Archives » October 27th, 2004

October 27, 2004

Postcards From Titan

Cassini successfully finished its flyby of Titan the other night, and now NASA’s busily slogging through all the pictures and data it sent back. It’s going to take them a while, I’m sure, and for now they’re just putting up the most remarkable ones on their website. They’re staying away from really explaining what it is we’re looking at, possibly because they’re still trying to figure it out themselves. Look at the close-up photo. Is it solid? Is it liquid? Both? Could this be an ocean with lots of little islands, or just different colored rocks? NASA might know, or they might not, but they haven’t said yet.

Of course, nobody ever said the scientific process was quick. I remember back when Galileo was doing its survey of Jupiter and its moons, and not many people were visiting NASA’s website hours after a flyby looking for quick news. Back then I was content to wait until Scientific American put together an article on one of the moons, after they’d had plenty of time to process what they had found. Now I’m impatient. Too much instant news out there on the internet, I guess.

Photographing Titan is hard because it’s the only moon in the Solar system with an atmosphere. And it’s a thick, hazy atmosphere, more like Venus than Earth. So if they take pictures in visible light, all they get is this orange soup staring back at them. Exciting for a few seconds, maybe, but everyone wants to see what’s underneath the soup. That’s why for this part of the mission they rely heavily on the infrared and ultraviolet cameras, as well as radar. Those wavelengths can cut through the soup of Titan’s atmosphere and see the surface, and the pictures they get back look like real pictures. It’s just not what you would see if you were actually standing there.

Anyway, whatever they discover now, we’ll hear about it over the next few weeks. And it will all be augmented in a couple of months when they chuck the Huygens probe at the moon and see whether it goes splash or crunch.


Since I don’t have a ’pod, I’m stuck with CDcasting if I want to go mobile. That’s where you download a podcast and burn it onto a CD to listen to in the car. 90’s tech all the way, but you do what you have to. Today I burned Dave Winer’s chat with Robert Scoble. Tomorrow it’s the Gillmor Gang. I’m not completely against podcasting, like I might have come off as earlier. I just need something I actually want to listen to.

Even though I had to drive way out of my way today, I still ran out of road and had to listen to the last fifteen minutes in my office. Either the podcasts are too long, or my commute is too short. I’m hoping it’s the former.

Photo Story 3

I found out on Channel 9 that Microsoft Photo Story 3 is out now. Although it’s apparently in its third version, I’ve never heard of it before today. (Maybe that’s because until now it was part of the Plus! package, as Paul Thurrott points out in his review.) What Photo Story does is let you build “stories” out of your digital photos, “stories” being slideshows that can have background music, narration, text, and pan and zoom effects (“Ken Burns style”). It’s Windows-only, of course, and it creates a file that can only be viewed in Windows Media Player. But it’s not like Photo Story is the only program that can do this. You could build one of these “stories” in Flash or iMovie, or a bunch of other programs. MS is clearly pushing this as a nice little add-on to Windows, like Movie Maker, that takes only the few features that home users are likely to use most often and wraps it up in a seamless UI. It’s what they’re best at, after all.

I haven’t used the program yet, just looked at a couple of the demos and read about it. But it sounds like you can do some fun stuff with it, going beyond the basic slideshow and jazzing up your digital photos a bit. And when you’re done you’re not completely stuck in Windows Media. You can stick your movie on a VCD or DVD, and from there send it out to anybody to watch.

So I’ll give Photo Story a run through and see if I can make it sing. Paul Thurrott seems sold. He says, “If you use Windows XP, you need to download Photo Story 3 immediately. It’s that good.” I just might have to do that.