Thursday, June 22, 2017

Extraterrestrial Landscapes

13 years after its 90-day mission was expected to be completed, NASA's Opportunity rover keeps paying dividends, including this landscape picture of Endeavour Crater on Mars. That's a credit to brilliant engineering, solar power, and luck.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The sky is the ultimate art gallery just above us."

See more on Jason Major's Lights in the Dark site.

NASA Opportunity Rover, JPL, Jason Major ~ Endeavour Crater

Saturday, June 17, 2017


The Martha's Vineyard Film Center screened the documentary Obit this week. It was reassuring to learn that my long-held fascination and daily habit of reading obituaries is shared by many.

Director Vanessa Gould quickly dispels widely held judgments and fears about obituaries. Though the word obit comes from the Latin word obitus for death and ruin, obituaries are much more about life than death. Gould takes you inside the newsroom at The New York Times where the paper's team of obit writers explain their craft of "storytelling" through cinema verite interviews.

They start with the basics. An obit's lede covers the who, what, where, and when. Its second paragraph explains the cause of death, along with the confirmation source, a requirement since the NYT mistakenly published an obit about a still-living Russian ballerina. The majority of an obit tells the story of a life, within word-count ranges of 400 to 15,000 words, which was the length of Pope John Paul II's obit.

The team at the Times says their obits aren't always news as much as newsworthy. For example, obit writer Bruce Weber is shown preparing an obituary about William P. Wilson. Who? Wilson was newsworthy because he applied Max Factor Creme Puff makeup on JFK before his historic first televised debate with Richard Nixon. An estimated 77 million Americans watched the debate which most believe put Kennedy on the trajectory to victory by a margin of one-tenth of one percent. Interestingly, those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon won. Weber watches a black and white video of the debate, and ad-libs majestically about Kennedy's trim suit, poise and charm; and then sniggers about Nixon's shifty eyes, flop sweat and ill-fitting suit. The NYT's liberal leanings pervade even its obituaries.

Most of the interview segments with Weber are shot at his desk, except for a couple of trips to the coffee machine to help with deadlines. There is no small irony that Keith Richards' memoir, aptly titled Life, sits on his desk. Part of Richards' rock and roll lore was his prodigious appetite for drugs and alcohol which put him at the top of the "rockers most likely to die" list for many years. He's now 73.

Also interviewed is the irreplaceable (and irrepressible) Jeff Roth, the white buck-shoed researcher in the Times' morgue, a pre-Internet archive of files stuffed with yellowed clippings and photographs, including "advances" - the files on the famous and infamous that are maintained until death.

The New York Times ~ Jeff Roth

Here's the NYT's review on Obit.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Is Sexism Dead?

On Sunday I stopped at Grey Barn farm in Chilmark to get some cheese and meat. A little boy of around four was running excitedly like an airplane in the farmyard. He ran up to my car window and asked breathlessly, "Guess who I am?" I answered, "Superman!" He replied, "Noooo, I'm Wonder Woman!"
DC Comics ~ Wonder Woman

Friday, June 9, 2017

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Coming Soon to the Sky Near You

On Monday, August 21, sky observers may experience the first total solar eclipse of the sun visible across the United States since 1918. NASA has a web site with resources dedicated to the event: Total Solar Eclipse 2017.

Two months before the eclipse, beginning June 20, the USPS will issue commemorative stamps that use "thermochromic ink, which reacts to the heat of your touch. Placing your finger over the black disc on the stamp causes the ink to change from black to clear to reveal an underlying image of the moon. The image reverts back to the black disc once it cools."

Send some snail mail, have fun, be safe, and hope for a clear day.

For East Coasters, the eclipse will peak around 2:45 pm EDT.

United States Postal Service

United States Postal Service

Monday, May 29, 2017

Movie Stars

Roger Moore's death brought out lots of affection and kind remembrances from his fellow actors and movie fans for his grace and good humor. A bevy of "Bond girls" sang his praises as a leading man. He was warm, funny, and humble too. A Facebook story about an airport encounter in 1983 with a seven-year-old boy went viral on Facebook, for good reason.

I had an encounter with a movie star the summer of 1966 when I was eight years old. Burt Lancaster was acting in The Swimmer, a movie based on John Cheever's New Yorker magazine short story.  It was filmed in Westport, Connecticut, with some scenes shot in my neighborhood in Greens Farms not far from the Sherwood Island Connector.

Lancaster was in a robe, sitting alone in a director's chair outside his trailer. I walked up to him and asked, "Mr. Lancaster, may I have your autograph?"

He stood up, looked me up and down twice, and said, "Get lost, kid."

Burt Lancaster ~ The Swimmer ~ Sherwood Island Connector