A Put Up/Shut Up Moment For McDonalds

Plain-McDonalds-LogoMickey D’s just announced a horrible quarter. Profits are down 30%. According to Reuters it’s because of “a food scandal in China and tough competition in the United States.”

The competition’s tough. Baby, that’s a pity.

Where were we?

How will McDonalds go about building its profit? Will it raise its prices? This is what the fast food industry has screamed any time the subject of raising wages comes up.

My guess is price raising is the last thing they’ll do. And, in spite of their kvetching, it would also be among the last things they’d do if forced to pay a more reasonable wage to the McDonalds crew.

I get it. Underpaying employees is fabulously profitable. It’s also reprehensible.

Let’s see how McDonalds goes about dealing with this crisis. It will tell us a lot about their honesty on the wage front.

McDonalds made over a billion dollars in this past quarter on revenue of seven billion.

Was The Comet A Fizzle?

comet siding spring from Mars orbiter

The first of NASA’s comet photos are back from the Photomat. They’re from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Nothing to get excited about. Don’t rush out for the poster.


This one’s from the Mars Rover Opportunity. Yesterday I said it was probably a daytime visible object on Mars. It was decidedly not. The comet is the fuzzy thing.

Kids, take note. Here’s how to bureaucratically hide what seems to have been a fizzle.

The highest-resolution of images of the comet’s nucleus, taken from a distance of about 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers), have a scale of about 150 yards (138 meters) per pixel. Telescopic observers had modeled the size of the nucleus as about half a mile, or one kilometer wide. However, the best HiRISE images show only two to three pixels across the brightest feature, probably the nucleus, suggesting a size smaller than half that estimate.

Could they make it any more difficult to compare projections with observations?

The diameter is around half earlier predictions. Maybe 300-400 hundred meter. Not insubstantial, but not what was anticipated.

They had to take the precautions they took. But maybe it wasn’t enough of a sure thing to go as public as they did?

Or… maybe there are still really cool pictures to come.

The HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the most powerful one of its kind ever sent to another planet. Its high resolution allows us to see Mars like never before, and helps other missions choose a safe spot to land for future exploration.

But probably not.

The Sound Of My Neighborhood

IMAG1578_1There’s a moving truck out back. A neighbor is leaving. I’m not used to seeing this kind of action. My neighbors were farther away in Connecticut. Everything happened discretely. Shhh. New England.

I’m more connected with the outside here. That makes little sense since I’ve got a lot less outside to play with.

The four windows in my office are wide open. I’m on the patio daily. There are sounds. In Connecticut we spent 23 years hearing nothing but nature.

I like hearing the kids playing. They ride their bikes and generally have fun below my window.

Sometimes I hear kids crying. I have a child. I have that experience. It still upsets me.

At night I’ve heard loud family fights somewhere in the extended neighborhood. I now know the “F” word works in Mandarin.

Mostly, the night is quiet. This is an early-to-bed area.

When I cut audio tracks in my former closet “studio” the windows go down. Blinds too. I’d wake the neighborhood.

Once or twice a month cars let loose on Irvine Blvd, over a half mile away. The speed limit is conservatively sixty, but it’s an inviting few miles of sparsely traveled open road to test your ride. In some cases they’re also testing their tires.

We are the next to last home before a farm owned by UC Irvine. We are separated by a high berm, fence and lots of flowers and shrubbery.

Pack behavior howling from coyotes happens nightly. There’s a bunny population explosion every spring. Bunnies are scarce in October.

We hear the Disneyland fireworks. Anaheim is 14 miles north. They’re in the background here, noticeable at 9:30 sharp. You can set your watch to Disney.

In the summer they’re nightly. This time of year, just a few times a week. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the sound.

I’m Jazzed Tonight

Slooh control room, East Hartford, CT

Slooh control room, East Hartford, CT

Broadcast position, in my office in Irvine, CA.

Broadcast position in my office. Irvine, CA.

I am jazzed tonight. Adrenaline pumping.

Two live shows in the can for slooh.com today. Both were about a specific point in time when nothing specifically significant would happen.

It’s still a cool story. A giant space dirty snowball, C2013 A1, flew past Mars at 45 miles per second. NASA hid their satellites on the other side of the planet.

I was very invested. Lots of research for this.

There was reason for concern. I didn’t know my co-host and there are always emergencies which force a change of plans. Always.

I produced a video open using amazing NASA animations. They are the kings of single point lighting! It made us look better. More polished.

We meet an hour before air on Skype. I’m in my office, windows closed and blinds drawn. Mics are open. Cameras are on. We come and go, but we’re available to each other.

I was trying to get a feel on Dr. David Grinspoon, astrobiologist with the Library of Congress, aka the new guy. He seemed at ease. Good sign.

We were trying to show a comet 700 meters wide, 150,000 miles away and next to a huge and highly reflective planet… live! Nearly everything we would say would be ad libbed.

The broadcast went well. We had plenty of graphics and animations to keep people’s interest plus live images from telescopes in South Africa. The pictures weren’t perfect, but no one complained. This sort of access has seldom been available.

I probably can’t reveal how many watched, but it was significantly more than ever watched me simultaneously in Connecticut. This time they’re spread across the globe.

Dave held up his end perfectly. This is his field. We got the right guy. He was totally comfortable. And he can talk, a required skill.

Here’s why I’m jazzed. I consider the broadcast a good deed. For those interested we provided a previously unavailable service. We taught a lot of people things they never knew.

I feel like I felt after successful snow storm coverage. Like I was a force for good.

I’m Studying Up On Mars


Tomorrow will be busy for me. We’ve got two slooh.com shows about the close encounter between Comet Siding Spring and Mars.

I host, surrounded by cometary experts. I still have to know the science.

This is an unprecedented event. We’ve never seen a comet get so close to a planet.

That worries NASA.

Actually, let me modify that. Their worry is later.

First, cards on the table. NASA is always interested in ‘visitors’ to our part of the solar system. But there’s a lot more buzz for Comet Siding Spring C/2013 A1. It will come close to Mars and to billions of dollars of hardware circling Mars, plus rovers on-the-ground.

Comet-Siding-Spring-Trajectory-Mars-br2Siding Spring is speeding in from the Oort Cloud, a theorized mass of billions of comets 100,000 times farther from the Sun than we are. It will zip by Mars at a closing speed 35 miles per second–186,000 mph.

The comet misses Mars. We’ve all got that, right?

Later, Mars passes through the debris field left in the comet’s wake. Scientists expect some fragments will be drawn toward the planet where we have satellites and stuff.

NASA’s official “Best Estimate” says the particles miss. Their conservative estimate says 90-100 minutes after the closest approach a stream of small debris will come, then quickly go.

Our satellites all had their orbits disrupted, putting them on the far side of Mars when this happens.

T-0 is officially called the “time of the particle fluence center.”

NASA is praying one or more of the rovers will take a photo or two of the comet brightly shining through the Martian atmosphere. That’s pretty damn cool. It will likely happen and will surely include a part of the rover, lest we forget whodunit.

We’ll also get images from whatever sensors can be turned around on satellites.

I’m not sure how much of this is actually advancing science and how much is showing off. An opportunity and challenge like this shouldn’t be squandered, but this is more photo-op than anything. After all, we’re landing on a comet next month!

Everything is now set. It’s too late for change to matter. Any debris that hits the Red Planet was jettisoned off the comet years ago.

Distance and time are very different in space. You can’t think in minutes and seconds or inches and feet. Our best orbital predictions say C/2013 A1 won’t be back for around a million years.

Behind The Scenes: Video Editing

I like behind-the-scenes views. You too? I’ve been working on a 30’ish second promo for slooh.com. My computer is set up so I can record the screen. Here’s what video editing looks like. Each horizontal row represents a separate piece of video or audio. Questions?

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You Really Should Meet William Mullholland

There should be a parade for William Mullholland. We’d be in big trouble without him. He died in 1935, but he’s why Los Angeles exists as it does today. Mullholland brought water from the Sierras, Owens Valley to be precise, to the San Fernando Valley. That’s 233 miles with no pumps! The entire system is […]

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The Surprise Photo

As a kid you don’t see your mother’s looks. I do now. She was spectacular in this photo. A babe.

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Don’t Watch Cable News

If you want to get scared keep cable news on all day. That’s my takeaway from a couple of days of doing just that! I’ve got the eebie jeebies over Ebola, or as it’s called in the Fox house, “The Ebola.” That two health care professionals in bunny suits got infected seems totally Michael Crichton. […]

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Rosetta Sounds Like A Movie Plot, But This Is Real

Five hundred million kilometers from Earth a comet is streaking toward the Sun. No worries. Not a threat to us. Earthlings, being curious people, thought we’d send a mission to this comet to find out what it’s made of. Theoretically, comets are a direct link to the universe just after the Big Bang. Catching a […]

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