over the place.
Wonders are never in short supply, though. Take the research showing that the Amazon is way more diverse than originally thought, for instance. A recent study found a ‘hidden tapestry‘ of plant-based chemicals that determines growth and direction of its luscious species.
Or the Matsés, a tribe based in Brazil and Peru, that’s just compiled a 500-page encyclopedia summarizing its traditional medicine. Put together by five shamans, it’s likely the first treatise of its kind, with entries for therapies indicated to a massive variety of illnesses.
And then there are the efforts of forest activists who, despite mortal danger represented by armed gangs who roam the place on big landowners’ account, have been able to sustain an unsung but absolutely heroic battle to preserve what used to be called the ‘lungs of the world.’
To be fair, Brazil’s slowed down deforestation in the Amazon, albeit not nearly enough. Still its vastness, potential, and significance can’t be overstated. If we could only match its ability to wonder with a few miracles of our own, we’ll be in better shape now.

TIMBER TRACKING & NOT MUCH ELSE
In the past decade, Brazil has cut down greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country, which is commendable. But a recent visit by embattled President Dilma Rousseff to Washington failed to (more)
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Gatekeeper of Outerspace

Pluto & the Fading Thrill
of the Great Discoveries

Little engine that could. Ugly duckling. Nine-day wonder. Pictures that the New Horizons satellite took of its arrival at Pluto, after a nine-year trek, have stunned the world by their unexpected beauty, and even jaded space buffs have marveled by what’s been revealed to humanity.
The going has been rough for the heavenly body that sits at the edge of our Solar System. Not long after the probe’s departure from Earth, Pluto had already lost its planetary status and been downgraded to a dwarf planet. Other indignities could have followed it as well.
But the striking images still arriving from Pluto may change all that, at least in part, igniting a new found curiosity about the universe in the process. The last time that happened was arguably when the Pioneer twins brought us closer to the wondrous realm of Saturn and its ring system, in the 1970s.
Still, whether newly acquired knowledge radically speeds up our current understanding, Pluto’s planetary arch, from Mythology to joining the brotherhood of the Solar System, and then falling precipitously from grace, is already a rare and impressive saga.
Pluto was eagerly anticipated to be discovered since Antiquity, way before Clyde Tombaugh spotted it in 1930. Venetia Burney, 11 at the time, suggested its name, ‘because it hadn’t been used,’ as if unaware of the Greeks, who called it the God of the Underworld.
Known as the ninth planet orbiting the Sun for 76 years, Pluto‘s ride as such came to a crashing halt when the International Astronomical Union redefined the concept of what it means to be a planet. Despite heated arguments, Pluto failed to pass the new classification.
As for Tombaugh, who died in 1997, one may say that he was spared the embarrassment of seeing Pluto’s status demotion, but is somewhat sharing the glory of its resurgence to the eyes of the world: his ashes are entombed on the New Horizon capsule.
In Brazil, there used to live a German astrologer who believed that every time a planet would be in evidence, Continue reading

Heed My Leaps

Come on Blue Rock, Put
on Some Speed, Will Ya?

This is getting to become a routine. Tonight, just before 8pm, you and seven-plus billion of your closest friends will be granted an extra second. Again. For what, it’s up to you. For as it turns out, Earth is dragging time again, unable to keep up with our busy schedules.
Last time it happened, most people didn’t even have time to enjoy the extra period. No one knows how many died or were born at that briefest of the moments either. But you’ve been warned; it’ll come and go real fast. Unlike our planet, apparently. Now try not to waste it, ok?
Harold ‘The Fly’ Lloyd (no, he was not a fighter; maybe a lover, who knows?) hung for way much longer than a second, and that was his own stunt. Since it’s the time one has to say, ‘1, 1.000,’ do CPR practitioners, who count it all the time, get to enjoy it better than you?
We’re not getting too deep into this. We’ve written about this before, and you can read it all about it below. In fact, the importance of this scientific adjustment is lost to most of those close friends of yours anyway. And if this post lasted just a second to read, it’d suffice.
Humans are the only species to have created a way to keep track of time, which has been an enormous waste of time, if you’d ask us. But we know how exactly we plan to spend that ever so elusive wrinkle of time, invented to compensate for Earth’s (age-related?) slowdown.
We’ll be looking up. That’s right. Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest ‘stars’ in the sky, will be very close together tonight, marking the occasion. We can’t think of anything more fitting to do. After all, they don’t need no stinking clock to track time in order to awe us. Enjoy it.
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* Quantum Leap

No, Wait


The Leap Second &
The Doomsday Clock

Just when you were ready to celebrate the fact that summer this year will last a bit longer, and we mean, a very tiny, teeny little bit longer, here comes the buzzkillers to tell you that we’re actually wasting it, meaning, that we’re in fact very late and even close to the end.
These are but just two of the ways that we obsess with measuring time, or at least, fool ourselves with the illusion that time can be measured. But at the end of the day, we’re no better than that Lewis Carroll rabbit, always rushing, insanely busy and ever so late.
And if you thought that such obsession is a mere product of our modern times, hum so over the top and, as that old Lennon song would say, running everywhere at top speed, you haven’t heard the one about the South Pacific.
As it turns out, a tiny, teeny sun-drenched island Continue reading

Space Droppings

The High-Speed Junk Our
Dreams Left Above Earth

Look at that sky above you. See how the stars are bright tonight. Think about the immensity of the universe, quasars and nebulae, waiting to awe you, just beyond the reach of your fingers. And be careful with the falling debris of thousands of objects man placed on Earth’s orbit.
That’s right. We can’t seem to live without producing many times as much as we’re capable of consuming. And just like the oceans, all that floating garbage is choking us. Or, in the case of space, either falling often over our heads or racing around the planet at top speed.
So, hail poets and philosophers and astronomers and dreamers. But also, hail the new class of space cleaners that will have to be trained and sent to do what janitors have been doing since time immemorial, besides taking the blame for their bosses’ crimes: cleaning after us.
The U.S., and as a distant second, Russia (as in former Soviet Union), are by far the biggest producers of space junk around. But neophyte China‘s also doing its part, as it launched this week a monitoring center to protect its over 130 space objects in orbit.
Other countries are concerned too. A month ago, Japan announced that it’s studying the possibility of laser-blasting, Star Wars-style, all that junk out of existence, probably from the International Space Station itself. Just imagine George Lucas losing his sleep over this.
But theirs is only a slightly more sophisticated idea that’s been tried before, with disastrous results. We’ve covered that a few years ago. Then as now, there were few reasons Continue reading

Village People

Three Towns: Sudden Slumber,
Aging Dreams & Cozy Oblivion

In one, people are falling asleep without warning. In another, they’ve dropped out long ago. And yet, the other shelters the mentally afflicted. There are places we move to, and places we’d rather stay clear of. And then there are the ones we visit for a life-changing experience.
This being the first day of Spring in the northeast, despite the snow forecast, discerning globetrotters would be already pressed to plan that skew, cultural-enhancing time off. Let us introduce them to three places capable of matching their inquisitive minds. Still with us?
There would be little sense in talking about the blue of the Caribbean sea, or the gusts of the Mongolian steppes. There’s even less to tell to those seeking the familiarity of pool attendants and the exotic sway of foreign shores. Let them go and pray that they keep their memories for themselves.
It’d also be unsound to send light-headed travelers to places where daily gunfire chases away beauty, and extreme poverty strips locals of dignity. Let’s let that to unsavory tourist guides, with their slick packages and greased brochures, and take a moment to mourn those stranded in bloody beaches.
Still, it’s a vast and mostly uncovered world, if one cares enough to learn while traveling, and leave a gentle impression before returning. Just like Sahara sands cross the Atlantic and fertilize the Amazon Rainforest, a journey should sow some seeds for every root uncovered.
Then again, why invoke a haboob, or a bad pun, to make a cross-pollination point? A trip is often worthier for the places it opens up within the traveler’s mind than the ones visited by the body. Thus our urge to introduce these towns, where residents may have something to uncover within you.

DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES IN KALACHI
Few outside this town of less than 700 people in Kazakhstan had heard of it before 2010. That’s when the outbreak of a still unidentified malady was first reported: people would suddenly fall asleep and remain like that for hours and even days. It continues to happen.
Five years later, and countless outbreaks since then, Continue reading

War Lord

Women May Lead Our
First Mission to Mars

For some three billion years, Mars looked all but dead, despite misplaced expectations astrophysics had about it all along. Now, as if acting on cue, it seems to be having a renaissance of sorts. Even a comet has paid a close visit to it last week.
Besides the two rovers still soldiering on its inhospitable surface and atmosphere, NASA plans to thoroughly explore it, with a possible human landing sometime in the next two decades. A number of international satellites are also on its orbit.
But despite its allure and beauty on our Zenith, Mars has had a problematic and somewhat disappointing history all along. It closely tracked Earth’s own development for at least a billion years, until something went terribly wrong and, by the time we showed up, it’d gone completely astray. A kind of recovery may be in the works, however, as some believe that life may have come from there.
Lucky us, disaster struck the red planet and not to the blue one. While a climatic inferno wrecked havoc on Mars, it didn’t take long, in astronomical terms, for Earth to bloom and become simply the most beautiful and friendly place in the whole wide universe.
That we act uncaring and downright abusive to this paradise is a matter for another time. The fact is that Mars has attracted so much attention that one wonders whether ancient people were up to something when they nominated it as God of War. Or hasn’t anyone heard the words ‘permanent’ and ‘war’ uttered so often together lately?
There was once a famous German astrologer that was so dedicated to find links between the influence of the Zodiac’s heavenly bodies and the human psyche that whenever a planet would be in evidence, she’d point to a corresponding ‘impact’ it’d have on us.
Thus, when the Pioneers and, later, the Voyager probes sent back those stunning images of Saturn, in the 1970s, she immediately related the event to the era’s economic recession, lines at gas stations in major Western cities, and so on. For her, it all had to do with the celestial Lord of the Rings’ particular charm.
Whether she too was on to something still depends on what one believes, but there’s no question that she was very much in synch with the Greek Pythagorean concepts of Astrology, once considered a science, to which Ptolemy formulated additional precepts. Egyptians and Romans concurred to that school too.

VOLUNTEERS FOR A ONE-WAY TRIP
NASA has been preparing a potential crew to make the trip to the Martian steppes, and even if we still lack the proper transportation to do it, a number of endurance experiments have been conducted with small groups of people. Another team has just started a six-month period of isolation in Hawaii, for instance.
Many ideas have been floated about what such a hazardous trip would consist of, including the possibility that it’d be a one-way ticket journey, meaning that the pioneering astronauts would not necessarily come back ever to Earth. A daunting prospect, indeed, but one that may have its takers.
Experiments in dieting, self-renewed sustenance, revolutionary farming techniques, even rigorous psychological training to prevent the crew from becoming overwhelmed with boredom, or worse, have followed. A variety of styles in new spacesuits are also in the works, from Barbarella to Buzz Lightyear, with all the bells and whistles that not even Ray Bradbury had dreamed of.
The latest of a long series of hypothesis and proposals to maximize a trip to Mars represents a novel idea and has a particular appeal to at least 50 percent of humankind: the possibility of sending a crew of mostly, if not solely, women to Mars. One assumes, on a round-trip basis, though.
The proposal is surprisingly not new, as NASA did consider sending a woman as the first human in space, an idea whose time was then still to come, but that now may be just ripe. The rationale has little to do with gender politics and a lot with caloric intake and preservation.

WOMEN ACTUALLY BELONG IN MARS
For such a long, perilous, and expensive journey – a price tag has been conservatively estimated to be about $450 billion – weight becomes a serious consideration. And a woman’s body does weight less in average than a man’s, consumes Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Plastic Oh, No, Band, Colltalers

‘I just want to say one word to you. Just one word… Are you listening? Plastics.’ That was the career advice offered to Benjamin Braddock, in the 1967 movie The Graduate. If the word was just a joke then, almost 50 years later, it now defines our way of life and may point to our demise.
Its presence permeates almost everything considered essential to our living in this planet, plastic may also choke to death its lifeline, the oceans. Everyday, millions of discarded pieces of it reach the world’s waterways and join what’s an already incalculable amount of floating garbage.
In fact, in this past half century, we’ve seen how insidious plastic clogging the world oceans has become: it has been found everywhere, from vast extensions, forming giant invisible islands of flotsam, to deep under the Arctic seas, and out of dead seabirds’ bursted open stomachs full of it.
As part of our daily life, it’s also all over: in the computer where this post is being composed to cellphones, medicine bottles, to product packaging, food containers, to throwaway utensils. It’s almost discouraging to realize how hard it’d be for us do dig ourselves out of this lifestyle hole.
But perhaps not all is lost. Two of the more ominous of its uses may represent both a way out and a method to wean ourselves from such pervasive product: plastic bags and bottles. They both encapsulate extremes of our societal behavior and offer interesting metaphors to our way of living.
Take bags, for instance, banned this past week in California, which may be one of the most important steps taken against plastic pollution since recycling rules have been instituted in the U.S. A positive sign, indeed, that should ignite a chain reaction and lead to a nationwide ban.
Created solely out of convenience, these bags are utterly replaceable, and yet, have a level of adherence in all walks of life that would baffle social scientists searching for common habits shared by all classes. It’s, however, one of the most environment-damaging habits we could possibly partake.
So a ban, as it’s being pursued in New York and other states, and following some European countries, would represent a big step towards controlling ocean pollution, where they inevitably wind up, after decades in landfills. Would a ban also instill a reflexion on our shopping obsessions? Nah.
The other ominous use of polymers is even more ridden with the contradictions of our very own highfalutin approach to a natural lifestyle: bottles. Drinking bottled water became one the most terrible by-products of the ‘living healthy’ movement, one that added millions of tons of plastic to our already Continue reading

The Scream Is Over

The Biggest of the Little Guys
Gets Bounced Off the World Cup

The World Cup has always been a lot of things to a lot of people. In fact, for millions of Americans, there could hardly be anything more important happening this Tuesday than the game that Team USA was playing against Belgium in the Brazilian city of Salvador.
But the cup is a brutal place for underdogs. Despite its cathartic explosion of goals, already exceeding previous editions, it also has a predatory taste for heartbreak. Thus when Lukaku scored and kicked out the U.S. from the tournament, millions of dreams were crushed.
World Cup 2014 Logo copyThe unprecedented crowds that overwhelmed bars, clubs and eateries throughout the States were absolutely sure that this was not going to be Belgium, even if it was Tuesday, and cheered and screamed and dared to imagine victory until what felt like a sucker punch in the gut.
The deafening silence that followed the referee’s final whistle would moved to tears even the hardest Neocon, or those known for despising beggars and Greenpeace activists. The 2X1 score was even more disappointing because, as it’s often the case, the U.S. was so close to tying it, so close to overwhelming it.
It wasn’t to be. Not that this is unfamiliar territory for the only major nation on the planet that calls football soccer, where the great majority still prefers to follow its insulated brand of league sports, and whose notion of a global ball competition involves exclusively its Northern neighbor.
There’s no need to act so sourly about Jürgen Klinsmann’s choices. After all, the current cycle of sunspots is also not what it’d been cracked up to be, scientists say. So if even the billions-old shiner can afford an off cycle or two, so can Clint Dempsey and his mates. And so can we all.
Which doesn’t mean that Team USA’s ride wasn’t thrilling, as it’s been for at least three consecutive World Cups, and that they haven’t given their very best, which it’s also been the case for the longest while. Then again, you can say the same about pretty much every ‘little’ team that never makes it to the final.

EVERY BIT A FLAMING TRAIL
For there hasn’t been a single case of a fragile team winning it all in this almost century old tournament, including the big guys, when they play a notch below their historical best. Continue reading

Ungrounded

Threat to Our Dream
of Living Among Stars

In the concert of nations, Russia holds little sway. That is, if one discounts its nuclear stocks and storied past as a fierce competitor with world power credentials, its influence is now mostly regional. That’s not how President Vladimir Putin sees it, though.
So, despite all the hyperventilation about its imperialistic moves against its neighbors, which it never really ceased to control, and the phony indignation displayed by U.S. and Europe, the world doesn’t really care much about it. Except when it comes to space.
Specially, in what the International Space Station, that marvel of global scientific cooperation, is concerned. Aloft for over 10 years, with a steady stream of technological achievements to boot, the flying lab has done more to world harmony that many a peace talk ever could.
That positive outlook is what has been seriously challenged this week when the Russian president issued a not-so veiled threat to bar the launch of American satellites by Russian-made rockets, and even ban the use of the station itself by the U.S. after 2020, which, to be sure, is a qualified ruse.
The ISS hasn’t been projected to be fully operational much beyond that date anyway, and only recently its decommission got a reprieve, as the bitter reality that it’s been reduced to become the only game in town, or rather, space, has sunk in for nations still interested in exploring it, including the U.S.
Which is also at fault in the whole thing, for the record, and not for trying to upset Putin’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine next door. But because the U.S. has withdrawn much of that once unwavering support to its own space program since the last Shuttle left the assembly line.

WORLD, WE’VE HAD A PROBLEM HERE
After the great conquests of the 1960s and 70s, NASA, the agency in charge of firing up the imagination of Americans still starstruck, has frankly come up with mediocre plans to follow up the Apollo, the Hubble, the Shuttle programs, and even the ISS, of which it was a crucial contributor.
Instead, lacking the funding and epic ideas needed to go ‘to infinity and beyond,’ to use Buzz Lightyear credo (if you have to ask…), after folding the Shuttle program, NASA decided to count on the aging and unreliable Russian Soyuz rockets, to lift its ambitions to orbit. It couldn’t couldn’t work.
Why? Haven’t you noticed where they all land, and eventually depart from? You’re right, Ukraine. That in itself granted Putin a free ride, and power over the aspirations of millions of Americans who wished we still had a first class ticket towards the future.
The space card was bound to be played also when a misguided bet was placed on the market’s ability to carry our dreams aloft, on board Continue reading

Play Dough

But Why Didn’t They
Call it The Big Pizza?

The world would laugh, if it’d even care, about the little idiosyncrasies New Yorkers seem to invest themselves with so much passion one would think that the fate of humankind is squarely pinned on them. Case in point: pizza, local fast food extraordinaire.
Now, we know, would it kill us to exercise restrain and abstain from such prosaic subject? We’re not above it, though; yesterday, when we were cold and short of cash, it seemed like a good idea. But fear not, for we approach the beast with utmost respect.
For even for pizza there’s a certain way of eating it, if far from solemn, that denizens of this great cesspool are proud of mastering early on. And then there’re all the wrong ways to be ashamed doing it. Just ask the Mayor, who was caught eating the holy dough with fork and knife.
Anathema, nothing less. After all, the whole combo of flour, cheese and tomato sauce may have been invented in the old country ages ago, but the slice and the ‘fold and eat with your hands’ maneuver have been both trade-marked right here, on the streets of the five boroughs, just like steaming manholes and yellow cabs.
What? You have a problem with that? No one should be surprised if many an argument has flared up or settled down over a steaming pie, and for that dwindling minority with a pocketful of change, nothing is as affordable and substantial than a 4am slice by the curbside.
But alas, not even pizza is that New Yorker, and as with many other city-by-the-river staples, it’s been appropriated by the world, many times over, gritty, warts et al. Perhaps one day we’ll all be talking about pizza like we do today about the old Times Square. But we digress.
We’re living in other times, that’s for sure, even if equally lean. Definitely diminished slant on little localized treats, though, as they plan on printing a pie in space and making a slice last longer than a heat wave. Never mind us old farts, for kids are unlike to mourn the demise of such a 20th century food relic.
Big Apple? Who were they kidding? So, fine, it was supposed to evoke the original sin and all that, besides looking a bit more photogenic in tourism ads. But the likelihood of seeing someone eating apples on the streets of New York was never bigger than spotting a kangaroo at a subway stop, or a beret-wearing mime.
Although we’re sure those have also been spotted somewhere around Continue reading

Thanksgivukkah

A Holiday Combo
& a Smashed Comet

It happened before and, if you’re not in a hurry, it’ll happen again. Good luck with that, though. And good luck with one of the most loaded of the American holidays, both celebrated and vilified for its special brand of family time, the kind that often verges on murder.
Thanksgiving, which after Thursday, will only conflate with Hanukka again in the year 79811, is being called Thanksgivukkah this time around, in what Wikipedia insists is a portmanteau but that’s not for reasons we’re sure our illustrious readership knows so well.
As if eating overfed, extra-hormone stuffed, hardly a bird at this point at all, turkey were not enough, we’re already feeling lazy and not up to the task to add yet another exquisite commentary to the joyous occasion (for some, naturally, not the turkeys).
After some three years, we did accumulate a nice share of posts on the subject, which we’ll proceed to lay on your plate, as you try to ignore the grand debate on healthcare and how ‘that Kenyan is ruining this country,’ while at the same time trying not to call attention to your text messaging.
Feel free to jump in with congratulatory asides and additional servings of praise for our foresight, which will only require a few tweaks, perhaps a dollop of the salsa du jour for flavor, and a few minutes in the microwave. Just like the leftovers you’re sentenced to have for the next several days.
For there’s little about this holiday that’s new and fresh, and this year particularly, the pickings are indeed slim. You have your White House sanctioned turkey pardons, the appalling conditions consumer-bound poultry is handled in this country and the need to raise them more humanely, and the multitude of well-intentioned souls who decide to go vegan at this time of the year out of sheer disgust.
But there’s something else going on, that may be important for astrophysics and scientists: a comet is about to zip by, head and tail, the sun. ISON, as it’s known, has been so far a disappointment all on its own, though. Earlier reports that it’d offer a stunning sky show have been greatly downgraded since.
Thus there’s little hope for you but to dive yourself among your family and friends, and hey, it doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, you should Continue reading

Land Specks

Pop Up Isles, Sinking Atolls &
Havens for Snakes, Cats & Spiders

An unforeseen consequence of rising sea levels is that it puts a dump on that idyllic idea of retiring to a tropical island. Somehow the thought of waking up at its highest peak, with just enough time to hold your breath doesn’t have the same ring that it once had.
It’s a silly dream anyway. So when a 7.7 earthquake shook Pakistan last week, leaving over 500 dead and thousands homeless, in a nation already periodically visited by tragedy, only a heartless optimist would see the birth of a new island as a silver lining of sorts.
And yet, there it is, a 100 feet by 250 feet speck that’s now dotting the Arabian Sea. A rough, cracked piece of the ocean floor, pushed up by methane to 60 feet up above water. Almost like a natural monument and tribute for those who had to go for it to rise up so violently.
As you probably gathered by now, that’s our theme for this evening: islands, those mysterious orphans of continental drifts, giants underwater, tall enough to reach high above the waves, and yet frightfully tiny, once at the surface, always at ready to be swallowed by the vastness around.
They’ve been a surprising copious leit motif at Colltales, having graced these pages half a dozen times in less than three years. Perhaps its their endless diversity, or often violent origins, what pulls us towards them. Or that they can be placid and inhabited only by bugs Continue reading

Red Shift

One-Way Ticket to Ride
From Earth to Her Twin

One thing about the planned one-ticket, privately-financed, volunteer-driven trip to Mars is that, for the first time in history, someone will actually be dead for all effect and purposes, and still in contact, albeit limited, with the living.
That’s right: the willing crew for this journey to the nonreturnable will cease to legally exist on Earth and be as physically unavailable to us as the departed. And yet, still capable of holding a conversation with those they’ve left behind.
Of course, this can’t be the calling card for such an enterprise, which will rest on a lot of showmanship and just plain convincing to attract the kind of hardy human being willing to undertake it. On the contrary, to call it a trip to death would immediately kill the hard on of every science aficionado, who’s been dreaming about getting to Mars since they were born.
It’s only fitting that such a proposition is not the least attractive to the touristic inclined. Part of the allure of traveling to faraway places is the promise of returning and flooring everyone you know with enviable tales that will forever separate you, who’ve gone somewhere, from them, who’ve remained behind.
For the record, such adventurers (almost 80,000 candidates at last count) are applying to visit an Earth-wanna be, the red twin of our blue planet who, just as a problematic sibling, simply wasn’t successful at some critical stage, and whose evolutionary arc went terribly wrong at some point.
While Mars failed at developing the ability of harboring life, at least as we know it, fell behind and it’s now a giant inhospitable desertic rock, Earth is still thriving. Which is sort of ironic, because our own piece of rock could use some solitude and even a bit less of the human imprint, if it’s to survive in the long run, but that’s another story.
So the one-way trippers striving to live and perish in a lifeless landscape, would also enter the realm of the deceased, but with the extra plus of being able to communicate with this world, something that has eluded the dead since, well, the beginning of time, psychics notwithstanding.

THE DNA OF DAREDEVILS
There will be other pluses, to be sure, and for the adventure-bent, this is what the expression ‘thrill of a lifetime’ was designed to convey, despite being now sadly equated to cliche and hyperbole. Just don’t include on that the dietary rigors and small indignities they’ll have to endure just to keep up with the basic needs of their humanity. Enough said there.
It’ll also be, by far, the most dangerous journey ever attempted by an earthling, who may not even get to Mars alive, as the lethal effects of Continue reading

The Other Half of the Sky

Future of Space Travel May
Belong to Female Astronauts

Some two years ago, NASA was looking for a few good astronauts. It found a few good women. In fact, four out of the newest batch of eight space-bound Americans are female, truly a record. Unlike most professions, being an astronaut accurately reflects our demographics.
They may all thank their lucky stars to Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian who became the first woman in orbit 50 years ago last Sunday. As if on cue, Wang Yaping, China’s second female astronaut, has returned to Earth yesterday, after 15 days in space with two others.
Valentina’s launch, two years after Yuri Gagarin’s historical flight, was a second stunning win for the Soviet Union in the early years of the space race. After Godspeed John Glenn, in 1962, it’d take two decades for Sally Ride to, well, ride the Space Shuttle and become the first American female to get there.
As it goes, June seems to be a special time for women in space. Apart from Wang, Liu Yang, China’s first female astronaut, went aloft last year on the 16th, the same day as Valentina‘s, while Sally, who passed away last July, boarded the shuttle 30 years ago, on the 18th.

VALENTINA & THE FEMALE FLYERS
Perhaps mirroring the times, their trips were radically different. Valentina‘s type of orbit is now routinely done by unmanned rockets. Sally rode the no-longer active Shuttle Program, and Wang’s flight is part of China’s ambitious plan to build its own space lab.
Thus, even though our bets are still heavily stacked in the new crop of female astronauts and scientists who may help lift us all to a consistent new program of space exploration, the odds are still against women in space: of 534 space travelers, so far only 57 have been female. So much for demographics.
But let’s not restrict our imagination just yet. When it comes to exploring the physical universe, there’s practically everything to be done. Assuming that we don’t self implode without even trying, within a century we may as well be traveling if not through the stars, then at least among near planets in and outside the Solar System.
It may all start with a quick landing on an asteroid. Then another trip to the Moon, this time not on gossamer wings. A few additional extravagant dreams, and that long haul to Mars, the one-way ticket reserved for a very special breed of not yet born humans, and who, most likely, won’t return to Earth either.
And who’s not to say that on that very open-ended journey, someone may become the first space mother? It’s likely – and even preferable – that nationality won’t be relevant then. Or race. Or, to a certain extent, age. Gender, though, will. And there’s just one that’s been trained on this particular task for 100,000-plus years.

Just the time-frame we need to get used to think, if we’re to vanquish war, climate change, pollution, over population, diminishing natural resources, and, wny not? greed. As a matter of fact, if we do get at least a few of those right, there won’t be really any limits to what we’ll be able to do. Including having a birth in outer space.
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Read Also:
* The Red Chronicles
* Sorry, Not a Winner
* Out There

The Way We Look

Printing Faces From Chewing
Gum & Food for the Red Planet

The latest tool to redefine facial reconstruction is Three-Dimensional Printing, which has already taken digital technology to surprising realms. But as some rushed to print a firearm, the medical field found a much better use for it, helping people with disfigured faces.
From Egyptian death masks to crime-solving forensics to recovering the likeness of historical figures and early humans, facial recreation has come a long way. Now artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg is combining 3-D with DNA decoding to re-imagine the face of her contemporaries.

Instead of using molds or clay or plaster, though, or reconfiguring someone’s resemblance by their bone structure, Dewey-Hagborg is tapping into a seemingly endless supply of raw material: garbage infused with organic matter. In other words, stray hair, nails, discarded chewing gum and cigarette butts.
These dejects we routinely toss aside with abandon have, potentially, all the information about us that a DNA lab would wish for. You may now insert here your own nightmarish scenario of a shady organization going through dustbins to collect material about you. Which, haven’t you noticed?, is already happening.
Take comfort you’re not the only one concerned about what’s called genetic surveillance, since the whole point of the artist’s ‘Strange Visions‘ exhibit is to raise awareness, by proving that it’s possible to gather an incredible array of personal information about anyone, through not necessarily illegal means.
After all, since the early 1990s, there’s already a well funded National DNA Index System, ready to process such material. Compounded with old-fashioned surveillance, like cameras and recordings, and digital snooping, the whole thing does make old Georgie and his 1984 sound like a kids’ bedtime story.

THE FACE’S VALUE
It doesn’t have to be that way, or rather, it hasn’t always been this way. Face masks were used in the Egyptian highly ritualized burials to memorialize the deceased. Mummies were sent to the great beyond wearing layers of clay, bronze or gold masks, perhaps as an attempt to compensate for the inexorability of flesh decay.
Throughout the centuries, ritualized or not, death masks were adopted as a portraiture device, printed as effigies, Continue reading

Nocturne

The Night, Number
Eight, & the Infinite

A completely unscientific survey shows that, in some languages, the word night is made up by the letter ‘N’ and the number eight. Thus, eight night, in English, ocho noche, in Spanish, huit nuit, French, acht nacht, German, otto notte, Italian, oito noite, Portuguese.
Given that N is the mathematical symbol of infinite, and eight also means the same, those who pay attention to that sort of thing (conspiracists?) conclude that night must have something to do with the void, the end, the dark. Which seems obvious. Or not. Whatever.
It’s all coincidence, say those who need a bit more of scientific basis before jumping into assumptions about philology. That list of languages, they say, which also should include Hindi (aat raath), are all derived from the Indo-European branch, so they are all related. Bummer.
And then, of course, they proceed to demolish the argument by mentioning all the hundreds of other languages in which the words night and eight have no way of knowing anything about each other, so to speak. Linguists of all accents were ecstatic, and so were everyone who simply can’t stand another pseudo Synchronicity.
No wonder so many tongues are disappearing. By the way, the fact that many false theories percolating the Internet these days would be easily dismissed if more of us would’ve paid a bit more attention in school is just a small consolation. In this case, however, is also a bit sad.
That’s because the theory was so elegant, we’d have loved if it’d made any sense. But even as it doesn’t, the implicit imagery of the flawed connection between the word, which rules when the sun is away, and the number that’s essentially two stacked up zeroes, soothes our jaded minds.
THE NIGHT HAS EYES
Is it the fact that, squeezed in there somewhere, there’s also the concept of slumber, dreaming, and even the Big Sleep itself, with its closing of the eyes and cessation of all possible senses? Or is just our own grey matter, again playing the tricks it learned once it no longer relied on its Reptilian past?
We’d add two other, completely unrelated and also as unscientific as they come, arguments to justify if not the illusory link, then our own volition to go along with it: one, we’re lazy. Secondly, we’ve been searching for a (noble?) excuse to publish these two amazing pictures. Yes, there you have it.
The Earth at Night (above), a cloud-free composite picture that NASA has put together out of over 400 satellite images of nighttime lights, has become one of the space agency’s most downloaded images, and that’s saying a lot. It was originally compiled to ‘study weather around urban areas.’

Exploring the Night, which depicts the Milky Way rising above Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, with a hiker (and the photographer) as sole witnesses, was taken by Jason Hatfield in May, 2012. It’s the 11th of the 50 finalists of the Smithsonian magazine’s 10th annual photo contest.
We could’ve called this post Below the Horizon, or Why Not Talk About Nine, or even Why Six Is So Afraid of Seven. But they all would skin over what the night does to every living being, and the tides, and nature itself. Also, they all ignore the Moon, which is something else entirely.
But as for the infinite, we really know nothing about it.

Good Morning to All

Happy Birthday to Ya. Would
That Be Cash or Credit Card?

Minds of the practical kind know it all too well; birthdays can be expensive. And tricky too, specially if it’s your own mate’s, who happens to be picky about that sort of thing. There’s something else increasing the overall price of celebrating you being around: the song everyone sings.
Good Morning to All, the tune American sisters Patty and Mildred Hill wrote in 1893 for school children to sing, somehow became Happy Birthday to You in the early 1900s, through a very serendipitous journey. Along the way, it changed copyright owners, and became very expensive indeed.
Technically, every time someone sings it, which probably happens worldwide thousands of times a day, someone, or rather, some institution collects some dough. It used to be the estate of Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman, who were given credit for the new lyrics in 1935. Now, rather than pay up, some want this tradition changed.
Which means, there’s a new Happy Birthday song around the block, after a radio station in New Jersey set up a contest and chose a winner to replace the old tune. But it’s unlike that you’ll be hearing it sang by a group of underpaid waiters at your local diner anytime soon. These things take time.
Which is just as well. Nothing to remind you of its passage than that over familiar melody, and those repetitive chorus, which by the way, get different lyrics in different countries, not necessarily only its translation. But in English, it may only underline how old you really are. And that’s almost unbearable.
That could be also what’s behind WFMU’s idea, when it teamed with the Free Music Archive to replace the copyrighted song. But the main point was to send the new one straight to public domain, so no one would Continue reading

It’s Fly By Us

Spectacular Meteor Blast Over
Russia Steals the Asteroid Show

Something stunning happened while half of the world was sleeping, and a lot of people were waiting today see an asteroid’s close encounter with Earth: another spaceball showed up unexpectedly and exploded over Russia, showering thousands of flaming debris over the frigid land.
So much for the D414 and its rare extreme proximity; it got completely upstaged by a yet to be named heavenly body, smaller but with much better performing skills. Which also managed to injure some one thousand people, cause considerable material damage, all captured on several video recording devices.
As its pictures go viral, fingers will probably be pointed to those who got us all worked out for another underwhelming event, which almost no one watched. Considering the lethal potential that a crash like the one in Russia could’ve had to life on Earth, what was once again displayed was our utter lack of preparation.
But there may be a (burning) silver lining about this blast, as its forensics gets in gear in the months ahead. Besides of including a massive collection of debris over a large swath of inhospitable land, it may likely serve as a testing ground and offer precious clues about its nature, hopefully to the point of helping us get ready for the next.
The fantastic images of the event may also serve as stand in for another event that also happened in Russia, a century and five years ago: the explosion of an object over the gelid forests in the banks of the Tunguska river, which flatten an estimated 80 million trees over an 830 square miles area, according to Wikipedia. Now back to our regular programming.

Burning Rocks
Checking Us Out

Imagine that at some point today, you’d be walking outside and look up, and out of the thin, blue, chilly and beautiful blue sky, an office building would zip fast by you. Picture that it’d be high up but close enough that you could see its windows, and even a set of desks or two.
Now, never mind that it’d be bigger than a plane. You probably wouldn’t be too worry as to whether it’d crash on Earth, because, well, it simply didn’t belong up there, in the first place. But if it were an asteroid instead, that would certainly be your first thought.
We say that because, as it goes, there’s a piece of rock the size of a small building crossing the skies somewhere above the planet, and if conditions were just slightly different, you’d be able not just to spot it but to watch it crash and, yes, it’d probably be the last thing you’d see on this life.
The asteroid, 2012 DA14 will be zooming by us at about five miles per second, which is really fast, and closer to the ground than the satellites that told you about the weather this morning. It won’t hit us, though, NASA says. In fact, you most likely won’t even see it go by.
Still, it’s a considerable piece of rock, 150 feet across, with power to destroy a whole city, if it were to crash over our heads. The impact would create a charred wasteland in every direction to hundreds of miles away from it. Ah, and again yes, it’d probably kill everyone and everything on sight.
Even with NASA’s diminished budget, and an almost universal neglect about the threat these lethal travelers can represent to life on Earth, we’re finding out that Earth’s traveling through a shooting gallery of Continue reading

The Red Chronicles

Mars, As Red As They Come (NASA) Click for Video

Think You Could Move
to Mars? Pack Lightly

A curious thing happened while we were mourning the Space Shuttles’ demise, and lack of a recognizable project to follow it up: NASA got busy with Mars. Thus, even if such news are breaking at least 54.6 million kilometers away, and often farther than that, we take it.
Last time we checked it, there were two rovers on the surface, and a satellite orbiting the planet named after the Roman god of war. And as we’re already researching ways of sending humans for a permanent visit up there, no one has mentioned anything about armies to follow.
It belongs to Mars, for example, the most spectacular event connected to space exploration in recent memory: last August’s landing on the planet of one of those rovers, Curiosity, through an ingenious and complex succession of stages. Or so we were told, since there’s no real-time footage of it.
But even the animation NASA prepared detailing the landing beat by a large margin the next-best thing, the docking of privately-built Dragon capsule on the International Space Station last October. While that was the promising opening salvo of a new era of commercial cargo trips, Curiosity’s pictures are way hotter.
This week, it’s supposed to crack its first Martian rock open, and astrophysicists and scientists of all stripes are beside themselves about it. In the meantime, elsewhere in the traffic-free red surface, the other Continue reading

The Last Detour

When Columbia & Her Crew
Did Not Come Back to Earth

They died doing what they loved. And before going, they’d done all they’d set themselves to do. Ten years ago today, Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon, got ready to return home.
It wasn’t to be. The Columbia, a 28-mission veteran shuttle that had been their shelter in the sky for 16 days, disintegrated on re-entry, in the final tragedy of the 30-year space program. We lost their lives, NASA lost its craft, but no dream has been sacrificed in the crash.
While it lasted and until its end, in July of 2011, the Shuttle Program did manage to keep the human aspiration of traveling in space very much alive. That despite its limited range and its specific overall mission, which was to build the International Space Station.
Curiously, the Columbia never visited that orbiting outpost where today, as we speak, six astronauts are still keeping vigil. Neither the program itself has been replaced by anything near its long-term original purpose. We’re definitely living an era of diminished expectations.
In a way, the upside of that is that it assigns epic dimensions to the space shuttles, and truly heroic colors to the 350 people who flew on their missions. Given the risks, it’s also amazing that their safety record Continue reading

Blowing in the Wind

Selling Air Bottles, Flying With
Bacteria & Hiring Fake Protesters

As the climate changes and pollution rises, people and corporations scurry to seize positions on all sides of the wind energy debate. While it’s getting harder for humans to grasp a breath of fresh air, it’s just fine for bugs and bacteria, flying in upper layers of the atmosphere.
But even the threat of chocking to death might mean opportunity. Thus an entrepreneur in smog-filled China is selling bottles of air, while a mysterious company would give $20 to anyone who’d show up in Midtown Manhattan, to rally against wind turbines.
Just when you thought that there’s not much going on around you, right? At least not with the air, this constant soothing ghost of a breeze that envelops and kisses our skin ever so gently, but that it’s also the fastest element to mercilessly kill us, whenever it’s short or absent.
Then again, we’ve been stuffing it with some much dirt and soot, chemicals and heavy metal particles, heat and all sorts of flotsam, since at least the Industrial Revolution, no wonder we seem to be reaching critical mass. For millions, the act of breathing in itself is an all-consuming activity.
Billions are routinely spent to support industries and human activities that have a brutal effect on the environment. It’s now a cliche to call it our ‘addiction to carbon fuels,’ but the fact remains that man-made pollution it’s the single greatest factor wreaking havoc with earth’s climate.
THE BUG & BACTERIA EXPRESSWAY
But not all is garbage circling the planet, of course. A couple of years ago, a study found out that millions of moths and other bugs travel regularly overnight at some 60 miles an hour, which is faster than many birds migrate. Just like windsurfers, they seem to follow an internal Continue reading

Seen From Above

Pictures of Earth at Night From
Space: Stunning Beauty & Concern

Watching Earth from 199 miles up has changed how we see ourselves, our cities and the planet, thanks in part to photos taken from satellite and by the astronauts at the International Space Station. As they’re staying ever longer up there, aerial photography has greatly improved.
All that these recent photos have in common is that they’re all night pictures, but boy, aren’t they striking. They’re also surprisingly revealing and instructive about what’s going on down here. Hopefully, they’ll become valuable tools for raising awareness and change.
Credit should be given to NASA which, despite its current shoestring budget, still manages to wow us with some of their ongoing projects. One such program is the Earth Observatory, which is a comprehensive six-month study, using high-resolution night images of Earth, to ‘gain insight on human activity and poorly understood natural events.’
The now little government agency that still can often works in conjunction with other scientific research teams, such the National Geophysical Data Center, NOAA, as well as the European Space Agency. The ISS is also an integral part of such programs, as it orbits through different patches from satellites.
Whereas the Earth Observatory is a set study, the astronauts are free to photograph Earth following their own instincts. And photograph away they do, to stunning and quite meaningful results. Whether they direct Continue reading

Space Odor

Fragrance Maker to Send People
to Space, Where the Smell Is Odd

Astronauts have struggled to describe the strange but unmistakable scent of space. ‘Seared steak,’ as one put it. No, ‘burnt gunpowder,’ said another. So odd it is, that NASA has commissioned a chemist to develop something similar, so rookies can get acquainted with it.
The out of this world odor can’t be covered up by any cologne. But AXE, the maker of a popular deodorant, is promoting the launching of its new fragrance by offering 22 lucky buyers the chance to fly aboard Lynx, a suborbital plane being readied to take tourists aloft.
As space is about to become the novelty du jour for those bored with the signs on the ground (and with deep pockets to afford taking off), we may also see a new era of space traveling being offered to common folk, via lottery. Just like it was done with the Titanic and we don’t mean to sound ominous here.
Until governments see a reason to invest heavily in space exploration, manned trips to outer space are about to get very rare indeed, and almost never for scientific purposes only. That could change tomorrow, of course, if there were suddenly the prospect of developing a super-duper weapon out there.
Funding wouldn’t be short for that, we’re sure. For all the great things you’ve read here, and our personal enthusiasm about the Space Age, it was never a question why it was being pursued, and what was the shadow program going along for the ride. We just wouldn’t let that take anything away from its overall  greatness.
That era, much to our chagrin, has come to a close, apparently. Or at least has slowed down to an almost grinding halt. For all the hoopla about traveling to Mars or to land a man on an asteroid, realistically we don’t Continue reading

Back to the End

Picking Up Right
Where We Left Off

You’re probably feeling very good about yourself right now. After all, you’ve proved them all wrong, and you’re still alive and kicking, despite all dire predictions about the world coming to a final blast today. Well, our word to you would be caution; you’re not out of the woods yet.
Since you’ve probably read about what was supposed to have happened today, the Mayan calendar and what not, we’ll spare you from going over that venue again. Instead, let’s make sure you know what you haven’t yet, unfortunately, ducked, and, albeit unlikely, can still hit you.
Hey, we’re just counterbalancing the annoying cheerful wave that will undoubtedly grace today’s news. We’re, as you know, funny that way: first we tend to periodically create these completely baseless widespread fears, to which we add a steady diet of bad news, day in and day out, just to make everyone feel like dirt.
Then, when all seems to be about to burst into a planetary bummer, we conveniently stand down, invoking some kind of glitch, or blaming it all on the hyperactive imagination of some nut preaching on the desert somewhere. But we still tell you that you should consider yourself lucky, for what could’ve been.
Needless to say, fortunes are made or broken that way. All over the world, people have given up everything in exchange for the comfort of following someone else’s vision toward the impending doom. In fact, according to Isaac Asimov, an Assyrian clay tablet of circa 2800 BCE was already warning everyone ‘that the world is speedily coming to an end.’
The only reason such gloomy type of predictions have become hard currency may be that we now waste even more time paying attention to them. Or see more reasons to do so, whichever rocks the boat of your next garden-variety cult leader, seeking validation to his or her deranged delusions of grandeur.
As for us, this whole brouhaha never mattered. When the pastor came Continue reading

The Last Apollo

The Sept. 18,1977 Voyager Picture

The Day We’ve Returned From
the Moon & Never Went Back

It was 40 years ago today when the Apollo 17 splashed on the Pacific Ocean, at 2:25pm, and mankind was grounded for good. There’d still be, of course, the Shuttle program, now gone, and the still going Hubble Telescope and the International Space Station.
But as Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ronald Evans left the Moon, few on Earth thought that half a century would pass before we may be back.
Why trips to the Moon are not as common now as we once envisioned, is a matter for contention. But the most likely explanation may have to do with the very reason that put us there in the first place. For all the talk about the human dream of flying among the stars, what triggered the Space Age was the Cold War.
In fact, the development of rockets and the technology that made possible for us to keep a permanent crew in the Earth’s orbit has a lot to do with the race to build weapons, no matter how bitter that realization tastes for those who’d wish otherwise. That doesn’t mean that it was all a waste, either.
For a glorious little while, the space race did upstage our war mongering, and became a beauty on its own right. It inspired and Continue reading

Space Out

Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Fan & Joint Tripper

‘The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serendipity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.’ These words are attributed to Carl Sagan, who’d be 78 years old today. Happy birthday, Mr. Cosmos.
The quote appeared on Lester Grinspoon’s 1977 book, Marihuana Reconsidered, and it’s here apropos last Tuesday’s vote legalizing weed in Washington and Colorado states, the first of its kind in the U.S., and a potential crack in the expensive, tragic, and ultimately ineffective ‘war on drugs.’ Well done, fellow Americans, others will soon join you.
The astrophysicist known for his 1970s TV series Cosmos was also a user himself, according to Keay Davison, who wrote his biography in 1996, three years after Sagan died of myelodysplasia-related pneumonia. Wikipedia reports that not long after, his widow Ann Druyan presided over the board of directors of NORML, a foundation dedicated to reforming laws concerning pot.
Even though much of the turbulent 1960s and 1970s were marked by both widespread experiments with mind-altering drugs, and with the wonders of the space race, Sagan’s importance for boosting popular interest in science and astrophysics can not be overstated. Besides his Continue reading

Polls & Tallies

Possible Losses Paving the Way
For One Man & His Ideas to Win

From where we’re standing, we’re far from knowing what many of you already know: who’s the U.S. President. Or perhaps you know as much as we do now, 24 hours before. But whether you’re mad about or celebrating the outcome of this election, it’s almost a miracle that it’s actually produced a winner.
That’s because, as predicted with even better accuracy than the result itself, thousands across the land had to wait hours in line to vote, voting machines malfunctioned, suspicious steps were taken by election officials, and many, arguably due to the media frenzy, wound up not voting in the end.
The first sight things could go awfully wrong, or as pessimists had already declared, ‘as expected,’ came not long after results from New Hampshire’s Dixville Notch were in, a 5 to 5 dead-heat tie: Reddit Pennsylvania reader ‘centrapavote’ filmed a machine that would register votes cast for President Obama as if they were for the GOP candidate.
Other contraptions malfunctioned in Ohio precincts, while in central and south Florida, hundreds endured drizzling rain and an average of seven hours wait in line, so to cast their votes. And that may be the reasonably good news, since votes were indeed cast, and defective polling stations were put out of commission.
Much more serious, and again, from where you stand, you may have already a better view of this issue, was the unheard of decision by Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, ‘who asked voting machine giant ES&S to install last-minute, unverified, custom firmware updates on the state’s voting machines,’ according to Boing Boing.

THE KILLING OF YOUR VOTE
Ohio being a ‘swing state,’ (and you thought they’d rather square dance down there, eh?) with 18 electoral votes to be earned by the candidates, two shy of the 2008 election, the move can’t be perceived as purely technical, as in, operating technical problems. It reminded everyone of Florida, circa 2000, and the less than noble job performed Continue reading