Archives » January, 2005

January 14, 2005

Huygens Has Landed

The Huygens space probe, which has been bolted to Cassini for the last seven years, hurtling through space, finally did what it was supposed to, and did it very successfully. This morning it plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, opened its parachutes, and enjoyed a nice leisurely float down to the surface, taking pictures and measurements all the way down. It then landed and transmitted everything it had collected back to Cassini, still overhead, until its batteries went dead. Now it’s just a very expensive piece of space junk slowly becoming part of the landscape on an alien world.

But its accomplishments will live on, and those are what NASA and the ESA are going to be consumed with for a long time to come. Cassini is now sending everything it collected back to Earth, and everyone is getting their first glances at what the atmosphere and surface of Titan are really like. NASA’s own website will have all the pictures as they’re released. CNN has the full report.

It sounds like the Huygens mission was not only a complete success, it actually performed better than it was supposed to. The batteries were built to last only during the half-hour descent and then a few more minutes on the surface. They had exactly one try to get everything right, and the smallest mistake could have botched everything. But it performed perfectly, and instead of minutes, Huygens lived on for nearly two hours on the surface. It kept transmitting until Cassini disappeared over the horizon, and possibly even longer. What it transmitted will be known over the next few hours and days, as everything is slowly sent back and analyzed.

This landing caps off a really excellent year for NASA, one they needed after a couple of very public failures. Thirteen months ago it seemed like space travel was jinxed, with the Columbia accident as well as the growing number of failed Mars missions. But then in January the Spirit and Opportunity missions to Mars turned out to be overwhelming successes, Cassini’s entry into the Saturn system in July went off exactly as planned and started sending back invaluable data from orbit, and now the Huygens mission goes off without a hitch. This string of successes can only boost NASA’s image in the public eye, and hopefully we can get some more funding funnelled their way for more missions in the future. The big mission I really want to see? A flyby of Pluto, so we can finally answer all the nagging questions about that place. Is it ice? Is it rock? Should it really be called a planet? Every second that goes by Pluto just gets further and further away, and only gets colder and more dead. If we’re going to send a spacecraft out there, sooner would be better. In fact, in a perfect world one would already be on its way. The only thing holding it back is the budgets.

So let’s get some more money for NASA, and let’s get more equipment flying around this solar system of ours. Space is a big place; if we’re going to explore it all we’ve got to get hopping!

:: Much more bloggage from Susan Kitchens, on Friday and Saturday.

Sunrise

January 13, 2005

Icicle

January 11, 2005

Are the Schools Closed?

The Internet still seems like a secondary citizen here in Carson City. I went online this morning to check on school closures, since we got another two to three inches of snow last night (on top of the ten we already had). So where would you go for information like that? Well, the Nevada Appeal newspaper is the main news outlet for the town, so that seems like a logical place. Scan the headlines really quick…plow crews working overtime…school board elections…Yucca Mountain funding…nothing. Okay, let’s click on “More Local News.” Going downhill is good for your body…AARP helps fill out tax returns…local artist dies…oh here, halfway down the page it says “What about schools Today?”. It has yesterday’s date. Click on it, and what does it say?

A decision about school closings will be made this morning. Listen to media sources for updated information.

Yeah, thanks. Thanks for taking five minutes of my life just to find that little nugget. You’re the media source I would expect to have updated information, but instead you want me to listen to the radio for half an hour. And all the radio stations are based in Reno, so Carson City is going to get a half-second mention at the tail end of the interminable list of Reno private schools that are closed (and the funniest thing about that list? The “I Can Do Anything Charter School” has been closed for five days. They can do anything except pick up a snow shovel, I guess).

So thanks for that, Nevada Appeal. This is why I give you $7 a month for a subscription?

Okay, so the local newspaper was a bust. Where else to go? Carson City doesn’t have any TV stations, and there’s only one radio station. They don’t give news on their website. So what else? How about the school district site? Not one of the “media sources” I’m supposed to be “listen”ing to, but why not give it a shot? Enter “carson city school district” in Google, find the website, and there it is, finally.

Carson City School District Closed – Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Hallelujah!

Why is this so tough? There are thousands of parents waking up in Carson this morning wondering if the schools will be open, wondering if the busses are running or if they’ll have to make some kind of arrangements. Why isn’t there some local website out there willing to step up and actually provide updated information to the people? The newspaper website is pretty useless; all they do is reprint the stories from that day’s fishwrap. The TV news stations in Reno seem to only cover Reno, and most of them have pretty dismal online coverage too. The Reno newspaper last updated their school closure information at 11pm. It is really that hard? Is it that difficult for these places, which have active newsrooms practically all day, to have some intern spend ten minutes putting an alert at the top of their website: “Latest School Closure Information”, and to actually update it when new info comes in? Or is the website just something they have because they feel like they’re obligated to?

All these news outlets really seem like they don’t care about the web. They have websites because everybody else does, and it’s a good place to sell more ads. The Nevada Appeal website actually places a link to “Today’s Ads” above the link to their archives. One of the TV stations in Reno has one headline above the fold on their website. One. And that’s with the browser maximized. This is why everyone online is saying the the mainstream media is dying; there’s a better way to do things now, but they just don’t care. There’s something better than dropping off the news once a day in your driveway, or delivering it in half-hour chunks at 5, 6, and 11. But they don’t care. They’re not willing to change their way of thinking, and we’re the ones paying the price. We’re the ones hurting because of it.

This is why I’ve been following what Dan Gillmor and others have been doing. It’s called citizen’s journalism, or grassroots journalism, and what that means to me is the people are routing around these slow news organizations and giving each other the news. See a fire? See a car crash? Have some insider information on school closures or local governments? Don’t call a reporter, become a reporter. Break the story yourself. Or add your voice to a story that’s already broken. One person can’t do it alone, but if a community bands together and decides to start keeping each other informed, instead of all looking to the same old tired source, a revolution will take place. I’d like to get something like that started in Carson City, but I’m not sure how ready the community is. I’ve been thinking about starting a Carson City-only weblog, and posting the kinds of things that are hard to find in the newspaper: road conditions, school closures, construction updates, things like that. But for it to work I’d have to have a fleet of “reporters” out there, ordinary citizens writing in or submitting stories to the site. Otherwise it’s just one person doing it alone, and it will never get off the ground.

So I want to feel out the online community: does anyone from Carson City or Douglas County even read this site? Would you want to be part of this new movement? Do you have any ideas how to make it work? I sure don’t; I don’t know jack about journalism, except that I’m very unsatisfied with what’s available. And there’s no money in it, at least not at first. But it’s obvious that what we have isn’t working, and it’s time for something new.

And with that, I’ve wasted well over the half hour I would have spent listening to the radio for school closure information. But I don’t have anything to do today anyway. My wife won’t let me drive the baby around in my little car when the roads are like this. So since I’m stuck at home today anyway, I might as well think about how dismal Carson City’s online community is.

Update: After I posted this, someone at the Nevada Appeal woke up and posted a Breaking News alert on how the schools are closed today. Nice work, but a little bit late. They should have been the first ones with the story, not lagging behind. This news needs to be out there at six in the morning when the busses are supposed to come, not at eight when school’s already started.

January 10, 2005

IE Going Down

Looks like Internet Explorer is finally in serious trouble. Based on one report, a survey of Robin Good’s server logs (covering “200,000 unique visitors” all over the world), IE’s market share has slipped from 91% to 70%, most of that being picked up by Firefox just in the last three months.

Now, of course this is just based on one person’s logs, but it’s a trend I’ve been hearing about a lot lately. Firefox has finally given people something better to switch to, and it’s taking off in a way Mozilla was supposed to but never did. If this keeps up, Microsoft’s hand may be forced and they might just have to release IE7 as a stand-alone product after all, even though they swore they’d only release it as part of Longhorn. But is it already too late? If IE7 does come out, it would have to be better than Firefox to get people to switch back. Not just equivalent, but faster and easier with more features.

January 7, 2005

Snow…Still?

Last week we got a nice little dumping of snow here in Carson City. That’s not a surprise; it’s winter. It’s cold. The big surprise is that it was 8 to 10 inches of the white stuff, not the inch and a half that we usually get. And the even bigger surprise is that today, a full week after it fell, it’s still here! You have to understand—our snow doesn’t stick around long. We’ll get a dusting of it overnight, and then Mother Nature will remember that we’re supposed to be in a desert here, and realize her mistake. She then sends us a couple of warm days to melt everything and bring back the brown that we’re used to. In fact, eight years ago, on New Year’s Eve, Mother Nature really screwed up. She gave us a huge snowstorm; we had eighteen inches down in the valleys, and Lake Tahoe had several feet. And then she realized what she had done wrong, so she overcompensated by sending a rainstorm to put things right. A nice warm rainstorm. In the space of six hours, all that snow melted. And I mean all of it. In Minden, the river overflowed its banks, half the valley was flooded, and the bridges were closed for days. Since the river runs through the middle of town, nobody could get to work or to the grocery store. Everyone was stranded, and all because Mother Nature doesn’t like our snow to stay on the ground.

Anyway, that whole digression was just a lead-in to another photo gallery. Here are a few shots of the snow from around town this week.

We’ve got another storm moving in tonight, so we’ll probably get even more snow on top of what we’ve got now. Bring it on, I say. Bring it on!

January 6, 2005

Thursday Stuff

Just a couple of interesting links that get even more interesting in the comments discussion.

Danah Boyd talks about the announced merger of Movable Type and LiveJournal, and how the two may seem like just “blogging tools” but are really very different and have different uses and users.

Bloggers love to talk about LJ with disdain, as a low-brow version of the culture.

Jump inside LJ culture. People who use LJ talk about their LJs, not their blogs. They mock bloggers who want to be pundits, journalists, experts. In essence, they mock the culture of bloggers that use Six Apart’s tools. During interviews with LJ/Xanga folks, i’ve been told that MovableType is for people with no friends, people who just talk to be heard, people who are trying too hard.

And then some of the best stuff is in the comments:

I think that mainstream legitimacy will be the worst thing for LJ in the long run.

I don’t like the idea of LiveJournal becoming another GeoCities.

I, too found that LJ is really “ghettoized” in the academic community.

And then, switching topics completely, is Dean Esmay writing about Black Vernacular English, better known as “Ebonics”. Things get really heated in the comments here, but Dean never wavers from his stance, which is that Ebonics is not just illiterate street talk, it’s actually a whole language in itself. And teachers have to accept that if there is ever to be any hope of teaching kids American English. Dean:

No it is not stupid, it is not ungrammatical, it is not backwards. It is perfectly valid language, and by refusing to acknowledge that, you’re holding kids back from learning better Standard English.

And finally, Dan Gillmor has quit his job to focus on grassroots/citizens journalism, and he’s already bemoaning how some companies, (he singles out Wal*Mart), won’t let anyone take pictures on their property without permission, even if there is breaking news going on. In the comments someone challenges us all to defy that rule and post Wal*Mart pictures. I’m way ahead of them. I’ve been taking pictures in Wal*Mart for years. These are from 2002.

January 5, 2005

Ormsby New Year

If it’s a new month, that must mean it’s time for a new Ormsby House update! Just like a bad rash that won’t go away.

This time it’s the December update. Not much going on, so it’s just one page this time.

January 1, 2005

Bookend

The first picture taken in 2004:

The last picture taken in 2004:

Total pictures taken all year: 14,200. Maybe in 2005 I’ll manage to double that!