Is There Life on Mars?

Dec. 30, 2009

From time to time, we all seem to go through phases. Some phases of my life, like the “music archiving phase” is still continuing to this day. What is that, you ask? It stemmed from my resolution a few years ago to get every single musical storage device I own onto a hard drive for easy instant access.

Unfortunately, this phase collided with my “music purchasing and back-catalog updating phase” which seemed to result in the procurement of endless amounts of used cds, tapes, records, 78s, and reels of tape that look as though they may pre-date Edison’s talking machine.

Meaning, for every one item I finally archived, I bought 10 more, putting the completion date on this phase to about 2017, if I’m lucky. The hard drive that I bought is now precariously filling up, with not much room to spare.

But there was one phase I went through during the summer that was eye-opening to say the least.

We’ll call this my “telescope acquiring phase.”

I’ve always wanted a really good telescope, and, come to think of it, it’s possible that when I was way younger, I believe we did have one. It was a huge white tube, and the only recollection I have of it, is having it set up in the back yard one night trying to look at the moon.

That’s it – I can’t remember if we actually saw anything through the telescope. Isn’t that funny?

Anyway, by the time my recent Telescope Acquiring Phase was over, I had four or five telescopes set up in the front room of the house, and of course maybe one or two were actually complete with all the parts.

The main thing I learned here was that the actual telescope is not the most expensive part.

What is expensive, depending on how many you get, is the eyepiece.

You know, the eyepiece, the small little lens that fits in the little hole at the end of the scope – yes, the part that’s always missing from used telescopes. Sometimes, during this phase, I would buy a telescope, not for the actual telescope, but for the eyepieces that came with that telescope. You should see how much these eyepieces go for ---- some can be hundreds of dollars.

And, of course, it’s recommended that you get several sizes of eyepieces. 25mm. 9 mm. 4 mm. 2.5 mm. The list goes on and on.

This situation suddenly got more complicated, when I happened upon a used telescope that was a bit more professional than the ones I had.

So I bought it, only to discover that the eyepiece was of a larger size (1.25”) than the ones I already had.

Sigh. Fortunately, I found an adapter ring online that allows use of the smaller eyepieces to be used in the telescope with the larger eyepiece.

But, on the other hand, the telescope with the larger eyepiece isn’t the most powerful scope I have. And, using the smaller eyepieces in the larger eyepiece telescope probably can degrade some of the image.

I’m starting to now see how someone could spend a whole bunch of money on this hobby.

When you buy a telescope that comes in it’s original box, there’s always photos on the box that show you close-ups of the Horsehead-crab-nebula-system, distant galaxies being sucked in by reverse-black holes, and details of craters on Jupiter’s 17th moon (the one that is only visible from the top of Mt. Everest not during typhoon season).

Unfortunately, these photos were not taken by this particular telescope, but were digitally enhanced by NASA with data originally obtained by Voyager III during it’s flyby of the Orion asteroid belt in 1977.

The day finally came when I could now take my used $75 60mm Meade ATX “out in the field” (meaning – “Out in the driveway”) for some serious skywatching. In lieu of the recommended tripod (which was not included, and costs $200), I used a $3 plastic table. With my eyepieces, adapter rings, and computerized control unit on my scope, I was ready to go.

Oh, did I mention the computerized celestial object finding system? Not to worry, it’s all “built in.” Just press a couple of buttons, and we’re set to go.

I peruse the instruction book, just for fun.

According to the “instructions,” what you see through your telescope will be subject to the following variables: Current Length of Mean Astronomical Year, Gravitational Rotation Polarity Coefficient, Azimuth Declination Angle as related to YOUR Mean North Star Calibration Point, The String Cheese Incident Factor, and the difference between your Zodiac Sign and how many days your state has not been subject Daylight Savings Time.

I decide to just Wing It. I’m finally ready to program the first object into the telescope computer database. I’ve set the inclination, the depreciation, my GPS location on the North American Continent, my ATM password, and my favorite color.

I should be looking at Mars in no time.

The motor comes to life, and the telescope slowly moves as it’s calibrating it’s location between two stars I’ve never heard of – Caledonia IV and Rigel 6. (isn’t Rigel 6 is from a Star Trek episode?).

The telescope finally moves into position, and I peer into the eyepiece.

It’s dark. There’s kind of a waving thing going on and something looks blurry. I can’t quite focus on it.

I look in the direction of where the telescope is pointing.

I have a perfect view of a big overhead tree branch and some electrical lines.

I start to wonder if Galileo had similar issues.

The Mars Retrieval Unit will be at the River City Saloon on New Year’s Eve. Music starts at 9:30 p.m. and there is a $10 Cover Charge. 21 and over only.

Interview with Mars Retrieval Unit:

1. I must say, the band name is pretty "out there," probably meaning that MRU has a pretty good sense of humor. What exactly is a "Mars Retrieval Unit" and how did it become the band name?

Well, Murray claims that his PE coach was Mr. U, but he was not assimilated until much later- coincidence? Mars Retrieval Unit is an advanced transportation device that retrieves the dancing soul and takes it to Mars. The MRU was discovered in a torn up room in the swamps of Northern Florida in 2004; Rob had been calling to it from the pyramid in which he resided whilst experimenting with advanced technology.

2. You guys have been to the River City Saloon before — enough times to get a live recording out of one of the gigs, even. What have the Hood River crowds been like and what has the response been for past shows here?

Hood River loves to be retrieved! By the end of the night there is always a raving mad dance party - we've even had a Lego man and a dancing bear join us. Some people get so excited that they uncontrollably leap onto the stage with us. River City is one of our favorite places to play because the stage sounds phenomenal; we play better here than anywhere and the staff and crowds are so nice (and they smell nice).

3. Let's talk a little about band equipment. I'm hearing a lot of 70s influenced guitar tones, especially. Are you guys using vintage gear?

Rob: I don't actually use any vintage gear at all for my guitar tone. I have a very complex gauntlet of processing between my 1998 Paul Reed Smith and my late 1990's Fender HotRod Deville which allows me to get nearly any sound I want. For a vintage lead tone, I'd have to give credit to a heavily modified (by me) Ibanez Tubescreamer (TS10 – probably around 1989). A bigger section of the vintage sound comes from Joshua's usage of the Moog Little Phatty synthesizer – it's digital but does such a great job of simulating a 1970's-era analog synth. We'll have a Hammond B-V onstage for NYE as well. The drum kit and bass are custom hand-made and that always helps to create a warm, unique sound. The only actual piece of vintage gear on stage, currently, is Chelsea's Saxophone. It's nearly 100 years old; we believe that Murray made it in his teens.

4. I thought I read somewhere that you guys were in different bands before MRU formed. What were you guys doing before MRU and how did MRU get together?

Like most bands our age, we have been performing for a long time, so there are numerous groups we have formed, but they were all in other parts of the country. Rob: Glass, ConcordGrape Preservation Society and Plan B all in Florida; Chelsea had Xingu in Florida; Joel was in a band called LSD in Chicago- and still plays with them; Josh had LongView Gunslingers in Massachusetts; Murray was in The Originals in California, but they played a show with another band named the Originals and changed to the New Originals.

Like I said earlier, MRU was discovered in FL officially beginning 12/31/2003, when founding members Rob Sipsky and Marshall Harrell (bass, now with San Francisco's “New Monsoon”) put a New Year's show together with their respective bands Glass and Low Tide. MRU has been probing potential band mates ever since in search of the perfect match to create the “one music.”

With the help of craigslist and many years of changing out members, we have finally assembled. Everybody still has other projects going as well: Perfect Zero, Quadraphonnes, Santa Clara Vanguard, Push One Pull One and Minds Align, covering a vast galaxy of musical styles – from classical, to marching band, straight jazz, pure progressive rock, to live-electronic music.

5. The promo CDs you sent in seem to be all original material. What can we expect the NYE setlist to be like?

In a word: Dirty. This is a Pimps N Ho’s themed party, so we're going to get dowwwwn. We are planning a colorful set list to serve the mind and booty with a combination of originals, funky and rockin covers and jams. As far as covers go, we like to play Parliament Funkadelic, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, Rush, Heart, Talking Heads, Rick James and many more... it's hard to predict exactly what will happen. We have a setlist prepared before each show, but seldom follow it to the letter.

6. What do you guys like to do when you're not playing music?

Eat and sleep. Josh plays with rats, Rob disassembles electronics, Joel's favorite pastime is when we hang out in Murray's dungeon, Chelsea likes Pina Coladas and makin' love at midnight, and we can't even speak of what Murray likes to do (court order...?). We're also spending most of our time right now working on our first full album to be released in 2010.

7. You guys have listed a bunch of influential artists on your MySpace page --- who are you listening to now (whose on your iPods)?

Murray: Olivia Newton John's “Twist of Fate”, Steel Panther

Chelsea: Karl Denson's Tiny Universe Live at Crystal Ballroom 2009, Prince's “Lotus” album, Zappa

Rob: StereoLab, Boards of Canada, moe., Ween, the Orb

Josh: Balazs Szokolay performing Bela Bartok's Mikrokosmos

Joel: Ozric Tentacles, Jaga Jazzist, Telefon Tel Aviv, Hiromi Uehara

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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