The Ohs Get a Sendoff

January 1, 2010

Today is the first day of the new decade (well, not technically but that’s okay).  The Buffalo News wishes us a Happy New Year with these three front page headlines:

  • Colgan pilots fault stall training (describe method as ‘Joke’)
  • A Year of Tragedy
  • Brown ousts Gipson as city’s top cop

The first article that one might construe as “hopeful” (albeit unlikely) is found on page 4North Korea makes a commitment to a nuclear-free peninsula.

This is a depressing, depressing newspaper.  Even Esmonde’s New Year’s wish list is nothing more than whining about what will prevent his wishes from happening.  There are good things worth reporting, aren’t there?  The News always surprises with their slant toward the forelorn and depressing. I just couldn’t get through today’s paper.  I think it will be the last Buffalo News I try to read.

So, my response to what the News does not provide is a list of some of the really neat things that happened last decade.  They give me hope for a Happy New Year and the start of a great decade.  Here goes:

  • Lance Armstrong.  He never gives up.
  • Planets Everywhere.  The odds of finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe keeps going up as we discover just how common planetary systems are.
  • …and related to this, Water on Mars.  The odds of finding any kind of life elsewhere takes a giant leap forward wherever we find water.
  • The Human Genome Project, and the hope that it brings to understanding the genetic framework for many diseases, including cancer and diabetes.  I may not live long enough to reap the benefits but I think my children will.
  • The 2008 Olympics.  Beauty, form, grace, and grandiose settings.  Amazing what a country with a limitless supply of low-cost labor can do for a few billion dollars.  [Anecdote:  Today the Bird’s Nest is barely used and needs a bit of a paint job.] May Rio de Janeiro be so successful in 2012.
  • Globalization.  New markets, new opportunities.  Fear mongerers spew nonstop about cheap labor overseas destroying America, but we saw that in the 70’s and got through it.  America is still the land of innovation and so long as we continue to innovate we will continue to be an economic powerhouse.
  • Extreme Makeover, Buffalo.  ‘Nuf said.
  • Alternative Energy.  Finally, government and industry are taking notice.  Even if we can’t eliminate fossil fuel use (until it’s gone) we are rapidly approaching cost-effective alternative energy.   At that point – I predict it happening this decade – the alternative floodgates will open.
  • Going Green.  Even if global warming turns out to be more hype than substance, awareness of how we are polluting our environment has raised our efforts at conservation.  We see it in everything from simpler packaging to more efficient building construction.  Clean Technology grew almost 20-fold last decade to a $10 billion industry today.
  • The Internet.  The awakening of an online generation to the power of a tweet and a blog.  Social networking now wins and loses elections and drives the direction of government and industry faster than ever before.

I wait with excitement for what the 10’s will unveil.


Ice on Mars

June 20, 2008

Ice on MarsThe Mars Phoenix Explorer, which landed on Mars about a month ago, has been digging little trenches here and there as a prelude to digging a bigger trench later.

One purpose of this space mission was to determine if water ice is present just under the planet’s surface.  The presence of water of any type is a vital clue to determining if life similar to what we are familiar with could have, did, or still does exist on Mars.  In the face of some revealing articles today, it appears that there is ice just under the surface where Phoenix landed.

Even though these robotic missions are extremely expensive ($520 million, not quite as much as as, say, questionable war funding but expensive nonetheless) they provide insights into very fundamental questions about how life takes hold.

This mission has only begun to reveal surprises to us.

Flight of the Phoenix

May 23, 2008

Phoenix LanderBy now most people who browse the Internet or catch any national news knows that the Phoenix mission will attempt an autonomous landing on Mars this coming Sunday. We will observe the lander setting down, either in one or many pieces, at 7:53 PM EDT.

Most people won’t care.

Some will decry the millions spent on the mission to dig into Mars’ surface looking for ice, money which could have been spent feeding the hungry or building new roads here on Earth. Others can’t wait for the science that will potentially be revealed by this spacecraft and other spacecraft that will follow in subsequent years.

I, for one, am ambivalent about most of the science but look forward to the ramifications should the mission discover abundant ice as well as key elements needed to sustain life. For if life – even fossilized life – is found a few feet below Mars’ surface, the whole idea of life originating on Earth (or perhaps, to God creating life on Earth) gets thrown into question.

If life exists – or existed – on both Earth and Mars, there are only three possible explanations: They sprang up independent of each other (or as part of a directed Panspermia); some kind of impact on Mars sent biological material into space and eventually to Earth; or some kind of impact on Earth sent biological material into space and eventually to Mars.

Celestial dynamics, gravity and atmospheric pressure dictate that the latter possibility much less likely than the Mars-to-Earth origin of life; so if we eventually get a spacecraft actually landed on the Red Planet that can analyze subsurface material for DNA, we might just determine with pretty reasonable assurance that the Martians were here first.

In the grand scheme of things I’m just curious as to how religious scholars, fundamentalists and secular intellectuals will deal with that.