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March 22, 2004


I missed the anniversary of this site! I started Songdog.net two years ago with this tentative post. I'm not going to offer you a post like last year's first anniversary commemoration with its list of backlinks. For one thing I'm two days late myself, for another I've been a lot less prolific this second year for a variety of ever-evolving reasons. I aspire to writing fewer, but better posts, and hope by so doing to properly hit my stride here.

Other stuff has been happening too! My dear wife had her birthday followed closely by my own a couple of weeks ago. Hers was a great day (I hope she'll agree). Mine was postponed due to food poisoning, but the rain date was a blast. In typical long-distance fashion our birthdays were extended over a week or so, which I've come to really enjoy. I'm thirty-one now, and I enjoy my birthday almost as much as ever. When is this supposed to stop? I'm hoping for never.

The other big news I haven't mentioned here has been hinted at by the "Something New" ticker under the Countdowns heading. We're expecting our first child! The due date is real-soon-now, in forty days (May 1), and a sizable amount of energy has been devoted to baby stuff, most notably the transformation of my disastrously messy home office into a sparklingly clean nursery. I still have some work to do, but the hard parts are all done, thanks to the generous help of Al, Bonnie, Steve, and Leslie, without whom this could not have happened. Thank you all! We'll be in formal baby-watch mode soon, then the baby will come and thank you in its own way.

So this blogging anniversary is a happy one for me, belated or no, coming as it does in the midst of all this other birthday excitement. I can't promise more frequent updates, but I'll do my best to make your visits worthwhile. If I'm going to write this stuff it had better at least be interesting!

March 12, 2004

Brood X: The Awakening

Seven years ago I moved to northern New Jersey. The brood had been silent for ten years, and few remembered them. But now, there is a restless stirring in the soil, a trembling buzzing underfoot. Be afraid! They will rise again! Brood X will rise again!

March 02, 2004

Mars Update: Liquid Water Flowed in Meridiani Planum

I'm watching live on NASA TV and updating this post as information is revealed:

The Big News: There was ample liquid water in Meridiani Planum (where the Opportunity Rover is exploring), and for a long time this area would have been ripe for life. There are four pieces of evidence for liquid water, which the add up to what the science team calls "definitive" proof.

  1. Rock spherules (which have sometimes been referred to as "blueberries") appear to be concretions, formed when rocks form from raw material suspended in liquid water.
  2. The Martian rock is "shot through with some very weird looking holes" which suggest the former presence of tabular crystals which have since been eroded away by water.
  3. Using the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) and a spectrographic analyzer the scientists have found extremely high levels of sulfur, suggesting the onetime presence of sulfate salts, which suggest water.
  4. The Mössbauer Spectrometer data has revealed jarosite, a sulfate hydrate which only occurs in the presence of water.
It cannot be concluded that life was there, but it would seem that the necessary conditions for life were in place.

The scientists want very much to return rocks to Earth for more detailed and flexible analysis here. This could be accomplished earliest via robot landers with return vehicles, or eventually via manned exploration.

JPL has a press release up now.

A journalist from Popular Mechanics asked whether there was any sense of when and for how long water might have been present: millenia? centuries? He was told that this really can't be determined without detailed stratagraphic and laboratory analysis. We're only looking at a tiny geological timeslice right now, and we don't have a way to put it in chronological context. The journalist, diappointed, said that he was wondering whether there was any chance that Percival Lowell and Giovanni Schiaparelli had actually, as they thought, seen canals on Mars a century ago. The mind reels. We're dealing with very long geologic timescales here (I thought he was going to be asking about millions of years versus billions of years) and the probability seems extremely low that we just happen to be looking at Mars only a hundred years after all of its liquid surface water froze out. Fascinating as this would be I'm afraid this question reveals a lot more about the scientific merits of Popular Mechanics (or at least of this reporter) than it does about Mars. The scientists' response? "No. I don't think so."

Late As Usual

While New York seethes around me with news of Super Tuesday I find myself reflecting on the fact that the primaries in New Jersey aren't for another fourteen weeks, second-to-last nationally (but just in time to cast the deciding vote!).

Juicy Bird

Seen in an upscale New Jersey grocery store: skinny woman, mid thirties, expensive blonde hair, wearing clingy fleece pants and a "Juicy Bling Bling" t-shirt. We checked the field guide and concluded that we'd spotted a Mid-Atlantic Trophy Wife. While not all that rare in this part of the country they rarely leave their nests, and never for unprepared food, relying on their mates and attendants for forage.

Big Mars Announcement Coming Today?

Mars rover scientists will be making some sort of big announcement at a NASA press conference this afternoon. It's more likely to be about surface water than about Martians, but stay tuned.

March 01, 2004

Oscar Contest Results

Check out the results of this year's Oscar Contest! An awful lot of people did incredibly well, and the winning scores are hard to believe!

Fifty-seven people entered their predictions this year (out of sixty-one total sign-ups), up from eight last time. Last year's winner earned a very respectable fifth place, and another returning participant took third! One more managed eighth place, and the other three returning players (including myself) tied for tenth. I thought my score of fourteen correct predictions was pretty good out of twenty-four categories, but you should see the scores! The full list of this year's final rankings can be seen at the contest page.

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest or followed the players. I hope to have you all back again next year!