Daily Archives: May 24, 2011

It is done: Spirit will RIP on the Martian surface

The last communication from the Mars Rover Spirit was on March 22, 2010. A few moments ago NASA announced that there would be no more attempts to contact the space robot after a transmission that will end on May 25th.


It is suspected that Spirit’s internal circuitry was damaged by very low temperatures experienced during the Martian winter. While it was hoped that solar panels would allow heaters to bring the robot back to life, this apparently has not happened. The resources that would be needed to continue what seems to be a fruitless attempt at communication are now needed elsewhere. According to NASA,

Engineers’ assessments in recent months have shown a very low probability for recovering communications with Spirit. Communications assets that have been used by the Spirit mission in the past, including NASA’s Deep Space Network of antennas on Earth, plus two NASA Mars orbiters that can relay communications, now are needed to prepare for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. MSL is scheduled to launch later this year.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I’ll write you a Rapture-check

It didn’t really occur to me that anyone actually believed that the world was going to end the other day. Honestly. I had assumed that some crazy preacher made the claim, that it was being used to scam the gullible here and there, but that almost no one was really taking it seriously. But, in reading a few of the post-Rapture updates, this is clearly not the case. And, I’m sure that this is one of those things everybody else knew and that I was blissfully ignorant of.
Continue reading Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I’ll write you a Rapture-check

Minneapolis Tornado Update: Info, Sad News, and the Politics of Race

Two pieces of sad news, some useful information, and a personal note (well, more of a political note).

First, the useful information. For those of you affected or busy passing information to those who are, the City of Minneapolis has set up this web page with information: Resources available for North Side residents affected by tornado

Sad item one: There has been a second death, related to the cleanup. Details.

Sad item two: After passing through one of the more urban areas of Minnesota, the north side of the City of Minneapolis, the tornado crossed the Mississippi River, which includes a fair amount of rather wild country. And there, within the boundaries of the city but along the river, it struck and destroyed the local Great Blue Heron rookery. Details of this event are provided by BirdChick who is also the conservation officer who discovered the damage. Read: Minneapolis Heron Rookery Destroyed By Tornado

Finally, I just want to extend my good thoughts and kudos to Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak. Here’s what you need to know: If you don’t live in North, but you live in the Twin Cities, then you know of North as a dangerous slum, a blighted African American neighborhood where there are frequent shootings, arsons, kidnapping, and where the police gather in clusters wearing bullet proof vests and carrying big-ass firearms, just in case. Most of these stereotypes are held and passed around by people who’s families fled North a generation ago, to the newly minted suburbs, or who have never been there, mainly out of fear.

Well, North does include a good proportion of the African American population of the city, and it also does include something close to half of the crime that happens in the city, and it is where you will, in fact, find a good number of any sort of events commonly noted on the local evening news happening. But that is because it is, well, about half of the city. North Minneapolis is quite large, and North does not include any of the la-la-shi-shi upper middle class and wealthy neighborhoods (which are in South) and it does not include the University Campus (which is in South and Southeast) and it does not include downtown (which is neither North nor South, by our local nomenclature), so North defaults, statistically, to something close to the average. It is actually a diverse area with all sorts of people living in it (not that tornado victims have to be “diverse” to be our sisters and brothers in need). Despite the obnoxious remarks made by local readers on the WCCO news reporting web pages about the tornado, in which people actually referred to the tornado as appropriate Karma for those living on the dole in Section Eight Housing, I’d wager that the majority of homes destroyed or damaged in this event were working class owner-occupied. And, I quickly add, do we really want to throw people who rent under the bus in a society in which people who own have almost single handedly destroyed our housing market with unchecked greed married to unmitigated ignorance? I don’t think so.

The other night the local new station, especially Fox 9 but to some extent the others as well, breathlessly reported widespread looting in North Minneapolis. They showed the owner of a liquor store saying “well, you know how it goes … unprotected property, and this is what they will do” wink wink nod nod. They showed clusters of Minneapolis police standing around with big scary looking long-guns and other weapons, donning their bullet proof vests, and looking tough.

In response to this, the mayor came out and made it clear that there was NOT widespread looting in the city. There were a couple of incidents. They were managed. What really happened was this: Everybody in the affected area took a look around them and immediately tried to do what they could do to help their neighbors. Yes, the news mentioned that as well, but they sullied the sense of community with their sensationalist reporting of non-events. And RT had the balls to set them straight. Thanks for that, RT.

How Birds Migrate

i-76891fc7febc8891ce44d8624c2b0bcd-howbirdsmigrate_altnernativecover-thumb-250x397-65213.jpgAs part of Migration Week (inspired by this post), I’m covering migration related books (mainly having to do with birds). How Birds Migrate by Paul Kerlinger (with Illustrations by Pat Archer), Second Edition, is an affordable, up to date (2009 publication) comprehensive and intelligently written book. It is written for the general public but is not dumbed down.

The thing about bird migration is that there are many facets to the behavior. There are different kinds of birds, with respect to the nature of their flight, body size, etc (think albatross vs. hummingbird). There are many kinds of landscapes across which birds migrate (terrestrial regions of varying degrees of habitability vs. open ocean). Migrations may vary in length or even fidelity to the process, with some birds in a given population doing it, others not. And, of course, there are numerous mechanisms involved in the process, with some subset of those mechanisms being used by any given bird species.

The best way to think about migration is probably as a collection of strategies using a collection of tools by a diversity of bird species.

This book does a good job at slicing and dicing the problem of migration up into bite size bits, and presents this information with numerous case studies that personalize (or should I say, birdize) the discussion.

The book is available on the Kindle but I’m not sure I would like that version, given the importance of the excellent illustrations.