2/28/2008

What kind of a solar system will my kids know?


Late night surfing, and I came across an article on Discovery about how a group of Japanese scientists believe there's a planet about two-thirds the size of Earth floating around out on the far edge of the solar system.

As I'm reading this, there's another article that says Mercury has a tail made up of sodium atoms that is about a million miles long. There's a pretty astonishing picture out there.

This comes on the heels of all the discoveries being made about Titan (shown in false color at left), which might have more oil than the Earth. Pluto is no longer a planet, Mars has two active robots crawling across it, and Dr. Who is a hit again.

Okay, that last one may be in a slightly different category, but there's a connection. Excitement about one can spill over into the other. I get much more excited about what may lie out there in the universe if I can imagine some of the most far-fetched possibilities. In Britain, at least, 1/6th of the population tunes in to watch.

Will that translate, somehow, into a generation of people fantastically excited about our own solar system? I think it might, as we begin to look up and see potential resources out there, just beyond our grasp. What gets imagined doesn't sound so silly when you think much of the advanced technology we have today was made possible by people who could imagine another world?

There's no room in the mainstream media for sustained coverage about the way our conception of the solar system is being challenged. Our celestial home is becoming a lot less like Oakland. But, last week the US shot down a damaged spy satellite, and that grabbed all the headlines. Yet, the wonders of our solar system beckon us to look up, to aspire, to figure out a way to harness our imagination.

I showed my daughter Venus tonight and told her it was a hot place that the Russians tried to get to when they were the Soviet Union. I told her they landed a couple of things there, but they melted so fast they barely had any time to do much communication. There are also a lot of storms there, and the magnetic field is kind of funky.

I don't remember how much of that I "know" from my own education, how much is true, how much is false. There aren't good stories that I'm aware of about these probes. I'd like to read good fiction about what it was like to plot out these initial trips to our planets. I'm sure a lot of it is on Wikipedia, and that would be once place to start. Maybe I should write it. Maybe there's intrigue in there that would make great fiction. That would be a lot of fun.

I want to read more fiction like Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, a well-written speculation of what might happen. Any thoughts?

I want to live in a country where school kids know more than I do about the latest science on all of this. For that to happen, we have to share our stories, what we know. It seems to me that among my generation, the explosion of the Challenger dampened a lot of enthusiasm about space exploration. That may mean the excitement of Apollo felt by the baby boomers turned into the apathy of Generation X, leaving the next two generations without a reason to care when these probes get out there. Couple that with a mainstream media that only seems to want to discuss space probes when they go tremendously wrong.

I could be wrong, but I know when I try to tell people about the new developments in solar system research, I get looked at funny.

I want to live in a country where people get excited about this stuff, even if it's just an intellectual exercise, imagining what other planets might be like, having to use whatever scientific tools are at your disposal to plot out the picture. That kind of mandate can lead to some fantastic new technology, perhaps.

I'll end this rambling post on a question: What do you think the image (that should) on the left is?

2/24/2008

A plug for hooville.net

I'm a big proponent to the interconnected community that comes through having so many bloggers who aggregate through cvilleblogs.com. I've met many people this way, and feel blessed to live in a place where there's a healthy discussion going on all the time about all sorts of things, from transportation costs to whether or not Oxo's moment has faded.

But there's a forgotten corner of Charlottesville's online community. Earlier this month, Hooville.net ran a poll asking the handful of users if the board should stay or go. As I write this, the vote is 7 to 1.

I voted to keep it, because I sometimes like using local bulletin boards that are self-contained. The audience there is a little older, it seems.

Have you been? Do you post on message boards that aren't blogs?

Wake Up Call Oscar preview show

Today on WNRN's Sunday Morning Wake-Up Call, Rick Moore had three guests on to talk about tonight's showing of the Oscars. Take a listen. I've not listened to the show yet today, but I plan on doing so while I walk to the University of Virginia for a recording gig I'm doing there at 3:00. I'd better get walking!

Why not take a listen yourself, and add a comment? Have you seen any of the movies? Are they too dark? Did Transformers get shafted? Let us know.

YouTube video entries are posted

Earlier this month, I produced a story on the Jefferson-Madison Regional Libraries first-ever YouTube contest. Teenagers were asked to produce a video to promote the Big Read event. This year, the community is reading To Kill A Mockingbird.

Take a look at some of the entries here.

2/23/2008

Our adventure downtown, courtesy of CTS

My two and a half year old daughter and I went for a quick two hour trip today. I had to go back to the office to get some things I had left behind. Later on tonight I am going to try my hand at creating some odd music for my secret podcast, and I needed the microphone cable.

So, we left the house, went to the office, went to McGuffey Park, and stopped in for a quick snack and beverage at Court Square Tavern. The total trip was about two and a half hours, and my wife is grateful that I was able to give her and the baby some rest.

The most excellent thing about this adventure was that we were able to do the whole thing on the bus. We left our house, and within five minutes were sitting on the number 4-B to downtown. Ten minutes later, I'm walking up the very steep hill on High Street to the park, where we played in the sand for about forty minutes. The park still looks pretty good, but the hill leading up to the slide appears to be eroding a little bit.

Then we walked to Court Square, I picked up my things, and then off we went for some pretzels at the tavern. My daughter sat on a phone book while we were at the bar. Only one other customer was in there. He's child-less and was asking me all of these questions which got increasingly strange. At 5:43, we left and headed down to the transit center. I am very much looking forward to the new notice board they will have there which will alert you to upcoming buses. Today, I asked the trolley driver if we had missed the last bus to Fry's Spring, and he was nice enough to call the dispatcher to see. Thankfully, we were in time, and we were dropped off at the end of our road again.

The system may not be the world's best, but it works for those of us who live on one of the bus lines. That's an awful lot of people. When I ride the bus, I feel like I'm in a city. The town seems a lot bigger, and more interesting. I'm on the same roads I'd be on if I were driving, but yet, I get to look at all of the details. I get to think about what this place could look like, what it might look like, how it might grow. 4B currently rides through the major growth corridors: Water Street to West Main, through the expanding UVa medical complex, past the South Lawn Project, down JPA. The area is transforming pretty rapidly, as there are major new buildings planned for that whole stretch. In my job I'm relatively up on what's happening, but it always catches me by surprise to see the progress of the South Lawn Project. Someone should be filming dystopian science fiction movies on the unfinished site.

I'd like to do that. I would like to raise $2500 to purchase a starter video production suite, so I could mess around with things like that. Who's up for this idea?

2/22/2008

Let's Google our way to the moon!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention somewhere that the Charlottesville Podcasting Network was denied the ability to record an event this week featuring top officials from NASA. I'm an avid supporter of the space program, and had looked forward to sharing the talk with the public. Now, yes, the event was private, and the sponsors did invite me to record. And yes, NASA, I guess, had the right to deny the event from being recorded. So, I didn't press the issue.

But, I think people should know that one of our high-profile federal agencies prevented the raw recording of one of their events. They'd like to control the spin, I guess, and have control over how the message of space exploration in the 21st century is put out there.

NASA does great work, but its main challenge is to overcome the appearance that it is bureaucratic, waste-filled, and irrelevant. I do not know enough about NASA to make a judgment on these things, but I also know I did not get the opportunity this week to help them make their case to the greater community, either through the podcast or through a news story on WVTF.

Which leads me to the real point of this article. How cool is it that Google is putting up $30 million for a contest in which participants are asked to land something on the moon? Ten companies have responded to the challenge, and are in the process of trying to put together their entry.

The mission: Get a lander to the moon, safely touch it down, move it 500 meters, and beam back video from the surface. Sounds pretty tough, right? They've got until the end of 2012 to make the attempt. The winner gets the cash.

The team names sound awesome. Odyssey Moon. Astrobiotic. Team Italia. This could be a lot of fun to watch, and to pay attention to. And, in many ways, I think it's a heck of a lot more important and relevant than NASA's Orion program. It feels open-source, relevant and refreshing. We need more stories of human ingenuity. We need to figure out a way to celebrate the accomplishments of smart people who can see past the answer no.

2/20/2008

Blogs I read

So, I've crossed over the 300 feeds threshold on Bloglines. Thankfully, I have them split into categories which I look at on an informal tier-basis.

ADMIN, of course, comes first. This includes the Charlottesville Podcasting Network, Charlottesville Tomorrow, Charlottesville Tomorrow's Calendar, and a whole bunch of secret feeds. This is where I look to make sure the things I'm working on are getting out to the world.

BLOGS is my informal category of blogs I look at because they're blogs. Some of these are big ones like Boing Boing, and others are ones I read because I sort of know someone who writes one. The World's Fair fits into this category. It's a smart blog about science issues. I don't read every article, but I read the headlines to know what's going on. There's also Hatchets and Skewers, which is an art criticism blog written by my friend Jeffry Cudlin. One of his newer posts talks about his latest appearance on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi show.

I currently track the comments of three blogs. Real Central Va, cvillenews, and cVillain. They have the best and most relevant conversations in the Charlottesville community. If you're not tracking these, you might consider trying it for a week, and get involved in one of the threads.

Next, of course, there's CVILLEBLOGS, which consists of all of the blogs aggregated by Waldo, as well as ones that I pull out to make sure I know when they've been updated. These include Cville Betty's Blog, C'Ville Weekend Nanny and of course, everything on cvilleblogs.com. It's amazing how much more involved in your community you can feel if you just start posting.

Of course, I track a lot of things in England. I try to skim the headlines of the Independent once a day, and also track a couple of public policy non-profits. There's also British Comedy News which has been very helpful in knowing what's going on in that particular genre.

Then, there's ENTERTAINMENT, which is where I'll stop this blog post. I read the official RSS feed for For Better or For Worse though it's annoying because you have to click through to the site to read the strip. There's TV Squad, where I like to comment, and my latest obsession - i09.

In fact, i09 is what prompted to write this post. i09 is a Gawker blog, but don't hold that against it! I've never seen science fiction treated in such an artful manner, taking in the whole gamut of science fiction, from silliness to seriousness, and producing something that makes me want to embrace the science fiction nutcase that I truly am.

And, you will be too, if you just read it for a week. I strongly recommend it. I'm not entirely happy with the spoilers on it, but they tend to mark them fairly well these days.

Perhaps more later.

2/11/2008

My memories of Mitch Van Yahres

I'm new to the Charlottesville scene, relatively speaking.

In 2001, when I still lived in Roanoke, I drove up here to interview Mitch Van Yahres. He was the Delegate who had introduced the legislation to express the state's "profound regret" over its role in the eugenics movement. I was a reporter for WVTF working on a documentary project on eugenics. The legislation had passed, and I was doing a series of stories, retracing the excellent work of Roanoke Times reporter Mary Bishop.

When I worked at Court Square Tavern a few years later, I waited on him on several Saturdays. He and his wife would come in, and they would enjoy themselves. I never reminded him of the interview I did with him. That didn't seem appropriate. I believe he was still in the General Assembly at the time, and I didn't want to bug him.

I stayed up tonight to produce Coy Barefoot's tribute show to Mitch Van Yahres, so take a listen if you're interested in knowing more his life.

2/09/2008

Clinton and Obama on the Charlottesville Podcasting Network

This year's race for the Democratic nomination is the most exciting of our lifetime, and Tuesday's Virginia primary could have a bearing on the race. We didn't really know that this past fall, when both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama appeared in Charlottesville to raise money. Did they think that Virginia would factor in at this time?

Well, here we are on the eve of the primary, and cvilleblogs.com is filled with people discussing which candidate deserves to be the nominee. Is there anyone left who has not decided how they will vote?

If you want to hear what each candidate had to say, we have the audio of each event at the Charlottesville Podcasting Network. We had hoped to have John McCain, but that event got canceled. If you have a couple of hours, go and listen, and let us know what you thought.

We are trying to see if we can get a recording of the Hilary Clinton event on Monday. Check back here for news on that.