Saturday, June 30, 2007

"Private space module has success"

This sounds promising.

LOS ANGELES - A prototype of an inflatable space station module has successfully expanded and deployed its solar panels after being launched into orbit, a private developer said.

A Russian rocket lofted the Genesis II module, developed by Bigelow Aerospace of Nevada, into space on Thursday.

The 15-foot-long module's flexible exterior was folded around an inner core for launch and had to expand from a diameter of about 6.2 feet to 8 feet. The solar panels also had to extend to supply power. Both actions were confirmed, said spokesman Chris Reed.


Bigelow Aerospace is privately developing the technology with the intent to place a manned space station in orbit by 2015. Modules would be linked to form a station.

Private investment in space -- that's the way to really speed up our advance into the cosmos.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Mars rover to make risky crater descent"

Godspeed, Opportunity.

LOS ANGELES - NASA's aging but durable Mars rover Opportunity will make what could be a trip of no return into a deep impact crater as it tries to peer further back than ever into the Red Planet's geologic history.

The descent into Victoria Crater received the go-ahead because the potential scientific returns are worth the risk that the solar-powered, six-wheel rover might not be able to climb out, NASA officials and scientists said Thursday.

If you never return, send us all your best.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Appropriating a color for a cause

Below is a detail from a Linens-n-Things advertising insert in the June 24 Sunday edition of the San Antonio Express-News. The Homedics Mini Massagers are interesting themselves, and they caught my eye. But what held my interest is the color selections they come in.

The text from the ad says the massagers come in "brights or Breast Cancer pink." Let's leave aside the ambiguous color description of "brights" and concentrate on the specific color named.

I realize that pink ribbons have become the symbol of the fight against breast cancer, but is it right to take possession of the color pink itself and to claim it stands for breast cancer? If so, can the other colors generally associated with ribbons also be actively enlisted in the various causes they represent?

Can I paint my car AIDS red? Or my kitchen ovarian cancer teal? Do fabrics come in lupus purple? How about self-injury awareness orange? Or even hippo attack awareness blue?

And when did the marketing people putting together this advertisement decide that it would be proper to capitalize "Breast Cancer"? Horrible diseases, especially cancer, deserve our attention as we seek to eradicate them, but they hardly deserve honorifical capitalization in the English language.

My suggestion: Keep "breast cancer" lower case, and change the text to read something else, like "Also comes in pink to promote breast cancer awareness". It's longer, but more apt.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Correcting a fact by calling it an "error"

I have read several takes on the fact that the BBC -- under pressure from Muslims -- said one of its reporters had erred in referring to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The situation is mind-boggingly stupid, and the BBC deserves to be pilloried for its assertion that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel. Bill Poser from the Language Log does an excellent job demonstrating why the BBC is wrong (and deftly responds to some critics of his post), so I felt he deserved a link.

Here is an excerpt:

There was no error. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Israel identifies Jerusalem as its capital., as do Jews throughout the Diaspora. The Knesset (parliament) sits in Jerusalem. The official residences of the President and the Prime Minister are in Jerusalem. The Supreme Court sits in Jerusalem. The Bank of Israel and various ministries have their headquarters in Jerusalem. The United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital. It is true that Muslims, wishing to claim Jerusalem for themselves, dispute its role as Israel's capital, and that many countries follow their wishes in not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but this is irrelevant to the question of whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Whether Jerusalem should be Israel's capital is a controversial political question; whether it is, is a simple matter of fact.


Update: Not surprisingly, lots of readers have reactions to this post. I'm not going to debate those who want to argue about Israel. This isn't the place, and that isn't the point. The rights and wrongs of Middle Eastern politics simply have nothing to do with the factual question of whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. If a country designates a city as its capital and locates its central governmental institutions there, that city is its capital. That is true whether or not you or I like that country's policies or approve of its choice of capital. The choice of capital is not, in international law, up to anyone other than the country itself.

Well said. I hope the BBC is listening to this instead of to people with bombs.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Illustrating the news

When a story from the AP is run on Yahoo News, I understand that a photo can help illustrate the story. But the following pairing of picture and narrative is just a bit bizarre.

Yep, nothing says "Katrina insurance scandal" like the Duchess of York and Ronald McDonald.

Friday, June 08, 2007

An image you might not see in other media

Happy Iraqi children.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army, Spc. Elisha Dawkins.

Fighting panda extinction

Here's one of the problems with panda breeding: sometimes you can't tell that they are pregnant even if they are. Or not.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Veterinarians at the Memphis Zoo said they are concerned about the pregnancy of giant panda Ya Ya after an ultrasound failed to detect a heartbeat.

Blood tests have shown the hormone progesterone, which indicates a pregnancy, but at a lower level than it should be, said Matt Thompson, curator of mammals.


Although no heartbeat has been detected, [radiologist Dr. George] Flinn has seen a gestational sack, where the fetus would develop, and a fetal pole [!], another sign of a developing fetus.

Ya Ya has been showing behavioral signs of pregnancy, such as occasional agitation, sleeping more often and becoming more secluded.

Panda pregnancies cannot be confirmed until shortly before the delivery date. Gestation lasts about 133 days. [emphasis added]

No wonder it's so hard to save them.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"NASA Sets Launch Date to Overhaul Hubble Space Telescope"

This is good news.

NASA's final shuttle mission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope has a firm September 2008 launch date, the space agency announced Thursday.


Squeezed in between NASA's remaining shuttle flights to complete space station construction, the STS-125 mission to Hubble will extend the orbital observatory's lifetime through 2013. Without the vital servicing mission, Hubble's major science activities would likely end around 2009, with only basic functions remaining through 2011, Hubble managers have said.

Though it got off to a rocky start, the contributions of the Hubble telescope have advanced our knowledge of the universe in spectacular ways. It's nice to know it will keep serving us for several more years, so we can get more images like this: