Migration: Watch it Live on Radar

Doppler radar image originally posted by Badbirdz--Reloaded.com. Click image for animation.

What does spring migration look like? Until now I could only imagine it. I’ve often wondered where I could find up-to-date tracking information on bird migrations. Building a strategic network of bird alerts to subscribe to and read each day would be one method, of course. Recently though, I discovered not one but two birding blogs that present Doppler radar tracking of migrating flocks: Badbirdz–Reloaded, based in Florida, and Woodcreeper, which covers New Jersey. Their posts from the last few days — Feeling the Zugunruhe! [migration restlessness] and Migrants Just Making it into New Jersey offer animated Doppler radar images of birds on the move. Fascinating!

According to Badbirdz–Reloaded, both sites were inspired by Noel Wamer, a birder from Northeast Florida with a passion for tracking bird migrations using radar. Noel was apparently quite a personality, as a Woodcreeper tribute post to him from March 2007 attests.

If Noel taught these bloggers how to use radar to track birds then he has done a great service to everyone. Both sites extend that knowledge with pages for explaining how this is done. Badbirdz–Reloaded.com has a Birds and Radar Primer with several important links, including a New Jersey Audubon article How NEXRAD Sees the Atmosphere. Woodcreeper.com provides a Radar & Migration FAQ with a link to Radar Ornithology: Introduction  of the Clemson University Radar Ornithology Lab.

Although it seems to be a firmly established field, radar ornithology represents a whole new aspect of birding for me. It is exciting to discover a brand new aspect of hobby that you’ve been enjoying for some time. There is so much to read and learn. I better hurry though. The birds are coming and now I can see them.

Bad Weather That You Won’t See

Spring is coming. Today the temperature in Philadelphia could rise to 70º F, the warmest day since last October. The sky now is blanketed in a cover of soft white clouds. There is a warm front rolling over us.

The clouds are nothing like the towering thunderheads typical of summer, though — not that I want to rush the change of seasons, but I like thunderstorms.

At their most intense thunderstorms are awe-inspiring, but even a modest storm is fascinating to watch. When I think of an ‘electrical storm’ I envision lots of lightening and the accompanying crack and rumble of thunder.

Although such weather can be very damaging locally, it is nothing compared to the invisible (unless you live at the poles) storm forecasted in a Space.com article titled: Catastrophe Looming: The Risk of Rising Solar Storm Activity. The havoc that a huge solar storm with accompanying coronal mass ejection could have might entail over $2 trillion and 10 years of recovery efforts.

Why dwell on such an apocalyptic scenario on such a pleasant pre-spring morning? Well — I read the article on a 3G-enabled iPad currently attached to a wifi network and a bluetooth keyboard. There is a Nexus One Android phone in my pocket, and I’ve already checked my email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts more than once today. Plus, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been following the news reports from the network-assisted uprisings in the Middle East with a lot of interest.

One big belch from the sun and all of those things I’ve come to associate with a Friday morning in a local (but globally connected) coffee shop would end — wiped out by very bad, invisible weather.

The point is not to fret over something that no one has control over and that may not happen in my life time (although it is quite possible that it will). The point is to appreciate the inter-connectedness that has been woven into our electrified modern lives — while we still have it.

The iPad and the Microscope

My iPad has not be the topic of a blog post until now. Maybe that is because I’ve had so much fun browsing the Internet and reading books with it that I’ve not stopped to write about it; besides, so many people have written, and continue to write, about the iPad that anything I might think to say would be surplufuous — other than the heretical wish that it had a tiny track ball like my Nexus One Android phone has for fine positioning of the cursor between letters. My finger tips are not well designed for navigating 10 pt fonts, even with the pop-up magnifying bubble to assist.

Magnification is, in fact, the topic that brings me to mention my iPad today. I’m excited about a purchase I just made to outfit my iPad for fun, education, and maybe a bit of citizen science. I just ordered the ProScope Mobile, a wireless, wifi-enabled microscope with exchangeable lenses. The microscope creates a wifi-hotspot and to transmit images to the iPad (or an iPone, iPod) and accessed with AirMicroPad (or AirMicro) software. Actually, it can transmit to over 250 devices at once, which is a bit of overkill even if it is being used by students in a large classroom. AirMicroPad can display stills and video from the microscope.

I am so looking forward to playing in the garden and woods with this. In addition to exploring tiny things to whet my own curiosity, I see this as being useful on HumboldtSociety.org field trips. Once I get it I’ll post some pictures from the micro-world here and give a review of how everything works. I wonder if AirMicro might someday be available in an Android version?

Empty Bay – Space Coast, Ghost Coast?

A couple of years ago, I traveled to Florida’s Space Coast and visited the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FL. I had a great time. The area was even more interesting than I had expected, and my expectations were more developed than those a kid might have on a family outing to the Space Coast today. The names Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach were spoken in my house 5 days a week for 5 years. They came through the TV soaked in the comedy and magic of I Dream of Jeannie. In addition, the glamor of the place was also enhanced by the very real successes of the folks who lived there during my childhood. I was privileged to watch Neil Armstrong and the others walking on the moon through live TV broadcasts.

So, I had an idea of what Cocoa Beach would look like. It doesn’t look like that of course. It actually looks like a smaller, tamer version of Myrtle Beach, SC, but since I grew up vacationing at Myrtle Beach I adjusted to that very quickly. The images of my childhood, though, paled in comparison to my adult interests that were fully engaged by the close-up tour I took at the Kennedy Space Center and the excellent time I had birding the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I was as happy to see the threatened Florida Scrub Jay from no less than 10 feet away as I was to walk around the enormous carcass of a Saturn V rocket lying on its side. [Flickr photos]

This reminiscing was sparked by an article I read this morning on Tampa Bay’s 10Connects.com titled: “Economically, Space Coast better off than when Apollo program ended.” The reference is to the unemployment the area is expected to suffer with the ending of the Shuttle Program this year and into early 2011. The overall impact on Brevard Co. will not be as great as it was when Apollo ended, although it will come on top of an already depressed economy in general. Real Estate prices might drop even further.

After I read the article the thought struck me — man, it would be a good time to get a beach house in Brevard Co. or even just take a birding vacation there in 2011 for Spring Migration. Eventually, there will another boom when the next manned-space flight program cranks ups, whether that will be aiming at the moon, at Mars, or at the asteroids in between, and prices and crowds will grow again.

Sprouting everywhere like mushrooms – Trash Compactors

Rittenhouse Square Trash Muncher
Rittenhouse Square Trash Muncher

Last July I blogged about a small test the city of Philadelphia was running with 3 solar-powered trash compactors ( Solar-powered Trashcan Test ). Cool idea, I thought, but I did not hear anything else about them. Then over the last three weeks I’ve started seeing them everywhere. Even better — they are now paired up with recycling bins. Clearly, I missed this article on May 1 on Philly.com: Hot idea: Solar-powered trash crushers. There will be 500 of these “Big Bellies”, as they are called, distributed around Center City. 210 will be paired with recycling bins (see picture above).

This is great news for a city that has long been plagued by litter. I’ve come to realize that most (okay, many) Philadelphians will use a waste basket. In truth, the 700 wire baskets with plastic liners that are being replaced were really a  main part of the litter problem. Those baskets were often overflowing, and since they had no tops the wind would often pluck light stuff out of them and spread it down the streets. Sometimes a strong gust would completely lift the liner out of the mesh basket and dump everything out. Yet now, nothing will escape the ‘big bellies’ once they have a hold of it, and compactors offer a lot of advantages for a cash-strapped city hoping to clean up its act:

The compactors require fewer collections, which saves the city on fuel for sanitation vehicles and frees up workers for other tasks, officials said.

They also hold up to 200 gallons of trash, compared with the 55-gallon capacity of a regular wire trash basket.

Because of that capacity they require five weekly collections, compared with the 19 for a regular trash basket. That means only eight workers will be assigned to collect litter baskets, compared with the current 33, said Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson. (Philly.com)

The presence of the recycle bins in high traffic areas, like Rittenhouse Square, will also serve to remind and encourage folks to do just that — recycle. It is easier to do when it is made so convenient.

Former Mayor (and current PA Governor) Ed Rendell made huge strides in rejuvenating Philadelphia. I moved to the city the year before he was elected and I saw the progress first-hand. Now, current Mayor Michael Nutter seems ready to take it to the next level.

See also:
Philly Brings on the Big Bellies
Philadelphia Begins Rollout…
Solar Trash Compactor Firm BigBelly Raises $3.2 M

Preparing to go where no two shuttles have gone before


NBC News space analyst James Oberg’s article: NASA set for dramatic shuttle rescue is a clear and interesting report on what plans NASA has for rescuing the crew of STS-125/Atlantis should Atlantis be damaged during its mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. The article appeared the same day that the new Star Trek movie premiered and I think that the synchronicity of the two is worth noting. The reality of real and present space flight is much grittier and limited than flight in the future fiction of Star Trek, yet the human willingess to accept danger and reach out from our planet to take a place in the heavens beyond it is comparable. In our enthusiasm to witness the emotion and drama of movies like Star Trek let’s just not forget that there is plenty of drama surrounding our real-life, present-day forays into space. Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Will Phoenix Rise again?

The Phoneix Mars lander has slipped into hibernation – a dangerous hibernation that it is not expected to awake from. One of the last Twitter posts from the landers was:

 @PhotoMomT Alex, it’s very unlikely I’ll wake up next spring (see: http://is.gd/6tkx) but if I do I’ll call home. Good luck w/ your project

A surrogate Twitter post reads:

[From Phoenix mission ops: Phoenix is no
longer communicating with Earth. We’ll continue to listen, but it’s
likely its mission has ended.]

The lander well exceeded its expected life span and continued to operate until the weakening of solar light deprived it of electricity. The search for past life was inconclusive but the discovery of frozen water just under the surface of Mars as well as observing falling snow was a significant step in understanding our sister planet.

See: Mars Phoenix Lander Finishes Successful Work on Red Planet

Someone from the Lander team  has been posting anthropomorphic updates to Twitter.com pretending to be the lander itself. Now, in keeping with the harsh realities of conditions on another planet, that voice has fallen silent.

Nevertheless – three cheers to NASA and the Lander team based in Tuscon, AZ for a highly successful project on humankind’s likeliest future second home – Mars. Congratulations to all and sleep well Phoenix!

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Arriving at Warp Speed – Invisibility

The ‘communicator‘ from the tv show Star Trek is a reality now, i.e. the cell phone. That I can grasp. What I find incredible is that another technology, one I figured might never be a reality, has now materialized as well: the invisibility cloak. The AP released a story on Aug. 11 about Berkeley scientists’ successfully cloaking a three-dimensional object: Scientists closer to developing invisibility cloak. So what’s next? Transporters? Man, that would be cool! No more waiting in airport security lines and worrying about delays or lost luggage. I predict that if air fares continue to climb and if all the new a la carte fees are taken into account it will soon be economically feasible to develop and build transporters. Maybe by 2010 I can have myself beamed over to Beijing to check out all those really cool buildings they’ve created for the Olympics.

“We’re all Addicted to Breathing”

As the space shuttle program winds down NASA and it’s partners plan for the final launches and for giving the International Space Station (ISS) what it needs to continue as a meaningful platform for science. Tariq Malik highlights NASA’s plans for expanding life support functions in the article Space Station Prepares for Population Boost on MSNBC.com.

So what is critical to a life support system? Waste recycling. Not only is urine on the ISS filtered for drinking water (really, it is more pure H20 than what we Earthlings drink from the tap — or plastic bottles), the recycled water from the ISS environment is also split into oxygen and hydrogen to provide the O2 for astronauts/cosmonauts to breath. Therefore the new equipment to be sent up on the last shuttle missions will increase the capacity for turning urine into breathable air. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? After all the Earth is really just a large space station also. What are we drinking and breathing here? Think about it.

Return to Best Buy

CC Image from Wikimedia

Best Buy is testing an electronics recycling program in 117 of its 922 stores. Michael Liedtke reports on the pilot program from San Francisco today on the AP. The same story was also reported today on Business Wire. The big deal is that consumers can drop off obsolete and redundant electronic products at Best Buy without charge. The items will then be pushed from Best Buy into recycling processes. There are some exceptions to what is eligible for drop off at the stores: large appliances, TVs over 32″, microwave ovens, air conditioners, etc. Acceptable items such as personal computers can, however, be from any retail source and are not limited only to items purchased from Best Buy itself. There is an avalance of electronic waste poised for recycling so Best Buy has limited the participating stores to certain areas: Balitmore, Washington, D.C., Northern California, and others (see articles) to make sure they can handle it. Why would they do this? A spokesperson mentions the companies awareness of its social responsibilities. The true business-based motivation might be coming from potential revenues from waste materials and/or consumer goodwill and loyalty, but I’m just guessing. I can definitely say that if Best Buy keeps and expands this program they will definitely get my goodwill and future business. Programs like this are way long overdue in this country. Kudos and good luck to Best Buy!