• Dec. 2, 2005 |
Defending New Orleans: Over the coming week, New Orleanians who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina will be showing up to discuss the future of their city ... in places such as Atlanta, Memphis, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.
The town hall meetings are being organized by the Urban Land Institute, the American Planning Association, the Georgia Planning Association and the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, set up by Mayor Ray Nagin. The Urban Land Institute already has recommended that the best thing to do with the storm-ravaged city is to build it back into a place capable of luring back old residents and attracting new ones.
Is rebuilding the worst-hit areas worth the cost? That's a question that's drawn skeptical answers from Cosmic Log correspondents for more than a week. Curiously, there was little input in the beginning from the folks living in the most affected areas — which is understandable, because they generally have more pressing things to do than read some silly science blog. But all that changed once the critics had their say.
"I find it very offensive that people from all over the country are giving their opinion on whether or not to rebuild New Orleans — especially when that opinion is to not rebuild," Sarah from New Orleans wrote on Tuesday. "I'm sure these people would not appreciate people from New Orleans dictating what should happen or not happen in their town."
A self-described "Katrina Victim" addressed some particularly pointed comments to the Oklahomans who didn't want their tax dollars spent on Gulf Coast reconstruction: "Don't come bitching to me when your home gets blown over with a tornado. If you people are stupid enough to build in Tornado Alley, use your own money to save yourselves and rebuild your houses."
Here are more thoughts from the hurricane zone:
Eric L. Stockard, New Orleans: "I'm very surprised that no one actually from New Orleans was involved in the responses to 'New Venice, Louisiana.' I'm from New Orleans, and many of the points made hold no merit to the rebuilding of New Orleans itself. In fact, a majority of New Orleans' historical as well as economic viability is intact, but without the people it needs to rebuild and thrive, both tourists and residents. Neighborhoods that were wiped out completely could be redesignated as wetland-type buffer zones, but everyone has the idea that all of New Orleans has been destroyed; not so. A nation that has so much invested in barely supportable farming, Midwest flood destruction and tornadoes, West Coast earthquakes, multimillion (billion?)-dollar space shuttles blowing up over foam insulation, further subsidies for Amtrak, and a little thing called the war in Iraq should be a lot more supportive of one of its oldest surviving landmarks. Shame on you, America: Come to New Orleans and see the destruction and what remains of the world's greatest city. Your dollars can help rebuild New Orleans firsthand, and leave your tax dollars for the rest of a nation's follies that are also supported by New Orleans' contributions."Clark Smith, Slidell, La.: "What about earthquakes, tornadoes, floods in other parts of the country? Should those residents move and rebuild in a 'safer' location? Even people 10 miles from the waters edge had 8 feet of water in St. Tammany. Should they move? Walk a mile...."Karla, Baton Rouge, La.: "Many people are saying don't rebuild New Orleans because there will likely be flooding again. That argument doesn't hold water, so to speak. If we use that argument, then we shouldn't build in the West, which is prone to forest fire and earthquake damage; we shouldn't rebuild the Midwest, which is prone to tornadoes; we shouldn't build on mountains, which are prone to ice storms and avalanches; we shouldn't rebuild any of Florida, all of which is subject to multiple hurricanes every year. And on and on and on ... Whatever is decided is OK by me, but the argument that there is the potential for damage again? That just doesn't fly."Dan Harding, Metairie, La.: "Quite simply, New Orleans and the surrounding areas can be and should be rebuilt, but a regional board is needed for the entire Gulf Coast area. One way to help fund Category 5 levees is to make them commercially viable, like boardwalks with businesses. The entire Interstate 10 should be elevated throughout the city. The airport should be moved to New Orleans East, and runways constructed to avoid residential areas. A new football stadium should be built at the existing site of the airport. Mass transportation should be considered for the entire region with high-speed trains and more streetcars throughout all the parishes. These high-speed trains should include the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida gulf coast. Inland shelters should be built with the high-speed trains having direct access to them for evacuation purposes. The new airport should have more than taxis to transport people, such as streetcars, and boats to downtown. Give the new stadium waterway access for Northshore residents and out-of-towners visiting for the Super Bowl. The new stadium will also have an airport runway. There is so much that can be done. All we need is creative minds. Also, in the city, the euro and yen can also be used for currency. This will attract financial markets and international interest. After all, New Orleans is scarcely an American city."Louie Bonnecarre, New Orleans: "To Sid Bryan from Coatesville, Ind., who calls New Orleans a pit .... To J. Long from Oklahoma City, who calls New Orleanians stupid to build in the same spot ... To others who refuse to have a heart for your fellow Americans in the Gulf Coast region, may you one day find love in your heart. You few epitomize why Americans are perceived around the world as heartless and arrogant."The reality for me and many others in the New Orleans metropolitan area is that the vast majority of Americans have a big heart. The outpouring of love from the American people has given this community hope and determination that we can overcome this immense adversity. Many New Orleanians have made their way back to the surrounding areas of our city in the hope we can salvage a lifetime of belongings and rebuild a place that is dear to our hearts."We have worked our waterways to become the leading seafood industry in the country. Thirty percent of gas supplied to the nation comes from locals working on the oil rigs and refineries. We are the gateway to the Mississippi River and have one of the top ports in the country. We have provided so much more in particular culturally that it would take forever to elaborate on. That is why it is mentally crippling to hear these negative responses during these times of heartache and despair."To truly understand the devastation of our beloved city is to be here and feel what is currently lost. The hearts of true New Orleanians may be broken, but we will never give up on our city, because we treasure our way of life. The distinct neighborhoods and blending of cultures have made us who we are today. We are genuine, considerate, and the friendliest people on earth. Other places have plenty more to offer right now but could never give us what we truly miss and need: our city and its people."Together we will overcome this adversity and get back to our lives as we knew it before this manmade disaster, because it's part of our makeup. It's why we are back and willing to sacrifice the conveniences we can get anywhere else right now. To the dismay of the few heartless, and to the majority of the American people who will always have a special place in this city's heart, we will persevere through determination and hard work. A true reflection of this great city and its people."
Meanwhile, a Floridian provided a welcome reality check for visions of a new New Orleans laced with European-style canals, or set back farther inland from the flood zone:
Mike, Pensacola, Fla.: "Regarding the recommendations to reflood New Orleans and making it into 'Venice on the Gulf,' I would just bring a historical perspective to the table. The city was not below sea level until they began draining the swamps to protect the city from outbreaks of mosquito-borne illness. Leaving large areas under standing water is going to make the city a very unpleasant place to live or visit, and canals will compound the problem. If you've ever spent time in New Orleans in August, you know what I mean! Mosquitoes, oppressive humidity, and that particular aroma that defines New Orleans ... aren't we trying to improve the quality of life there? Also, the suggestions to move the city inland are as ridiculous as they are not feasible. The Port of New Orleans serves not only the entire Gulf region and international markets, but is still the gateway to ship traffic in the nation's interior. Its location makes sense, even if its topography doesn't. If you want to relocate cities, let's start with the retirement resort cities in South Florida ... I'm tired of paying higher insurance premiums to rebuild their beachside condos!"
• Dec. 2, 2005 |
R.I.P. in space: The news that a bit of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper's mortal remains will be going into orbit has sparked interest from folks who follow the development of the commercial space industry. HobbySpace's Clark Lindsey observes that such final flights "may become a significant business once transport to space becomes lower in cost and more frequent." At least one Cosmic Log reader is intrigued:
Rockey Lutz: "Hey, I have always thought that when I die I would love to be sent to space. So now I can visit with Scotty. Do you know what this costs the common man? Probably need to start saving…"
Space Services' Web site has a price list ranging from $995 (for putting a gram of cremated remains into Earth orbit) to $12,500 (for sending a sample to the moon or deep space). It's important to note that this price doesn't cover the actual cremation or other matters that would typically have to be taken care of before Space Services gets involved.
• Dec. 2, 2005 |
Weekend field trips on the World Wide Web:
• The New Yorker: Q&A on Darwin in the courtroom
• Sciencedude: Meet space buckaroo Elon Musk
• BBC: When science meets God• Discovery.com: Monkeys have accents, too
• Dec. 1, 2005 |
A Crab feast for the eyes: The latest view of the Crab Nebula is so big that one Hubble Space Telescope image couldn't cover it all at once. It took 24 individual exposures by Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, over a time span of more than a year, to capture the data rolled up into the high-resolution mosaic released today.
The Crab, a favorite target for astrophotographers, is actually the remnant of a supernova explosion 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus. The stellar blast was seen by Japanese and Chinese astronomers in the year 1054, and was apparently recorded by New Mexico's Anasazi Indians as well.
Check out the European Space Agency's Hubble site for a way-cool video showing what the blast might have looked like back then, as well as a zoom-in view that can help you locate the nebula in the night sky.
Today's image advisory from the Space Telescope Science Institute's HubbleSite explains that the nebula takes its name from its appearance in a drawing made by British astronomer Lord Rosse in 1844, using a 36-inch telescope.
In Hubble's new view, the colors represent different chemical emissions from the nebula, which spans six light-years in width. Here's what HubbleSite has to say about the color scheme:
"The orange filaments are the tattered remains of the star and consist mostly of hydrogen. The rapidly spinning neutron star embedded in the center of the nebula is the dynamo powering the nebula's eerie interior bluish glow. The blue light comes from electrons whirling at nearly the speed of light around magnetic field lines from the neutron star. The neutron star, like a lighthouse, ejects twin beams of radiation that appear to pulse 30 times a second due to the neutron star's rotation."
• Dec. 1, 2005 |
We hear you, New Orleans: The e-mail response to our discussion of New Orleans' fate didn't attract much of a response from New Orleans itself — until Tuesday, when a number of Cosmic Log correspondents from elsewhere questioned whether rebuilding the city was worth the expense. I'll be putting together a selection of the feedback from the hurricane zone for Friday's offerings, so stay tuned — and keep those virtual cards and letters coming. In the meantime, check out the past week's Daily Nightly dispatches and Rising From Ruin for more post-Katrina perspectives.
• Dec. 1, 2005 |
Scientific smorgasbord on the World Wide Web:
• Men's Health: 18 tricks to teach your body (via GeekPress)
• • Christian Sci. Monitor: Nature teaches engineers new tricks• Defense Tech: Spooks = Bloggers
• Nov. 30, 2005 |
Einstein-a-thon on the Web: The World Year of Physics goes into its final month with a Big Bang — a 12-hour marathon Webcast on Thursday that hops from Geneva to Egypt, from Jerusalem to Venice, from London to the South Pole.
From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, physicists and educators will hold forth on time travel and neutrinos, the legacy of Albert Einstein's theories and the puzzles yet to be solved. And along the way, even MSNBC.com will come in for a little of relativity's reflected glory.
Our interactive presentation on "Putting Einstein to the Test" is one of the winners in the Pirelli Relativity Challenge for the best multimedia presentations explaining special relativity. The contest, which is presenting its awards at the Telecom Future Center in Venice on Thursday, drew about 250 entries from 40 countries.
MSNBC.com won the award for the "most comprehensive effort for the celebration of the International Year of Physics on the Net." The €25,000 ($30,000) grand prize went to Canada's Kiran Sachdev for an interactive multimedia animation called "Al's Relativistic Adventures."
Although Al's adventures aren't online in their entirety, you can check out a slide show of screenshots from Sachdev's entry and other finalists. Some of the other top entries can be found on the Web, including "The Great Relativity Show" and "Enlightening Ideas."
• Nov. 30, 2005 |
Relativity reading list: There's been such a wealth of books this year about Einstein's unfinished business that it's impossible to choose just one. Over the course of this Einstein year, I've had occasion to mention "Warped Passages" by Lisa Randall and "Hiding in the Mirror" by Lawrence Krauss. Other books include "The Road to Reality" by Roger Penrose, "Big Bang" by Simon Singh and even the paperback edition of "The Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene.
But in keeping with our tradition for the Cosmic Log Used Book Club, I'd have to go with "A Briefer History of Time" by Stephen Hawking as this (just concluding) month's selection. After all, it's really a quicker-paced version of Hawking's original "Brief History of Time," updated with references to dark energy and other puzzles that have arisen since 1988. John Linebarger of Roscoe, Ill., says it's one of his "favorite cosmically themed books" — and to reward his suggestion, I'm sending him a copy of "God Created the Integers," edited with commentary by Hawking.
Do you have other recommendations for books on cosmic themes? Send them in, and I'll pass along a selection of the suggestions.
• Nov. 30, 2005 |
Wonder and whimsy on the World Wide Web:
• Nature: Too much sex can be bad for lizards• • Improbable Research: 'Beer goggle' equation-o-mania• The Onion: Terrorist has no idea what to do with plutonium
• Nov. 29, 2005 |
New Venice, Louisiana: What is to be done with flood-ravaged New Orleans? That was the focus of controversy last week, on the airwaves and in the newspapers. The Big Easy's fate continues to generate debate — particularly as the multibillion-dollar cost estimates for rebuilding the city roll in.
Even the Dutch, who have centuries of experience in holding back floodwaters, are offering their support this week. The dikes and high-tech floodgates that protect Amsterdam and other Dutch cities have been held up as an example for New Orleans to emulate.
But to judge by the e-mail input from readers, a different European city comes to mind: Venice. That sinking Italian city has its own problems, of course, but a good many of those who responded to last week's item suggested that New Orleanians should find a way to work with the floods rather than try to beat them.
Some sided with engineer/oceanographer Joe Suhayda's view that the city should be "re-engineered" by filling in the low spots and fortifying the existing levee system with backup floodwalls. Others suggested that it was high time for the worst-hit coastal residents to cut their losses and move inland. But barely anyone suggested that the city should be rebuilt exactly as it was before Hurricane Katrina hit.
Here's a sampling of the feedback:
Patrick Bishop, Caldwell, N.J.: "In addition to filling New Orleans' low areas with sediment, here are four more options: 1. Practical: Buy out and bulldoze the area that tends to flood and just let it stay flooded. 2. Socially conscious: Pass retroactive building codes requiring homes and businesses built below sea level to be water-tight and/or have flood insurance ... and inflatable rafts. 3. Picturesque: Add to the city's charm by rebuilding the low areas with canals as a tres chic "Venice on the Gulf." 4. Mad Scientist: Build a huge dam connecting the tip of Florida to Cuba, Haiti/Dominican Republic, etc., all the way to Grenada, Trinidad and Venezuela. Put a highway and railroad on top of it, pump out the Gulf of Mexico, then let the Atlantic back in through hydroelectric stations ... but slowly enough for evaporation to keep the Gulf from ever refilling. Hurricanes? What hurricanes?"Matthew Rees, Spokane, Wash.: "I think that an idea that perhaps has not been thought of would be to reflood the city. I know that sounds crazy, and I am not talking about all parts of the city that were flooded from the storm, but the massively damaged areas could be built into an American-style Venice. ... Builders could construct homes and business much like the ones in Venice, Italy. This would in some respects even fit the stereotyping of New Orleans with its French and European look. ..."John Carle, "Instead of building new dikes and sea walls, why not build up the land, as suggested, but even higher, and build canals between two-block-wide fingers of higher ground, a la Venice, but higher. Don't fight the sea, but use it."T. Boswell: "One solution we have yet to hear regarding the rebuilding of New Orleans is to build in more canals, instead of floodwalls. The topography lends itself to a city of canals. These could be narrower and flow from the lake to the sea." Ray Morford, Monrovia, Calif.: "Rebuilding levees is No. 1, after officials decide which part of New Orleans is to be saved. Moving river soil for fill-in makes sense and helps the river also. We should take a lesson from the Netherlands when it comes to building levees."Sid Bryan, Coatesville, Ind.: "It makes little sense to pour billions of dollars into a pit that is most likely to be flooded again in our lifetime. Come up with a modest plan for rebuilding that makes sense economically and environmentally, and have one of those famous New Orleans funerals for the rest. R.I.P."Tom Hare, "As a land manager and scientist, it seems that the rebuilding of New Orleans must ultimately filter through sound science and good engineering. Business and political interests must and should be expressed in the public forum. But in the end, what is ultimately done has to be something that will last longer than the next storm and must take into account the geologic realities of trying to maintain a city below sea level — one that continues to sink each and every year. Independent analysis would require the obvious: Low parts of the city cannot be permanently habitated, regardless of political will. Nature and science will ultimately rule. Partial repopulation is within this realm, anything else is not."Wayne Thornton, Durham, N.C.: "I agree that certain areas should be protected at a worst-case level. Also, some areas should be abandoned. Further, it is good sense to build redundant levels of protection. What I don't hear is a comprehensive approach, and especially I don't hear anything about a sustainable approach. It would seem that we need the buffers of the lost wetlands first. These wetlands could possibly become appropriately fished and be a place to commune with nature. These areas could be inundated and drained in the natural course of things. A second zone could be established for residential and light commercial use, protected to some extent by barrier and also by building style that appropriately responds to some flooding. A third level would be the intense, high-value areas with permanent, worst-case barriers."J. Long, Oklahoma City, Okla.: "The bigger question is not can it be rebuilt but should it be rebuilt? I personally say no. Not with my tax dollars. That is very much like paying for these extravagant beachside homes that routinely get wiped out by hurricanes, and the same stupid people keep rebuilding in the same spot. All that would stop if they did not get government dollars to do it with. This is stupid. Pick a spot that is not subject to the same threat and build there.Ed Wallan, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada: "I am strongly opposed to rebuilding areas of New Orleans that are vulnerable to a repeat of Katrina, or worse. Let's heed the signs of global warming and the accompanying increase in the intensity and number of storms. Why set up an expensive target for a hurricane to shoot at?"Bill, Davie, Fla.: "Being a part-time (inland) Florida resident affected by Wilma, I truly feel sorry for all in the New Orleans area, but I believe they've got to 'bite the bullet' and head inland. Rebuild an area for shipping, etc., but the rest really should be moved inland. Why tempt fate?"Merrill McCarthy, Montreal, Quebec: "The Dutch have successfully protected their entire country against the North Sea, because their very survival depends on it. It is not technology that will rebuild New Orleans. The only component currently missing is collective will. The federal government made many promises to the rebuilding effort. Now it's time to step up and deliver."Scott: "Why not make the new 'New Orleans' into the starting ground of a new 'SuperCity'? I have heard about super structures for cities in the future that are being designed already. These have structures that are miles long. I am sure that a scaled-down version of it could be done to fill in the 'holes.' They were originally designed for Japan and its needs, including tsunamis and typhoons. ..."Mitch Johnson, Oklahoma City, Okla.: "I love New Orleans and consider the French Quarter my favorite place to visit. I can understand the devotion residents feel, but enough is enough. Rebuild with all those billions somewhere else, miles from the flood-prone area. It's not the location as much as the history. Take as many of the original structures as is financially reasonable to the new site to give it some nostalgia and make it way better. I will come, if you build it."Jeffrey C. Reavis, "It is time to look to the future. It is time to forget construction methods of the past. If you choose to remain there and rebuild, then the entire city must be elevated above flood stage. This will be a major undertaking, being that since there is no bedrock, concrete footings will be massive. The city will end up looking like something from the future, elevated above nothing more than a swamp. Same goes for future construction of homes in the tornado-prone areas of the Midwest. There again, think to the future. Build houses that actually retract into the ground when the tornado alert is sounded. The biggest hurdle is not man's ability to look into the future and conceive, design and make it so, but cutting through the red tape of man's own hubris. Let's face it, we are now in regression as a civilization. We are bogged down by our own greed and ignorance."James Mitchem, Rocky Mount, Va.: "America rebuilt San Francisco after the earthquake. We rebuilt Chicago after the fire. Not rebuilding New Orleans is simply not an option. It's not a matter of it not being possible in terms of science, because it is possible. It's a matter of politics and public policy. In the end I have no doubt New Orleans will be rebuilt. It's an important port city, vital to the region's economic interests. The question is, how will we rebuild it? Will the New Orleans of the future face the next Katrina with Category 5 protection, or will the city be swamp again 25 to 50 years down the road? Will we fill in the fishbowl or will we wait to see if New Orleans is turned into a lake twice? My main hope coming out of Katrina is that America would learn something about taking the selfish short-term view. Apparently we have learned nothing."
• Nov. 29, 2005 |
An award for the alert: For the past few months, we've been offering a jury-rigged e-mail alert system to let the sharper-eyed Cosmic Log fans know when the latest batch of postings has been published. I haven't made a big deal out of it, and I confess that I don't always get the alert out in a timely fashion. Nevertheless, people still sign up for the alerts — and this week we logged our 500th subscriber. For his pains (and his plain old luck), Marcus Stitler of Phoenix will be getting a copy of "The Theory of Almost Everything" by Robert Oerter, as well as a press-preview DVD of "Origins," the public-TV miniseries hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Congrats to Marcus, and thanks to all our alert subscribers for sticking with us.
• Nov. 29, 2005 |
Scientific talking points on the World Wide Web:
• BBC: Science faces 'dangerous times'
• New Scientist: Air guitarists' rock dreams come true
• Nov. 28, 2005 |
Santa-tracking season: The grand tradition of putting Santa under radar surveillance on Christmas Eve celebrates a golden anniversary this year — and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, is marking the milestone with a NORAD Santa Web site that's been retooled to keep closer tabs on the Jolly Old Elf than ever before.
"There's a new team that's taken over the site," said Maj. Darren Steele, deputy director of NORAD public affairs. "It's been completely reworked."
The military has taken on the task of checking up on Santa as a volunteer activity ever since 1955, when someone misprinted a Yuletide hotline so that it rang up Col. Harry Shoup's hotline at the Continental Air Defense Command instead. When CONAD became NORAD in 1958, the joint U.S.-Canadian airspace monitoring agency inherited the Santa-watching job as well.
Today, the all-volunteer operation takes care of the Santa hotline (1-877-HI-NORAD, with live updates starting at 9 a.m. ET Christmas Eve) and a mail-forwarding address for Mr. Claus (NorthPole@OfficialSantaMail.com) — plus the online tracking site, which NORAD and its civilian partners set up back in 1997.
On that first online Christmas Eve, the site was inundated with hits, but since then the folks behind the NORAD Santa site have gotten a lot more Internet-savvy. They're even offering MP3 files of holiday music recorded by military bands, for heaven's sake. Last year, the Web site recorded 912 million hits from 181 countries during the month of December, and averaged 200 e-mails a day, according to a NORAD news release.
This year's reworked site was officially unveiled just last week, and Steele told me that "we are already receiving in the neighborhood of 200 e-mails a day." This could be the year that NORAD Santa breaks the billion-hit mark.
The proof of the pudding will come on Christmas Eve, when NORAD goes into near-real-time tracking mode to monitor Santa's progress around the world. Steele said the new Web site should provide "faster updates on where Santa's going."
Master Sgt. John Tomassi, co-director of Santa tracking operations, said that following along on the maps should give kids some valuable geography lessons — and help them understand how NORAD does its job on the other 364 days of the year.
"I think in the initial stages, back in the ’50s and ’60s, it was just a novelty kind of thing," Tomassi observed. "A lot of people — children and their families — do this tracking Santa as a tradition in their family.
"We've recognized now that people have taken this program as a tradition, and what we can do is educate them. We do track Santa; however, we do provide for the defense of the North American aerospace also. We use the satellites to track Santa, we use the radar, we use jet fighters, but all of those exact same things are what we use to monitor the aerospace of North America."
For additional perspectives on the Santa-tracking beat, check out these holiday classics:
- NASA's "Santa Track" program — which is a Yuletide version of the space agency's popular satellite-tracking tools.
- "Santa's Science," in which British science writer Roger Highfield explains why Santa's technology goes far beyond the capabilities of even NORAD.
• Nov. 28, 2005 |
Science re-Seeded: Seed magazine has retooled its Web site to make more of its science-and-culture-oriented content freely available, ranging from online-only roundups to long-form exclusives ("What Happens When Science Is Made in China?") to cover stories from past issues ("The Dover Monkey Trial").
Just today, Seed unveiled a new portal to science-oriented content from all over the Web, called Phylotaxis. It's a high-concept, non-linear portal that still needs to have some of the bugs worked out. For example, some of the links go to different versions of the same story at different times. Nevertheless, it's a noble experiment that's well worth playing with as time goes on.
Seed's founder and editor-in-chief, Adam Bly, said there are more experiments to come, including an online offering that will take advantage of the blogosphere. "We're going to be making an announcement in the next few weeks on that," he told me today.
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