Star Trek Grand Slam 2002!
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Grand Slam In Pasadena - A Look At Star Trek, the Franchise

By FLAtRich
Fanatic eXoNews Editor

The Price of Fame - Twenty Bucks and Up

Hollywood March 24, 2002 (eXoNews) - Star Trek Conventions are a stand-alone franchise nowadays, but that's no reason to shy away from the big one in Pasadena - as long as you've got a few extra dollars set aside for such things.

Admission at the door was $37 this year, but hell, where else are you going to get a live hour of inspiration from the likes of William Shatner or Jonathan Frakes?

Plus there's all that other stuff to buy and stick in a drawer and pull out again in ten years to sell to somebody else. It's a collector's universe out there.

The Pasadena Con is particularly fruitful for autograph collectors because it is only a few miles away from Hollywood and Burbank, where many of the genre's favorite stars and production people actually work and live.

There was a very long list of the biggies this year. Gates McFadden, Bill Paxton, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Rod Roddenberry (son of Gene), Nana Visitor, Casey Biggs, Jeffrey Combs, Marc Alaimo, Majel Roddenberry, Robert Justman, Walter Koenig, Brannon Braga, Michael Piller, Jonathan Frakes, Gale Anne Hurd, Michael Biehn, William Shatner, and even Joan Collins ("Who's Joan Collins?" asked Patrick, the youngest member of our group. Don't feel bad Joan, the kid doesn't know who Whitey Ford is either.)

I want to stop, but I can't: Max Grodenchik, Aron Eisenberg, Chase Masterson, Patti Yasutake, Jonathan DeLarco, Jennifer Hetrick, Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Scarlett Pomers, Ricardo Montalban, Robert Duncan McNeil, Roxann Dawson, Frank Marshall, Kate Mulgrew, Andrew Robinson, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, Anthony Montgomery, Jonathan Billingsley, Linda Park ("Park?" asked Shatner when some of the audience got up to grab the Enterprise star's autograph in a side room. Don't feel bad Linda, Bill wasn't too sure of the name of your show either.)

OK, I'll stop, but not without adding Wil Wheaton and Colm Meaney. (Wil because he's a true geek and Meaney because he's a really great actor and Irish.)

So those are the names you might hope to see at any major Trek convention, right? But when you're this close to Hollywood the list never actually stops. Upstairs, in little rooms, were a bunch of names you don't know unless you really are a credits freak. People here were signing autographs for twenty bucks a pop, and walking into these rooms was more than spooky.

Barbara Luna and Lee Meriwether and Grace Lee Whitney were in one room with half a dozen more ladies romanced by Shatner's generation of TV leading men. Cast members of nearly forgotten epics like "V - The Series" and "War of the Worlds - The Series", stunt men from Babylon 5, etc., sat behind tables in other rooms. Some of them wonderful character actors you swore you'd never forget.

There was no line to get in.

Patrick (the kid - Joan or Whitey draw a blank) wanted to know why these people were charging $20 for autographs. Seemed like a lot of money, he said. I hated to tell him that some of them were probably doing it to supplement their union pensions and Social Security checks.

If the life of an actor in Hollywood is a long, hard climb, imagine what it must be like long after the climb is over.

Something to keep in mind as you watch the young stars of Enterprise, Buffy, Angel, Roswell, etc., rise: don't be offended by the price of fame.

For the next appearance of a Trek Con in your neighborhood, check out Creation Entertainment - http://www.creationent.com

William Shatner - Selling Re-invention As The Key to Success

Hollywood March 24, 2002 (eXoNews) - The folks at Creation Entertainment credit William Shatner as follows: "WILLIAM SHATNER Writer, Director, Producer, Spokesperson, Gameshow Contestant, Charity organizer, Comedian, Website host, and oh yeah, Captain Kirk." Interesting that they mentioned Kirk in this description but didn't list Shatner as an actor. There was a time when that was his only known profession.

Science fiction fans of all ages have already heard the story - for a while, Shatner got type-cast to the extreme from his few years as the leading man of the original Star Trek series and had a hard time finding work. As he tells it (in at least one book, in the Mind Meld interview with Leonard Nimoy, and when he talks to TOS fans), he was bitter about this at the time, but no matter what you think of Shatner as an actor, you have to be amazed at how the man overcame Hollywood's narrow-minded casting prejudice.

William Shatner practically invented re-invention. He followed Nimoy as a feature director of the Star Trek movie series with only moderate success. His Star Trek V is generally regarded as a lesser entry in the movie series compared to Nimoy's Search for Spock and The Way Home, and Nimoy also went on to score big with the non-genre feature Three Men and a Baby.

But Shatner is still directing (Groom Lake in 2002), and he has always had aspirations beyond acting. Look carefully and you'll find a Shatner story credit for a TV show episode way back in 1960 ("Checkmate" starring Doug McClure and Sebastian Cabot. Ran from 1960-62 - on CBS, I think.)

Shatner reinvented himself as an author and sold a "co-written" concept called Tek War to book publishers, comic books, and television. (Cynics might apply the term "ghostwritten", but at least the initial novel "sounds" like Shatner.) He is still producing books regularly, now working on a Star Trek book trilogy for Simon and Shuster.

He parlayed his love for horses into a major annual charity fundraiser. At the Pasadena Con he easily auctioned off two Rick Berman-sanctioned set visits to Enterprise for a $4500 charity donation!

Shatner began to make fun of his past when he appeared as a guest host on the original Saturday Night Live. He continued to develop his comedic talents after that as a reoccurring guest on the very successful sitcom Third Rock from The Sun. He's also played it for laughs in movies like Free Enterprise and the current comedy Showtime with Robert deNiro and Eddie Murphy. He's done his share of outright hawking too, but always as himself, from Commodore computers in the 80s to the infamous Priceline dot com commercials.

As an actor, he's appeared in hundreds of TV episodes and feature films since the late 1940s, but he never stops re-inventing himself. He's even an occasional host on The Iron Chef.

At the Pasadena Star Trek Grand Slam, Shatner revealed that he was currently in the development stage for a project with CBS which would start with a Star Trek convention appearance and then trace the "making of Star Trek" through his eyes. Nothing new about a "making of Star Trek" concept, but reworking the concept to start from a fan con was enough to interest CBS and get a big cheer from the audience.

His latest reinvention is the official Shatner website at www.williamshatner.com. It's been there for several years, but one of his daughters took it over recently and it's pretty cool even if Bill doesn't know the difference between a chat room and an email message. (Of course, Wil Wheaton's www.wilwheaton.com is THE Trek site to hit if you are a true techie Trekker and many other Trek stars have nice homes on the web nowadays too.)

Shatner must be an inspiration to other Trek alumnae, though, because many of them followed in his footsteps as the franchise took them out of the TV actor spotlight. Books are commonplace in their profession, but lots of Star Trek actors have moved behind the camera with marked success. LeVar Burton and Roxann Dawson are leading the pack as the next generation of actor/ directors chalking up episode credits. Robert Duncan McNeil, Gates McFadden, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Alexander Siddig, Robert Beltran and Robert Picardo have notably tried their hands at it too. Michael Dorn recently confirmed that he will direct an upcoming first season episode of Enterprise.

If Shatner has left a shape-shifting legacy, Jonathan Frakes has probably had the biggest box-office success re-inventing himself. He started out directing episodes of DS9 and he currently serves as the Executive Producer of Roswell, which he has also appeared on (as himself - sound familiar?) and directed from time to time. In the more lucrative world of feature films, Frakes directed the current box-office hit Clockstoppers, and two successful and profitable Star Trek: The Next Generation motion pictures, First Contact and Insurrection.

Frakes  kidded about Shatner at the Con - he told a story about his mom having a full-size picture of Shatner on her refrigerator when Frakes was just starting his tour as Commander Riker on Next Generation - but he also admitted to one fan that the book she had read "by Jonathan Frakes" was a ghostwriter's creation. Sound even more familiar?

The audience tittered when he indicated that he hadn't even read it and roared at Frakes' offhand comment: "I'm just as big a ho as anyone else!"

As William Shatner has taught us all, having something to sell is only the beginning. Convincing the audience to keep buying it is the real trick.

The Official Star Trek Site - www.startrek.com 

Ultimate Star Trek news site - www.trektoday.com 

Genre News: Roswell, Clockstoppers, Oscars, Razzies, Twilight Zone, Klea Scott, Picard's Uniform and more...
Frakes Shopping A New Home for Roswell

Hollywood March 23, 2002 (eXoNews) - Roswell Executive Producer Jonathan Frakes didn't mind talking about Roswell during his stint at the Grand Slam Star Trek Con in Pasadena. In fact, when some fans shouted out "Roswell!" during the star's Q&A, his response was: "Yeah! Roswell! What's with that? Where were you guys?"

Frakes confirmed rumors that Roswell's producers are shopping for a new home for the beleaguered romantic sci-fi show and mentioned Sci Fi Network as the prime target. In a back in forth with one questioner, he agreed that "more sci-fi and less romance" might have served to help the show as it traveled from the "wanna be" network (WB) to the "unpopular network" (UPN), and reminded the audience that he had brought former Trek heavyweight Ronald Moore in to help out with writing and producing Roswell for just that reason.

He also said yes a Roswell movie was a good idea and indicated that he had suggested it, but didn't say anything else regarding a move to the big screen for Roswell.

Frakes entertained Trekkers of all ages packed into the Pasadena Convention Center with a winning and energetic romp through STTNG stories. He had nice things to say about William Shatner, flirted with Klingon women in the audience, plugged the new Trek movie Nemesis - (said it would be out for Thanksgiving), and got applause at every mention of his compatriot STTNG Nemesis actors and guest stars Wil Wheaton and Whoopi Goldberg.

He confirmed that he was directing the pilot of the new Twilight Zone series planned by CBS this fall and then presented the audience with a theatrical trailer for his latest motion picture directorial tour, Clockstoppers.

Clockstoppers star villain Michael Biehn and Producer Gale Anne Hurd joined him on stage and answered questions about the film, which opened in theaters this month.

Clockstoppers - www.clockstoppers.com 

The Official Star Trek Site - www.startrek.com 

Ultimate Roswell fan site - www.crashdown.com 

[The above article also appeared on the Crashdown site. My pleasure, Lisa. Ed.]

Roswell Replacements Bomb Off UPN Schedule

LOS ANGELES March 22, 2002 (Zap2it.com) - UPN's stab at hip twentysomething comedy has apparently missed its mark.

The midseason comedies "As If" and "The Random Years" have both been placed on hiatus. They'll be replaced at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday (March 26) by a repeat of the premiere of "Under One Roof," UPN's new reality series.

The two shows have performed very poorly in the Nielsen ratings, with "As If" averaging only a 1.1/2 in its two broadcasts and "Random Years" drawing only a 1.0/2. They're the two lowest-rated shows on any of the six broadcast networks this season.

On Tuesday, March 12, the two shows averaged about 1.4 million viewers, losing two-thirds of the audience from their lead-in, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The two shows were getting a tryout in the post-"Buffy" slot usually occupied by "Roswell," which is set to return April 23.

"Roswell" has struggled in the ratings some this season as well, airing in perhaps the most competitive hour of the week. But it still averaged almost double the rating (2.0/3) and twice the number of total viewers (3 million) of "As If" and "The Random Years." 

[We told UPN cloning a new age Friends was a bad idea. Roswell rocks! Three million hard core fans can buy a lot of soap and cars! Paying attention, CBS? Ed.]

Ronnie Won, But Clint Got Enterprise

By FLAtRich

Hollywood March 25, 2002 (eXoNews) - Hollywood residents like me were really happy to see the Oscars back in our home turf (Jody Foster said that too - she grew up near my neighborhood, probably when it wasn't a ghetto), but the best thing about the awards this year was Ron Howard finally getting his due.

If you happened to catch A&E Biography a week or so back when they told Ronnie's story from Opie to Beautiful Mind, you probably agree. Nothing pleases Americans more than a Hollywood success story, and Ron Howard is exactly that - as a kid actor with actor parents and a kid actor brother, to a Kodak Young Filmmaker Award winner as a teen, this guy was bred on the back lot and destined to direct. His long list of great movies is our reward for his patience as he has waited for his peers to agree and realize just how talented he really is.

Not to knock that other Hollywood guy David Lynch, mind you. If you actually live in Hollywood, you probably understood a lot more of Mulholland Drive than Roger Ebert, who told Lynch he was going to study the Blue Velvet Twin Peaks Master's latest at a film symposium in Colorado in the hope of figuring it out. Lynch recommended Roger get a lot of good coffee, but that probably wasn't a hint. Coffee sucks on Hollywood Boulevard. Colorado? How's that gonna help, Roger? My advice is to slum around Sunset and Western a little more. The real Hollywood is scary, like Lynch's movie. (I knew all those people - I swear!) The "meaning" of Mulholland Drive is right out there on Sunset every night about 3 AM. That's why you didn't get it. (Colorado is like Redford yuppie country, man.)

Not to knock Roger, because he has pretty good taste for somebody from Chicago :o)>

In the meantime, back to Ron's brother Clint Howard, who I seem to remember on Star Trek the Original Series (aka TOS), right? Clint showed up on Enterprise this week as Muk, one of a Ferengi trio trying acquire stuff from the ship by less than honest means (which is probably legal as one of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, BTW.) Clint's fellow Ferengi are also Trek alumnae - namely Ethan Phillips (Neelix on Voyager) and Jeffrey Combs, who has already done Enterprise this year as the first Andorian and also had recurring roles on DS9 as Quark's Ferengi nemesis (no pun intended) and the evil Dominion Vorta, Weyoun.

If you can say that last sentence three times at any speed without error, well, you should GET A LIFE, maybe? Or an apartment on Sunset :o)>

Enterprise airs Wednesdays and Sundays on UPN.

Enterprise site - http://www.startrek.com/launch 

Apes Earned Top Razzie

Hollywood March 25, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Planet of the Apes took the dubious honor of being named worst remake or sequel movie as part of the 22nd Annual Razzie Awards, given March 23 in recognition of Hollywood's most questionable achievements, the Reuters news service reported.

Tim Burton's Apes stars Charlton Heston and Estella Warren also won Razzies for worst performances.

[Most of it was really OK - Tim Roth was amazing - but that ending was completely wrong, Mr. Burton. Ed.]

Twilight Zone and Other Casting News

Hollywood March 25, 2002 (eXoNews) - Hollywood Reporter says Jeremy Piven is set to star in the drama pilot "Twilight Zone," a remake of the classic anthology series set to debut on the now CBS-owned UPN. Piven will play an electrician who acquires the power to hear and see people's thoughts after getting struck by lightning.

This will be a second attempt to sequel the 1960's Rod Serling series, which was also made into a feature film by producer Stephen Spielberg in the 1970s. The new pilot will be directed by Star Trek actor and director Jonathan Frakes, which might help. The last TV attempt contributed little beyond a great new version of the theme music by the late Jerry Garcia.

The Reporter reports Emmy winner Carol Kane (Taxi) will star opposite Randy Quaid in Fox's comedy pilot "The Grubbs" - whatever that is - and Andrew McCarthy may join Oscar nominee Helen Mirren (Gosford Park) in the CBS drama pilot "Georgetown". Helen is a really great, sexy lady and let's hope not completely wasted on CBS.

Reporter also tells us Tom Sizemore will star in a yet-untitled Michael Mann drama pilot for CBS from Studios USA. Mann wrote the Wil Smith as Ali screenplay and is the guy who originally brought Hannibal Lecter to life in the pre-Jody Foster TV film Manhunter (1986). Klea Scott, last seen as Lance Henriksen's partner in the third season of Chris Carter's MillenniuM, has also been cast for the pilot.  Mann is a cool writer and Sizemore is a cool actor (Black Hawk Down, Red Planet, and many more), but don't get too excited - it's another cop show...

Win Jean-Luc Picard's Uniform! 

Hollywood March 26, 2002 (Zap2It) - TNN will let viewers "captain" the network and program its first STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION Viewers' Picks Marathon on Sunday, April 14 (2:00-7:00 PM, ET/PT).

Viewers are encouraged to visit www.TNNOnline.com to vote for their favorite "NEXT GEN" episodes and can enter a special sweepstakes to win a trip to Hollywood, a copy of the new "Star Trek: Bridge Commander" PC game from Activision and take home an official "Star Trek" uniform worn by Captain Jean-Luc Picard (portrayed by Patrick Stewart).

From Monday, April 1 through Saturday, April 6, TNN viewers can log onto www.TNNOnline.com and vote for what they think are the Top 5 Greatest Episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, from a list of episodes and descriptions provided.

At the end of the voting period, the episodes with the most votes will be presented during a five-hour mini-marathon on Sunday, April 14. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION can be seen regularly on TNN weeknights at 8:00 & 11:00 PM, ET/PT, with two bonus episodes on Friday evenings at 9:00 & 10:00 PM, ET/PT.

[Hip enough to hate the Oscars and Emmy Awards for not nominating James Marsters, Alyson Hannigan or Christopher Judge? Be sure to check out our little bit on The Saturn Awards Nominees, mate. Ed.]

Lawsuit Seeks Slavery Reparations from US Companies

NEW YORK March 26, 2002 (AP) - A federal lawsuit seeking unspecified reparations for the 35 million descendants of African slaves was filed Tuesday against the Aetna insurance company, the FleetBoston financial services group and railroad giant CSX.

The lawsuit also claims that as many as 1,000 unidentified corporations may have profited from slavery, and sometimes helped it continue in the United States between 1619 and 1865.

"The practice of slavery constituted an immoral and inhumane depravation of Africans' life, liberty, African citizenship rights, cultural heritage and it further deprived them of the fruits of their own labor," the lawsuit said.

In a statement, Aetna said: "We do not believe a court would permit a lawsuit over events which - however regrettable - occurred hundreds of years ago. These issues in no way reflect Aetna today."

CSX said the suit had no merit and should be dismissed.

"Slavery was a tragic chapter in our nation's history," the company said in a statement. "It is a history shared by every American, and its impacts cannot be attributed to any single company or industry."

Officials at FleetBoston did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Lawyer Roger S. Wareham said the lawsuit sought damages that would be put into a fund to improve the health, education and housing opportunities for African Americans.

"This is not about individuals receiving checks in their mailbox," he said.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit was identified as Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, who said that she went to law school with the goal of eventually suing for damages as a result of slavery. She said as many as 60 companies had cooperated with her five years of research and provided documents showing how they had assisted the institution of slavery.

Lawyer Ed Fagan said that a series of Holocaust lawsuits settled for $8 billion had blazed the legal trail for the slavery action.

Echoes of Slavery at Liberty Bell Site

By Stephan Salisbury
and Inga Saffron
Inquirer Staff Writers

Philadelphia March 24, 2002 (Philadelphia Inquirer) - In a year, when visitors enter the new $9 million pavilion to view the Liberty Bell, they will tread directly over ground where George Washington's slaves toiled, slept, suffered and plotted escape during the eight years of his presidency.

When the pavilion was designed, no one knew the exact location of the old President's House, where Washington and successor John Adams lived from 1790 until 1800. And no one apparently considered the possibility that the pavilion would be on the soil where Washington kept his human property. Now that soil is yielding caustic debate.

New historic research shows the presence of slaves at the heart of one of the nation's most potent symbols of freedom. The National Park Service says the Liberty Bell is its own story, and Washington's slaves are a different one better told elsewhere. But some historians insist slavery is an integral part of this piece of ground. They are irate that the Park Service has refused to halt construction and excavate the site, to hunt for artifacts that would give a more complete picture of the nation's birth and slavery's role in it. Mayor Street has joined those critics.

"This is brand-new information to the city," Street spokesman Frank Keel said Friday, referring to the relation of the new bell site to slave quarters. "We think the issue is too important and too sensitive to ignore. The city is not about to let this slide by."

Street wants "to begin a very earnest dialogue with the Park Service" about how to address the issue of slavery on Independence Mall, Keel said. 

Park Service officials could not be reached late Friday for comment on Street's views. They said in earlier interviews that the Park Service was not distorting the nation's past.

"I wouldn't paint the Park Service as doing anything bad with history," said Phil Sheridan, a Park Service spokesman. "Obviously we knew there was slavery. Obviously we know there were Africans living there. We are following what the vast majority of people wanted on that block - interpretation of the Liberty Bell." 

In a less-racially charged debate, other critics are raising another issue about the pavilion. They complain that the Park Service's plans do not adequately commemorate the fact that the pavilion will be built on the site of Philadelphia's presidential residence. The entire debate was set in motion by the painstaking archival research of local historian Edward Lawler Jr. Lawler - for the first time - has mapped the location of the house. Moreover, he produced a floor plan showing the slave quarters built on Washington's instructions - quarters that were at what will be the entrance to the new pavilion.

Historians such as Gary Nash of the University of California at Los Angeles and Randall Miller of St. Joseph's University suggest that the Park Service is literally burying an unpleasant past by not allowing an archaeological dig of the area. In the absence of that, they say, the Park Service should at least mount an exhibition telling the complete - and messy - story of the site. Park Service officials, however, say their mission is to showcase the Liberty Bell. Beyond that, they say, federal policy bars excavation unless a site is threatened with destruction, which is not the case with the slave quarters.

Privately, some park officials say that as construction on the pavilion has begun at Sixth and Market Streets - after innumerable public meetings to discuss the design and focus of the renovated mall - it is too late to turn back. The design will not be altered; the site will not be excavated. When the new pavilion site was selected and the building design was approved several years ago - all part of a major overhaul of the Independence Mall area - the precise location of the President's House and its utility buildings was not known. 

In a lengthy discussion of the President's House in the January 2002 issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Lawler, an independent historian, demonstrated that Washington's slaves were housed in the stable area at the back of the house. That area is within a few feet of what will be the new location of the bell, which at the time of the American Revolution hung in Independence Hall.

The bell is now most commonly seen as a symbol of the Revolution, but it became famous only after abolitionists fighting to rid the nation of slavery adopted it as a symbol of their cause. In the 1840s, opponents of human bondage used the inscription incised on the bell as a rallying cry: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof."

Whoopi Goldberg Backs Cincinnati Boycott

CINCINNATI March 24, 2002 (AP) - Actress Whoopi Goldberg has become the latest celebrity to support an economic boycott of Cincinnati.

The comedian canceled her sold-out June 12 speech as part of a lecture series about women with unique lives, said Bob Benia, producer of the series. He said Goldberg requested information about the boycott after he told her about it.

The call for a boycott began after riots broke out last April when a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man fleeing police.

"I'm disappointed that the boycott seems to be creating a situation where the city of Cincinnati is missing out on things like this," Benia said Saturday.

Goldberg's publicist did not return phone calls.

Goldberg joins a growing list of black artists who have backed out of performances in response to the boycott, including actor-comedian Bill Cosby, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and R&B singer Smokey Robinson.

Arab-US Science Summit Deemed Success

By Kifah Arif 

Abu Dhabi March 26, 2002 (BBC) - A summit of Arab and US scientists has taken place in Abu Dhabi. The meeting in the United Arab Emirates capital was part of an ongoing effort to improve relations between the Arab world and the West in the wake of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. 

The sense of urgency was reflected in the list of participants, which included more than 50 high-level representatives from Arab and American scientific organizations. The US Secretary of State Colin Powell sent his chief science and technology adviser, Dr Norman Neureiter. 

Dr Neureiter told the meeting: "I believe so strongly in the powers of science and technology co-operation to break barriers to communication between countries." 

To illustrate this point, Dr Neureiter added: "Electrons all travel in the same direction and have the same charge, no matter where they are in the world. And the language of science is a global language even if we are different." 

He expressed the wish that participants should emerge from the meeting "with the same concrete ideas, even plans, for expanding science and technology co-operation between the Arab and the Western worlds. 

"We all live on the same globe, even if our history and culture may be very different," he concluded. 

A few months ago, Dr Neureiter told BBC News Online that he doubted whether such co-operation could be achieved. "When you listen to some of the messianic fundamentalism, you wonder whether dialogue can work," he had said. 

But when asked after the Abu Dhabi gathering whether he now thought Arab-American dialogue could work, he replied more positively. "Yes it can work," he said, "if both sides have the political will to make it happen." 

Financing scientific research programs and initiatives, persuading Arab governments about the important role science could play in society and the best way to deal with the brain drain (a problem rife in the Arab world) were among the many issues discussed in Abu Dhabi.

The main organizer of the meeting was the Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF), a coalition of Arab scientists - those working in the Arab world and expatriates. The ASTF was established two years ago to stimulate scientific research in the region and hopes to become a grant-giving body for science and technology, modelling itself on the US National Foundation of Science. The head of ASTF, Dr Abdalla Alnajjar, was keen to emphasize in his opening remarks that the dialogue at the meeting should focus on "science and technology and nothing else". 

John Boright, the executive director of international affairs at the US National Academy of Science (NAS), said it should not be forgotten that some dialogue had taken place before 11 September. He said the NAS held regular meetings with Palestinian, Jordanian, Israeli and Egyptian scientists on a number of topics such as the state of water resources, telehealth and the environment. 

Other participants at the meeting included Osman Shinaishin, a director with the US National Science Foundation; Farouk El-Baz, director of the Remote Sensing Center at Boston University and a member of the Apollo space program team during the 1970s; Abdul Hamid Halab, a special adviser to the Ruler of Sharjah on higher education; and the Libyan scientific research minister Maatouk Maatouk. 

The meeting was held on the eve of what Nature magazine recently described as an historic seminar: a gathering in Sharjah of more than 500 Arab scientists from across the region and beyond.

Comet Ikeya-Zhang Visible From Earth

Cambridge March 23, 2002 - The brightest comet since 1997's Hale-Bopp is currently gracing the western skies of North America.

Comet Ikeya-Zhang (pronounced "ee-KAY-uh JONG") was discovered on February 1st by two amateur astronomers in Japan and China, respectively. Calculations of the comet's orbit by Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics show that it was last seen in 1661.

This makes Ikeya-Zhang the first long-period comet (a comet with a period longer than 200 years) to be identified on its return to the inner solar system. 

No telescope is necessary to look at this beautiful visitor as it swings around the Sun and heads back to deep space. The comet has brightened to naked-eye visibility, but is easiest to see through binoculars. A casual glance will show the bright, starlike nucleus surrounded by a fuzzy cloud of dust and gas called the coma. The comet's tail streaks away from the Sun, pointing nearly straight up from the horizon. 

To find Comet Ikeya-Zhang, look in the western sky shortly after sunset. A red point of light about 18 degrees up in the sky is the planet Mars. (An outspread hand at arm's length covers about 15 degrees, so Mars is a bit higher than one hand-span.) To the right of Mars are two bright stars in a nearly vertical line. The comet is at the same height as Mars, to the right of the two bright stars about as far again as the distance from Mars to the stars. 

Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists organized into seven research divisions study the origin, evolution, and ultimate fate of the universe.

NASA's Outer Space Sentry

By Chris Knight
National Post

Pasadena March 25, 2002 (National Post) - There's good news for anyone trying to calculate the end of the world. Earlier this month, NASA launched a Web site dedicated to reporting how many asteroids are in our planetary neighborhood, how big they are, and how likely it is that one will crash into Earth.

The site, called Sentry, is operated by NASA's Near Earth Object office.

Sentry offers a mixture of technical data for scientists, and general information for people who like to gamble on when the world will come to an end. Donald Yeomans, who manages the office in Pasadena, Calif., calls the new site  a "one-stop shopping place for information on Near Earth Objects," or NEOs.

A chart on the site shows the size, speed and position of nearby asteroids, and is updated as new ones are discovered almost daily. Thanks to a Congressional mandate to find 90% of all very large NEOs by the end of the decade, NASA, which knew about just 169 NEOs in 1990, has now logged more than 1,800.

And like the info-graphics on the Weather Channel, the site also provides animations of NEOs in orbit: Pick an object, then sit back like the occupant of a time machine and watch the Earth swing around the Sun as the years click by on a counter and the asteroid follows its own orbital path, occasionally making a heart-stopping swoosh past Earth.

The asteroid 2002 DO3 is going past us right now. As you read this, it is sailing past the Earth at 10 kilometers a second. It is about 200 meters in diameter, big enough to carve a two-kilometer-wide crater if it hit, which it won't -- this time. Call up its orbit on the NEO site and you can watch it zoom harmlessly, but frighteningly close, past our planet and off into deep space. Or look at 2002 EM7, a 60-metre-wide rock that buzzed Earth on March 8 but was only spotted after it passed by.

Yeomans says the site, which gets thousands of visits a day, is educational for the public: "They enjoy it and it gives them in a few seconds a view of what the object looks like.

"And it drives home how it gets close to Earth."

NASA hopes to locate 90% of the estimated 1,000 kilometer-wide-or-larger NEOs by the end of the decade. As of last Wednesday, the space agency was tracking 575 kilometer-wide-or-larger NEOs. If one of these were to hit Earth, the results would be catastrophic -- millions would be killed by an impact near a populated area, and even an ocean strike would release enough energy to change the climate for decades. A similar catastrophe is believed to have wiped out most of the life on Earth 65 million years ago, killing off the big dinosaurs and setting the stage for our own evolution.

By tracking asteroids, NASA hopes to have enough advance warning, should a big one be heading toward Earth, to send up a spacecraft to nudge it out of the way.

While finding NEOs is simply a matter of telescope time and patience, tracking them is still an inexact science. Once they are discovered (by taking consecutive pictures of a tiny part of the sky and seeing if anything moves from one picture to the next), asteroids need to be observed over several days to get even a rough idea of what their orbits are. Computers can then predict their movements into the future, but the uncertainty grows over time -- and every time an asteroid wanders past Earth or another planet, its velocity changes.

"When you have a close approach, the uncertainties in the object's position are magnified," says Yeomans. "We have not a clue where the object will be several decades from now, because it could be anywhere."

He likens asteroids' orbits to railway tracks. "We know where the track is, we know that it can intersect the Earth's path, but we don't know where it is on the path. All you can do is come up with a best estimate of where it will be in the future."

Yeomans says the public is becoming better educated about the risks posed by asteroids. Nature helped in 1994, when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smacked into Jupiter and space probes delivered pictures of the event. Yeomans also credits the twin asteroid disaster movies of 1998, Deep Impact and Armageddon, "both of which were not particularly good, but they did sensitize the public."

Just outside modern memory, and too remote to have the impact of a Hollywood film, was the 1908 Tunguska Event, in which an asteroid estimated at 60 meters in diameter crashed in Siberia, destroying 2,200 square kilometers of forest with the force of a hydrogen bomb.

"You would expect something like that every 200 years or so," says Yeomans.

The NEO Web site is careful not to stir panic. The most dangerous object on its list is asteroid 2002 CU11, highlighted in soothing green, with the information that it has about a one-in-100,000 chance of hitting Earth -- in 2049. Even that slight risk is likely to be downgraded as the object's orbit is more closely calculated. Still, Yeomans' office walks a fine line between fear and education.

"We welcome a little media attention from time to time," he says. "We don't want too much attention, though, because then our colleagues say we're nuts, trying to increase our funding by scaring the hell out of people."

Near-Earth Object Program Sentry site - http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov 

Asteroid Passes Near Earth

Cambridge March 20, 2002 (AP) - An asteroid large enough to demolish a city the size of Orlando passed within 288,000 miles of Earth without being noticed by astronomers until four days later. The asteroid, about 165 feet across, came from the direction of the sun, making it difficult for astronomers to spot. It passed by Earth on March 8, but wasn't seen until March 12 as it hurtled away.

Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., helped spot the asteroid after it passed by. It was a close call in space terms. The moon is only 250,000 miles away.

"The key is to detect these objects before they come out of the (sun's direction)," Williams said.

That way, astronomers can quickly determine an asteroid's orbit and predict whether it will hit the Earth.
A similar-sized object flattened a 20-mile-wide patch of Siberian forest in 1908.

China Blasts Off!

By JOHN LEICESTER 
Associated Press Writer 

BEIJING March 26, 2002 (AP) — It was a small step in China's manned space program but a giant leap in the Chinese president's quest for a place in history. 

Flanked by army officers, a grin broad across his face, President Jiang Zemin watched proudly Monday night as China fired the third in a series of unmanned test capsules into orbit. 

"Comrades, the launch of the Shenzhou III spaceship was a success!'' Jiang said after a Long March II F rocket carried the craft into orbit. "This is a new milestone in the development of our aerospace industry. I, like everyone, am very happy.'' 

Jiang's attendance for the launch was a sign of his communist government's growing confidence in the viability of its ambitious decade-old program. China hopes to join Russia and the United States as the only nations to have put people in space, and says it aims eventually to have a permanently manned space station. 

"Manned spaceflight is just the first step,'' the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Jiang as saying. 

While a manned launch may not come before Jiang's expected retirement as head of the Communist Party this autumn and as president next year, success could boost the 75-year-old leader's drive to be enshrined in Chinese history alongside Mao Tse-tung and Deng Xiaoping. 

State television devoted considerable chunks of its midday and evening national news broadcasts to Jiang's visit to the Jiuquan launch center, near where the Great Wall ends in the desert of northwest China's Gansu province. 

Underscoring the Chinese army's heavy role in the secretive manned program, code-named Project 921, Jiang wore a green military-style suit. He delivered a speech against backdropped images of the red Chinese flag and a firework-festooned Tiananmen Gate that overlooks Beijing's famed square, emphasizing the national prestige China attaches to its space endeavors. 

The launch "greatly boosted the whole nation's morale,'' Jiang told army officers and engineers he met Tuesday during an inspection of the launch center. 

It "shows that the Chinese people are perfectly capable of understanding the most advanced technologies by making their own innovations and can be part of the high-tech world,'' Jiang said. 

From the television images, the launch looked textbook. And while the language might be unintelligible to non-Chinese audiences, the countdown — "San, er, yi, dianhuo! Qifei!'' ("Three, two, one, ignition! Lift-off!'') — led smoothly into the roar of rockets that flamed into the night sky. 

China has not said when its first "taikonauts,'' coined from the Chinese word for outer space, will blast into orbit. But Xinhua said the Shenzhou (pronounced "shun-jo'') III vessel "can carry out all the functions of a manned craft'' and was carrying "dummy astronauts'' as well as instruments to simulate and monitor human vital signs. Data gathered would be used to improve life-support systems on future craft. 

Scientists for the first time also tested an emergency escape system for astronauts during the launch, state media said. Ten minutes after take off, the craft separated from the rocket and moved into preset orbit. The craft, consisting of an orbital module, re-entry module, and propulsion and access sections, will orbit once every 90 minutes and remain in space for "a couple of days,'' the China Daily said. 

The orbital module will separate from the re-entry module and continue circling Earth for several months while conducting experiments. The spacecraft was being tracked and operated from control centers in Beijing and the central city of Xi'an and by four monitoring ships in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. 

The previous two unmanned Shenzhou vessels were launched in November 1999 and January 2001. The first circled Earth 14 times during 21 hours in space, the second orbited for a week.

Test Subjects Wanted for Hypergravity Experiment

Stanford March 25, 2002 - If you've ever wanted to experience the sensation space shuttle astronauts feel during liftoff and landing -- or if spinning around in circles all day inside a large NASA centrifuge is your idea of a good time -- then Malcolm Cohen wants to hear from you. 

A consulting professor in Stanford's Department of Human Biology and chief of NASA's Human Information Processing Branch, Cohen is looking for participants in a groundbreaking study to determine the extent to which people can tolerate prolonged exposure to increased gravitational force -- or hypergravity. 

"The human body has evolved and adapted to G forces that are relatively constant, except for brief periods of acceleration in planes, cars, merry-go-rounds and so forth," Cohen said. "But there has never been a comprehensive study of the long-term effects of hypergravity on humans." 

To remedy this lack of data, Cohen and his colleagues at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., are seeking men between the ages of 18 and 35 who are willing to experience G forces up to two times greater than those normally found on Earth. The study begins in July and will run about nine weeks for each participant. Evaluations of G-tolerance levels in women are expected to be the subject of future experiments. 

Those selected for the study will have to endure long hours sitting, and occasionally standing, inside NASA Ames' 20-G centrifuge - a 58-foot-long spinning machine featured in the film Space Cowboys. The centrifuge simulates increasing levels of hypergravity as it rotates faster and faster. For example, to experience the effects of 2 G - twice Earth's gravitational force - a passenger is spun at nearly 15 revolutions per minute. 

A physiological psychologist, Cohen began studying the effects of hypergravity on military jet pilots in the 1960s. He joined the staff of NASA Ames in 1982 - the same year he began teaching a course titled "Astrobiology and Space Exploration" in the Human Biology Program at Stanford. 

"Gravity shapes life," Cohen observed. "It defines the character of the nervous system, our reflexes and our bones. Interesting things happen to astronauts when they are weightless for long durations. They become de-conditioned - that is, their tolerance for G forces is reduced."

Astronauts returning from space sometimes experience fainting spells when they try to stand up - the result of a sudden drop in blood pressure caused by the failure of the cardiovascular system to provide an adequate supply of blood to the brain. Some space travelers are unable to stand for long periods of time when they return to Earth, while others undergo leg muscle atrophy - a classic case of "use it or lose it," Cohen noted.

During a typical shuttle flight, astronauts spend less than a half hour in hypergravity conditions - up to 3.2 G during takeoff and 1.4 G on re-entry. Most of their journey is spent weightless as they orbit the Earth. According to Cohen, if astronauts were exposed to hypergravity while in space, they might have an easier time re-adjusting to gravity on Earth - or on other planets - without suffering bouts of muscle atrophy, fainting and other common side effects. 

"Is it possible that if you're exposed to increased gravity over time, your ability to cope with hypergravity could be enhanced?" he asked. "That's one question our centrifuge experiment will try to address." 

In the next few decades, space travelers are likely to spend long periods of time exploring Mars, where the gravitational force is .38 G - or about 40 percent of Earth's gravity. Instead of remaining weightless during their long trip to the Red Planet, Cohen said that astronauts may have a better chance of adjusting to the Martian environment if they are exposed to artificial gravity en route - in this case, .38 G or even higher. 

Those willing to join the NASA study must be willing to ride up to 22 hours nonstop inside one of three experimental cabins on board the centrifuge. Because the passenger cab is just 7.6 feet long and 6 feet wide, NASA only will accept applicants who are 5-foot-8 or shorter. 

The experiment will consist of seven habitation sessions in the centrifuge - five of which will last 22 hours. The sessions will be spread over several weeks and could total 188 hours. Test subjects will be paid an hourly rate to be determined later. The centrifuge cab will be equipped with food, water, a cot, a toilet and a television set. During the daylong sessions, participants will conduct normal routines, such as eating, excreting, sleeping, reading and watching TV. Closed-circuit video cameras will monitor all activities. 

Each passenger will be fitted with a specially designed biosensor vest to measure his heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels. Urine samples will be collected and analyzed at a later date. NASA warns that in addition to motion sickness, participants may experience a number of "inconveniences, discomforts and risks": blackout, fainting, cardiac arrhythmias, disorientation and dizziness, among others. 

The experiment will begin with a pretest to determine the subject's G-tolerance limit. Each man will be fitted with an EKG on his chest to record heartbeat and a Doppler sensor on his forehead to measure blood-flow velocity through his temporal artery. The centrifuge then will be rotated at a gradually accelerating rate to produce an increase of 1 G per 15 seconds. 

"The increased force will tend to pull blood from your head and cause it to pool in your gut and your lower limbs," Cohen warns each candidate. "When the force is sufficiently strong, it will overcome the ability of your heart to pump blood to your head, and you will temporarily lose peripheral vision as your visual field begins to dim. The level of G at which this occurs will define your tolerance limit." 

To determine that limit, a pair of lights will flash in the centrifuge cab as it rotates faster and faster. The lights will appear in the passenger's peripheral visual field and will be moved closer together as the G force increases. The centrifuge will be stopped when the lights are about 40 degrees apart - the point at which peripheral vision begins to dim - or when the Doppler sensor indicates that the passenger has undergone a significant reduction in blood flow to his eyes. 

People tend to lose peripheral vision between 3 and 5 G, so the pretest should last one minute or less. However, as G forces increase, subjects face of the risk of losing consciousness because of a lack of blood flow to the brain. For that reason, even if there are no symptoms, the pretest automatically will be stopped at 90 seconds, when the gravitational force reaches 7 G.

When the pretest is completed, participants will undergo five 22-hour sessions and two shorter multi-hour sessions once a week for seven consecutive weeks. 

As a control, the first 22-hour session will be conducted at 1 G - Earth's normal gravitational force - while the centrifuge arm is at rest. During the next two sessions, the centrifuge will rotate nonstop for 22 hours to simulate higher levels of gravitational force at 1.25 and 1.5 G. If these tests are successfully completed, the subject will undergo a 12-hour session at 1.75 G the following week, then 1.75 G for 22 hours a week later, followed by a six-hour session at 2 G, and finally, a 22-hour session at 2 G.

Subjects will spend most of their time sitting or lying on a cot in a cabin with a specially built floor that tilts back on an angle to accommodate increasing G forces. Every four hours, participants will be required to perform three-minute sitting, standing and reclining exercises while their cardiovascular response is evaluated. 

"At any time, and for any reason, participants will be able to terminate the session by pressing a button, or simply by asking the medical monitor to stop the session," Cohen noted. 

A laptop computer with electronic games, questionnaires and behavioral tests loaded onto its hard drive also will be on board. 

"Your use of this computer will be completely at your discretion," Cohen tells candidates. At the end of each session, participants will take another test that is identical to the pretest, and then undergo a neurological and cardiovascular examination to determine if they are medically fit to return home for the week. 

"This is not a benign test," Cohen observed. "I try to discourage candidates when I meet them, because I don't want people to participate unless they really want to do it." 

In addition to providing much-needed data on the health effects of long-term space travel, Cohen said that the experiment could provide new insights into treating motion sickness - and even help athletes improve their performance. 

"Perhaps if they train in hypergravity, athletes will feel more comfortable lifting weights or running around the track at normal gravity," Cohen explained. "It's like a batter who swings three or four baseball bats when he's on deck. When he or she goes to the plate, a single bat will seem very lightweight and easier to swing." 

Those interested in participating in the experiment can contact Abigail Bautista at the NASA Ames Research Center: email abautista@mail.arc.nasa.gov  or telephone (650) 604-5464.

Tall Tin Can in Utah Is All Mars 

By BLAINE HARDEN

HANKSVILLE, Utah. March 23, 2002 (NY Times) — In the red-rock desert west of this lonely little town, six seriously smart people are living in something that looks like a sawed-off corn silo and smells of their unwashed socks.

They have come to a fine spot for unorthodox behavior. A Mormon named Ebenezer Hanks came here in the 1880's to practice polygamy and nobody bothered him. The six recent pilgrims are practicing something even stranger and more isolating — living on Mars.

They go outside in white canvas space suits trimmed in duct tape. Their helmets are made from plastic light fixtures and white bullet-shaped trash-can lids. In their habitation module (the thing that looks like a silo), they sit with their laptops late into the cold desert night, typing up reports of simulated Mars disasters.

"Wind blows off the roof hatch," Dr. Bjoern Grieger, mission commander and an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Aeronautics in Germany, wrote in his log last week after 60-mile-an-hour gusts ripped open doors and windows in the module, exposing its inhabitants to the elements. 

"Fortunately," Dr. Grieger wrote, "even high wind speeds would not do much damage on Mars, as the air density is much lower than on Earth. Otherwise, we had to consider ourselves dead now." 

The not-so-deadly pretense of living on Mars while hanging out in a tall tin can in southern Utah is the latest wrinkle in a private plan to persuade the federal government to send humans to Mars sooner and for less money than envisioned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The Mars Society — a group of about 5,000 dues-paying Mars enthusiasts from 29 countries, many of whom are space scientists and some of whom work in senior positions at NASA — wants to send men and women to Mars within the next decade, at a cost of $10 billion, far below previous estimates by the space agency.

NASA has said it will not even contemplate a manned Mars mission until after 2020, when an unmanned spacecraft is scheduled to make a round trip to the planet. While the Mars Society concedes that a mission will be difficult to pull off without federal help, it argues that there is important publicity to be won and practical knowledge to be gathered when scientists seriously pretend they are working on a planet that at its nearest is 37 million miles from Earth.

The mantra of the Mars Society is "travel light and live off the land." Its primary scheme for slashing the cost and complexity of a Mars mission is to manufacture rocket fuel once on the planet. Martian air, which is mostly carbon dioxide, would be mixed with hydrogen to make fuel for the journey home.

"The people who are interested in going to Mars have the money to pay for it, provided they could be rallied," Dr. Robert Zubrin, an astronautical engineer and the founder of the Mars Society, said by telephone from his Denver office. "To that end, we decided we had to start small."

The modest module is part of Dr. Zubrin's master plan to rally support. Built with about $1 million in private donations to the society, it is the second of four planned stations (one opened in the Arctic in 2000) designed to teach biologists, geologists, engineers and physicists how to work together in a Mars-like site without driving each other crazy.

The module's parking space is in a barren corner of the West that bears an astonishing resemblance to actual pictures of Mars that have been transmitted back to Earth by various unmanned space agency.

The site should look authentic. It was found by Hollywood location scouts working for James Cameron, the film director of "Titanic." He is a Mars buff and has considered making a movie about the planet.

Mr. Cameron tipped off Dr. Zubrin, who moved the module in over the winter and opened it on Feb. 7 as the Mars Desert Research Station.

"The look of the place is very important from a p.r. point of view," said Dr. Grieger, commander of the third rotation of scientists to spend two weeks in the station.

That outer-spacey look has already lured American, German and British television news crews to Hanksville, and more are on the way. The six scientists now aboard the research station said that perhaps their most important duty was to be nice and photogenic. That is the most cost-effective way, they agreed, to create a groundswell of support for sending human beings to Mars.

They also agreed that, at the moment, no such groundswell exists. 

"Kids these days, they have never seen a moon walk," said Nell Beadle, 36, the second-in-command aboard the station and a marine geologist who works for a Seattle company that maps the ocean floor. "It is kind of sad. They don't even see manned interplanetary travel in the realm of possibility."

Like her colleagues in the station, Ms. Beadle cannot remember a time when she was not a space geek who desperately wanted to go to Mars. 

Ms. Beadle bought her first telescope at age 9, taught herself celestial navigation when she was 10 and completed a science fair project on Mars geology at 14. Sybil Sharvelle, a University of Colorado water-resource engineer who specializes in space station water supply systems, was in fifth grade when she bought NASA's Shuttle Operators Manual. Even now, at the age of 26, she has a habit of beginning dinner-party stories by saying, "When I was at space camp. . . ."

Erik Carlstrom, 25, another geologist on the module, saved up $865 as a teenager to go to space camp but ending up squandering it on violin. 

Living in simulated Mars demands geeky enthusiasm. The module's "staterooms" are cramped windowless closets (except for that of the commander, who has a cramped closet with a window). Showers are available every four days. When the wind blows a certain way, the smell of the module's compost toilet insinuates itself into the upstairs room where everyone cooks, eats and writes reports. Earthly meals are prepared on a hot plate.

Although they are obsessed with space, members of the crew are realistic about their chances of actually getting into orbit. Ms. Sharvelle, for instance, is too short, at 5 foot 3, to qualify as an astronaut under the space agency's standards. Jonathon Dory, 26, the 6 foot 7 fix-it man on the module and a contract engineer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, is too tall. The commander, Dr. Grieger, the only non-American aboard, has a stomach problem that would disqualify him.

"When I had my chance to simulate weightlessness, I completely filled my barf bag," said Dr. Grieger, who, besides playing astronaut here, has trained as an astronaut in Star City, the Russian space center.

This decidedly earthbound station, then, is as close to interplanetary travel as its temporary crew is likely to get. So, they make the most of it. Today, for example, they jumped into their canvas spacesuits for three walkabouts in the only Mars they will ever know.

The last walk took place at dusk. Tiffany Vora, 22, the crew's biologist and a doctoral student in molecular biology at Princeton, had seen on SpaceWeather.com that a comet might be visible in the early evening. (The module has a satellite Internet connection, but no television and no telephone.)

All six crew members tramped off to inspect southern Utah's ludicrously bright night sky. They stood side by side on a desert hill, threw back their heads and rejoiced in a cloudless display of stars, planets and a quarter-moon that cast razor-sharp shadows. Ms. Vora began to giggle.

It suddenly occurred to her, she said, that if she and her colleagues were to discover space aliens at this very moment in the desert, absolutely nobody on Earth would believe them. Who would trust six people who themselves were pretending to be on another planet? 

Everyone exploded in laughter. Then they walked back to habitation module and cooked some supper.

Monk's Curse Hangs Over Steelworkers

Wales March 23, 2002 (BBC) - Fears of invoking the wrath of an angry Cistercian monk have prompted south Wales steelworkers to preserve a cursed 800-year-old wall.

An essential job of apprentices at the Corus steel plant in Port Talbot is ensuring a 20ft wall on the site does not fall down in case they invoke a 16th century curse. 

According to local tradition, a monk forced to leave Margam Abbey when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries told new owner Sir Rice Mansel that, if this wall was destroyed, everything in the vicinity would fall with it. None of the successive owners from the Mansels to the Talbots or today's modern steel company have dared let the wall crumble in case the curse comes true. The monk aimed to prevent Mansel from breaking up the Abbey after the monks were ousted. 

Corus spokesman Simon Jenkins said the main reason for keeping the wall standing was to preserve local heritage. However he admitted that nobody was keen to find out what would happen if they challenged the long-standing superstition. 

"It's quite strange to have an 800-year-old wall within a hi-tech steel plant," commented Mr Jenkins. "We're not superstitious, but we like to hedge our bets." 

He added that the curse was attributed locally to the "Red Monk", a ghostly figure in a red habit reportedly seen on a regular basis by workers at the site. 

"I remember when I started work 10 years ago being told there was a ghost at the Margam end of the site. I used to have to pass the wall when I worked nights and it scared the heck out of me." 

The 20ft long wall, which formed part of the outer edge of the abbey, lies on the eastern end of the three-mile Corus site next to the rolling mill. Visitors to the plant including school parties can see the wall and hear its history as well as learning about the industrial processes taking place in its shadow. The plant is currently celebrating its centenary with a special exhibition which traces the history of steel-making in the area. 

As well as praying and cursing, the long-exiled monks also took advantage of the area's resources to produce iron.

How To Communicate With Aliens

By Nikla Gibson

PARIS March 26, 2002 (Reuters) - It seemed an unlikely place to discuss how to communicate with aliens -- a gray house off a nondescript alley in a none-too-interesting suburb of Paris.

But as rain poured from the heavens outdoors, scientists, astronomers, artists and musicians hunkered down in the warm sitting room of the private home to swap ideas on how to chat with E.T. -- if he ever calls. And what, if anything, to say.

Seemingly fulfilling every possible cliché -- from a young computer whiz, to a softly-spoken NASA scientist, a professor with a shock of white hair and an excitable Russian -- the group of respectable professionals were earnest in their arcane endeavors.

Mathematical equations filled overhead projection slides, exotic Indonesian gong music rang out and the talk was of complex scientific phenomena and deeply philosophical questions about the nature of human beings and their relationships.

"We are not trying to find the best message or even the most intelligible," said Douglas Vakoch, who led the Paris workshop. In his other incarnation, Vakoch runs the interstellar message group at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) institute in the United States.

"I think we should construct thousands of messages in the hope one of them could be understood...I think there is a reasonable chance we can overcome the barriers between human and extraterrestrial worlds, but maybe we can't."

"Maybe, even if we get a signal from them, their way of conceptualizing will be so alien to us that we just can't."

GOOD LISTENERS

SETI, a private non-profit organization sponsored by the U.S. government, NASA and technology giants such as Sun Microsystems, has been monitoring radio signals for the past 40 years in the hope of picking up a transmission from outer space.

"We have to use the tools that we have right now to search for signs of alien life. We are very hopeful," Vakoch said, as he sat in the kitchen of the Paris house.

"We are looking for signals by radio...but we can't rule out that they may already be trying to contact us and we can't detect them."

But, with computer and other technologies making advances all the time, Vakoch argues it is time to get serious about working out what, if anything, humanity would want to say to an alien civilization.

The assumption is that any signals picked up by SETI will be in radio form and therefore the alien sending the message will likely have similar technology and share our language of physics and math -- making possible a conversation, of sorts. 

And that is where the Paris meeting comes in.

In the house of the late Frank Malina, a U.S. pioneer in jet propulsion, and in the very rooms that some of the early Russian cosmonauts spent time learning English, the assembled artists and scientists put their heads together to brainstorm possible messages.

"Today the focus has been on whether we can explain something about our aesthetic sensibilities. Is there something about art that is either universal or that can be taught, step by step, to another intelligence?" Vakoch said.

MUSIC, PAINTING, MATHS, RAINBOWS

Surrounded by walls covered in Malina's kinetic art -- pulses of electric light shining through moving elements -- people from six nations discussed what aspects of the human understanding of art and beauty could be revealed to other beings.

A professor of theoretical computer science suggested using music as a teaching aid to help aliens learn a coded language for cosmic conversations. He suggested employing the strange sounds of Indonesian gongs and gave a demonstration -- once he had worked out how to switch on the tape recorder.

An artist suggested using a rainbow as a metaphor for mankind's unity through diversity; a symbol of peace and a bridge. He would like to transmit the mathematical formulae for color wavelengths so that alien beings could create rainbows for themselves.

"Imagine how amazing it would be if we introduced color into an alien species' life for the first time," he said.

Others talked of algorithmic communication or computer systems that mimic human responses.

For Vakoch, all the theorizing serves another useful purpose.

"The truth is we don't know if there is alien life out there but in thinking about how we would communicate something about our sense of beauty or who we are, we are forced to reflect differently on ourselves and question our basic assumptions," he says.

In discussing alien life and how it may or may not differ from our own, Vakoch says, the differences here on earth between cultures, ethnic groups, nationalities and the sexes are put into a context which renders them less significant.

Pop-Up Toilets to Cut Street Urination
LONDON March 26, 2002 (Reuters) - Pop-up toilets that rise from the ground at night will be installed in central London in a bid to dissuade late-night male revelers from urinating against walls and doorways.

The self-cleaning telescopic urinals, which Westminister City Council hopes to have in place by autumn, will emerge from under the ground and be retracted in the day via remote control.

"By moving them underground it means they are not an obstacle in the day," a council spokeswoman said Monday. The council has already deployed mobile urinals which have been placed on the streets Friday and Saturday nights to cut down street urination.

The telescopic toilet is currently only available in Europe, Westminster council said.
Seth Green Goes from Evil to Bunny

By TERRY MORROW
Scripps Howard News Service 

Hollywood March 26, 2002 (Scripps Howard) - After struggling with his clothes and traffic, Seth Green was in a foul mood.

"I was having a rough morning," he says with a laugh during a telephone interview.

"I knew I was doing TV interviews so I was trying to put together an appealing outfit, something that won't make me look stupid and something my girlfriend would not give me a hard time about."

Unfortunately for Green, he's "not very good at matching things and nothing was working out."

He spent so much time trying to decide what to wear that he ran late.

Driving in Los Angeles traffic didn't help.

"I started getting really frustrated," he says. "I'm driving over here, and I think to myself: 'Why am I getting so irritated? I'm driving over to do interviews for the television show I am employed upon.' Where do I get off being irritable?"

The 27-year-old actor knows when he has a good thing going. One of the most sought-after young actors in Hollywood, Green is personable, self-effacing and candid while promoting his new sitcom "Greg the Bunny" (debuting 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 on Fox).

In it, he plays Jimmy, a human who lives in a world where puppets act like humans. Jimmy's roommate, Greg the Bunny, is a hot television star on a fictitious children's program.

"Getting people to understand what the concept is and appreciate the dynamic of the comedy is tricky at first," he says. "Once people watch it, they will catch on to the tone and get the joke."

Said joke is simple. The puppets act like human adults, with their own insecurities, larger-than-life egos and even crude behavior.

What drew Green to "Greg" was the early animation work of "Greg's" creators - Spencer Chinoy and Dan Milano. Green's decision to do the show came after a meeting and then an impromptu drag race between him and Milano on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

"We are driving neck-and-neck, fooling around, and Spencer leans over (to Seth's car) and says, 'Did you make a decision yet?' We were three minutes out of the meeting," Milano says.

"And we've been playing ever since."

"I literally fell in love with them," Green says, "but not in a stalker-romantic kind of way, but definitely in a 'Wow, these-are-my-friends-now' kind of way."

Green says "Greg" appeals to his own funny bone.

"It's my sense of humor," he says. "I love the jokes they were making. I knew if these guys are cool, then this would be a great place to spend the next few years."

While Green says "Greg" is his forte, he realizes his limits as an actor.

"Sometimes I will read something that is great, but the part isn't right for me. A lot of actors make the mistake of taking a part because the script is good, although they aren't right for the part," he says.

Among those "bad roles" for him: basketball players (Green is 5-foot-4), ethnic roles and parts written for women.

"I never get any of the women's roles I am up for," he says.

During recent years on screen, Green has dryly played the role of smart-aleck kid.

In the "Austin Powers" movies, he is Dr. Evil's rebellious son. On "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," his deadpan complemented the show's edgy style. He was a con artist in the "Rat Race" movie and a lippy son on the "Family Guy" animated series for Fox.

If there is a need for the perfect slacker for TV or film, Green is usually there to be it.

And there's something to him being able to carry off those roles so convincingly. Ask him what he looks for in a script, and he retorts: "I like the words to be spelled correctly ... and I like a good binding so the pages don't fall out."

Green, who has been acting professionally since the time he entered grade school, describes himself as a "nerd."

"This is so cheesy," he says, laughing about attending a San Diego comic book show each summer.

He goes to look at action figures and "the people who go there to dress up in costumes."

When he attended a recent comic book show, he wore a mask to conceal his identity. Fans somehow recognized him anyway.

"If I want to geek out over the new 'Star Wars' figures then it is hard to do when someone wants you to be cool and ask you important questions about your career," he says.

"... So my cover is blown."

Seth Green Official Site - www.sethgreenonline.com 

Greg the Bunny Unofficial Site - http://mmnt.millennium.berkeley.edu/gtb/home.html 

Greg the Bunny airs  Wednesdays at 9:30 PM ET/PT on Fox, folks - www.fox.com. At least it's not on Tuesday!


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