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March of the Penguins

With the title of this Minute and the official mascot of Linux being the penguin, you probably expect this to be an article on the inevitable growth of Linux around the world. It's true that each week seems to usher in a step forward for Linux endeavors, like the $299 Dell-like build-to-suit Linux desktops now available. These machines are affordable, highly configurable, quiet, and fast. They come from a reputable source complete with next-day on-site support, and you can purchase them without rebate gimmicks - making this a fantastic milestone for desktop Linux. But that's not what I want to write about. Instead, this week's Minute is devoted to a phenomenal film that chronicles a year in the life of the emperors of Antarctica.

See the official March of the Penguins website
The movie is March of the Penguins, and it should be appearing in a theater near you. The film follows the remarkable battle for survival that the emperor penguins endure every year during mating season. But it's more than just a nature survival movie - it's a passionate portrayal of love, life and death. Amazingly, the filmmakers weathered the harshest conditions on the planet to capture some of the most stunning cinematography imaginable.

The action begins as the these tuxedoed birds, who swim instead of fly, waddle across the South Pole on a trek to find a mate. If you've never seen penguins walk, imagine shuffling your feet while wearing handcuffs. Now do that for 70 miles across shifting ice and snow with no GPS or street signs to direct your way. Incredibly, they all converge at the same distant barren location to find their mate. It's here that they conceive their offspring then wait for more than a month as the female produces the egg.

To guard the egg from the elements, emperor penguins must balance their egg on their feet and cover it with a flap of skin while the egg incubates - a job the male penguins complete. Almost immediately after laying the egg, the female penguin performs a delicate hand-off from her feet to those of the male. With icy wind gusts circling about, the female has just one chance to make the clumsy transfer - the slightest bobble could shift the egg into open air and instantly freeze it. Once the transfer is complete, the females make the 70-mile trek back to the sea to feed, leaving the males to keep the eggs warm and safe.

It's here in this desolate landscape where the males stand for more than a month, huddled together with nothing to shield them from the storms but their own bodies pressed tightly together. Remarkably, the penguins rotate positions so each bird spends time on the cold perimeter and then switches to the warmer middle. (Of course, warm is relative when days have just one hour of sunlight and temperatures average 50 degrees below zero before factoring in wind chill.) The males are waiting for their mates to return with food (yes, females make another 70-mile return journey) for their new hatchling. By now the males have gone without food for 120 days and lost more than half their own body weight.

Their struggle is far from over, but I've revealed enough in this Minute - I'll leave it to you to see the rest. Here's a link to a video clip of the movie. The small screen doesn't do it justice, but Morgan Freeman's narrative is far superior to mine.

March on penguins. March on.

-- Michael

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