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Michael Ubaldi, December 28, 2004.


BRAVO!: Private donations through Amazon have exceeded the official pledged donation of the French government — by tenfold. [Correction: it appears the ratio is reversed, the initial French figure being incorrect. Even so, Amazon donations have just passed $2 million. Earlier this morning, the average individual donation was fifty-three dollars. Three cheers for the private philanthropist.]

THAT 'BRAVO' WAS WELL DESERVED: Accepting the French figure of $20 million, private donations though Amazon alone are nearing one-half of that amount, $9 million as of mid-afternoon Friday, December 31st.

Michael Ubaldi, December 28, 2004.

Happy New Year, and let's ensure another after this one: PC Magazine Editor-in-Chief Michael J. Miller offers advice and reflection for 2005, the thirtieth anniversary of Ziff Davis' print introduction of the personal computer.

Michael Ubaldi, December 28, 2004.

Skepticism brings you theories. Optimism brings you results.

Skepticism is the learned art of "can't be done." Optimism is the learned art of "couldn't be done until now."

Michael Ubaldi, December 24, 2004.

In space, no one can hear you clean:

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity seems to have stumbled into something akin to a carwash that has left its solar panels much cleaner than those of its twin rover, Spirit. A Martian carwash would account for a series of unexpected boosts in the electrical power produced by Opportunity's solar panels.

Opportunity's output also declined at first — to around 500 watt-hours — but over the past six months it has regained power (New Scientist print edition, 30 October). Lately, its solar cells have been delivering just over 900 watt-hours.

...Whatever the process, it has taken place while Opportunity was parked during the Martian night.

Rover team scientists believe the cleaning process may be caused by wind patterns in the crater Opportunity is currently exploring. Glenn Reynolds, meanwhile, is counting on the "Little Green Squeegee Men" theory and all its grand implications. What if it's a Martian city bum who's uninvitedly washing Opportunity's panels with a dishrag at stoplights? Just wait until he sends NASA the bill.

Michael Ubaldi, December 22, 2004.

The Old Man is saying hello on the first full day of winter in an unusually gregarious manner, just in time for Christmas. Forecasters are expecting nearly a foot of snow in Northeast Ohio. After a conversation with one of my bosses this morning, who as a pilot knows more about wind and temperature aloft than I, complications of the low-pressure system may drop even more than we're due. It's supposed to fall for nearly two days, easing off on Christmas Eve before a swath of frigid air preserves the windblown white for gatherings around the tree the next morning. For a romantic like myself who doesn't mind driving slowly, Yuletide weather couldn't be more perfect.


A bit of distortion and color imbalance but a nice on-the-fly panorama. Click for a larger image.

According to the Weather Channel, the southwestern edge of Cuyahoga County will receive six to eight inches. As the northeast tip of the state is usually the recipient of greater snowfall due to lake effect precipitation, it's a welcome reversal from this southwesterly storm.

Michael Ubaldi, December 21, 2004.

Making the rounds, slowly but surely, from G4TV to CNN to Fox News, and now the Boston Globe, the Frag Dolls are stepping into the Big Time. Author Hiawatha Bray christens them "Charlie's Angels with joysticks," which is clever, though I prefer "A-B-B-A-Start-Select bombshells."

Michael Ubaldi, December 20, 2004.

Responding to a lighthearted open request for his return to essaying, Steven Den Beste revealed that he suffers from a degenerative disease, complications of which exacerbated the increasingly unhappy relationship with a vocal minority of his audience.

He insists he doesn't want an adage, so I'll respect that. Anyway, he looks like he's enjoying himself again.

An unintentional inspiration, and a generous one at that. Thank you, Steven.

Michael Ubaldi, December 20, 2004.

I usually show NASA probe Cassini-Huygen's requisite "pretty pictures" of Saturn. Today, scientific discovery and intriguing speculation:

The rings of Saturn are part of a young and evolving system, according to the latest observations that suggest a snowball fight is going on around the giant planet. Portions of the rings, which are predominantly made of ice, may be only 10 to 100 million years old, which is a brief period of time compared to the four and a half billion-year-old solar system.

...Astronomers have long assumed Saturn's rings are composed of various-sized objects, from tiny frozen grains to mountain-sized chunks of ice and rock. The smashing of giant snowballs produces small grains of ice, the thinking goes. The increased surface area speeds up a process by which plasma particles — essentially superheated gas — zip along Saturn's magnetic field strip oxygen atoms from the ice.

...The same process that may be exposing the ice to the plasma may also be rejuvenating the rings. Evidence for this comes from the beautiful bands of colors in the rings.

Read the rest. And don't forget the pretty pictures, including a cutaway of moon Titan's atmosphere and a jaw-dropping portrait of mother and daughter.

Michael Ubaldi, December 20, 2004.

Well, what do you know? My work building failed to heat up this morning. The office is under fifty degrees and, after a brief show of heart, staff is evacuating it like Hoth. I'm finishing a bit of work and then finding my own way to the rendezvous point.

Michael Ubaldi, December 17, 2004.

A combination of deductive reasoning, intelligence and dialogue through contacts seems to have explained away the mysterious disappearance of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's portraits from public locations in and around Pyongyang. Prevailing wisdom holds that totalitarian Kim has simply altered his political persona on the heels of some more significant housecleaning:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il recently purged his brother-in-law from the government, removing a powerful party official who was thought to be a possible rival to Kim and his sons, South Korean intelligence officials have reported. North Korea watchers here had raised the name of 58-year-old Chang Sung Taek as someone the United States and South Korea might consider a more palatable leader than Kim.

The purge is one of several measures Kim has taken this year to consolidate his hold over what is, in effect, a hereditary dynasty.

...The 63-year-old Kim Jong Il is believed to be grooming one of his two younger sons, 23-year-old Kim Jong Chul or 21-year-old Kim Jong Woon, as his successor.

Pessimists contend that if anything, Kim's latest moves suggest a consolidation of power — not a stumble or a flail. But at least one of North Korea's democratic neighbors is interested in seeing a perpetual security threat be neutralized:

Japanese sanctions on North Korea would have a severe impact on the reclusive communist regime, and could ultimately topple dictator Kim Jong Il if China joined in pressuring Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program, a key ruling party official said Sunday.

Shinzo Abe said Kim could avoid being deposed by following the example of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who a year ago said his country would dismantle its programs for weapons of mass destruction and allow U.N., American and British inspectors to visit the facilities.

"If he doesn't make that choice, then there could be regime change. He must realize this," Abe said on a TV Asahi debate program.

Pyongyang responded, naturally, in a tantrum, which may suggest that a nerve of North Korea's was struck — or nothing at all, since the invalid Stalinist regime is known for its vitriolic hyperbole. Still, Japan's majority Liberal Democratic Party is showing admirable grit where politicians in Seoul have simply capitulated. Furthermore, Tokyo is still moving towards a reconsideration of its pacifist constitution. The problem of North Korea's belligerence may not offer an easy solution but the Japanese are not for want of working towards it.

MAKE MORE OF A GOOD THING: Uncle Sam is encouraging Tokyo to apply its growing confidence to geopolitical concerns outside its regional sphere. Hint: mad mullahs who have everyone on their blacklist.

FROM THOSE WHO ARE THERE: A fellow living in Seoul links here and relays on his own weblog some telling opinions from South Koreans who have spent time in the inaptly named DPRK. And he offers news reports that deduct a bit of the certainty experts guarantee for a stable Kim regime. And, after a quick look at his personal photographs, I see that I went to grade school with his wife!

Small world, anyone? Yes, I'll take one; thank you.

ACT NATURALLY: Connection acknowledged. Langley will be pleased.