Friday, November 30, 2007

"Private Spaceflight Firm Takes Aims at NASA Cargo Flights"

Go, private sector!

A private spaceflight firm is developing a new unmanned spacecraft in hopes of delivering cargo for NASA missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Chicago-based company PlanetSpace, Inc. is working with veteran aerospace firms to build the Modular Cargo Carrier, an automated supply ship vying for funding under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

"We're very comfortable and confident that NASA is going to have a low-cost, very reliable cargo and crew transport to the space station," PlanetSpace chairman Chirinjeev Kathuria told

Let's hope so.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fighting panda extinction

This is good news for panda lovers.
Since 2003, Bai Yun and her consort, Gao Gao, have produced three cubs, making them one of the most reproductively successful panda couples ever in captivity. Their youngest offspring, a chubby female, will be named Monday when she reaches 100 days old, following Chinese tradition.

Their secret? Separation.

For all but two days of the year, Bai Yun (White Cloud) and Gao Gao (Big Big) lead separate lives, gnawing on bamboo and taking long naps in pens far apart, much as wild pandas — naturally solitary creatures — would hide from each other in mountain forests.

But when Bai Yun enters her brief fertile periods, zookeepers make sure Gao Gao is there, sniffing her through a perforated gate zookeepers call the "howdy door" until her chirps and bleats indicate she's ready to get down to business.

Hee hee. "Howdy door."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Trivializing death

When journalists write or deliver news stories, they try to hook you in with the first paragraph. Sometimes their efforts work, sometimes they don't, and sometimes they are just pitiful. The opening of this story from Kim Fischer at WOAI-TV is an example of the third.

Freezing temperatures can be dangerous for the homeless, the elderly, your pets, and even your yard. Flower beds will need some extra attention with the dropping temperatures.

Here are some tips to protect your gardens' most beautiful blooms from the frost.

What follows is a story about how to keep plants alive during a freeze, but the opening sentence hooks you with freezing humans and animals. Jeez, what's wrong with just leading the whole thing off with the second paragraph? If I'm concerned about my plants, that's all I need to get me to read the story. Don't play on my emotions and concern for things with a pulse just to remind me to cover my flowerbed.

Sunday sonnet: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

For today's sonnet, we turn to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a painter as well as a poet, and his collection called The House of Life. This sonnet was written in 1847 and published in 1870.

A Sonnet is a moment's monument,--
- Memorial from the Soul's eternity
- To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own arduous fullness reverent:
- Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
- As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.

A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
- The soul--its converse, to what Power 'tis due:
Whether for tribute to the august appeals
- Of Life, or dower in Love's high retinue,
It serve; or, 'mid the dark wharf's cavernous breath,
In Charon's palm it pay the toll to Death.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcdee

Friday, November 23, 2007

Greening everything

The use of the word green to indicate something that's good for the environment is starting to grow tired. Now, we have "green" Christmas trees.

Now a handful of growers in the top Christmas tree producing state of Oregon want people to consider another factor — how "green" a tree is. They've created a system to help consumers identify trees grown under certain environmental standards.


To pass muster, a farm must be inspected to ensure that it meets certain standards for managing wetlands, nutrients and pests. Water and soil conservation measures are reviewed, and biodiversity and worker safety are also considered.

The trees are not organically grown, but the coalition says the measures help mitigate some of the environmental dangers of Christmas tree farming, such as excessive use of pesticides and contribution to erosion.

Of course, fake is greenest. You reuse the same tree year after year, and it helps you save the traditional green as well as the environment.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday sonnet: William Wordsworth

Why the sonnet? Because it is a classic structure, and even the likes of William Wordsworth -- who made a name for himself shunning traditional meter -- still found refuge in the sonnet from time to time.

But, don't take my word for it. Here's "Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room," published in 1807:

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cddccd

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Straining an acronym

OK, I'm going to rant just a bit, but I will keep it short. Here it is:

Acronyms are annoying, especially when they try too hard to make a common word. Take this story from the AP:
After addressing a gathering of sheet metal, air, rail and transportation workers for the soon-to-be-merged SMART union, [Hillary] Clinton spoke at a rally at a high school in a largely Hispanic district of North Las Vegas, with the support of the first Hispanic immigrant elected to the Nevada legislature, Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen. [emphases added]
I get the feeling the sheet metal guys were included just so they could make that "clever" acronym. Kind of reminds me of the Pakleds.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"NASA probes smoky smell in spacesuit"

Uh oh. This can't be good.

HOUSTON - NASA is investigating a smoky smell in a spacesuit worn during a test on the ground, and officials said Tuesday they won't hold any spacewalks until engineers can pinpoint the source of the odor.

The scent was apparent Friday during a test of a spacesuit assigned for use on a future mission. Early examinations have not found evidence of burning in the test suit.

I don't guess any NASA astronauts actually smoke, do they?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday sonnet: John Donne

For no other reason than I read it and I liked it, here is a sonnet written by John Donne. It is number four of a series of six sonnets called Holy Sonnets: Divine Meditations (ca. 1609):

At the round earths imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise
From death, you numberlesse infinities
Of soules, and to your scattred bodies goe,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never tast deaths woe.
But let them sleepe, Lord, and mee mourne a space,
For, if above all these, my sinnes abound,
'Tis late to aske abundance of thy grace,
When wee are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach mee how to repent; for that's as good
As if thou'hadst seal'd my pardon, with thy blood.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcdee

Friday, November 02, 2007

"Comet draws scientific, amateur interest"

What could be cooler than an exploding comet?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A comet that has unexpectedly brightened in the past couple of weeks and now is visible to the naked eye is attracting professional and amateur interest.


The comet is exploding and its coma, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the sun, has grown to be bigger than the planet Jupiter. The comet lacks the tail usually associated with such celestial bodies but can be seen in the northern sky, in the constellation Perseus, as a fuzzy spot of light about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.

Let's just hope it doesn't turn out to be another hammer.