I don't think it was really the weather's fault...

Following a headline from CNN's website I read this article: Winter weather causes 50 car pile-up. The article was scant on details, but for some reason I'm skeptical that it's really the fault of the weather that this massive pile up occurred. Seems to me the headline should read something like "Crappy driving results in 50-car pile-up during slippery road conditions".

My favorite part of the article, however, is at the bottom:

The crash happened right in front of WAVY News 10's Lori Crouch and photojournalist Matt Mrozinski. They watched as accident victims went to check on others.

"Our employees sat around and did nothing while other people made sure no one was seriously injured. More at eleven."

Nostalgia for the Future

This morning the Endeavour orbiter launched from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center carrying people and equipment into space. Only four more shuttle launches will occur and the fleet of orbiters will be retired in mid-September. When that happens, America will lose the ability to put a man in space.

Many will argue that putting people in space or on the moon is/was pointless and a waste of money. Those with this attitude will kindly turn their attention to the list of NASA spin-off technologies. This list includes (among many others) LEDs, in-ear thermometers, and improved water purification systems. There are also countless other improvements in technologies driven by NASA's need for more efficient and more reliable equipment.

President Obama's budget plan for 2011 removes all funding for the Constellation Program, which would have led to the development of a new vehicle for transporting humans in to space. If the cancellation of funds occurs (which is pretty close to a sure thing) then the United States will not be able to put people in space for the foreseeable future. This saddens me. We've given up on exploring space in any serious manner. We haven't been to the moon since 1972. All the astronauts still living that walked on the moon are in their 70s. Another ~20 years and there will be no person alive who walked on the moon. Isn't that kind of sad?

I wasn't alive when any of the astronauts walked on the moon; but I am still filled with wonder at the idea of stepping foot on a different celestial body. While Star Trek is fiction, I think its tag-line embodies the sense of awe several generations have held about being able to put people into space: "...to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before". It expresses the desire to seek out knowledge for the sake of learning.

The mission wasn't "to find and commercialize new civilizations and technologies, to open new markets for our products, to boldy make a buck where no man has made a buck before." Unfortunately, that seems to be mantra of our society. NASA operates on a shoestring budget, the National Labs have (essentially) been privatized to focus on making money (goodbye long-term original research projects to discover more about the universe), public education is about rubber stamping every kid's high-school diploma, and being educated is nerdy and undesirable.

I miss the future we were promised as kids. A world where space exploration was common. A world where man's search for knowledge and understanding overcame petty differences of culture and societal status.

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I've always wanted to watch a shuttle launch and time is running out. Jess and I are hoping to take a trip to see the final flight of the Atlantis orbiter in May.

On September 24, 2010, when the Discovery lands, marking the end of U.S. manned spaceflight, I hope everyone can pause for a moment to reflect on what we've lost.

Photography Class

Jess and I found the local camera club and signed up to be in their photography class offered through Park & Rec. The first class was last week and was a bit of overview and instruction on all the features the cameras have, what they mean, and how to adjust them.

Tonight's class was about lighting and how it will affect the quality and mood of your photos. It's pretty fun. They ask students to bring pictures each week so they can show them on the projector and provide a light critique to help us improve. Jess and I both received very favorable reviews on our pictures.

I wanted to take a composed shot from a figurine lit with candles. However, options are kind of limited in terms of what you can do when you don't own a tripod or any other fancy/handy equipment. I was able to get a really nice picture though. I used a stack of books as my tripod, and my background is the carpet and a beige throw hung over a music stand:
IMGP0155Jess took these two pictures of some flowers I gave her in celebration of HollyDay:
IMGP0284c IMGP0275b

HollyDay 2010

We've decided to call January 26 a "HollyDay" (Jess' middle name is Holly), as it marks the anniversary of the day Jess was released from the hospital with a vote of confidence that she was officially no longer dying.

We celebrated by having dinner at an Italian restaurant in Pleasanton, and then swinging by the Cheesecake Factory to bring home dessert.

I think it's safe to say that things are rather different now than they were a year ago—and rather for the better.

I don't know about the rest of you but I'm glad Jess survived.

Photography is not Terrorism

I've seen a handful of news articles recently concerning law enforcement agencies branding photography as a terrorism related activity.

A new campaign by the Chicago Transit Authority suggests that civilians report photographers the same way they should report unattended packages and suspicious persons (coverage by NBC Chicago: Losing Focus: CTA Warns Against Excessive Photography).

There was also a recent article about photographers in the United Kingdom protesting the police's ability (under anti-terrorism laws) to stop and search anyone for any or no reason; which, apparently, has been used as the excuse to harass photographers (CNN is carrying this story: Photographers protest over UK terror law). Luckily for them the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this legal power is a violation human rights.

But, on to the main point (there are hundreds of similar articles about photographers being harassed under the guise of anti-terrorism). At first glance we would probably think that it likely for terrorists (or would-be terrorists) to take photographs of the locations they're planning to attack. It's what happens in all the movies, right? Well, it is, in fact, entirely wrong.

I'd highly recommend reading through Bruce Schneier's essay on the matter from June 2008: The War on Photography. He covers the topic far better than I could.

Go read the whole thing (it's only about a page), but here's the most relevant excerpts:

Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.
Except that it's nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn't photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn't photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn't photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren't being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn't known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about -- the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 -- no photography.

So why the focus on photography?

Because it's a movie-plot threat.
A movie-plot threat is a specific threat, vivid in our minds like the plot of a movie. You remember them from the months after the 9/11 attacks: anthrax spread from crop dusters, a contaminated milk supply, terrorist scuba divers armed with almanacs. Our imaginations run wild with detailed and specific threats, from the news, and from actual movies and television shows. These movie plots resonate in our minds and in the minds of others we talk to. And many of us get scared.

Now go read the whole article to see why movie-plot threats are the stupidest thing to guard against.

And don't harass photographers for taking pictures.