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 Deep End

* Large and small Websites are participating on July 12 in a Day of Action to preserve Net Neutrality, a free, open, and accessible Internet to anyone. The Federal Communications Commission is threatening to turn it into a system where cable and communications companies are gate keepers, that dictate prices and speeds to everyone else.
* That would be the end to Colltales and millions of sites, including those that serve as lifelines to billions, who depend on them for self-expression, to speak the truth to power, and to communicate with the world. Make your voice heard and fight for the democratic right of access of everyone to the World Wide Web.


Diving With Spiders 
In the World Wild Web

The wonder about the Internet is that it’s still expanding at an incalculable rate, and it remains defiantly free and democratic, despite all attempts at controlling it. So there’s no embarrassment to admit we’re far from grasping even a fraction of its multi billion-plus sites.
But as vast as the Web may be, it is but a shallow dip into its depths. To dive unprepared into the bowels of what’s known as Deep Web, is not advisable. Unreachable by search engine spiders, it’s like falling into an abyss, and like the ocean, it can crush you.
It’s not enough to Google ‘dark net’ in order to get to it, but it does bring up a staggering number of links. And that’s a start for a glance of the Deep Web which is some four to five hundred times larger than what’s available to everyone: about 6,500 terabytes compared to the meek 20 terabytes you can all access to. As for what’s in really in there, it’s another matter.
Close to 500 billion of that numbing figure are of sites you’ll probably never be admitted to, and as you’ll find out, nor should you try to. That is, unless you’re absolutely sure about what you’re getting yourself into. Consider that a fair warning.
Of course, not all that info is really relevant to the lives of the majority of people. But if you really need to be granted access, and there are ways to get it, what you’ll find is way more reliable data that you’re used to be fed by a regular search. A lot of it sits inside directories, under specific topic-driven searches, though.
WHERE THE WEB IS STICKIER
Despite the benign imagery used to invoke the differences between the regular Interweb and the Deep Web – fishing through the surface of the ocean as opposed to deep sea fishing – there’s not much that’s benign about this bottomless well of info, and many may find themselves, well, out of their depth while searching it.
That’s because traditional search engines have standard (more)
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The Big Choke

Attention Seven-Sea Travelers:
Plastic Will Be Your Global Host

Here’s something else that gets aggravated with climate change and the rising seas: plastic pollution. From landfills to coastlines, deserted islands to the poles, our insatiable thirst for bottles and straws are choking marine life and killing Earth’s biggest food source. Maybe because we treat it that way.
Ok, so you’ve heard all about this before, but now isn’t the best time to think about it, for you’re taking off on vacation. Fine, but here’s a spoiler alert: masses of stray plastic are likely to greet you at every destination you may land, no matter how remote or exotic.
Granted, there’s a level of undisguised jealously in bringing this up, just in time some lucky few are planning a deserving time off. The way it goes, though, it may get even worse by the time the other 95% finally have their turn by the beach under the sun.
In the end, we all pay for this waste one way or another. That is, us, who trade the future for a little comfort. For much of what’s happening out there in the open sea got started at our own oh so cozy homes.
That’s not blaming, only a much needed accountability for dead turtles and sea birds, guts busted open with spilled containers and utensils, whose pictures are all over the Internet. Still, we insist on having that extra plastic bag, or iPhone case, at our local retailer.

WHAT TO DO? LOOK AROUND THE HOUSE
What follows debunks naggers’ excuses. There are things one can do, and they are a lot. A number of sites list hundreds of steps anyone can take to gradually eliminate plastic from their lives. Not all of it, for sure, but most of it.
Besides consulting them and checking how much effort you need to put in order to accomplish something towards ocean plastic pollution – and you do need to put on an effort -, you may also use your common sense and take a good look around your place.
Do you have a million plastic bags, for garbage and shopping? A bunch of tupperware containers under the sink? Do you store food and beverages in plastic bottles in your fridge? A load of broken pens and useless things laying around? There you go. Start by these; you’d be surprised (maybe), at how far it all gets.

WHAT NOT TO RELY UPON? RECYCLING
We know you’re diligent separating your recyclables; we spied on you through the camera of your plastic-clad laptop (just kidding). You even know that, apart from sorting your rejects out, you also make sure you drop each pile in different bins.
Good for you. Just don’t dump it and forget it. Have you seen those spilled garbage bags on the streets, that fell out of sanitation trucks? Don’t blame the underpaid guys and relax, no one will ask you to pick them up or after anybody else.
But do not expect your city recycling companies to have it all covered. Yes, they’re for profit enterprises, but by far much more important than some industries you patronize. So be sure them, and your elected representatives, know you do care about and value their work.

WHAT DON’T YOU KNOW? IT’S OUT OF CONTROL
You may have heard that there are now a number of patches of garbage, like the Texas-sized Great Pacific Gyre, floating far from any land. But what about Henderson Island, which certainly may have a least one plastic item you’ve disposed sometime last year. Like it, there are also many others.
You may’ve also heard of the battle to force Coca-Cola to pitch in the collection of millions of water bottles that are dumped in the Grand Canyon every year, right? Well, if no one talks about it, it’s because Coke weaseled it out of its responsibilities. So, the bottles are still there.
Now, the same is happening in the high seas, and plastic (more)
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* Beneath the Waves

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Wild in the City

New Backyard Attractions:
El Jefe & the Lion King of L.A.

Behind the string of wild animal sightings roaming major urban centers is our destructive appetite for the land and resources of their natural habitats. Thus when a mountain lion takes residency in a public park, or a jaguar is caught on tape close to a highway, it’s urgent to study them before they disappear.
Seeing bears, coyotes, alligators, tigers, and many others is becoming common in American and world cities. But there’s something new about P-22, a puma who lives in L.A., and El Jefe, of Tucson and possibly the only jaguar living in the U.S.: the much we’ve already learned about their incredibly rich individual sagas.

No offense to the remarkable little tiger that roams your living room, but these magnificent cats’ ability to adapt and survive offers invaluable insights into our efforts to slow down the extinction their species and of so many others face. Even if, as it goes, their close proximity also shames us to no end.
The ongoing massive man-made extermination of wildlife, which took evolution millions of years to perfect, is not just a tragedy on a planetary scale; it may also turn out to be the gateway to our own quick demise. Good riddance, some of them would say if they could or were born for that sort of thing.
For too long, developed nations have blamed poor (our apologies, Africa) continents for being lax about natural resources and their native animals. But what the fate of P-22 and El Jefe brings home is the hypocrisy of such an attitude, as it exposes our own lack of commitment for protecting the planet.

CEO OF THE UNDOCUMENTED
The footage of El Jefe, whose name was chosen by students at a Tucson school, was is a highlight in a decades-long program to restore a clear path for jaguars between North and South America. So there was due credit given when a remote camera captured glances of the elusive cat for the first time.
But it also happens during a particular hard time for U.S. immigrants. As a misguided administration engages in mass deportations, it also plans to build a wall at the border with Mexico, which would be disastrous to that recover strategy. That is sad but fitting, though, as El Jefe is believed to be a Mexican by birth too.
How it’ll play out may determine whether current efforts to prevent the extinction of species is headed to success or failure. That’s because any effective preservation strategy has to allocate, and protect, large swaths of land, where they can thrive without human direct interference. And that’s tough.
By the way, tough is also the jaguar bite: 2000 pounds per square inch, which relative to its weight is the stronger than all other cats, and also bears, gorilas and hippos. It can crush a turtle shell and it’s no wonder the Amerindian word Yaguar means ‘he who kills with one leap.’

THE BOSS OF HOLLYWOOD
The case of P-22 is similar in what the cat’s endurance is also the result of a carefully laid out plan to drive up the numbers of a genetically diverse population in the U.S. That’s another component of a successful recovery strategy, as it increases their odds to survival.
Centuries of hunting, inbreeding, and the perils of navigating diminishing wilderness patches squeezed by miles and miles (more)
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The 29

The Day I’ve Landed & the One
Question I’ve Been Always Asked

People like round numbers and big ‘Os’ are all the rage. Birthdays and anniversaries seem much louder if the date ends with a zero. But not me, I like fractured numbers. Evens are fine, but the odd ones hold a special slot on my book. Like 29, for instance.
It’s been that many years since I’ve arrived in Manhattan, in what was supposed to be a short season at the center of the world, and turned into the skin of a lifetime. 29 was also my roll call in grade school, before a classmate whose initial was ‘Y’. 
Just don’t ask about primes. For this special relationship with digits may be also why two major areas of the human experience have always been hostile to me: Math and lotto. Neither did me any favors, despite the fact that it’d love to be their pets. Numbers are cold that way.
While that’ll likely to remain the same, the New York where I’ve landed has changed many times over, though. And so have I, who lived, died, and reincarnated into so many different lives, none of which I’ve ever thought I’d pick, inherit, own. There may be some stats for those odds.
Here I’ve fell out of love, and fell right back in again; had a few changes of heart, and had it broken many times too, twice over losing my cats, all the while switching my tongue and aging into a cranky old man.
Departed parents, and a brother, and a few friends, could not inform the transformation taking place outside my sore eyes. But all it takes is a glance of that shrinking face staring back at me to see I was not spared: soon enough, my number too will be up.
I got to say, all these pretty pics of Rio and its games, being shown nightly, have made me jealous. A life can be crammed into a few strokes; any body can be stuffed into a piece of luggage. It’s what seeps through and stains the pavement that attracts notice.
I’ve always thought that my footprints were going to lead me all the way back to the Marvelous City. But now it’s another place oblivious to my run. In the end, 29 may number the things I did good while calculating the odds. I can’t think of a single one right now, though.
Why did I leave? I was asked over and over. When I was done dismissing it, I tried to settle the matter. At some point, I wrote a short essay about it. That’s what I’m sharing with you today. Hey, happy anniversary of my trip across the ocean. I have no regrets.

WHY LEAVE?

I left Brazil because I used to feel like a foreigner. Born in Rio but raised in the South, my accent sounds alien. A friend defined it for me, ‘you speak like someone who’s on the go.’ Years of living abroad have certainly not improved my situation. Most likely, I’m forgotten to all but a few, and to most, I never even existed. I left Brazil because we did not speak the same language.

I left Brazil, in part, because my name triggered jokes and personal grief. It’s not Brazilian enough, and people looked funny at me pronouncing it. Spelling mistakes plagued me whenever it there was a form to fill. Worse, some would size me up, suspicious that it was a ploy. As if Dad — an Episcopalian Reverend in a mostly Catholic country — had committed an act of sedition by calling us Norton, Norris, Wesley, and Joyce Mag. And I had to pay for his treason. I had to leave Brazil before someone accused me of unbrazilian activities.

I also left my country because, while most Brazilians are of mixed race, no one likes to admit it. Hot-iron treatment remains a staple of inner city beauty parlors. Living in the South didn’t help it either. Down there, the majority is of European heritage — have you heard of someone named Giselle something? For my blond, blue-eyed class, I was neither white nor black. ‘With a foot in Africa’, they would add, heavy on the innuendo. That I’ve been proud of my black blood was never the case. I had to leave Brazil after one too many, ‘Go back to Africa!’

I had to leave Brazil because Brazilian music is seldom heard on the radio. The country’s exquisite music tradition is today unfashionable. This may sound like whining. Whether contemporary music in Brazil is in a regressive mode or I am the one getting older and cranky, is irrelevant. As an experiment, round up a group of jazz players and question them about their favorite music. I assure you, four out of five will pick Brazilian. Do the same in Brazil and chances are, Justin and Eminem or Kanye will top the list. Not offense but I forced myself to leave Brazil so to enjoy and play Brazilian music.

Finally, I had to leave Brazil because I was unhappy. Simply put, I had a good job but had no money. I was close to family and friends but getting farther and farther from my dreams, which I sill have plenty, thanks for asking. Traveling and living abroad was in one of my first to-do lists, compiled while still in school. I had acquaintances telling me, ‘you lucky bastard, got a good job and a good woman; you’re set for life. Why leave?’ I’ve given myself the right to disagree. I left the job but kept the woman. Most come to America to find themselves. I had to leave Brazil to get lost.

Heat Riders

A Genetically-Altered Mosquito   
& the Arrival of Heat Wave Pests

As if a punishing drought in the middle west, and the threat of freak tornadoes in the east were not enough, now experts are warning us that such conditions may be ideal to a another wave of undesired guests arriving at our doorsteps: bugs. But unlike (most) of out of towners willing to camp in our cramped quarters, these visitors bite.
So since heat-seeker crawlers, such as ticks, bedbugs, and (dear lord) black widows, are expected to find shelter under our roofs, we may need protection. Some countries are already unleashing an army of genetically-modified mosquitoes, or coating whole villages with a special paint, and there’re home-made repellents too.
If none of these tactics seem appealing or even practical to a discriminating city dweller such as yourself, there’s always the old-fashioned swatter, and the screen window, and the round the clock vigilance. For those fortunate enough to not having to live in a hut, that should suffice, since our bug problem is mainly an annoyance.
But to large swaths of the planet, specially those facing a quickly changing weather pattern, it’s all a matter of survival. When serious diseases such as Dengue fever, or Malaria, or Chagas, and so many others, are real threats, almost everything is worth trying to stop them, even when some of the remedies create a whole new set of challenges.
As the climate continues to change in unexpected, and truly frightening, ways, insects have more than a leg up over us. They adapt faster and our homes offer them almost everything they’d ever want to remain alive and reproducing. That means that technology and human ingenuity – if not our changing appetites, if you catch the drift – will all be tested to the limit, to produce reliable ways to cope with their explosion.
In fact, if it serves to give you any perspective, among the huge variety of themes and issues Colltales has been covering, the subject of critters is one that has deserved almost the most posts. Everything seems to indicate that the trend will continue, so we’ll try to be brief about what’s out there about them, and how it may affect you.

INVASION OF THE BUGGY EYES
There are many sites online that correctly point to the importance of bugs to our own survival. Some have more of a sympathetic ring to them, such as bees, and others just get all the bad press, and for as many reasons as they usually have limbs. Most of such sites also praise nature for having created such an amazing system surrounding us.
You won’t find any of that here. Which doesn’t mean that we consider them our enemies. But for as much as we understand their right to live and thrive, when a cockroach shows up at our home, we admit it: we crush it. Sorry, but we could invoke many sanitary reasons as to why we do that almost by instinct. The real reason, though, is that we’re simply not that evolved.
The National Pest Management Association seems to agree with us. In a stern warning, they stated that ‘homeowners (or renters; bugs are not pickers) will likely encounter more pests than usual. Even areas of the country that are receiving rain aren’t in the clear, as standing rain water breeds mosquitoes, which can spread West Nile virus.’
Oh, yes, there are plenty of virus too, those microscopic versions of the same thing. But we’ll leave that for yet another post, for now. Their list of threats also includes scorpions, but we have our eye out (and hair standing in the back of our necks) for spiders, of course. The point is, though, how can you prevent that from happening?

GO AWAY HOME RECIPES
To many people, who’d rather live an uncomplicated life (bless them), going camping, or swimming, or picnicking mean only an extra stop at the local drugstore, for some bug spray. But despite makers of the oily solution have improved its smell, most of them are rich in something that we shouldn’t be slathering our bodies with: DEET.
The initials stand for an almost unpronounceable product developed by the U.S. Army for jungle warfare. Tested as a pesticide in the late 1940s, it’s used ever since, even though it’s proven to be toxic to birds and aquatic life. Even that you may use it sparsely (more)
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