Monday, April 23, 2012

Welcome to CU Boulder, Mr. President!

The entire staff and faculty of the University of Colorado Libraries would like to extend a warm and heartfelt welcome to President Barack Obama as he visits the CU Boulder campus on Tuesday, April 24.  We are honored to be recipients of this visit by our nation's 44th President.

Update: The White House video of the President's speech on Tuesday has been embedded below.  A transcript of the speech is available here.

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Photos taken from the White House Flickr feed.
Photos taken from the White House Flickr feed.
Photos taken from the White House Flickr feed.

Finally, a photo from CU Boulder student Madalyn Starkey via Instagram.
This picture of Ms. Starkey and the President at The Sink has gone viral via social networking.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lower North Fork Fire Report Released

Pyro-cumulus from the Lower North Fork Fire

The State of Colorado released a report on the prescribed burn (read fiasco) that lead to the Lower North Fork Fire which killed three people and destroyed homes in Jefferson County.  According to the press release, several factors contributed to the disaster:
  • Unburned fuels and residual heat still present within the prescribed burn area four days after the initial burn.
  • Routinely successful best practices, including a 200-foot buffer around the burn, proved to be ineffective.
  • Professional judgment by fire managers that the burn was secure and that readiness for wildfires in uncontrolled settings took priority.
  • Weather and fire behavior projections that did not sufficiently predict the complete set of circumstances.
  • Rapidly escalating winds creating spot fires that exceeded the capacity of firefighters on the ground.
The full text of the report is available here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Save The Date: The 2nd Six-State Government Information Conference Coming in August 2012

After the success of the first Six-State Government Information Conference in 2010, the University of Colorado Boulder, in conjunction with its partners in the six-state region, is pleased to announce that the 2012 Six-State Government Information Conference will be held virtually August 8-10 of this year.

The 2012 keynote speaker will be Malcolm Byrne, Deputy Director and Director of Research for the National Security Archive.  The National Security Archive is, according to its Web site, an "independent, non-government research institute and library" that specializes in the publication of declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  

Mr. Byrne has worked at the Archive since 1986. In addition to his contributions listed at the NSA Web site, Mr. Byrne "currently directs the Openness in Russia and Eastern Europe Project, and the U.S.-Iran Relations Project, both of which promote multinational and multi-archival approaches to the study of recent, controversial historical events. Previously, he served as co-director of the Iran-contra documentation project, and coordinated the Archive's project on U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War.

Mr. Byrne's keynote address will be Thursday, August 9th, 11:00 a.m. MST.

Please visit the Six-State Government Information Conference Web site for information about conference registration, use of the Adobe Connect software to participate remotely, and for details on conference submissions, planned speakers, and the integration of social media throughout the three-day event.  Details are being added to the site as they become available.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Stunning Real-Time Surface Wind Map

Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg, leaders of Google's "Big Picture" visualization research group and owners of the Web site, have found an ingenious and beautiful use for the real-time surface wind data compiled by the National Digital Forecast Database.

Using the NDFD -- which is explicitly a database "available for members of the public to use in creating text, graphic, gridded and image products of their own"  -- Viégas and Wattenberg created a animated, zoom-able map that displays, in real-time, surface wind speeds across the United States.

The Real-Time Wind Map

The end result has gained positive attention from multiple media outlets, including CNET, MIT's Alumni News site, and io9 and is hypnotizing to watch.

Here is one public user's experience with the site.

The NDFD, a product of the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, consists of "gridded forecasts of sensible weather elements (e.g., cloud cover, maximum temperature)" and "a seamless mosaic of digital forecasts from NWS field offices working in collaboration with the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP)."

The National Digital Forecast Database (NDFD) was designed to provide access to weather forecasts in digital form from a central location. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

NASA's Joke Goes Over Everyone's Head

On Sunday this week, NASA posted details of a new mission involving the craft currently orbiting the planet Mercury called MESSENGER or "MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging."

The mission, PIA 15542, or "Mooning Mercury" to the layearthling, centers on a newly discovered natural satellite (moon) measuring 230 ft. across at a distance of about 8,890 miles above the planet.  The proposed name for this moon is Caduceus.

The very, very, very small moon, Caduceus.
The mission description goes on to say that rather than study this moon, as they might normally do, NASA had another plan.  It goes like this...
...The new plan is to use the remaining propellant to crash MESSENGER into Caduceus. "Our detailed analysis tells us that if we act now, and with the right trajectory, MESSENGER will impart just enough momentum to the moon to break it free of Mercury's gravity well and set it on an Earth-crossing trajectory suitable for recovery as a Mercury meteorite," said Panini.

...If Caduceus is successfully released from the pull of Mercury and placed on a course to reach Earth, we can expect the moon to arrive at Earth by 2014. "The risk to the public is reassuringly small", offers MESSENGER mission design lead Adam McJames. "We have designed a trajectory that will bring the moon to Earth at a remote location on the Wilkes Land ice sheet in Antarctica. This trajectory will avoid all population centers and will put the moon's impact site within reach for retrieval by the scientific staff at the U.S.-operated McMurdo Station."
In other words, something a little like the plot of the 1979 movie, "Meteor."

If you don't think about the odds of being able to map that trajectory so specifically across the minimum 48,000,000 miles between Earth and Mercury, this all sounds well and good, but NASA gives its joke away with in love of acronyms.
If successful, MESSENGER's extended extended MIN-C mission will mark the first instance of the documented arrival to Earth of material from the Mercury system. Moreover, it will serve as the basis for a new Discovery-class mission proposal currently in development by the Applied Psychics Laboratory for a Mercury lander mission for in situ X-ray analysis of surface composition. That mission is to be named the Hermean On-surface Analysis with X-rays.
That's right.  The mission's name is H.O.A.X.  At least when NASA makes a joke, they do it big.  Happy April Fool's Day.

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In related news that is not so enjoyable, NASA has begun the process of decommissioning the Space Shuttles and their overall program.  President George W. Bush first called for the retirement of the shuttle program in January of 2004, in the aftermath of the shuttle Columbia accident and its disintegration over Texas during atmospheric re-entry.  In speaking about a new focus for NASA on the International Space Station, Bush said:
Excerpt of  President Bush's 2004 remarks to NASA, announcing the
retirement of the shuttle program.
The photoblog In Focus, from The Atlantic Monthly, has compiled a series of images from the dismantling and preparation for display of shuttles Discovery and Endeavor as well as of the launching pads, cargo bays, and propulsion systems.  It is good-bye, for now, to American manned spaceflight.

Click on these images to visit the In Focus set.