November 07, 2005

Pay Attention in Class!

Last December, 10-year-old English schoolgirl Tilly Smith was vacationing in Phuket, Thailand with her parents. While walking on the beach with her mother one day, she noticed some bubbling at the edge of the water and that the waves were coming in without going out again. She immediately recognized these signs from the lessons in her geography class at school just weeks earlier: a tsunami was on its way!

It took a bit of work to convince her parents, but then Tilly's warning was spread to over 100 people on the beach that day, all of whose lives were spared thanks to her impressive perspicacity and pluck. Very cool.

(Link: AP wire story by way of Cecilia's Blog.)

August 30, 2005

Who's Running This Body, Anyhow?

On the opinion pages of this morning's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, University of Washington psychology professor David P. Barash writes a "guest column" on some of the tricks various biological parasites play on their hosts. Through various mechanisms, up to and including rewiring of the host's brain, parasites manipulate their hosts to behave in ways that are beneficial to the parasite, but often not to the host. Take a look for a bit of an eye-opener.

He comments briefly on the analogies one could draw from this to the current political situation, but I would never do that myself. Never.

July 04, 2005

Amazing Orbital Imaging from Mars

I read this BBC article on Martian orbital imaging quite some time ago, but haven't gotten around to blogging about it until now.

The coolest thing for me is not actually the point of the article, that scientist Michael Malin and his team may have identified, from images captured by the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor, the spot (literally!) where the Mars Polar Lander crashed to the ground.

Nor is it the coolest thing that Dr. Malin's team has identified from orbit the discarded parachute on which Mars Rover "Spirit" descended to the surface. Indeed, the coolest thing also isn't their identification on the surface of either the so-called "backshield" that protected the rover during atmospheric entry or the rover itself.

To understand how cool the coolest thing actually is, you have to remember how the rovers actually reached the surface: after riding the parachute down for the majority of the trip from orbit, the rover inflated a whole bunch of very tough balloons around itself and then let go of the parachute!

You see, the very coolest thing the Malin team has identified from orbit is the marks on the surface made by the rover as it bounced several times before settling down.

Well, I think it's pretty darned cool, anyway.

September 15, 2004

SpaceShipOne to make X-prize attempt soon

I'm sitting in a talk at Microsoft Research by David Moore, from Vulcan Inc. He just announced that Scaled Composites, the people who earlier made the first civilian space flight, are going to be making their first official attempt at the X Prize in just a couple of weeks!

The first flight is scheduled for September 29th, with the second to follow just five days later, on October 4th. The X-Prize rules state that the second flight must follow within two weeks of the first flight, but apparently it only takes five days to turn SpaceShipOne around.

There are several other teams finally coming out of the woodwork with their own X-Prize milestone announcements. The prize itself expires at the end of the year, so things should be heating up. What fun...

SpaceShipOne's flight date was announced back in July, but I missed it then. Maybe you did too.