January 2010

Posted by Ellen

Alabama punt returner and cornerback Javier Arenas made a prediction in early December, about a month before the Tide defeated Texas in the Rose Bowl to claim its first national championship since 1992. "It will be," he said, "an extravagant moment."

Only he wasn't talking about taking a shot at the national title. He was referring to the commencement ceremony scheduled for Dec 12, when he would receive his college degree with a major in public relations, after just three and a half years at Alabama. In addition to completing heavy courseloads and winning national recognition on the football field, Arenas won awards for public service in Tuscaloosa, working with children in local schools and hospitals.

The only competition he lost was his race with his brother, who played football at Nebraska, to become the first college graduate in the family. His brother graduated last spring. "I'm second, but it's still a great honor," Arenas said. "From no one in our family graduating from college to now two college graduates--I'll take that any year."

Despite being one of the smallest players in Division I college football, at just 5-9, Arenas's football statistics ranked him high on the top-ranked team in the nation. Before the championship game, his total punt-return yardage was just a few yards shy of the national NCAA career record; with just one or two half-decent returns at the Rose Bowl, he would be able to set a new all-time record. But Texas wasn't taking any chances; every kick was directed to the part of the field farthest away from Arenas, even if it meant kicking out of bounds. He will leave Alabama still ranked as only the second-best punt returner in history.

Now, after last night's game, Alabama has the championship, its 13th in school history, and Arenas's teammate Mark Ingram has the Tide's first Heisman Trophy. Meanwhile, Javier Arenas, an all-American who almost certainly will be drafted early by the pros, has his degree. "If football doesn't work out," he said, "I'll be fine working in my field."

That's the way all college sports stories (and all cowboy movies) are supposed to go. Sometimes life imitates mythology.

Posted by Ellen

"Playing Chess with Tracey," painted in 2003 by the British artist Peter Blake. From his series, Marcel Duchamp's World Tour.

No comment.

Posted by Ellen

A few thousand years ago, a star in the constellation Scorpius ran out of gas. "Ran out of gas" is technically not quite correct--the star still has plenty of gas in its core that is burning hotter and brighter than ever--at an estimated temperature of 250,000 degrees Centigrade. But the star is dying; away from its core, its  layers of gases have been torn loose and are now floating away, flung out into space. When some stars die, the fleeing gases expand spherically but oftentimes, as here, the gases are flung out asymmetrically, giving the impression of butterfly wings. In ultraviolet light, the core of the dying star would show up as a white-hot disc in the center of this nebula, but here in an image from the newly upgraded Hubble Space Telescope, the central star cannot be seen at all; it is shrouded by a dense cloud of cosmic dust.

The gases in the butterfly wings are escaping the old star at the rate of 400 kilometers per second--almost 900,000 miles per hour. They will eventually be lost in space. The core will flame out and perhaps collapse in on itself, creating an extremely dense object that is incomprehensible to me and my non-physicist friends.

When our own sun starts behaving this way and flinging out dust and hot gases in our direction, we'll have perhaps a week or two before we're swallowed up in the wings of a butterfly. But our sun is believed to be a middle-aged star, so we've still got plenty of time to think of nebulae as awesome instead of dangerous.

Posted by Ellen

All five Stein boys touched down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a few days ago and claimed the beachhead for the Crimson Tide. That's not very hard to do in Tuscaloosa.

The occasion was the premier social event of the year, on New Year's Day, the wedding of Neely Sims and Damon Ray.

Posted by Ellen

This birdseye view of the town of Biratnagang, Nepal, was captured from ?????

Posted by Ellen

 Photographer Trey Ratcliff claims he assembled this image from nine separate shots of a Dutch windmill spinning in the wind, each shot snapped at a different exposure setting. He could not get the windmill blades to sit still for the camera, but he was able to merge together a wide range of light and color details.

Posted by Ellen

This plate was spotted at the antiques market alongside the Navigli canal in Milan. I'd like for somebody to buy it and take it to Antiques Roadshow so we can find out if the asking price was ridiiculously low or obscenely high or just right. Till then, we just don't know, do we?

Posted by Ellen

Paris in the wintertime can be chilly, especially if, like Addie Coslett, you've spent the past year in the tropics. Big mittens can help a lot.

Addie has been working for a bank in Bangalore that finances microloans in impoverished Indian villages. She bought the mittens while hiking in Kashmir. They made a big hit in Paris, where she stopped off on her way to the states for a holiday visit; strangers stopped her and asked if they could take a picture.