Justice Finally on Hand for the Cambodian People

Light at the end of a very long tunnel

Posted by René Volpi ,  Saturday May 29- 2010

Comrade Duch in the dock

It has taken more than 30 years to bring the perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge excesses to justice. On Monday 26 July we will at last hear the verdict in the first trial of the ECCC, that of Comrade Duch, head of the infamous Tuol Sleng/S-21 prison. He stands accused of crimes against humanity and much more besides. He’s been in detention since 1999 and deserves to remain incarcerated for the rest of his days. The trial itself began in March of last year and ended in November. I attended just once on the day that David Chandler gave his expert testimony. It was clear to me that Duch was enjoying his moment in the spotlight, and though he has freely acknowledged his role as the head of S-21, he didn’t tell the whole truth and only revealed what he wanted us to know. His defense focused on the premise that he acted out of fear for his life and whilst that may’ve been partly true, his culpability as head of the interrogation and extermination center tells a very different story. This man is responsible for at least 12,000 deaths, and probably many more, and deserves whatever the trial judges can throw at him. His remorse is a sham and his guilt is clear, even though his former S-21 colleagues were less than forthcoming in their time on the stand. Nevertheless, the paper trail left by the Khmer Rouge and his own admissions, have sealed his fate. The trial for case 002, four of the leading members of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy, is unlikely to begin before the end of this year.  I, personally cannot wait…

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Great Photos by a Great Robot

Best space photos by….a robot!

Compilation by René Volpi

In Space Probe Photography, Size Matters — We’ve been floored by the beauty of Hubble’s images of the cosmos, we’ve been dazzled by ground-based observations, but what about the robotic probes that go where humans fear to tread?

A space probe is defined as an unmanned mission that escapes Earth’s gravitational pull and it just so happens that many of these solar system explorers have some impressive camera equipment on board. It turns out that their photography skills are excellent too.

Let’s take a look at some of the best robotic photographers that have given us unparalleled views of our solar system over the last 10 years…

Image: The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera in the lab shortly before being attached to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter currently orbiting the Red Planet (NASA).

Where One Man Made One Small Step — Orbiting at a low mapping altitude of 30 miles, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took some very high resolution snapshots of what remains of the Apollo 11 mission on the lunar surface. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history in 1969, but it wasn’t until 2009 that we had the technology to image the landing site.

Image: The remains of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module (LM) on the Moon’s surface. The long shadow of the LM’s landing gear is evident in the center of the image (NASA).

Earth Rising — Japan’s SELenological and ENgineering Explorer “Kaguya” (SELENE) was intentionally crashed into the lunar surface on June 10, 2009 after a highly successful 20-month-long mission. Kaguya took some incredibly detailed imagery, but it will probably be best known for photographing the Earth rising above the lunar landscape.

Image credit: JAXA/NHK.

A Mercury Delight — NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) probe made its first flyby of the innermost planet in 2008, over 30 years since the last mission to the little world. The spacecraft completed a second flyby the same year and a third in September 2009. These flybys help the probe slow down. In 2011 it will have quenched its speed enough to go into orbit around Mercury, beginning a year-long mission.

Image credit: NASA.

The Martian Voyeur — Webcams aren’t only good for video conferences and spying on celebrity meltdowns, it turns out the inexpensive cameras can be used on board satellites orbiting other planets, too.

On board ESA’s Mars Express is the The Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC), a very basic instrument that had only one use: to verify whether the UK’s Beagle 2 Mars lander separated successfully in 2003. (Unfortunately, although the VMC captured the final moments of the lander in one piece, it was never heard of again.)

With its one job complete, the VMC remained switched off until 2007 when ESA mission control decided to see if it was still working. Although it’s not a scientific instrument, it has become “The Mars Webcam,” keeping a constant watch over the Red Planet.

Image credit: ESA.

The Martian Marathon Roller — NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers touched down on the regolith in 2004. Since then the pair keep on surprising their controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Calif. by operating for longer than expected, uncovering mysterious clues about the alien world and taking outstanding panoramic photographs of the landscape.

Rover Opportunity has been more fortunate than the beached Spirit, and the wheeled robot’s mission has become a marathon (as of Nov. 2009, Opportunity had notched up nearly 12 miles). On its travels, Opportunity admires its own tread marks extending across the Martian plains, stopping off at points of interest.

Image credit: NASA/JPL

Stuck in the Sand, But Enjoying the View — On the other side of Mars, Opportunity’s twin rover Spirit is stuck in a sand trap within Gusev Crater. Before getting stuck, Spirit had lost the use of one of its wheels and it was suffering bouts of memory loss. But it’s not all bad news.

While stuck, Spirit has been carrying out limited science activities, uncovering evidence for ancient water under its wheels.

Image: Sunrise on Mars as witnessed by Mars Rover Spirit (NASA/JPL)

Phoenix Rises to the Occasion — The Phoenix Mars Lander captivated the world when it landed in the Martian arctic in 2008. The NASA mission surpassed all expectations, culminating in a two month mission extension and confirmation of water ice in the soil. Although it was confined to one location, Phoenix also gathered an impressive gallery of Red Planet photos.

Although it’s a long-shot, mission scientists are now hopeful that they might be able to revive the robot after it thaws from the Martian winter in January 2010.

Image: A Phoenix self-portrait taken with the lander’s panoramic camera (NASA/UA)

Looking Out for its Robotic Buddies — The HiRISE camera (pictured top) has revolutionized our knowledge of the Martian surface. Orbiting on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), HiRISE has been watching Mars to a resolving power of a few centimeters.

HiRISE has captured dynamic geological events (such as avalanches), picked out rolling boulders, spotted weather events and enhanced the detail in the planet’s surface to a power that often matches Earth-orbiting spy satellites. It has also provided an ever-watchful eye over Phoenix and the Mars Rovers, providing an over-the-horizon snapshot whenever needed.

Image: Victoria Crater as imaged by HiRISE. At approximately 10 o’clock (in the upper left-hand corner of the crater edge), a tiny spot can be seen. This is Opportunity exploring the location in 2006 (NASA/HiRISE).

A Sneak Peek — In 2007, controllers for the New Horizons Pluto mission tried out the probe’s camera to capture some unprecedented views of the Jovian system. New Horizons has another five years to go until its historic Pluto flyby, but if the images of Jupiter and volcanic moon Io are anything to go by, the photographs of the outermost reaches of the solar system will be nothing less than spectacular.

Image credit: NASA/JHU/APL

In Saturn’s Shadow — The plutonium powered Cassini-Huygens spacecraft began exploring Saturn and its moons in 2004 and it will continue to do so beyond 2010. As the probe’s mission was extended through the Saturnian equinox — when the gas giant’s tilt lines its equator up with the sun — it was re-named “Cassini Equinox” in 2008.

Image: Cassini passed into Saturn’s shadow for 12 hours in January 2009. A dazzling show of previously unknown outer rings became obvious (NASA).

The Descent — Before Cassini could start its lone exploration of the Saturn system, the ESA Huygens probe needed to be detached. On Jan. 14, 2005, Huygens’ big day had arrived; the probe was descending through the moon Titan’s atmosphere, sampling as it went.

On the underside of the atmospheric probe a fisheye lens captured a surreal view of the alien landscape below the parachuting robot. The landing site and surrounding hydrocarbon-laced landscape were photographed in the wide angle lens.

Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Dirty Snowball Bombing — On July 4, 2005, NASA’s Deep Impact probe watched its 815-lb refrigerator-sized impactor slam into the surface of Comet 9P/Tempel’s nucleus. The probe captured the resulting flash and debris plume so scientists could analyze the composition of the interior of a comet.

Interestingly, the so-called “dirty snowball” interior had far less water ice and more dust than expected.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Problematic Sample — The Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft reached near-Earth asteroid 25143 Itokawa in September 2005 in an attempt to grab a sample of dirt from its surface and return it to Earth for analysis.

This ambitious mission successfully landed on the small 500-meter-long asteroid but failed to collect any samples. However, it is hoped that some of the asteroid dust drifted into the sample chamber, so the chamber was sealed shut. Hayabusa also managed to capture some very intimate photographs of the rocky body. The probe is currently journeying back to Earth, hopefully arriving by June 2010.

Image credit: JAXA

Our Nearest Star — Floating in a region of gravitational stability between the Earth and the sun is a two ton solar observatory that has been staring at our nearest star more-or-less uninterrupted since 1996.

<a href="http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/” style=”border-bottom-style: none; border-bottom-width: 0px; border-color: initial; border-left-style: none; border-left-width: 0px; border-right-style: none; border-right-width: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-top-width: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-top: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-top: 0px; text-decoration: none;”>The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SoHO) provides scientists with live data from the sun’s bubbling surface, helping with space weather prediction models and advanced warning of incoming coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

The sun is also a stellar laboratory, helping physicists understand how other stars behave and interact with planetary bodies such as the Earth.

Image: A SoHO image of the sun’s chromosphere (NASA/ESA)

The Internet World (part?…)

Well…what do you make out of this? yes, I know…the chart shows the rise between ’75 to 2005. But don’t worry, they are coming out at year’s end with the rest of the enchilada. Hmmm, I can’t wait, even though I imagine the big BIG chunk is already passed us obviously. (or would the Ipad with it’s first million units already sold could make another sudden surge?)  Nah,   I don’t believe that could happen, Unless…

Watch Japan, people! Mark me on that one. And this below looks like a charming alternative. Anyway…See you in a bit?  You bet.

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River Dreams

My Dad, the Greatest.

My Dad and I hit the road on many occasions when, even thought the trip was for some kind of business he needed to attend to, he made sure we’d spend quality time together for one very important reason: to get to know one another. It’s somehow strange, almost as if he already knew that once I started traveling on my own, we weren’t going to ever again have the chance to really get to know each other. So for a while, beginning when I was 14, we started to drive for thousands of miles to places that I’ve never even heard of but of which he, of course, knew their entire history. Everybody called him “Lolo”. He was a practical man, no dogmatism there whatsoever. He was like those kind of folks that you’ve probably seen before. No nonsense; what you see is what you get.
Still, the man was as solid as a rock, an old timer, you could say. He wasn’t an adventurer per se, but I knew that fire raged within the man himself. He knew World History like the palm of his hand and for someone who had never seen the inside of a college, he was very well versed on most topics, world events and current affairs. He was what you might want to call a human encyclopedia.
A great conversationalist you would feel very comfortable talking to him, because he was the kind of man who made you feel important, interesting, and worthy. He was also great at math, quick as lighting with a solution that normally would take several minutes and a calculator for most people to come up with the correct answer. He was very proud of that but he also made sure he didn’t come through pedantish; it wasn’t in him to show off, or to be outlandish, opting instead for humble deliverance, and straight out ethical correctness. A classy man by all definitions, he loved to engage in philosophical premises and he would combine his past lived experiences with a pragmatic view (at times a bit cynical) of life itself and his own shortcomings. We were absolute opposites and that would provoke debate between us, but since he always had more common sense that I ever wished to achieve, his methods would always prevail and the results were unsurprisingly one-sided. That’s the way I learned, going against the best and losing even my socks in the process.
But Lolo always had a kind word for me, like one occasion when he confessed to me that –deep inside– he wished he was a little bit more like me, although (after careful examination he said this) he probably would have regretted it in full. I believe that he saw in me all the things he was lacking, call them virtues if you will, namely; spontaneity, wildness, artistic tendencies, and an insatiable taste for the unknown. That is my Dad, thick as a brick, and yet just as solid. He really surprised me when he proposed that we go camping together. I could not believe it. My Dad in the wild? Might as well scout Planet Mars! Still, I wasn’t about to let that opportunity slip through my fingers. I got so hyped that I was packed before Dad could finished his sentence. Of course, neither of us knew anything about the wild or the great outdoors for that matter. We knew there were very hungry predators out there. The closest I’d ever gotten to an animal was when my Mom took me to the pet store to get a pet rabbit. And my dog, “Juanita”. That was my entire animal experience. But it was a phenomenal idea, and I couldn’t wait to leave. Dad was making all kinds of preparations, reading maps and choosing trails, etc, etc, etc. The trip was gonna last for a week, then we would spend the last weekend in a hotel, freshen up, lick our wounds, if any, and head back. Everyday I pressed him to depart earlier, but no, he had to check the weather channel, he wanted to get parking permits, he wanted to know about that particular zone’s criminal activities. He didn’t think we had enough batteries, nor had we enough insect repellents. Then he wanted to know about insurance. That one did it…
“Dad, Dad,” I said, annoyingly.
“I’m on the phone, wait,” he replied calmly.
After a short pause, we starting defending our points. I told him that he’s going overboard with all these preparations and he’s ruining the trip, which it was supposed to be –after all– an adventure. Now he’s getting condescending.
“Willie” (he nicknamed me that), “you don’t know anything; we could be facing problems if we don’t prepare for this correctly.”
I quickly retorted, “That’s right, Dad, we will make corrections as we go along, that’s the beauty of it all!!”
I continued, “Remember when you told me that you wished you’d be a little bit like me sometimes? Remember when you said ‘I wish I could be a little bit more spontaneous,’ like me? What happened to that desire?”
“Willie”, he said sternly. “there are two ways we can do this: We can go ahead and make provisions to minimize future problems that might or might not occur, or. . . we could always watch a documentary about camping”, and then he winks at me.
At this point I realize further resistance would be futile. I leave the room, the house, the town, slamming every door I find on my war path.

I remember clearly back in those days, when things that I dreamed of being one way, turned out completely the opposite; my world just collapsed. Patience was never my strong suit and left me with an empty feeling, some kind of void that nothing could really replace and a bad taste in my mouth. I remember reading, however, something once that stayed with me throughout the times. It was the fact that human beings can and will adapt to almost anything. These trying times were a good moment to put that thought into practice. I chilled my head, came to terms with what I could not change and buried the hatchet.
I also ended up giving my Dad the credit that he deserved. He was right trying to protect us. During our camping trip we were attack by “killer” bees (I say killers because they were really trying to murder us), we were bitten and persecuted by legions of wasps, snakes in a bad mood were ready to strike from inside our boots, not one or two, but six combined, an avalanche of huge deadly rocks missed us by seconds, and for the final straw we managed to get a mama bear believing we could be supper, not a bad alternative to flying salmons as dinner. By far, that was our most dangerous encounter with the monsters of the wild. I have never run so fast in my life, nor did Dad, completely disregarding the noise making option. It turned out mama bear wasn’t even chasing us, but we panicked anyway and sought refuge in an old abandoned train station with the most repulsive stench that I’ve ever come across in my life! Name of the station? “Gardenias”.
We laughed so hard, it’s possible that with the eerie echoes produced by such noisy laughter, we ended up being the threat for whatever animals happen to be around. By the time we left the station, the silence was king.

We decided to keep the story personal, it would be part of the bond. It would became our anecdote, our secret, our triumph. And it would be the last trip we took together.

Lolo, my beloved Dad, passed away March 17th 2010. He was 89 years old.

The Internet World (part 1)


Posted by Rene Volpi via  Annie Colbert to Holy Kaw!

Time to fill your noggin with a slew of interesting tidbits about the internet, courtesy of a fun infographic by Focus.com. Now the next time one of your buddies asks, “Hey, what’s going on with the internet?,” you will know all the answers. You’re welcome.

Full graphic at Focus.
All the top tech news.

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