Friday, January 30, 2009

MacroLife

io9 (10 million miles wide, a millimeter deep) takes a look at "megastructures" in space.
Before Lost!

I was amused to see in the bookstore a new edition of A. Merrit's classic book The Moon Pool (available online here and here). Plastered across the top was a banner announcing BEFORE LOST! (a reference to a pseudo-genre television show that I just can't get into).
Job Watch: Friday

I've cleaned out my desk of all personal items just in case. But...so far...I'm still here and there have been no more layoffs as of last night. Approximately 40% of the company has been let go.
Spank That Photon!

When sub-atomic particles go bad.
In The Beginning

In the Beginning...Was the Command Line; Neal Stephenson (Avon Books; 1999; ISBN 0-380-81593-1; cover artist unknown).

I started re-reading this just yesterday as I wanted some of Stephenson's humor but did not feel like starting to read or re-read one of the door stoppers that he usually writes. A funny, and short (for his usual length, this is more like a chapter than a whole book) trip down computer culture and technology with looks at Apple and Microsoft, shades of Unix, and even mentions of companies now lost (or at least lost to the public eye) such as Next and Be.

Humorous stuff, some good observations about culture in general and something to read while you are wondering if you'll be laid off today. Well, maybe not the third for most of the audience. Go to my link, above, and you'll even find the book online (free).

Maybe it is time to visit Eric S. Raymond again.

(Heavens. Reading some of Stephenson's stuff makes me realize how much trouble Microsoft is in...I mean, if my mother is asking me if a Linux-based computer is the way she should go...maybe it is time for the Mothership to activate those alarms that Stephenson talks about that say IN THE EVENT OF A CRASH IN MARKET SHARE, BREAK GLASS.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Altair and DREAM

NASA is seeking concept proposals for Altair, the proposed new lunar lander for the Constellation program. And a program called DREAM (Dynamic Response of the Environment at the Moon) will look at the "dead" Moon.
One Third Gone

About thirty percent of the people I work with were let go today, escorted from the building. Not a good day.
Well...Ohhh-Kay Then!

As some of you may know, I've been a volunteer with the local fire department for several years. I don't ride the big red truck (or squad or engine), but do something that keeps the operation going: pay bills.

Now I've been asked by a certain member to do something which is more than a tad over the border of being unethical and/or illegal. I've refused. I've brought it to the attention of one of the powers-that-be.

As I was aiming to leave Real Soon Now, that may make it sooner than I thought.

A Day That Will Forever Live In Infamy

Dang. It's 2009. And Max Headroom still isn't out on DVD!
The Wrong Question

The question is not Is Battlestar Galactica Relevant in the Obama Era? but does anybody still care about Battlestar Galactica since it jumped the shark.
Cars and Computers

With the recent announcement at Microsoft that jobs would be cut, and the general problems with the auto industry, I'm reminded of the following:

Imagine a crossroads where four competing auto dealerships are situated. One of them (Microsoft) is much, much bigger than the others. It started out years ago selling three-speed bicycles (MS-DOS); these were not perfect, but they worked, and when they broke you could easily fix them.

There was a competing bicycle dealership next door (Apple) that one day began selling motorized vehicles--expensive but attractively styled cars with their innards hermetically sealed, so that how they worked was something of a mystery.

The big dealership responded by rushing a moped upgrade kit (the original Windows) onto the market. This was a Rube Goldberg contraption that, when bolted onto a three-speed bicycle, enabled it to keep up, just barely, with Apple-cars. The users had to wear goggles and were always picking bugs out of their teeth while Apple owners sped along in hermetically sealed comfort, sneering out the windows. But the Micro-mopeds were cheap, and easy to fix compared with the Apple-cars, and their market share waxed.

Eventually the big dealership came out with a full-fledged car: a colossal station wagon (Windows 95). It had all the aesthetic appeal of a Soviet worker housing block, it leaked oil and blew gaskets, and it was an enormous success. A little later, they also came out with a hulking off-road vehicle intended for industrial users (Windows NT) which was no more beautiful than the station wagon, and only a little more reliable.

Since then there has been a lot of noise and shouting, but little has changed. The smaller dealership continues to sell sleek Euro-styled sedans and to spend a lot of money on advertising campaigns. They have had GOING OUT OF BUSINESS! signs taped up in their windows for so long that they have gotten all yellow and curly. The big one keeps making bigger and bigger station wagons and ORVs.

On the other side of the road are two competitors that have come along more recently.

With one exception, that is: Linux, which is right next door, and which is not a business at all. It's a bunch of RVs, yurts, tepees, and geodesic domes set up in a field and organized by consensus. The people who live there are making tanks. These are not old-fashioned, cast-iron Soviet tanks; these are more like the M1 tanks of the U.S. Army, made of space-age materials and jammed with sophisticated technology from one end to the other. But they are better than Army tanks. They've been modified in such a way that they never, ever break down, are light and maneuverable enough to use on ordinary streets, and use no more fuel than a subcompact car. These tanks are being cranked out, on the spot, at a terrific pace, and a vast number of them are lined up along the edge of the road with keys in the ignition. Anyone who wants can simply climb into one and drive it away for free.

Customers come to this crossroads in throngs, day and night. Ninety percent of them go straight to the biggest dealership and buy station wagons or off-road vehicles. They do not even look at the other dealerships.

Of the remaining ten percent, most go and buy a sleek Euro-sedan, pausing only to turn up their noses at the philistines going to buy the station wagons and ORVs. If they even notice the people on the opposite side of the road, selling the cheaper, technically superior vehicles, these customers deride them cranks and half-wits.

The Batmobile outlet sells a few vehicles to the occasional car nut who wants a second vehicle to go with his station wagon, but seems to accept, at least for now, that it's a fringe player.

The group giving away the free tanks only stays alive because it is staffed by volunteers, who are lined up at the edge of the street with bullhorns, trying to draw customers' attention to this incredible situation.


(Neal Stephenson, In the Beginning was the Command Line; a version with a 2004 update/response is found here; an amusing response on several fronts by Neal Stephenson from 2004 here)

Will the economy finally get Microsoft to improve their products? It's clear that a good economy was at least partly to help/blame for problems with the auto industry (with good credit and cheap gas, we were willing to buy oversized cars). With a stretch, you could say that Microsoft was the same way: with good credit and low rates, companies were wiling to buy any new operating system. However, with Vista, that all seemed to stop (the company I work for, for example, will not install Vista on any machine...even now).

Will a bad economy be a boom for Linux? Take a look at a hot trend in computer sales...netbooks.
Confluence

Paper airplanes and color printers. Now there's a marriage of technology I can get behind!
Blade Runner

A sequel to Blade Runner? I hope not! It appears that Ridley Scott (after rejecting science fiction) has enough science fiction projects on his plate already.
Light Pollution

Hard to believe that William Herschel once pushed back the boundaries of observational astronomy from a place like this.
Slow Learners

io9 (ten million miles wide, a millimeter of actual depth) has suddenly discovered that science fiction has a history of...hold on to your hats...lurid artwork!!!!

It's Not the Age, It's the Mileage

Engineers are running diagnostic tests on the plucky Mars rover Spirit after some problems cropped up over the weekend.
Plush Particles

Via A.E. (Zoe) Brain, the Particle Plushies collection at The Particle Zoo. Teach your kids science!
Major Bummer

I've just been informed that Mark Van Name's next Jon and Lobo book will contain neither zombies or old-fashioned airships. What a drag.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

There's Always a Boom

Nuclear artillery. Now there's a scary concept...
Skeptic

Universal consensus on "human-driven global warming" seems to have overlooked the former manager of that theories biggest drum-beater.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shades of Grey

Treated as a child with silver nitrate tincture for frequent bronchitis and severe sinus infections, Walton, who had extremely fair skin, absorbed the pigment of the tincture causing her skin to turn gray and darken as she aged. When she became well known in the fantasy world in the 1970s, her blue-gray skin made her appearance exotic, much like a benevolent deity from Etruscan tomb frescos.


The things you learn these days.
Definitions

Struggling through fourth grade math for the second time (I did it once, now my daughter is doing it), you scratch your head over some of the academic terminology. Here's a handy guide for the puzzled and bemused!
Atomic Rockets Goes to War!

Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets site is a must-read for writers of hard science fiction. Now he's expanded his crunchy offerings to a whole new sub-page on space warfare!
Other Worlds

Views of life on another world...beneath the waves of our "world". People tend to forget how strange some of the environments are on our own planet.
They're Best on a Stick

A billion frogs on the plate. That's one big plate.
Reading Project

"Ah Mr. Gibbon, another damned, fat, square book. Always, scribble, scribble, scribble, eh?" (The Duke of Gloucester, on being presented with Volume 2 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.)

Amazingly, I don't actually own a copy despite using that as my .sig for a while now (the previous .sig was deemed being too "politically incorrect" by some "sensitive eyes"). Deadtree for $45.00, and $55.00 for the next box. Hmmmm...Manybooks has Volume 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06. Oh, look! Samuel Pepys in one volume! And the complete plays of Gilbert & Sullivan! Bartlett's Familiar Quotations!

And people wonder how I've ended up with nearly 4,000 electronic texts on my Bookeen Cybook!
Commute from Heck

And you think your drive home from work was bad.

After his craft, the Soyuz 5, failed to separate from its service module, it began the descent facing the wrong way. As the heat shield got an unparalleled view of the cosmos, the flimsy entry hatch, with its one-inch of insulation and a window, received the brunt of reentry. Things began to melt and stink and smoke, and the hatch itself bulged inwards from the stress of reentry. If the craft had not miraculously righted itself, poor Volynov would have cooked to death in temperatures reaching 5,000 degrees.


Full writeup by James Oberg here.
Theodore L. Thomas

I stumbled across this page on a website. Theodore L. Thomas was a minor talent in the SF field. I recall several of these stories. As usual, out of print, forgotten from the minds of most in the field (professionals and fans). It's amazing how much we little remember!
Cliche

Put this in your toolbox. The Grand List of Overused SF Cliches.
The Wolfe at the Door

From the April 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Michael Andre-Driussi on Gene Wolfe. Neil Gaiman on How To Read Gene Wolfe. Michael Swanwick on The Wolf in teh Labyrinth.
Flying Fortress

I want of model of this. The Soviet Heavy Bomber K-7.
Relics of Empire

Abandoned (and looted) nuclear-powered lighthouses.
Hey Look!

Detroit's answer to its current malaise found here.
Newton and Leibniz's "Father"

A much-worn prayer book appears to contain the partially-covered words of Archimedes...showing how Archimedes was working on The Calculus.
Beyond the Readers' Digest

SF books in one minute. Or less.

The Collected Works of Isaac Asimov
Ultra-Condensed by David J. Parker

Stock Asimov Character #1: I'm a suave, witty, brilliant, good-looking scientist. I am everything Asimov thought he was.

Stock Asimov Character #2: I am the same, except the opposite sex.

Stock Asimov Character #1: Great! Let's do some science stuff, save the world, and make out.

(They do.)


THE END
Stepping Stones

Lee Pullen (writing at Astrobiology Magazine) looks at the "one step at a time" approach to the exploration and settlement of the Solar System.
100 Days

How will NASA fare during the 100 days? A look to history for an example. One uncertainty is who will lead NASA. (From the most recent issue of The Space Review.)
Morning Joe

I haven't had a chance to have any yet. So here are a few suggestions from members of The Gunroom. Community Coffee. Satellite Coffee. Lighthouse Roasters. Moon Doggie Coffee Roasters.

Of course, even with a fiber optic hookup, the "pipe" isn't "fat" enough to get coffee through it. So looking at these websites does not do me much good!
Be Square

Twisted Physics looks at Flatland, tesseracts and the world of string theory.
Touring the ISS

I saw this video tour of the International Space Station recently on NASA TV. It's the kind of thing that NASA should do more of...but won't...or can't. Is it because space really is boring? Or the PAO office just likes making it look boring.

Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke (nicknamed "Spanky") takes you on a tour of the ISS, showing all sorts of stuff that people are really interested in (how do you go to the bathroom in space?) as well as the nifty scientific and engineering stuff.
Wrapping Eggs

Way back in the dawn times, our architectural drawing class had to encase a raw egg in toothpicks using nothing more than Elmer's Glue...and then (after the glue was dry) tossing the egg and toothpicks out of a third story window. If you did it right, the egg survived.

I can attest that none of our designs looked nearly as cool as these Japanese packaging efforts!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Snakes. Why Did It Have To Be Snakes.

Bangkok 8; John Burdett (Vintage; 2003; ISBN 1-4000-3290-3; cover by John Gall).

A lot of science fiction is a form of travelogue. Visit exotic places, meet strange new people. Take a look at William Gibson and his treatment of Japan. Or Neal Stephenson with his treatment of Shanghai and London (in one case failing, in the other, succeeding brilliantly). Most science fiction, alas, strives to give you the feeling of being in a strange place but fails.

Then there are the new cultures and strange beings. Human or not, are we all the same? As Marc Miller (one of the creators of the SF-RPG Traveller) put it to me (and I believe he got it from Larry Niven) too many aliens are people in Kzinti suits.

Taking a break from the fantasy (humorous and dark) and chronicles of naval actions (both during the Napoleonic Wars and out in space), I picked up this book on the recommendation of a friend. Burdett tells the story of Sonchai Jitpleecheep, one of the few honest policemen in Thailand. His partner, one of the other few honest policemen, is killed while they witness the murder of a sergeant from the U.S. Marines.

Burdett succeeds brilliantly in bringing to life not only a different culture, but a different way of thinking. There's plenty of action, plenty of sex, plenty of bad quotations from reviewers on the back cover...but there's plenty of good stuff here as well. Religion, the intersection of life and death, ghosts, fashion, the sex trade as a way of escaping poverty, sexuality and psychology, transformation and let's not forget food and drink. Two more in the series await me, including one where I've heard I'll never look at an elephant the same way again after reading it.
Who Needs Rockets?

Let's just use big lasers! As a side benefit, we'd have some big honking lasers for other...ummm...uses!

Aeneas couldn't see the launching mirror below the capsule, but suddenly the spacecraft rose and there was a blinding green beam, a solid rod of light over a meter thick extending from the capsule to the ground. The sound rolled past: two hundred and fifty explosions each second as the laser expanded the air in the parabolic chamber below the capsule, and the air rushed out to propel it upward. The two hundred and fifty-cycle note was oddly musical, but very loud at first, then dying away. The spacecraft soon vanished, but the light stayed on for half a minute, tracking the capsule; then it vanished as well.

The mirrors at each blockhouse pivoted slightly, and a second capsule rose from another launch station. The green light tore through roiled air, and there was a humming roar that vibrated the glass of the observation room until the spacecraft was gone and there was only the silent power of the green light. In the half minute that the second capsule absorbed power, a new spacecraft had been placed on the first launch station. The mirrors pivoted again, and it rose; then another, and another.

The laser launchings had been impressive on TV; live they were unbelievable. The long lines of capsules moved toward the earth and concrete emplacements protecting the launching mirror; they reached them; and seconds later, each capsule vanished at 300 gees, shoved upward by a meter-thick column that was nothing more than light, but which looked like a great green growing plant.

"About a thousand kilograms each?" Aeneas asked.

"Exactly a thousand kilos total weight," she said. "We lose fifty kilos of ablating material. The rest goes into orbit, and that's all payload. Any mass is payload. That's what we need up there, Aeneas, mass, any mass—metal, fuel, gases, tankage, even human wastes. We can convert and modify if we have something to start with."

"And you can launch eighty thousand kilos in one hour . . ."

(Jerry Pournelle, High Justice)

At first it looked like a field of mirrors. Over a hundred lasers were scattered across the brown Baja desert sand. Each sent its output into a mirror. The mirrors were all arranged so that they reflected onto one very large mirror nearly a kilometer beyond the balcony.

A rail track ran onto a platform above the final mirror. Squat capsules, like enormously swollen artillery shells, sat on cars on the track, a long line of them waiting for launch. As he watched, one of the capsules was wheeled along the track until it stopped over the launching mirror.

The field became a blaze of blue-green light as the lasers went on. Somewhere nearby, Kevin knew, were two large nuclear power plants. They poured their entire output into the lasers below him, enough electricity to power a city, all turned into laser light. The mirrors pivoted slightly so that all their energy went to the one large mirror at the end of the field.

The capsule rose, suddenly and silently, as if pushed into the sky by a rapidly growing giant blue-green beanstalk. It vanished in seconds, but the laser beam continued to follow it, moving from vertical to an angle toward the east. Finally all the lasers went out together.

"My God," Kevin said aloud. "I'm going up like that?"

He heard a laugh behind him and turned quickly to see the girl who'd been in the altitude chamber with him. She smiled as he looked at her. "Yes, we are," she said. "Scared?"

"Damn betcha."

"Me too. I wish I'd taken the shuttle."

Another capsule was in position, and rose silently from the platform, vanishing into the clear blue sky, followed by the silent beam of intense light. If he listened carefully Kevin thought he could hear the hum of the beam. It was pulsed at something like two hundred times a second.

The laser system worked like a ram jet. Under each capsule was a bell-shaped chamber, open at the bottom. The laser energy entered the chamber and heated the air inside. The air rushed out, pushing the capsule upward. Then the beam was turned off just long enough for more air to get into the chamber, to be heated by the next pulse of the beam.

"I'm still not sure I believe it works," Kevin said. "It looks like black magic."

"Green magic," Ellen said.

(Jerry Pournelle; Exile to Glory)
Toy Boats

Big ships. Big cargo. Man stuff. Need I say more?
Japanese Traveller

Some nifty 3D cutaways of ships from my favorite SF-RPG.
Kids These Days

How many kids today would be interested in these simple toys? How many parents would have the time/patience to help make them?
Now Chemcraft Has Atomic Energy!

Is amateur science making a comeback? Last I saw, Scientific American had been dumbed down and continued the downward trend. (Check out the chemistry set in the ad depicted vs. what you can buy kids today; fat chance on duplicating such a set!)
Still Crazy

About a year ago, there was much hue and cry over whether or not Robert A. Heinlein was still "relevant". Given all the articles written on a regular basis, you'd think that would be a no-brainer "yes". Here's an article from 1985 that is still appropriate today.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mars and Me

We've been on Mars for five years! Here's the (unofficial) blog of a Mars driver.
If You Blinked, You Missed It

At the tail-end of the parade on Tuesday you might have seen a working mockup of the proposed rover for our return to the Moon. The non-commercial networks (C-Span) showed it, commercial networks cut away quickly. After all, space is boring (for some).

For a better look, try here, here, or here.
The Latest Presidential Controversy

Music at the inauguration ceremony wasn't all live! Impeachment proceedings have been called for.
Computers for Parents

I have been accumulating (thanks to Winchell Chung) a number of links about netbooks and Linux. The computer at Ye Olde Parental Units Domicile is about as old as my daughter and has been on its last legs for a while. I've been considering "netbooks" as they don't really use a computer for anything beyond e-mail and some word processing. No music. No movies. No games beyond solitaire.

So let's see: The Great Linux/Grandmother Experiment (sounds like a horror movie...or a comedy!). The Netbook Newbie's Guide to Linux: Part 01, Part 02, Part 03, Part 04. PC Magazine's netbook buying guide. Small Netbooks Running Linux. How to Become a Linux Netbook Power User. How to Choose the Right Linux Netbook. Some candidates. More candidates. Another candidate.

Addendum (January 26, 2009): The death of the desktop?
Gravity at Work

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows one of my favorite sights in the night sky: a globular cluster (NGC 2419 in this case).
Blam! Blam! Blam!

Did you know that there's a war on between pure and applied mathematicians?

The slaughter continues.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

GeoSynch

Geosynchronous satellites, 1950's style.
A Song of Ice and Fire

A Game of Thrones; George R. R. Martin (Bantam; 1996; ISBN 0-553-10354-7; cover by Tom Hallman).

A note on the cover: Oh, looky! I've got a valuable collector's version! Now to just get it signed...

I had previously gotten through 99.99% or better of this book the same year I read the short work The Hedge Knight. I don't recall why I did not finish it and log it then (while bits were forgotten, when I read the book this past month, I kept waiting for parts that were totally new...and not finding them...so I must have finished most, if not all—go figure!)

I enjoyed the book, but I'll be danged if I can give you a coherent (concise) review. Clocking in a several hundred pages and part of a trilogy, no I mean a tetralogy, nope, that's not right, part of a...well, who knows what it'll be part of. Books seem to grow and split or are abandoned. There are three major plotlines (the invasion from the north of various beings, attempts by the last heir of the old regime to take over her old kingdom and battles between those who broke the old kingdom and reigned until the death of the usurper. Chapters move between various viewpoint characters (there are about twenty major characters between the books plus several more than only appear in one chapter). Every plot thread must be followed through, everybody's favorite character must have their day!

Will I read more? Heck yes. A fantasy world that doesn't seem to be heavily influenced by Tolkien, a fantasy world with mud and muck. Some interesting characters (and despite one whining review I had read which made it clear that the reviewer never read the book, there are some strong female characters here), a fascinating background and a (triple) plot that I want to see to the end!

When will the next volume come out? As you'll see from this, I had thought last year. Amazon now lists it for this year, so I'm undertaking a reading of the series to "catch up".

George R. R. Martin on the delay.

Some links: Tower of the Hand (and online encyclopedia). Maps of the settings. Winter is Coming (news about the HBO series).
One Step Closer

Orion and Constellation may not go beyond this test flight, we may only use elements, or we may see the whole human spaceflight program come to a stop in the interests of "saving money".

But, in the meantime, we're one step closer to the first test flight.
It's Friendship!

Seen on an internet forum...

Are you tired of those sissy "friendship" poems that always sound good, but never actually come close to reality? Well, here is a series of promises that actually speak of true friendship. You will see no cutesy little smiley faces on this one—just the stone cold truth of our great friendship.

1. When you are sad—I will jump on the person who made you sad like a spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew!!!!

2. When you are blue—I will try to dislodge whatever is choking you.

3. When you smile—I will know you are plotting something that I must be involved in.

4. When you're scared—we will high tail it out of here.

5. When you are worried—I will tell you horrible stories about how much worse it could be until you quit whining, ya big baby!!!!

6. When you are confused—I will use little words.

7. When you are sick—Stay away from me until you are well again. I don't want whatever you have.

8. When you fall—I'll pick you up and dust you off...After I laugh my butt off!!

9. This is my oath...I pledge it to the end. 'Why?' you may ask—because you are my FRIEND!

Friendship is like peeing your pants, everyone can see it, but only you can feel the true warmth.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

News from Space

Supermassive black holes are not responsible for stopping star formation. The authorities continue to search for the culprit. Stellar nurseries frantically attempt to overcome the marauding black holes (whatever the claims of innocence). And...on a smaller scale...Super Neptune!
WTF?

During the past decade, Fox has rarely been the place to go looking for the lessons in collectivism manifest on series like “The Unit” and “Lost” and “Law & Order,” all of which pay tribute to collaborative problem-solving on networks not owned by Rupert Murdoch. Fox doesn’t smell like team spirit. It is a Randian territory of lone saviors (Jack Bauer, John Connor, Gregory House) bushwhacking through impending catastrophe with the weaponry of a singular genius.


Review here. Let me guess, the reviewer has a Literature degree.
The Horror...The Horror...

On the way to work I saw at least a dozen large stuffed teddy bears scattered along the shoulder and along the double-yellow line between the north and south lanes. What horrible accident has scattered these rare creatures to die along our American highways?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Far Side

The Far Side of the Stars; David Drake (Baen Books; 2003; ISBN 0-7434-7158-X; cover by Stephen Hickman).

Lt. Daniel Leary and his friend Adele are at it again. Peace has broken out all over, Daniel's beloved uncle has passed away and Daniel is in charge of his shipyard. His beloved vessel, the Princess Cecile, is about to be sold out of the service.

In steps Adele's secret service connections and they are off, officially to shepherd a pair of rich nobles on a combination hunting, anthropological and treasure expedition. Unofficially, the Alliance of Free Stars is rumored to be building bases where they should not be building bases.

On the way we learn the fate of mutineers and members of the Three Circles Conspiracy, what happened to the Earth and more. Fun stuff all around!
Close-up: New Earths

Have we found an Earth-sized exoplanet?
Suspended!

So yesterday morning, I log onto my Yahoo account, read a few e-mails and then get a dire warning (yellow bar with red letters) that my account has been suspended "for my protection" because of "suspicious activity". This state of suspension will remain in effect for up to 48 hours. They claim I won't be able to send, receive or save e-mail during this period (but for some reason, some mail folders continue to get mail, others show over a million messages without anything actually visible and some folders have had all their legitimate e-mail vanish). No word if it'll be longer because yesterday was Sunday and today is a holiday in the United States and who knows where Yahoo's crack(ed) support team is located (if they still exist).

Yahoo has been getting more and more flaky. Several times a week, when navigating from one message to another in a long string of unread messages I'll get a error message that the next e-mail is unviewable or gone or unreadable. Would I please hit refresh, log out and log in again or reboot my computer. Yet, when I just check that mail folder, low and behold, there's that missing or errant message. Complaining to that crack(ed) support team results in a e-mail saying that they can't replicate the error. Of course. It must be my fault.

Earlier last week all my bookmarks vanished. Completely. Several hundred carefully collected sites went poof! I hit refresh, logged off and on, rebooted the computer and they were still poof. A bit of searching through Yahoo led to nothing. I filed an error message with what vaguely appeared to be the right place.

And then my account is suspended for "suspicious activity" More than a coincidence? Hmmmmm....

But seriously folks, Yahoo used to be a great place for storing e-mail and bookmarks. But when they tried to "enhance shareholder value" and "monetize the relationship" things got bad, when they tried to "enhance productivity", things got worse. How long are they for the world?
Mars Needs Guitars

So they've detected methane in the atmosphere of Mars. Big deal, you say (at least one of you will say it, admit it!). The kicker is that methane is unstable, it will break down. So something must be creating new methane for it to be detachable. One possible something would be an active volcano. Another possible something would be life, on some level. Stay tuned...
Fragment

Brion was known as Kingslayer to the uninitiated; the reality was much more complicated...

(Reading too much George R. R. Martin this weekend, obviously!)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Puffed Moon

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Saturn's odd-looking moon Hyperion. It always reminds me of a piece of pumice.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Mere $18.00/Page

Chemical Shifts and Coupling Constants for Silicon-29 (Landolt-Bornstein: Numerical Data and Functional Relationships in Science and Technology - New Series) (Hardcover) by the ever popular R.R. Gupta, M.D. Lechner, H. Marsmann, B. Mikhova and F. Uhliq.

For the low, low, low price of $8,539.00!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Death Gets Laid Off

Reaper Man; Terry Pratchett (HarperTorch; August 2002; ISBN 978-0-06-102062-9; cover artist unknown).

My tour through Discworld continues with this volume in the Death sub-sequence (see the map for the territory...). Death gets "laid off" by the elemental beings that run things above his level. As a result, there's a build-up of unexpended lifeforce in the area around Ankh-Morpork and some strange things happen (well, stranger than usual). Death takes up a new profession as a farm hand. A dead wizard hooks up with various undead and semi-living. And, of course, the Librarian gets involved.

Probably less readable by non-Discworld fans than some of the recent reads in the series, but this volume shows Pratchett's skill at weaving fantasy elements with some pretty interesting philosophical questions. Can't get a DVD copy of The Seventh Seal or Death Takes a Holiday? Believe it or not, this "light and fluffy" fantasy genre book might do it for you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Command Decision

The death and life of one of my favorite miniatures games, Frank Chadwick's Command Decision.
Another Sign of the End Times

Today in the bookstore I bought two books on...Linux.
Classic

'Bloody peasant!'

[thud]
[King Arthur music]
[thud thud thud]
[King Arthur music stops]

ARTHUR: Old woman!

DENNIS: Man!

ARTHUR: Man. Sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?

DENNIS: I'm thirty-seven.

ARTHUR: I-- what?

DENNIS: I'm thirty-seven. I'm not old.

ARTHUR: Well, I can't just call you 'Man'.

DENNIS: Well, you could say 'Dennis'.

ARTHUR: Well, I didn't know you were called 'Dennis'.

DENNIS: Well, you didn't bother to find out, did you?

ARTHUR: I did say 'sorry' about the 'old woman', but from the behind you looked--

DENNIS: What I object to is that you automatically treat me like an inferior!

ARTHUR: Well, I am King!

DENNIS: Oh, King, eh, very nice. And how d'you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers! By 'anging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society. If there's ever going to be any progress with the--

WOMAN: Dennis, there's some lovely filth down here. Oh! How d'you do?

ARTHUR: How do you do, good lady? I am Arthur, King of the Britons. Who's castle is that?

WOMAN: King of the who?

ARTHUR: The Britons.

WOMAN: Who are the Britons?

ARTHUR: Well, we all are. We are all Britons, and I am your king.

WOMAN: I didn't know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

DENNIS: You're fooling yourself. We're living in a dictatorship: a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--

WOMAN: Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.

DENNIS: That's what it's all about. If only people would hear of--

ARTHUR: Please! Please, good people. I am in haste. Who lives in that castle?

WOMAN: No one lives there.

ARTHUR: Then who is your lord?

WOMAN: We don't have a lord.

ARTHUR: What?

DENNIS: I told you. We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week,...

ARTHUR: Yes.

DENNIS: ...but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting...

ARTHUR: Yes, I see.

DENNIS: ...by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,...

ARTHUR: Be quiet!

DENNIS: ...but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more major--

ARTHUR: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!

WOMAN: Order, eh? Who does he think he is? Heh.

ARTHUR: I am your king!

WOMAN: Well, I didn't vote for you.

ARTHUR: You don't vote for kings.

WOMAN: Well, how did you become King, then?

ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake,... [angels sing] ...her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king!

DENNIS: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

ARTHUR: Be quiet!

DENNIS: Well, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

ARTHUR: Shut up!

DENNIS: I mean, if I went 'round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

ARTHUR: Shut up, will you? Shut up!

DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.

ARTHUR: Shut up!

DENNIS: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I'm being repressed!

ARTHUR: Bloody peasant!

DENNIS: Oh, what a give-away. Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That's what I'm on about. Did you see him repressing me? You saw it, didn't you?
So the head of investments has just told two members of his staff...

...something like: "Um, I think you might be next to be let go. I'll let you know next week."
Squeaky Clean!

According to my bar of soap, I am being made MicroClean (TM) with MicroBeads (TM).

Aaaaawwwwwww!!!!! Yuck! Ewwwwwwwwwwww!!!! Nanobots! Nanobots all over my body!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

KHHHHAAAANNNNNN!!!!!

Genre star Ricardo Montalban has passed away.
Patrick McGoohan

News reports are coming in that Patrick McGhoohan has passed away (note to SF Crowsnest...that has got to be among the poorest choices for headline and opening paragraph for such an event. How about a little more intelligence, next go round?)
Unintended Consequences

Remove the cats to save the birds. Watch the rabbits take over. Doesn't anybody ever read the classics anymore?
Comet Lulin

If the weather ever clears up...recently discovered Comet Lulin is visible in the pre-dawn sky in the constellation Libra with a "mid-sized backyard telescope".
Breaking Rocks

The Regolith Simulant Team has been busy busting rocks to make "moondust". What can you do with regolith? How about make bricks and build houses?
Flashdance

A mysterious flashing in the sky has astronomers baffled. "No Earthly Explanation!" shouts one headline.

Come now. Astronomers need to read more science fiction. SF fans could come up with several logical explanations. The impending arrival of The Black Star. Aliens from Barnard's Runaway Star. The Cometeers. The Borg. The Ringworld doing a course correction...
Hoo-kay...

Is this the future of bodily waste disposal in the microgravity environment?
New Administrator?

Is this the next NASA Administrator? Anything but George Abbey...
School Bus in Space!

I love the illustration for this article. Would this get my daughter to school any faster?

Seriously though, if the Ares V flies (fingers crossed), it could give a significant "boost" (sorry) to what we can put into orbit. Larger modules for the ISS, larger telescopes, orbital fueling facilities...

If not the Ares V, then maybe the Falcon IX or the Jupiter Direct or...

Let's just do something, though!

Addendum (January 21, 2009): Another article on the "throw weight" of the Ares V. I've had another idea for the vehicle. Since it can launch eight school buses at a time, we could get rid of The Partridge Family and seven other fake television "rock groups" at once!
Forest/Trees

Sometimes you overlook the obvious.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Moist Return

Making Money; Terry Pratchett (Harper; 2007; ISBN 978-0-06-116164-3; cover art by Scott McKowan).

Now I know I was supposed to read Pratchett's Reaper Man next, but...an early Sunday morning where Reaper Man was in a bedroom and I was not led me to take this one down from the shelves and start on it before I had finished the other volume.

Ah, what fun! Hard on solving the problems at the Ankh-Morpork Post Office in Going Postal, Moist von Lipwig (one of Pratchett's best characters, along with Death and Commander Sam Vines) is given a new challeng: run the banking system of the city. The chairman of the bank he is running is a dog. There's a mysterious character who is very good with numbers but seems a bit...twitchy. One of the Igor clan makes an appearance. There's an analytical engine, marching golems, the City Watch, scheming family members, old acquaintances that von Lipwig would rather not run into, golems with sexual identity issues...probably the best story of his that I've read to date!

There are a million balls in the air, and you watch with increasing fascination and a feeling of impending dread while von Lipwig tries to keep them all in the air. Things don't turn out as he planned, but he (and you) will have fun when you reach the end.
Toolbox

Tobias Buckell on the right (write) tool. And a site dedicated to the daily routines of authors and others.

And may I point you towards this classic collection of daily routines?

Up, and then to the office, where we met first since the plague, which God preserve us in! At noon home to dinner, where uncle Thomas with me, and in comes Pierce lately come from Oxford, and Ferrers. After dinner Pierce and I up to my chamber, where he tells me how a great difference hath been between the Duke and Duchesse, he suspecting her to be naught with Mr. Sidney.1 But some way or other the matter is made up; but he was banished the Court, and the Duke for many days did not speak to the Duchesse at all. He tells me that my Lord Sandwich is lost there at Court, though the King is particularly his friend. But people do speak every where slightly of him; which is a sad story to me, but I hope it may be better again. And that Sir G. Carteret is neglected, and hath great enemies at work against him. That matters must needs go bad, while all the town, and every boy in the streete, openly cries, “The King cannot go away till my Lady Castlemaine be ready to come along with him;” she being lately put to bed And that he visits her and Mrs. Stewart every morning before he eats his breakfast. All this put together makes me very sad, but yet I hope I shall do pretty well among them for all this, by my not meddling with either of their matters. He and Ferrers gone I paid uncle Thomas his last quarter’s money, and then comes Mr. Gawden and he and I talked above stairs together a good while about his business, and to my great joy got him to declare that of the 500l. he did give me the other day, none of it was for my Treasurershipp for Tangier (I first telling him how matters stand between Povy and I, that he was to have half of whatever was coming to me by that office), and that he will gratify me at 2 per cent. for that when he next receives any money. So there is 80l. due to me more than I thought of. He gone I with a glad heart to the office to write, my letters and so home to supper and bed, my wife mighty full of her worke she hath to do in furnishing her bedchamber.
Slow Reader

Me, that is. Via StevenHartSite, a woman who read 462 books last year. Makes my effort seem pitiful, pitiful, I tell you!
Twisting the Cube

I would hope I could take less than 26 years to unravel a Rubik's Cube (via BoingBoing)!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Space Review

The current issue of The Space Review was chock-full of interesting stuff. David A. Mitchell responds to James Oberg's review of MIT's "space paper". He said, she said: Michael Huang traces the origin of the five-year Constellation delay alluded to in previous candidate statements. The US is changing (right). How about NASA? Joan Vernikos and Kathleen M. Connell wonders. Jeff Foust looks at Mike Griffin's "final defense" of Constellation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jupiter Direct

"Rogue NASA Science Team"? Sounds like something out of the X-Files, but is this NASA's future launch vehicle?

Addendum (January 15, 2009): The Direct 2.0 website.
Rogue Science

"Rogue NASA Science Team Pitches New Spacecraft Designs to Obama". I wonder if they were flown in on those mysterious black helicopters.
Non-Fiction Acquisitions

Between the postman, the holidays and the bookstore, I've bought a lot of non-fiction this month. Let's see when I get to them!

Leo Hollis: London Rising: The Men Who Made Modern London. Inspired both by Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle and a couple of books by Lisa Jardine, I had this one (and a couple of similar volumes) on my wish list.

Michael D. Lemonick: The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos. This one will link into a life-long interest in astronomy, as well as a more recent interest in England (especially spurred by The Baroque Cycle of Neal Stephenson) and the tales of Patrick O'Brian (Caroline Herschel makes an off-stage appearance).

Justin Marozzi: The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man who Invented History. Following on last year's read of a book on Herodotus comes this. Hopefully, as a travelogue, it will fair better with me than a previous travelogue. NYT review here.

Henry Petroski: The Toothpick. Having plumbed the depths of the pencil, Petroski turns his attention to some smaller engineering. Like Mark Kurlansky and Salt (or other subjects) or Mark Pendergrast and Coffee, I get a lot out of these "micro-histories".
Fun Things With Clay

Feet of Clay; Terry Pratchett (Harper Torch; 2000; ISBN 978-0-06-105764-9; cover artist unknown).

The newly-expanded City Watch is on the march against crime! Hard upon the events of Men at Arms and Guards! Guards! comes a greatly expanded Watch that includes just about everybody but the Golems and the Undead (by the end, it'll include one of that pair and a temporary appointment from the Gnomes).

Sam Vines should be happy. He's married, he has a fine new command. But he's being buried in paperwork and duties. He's not out prowling the streets, like a good cop should. So when not one, but two, mysterious murders (most sudden deaths in Ankh-Morpork are less murder than, um, assisted suicide) and the Patrician is taken ill in a mysterious fashion...he's on the case! One that is both gripping in suspense and rolling in laughter (who knew that coats of arms could be so much fun?).

Onwards! I'm now well into the Watch Novels. Next up will be Reaper Man, part of the Death Sequence and then Making Money, the latest in the Industrial Revolution Sequence (I had skipped to the end with Going Postal and want to find out more of the adventures of Moist von Lipwig).
Rings and Dot

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Saturn, light from the eclipsed Sun and...if you look reeeeeaaaallllll carefully, our home.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Galaxy Transit

Samuel Arbesman has come up with a map of our galaxy, inspired by transit maps (direct link to a Adobe Acrobat file of the map here). A number of science fiction authors (for example, Tobias Buckell) have also adopted this model.

(With thanks to Winchell Chung of Project Rho, who knows a thing or two about star maps himself.)
Talk Like a Pirate

I try not to buy eBooks that are riddled with "Digital Rights Management" schemes. Why? Well, if the company that sold you the content goes out of business or changes policies, you can be left with dead files.

However...sometimes I do. Because sometimes that is the only way to get a particular title. I try to limit myself to books that are doorstops (and would crush me in my sleep if I tried reading the deadtree edition).

eBook content provider Fictionwise has been hit with the loss of the services of a company called Overdrive. So any books provided via Overdrive are "going dark". And, once again, the honest folks who pay for content end up getting screwed.

Seriously. Any DRM scheme can be cracked (anybody who has read E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman tales would know that!). And, if you search hard enough, you can find "illegal" content on the intertubes (I recall that it took under two hours to put a Harry Potter book online). So why screw with honest customers? DRM doesn't stop the spreading of content, it just makes blood pressure go up (research the problems people had with the recently-released game Spore, for example). DRM forces honest folks to go to the dark side.

Next thing you know, some wank will start yelling that selling second-hand books ought to be outlawed...nah, that'll never happen, will it?

Addendum: Hmmm...how long before the publishing industry asks for this gadget to be outlawed?
Cross Pollination

What happens when you cross the steampunk genre with Lego bricks?
Long-Term Review

A long-term use review of the eBook reader I own (the Bookeen Cybook).

(I experience longer start-up times. But then again...I have a couple of thousand files stored, not a couple of hundred. When I get a gadget, especially a portable gadget, with storage, I tend to fill it up with lots of stuff "just in case"!)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

My Head Is Spinning

Currently, I am dipping into several fantasy worlds. All the writing is fine to good. The problem is the mental attempts to reconcile the world of George R. R. Martin's Ice and Fire saga with Fritz Leiber's tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and then jumping into Terry Pratchett's Discworld and then moving over to the shared-universe of Thieves' World.

Ouch.
Edd Cartier

Christmas Day was not a good one for the science fiction world as we lost another Jersey boy.

Some samples can be found here. And Golden Age Comic Stories (an excellent art site!) displays some of his covers here.
More Guards! Guards!

Men at Arms; Terry Pratchett (HarperTorch; 2000; ISBN 978-0-06-109219-0; unknown cover artist).

After finishing one book earlier in the day, this could not have been a bigger contrast. Captain Sam Vines should be happy. He's about to retire and marry the richest woman in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He can give up the stress, the worn out shoes, the bad food. He won't have to deal with the transformed City Guard, where he has been forced to take on a number of minorities, specifically a dwarf, a troll and a woman (or is she?).

But he isn't. Captain Vines is a cop. It's in his blood. And when somebody blows up a swamp dragon at the Assassin's Guild and a member of the Clown's Guild turns up dead and a dwarf ends up with a hole in him and...well, let's just say it is a good thing that Captain Vimes is on the case.

Hilarious stuff. And a cracking good mystery, to boot.
The Emotional High Tide

The Reverse of the Medal; Patrick O'Brian (W.W. Norton & Company; 1992; ISBN 978-0-393-30960-7; cover by Geoff Hunt).

So it comes down to this. Jack Aubrey, returning in his beloved H.M.S. Surprise, where it is to be sold out of the service (and possibly broken up) seemingly chances upon some information which will make him a fortune, clear his debts, and allow him to purchase his beloved ship.

Unfortunately, it is all a lie and he is arrested for defrauding the stock market. His case goes from being a minor one to a major (political) one and he faces the shame of being drummed out of the service.

And, potentially worse, in one of the most moving passages in the entire twenty-book (plus one fragment) series, he faces being pilloried in front of the Exchange in London.

Meanwhile, his friend, Stephen Maturin has come into money. Serious money. This allows him to launch a series of investigations in order to clear Jack Aubrey's name. It all comes to nothing, on that road. But another road opens up, where all the branches and threads that have been scattered through the last several books come together. There is a very serious problem in Intelligence. Will Stephen be able to put the pieces together before it is too late for England?

An excellent tale. The chapters revolving around Jack's trial and the aftermath are very moving, either when you read them or when you (given a excellent narrator) hear them. I pulled the car off the road when I heard this section on audiobook, as the tears were streaming down my face at the gesture given to Captain Aubrey by his fellow members of the Royal Navy.
Nice Model

Want a 1/6 or 1/4 scale model of the German Tiger tank from WWII? More amazing stuff for sale.
Well...That's Frakking Annoying...

As if the (money grabbing) decision to split the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica into two boxed sets wasn't bad enough...they "fluff" up the boxed set by including the "unrated extended version" of the episode/movie Razor.

Which is all well and good except that movie has been on DVD for over a year...so raving fanbois already had, making this rather thin boxed set all that much thinner.
Rat Pack

Hey, British Army Ration Packs for sale! Being a fan of the Meal, Ready to Eat (mostly because I experimented with them, brought spices, found ways to mix different ingredients, and brought a heater), I wonder how these rate. Dang, only for sale in the U.K. (You can buy MRE's, but I'd shop around on the price...)
Gunnery

The exactness of the coiled muzzle-lashing, made fast to the eye-bolt above the port-lid, the seizing of the mid-breeching to the pommelion, the neat arrangement of the sponge, handspike, powderhorn, priming-wire, bed, quoin, train-tackle, shot and all the rest told a knowing eye a great deal about the gun-crew and even more about the midshipman of the sub-division.


(Patrick O'Brian, The Hundred Days)
Race to the Planets

Winchell Chung (of Atomic Rockets) sent me a link to this classic article by Willy Ley. I had either the original magazine or a photocopy at one point.
Brick Ogre

Based on the classic wargame by Steve Jackson...here's an Ogre built from Legos!
Return of the Ring

Another book from J.R.R. Tolkien? Not really a return to Middle-Earth, but a "previously unpublished" epic from Norse mythology.

I'm hoping it is better than The Children of Hurin. The only thing that saved that book for me, honestly, was the Christopher Lee-narrated audiobook.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Fast Movers

The Hubble Space Telescope has been imaging fast-moving stars. This puts me in mind of Gregory Benford's short story Bowshock.
The Cloud of Unknowing

Robert Bee (writing at The Internet Review of Science Fiction) speculates on the future of the book. A lot of interesting stuff, but as usual (and as is true with electronic books and eBook readers in general), we're not quite there yet. Anybody remember HyperCard? Or, by extension, how hypertext was going to revolutionize books (especially reference books)? (I only have a scattering of electronic books that actually followed through on the promise!)

We have a great example of the potential...the World Wide Web (and subsets thereof, for example, Google, Wikipedia or even Amazon!). Now to bring it back down to the personal level.
The Slow End

Gary Westfahl reviews Earth Abides by George R. Stewart at the Internet Review of Science Fiction. One of the best books about the end of the (human) world that I have read.
Industry Crash

How the recording industry crashed. How far behind are television shows, movies and (God help me) books?
"R"

How long before the dedicated and overly focused individuals I know in the gaming community put this to use in ways the article doesn't even cover?
Good Eats!

A new "game" on the British table? Grey squirrel! It seems the greys are being hunted in order to save the reds.

In a more local area...the reds seem to be working hard to drive out the greys. Those red squirrels are pretty territorially aggressive!

Why stop at squirrels? Possum pie...raccoon stew...rat on a stick...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Random Bits of Space

Will Russia and China succeed in their quest to get to Mars?

India is looking to extend its current lunar mission, to land a probe on the Moon in 2012 and send a probe to Mars in 2013...and to land a person (?) on the Moon in 2020.

Five years on Mars!...Spirit has been on Mars for five years; Opportunity is coming up on the same anniversary. Five years is pretty good for a ninety-day mission!
FYA

(For Your Amusement)

The 2008 Results for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest!

My favorite...

Runner-Up

"Hmm . . ." thought Abigail as she gazed languidly from the veranda past the bright white patio to the cerulean sea beyond, where dolphins played and seagulls sang, where splashing surf sounded like the tintinnabulation of a thousand tiny bells, where great gray whales bellowed and the sunlight sparkled off the myriad of sequins on the flyfish's bow ties, "time to get my meds checked."
The Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest

The National Space Society and Baen Books have teamed up again for Third Annual Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. Get cracking!

Code Three Compleat

I first came across Rick Raphael's Code Three (you can read it online here) in the collection The World Turned Upside Down (edited by David Drake, Eric Flint and Jim Baen).

I recently found out that the story was eventually incorporated into a novel. I tracked down a copy; ex-library, somewhat beat up. But given the story (a futuristic police tale), it is somewhat appropriate that it be a bit weather-worn.

And now to read the book...

Code Three: The initial story in the fixup, previously read (see above) and available online (also see above). A couple of things struck me as I re-read the story. First, was the number of times the characters lit up cigarettes. You know something is becoming socially unacceptable when you really notice it in a story. Second was the mix of the crew (two men and a woman, a positive) but the way they treated each other (ethnic jokes that wouldn't go over well in anything other than a military or para-military unit). Third was the technology that you saw and did not see. The vehicles are an interesting mix of technologies: jet engines, tracks, hover abilities, integration of ground cameras ahead of the vehicle fed into the vehicle so you can scan ahead, etc. But what is missing? Why such large highways? Is there no freight traffic by air or rail? Taking notes by paper (e.g., information sent by a radio broadcast) in some ways seems as anachronistic at this point as lighting up a cigarette!

Another thing that struck me...this would make a good basis for a science fiction television series. Certainly no worse than some of the dreck that has been foisted upon us over the years.

Made up of: Code Three; Once a Cop; unnamed final third of book (not published as a separate short story).

Counts as one entry in the 2009 Year in Shorts.
Yea, Verily...

You can build anything with Legos.
Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite

A "wow" shot up at the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Jupiter eclipses Ganymede, watched by the Hubble Space Telescope to see how "hazy" the upper atmosphere of Jupiter is. Wow.
No Frakking Way

No coffee in the house. No coffee. No frakking coffee. No coffee!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Who Will Watch?

Sir Terry Pratchett; Guards! Guards! (Harper Torch; 2001; ISBN 0-06-102064-8; cover artist unknown).

After the solemnity of my last read, I turned to something lighter. With Guards! Guards!, I've now started the City Watch thread of the Discworld novels.

Poor Captain Sam Vines. All he wants to do is to remain in quiet, drunken obscurity. But there's this new recruit, a human adopted by dwarves, who has memorized the laws of Ankh-Morpork. Then there's this noble-born woman who seems enchanted with him and who keeps swamp dragons. Then there's this real dragon, a reeeeaaaaaallllll dragon terrorizing the city. Plus a secret society, a missing book, the Librarian, a king...

Pratchett keeps the series fresh by looking at old settings with new eyes, tossing in new character's and adding new detailwork. I burned through the novel in about a day, laughing madly all the way.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Group Snapshot

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recently took a group picture of the Mars Phoenix Lander's resting place.
On Risk

Keith Cowing (of NASA Watch and SpaceRef.com) has some thoughts about the recently-released report on the breakup of space shuttle Columbia.

Accidents are things to be avoided. However, by the very nature of how we currently send humans into space and return them to Earth, there is a substantial amount of risk involved. Much of that risk has been identified and is manageable. But not all of it. Of course, when you hear this discussion, someone inevitably says that the only way to make these things risk free is not to do them.

Well, we have decided to do these risky things, now haven't we?

Inevitably, when the accidents happen, we need to work our way through them, pause and reflect on what happened, and then press ahead. To be certain there is never a good time for a bad thing to happen. But not to benefit from the information that can arise from studying an accident's cause only serves to remove value from the sacrifice that a crew has made.
Let's Build a Rocket!

Hey, look! Somebody is putting together one heck of a model kit at Kennedy Space Center!
Oh, For Crying Out Loud!

Look what slipped into my inbox! It's another issue of Ansible! Who let Dave Langford in?

Edgar Allan Poe's 200th birthday is on 19 January. Raise a glass. His image will appear on a US postage stamp released on the 16th.

Sir Terry Pratchett, who was made a Knight Bachelor in the UK New Year honours list, could only say: 'There are times when phrases such as "totally astonished" just don't do the job. I am of course delighted and honoured and, needless to say, flabbergasted.' [CS]


The Young Lady will be upset to learn this:

Maddie Blaustein (1960-2008), US actress with voice roles in the long-running Pokémon (1998-2006, as Meowth) and other animated tv series including Sonic X, died on 11 December; she was 48. [DKMK]


And more on Sir Terry!

The Bottom Line. Terry Pratchett met a typical dilemma at a Washington DC literary festival. He 'had a queue of fans stretching round the block; the poets weren't so lucky. The organisers "were absolutely desperate for my signing queue to finish -- 'you mustn't have it sticking out of the tent because it upsets the poets'," Pratchett says. "We all made our decisions, they chose poetry, I can't help it. There's another 600 people in the queue, what do you think would happen if I put my pen down?"' (Alison Flood, The Author, Winter 2008)


You really should subscribe!
Ride the Grey Planet

This one came up in an online conversation. I first got a copy of Rip Foster in Ride the Grey Planet when I was in fourth or fifth grade. In addition to the regular book classroom sales via Scholastic Book Service, we also had a yearly visit from a trailer that would be set up for a week or so. Each class would visit, plus there was "free time" to purchase for a while after school. That was where I purchased several of the Star Trek novelizations by James Blish (Star Trek One through Star Trek Four, plus Spock Must Die!), as well as a pair of books from the same publisher as Rip Foster, Digby Allen's adventures on The Forgotten Star and with the Captives in Space.

Read the book online...if you dare!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Canticle, Redux Redux

A Canticle for Leibowtiz; Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Bantam Books; 1997; ISBN 0-553-37926-7; cover by Peter Jones).

I've read this book countless times since I first came across it in the 1970's; my most recent read (less 2008, and now 2009...because in doing the review, I ended up reading it again at the beginning of 2009!) can be found here.

My reading of the book was spurred last year by my friend Pete Young and his review of the book. For one reason or another, I could not quite agree with his review, but had to re-read the book to try and get my thoughts in order. I'm still not quite there yet, even with two more readings.

Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for some background. You might also want to read their entry for the sequel as well as for the author.

Fiat Homo (~2600 AD): The book opens some 600 years after the Flame Deluge and the end of our civilization. Brother Francis is a monk in the ordere dedicated to the Blessed (not saint yet) Leibowitz. While performing his Lentan fast, he discovers a number of artifacts linked to Leibowitz. The story looks at the order, its role in preserving knowledge, and the quest to have Leibowitz recognized as a Saint.

Now, after six centuries of darkness, the monks still preserved this Memorabilia, studied it, copied and recopied it, and patiently waited. At the beginning, in the time of Leibowitz, it had been hoped--and even anticipated as probable--that the fourth or fifth generation would begin to want its heritage back. But the monks of the earliest days had not counted on the human ability to generate a new cultural inheritance in a couple of generations if an old one is utterly destroyed, to generate it by virtue of lawgivers and prophets, geniuses or maniacs; through a Moses, or through a Hitler, or an ignorant but tyrannical grandfather, a cultural inheritance may be acquired between dusk and dawn, and many have been so acquired. But the new "culture" was an inheritance of darkness, wherein "simpleton" meant the same thing as "citizen" meant the same thing as "slave." The monks waited. It mattered not at all to them that the knowledge they saved was useless, that much of it was not really knowledge now, was as inscrutable to the monks in some instances as it would be to an illiterate wild-boy from the hills; this knowledge was empty of content, its subject matter long since gone. Still, such knowledge had a symbolic structure that was peculiar to itself, and at least the symbol-interplay cold be observed. To observe the way a knowledge-system is knit together is to learn at least a minimum knowledge-of-knowledge, until someday--someday, or some century--an Integrator would come, and things would be fitted together again. So time mattered not at all. The Memorabilia was there, and it was given to them by duty to preserve, and preserve it they would if the darkness in the world lasted ten more centuries, or even ten thousand years, for they, though born in the darkest of ages, were still the very bookleggers and memorizers of the Beatus Leibowitz; and when they wandered abroad from their abbey, each of them, the professed of the Order--whether stablehand or Lord Abbot--carried as part of his habit a book, usually a Breviary these days, tied up in a bindlestiff.


Fiat Lux (3174 AD): Civilization is starting to return to the world, but so has war. This section of the tale revolves around the quest of the scholar, Thon Taddeo (the "Integrator" mentioned in the passage above), to examine the manuscripts preserved by the Order of Saint Leibowitz.

"Yes, yes, but the freedom to speculate is essential--"

"No one has tried to deprive you of that. Nor is anyone offended. But to abuse the intellect for reasons of pride, vanity, or escape from responsibility, is the fruit of that same tree."

"You question the honor of my motives?" asked the thon, darkening.

"At times I question my own. I accuse you of nothing. But ask yourself this: Why do you take delight in leaping to such a wild conjecture from so fragile a springboard? Why do you wish to discredit the past, even to dehumanizing the last civilization? So that you need not learn from their mistakes? Or, can it be that you can't bear being only a 'rediscoverer' and must feel that you are a 'creator' as well?"

The thon hissed an oath. "These records should be placed in the hands of competent people," he said angrily. "What irony this is!"

The light sputtered and went out. The failure was not mechanical. The novices at the drive-mill had stopped work.


Fiat Voluntas Tua (3781 AD): Man has found the way to the stars. Technological war has returned to earth. While the Order of Leibowitz struggles with the events leading up to the return of Lucifer (atomic war) and its aftermath; they also send a group of monks to the stars in order to make sure that knowledge is not lost and the Church survives.

"You are the continuity of the Order," he told them. "With you goes the Memorabilia. With you also goes the apostolic succession, and, perhaps--the Chair of Peter.

"No, no," he added in response to the murmur of surprise from the monks. "Not His Holiness. I had not told you this before, but if the worst comes on Earth, the College of Cardinals--or what's left of it--will convene. The Centaurus Colony may then be declared a separate patriarchate, with full patriarchal jurisdiction going to the cardinal who will accompany you. If the scourge falls on us here, to him, then, will go the Patrimony of Peter. For though life on Earth may be destroyed--God forbid--as long as Man lives elsewhere, the office of Peter cannot be destroyed. There are many who think that if the curse falls of Earth, the papacy would pass to him by the principle of Epikeia if there were no survivors here. But that is not your direct concern, brothers, sons, although you will be subject to your patriarch under special vows as those which bind the Jesuits to the Pope.

"You will be years in space. The ship will be your monastery. After the patriarchal see is established at the Centaurus Colony, you will establish there a mother house of the Visitationist Friars of the Order of Saint Leibowitz of Tycho. But the ship will remain in your hands, and the Memorabilia. If civilization, or a vestige of it, can maintain itself on Centaurus, you will send missions to the other colony worlds, and perhaps eventually to the colonies of their colonies. Wherever Man goes, you and your successors will go. And with you, the records and remembrances of four thousand years and more. Some of you, or those to come after you, will be mendicants and wanderers, teaching the chronicles of Earth and the canticles of the Crucified to the peoples and the cultures that may grow out of the colony groups. For some may forget. Some may be lost for a time from the Faith. Teach them, and receive into the Order those among them who are called. Pass on to them the continuity. Be for Man the memory of Earth and Origin. Remember this Earth. Never forget her, but--never come back." Zerchi's voice went hoarse and low. "If you ever come back, you might meet the Archangel at the east end of Earth, guarding her passes with a sword of flame. I feel it. Space is your home hereafter. It's a lonlier desert than ours. God bless you, and pray for us."


It's a sad story. It's a wonderful story. It's a hopeful story. Civilization falls, rises, and falls again. Knowledge is preserved and passed on. Man struggles and perseveres. The book is chock full of time (look at the dates!), full of mystery (...Who, for example, is Benjamin? the Wandering Jew? Lazarus? And does he survive in the end?)

"Live."

Then she was gone. He could hear her voice trailing away in the new ruins. "la la la, la-la-la..."

The image of those cool green eyes lingered with him as long as life. He did not ask why God would choose to raise up a creature of primal innocence from the shoulder of Mrs. Grales, or why God gave to it the preternatural gifts of Eden--those gifts which Man had been trying to seize by brute force again from Heaven since first he lost them. He had seen primal innocence in those eyes, and a promise of resurrection. One glimpse had been a bounty, and he wept in gratitude. Afterwards he lay with his face in the wet dirt and waited.

Nothing else ever came--nothing that he saw, or felt, or heard.


I had previously considered this work to be a novel; subsequent research showed it to have a genesis in three stories. Therefore, I counted it as three entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts, and, with this reading, as three entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.