Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Glorious Titan

Last night, Cassini made its first close rendezvous to Saturn's moon Titan, and what glorious pictures there are! I'm so happy those stupid environmentalists (of whom I'm proud to count myself when it's convenient) failed to get the Cassini mission scrubbed back in 1997 (because the probe uses nuclear-generated electricity - the horror! the horror!) Those profoundly stupid Chicken Littles tried to panic everybody, first by whipping fears of Challenger-like explosions when Cassini was first launched into orbit around the sun, and again months later with fears of a supposedly errant trajectory when Cassini flew past Earth again on its way out towards Saturn. Stupid fools! Ignorant chumps!

Anyway, I remember when Cassini's first pictures of Titan came back in July of this year, and how crestfallen all the planetary scientists seemed to be. They invested a great deal of their reputations in predicting the presence of large planetary hydrocarbon oceans on Titan, but the first pictures through the hazy atmosphere seemed to reveal little of such fluids, just the bright, happy, icy "continent" of Xanadu. Scientists like Carolyn Porco tried to put a game face on, but I'm sure they were thinking of the stacks of dissertations and the thousands of hours of earnest, difficult work reduced to instant rubbish. That happens sometimes when research meets reality.

Looking at these recent, better photos of Titan, though, something clearly is going on down there. Don't those look like coastlines to you? They do to me! Maybe those dark areas aren't oceans exactly, maybe a tarry sludge, but it sure looks interesting, *whatever that is*. From Cassini, it looks like the eastern Mediterranean from space, although a remarkably frigid Mediterranean it would be. No one is saying anything yet, of course, but they are probably quite happy with these pictures. Break out the hummus and grape leaves, it's a Levantine solar system!

On the JPL Web Site (via link above), they have a motion picture of what the moon looked like when Cassini approached, and it's easy to see the development of those strange semi-permanent methane clouds towards the bottom of the image. SO COOL!

One thing that worries me, though, is that Cassini's Huygens probe, scheduled to make a Christmas plunge towards Titan's surface, is currently projected to land in an area dominated by the dark *whatever that is*. I know they've designed it to float for a few minutes, but still! Maybe it would be better to nudge the probe towards a light area, and place a premium on a longer data-gathering period, and get better pictures, rather than risk losing the probe in *whatever that is*? What's so bad about Xanadu at Christmas? Olivia Newton-John's "Kira" would certainly agree!

Anyway, we have our own solar system spectacle tonight - a lunar eclipse! Go outside quick and marvel at the wonder and glory of it ALL!

Dear George: Letters to the President

Before I forget, Interact Theater Company has two more performances of "Dear George: Letters to the President", a letter-reading project being carried out nationwide in this last week before the election. Sacramento performances, at the Eagle Theater in Old Sacramento, are Thursday October 28th at 8 p.m., and Saturday October 30th at 4 p.m. Go see it!
Al Qa Qaa

Has there ever been a better name for a scandal? In any event, it's shameful the way Matt Drudge and other Administration stooges have been trying to excuse the Bush Administration for its lack of care. Of course U.S. troops didn't find explosives at Al Qa Qaa when they first reached it, the day after Baghdad fell. The job of those troops was to rest and then proceed immediately to Baghdad, and not engage in an inventory check. It's pretty easy to establish that the explosives (and the auxiliary equipment) was removed after the U.S. took over Iraq. The U.S. troops, suffering from their chronic manpower shortage, were not able to man a watch on the place. 'Ali Baba' made off with the explosives, to everybody's detriment.

My faith-based initiative: I pray for good results on Election Day!
The New Theater Delay

At the all-hands DMTC meeting on Sunday, we wrestled about what to do regarding the delay in building DMTC's New Theater. Harrison Construction, in a burst of prudence, wants to be assured at least half ($450,000) of the necessary additional money ($900,000) will be available before finishing the theater. The New Theater is roughly 40-50% complete now, and could be completed in about a month if half the total money were available. If Bank of America had followed through on naming rights, we'd be close to that goal now, but now we have to be innovative.

One trouble is deciding exactly how optimistic to be. Pessimism and panic never helps under these circumstances, of course, but neither does the false optimism we've comforted ourselves with so far. We've been reaching for euphemism too (calling it a 'construction delay,' when it's actually a 'money delay'), but as became clear at the meeting, euphemism only works when everybody is on the same page, and has the same facts available to them. Euphemism is OK for the Board and close friends, but to outsiders it sounds like evasion. We must be careful.

We'll have to explore financing options. As the Treasurer, I'm pretty confident we have community resources and goodwill from which to draw, but we can't delay too many months, or else the extra expenses associated with new theater construction, plus the inability to cut off old expenses, will be become burdensome to the company. Sounds like its time for someone to:
  • get an inheritance;
  • win a jackpot; or,
  • release a popular hip-hop video (maybe the YPT kids?)