Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Finding Ada: Fourth Planet On The Left

Today is Finding Ada day, a day to celebrate and recognise women in technology. And this year, my heroine in technology is Veronica McGregor.

Now you may not recognise this name, and I'd be very surprised if you did. Veronica is the head of the news office for JPL, and she is also the voice behind the Shorty Award Winner for Science, the Mars Phoenix Lander on Twitter.

Veronica is doubly my heroine, because she managed to bring a very important scientific mission into the light and she did it by giving a far distant exploration robot a first person voice. She told the story of humanity finding water on Mars.

I'll let that sink in for a moment. She was the voice of humanity as we touched the face of another planet. How freakin' cool is that.

I can't tell you how many of my friends tuned into the Mars Phoenix twitter feed, every day, waiting with bated breath to hear if the sun had come up yet on another planet. To see if the heaters had come on or if the robotic arm had thawed enough to scoop a bit of Martian soil into an oven for analysis. We clicked the links to see a glimpse of this distant world. We cheered aloud when the little robot found evidence of ice. The building block for life, on another planet. It was literally science fiction made fact.

I was enraptured by the story this little robot told me of her experiences.

And I literally cried when she went dark. As the Martian winter took over, and wind (we got pictures of wind on another planet) kicked up dust that covered the solar panels, every day MarsPhoenix would try valiantly to power up and do another little bit of exploring. Until the day came when she could no longer do so, and she sent her final tweet in binary code:
01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000 <3
Triumph. With a less than three heart at the end.

Veronica, I can't thank you enough for the gift of that little robot. You gave us science in a powerful and passionate form. You made our hearts soar with possibilities. You are a true heroine of technology.

MarsPhoenix epitaphs were chosen from over a thousand submissions, and one of the final three was this:
It is enough for me. But for you, I plead: go farther, still. ~Fernando Rojas
YES. Go farther, still. Read about Cassini and the Mars Rovers landers. Read about science that is expanding humanity's understanding of our solar system. Tell stories that sweep us off our feet and out into the vast reaches of space, like the true explorers of old.

Veronica, thank you for leading the way. We are eternally in your debt.

ETA: My friend Eilidh works at JPL and forwarded my post to Veronica McGregor. Her response is below:

Oh my gosh! Thank you so so much for sending this to me. I’m absolutely honored that your friend would think of me on this day. This blog post, on this day, means more to me than any Shorty Award :-)

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to find a hanky.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Zombie Story: 140 Characters At A Time

A Zombie Story: 140 Characters At A Time
Originally published on Twitter, 1/28/2009

ACT ONE: Babes In Manger

You know that place out on the edge of the High Desert, where the big cargo planes come in loud and low over the hard pan? Yeah, you know it.

It's the bitter edge of nowhere.Where they bring back the war dead from distant lands,coffins draped with flags we're never supposed to see.

We were sitting in the diner, mouthful of cold eggs and black coffee, when we heard the dull roar resolve into sputtering engines. Not good.

Gotta hand it to the pilot. Laid it down like a babe in a manger. Well, you all know how that story ended.

When the dust cleared, all we could see was a tangle of brush and barbed wire wrapped around a grey green fuselage. Engines dead. Silence.

Jace was the first one to open the door. I saw him cover his face and grimace. Then the stench hit me. Part slaughterhouse, part roadkill.

It was like watching a bad B movie. He disappeared into darkness and all I heard was the screaming. And the crunching of flesh and bone.

ACT TWO: Potter's Field

We fell back in horror just as the sun crested the ridge. Daybreak in Mojave is hard & cold. Backlit through dust & smoke, the dead emerged.

Grady muttered something about the 12 gauge in his pickup. Magda crossed herself. I dug out my cell and tried to focus enough to dial 911.

The field between the wreckage and the diner was pockmarked with gopher holes and rusted out hulks of old metal. Chevy, Kubota, Evinrude.

Grady had the right idea. The rest of us stood like dumb cattle waiting for the hammer. The blast from his shotgun woke us from our stupor.

The air rushed back in and sound with it. Someone was still screaming but the sound was muted by the grating chorus of their rotted throats.

We fell back, stumbling and crawling, thinking, like Custer must have, only of the safety of retreat. The diner. Phones. The myth of sanity.

My ears were ringing. Almost there when I heard Grady curse a blue streak. The shuck shuck of the shotgun was followed by a hollow click.

I could see them. Burnt flesh, shattered ends of ribs sticking out through their BDUs. Morning light glinting off their gore slicked skulls.

The doors wouldn't lock. It's a 24hr diner. The doors NEVER lock. Grady braced them with a chair. A hand broke the glass, tore out his throat.

ACT THREE: Battle of Grady's Griddle

Someone grabbed my shoulders, pulled me back behind the counter. Gus, the cook, said something about helicopters. They'd seen the smoke. Help.

Fading tempera painted reindeers on the diner's front windows only distorted the shadows of their forms as they battered against the glass.

"Three wisemen," Magda pointed. Three black Apache choppers coming in low and fast. She was feeding rounds down the throat of the 12 gauge.

Gus shrieked, pounding his shoulder into the back door. No lock there. Skeletal hands, flesh hanging like spanish moss, clawed at his face.

I watched transfixed as a finger fish-hooked him.I saw him scream.Eyeless sockets over a lipless grin, teeth crushing the back of his skull.

Dead weight was the only thing holding the door. I ripped the gas line away from the wall and sparked it. My flesh cooked slower than theirs

Magda was behind me, scattergun thundering in concert with the guttural roar of the flame."There's too many of them!" "I hear the choppers!"

3 wisemen followed their phosphorus white star down to our personal hell. Whatever it was hit the propane tank outside like God's own fist.

Can't tell you what hppnd next.We fell back to the freezer, praying the thick steel door held.I touched my ear and my hand came away bloody.

Light seeped in every gap in the rickety old freezer. Light so bright it burned my skin. The metal began to glow red. Magda kept praying.

Piadosa Virgen María de Guadalupe, dale clemencia, amor y compasión a aquellos que te quieren. Like the sweet fragrance of roses, pleasegod

Check the papers. They call it a training accident. The town of Mojave, population 2000, wiped off the map by an ill-fated dummy nuke.

Go out at dawn and watch the planes come in, low and slow over the hard pan. You watch the fighter escorts and ask yourself why.

END ACT THREE, A ZOMBIE STORY TOLD IN TWITTER SIZE BITES. Thank you and remember, keep your powder dry and always aim for the brain stem.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Going Grey

Those of you who know me in meat space know that I wear my hair pulled up and back pretty much all the time. And I am completely utilitarian when it comes to my hair.  Oy, just get it out of my face!  Anyway, this look can be severe, but I really don't have a lot of hair to begin with, and I have to work with what I have.

So to soften my face a bit, I discovered that I can dampen the wisps at my temples and get pin curls, no curling iron required.  Just wet, futz*, and go.  Now some days, it's a hit or miss thing.  Some days one side is more curly than the other.  Somedays it's not humid enough to get the effect at all.   Some days, like today, I get mad awesome pin curls. If I didn't do the pin curl thing, I'd have to coat my head in hair spray, because my hair has serious Mad Scientist tendencies.

Today?  My inner Einstein showed up.  I go to the loo and while I'm washing my hands, I glance at my reflection and think, "Wow, nice hair today.  Wait, what the..."

Sticking out of the side of my head at right angles is this grey wire, screaming "MAD SCIENTIST!"

"No no no.  Victorian librarian."  I futz with it.

"ALBERT EINSTEIN!"  Adamant hair is adamant.

"NO.  Rachel Weisz  in the Mummy!"  I dampen my fingertips and try to tame it.  Nothing doing.


"Okay, can I have the brilliance without the...."


"Fine. I didn't want to have to do this but if that's how it has to be?"  ~PLUCK~

I swear it screamed all the way to the end.  "INVISIBLE TESLA COIL!  PHIL SPECTER! BEN FRANKLIN'S KITE AND KEY!   NOOOOOooooooooooooooo!"

I would have flushed the damn thing but I don't want to be responsible for some urban legend about an albino python in the sewers.

*Futz, technical term, meaning to trifle or fool around.  Origin, Yiddish for Fart, I kid you not.