Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Martian

My wife (a botanist) and I just got back from watching The Martian. I laughed, I cried, I totally want to get her a "Best botanist on this planet" T-shirt.

If you've read the book, the movie stacks up quite well. They cut out quite a few of the engineering challenges that were detailed in the book. Most of these edits are in obvious places where the pacing would have slowed the movie down too much. For me, right after seeing the film, there are only two changes that really affect the feel of the narrative in comparison to the book. The first is related to Watney's accident with Pathfinder and the second is related to the attempt to rescue Watney after he leaves Mars. The very end of the movie does a better job providing closure for all of the characters than the book did.

Speaking of characters, that's something else I appreciated about this film: the inclusion of under represented groups, playing characters that have agency. I would suggest that there are probably women of color who work at NASA and in the future, I hope they actually do get to play important roles in getting humans to Mars. I also would think it would be easier to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test, given how much time is devoted to a big spaceship with two women aboard, but there's only one scene where the film might almost pass. Regardless, this movie doesn't take too many shortcuts when it comes to presenting different people as, well, people.

Overall I give it 4.5 Martian Potatoes out of 5 Explosive Decompressions.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Potatoes on Mars, Part the First.

It's been a while since I've updated the blog - work has been busy. I've been working the past two summers with some wonderful students from around the country and four other talented UW-Stout faculty (a biologist, anthropologist, social scientist, and economist). We've been working on a multidisciplinary study of phosphorus pollution in the Red Cedar Watershed. The projects from the past two years are available here (, and you can read up on the students' thoughts during their project via the LAKES BLOG (

Image from The Martian movie gallery (copyright 2015 20th Century Fox)

But that's not what I've decided to put up on DftDL. Instead, I'm going to talk about potatoes. Well, potatoes on Mars. Because this week, The Martian is released in theaters and being the calculating opportunist I am, I think this is the best time to start sharing my "big plan" for my soil science class this semester: Growing Potatoes on Mars. (plenty of information and pictures after the jump)