There's been some chatter in the news about Mars' near proximity to Earth. Last night the red planet was apparently orbiting around the sun right alongside us, neck and neck, and then we broke ahead. Word on the street has it that we will not be so close with Mars again until 2016. A quick google search showed that Earth overtakes Mars in this manner every 26 months. But because the Earth has a slight elliptical orbit, and Mars has a fairly significant elliptical orbit, these neck and neck pass-byes measure out at wildly different distances each 26 months. We two planets got very very cozy back in 2003. Less than 35 millions miles separated us. Last night, it was more on the order of 55 million miles. That's quite a deviation.
I did take a look at Mars before heading out to the grocery store. It seemed about as bright and red as usual — but maybe if I were far from city light pollution, it'd be more pronounced. Times like this, I wish I had a telescope, or even a robust pair of binoculars (my little pocket-sized birding glasses just don't do it — besides, I need a threading for a tripod … I got plenty of tripods).
One of my favorite audio podcasts is Astronomy Cast, with Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela Gay. A recent episode (number 66) was about “How Amateurs Can Contribute to Astronomy.” One of the things they mentioned was a website called the Galaxy Zoo. It's an open source research tool where the public is invited to help crunch information. There are currently a million galaxies (I believe) in this particular database. They are wanting people — you know, like you or me — to make a couple of basic judgments on each of these galaxies. When you pass a rather fun training tutorial, you are ready to begin. An extreme detail of a deep sky photo (usually a bit fuzzy because of resolution issues) pops up and you have to decided if the object in the center is a galaxy. Some are not. Computer programs have isolated the discrete points of light in these massive photos of tiny bits of the sky, each with hundreds or thousands of galaxies and assorted cosmological miscellany. Sometimes it's a star from our galaxy hogging the foreground. These are pretty easy to identify. Sometimes there is a smear of an Earth-orbiting satellite wandering into the shot. But most are galaxies. And you get to make a call. Spiral Galaxy, or Elliptical Galaxy. And if it's a spiral, you click on one of three specific buttons: is it spiraling clockwise, anti-clockwise, or is it photographed edge on, and you can't tell? Some of the images are blurry or smeary or just uncertain. But others are just stunning. And the endlessness of the images takes your breath away. Millions … billions of these things. There is more info available if you're curious. You can click on the specific photo number and it takes you to a page with a wealth of arcane astronomical information. Many of the galaxies have a spectrographic breakdown. Also, most have a red-shift number, to give a vague notion of how far away they are. But the best thing is that you can toggle over to the large photo which each galaxy is but a tiny detail, and you can zoom in or out. I recommend this website to anyone who doesn't quite grasp the enormity and beauty of the universe.
Monday Mexico sent a gift up our way in the form and clear skies and warm weather. Thanks, man. I was getting cabin fever.
I took in a bike ride down the Mission Trail yesterday. As I was trying to pick up a bit of speed on a straight-away just south of the old Espada Dam with Slippi by the Animal Collective screaming on my iPod, a middle-aged couple pedaling toward me on comfy roadsters (rented, I assumed) slowed and waved me to a stop. I pulled off my “ear buds.”
“Afternoon,” I said.
The man was saying something to me but because of his thick German accent, I was having a hard time making it out. These tourists weren't asking for directions or anything like that. The man was making declarative statements.
The woman was nodding along with every word her husband said. I had to smile. Her bike had a basket, and it was filled with pecans.
Finally, I was able to filter out the accent. The man was warning me about some dogs up the trail. “Just around the corner,” he said, pointing in the direction I was headed.
“Ah,” I said. “I see.”
“We had to go fast,” the woman said. “Very fast.”
“One is a pitbull,” the man said with stern gravity.
“I'll be careful,” I said. I dipped my head a few times to let them know I understood and appreciated their warnings. I thanked them, replaced the headphones, and continued on my way.
I know they meant well, but they killed my momentum. Besides, dogs have never really bothered me, and I ride a lot. Actually, I was hoping for a bit of adventure. As I approached the curve ahead, I was whistling, making come-hither-doggy kissy noises, and all that. And when I finally saw them, they were down at the base of the river levee, nosing around at the shore. I was practically yelling for them to come get a piece of me. Shit, they weren't gonna hoof it up that hill just to chase the likes of me. It's quite comical to see a dog avoid eye-contact. And here were about five street-wise delinquent mutts pretending like there wasn't some asshole on a bike calling them out. They were looking at butterflies, clouds, fish, whatever wasn't up on the levee top.
What happened to German grit and where-with-all? Scared of a pack of lazy hounds? Oh, how far have the mighty fallen …. Maybe this couple was from Switzerland or Austria.
Here are some photos from my bike ride.
This last one — pretty boring, eh? — is of the famous San Antonio Ghosts Tracks. It's bolstered by a very nice narrative to add to the verisimilitude. The problem it is so easily to check the public records and demonstrate the story as completely bogus.
Ask anyone who grew up in San Antonio about the Ghosts Tracks, and mostly likely they will give you a detailed account of a time in their teens, late at night, they had some sort of hair-raising encounter at this lonely crossing. The honest ones will, after a beat, conclude with, “but we were all pretty stoned.”
Monday I visited the new offices of PrimaDonna Productions. It's a three room suite in the El Cid Building. I'm happy to see Nikki and Chadd make this major step. But it won't be the same. One of the charming things about calling up the “offices” of PrimaDonna Productions was when I'd call up in the morning and be talking to Nikki and I'd hear water running. “Are you brushing your teeth? Nikki, are you still in your pajamas?”
Congrats on the new HQ!
I was there because Nikki invited me to give feedback to her acting students. She has three girls in this particular class. They're really coming along. Nikki is very good as a teacher, particularly with children. She's honest with them, and they always seem to appreciated it from her.
The other two guests were filmmaker Bryan Ortiz and actress Laura Evans. I was honored to be in such good company. Besides, it was nice to chat with two people who I not only respect but whose company I truly enjoy.
Today was a quiet and somberly cloudy day on my block. I holed up watching documentaries on YouTube — randomly and serendipitously encountered. They were all bio docs. George Clinton, the Buddha, and Stephen Fry.
Sounds like the invite list for a nice fantasy dinner party. Throw in Judy Chicago, and I'd be all set.
The only intrusion on my privacy was the gentleman from CPS (that's City Public Services, they are the gate keepers in San Antonio for both our gas and electrical utilities). You don't want to see one of their trucks pull up in front of your house. And when I saw the signature white pickup out my kitchen window, I quickly began searching for a receipt from my last payment. But before I could find it, the loutish knocking on my door (and did I say “gentleman?”) reassigned my priorities. When I opened it, the guy was holding one of those pink termination notices in one hand and he was scratching his head with the other.
“So, which is apartment A?”
The three apartments in my little house are so irrationally alphabetized that half the time I can't remember what letter mine is. But thankfully, my mailbox is mounted on a pillar of my porch so that it faces my front door. I looked over CPS Man's shoulder.
“I'm C, man,” I said firmly. “C.”
I even pointed to the mailbox behind him.
“You're looking for that one,” I said, pointing to the door down the side of the house past my air conditioner. “But they moved out about a month or more back,” I added. The guy just smiled, said he was sorry for bothering me, and he headed down my driveway to place his grim warning on the doorknob of a vacant apartment.
Having felt a great relief, I returned to the Buddha. Sure, life may be suffering, but I wasn't planning on doing any of it today.