Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Water on Mars!

I just came across this CNN article about evidence of recent water activity on Mars. It seems that images taken over time by the now lost Mars Global Surveyor show new gullies that seem to have been dug on Mars, possibly by water. Here is a link to the official NASA images. This opens up all kinds of possibilities. Mars could still be volcanically active. There could be the precursors of life or even life itself on Mars. They will probably try to be even more careful to sterilize the next Mars explorer before it is launched. This news makes it imperative to start work on a serious effort to send a manned mission to Mars. It will take a long time to get going.

About 12 years ago I started reading the Mars series: Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. The trilogy described how Mars could be colonized with existing technology. The first book was the best. The last two were good, although they required some interesting conjectures of earthly political and environmental developments.

Water on Mars. It's amazing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

NASA Gemini Anniversary

NASA published this image of Gemini VI taken by the Gemini VII capsule rushing to do the first manned rendezvous in its image of the day series. The Gemini flights in the 60's were the training missions to prepare for the Apollo lunar atttempts.

I remember watching all of these missions on TV from takeoff to splashdown. We even listened to them on the radio. It was better than any science fiction because it was real. As much as I like Star Trek, I think we need to do more in real space.

Team of Rivals

I just finished reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. What an amazing book! I have never read a Civil War book or Lincoln biography like this before. How does a politician deal with rivals and an overwhelmingly difficult situation? In the case of Lincoln, you invite your rivals to work with you in the Cabinet. You use the skills that brought them to the top of the political world to work on the nation's problems.

While reading the book I couldn't help but compare Lincoln to more recent presidents. Like Bill Clinton, Lincoln could empathize with everyone he meant. Over and over the book recounted instances where he put the welfare of others over his own. Yet unlike Clinton, Lincoln had mastered himself. He had an iron self-discipline, from which he never deviated.

George W. Bush is famously single-minded, but unwilling to change. Lincoln always recognized his own errors and changed course when he was shown to be wrong. He was also at pains to take the responsibility for his mistakes as he strove to correct. them.

I found that I didn't want the book to end, since I knew how it ended. This book makes you realize how important it is to have the right leader at the right time. Also, no one can predict who will be the leader, or from where he will come.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Illustrated Bible

I heard a story yesterday morning on public radio (WETA) about an exhibit of a new illustrated Bible, some pages of which will soon be on display at the Library of Congress. This is a full hand drawn bible with the ornate calligraphy and the fantastical illustrations.

The chief calligrapher, Donald Jackson, was for many years the chief calligrapher for the Queen of England. He was amazingly passionate about the importance of writing out important documents. He said that all of us should write something, anything, with whatever medium is convenient. In our age of digital media, that is a startling message. It reminds me of an interview with Shelby Foote, who said that all his books were written longhand with a fountain pen.

The Bible is for Saint John's University in Minnesota. Much of the work will be done by monks in a monastery there. The image of monks in a scriptorium reminded me of books I have read that took place in an abbey.

In The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco the mystery takes place in the scriptorium. Books, philosophy, and the love of knowledge make up the central themes of the story.

In A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. the monastery in the desert of Utah stores the remains of human knowledge after the nuclear holocaust. Only the obstinacy of the monks saves human civilization from losing it all. I read this in high school and have reread it several times. It's one you don't forget.

I hope I get a chance some day to see this new illustrated Bible.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving Sheep? 2006

What if eastern Massachussetts had been overrun with sheep? Then we would probably have roast mutton instead of turkey on Thanksgiving. I went on a walk before our Thanksgiving feast and came across these sheep enjoying the day. What do they have to worry about?
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Friday, November 17, 2006

Bonobo pulls fire alarm

Can you blame Panbanisha, the ape in question, for doing anything she can to make her day interesting. It sounds just like a child: I want what I want, and I want it now! We really need to conserve the wild habitats of these creatures so they can survive and prosper, both for their sakes, and for what they teach us about ourselves.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Vietnam Diary

I just heard this story on NPR about the wartime diary found by an American soldier of a young Vietnamese doctor in the North Vietnamese. In a roundabout way, it took nearly forty years for the diary to be returned to her family. The soldier, Frederick Whitehurst, later became an FBI agent. All those years he felt the diary should be published and Dan Thuy Tram's family found.

This is another powerful example of the unknowns that are unleashed in every war. I like Whitehurt's comment at the end of the story: "I'm not a pacifist, I'm not at all," he says. "I come from a military family. I'm a company man. But I've always known since in Vietnam when I did it, when you put a bullet into a human being you cannot take back that thing called life. You cannot get it back, and Dang Thuy Tram describes so deeply what that thing is, that thing called life. And a bullet went right through her forehead and in that instant, she was gone. Can we think of another way to do this?"

Do national leaders every really know what they are getting into when they take their countries to war?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pictures, With Map and Pushpin Included - New York Times

Pictures, With Map and Pushpin Included - New York Times

I think geotagging photos is the next big thing. I have used the Flickr geotagging with the Yahoo! maps for my pictures here:

It works well. I particularly like seeing other pictures people have taken around my photos. I have also tried a tool to geotag pictures in Flickr to appear on Google maps. But I haven't used it much since the Yahoo maps connection became available. Maybe I should try it out more?

I do use Picasa2 to look at pictures on my local drive. Google has established an online catalog for it that also links to Google maps, I think. I can't try everything though.

I really would like to tag photos to Google Earth some time though. Now, that would be great.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I just finished Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. Here is a link to the book information. It is a retelling of the history of the settlement of Plymouth Plantation minus the hero worship that we all  learned in school. It makes the story even more amazing to see how easily the colony could have failed without the happy accident  of the Pilgrims meeting up with Chief Massasoit and his strategic decision to help the Pilgrims to provide himself with allies in his weakened state.

The story is a tragedy however, with the start of King Phillips' war 50 years later, when according to Philbrick, the descendants of the the first colonists and the Pequots forgot that they needed each other to prosper.

Alot of this material was also covered in less detail in 1491, by Charles C. Mann. These are both great books.

Friday, October 06, 2006

There are two great TV shows on tonight, at least if you like science fiction.
  • Dr. Who is on at 8. This is the new series. They have updated the special effects, but they still retain the essential British wackiness.
  • Battlestar Galactica follows at 9. The season premiere takes up with the Cylon occupation of New Caprica. Both of the battlestars escape, so I assume that they will fight on and eventually kick the cylons out.

I am writing this with the new online word processor, Writely. I can see some intriguing uses for sharing and editing documents. Also, you can publish it on the web.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Tigger's New Hiding Spot

This past summer Tigger disappeared in the middle of the day. It took me a while to look up throught the mulberry tree and find him in the soffet of the shed behind us.
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Monday, September 25, 2006

Falwell Comments - Falwell: Hillary Clinton beats devil in drawing No votes - Sep 24, 2006

Jerry Falwell is the gift that always keeps giving. But he is right. Although he claims to be joking, if Hillary Clinton is nominated for president in 2008, she will be treated as the devil incarnate.

It is curious though. If you look at her personal life, she leads a very traditional lifestyle. She has stayed with her husband even when she had all the justification she needed for a divorce. She is in no way the fire-breathing dragon she is painted to be.

Monday, July 31, 2006

A Slip of the Pen - New York Times

A Slip of the Pen - New York Times

The issue of signing statements by the president is fascinating. At first thought, wouldn't it be better if the president just refused to sign a law he disagrees with? In this editorial Walter Dellinger gives examples of why a president may need to sign an omnibus bill which has a few provisions he doesn't approve.

The real problem here is the question of proportion. A president or Congress may need to do things that are, strictly speaking, illegal. The important thing is not to do it too often, only in cases of emergency. If the president would honestly reject bills he doesn't feel he can enforce, then the few cases of signing statements wouldn't be a problem. The system won't work if everyone insists on going past the boundaries every time.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.
Crossing the bridge.
Here is the link to all the pictures in the set:


Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.
This is a shot of the Lewiston-Auburn Railroad Bridge from the Auburn side. It has been converted to a pedestrian bridge with beautiful parks on either side. Who would have thought of such a great use of an old resource across the Androscoggin River.

The Grim Neurology of Teenage Drinking - New York Times

The Grim Neurology of Teenage Drinking - New York Times

I never realized before how dangerous underage drinking can be. This article highlights some of the neurochemical changes that can occur. Blacking out isn't just an obscure problem for alcaholics, but a real issue. This article shows it's more important than ever to avoid binge drinking. I would even argue avoid lighter drinking because of where it may lead.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Woodpecker Symphony

Forest sounds are always amazing. Yesterday at Mont Alto I was on a logging road behind campus. The large number of old oak trees, some dead standing, make excellent drums for the woodpeckers. The natural ampitheater effect on the hillside on the as yet leafless forest helped the sound resonate. Each bird had a different rhythm and each tree gave a different sound. When you add the other birds singing it was a real natural symphony. It was well worth the morning walk up the hill.