Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One Big Spider

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us the 30 Doradus nebula, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, a massive star-forming region of space.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Yearning for the Simpler Way

Next time somebody (probably sitting in their air-conditioned house) complains about how much better things were when life was simpler...point them this way!

Child mortality in foraging tribes was severe. A survey of 25 hunter-gatherer tribes in historical times from various continents revealed that on average 25% of children died before they were one, and 37% died before they were 15. In one traditional hunter-gather tribe child mortality was found to be 60%. Most historical tribes have a population growth rate of approximately zero. This depression is made evident, says Robert Kelley in his survey of hunter-gathering peoples, because "when formerly mobile people become sedentary, the rate of population growth increases." All things equal, the constancy of farmed food breeds more people.
Disbelief

It's interesting to see how somebody who can be anti-nuclear weapon, pro-poor, opposed to many wars can be despised by wing nuts because he doesn't seem to embrace the latest "truth".

So...the wingnuts yell when the other side of the aisle "suppresses" them, but it is O.K. for them to suppress?
Mud Bath

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a potential "mud volcano" on the surface of Mars. The text does not suggest how recently any such spouter might have been active.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Strange Universe

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day depicts a supernova that was detected in 1994. The text discusses the current state of some strange components to cosmology (dark energy, for example).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Splat!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Almahata Sitta 15, a piece of an asteroid that was detected in space before entering Earth's atmosphere and falling to the ground. Some fifteen pieces of this have been found, so far.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity

Five years, folks. Five years on a 90-day vehicle. Now that's reliability! What's coming for the next two years, if the vehicles last?
The Far Side of the World

'...it was we who first went round up the Horn for spermaceti. Mr Shields it was, a friend of my father's, who took the Amelia out in eighty-eight and came back in the year ninety with a hundred and thirty-nine tons of oil. A hundred and thirty-nine tons of sperm oil, gentlemen! With the bounty on top that was close on seven thousand pound. So of course other whalers hurried after him, fishing along the coast of Chile and Peru and northwards. But you know how jealous the Spaniards have always been of anyone sailing in those waters, and they were even worse then, if possible—you remember Nootka Sound.'

'Indeed I do,' said Jack who owed all his present happiness to that remote, dank, uncomfortable inlet on Vancouver Island, far to the north of the last Spanish settlement on the west coast of America, where some English ships, trading for furs with the Indians, had been seized by the Spaniards in I791, a time of profound peace, thus bringing about the great rearming of the Navy known as the Spanish disturbance, which in its turn caused the first of his splendid metamorphoses, that which changed him from a mere (though perhaps deserving) master's mate to a lieutenant with His Majesty's commission and a gold-laced hat for Sundays.


(Patrick O'Brian, The Far Side of the World)
Cluster and Bubble

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a sight within a sight. The open cluster known as M46 and the planetary nebula known as NGC 2438 (which appears to be, but is not, part of the cluster).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Only the Beginning

Discovered buried in my back messages...how Patrick O'Brian started each of the twenty-one novels of The Canon.

The
At
But
Captain
The
The
The
Marriage
A
Pass
The
Ever
In
A
Standing
A
Thick
Sir
The
The
Stephen
O.K., So...

I'm on Facebook. I'm on Twitter. I'm on LinkedIn. I'm using CraigsList. I'm so Web 2.0 that my yesterdays are tomorrows. I wonder if any of this stuff will be of any use, though, in finding a new job...Other than being more timesinks.
The Dark Art

COIN Central reprints a long, very thoughtful, article by Mark Bowden (author of Blackhawk Down and other excellent works).
A Replacement for SETI@Home?

I haven't run SETI@Home since they "upgraded" to that wacky obtuse system. Maybe this can run on my computer during "downtime"? Whoops. Nope. It uses BOINC.
Fear

I may have to get my wife and daughter one of these. Lots more here!
Cooking Tips

Who knew that duct tape is an important ingredient in microgravity environment cooking?
The Coming Robot Revolution

Fear and panic (not) over military robotics. Me, I wish we had UAV's when I was serving!
"You'll Glow in the Dark!"

Remember Christmas Story and its famous "You'll poke your eye out!" refrain? I wonder if parents said something similar when their offspring wanted this under the Christmas tree.

Good luck finding one. Or a decent chemistry set.
Must Dig These Out

I've accumulated a couple of sets of these over the years. Time to dig them out and stretch the brain cells with all the "free time" I have now that Odyssey of the Mind is over.

PC edition here (click on the puzzle). Another computerized version here. Lots of excellent "non-virtual" versions here. Another non-virtual variant here and here and here.
Stacking Bricks

While The Young Lady hasn't gotten deeply into Legos, they are starting to accumulate. This seems like a pretty nifty solution to sorting and storing!
Topographic Titan

The Cassini mission (still going!) has given us topographic maps of Saturn's enigmatic moon Titan. Imperial Earth, here we come!
Another Firehose of Information

NASA and Microsoft are teaming up to make information gathered by NASA over the years available to the public (a lot of it has been available for us all along...you just have to dig for it!).
$5,500 Worth of Bricks

You can make anything Legos. Toss in some LED's and Bob's your uncle.
For You High-Speed Connection Types

You can now watch all of Carl Sagan's Cosmos online. Imagine that!
Sci-Fi Nut

You find them everywhere. Even Iraq.
Those Darned Wingnuts

One of the sillier things to hit the television screens last week were various members of Congress screaming about bonuses given to people who worked at AIG. Now, AIG used to be a good company...what the heck happened there...but Congress screaming about this? When they get automatic raises whether they function or no?

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Another opinion here.
50 and Older

Grants of money for SF writers 50 and older? Hurry up, birthday!
Don't Forget: Hire a Vet

Remember that catchphrase? Seems we've forgotten it, alas.

Via Michael Yon, Gary Sinise (who, along with Bruce Willis, is one of the few decent people in Hollow-wood) urges us not to forget those who served.

(Hopefully his new movie will make it to my area soon.)

Addendum: Lt. Dan's Tour Schedule. When is the CD coming?
Amateurs View the ISS

For a number of years, amateur astronomers have been getting better and better at capturing images from the ground of various space objects (Mir, the Shuttle, various satellites). Images of the International Space Station can show some pretty amazing detail!
The Space Review

A full slate at the current issue of The Space Review! Dean Cheng wonders if the United States and China ought to cooperate in space (oh no, not another redesign of the ISS!)? Taylor Dinerman wonders about the future of the ISS. Dwayne A. Day continues the look at launch (hardware) failures. Ferris Valyn looks at liberals, space activists and (a new one to me), the Great Orange Satan.

On the lighter side, Dwayne A. Day looks at the intersection (for him) beteween Project Gemini and Star Trek (the original series, for you youngsters) and Eve Lichtgarn looks at a new book which examines the impact of the "Earthrise" image from Apollo 8 on society and technology.
Outside the Box

An example of the kind of talent Hollywood ought to seek out.
Maybe They Can Call It "Stewart"

NASA is seeking a name for the Mars Science Laboratory.
Danny Deever

It's been too long since I've posted a Kipling poem. Time to remedy the situation!

"WHAT are the bugles blowin' for? " said Files-on-Parade.
"To turn you out, to turn you out," the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What makes you look so white, so white? " said Files-on-Parade.
"I'm dreadin' what I've got to watch," the Colour-Sergeant said.

For they're hangin' Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play
The regiment's in 'ollow square - they're hangin' him to-day;
They've taken of his buttons off an' cut his stripes away,
An' they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

"What makes the rear-rank breathe so 'ard? " said Files-on-Parade.
"It's bitter cold, it's bitter cold," the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What makes that front-rank man fall down? " said Files-on-Parade.
"A touch o' sun, a touch o' sun," the Colour-Sergeant said.

They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are marchin' of 'im round,
They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on the ground;
An' e'll swing in 'arf a minute for a sneakin' shootin' hound
0 they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'!

" 'Is cot was right-'and cot to mine," said Files-on-Parade.
" 'E's sleepin' out an' far to-night," the Colour-Sergeant said.
"I've drunk 'is beer a score o' times," said Files-on-Parade.
" 'E's drinkin' bitter beer alone," the Colour-Sergeant said.

They are hangin' Danny Deever, you must mark 'im to 'is place,
For 'e shot a comrade sleepin' - you must look 'im in the face;
Nine 'undred of 'is county an' the Regiment's disgrace,
While they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

"What's that so black agin the sun? " said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny fightin' 'ard for life," the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What's that that whimpers over'ead? " said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny's soul that's passin' now," the Colour-Sergeant said.

For they're done with Danny Deever, you can 'ear the quickstep play
The regiment's in column, an' they're marchin' us away;
Ho! the young recruits are shakin', an' they'll want their beer to-day,
After hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.
Cold Fusion or ????

It's back! It's unclear what is going on here (hopefully more details will be forthcoming), but something is happening...
Joker One

Donovan Campbell; Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood (Random House; 2009; ISBN 978-1-4000-6773-2; cover photograph by Nicolas Asfouri, AFP/Getty Images).

I picked this volume up last night at the local Big Box as I had spotted a sign that the author was going to be there for a signing and reading/discussion. Nestled as we are between Princeton Univeristy and Rutgers University, I was kind of puzzled as to what the book would be like or how the reception of the crowd would be like.

I'm only a few chapters into the book, but so far, an excellent work. Whereas most military histories on this level (company or below) concentrate on the author, Campbell concentrates on the members of the platoon. The autobiographical details are sketchy (at best) on his background. Campbell also seems to be a rarity (at least, in my experience—direct or in reading) among young officers in that he joined his platoon and did not immediately make significant changes. He also actually sought out and listened to the counseling of his non-commissioned officers.

The talk, last night, was brief but also of a similar level of quality. During his introduction, he mentioned that he was going to make a special plea to any university students in the audience. My thought, knowing nothing of the author of the book, was that he was going to make some John Kerry-like remark about staying in school to avoid going to Irak (yes, that is an intentional mispelling). But no, the plea was much better. Look for a job that gives back, instead of just giving you a fat paycheck. Look for contributing to society. Look for helping. Amen, I say, amen. More folks ought to be doing that.

More on the book later.

Addendum: Will this book make it to this list?
The Sound of His Horn

Well, this sounds interesting!

Alan Querdilion, a young naval lieutenant, is captured by the Germans and wakes up in a hospital bed - more than 100 years later. The Germans have won the war, and the Third Reich stretches from the Urals to the Atlantic. Non Aryans are bred as slaves. Deprived of speech and intelligence by the surgeon's knife, they serve their masters with their bodies. Count Hans von Hackelnberg, master of the Reich's forests, rules his domain with the iron fist of a feudal lord. His passion is hunting. At night the sound of his horn echoes eerily through the moonlit forest as the pack closes in on its prey. A pack of half-naked cat-girls, their hands sheathed in iron claws and their bellies starved of fresh meat. And their quarry, as Alan discovers too late, is...himself!
I Hear There's An Operation For That

A Senator (who should learn how to spell) insists that NASA name their new "nodule" after Stephen Colbert. You've got to be frakking kidding me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Casting a Giant Shadow

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows MER Opportunity's shadow. Where's the rover? The photo was created by "stitching together" multiple pictures, so the rover is the "dead space" in the middle. Of course, somebody out there probably thinks it is all faked anyway and this photo manipulation will just "prove" it to them...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Geeks Invade Earth

SF and real-world design.
Bug Invasion!

Five bugs that might give you nightmares.
Fun Things With Lasers

First there was the laser bug killer. Now the laser sundial!
Skin Job

Science geeks are just like the rest of us...
Pitch Maneuver

STS 119's pitch maneuver. Where have I heard that music before? (With a tip of the hat to Paul McAuley, whose The Quiet War will finally be seen in the US!)
Get Yer Red Hots Here!

For some reason, The Young Lady is fascinated with this stuff.
If You Need to Ask the Price...

...then you can't afford it.
Intersections

Indexed looks at the intersection between problems internal and external.
Hype

Sony has kicked Amazon "in the Kindle" with the announcement of a half-million books ready for the Sony product.

Hype. These titles are all out of copyright. Most, if not all, are available through other sources. The deal is not exclusive to Sony, other firms will be able to use it. ePub? Do we really need another format?

Still not the "killer app" stage for eBooks, as much as I use them myself!
Fiction vs. Science

A recent discussion between Ken MacLeod, Paul Cornell, Iain M. Banks and Ian Watson.
The Andromeda Strain

Astronauts checked themselves for microbes before talking a walk the other day. While the link talks about "It was a first-ever test of planetary protection technology that, one day, could keep humans from contaminating the sands of Mars...", let's face it: if you eliminated all sources of contamination from the human body...the human body would fail to function!
Too Much Free Time

200,000 model people, 800 trains, 300,000 LED's...somebody (a lot of somebodies) had quite a bit of free time!
One Third Along!

New Horizons is one-third of its way on its journey to visit our outermost planet, Pluto (take that, IAU!).
Stop Loss

Are scientists edging closer to finding a way of eliminating the troubling loss of calcium that astronauts experience? If so, this could open up very long-duration space flight!
Cosmic Sea Horse

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 2074 (found, unfortunately for us Northern Hemisphere types, in the Large Magellanic Cloud). What shapes do you see there?
R E S P E C T

Hunter Cressal, creator of the brilliant Vexxarr webcomic, has a few things to say about "SyFy".

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Return of The Picture of the Century

One of the more famous astronomical pictures of the last century has been undergoing a series of restorations and enhancements. Dang, but these guys are good!
Ice Cube in a Furnace

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the fate of a sungrazing comet.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Diminishing Returns

Here's an interesting post at Tobias Buckell's blog. His "Xenowealth" sequence (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose) is being put on hold (he has two more books in the sequence worked out) and he will instead work on a near-future book called Arctic Rising.

Which is a darn shame, as it appears that one of the reasons is sales. Sales have been (it seems) decent, but the Big Box stores (and WalMart now enters the picture) don't want it, most of the sales have been online (that darned internet again), so the publisher wants to do something different.

Now, Buckell isn't some obscure author in the genre. In addition to the "Xenowealth" books, he's written a best-seller (a HALO "media" novel, The Cole Protocol) and has contributed to a multimedia project that has been nominated for a Hugo Award.

Remember when just getting a Hugo Award got you lots of cred with the publishers and fans? When writing three books that (in total sales, when you put in hardcover + paperback + big box + online) do well would mean more would come?

Has the field gotten too big? Too many sub-genres? Have the publishers gotten too greedy? Too interested in the bottom line and not enough interested in the long-term?

Goodness, it appears the guy sells well. He certainly writes well. The fans seem to like him (take a look around on his site for that picture of a fan clutching an autographed copy of the book...he certainly has appeal across the ages!). He's done stuff that expands the boundary of "classic" SF. He's written about women, about "people of color". He's launched rockets from small Caribbean islands. He's written nifty essays to help beginning writers.

Heck, he even has a nifty subway system that goes between the stars! What does it take these days to keep a series going?

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Last Battlestar

So tonight brings us (is already bringing us on the East Coast, unless you're "time-shifting" like me) the last episode of Battlestar Galactica (well, not really, since there will be a direct-to-DVD movie later this year or more, plus a spinoff series, maybe).

So, why am I time-shifting? Why am I not watching the episode as it happens, as I would have during the first seasons?

Maybe because the Cylons did not "have a plan". Maybe because the stars kept telling me science fiction was for geeks and losers and their show was not science fiction. Or maybe because the show could not decide what it was about (The Cylons are terorists! No, the humans are terrorists! Oh, frak it all, make everybody a Cylon and a terrorist!).

There was a lot of good to the show. They obviously tried to make the ship look "realistic" (compare the Galactica bridge to the much more impractical Pegasus bridge, for example), tried to be somewhat vaguely scientific (the way the Vipers flew and maneuvered, for example), brought us character's "with a past", etc.

But...I stopped watching when it seemed like there was no "plan", no direction, no guidance. And then when everybody and his frakking brother or sister was a Cylon in disguise (O.K., so I exaggerate. A bit.), I gave up.

I'll watch it on DVD (which I have, to Season 4.0) and tape (the rest of the final season) and probably will do the fanboi think and buy Season 4.5 and the spinoff movie(s) or series...but it could have been a lot...shinier...
When Zombies Attack

Luckily, I know of a whole firehouse full of nifty tools like this, just in case of the zombie uprising.
Spy vs. Spy

Amazing how the whole eBook market has come down to Amazon's Kindle vs. the Sony Reader (very recently declared DOA by many "experts"). There are other readers out there, folks...
"Phantom" Pain

How do you "amputate" a missing limb? The mind and body are stranger than we sometimes realize!
Terrarium Redux

Following up on this posting, a terrarium in a mason jar. Need to work on my gallon-wine-bottle project!
Cool Clear Water

Or muddy salty water. Liquid water on Mars? Inconceivable!
Distant Goals

Opportunity has glimpsed its first view of its distant goal. Spirit is working its way around "Home Plate", due to wheel problems (making the rover drive "backwards").
Future Shock

If you were to look at today's computers vs. the predictions of 10 or 20 years ago, how accurate would those predictions have turned out? Bet they're way wrong on this.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

A pretty amazing story about a test-flight of the famous SR-71. And then the flight after that.

Two weeks after the accident, I was back in an SR-71, flying the first sortie on a brand-new bird at Lockheed's Palmdale, Calif., assembly and test facility. It was my first flight since the accident, so a flight test engineer in the back seat was probably a little apprehensive about my state of mind and confidence. As we roared down the runway and lifted off, I heard an anxious voice over the intercom.

"Bill! Bill! Are you there?"

"Yeah, George. What's the matter?"

"Thank God! I thought you might have left." The rear cockpit of the SR-71 has no forward visibility—only a small window on each side—and George couldn't see me. A big red light on the master-warning panel in the rear cockpit had illuminated just as we rotated, stating, "Pilot Ejected." Fortunately, the cause was a misadjusted microswitch, not my departure.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Take Off!

Twitter shots of the shuttle. How fast did the media react?
Son of Kliper

So the Russians are going to the Moon within a decade? Google...Kliper...
Four Moons

The Hubble Space Telescope (repair mission coming up!) recently snapped a transit of four of Saturn's sixty-odd moons.

Addendum (March 19, 2009): The Astronomy Picture of the Day for today has a shot of the multiple transit, as well as the increasingly "thin" rings.
SyFy

What frakking idiot was in charge of the "rebranding" of a increasingly irrelevant content provider?

John Scalzi's take. SF Signal's first take. SF Signal's second take. I'm already there on the second take and will be so gone after Friday...
Drive Like a Demon from Station to Station

Via BoingBoing, a "locked-room mystery" set on the International Space Station.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Moment of Silence...

...for Spacebat.
Nominees

The Nebula Awards website has an interview up with nominee Gene Wolfe.

And here's one with nominee Jack McDevitt.
Next Time, Renew Your License

On the screen of a PC inside the control room of a nuclear reactor...
I'll Be In My Bunk

Over at The Ranting Room, a look at one of my favorite short-lived television series (most of my favorite television series are short-lived, either on purpose or due to network stupidity). Part One: Cut 'em Off at the Horsehead Nebula! Part Two. Part Three. An associated essay. Another associated essay.
Reality and Fiction

Over at Rocketpunk Manifesto, some thoughts on science fiction (especially Robert A. Heinlein), the solar system and spaceflight.
Paging David Brin...

Developmental and ethical considerations for biologically uplifting nonhuman animals...
Whoa, dude. It's Like the Sixities...All Over Again!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a multi-wavelength image of the remnants of the supernova reported by Tycho Brahe over 400 years ago.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Terrarium

A moss terrarium in a wine bottle, done "ship-in-the-bottle" (horizontal) fashion. I actually have a salvaged gallon jug in the basement for a similar (vertical) project. I've got the pebbles, the sand, the potting soil...just need some time to head to the woods with The Young Lady and look for some plants to put in and arrange.
Herschel and Planck Delayed

The launch of two space telescopes by the ESA has been delayed "by several weeks".
Durable Good

Why aren't more "consumer" items built this durable?
Flame On!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a pretty dramatic shot of our "quiet" Sun.

Shortcuts

Via Abtruse Goose, Penrose graphical notation! I'd like to have Feynman Diagrams painted all over my RV, someday (when I get an RV).

The latest in the sequence that started with this and was then followed by this. Who said science and math was humorless?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Super Chute

One more step on the way to launching the Ares...assuming the whole project doesn't get scuttled.
Timesteps

A 100-year-old Swiss Watch found in a tomb in China...that has been sealed for 400 years? Paging Dr. Who! Paging H.G. Wells! Paging Dr. Jones (either one)!
eBooks

Hey, its Read An E-Book Week! Since most of the books I've read this year are e, should I instead make it read a paper book week?
Psssst, Buddy, Got $116K to Loan Me?

I want to buy a few books.

Old Bach

Truly, there is no better way to relax after a wacky work week than knocking back and listening to the immortal notes of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Maybe I should also be reading this book and contemplating my Escher etchings.
Working on the Year

If you're not listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast...why the heck not? Some great shows have been posted to date!
Triton

New Horizons, streaking its way (relatively speaking) across the Solar System, has spotted Neptune's moon Triton.
The Bad Astronomer's Inner Geek

Phil Plait, a.k.a., The Bad Astronomer, has discovered yet another reason to embrace the intertubes.
When Worlds Collide!

Following up on this posting, the crew of the ISS "sheltered" in their Soyuz reentry vehicle (which acts as both a ferry and an escape pod) yesterday when the ISS was threatened with orbital debris.
Conspiracy Theory

So, this (also here) is:

(a) The beginnings of a unified European super state?
(b) The beginnings of a British-controlled world (c.f., Lyndon LaRouche)?
(c) Yet another pointless network to aimlessly spend money.

Discuss amongst yourselves.
Where Next, Columbus?

The battle for NASA's future continues...
Mission Madness

I don't know...this weird marriage between sports and NASA just seems desperate to me.
Hickson

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Hickson Compact Group 90. It is amazing the number of catalogs that astronomers have come up with. I blame William, Caroline and John Herschel for expanding what The Ferret of Comets started!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Starship Operators

No, not the classic supplement for Traveller. Another anime recommendation... The wallet cringes!
Spy Ware

This gadget looks like something James Bond would carry around.

That Warm, Cheerful Glow

Nixie clocks. What wonderful gadgets.
Computer Warning

There's a new worm going around that can really screw up your computer.
Images

The NASA Images website.
Determination of Interplanetary Transfer Orbits for Specified Date of Departure

That jaw-twister of a title is available as a free Adobe Acrobat file. If you are geek like me. (Or like Winchell Chung, who sent me the link!)
Alexis A. Gilliland

Via The Crotchety Old Fan (who has been rambling about Naked Fans for some reason), comes the news that SF fan, artist and occasional author Alexis A. Gilliland has launched a website. With tons of his art. Get thee hence...
Ceres: The Fountain of Life?

I missed this one. Both Paul McAuley (at Earth and Other Unlikely Worlds) and Adam Korbitz (at Estimate of the Solution) talk about the possibility that life here (on Earth) came from the large asteroid Ceres.

Something for Dawn to contemplate as it visits. And we can continue to contemplate why Mr. McAuley's books aren't more widely distributed (say, in the United States).
Send Up the Toybox!

How to get rid of "cosmic junk". The Toybox is one solution. Sam Gunn is another.
Reboot!

The Mars Odyssey spacecraft has been "rebooted" to clear out five years worth of potential memory flaws.
Upper Stage Test

SpaceX recently had a successful test of the upper stage engine of their Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Helmet and Nebula

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows "Thor's Helmet" (as well as a nearby planetary nebula). Planetary nebula actually have nothing to do with planets. (I'll leave the search up to you, as an exercise for the student.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Secret Histories

Evidence of a government cover-up on a grand scale was recently uncovered in Beaulieu, Hampshire (United Kingdom) recently. And you thought Dr. Who was fiction!
Shuttle Night Launch

Today's scheduled flight of Discovery will start (knock on wood) 9:20:10 PM Eastern. It's flight path will take it along the east coast of the United States...so...depending on weather you might have a chance to see it!

Update! Launch scrubbed due to a leak, hopefully "easy" to fix. Probably no launch until the 17th. Delay will probably cut into the mission, due to scheduling with Russian flights and the like.
Star Maidens

Yes, I actually watched this when it was on. Before cable, before the internet, before satellite, before fiber optics...let me tell you, kiddies, we were desperate for entertainment then!
Six Words

Very short stories. (I won't be using these to pump up The Year in Shorts!)
Yet Another Conspiracy

So, did you know that the recent collision between a privately-owned communications satellite and a dead Russian satellite was actually a test of anti-satellite warfare?
The Global Warming Edition

Nothing like using a current trend to try and sell an old flick!
Four Guys on a Branch

A jungle reunion!
Fantastic Voyage

The unstoppable Winchell Chung sent me a series of links revolving around the Proteus, the submarine from the classic science fiction film Fantastic Voyage (still not remade, and I hope they never do remake it!).

Here's a series of shots of the model used in the film. The full-scale mockup. The "surgical laser" in its mount and an exterior shot of the sub.

Finally, a series of CAD drawings of the vehicle along with a model kit. I'm not sure whether the model was used to help do the CAD drawings or the model came as a result of the CAD drawings.

Loved that movie, as cheese-filled as it was. I wore out my paperback novelization by Isaac Asimov, between reading, re-reading, and loaning it out.
Cold Cam

Live streaming (well, updated every twelve minutes) video from waaaaayyyy down under, McMurdo Station at Ross Island.
Deconstruction

Dinosaurs walked the Earth (or at least Cambodia) in 1186 A.D.? Who knew? Interesting job of breaking out the "myth".
Islands in the Stream

Live streaming video...from spppppaaaaaccccceeeee!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Man in Space

Walt Disney's multi-part documentary, Man In Space, is online!
For Scratchbuilders As Well

A book of photographs from the age of steam railroading. Cool!
Battle Rattle

Are US troops over burdened?

The proper balance between troop safety and mobility will be examined this week during a series of oversight hearings by the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. Beginning today, senior Army and Marine Corps leaders are scheduled to testify on a wide range of subjects, including force protection, readiness levels and ergonomic injuries.


I hear that troops are going to be discussing whether members of the House of Representatives are too overburdened with fat next.
Fakes! Fakes!

Phil Plait continues to perpetuate the myth that we actually went to the Moon.

(Yes. I am joking. About the myth business.)
ReTron

A sequel to Tron? Ummmm....pass.
Cosmic Collision

What happens when you cross the Fermi Paradox with geological time?
Nice Pen

Hmmmm...I somehow think this will be ending up on the TSA's "no-no" list very quickly!
Everybody to the Moon!

Even the ESA, apparently. They are looking for input on a future lander. Hmmmm...an autonomous lunar lander capable of cargo and logistics delivery? Sounds like a lunar Jules Verne or Johannes Kepler ATV!
The Space Review

The current issue of The Space Review has a couple of interesting items in it. Apparently Neil Tyson is the sexiest American (male) astrophysicist. Who knew? (I prefer Fiorella Terenzi, myself.) Jeff Foust wonders (as do I) if the US is serious about space policy. And, Wayne Eleazer looks at some failures of the Atlas launch vehicle (following up earlier articles about failures of the Thor and failures of the Falcon).
Future Weapons of War

So, what has DARPA been working on recently? Glad you asked!
Eating Your Young

In a reverse of mythology, it appears that Jupiter actually "ate" its "children".
Elder Goodness!

Ripped from the pages of the Necronomicon!!!!
Horsehead

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day brings us back to Orion. The Horsehead Nebula is a very elusive target (at least from my area).
Orbital Danes

Poul Anderson would be so proud.
Bright Star

Once space shuttle Discovery delivers the new solar arrays to the International Space Station, it will become the second-brightest object in the night sky. This will also increase the amount of power available on the ISS and (along with such items as more plumbing available) open the station to an expanded crew.
Packing It In

Scientists have found new and more efficient ways of packing stuff. In the long run, this could do things like help the environment by using less resources to make packages. Now if we could just convince manufacturers to stop over packaging widgets with enough plastic to require special tools to get the widgets out!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Doorways in the Sand

Roger Zelazny; Doorways in the Sand (Harper & Row; 1976; ISBN 0-06-014789-X; cover by John Clarke. Most recent publication that I can trace: HarperPaperbacks; 1991; ISBN 0-06-100328-X; cover by Steve Gardner).

In which I commit a review upon another site.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Dry Gulch

Gullies on Mars point towards recent water activity...recent in a "geological sense" that is (1.25 million years ago, give or take).
Meanwhile...At Mars...

One of the two plucky rovers on Mars, Spirit, is facing a bit of a challenge in getting around on Mars. Due to soil conditions, it must drive around, rather than over, the feature known as "Home Plate" to its next destination (mission planners are looking forward three martian seasons in their planning!).

And, in orbit, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft has memory problems. Time for a reboot!
Kepler

If all goes well, in about seventeen hours, the Kepler mission will be launched. While NASA is hyping the "search for Earth-like planets" aspect of the mission, this space-based telescope will do more than that: it could provide a way for NASA to generate public interest in space exploration (if the press flacks don't screw it up!).

Additional information about the mission here. Images and video here. Alas, while you can "twitter" with the spacecraft and visit its "Facebook" page, there are no paper models to build while you wait for launch! Too "old media", I suppose.
Double Crescent

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the crescent Moon and the crescent planet Venus. Hey, maybe we'll get to see the crescent Moon and the crescent planet Earth in the same picture again!
He's Back!

Running a bit behind as it is just a few hours before The Young Lady and her team members do their Odyssey of the Mind presentation. We've been working on this since September. As one of my fellow coaches said yesterday, "Make it stop!" to which one of the other coaches replied "God bless us, everyone!"

Well, time marches on. Like a bad penny, Dave Langford turned up at the beginning of the month even though I did not have time to make a posting. So, once again the cry goes out: Ansible! Ansible!

Vernor Vinge has been quietly airbrushed out of history, as far as the San Francisco Chronicle is concerned: 'Singularity University, which will be housed on the NASA Ames base near Mountain View and begin classes in June, is the brainchild of Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis. [...] At the core of the university's mission is Kurzweil's theory of "Technological Singularity," which theorizes that a number of exponentially growing technologies -- such as nanotechnology and biotechnology -- will massively increase human intelligence over the next two decades and fundamentally reshape the future of humanity. In his 2005 book, "The Singularity is Near," Kurzweil famously predicted that artificial intelligence would soon allow machines to improve themselves with unforeseeable consequences.' (3 February) [DB] No mere science fiction writer could have conceived such wonders. Especially not in the 1980s.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cocoon

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows IC 5146, The Cocoon Nebula.

You've probably noticed by now that if I post a APOD, more often than not, I'll post a picture of a nebula or a cluster or other deep sky object. These are among my favorite things to view in the night sky. Unless you have a fairly fancy setup (lots of aperture, a CCD camera, tracking ability), you'll never see a sight equivalent to this...but...

The faint fuzzies are fun to hunt down. It's kind of like fly fishing...stand in the cold for hours on end, trying to catch that little bundle of photons. So that's part of the appeal.

More of the appeal is in observing. If you go back to a target again and again, you're eye gets trained to start picking out faint detail. Using tricks like averted vision helps. Even things like sketching helps you in your seeing.
Roooommmmbbbbbaaaaaaa!!!!!

If you aren't reading Vexxaar, why the heck not?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Secret Science

A nightclub for geeks. Ya gotta love it.

Of course, they have a blog!
Saturn!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Saturn. Currently our two planets are drawing near (well, relatively near for their two orbits!) and telescopic views could be the best for the year. Get out there and observe!
Math Madness

I've never felt this way about a theorem!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Great Helix

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 7293, the Helix Nebula. This one has surfaced now and again on the intertubes as "the Eye of Sauron" or "the Eye of God".

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review, several items of interest. Dwayne A. Day reviews Silent Running with Bruce Dern. Jeff Foust looks at the Kepler orbital telescope and its mission to look for extra-solar planets. Adrian Brown, in a pair of articles, looks at the technical problems and the budgetary problems faced by the much-delayed Mars Science Laboratory.
Intelligent Design

Quite possibly the worst design for a "online magazine" that I've seen. I feel like I'm reading a hypercards document on my first Macintosh!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Fred's Reading Report (February 2009)

Well, that one jumped by! Cold, but short, lots of long winter nights. And that dang groundhog is predicting a longer winter (and with a storm coming in tonight that is expected to dump between six and eighteen inches of snow...).

So where do I stand?

Long works: 19 books. In February, I read: Doc Sidhe (Aaron Allson); The Letter of Marque (Patrick O'Brian); Gust Front (John Ringo); Claws That Catch (John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor); The Defence of Duffer's Drift (E.D. Swinton); One Good Soldier (copy edited, actually) (Travis S. Taylor); Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, The Chinese Gold Murders, The Lacquer Screen (Robert Van Gulik); and a bucket-load of slush...probably about three dozen books (varying lengths before I gave up).

Short works: 74 works. Sort of. Sort of, because I'm working on a review for another site...so I'm not counting those stories until I finish up the review. So stay tuned for an update there.

"In process" are quite a few works, both long and short. The year is shaping up to be another productive one. Down with television!
The Wish House

The Wish House and Other Stories; Rudyard Kipling (The Modern Library; 2002; ISBN 0-8129-660203; cover photography Hulton/Archive by Getty Images).

In reading the introduction and editor's preface, I have to wonder what audience the book is aimed for. In one the editor apologizes for apologizing for (apparently) liking Kipling. In both there are references to sources that any casual browser would not have access too...would it have not been better to write a more general set of introductory notes (and ones that would not need such outside references)? Heck, there is even a reference (after a long diversion) about how Hemingway influenced Pinter (you are left scratching your head trying to follow the chains). What has that got to do with Kipling? The editor seems more interested in seeing how many links he can make with great lit-e-ra-ture (Eliot! Hemingway! Pinter! Chekov! James! Etc! See how smart I am!) rather than working to bring novices into Kipling's canon.

Sigh. Skip the introduction. Skip the preface. Go right to the tales. You'll be better for it.

(I pulled down my copy of Kim from the shelves. The introduction talks about Kipling's life and Kipling's book. There is no endless parade of apologies and rationalizations, no cascading of ever obscure literary references and name-dropping. Much better!

Made up of: Biographical Note (uncredited); Introduction: Kipling: Controversial Questions (Craig Raine); Editor's Preface (Craig Raine); In the House of Suddhoo; Beyond the Pale; The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows; The Story of Muhammad Din; The Man Who Would Be King; Baa Baa, Black Sheep; Dray Wara Yow Dee; On Greenhow Hill; The Dream of Duncan Parrenness; The Disturber of Traffic; The Finest Story in the World; 'Love-o'-Women'; The Elephant's Child; 'I keep six honest serving men'; The Runners; A Sahib's War; Kaspar's Song in 'Varda'; 'Wireless'; The Return of the Children; 'They'; From Lyden's 'Irenius'; Mrs Bathhurst; The Bee Boy's Song; 'Dymchurch Flit'; A Three-Part Song; Friendly Brook; The Land; Mary Postgate; The Beginnings; 'Late Came the God'; The Wish House; Rahere; The Survival; The Janeites; Jane's Marriage; The Bull that Thought; Alnaschar and the Oxen; Gipsy Vans; A Madonna of the Trenches; Gow's Watch; Untimely; The Eye of Allah; The Last Ode; The Gardener; The Burden; Dayspring Mishandled; Gertrude's Prayer; The Manner of Men; At His Execution.

Counts as 3 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.
Whiners

An adviser to Iran's president on Sunday demanded an apology from a team of visiting Hollywood actors and movie industry officials, including Annette Bening, saying films such as "300" and "The Wrestler" were "insulting" to Iranians.


Oh, my.

The film "300," portrays the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., in which a force of 300 Spartans held off a massive Persian army at a mountain pass in Greece for three days. It angered many Iranians for the way Persians are depicted as decadent, sexually flamboyant and evil in contrast to the noble Greeks.


Well, that and the fact that a bunch of half-neeeekid Greeks whomped you and that was the highpoint of your "civilization". It's been downhill ever since for y'all.

I'll tell you what. Apologize for holding US citizen hostage, apologize for funding various terrorist groups, apologize for funneling material into Iraq, apologize for...

Addendum: Of course. It's all a plot.
The Omega

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Omega Centauri, one of the most beautiful sights in the night sky.