Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bottlebrush Plant

Amos T Fairchild

This is one of our favorite plants in LA. It's called a bottlebrush plant, but we like to call it the toilet brush plant! The official name is Callistemon and it's really a native of Australia. That's what's really wonderful about SoCal—it's just one big botanical garden. Just wish the plants had labels!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hummingbird Rescue

There was much excitement at our household today. We discovered that one of the birds on our feeder was terribly injured. It'd been sitting at the feeder for over twenty minutes, which is highly unusual, its feathers sticking out as if it'd been given a shock of electricity. I just thought it was a weird little bird until it dropped backwards and hung strangely before righting itself again. That's when I noticed that it was bleeding around its neck. Every few seconds the bird would close its eyes—it wasn't even feeding. So eerie how all the other birds were ignoring it, like they were smelling death.

Luckily, Animal Rescue very kindly said that they would come and pick up the little thing, but only after we'd safely confined it. Well, that turned into quite an ordeal. We aren't exactly experts on handling wildlife and the whole situation made us very nervous. As per a website's instructions, we put some paper towels in a small box and tried to coax the bird into the box. Nope. The bird wasn't going to cooperate. The grip it had on the feeder's leg was incredible. So we gently enclosed the bird in the box, plastic feeder leg and all.

We were hoping that the bird would relax while in the box, but that didn't happen. I couldn't believe how ferociously it was flapping its wings trying to get out. So I spent ten minutes talking to the bird while the Goldberg Variations played on the stereo. All became calm—I just hoped I wasn't literally talking the bird to death. Can't tell you how relieved we were when Animal Rescue came.

We wondered how the little thing got injured. Animal Rescue thought it was injured during a typical hummingbird fight. But I don't know. It's neck seemed to have been slashed and I thought of the cat that always hangs around the feeder, swiping at the birds. How strange that the bird was attacked on the Ides of March, the festival day of Mars (and we all know what happened to Cesare). Well, hopefully, the bird will survive to fight another day. Good luck, bird!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Jet Propulsion Lab Tours

After talking about it for a year, we finally went on the Jet Propulsion Lab tour! Yay--another thing gone from our to-do list! I'm glad we went, but I have to admit that much of the tour was like being stuck on a date with an Asperger's sufferer. The tour began with a rapid-fire talk that lasted something like thirty minutes touching on various historical points to do with JPL and Caltech and NASA. And then a JPL promo video narrated by Harrison Ford which was like a very bad Nova program on space. Granted, the talk was given in the auditorium which housed replicas of Voyager and Cassini, but it was a lot of tedium to suffer through. Afterwards there was a brief visit to a small museum, the highlight of which was a thermal camera you can check your temperature on, and then the actual tour.

But was it a tour? We only got to see one of the "clean rooms" where the JPL guys assemble the rovers and the "Dark Room" at the Space Flight Operations Facility. The dark room is what you usually see on TV when a launch happens--you know, the room where all the scientist are glued to their computer screens hoping against hope that their mission is a success. Today, there wasn't a launch so we only got to see about half-a-dozen bored people sitting at their desks while the tour guide talked for some ten minutes about how NASA uses UTC (coordinated universal time) because time is relative, etc. The "clean" room was fascinating though. Up high in a viewing gallery, you get to look down at guys dressed in "bunny" suits building stuff (this is what you're seeing in the video). "Bunny" suits are these all-white, anti-dust suits that people have to wear in order not to contaminate the equipment they're going to send up into space (it made me think I was touring Willy Wonka's chocolate factory because there's a similar scene in the 70s movie). Today the JPL staff was working on the outer container for the newest rover, Curiosity, which should reach Mars sometime in August 2012. At the end of the tour you get to see a full-scale replica and that's pretty cool. And I was impressed by how much the tour guides knew.

So would I recommend the tour?

If you are a Super Geek: yes.
If you are a Tepid Geek: sure, why not?
If you are a Non Geek: only if you want to impress a Super Geek.

And if you want to take a child? Man, I would definitely not recommend you take any child under eleven. I felt so sorry for these little tots as they suffered through the first forty-five minutes or so of endless talk and senseless video. During the talk, the tiny tots were fidget bombs. And during the video, all I heard was a non-ceasing chorus of small voices crying, "What happened?" This is because the video is so poorly written that you can't figure out what they're talking about when they discuss the missions. It's really a shame that JPL doesn't have a specific tour program for the very young, one that is interactive and full of fun things to do because shouldn't part of NASA's mission be geared towards inspiring little children? After all, one day these little children are going to be voting on whether NASA gets funded...