Category Archives: Travel

Moon Makers

We’re back in space today, now that I’ve discovered NASA’s audacious plan to give the moon a moon,, which is actually a clever way to practice doing things that will be necessary for the later, longer, much-promised trip to Mars.

But we must always be mindful of the tendency of our great plans to create unintended consequences. My concern with any moon-related adventure is the potential negative effect it could have on an important global resource – our canon of Tin Pan Alley moon songs.

Really, these things are not to be messed with.

Fly me past the moon
So I can fetch the moon a moon
Picked up from an asteroid
as if in a cartoon.

We’ll call it the “Moon of Moon”.
I love to say “moon moon moon moon”.

Any rock will do,
we’re only practicing for Mars.
Rehearsing like teenagers,
who dream of driving cars.

It’s time to be on our way
I want to be plucking boulders

What a gift to give –
a friend to orbit, evermore.
So our moon won’t have to be
as moonless as before.

Let’s make this moon dream come true.
I want to say I’ve mooned you!

When has it been a big production to give a small gift?

Ask Dr. Babooner

We are ALL Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I was excited to hear there would be a solar eclipse to watch yesterday, until I discovered it wasn’t happening anywhere near me.

Not only that, by the time I worked out the location issue, the eclipse had already occurred, and other people were busy complaining that it was a letdown.

One person said on Twitter that he was “… mad at space.”

But that’s nothing compared to my disappointment, because I learned that all I could have to look forward to in terms of celestial events yesterday was a supermoon, and the vernal equinox, which is great but it’s like a band that comes to town every year – you kind of hope they’ll do something new.

And besides, the Supermoon is invisible right now, so it doesn’t even count.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of the seasons and the circle of life and all that stuff. But if there’s going to be an amazing solar eclipse, why can’t I be one of those people who flies on a private jet to see it from a luxuriously appointed yurt set up specifically for that purpose on a remote, cloudless hillside in the Faroe Islands?

Not only would it be fantastic to witness such a thing, I could use social media to brag to people that I had done it in the most expensive and extravagant way possible, which would make them feel the kind of intense envy that Facebook was invented to promote.

I know I’m special but I feel like my life is slipping by and I am only allowed to have ordinary experiences!

What’s with that?

Sincerely,
Bummed

I told Bummed that he is indeed special, but so is everyone else, which ultimately makes him ordinary.  He could go out of his way to collect extraordinary experiences, but it would have the odd effect of making exotic and unusual things quite common in his life. People who use their wealth to do this eventually come around to the feeling that they are missing out by not having mundane lives. So enjoy your dull opportunities! More zealous and financially able adventurers have to spend a lot of money to wind up in the very same place!

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Limerick Formation in Space

I had no idea there was an object in the asteroid belt big enough to be considered a “proto-planet.”   Ceres is about to get its close-up as a NASA probe closes in for a rendezvous in three months.

Ceres (pronounced SEER-eez) has enough gravity to hold itself in a spherical shape, and scientists think there may be some water there, but apparently that is still not enough to get past the “proto” stage, planet-wise. I confess I am not aware of the technical requirements for a space rock to advance beyond big-asteroid status, but there is some doubt that Ceres will ever qualify.

Why?  For me, a place is not a place unless it can generate a decent limerick.

Based on my remote amateur observations, Ceres will fall short, as witnessed by these promising starts that were never able to form fully functioning rhymes:

I.
There was a young fellow from Ceres
Who delighted in posing odd queries.
Such as, “Why do birds fly?”
And “What constitutes pie?” …

II.
There once was a woman from Ceres
an admirer of Timmy Leary’s.
She said “Let’s all drop out”
For she was no Girl Scout …

III.
An ill-defined creature from Ceres
Had appendages he called his “dearies”.
They were all rather cute,
but fell out of his suit …

Sorry, Ceres. Planetude seems very far away indeed.

To prove that you originate from a genuine place, write a limerick about where you’re from.

Connect Three

Here’s a new Trail Baboon feature – three connected topics I’ve seen this week. I would say it’s akin to a primate swinging from tree branch to tree branch, but baboons are known for spending most of their time on the ground.

1.  It starts with a nice tidy explanation of how GPS works from Jeff Blossom, who makes maps for journalist Paul Salopek’s seven-year-long globe spanning project, the Out of Eden Walk. Thanks to a group of satellites and Blossom’s maps, we can clearly see exactly where Salopek spent some time standing around in Saudi Arabia. Yes, this technology can track your loitering habits. Even when on a ambitious mission, it sometimes becomes necessary to wait.

2. Those satellites are an essential component in guiding the autonomous cars we were discussing this week. I found a lovely Google video that drives home the point that such cars would be a delight for the disabled, kids, and old people.

3. But there is always a dark cloud on the horizon, threatening to blow your candy-colored dream to smithereens. Like an enormous power grid and technology-destroying electromagnetic pulse from the sun. People (including some at the Defense Department) are considering the ramifications of such a calamity, but none more ardently than Rocky Rawlins of The Survivor Library, who I heard in an interview with Bob Garfield on the program On The Media.

Rawlings is collecting knowledge about how to accomplish basic tasks and build and operate old-world devices that pre-date the digital age. Like how to make and felt a hat, for instance.

As a person with a hat-necessary type of head, I appreciate this attention to detail. But I’m a bit leery of the alarm-junkie quality that many survivalists bring to the task. There seems to be a bit too much of the “I Told You So” quality to their planning – as if this is all a wonderfully fun set up to a supreme moment when the rest of us dullards realize they were right all along.

What priceless skill could you contribute to a smoldering Hellscape of a non-digital world?

Coming Soon To A Parking Lot Near You

The ideas-unconstrained-by-reality people are busy imagining the future in a world of self-driving cars. After all, the technicians need to know what to build, and the technology is moving forward at an amazing clip.

People at the design firm IDEO came up with three possible expressions of autonomous car technology.

Pretty impressive, and they even gave one of the vehicles a friendly-sounding name.

But why not name them all?

And while you’re at it, leave a few brain cells unoccupied to do the important work of imagining the worst that could happen.

Notion #1 is Marge, a family car that looks at your e-mail and your calendar and already knows where you want to go when you get into it.

How could this fail? A car with access to your e-mail might know where you ought to go and where you’re supposed to be, but one that looks at your Internet browsing history may fully understand where you’d rather be instead. When you get in your autonomous car you might not know who’s driving – is it your Id or your Super-Ego?

I guess we’ll find out when we get there.

Notion #2 is Cody, a delivery truck that is a nimble, see-through tube reminiscent of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, except it knows where you are and what you want. Combined with Amazon’s purchase-prediction software, these babies may be orbiting your neighborhood already stocked with what the algorithm says you are going to order.

How could this fail? Salespeople will ruin this for everybody by flooding neighborhoods with delivery vehicles that are cruising advertisements for the stuff inside. Imagine the narrow snowy streets of December clogged with gift-laden vehicles, each one jockeying to catch your eye.

Notion #3 is Dante’, a roving work station that is your portable office. Let it take you and your co-workers anywhere – for inspiration or collaboration.

How could this fail? Fights over the beach vs. the scenic overlook vs. the blank downtown brickscape where I can concentrate on this damn report I have to finish! Could we turn the office around so I can have the sun coming in on MY side for once? Do we really have to co-work with them in OUR parking lot today? Why don’t they ever invite us over to their place? Is there something wrong with it?

So many idea clouds, so many gun-metal gray linings. And there are so many notions the IDEO people didn’t suggest …

Notion #4 – is Sherlock, an autonomous chase vehicle that will follow you on that blind date you dread, and provide you with a quick getaway if it’s as awful as you fear it will be.

How could this fail? Hey, it looks like someone is following us. Hang on! My last girlfriend said I’m almost good enough to be a Hollywood stunt driver!

Notion #5 – is Budge, a Parking Space Holder. If we’re going to the Ordway Saturday night I’ll send Budge over there around 4pm to orbit Rice Park looking for one of those handy metered street parking spots to open up when the matinee crowd leaves. Twenty minutes before the curtain rises we’ll head over there in the second car (“Diva”) to trade places and claim our spot while Budge ambles home.

Notion #6 – is Flash Fleet, not a single autonomous car but rather a bit of software developed by highway hackers to commandeer large numbers of autonomous vehicles to “flood the zone”, creating targeted slowdowns and traffic jams at pre-arranged times in carefully selected places. The goal – anarchy.

How could this fail? Actually, this one is a no-brainer. It’s definitely going to happen, and it will be a terrific headache.

What else could happen?

Happy B’Day, Subway

Today is the 110th anniversary of the opening of the first underground segment of the New York City Subway System.

Whenever I go to Manhattan, the subway is how I get around. I think I’ve only been in a New York cab once. Everything about the taxi experience was troubling and question-producing. Will we get where we’re going? What will it cost? Does this driver really have a license? Are we going to die?

Compared to that, the subway is a paragon of predictability. The noise, the crowds, the graffiti and the unsavory smells of the underground train are exactly what I expect to find there, and because I’ve anticipated them, they are nothing more than minor inconveniences. And apparently I’m not alone. The NYC Subway system is setting ridership records. On six separate days in September, more than six million people used the subway.

NY_Subway_1904

You can see in this image from 1904 that the NYC Subway had a fresh look at the beginning. It makes me think of a Disney World ride – clean, attractive and harmless. I expect to see a jolly little choo-choo come puffing around that bend any moment, brimming with charming characters. But of course there is no connection – the Disney rides were built on the popularity of a cartoon mouse, while the NYC Subway system has the Norway Rat as its totem animal.

Those rats were tested recently. Researchers at Columbia University found that the subway rats carry around disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and single-celled organisms in amazing numbers, much in the same way subway cars carry all different types of unsavory humans around. There were 30 viral species, including a 18 viruses that were previously unknown to man.

Among the many rat-borne delights – the Seoul Hantavirus, which causes an Ebola-like hemorrhagic fever.

And yet – next time I go to New York, I will take the subway as my first transportation choice. Yes, there are risks, but a prudent traveler can manage these ordinary hazards with a few simple rules.

  • Don’t put your feet on the seats.
  • One seat per customer.
  • Don’t make eye contact.
  • Don’t lick any surfaces.
  • Don’t make eye contact with,  or lick,  any Norway Rats.
  • Enjoy your ride!

What’s your favorite mode of transport?

View Point Ahead

Today’s guest post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

One of the reasons I like to travel – especially when it’s “over the surface” of the country by car or train, is that I always come home with a slightly different perspective on my life.

Being in touch with all that space just gives one pause, and last month’s road trip to Utah is no exception. The highway (I-70) that we drove through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains was lined with aspens that look like yellow flames in the dark evergreen forests.

In southern Utah, one canyon made you think you’re in a cathedral, and the second must have been dropped there from another planet.

We noticed all kinds of little differences between there and home – names like Grizzly Creek and Hanging Lake; towns called Eagle, Leadville, Rifle, Yellowcat. Road signs warned of “Falling Rocks” or “Avalanche Area”.

And sure enough, several times along Utah’s scenic Highway 12, we slowed for small groups of cattle grazing in the ditch.

My favorite road sign, “View Point Ahead”, echoed my mood.

I am prepared to come home from any journey with a change in point of view – I look forward to it. This time I’ve arrived with shifted priorities, ready to explore what I can and cannot do with my life.

When have you known a change was coming?