Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Very, Very Scary

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a sight firmly on the Earth. One that would probably make you a bit nervous if you saw it heading your way.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Send Up the Toybox!

An orbital debris collector with "real money" behind it? I'm skeptical about the money mentioned, given the usual Russian approach to space projects (Kliper, anyone?). A nice mention of Quark and Planetes (I'm rewatching Dark Star currently, not mentioned...but that was "debris on a grand scale).

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the resurgence of Jupiter's dark Southern Equatorial Belt. Shuttling moons, the Great Red Spot and an occasional splatdown by a meteor...Jupiter is an ever-amazing view.
Migrating Books

Books in the iPad boring? The quest to make books "better through technology" has been going on (for me) ever seen "hypertext" on the first Macintosh I bought. For most books, I'm not sure how "interactive" they would need to be (the same philosophy can probably apply to most "features" to a word processing program...do most people need to embed videos in their documents?).

Magazines seem to be dead out of the gate from what I've read. Never mind making them exciting...make them more compact! Magazines should not be a tad more "lite".
The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review we find several articles of interest. Dwayne A. Day looks at the Apollo program. Plans were in place to combine the Apollo command and service modules with secretive reconnaissance satellites. I'm sure the conspiracy crew will have a field day with that! Lou Friedman waves the budgetary flag. And people wonder why I don't belong to The Planetary Society anymore... John Hickman looks at the theme of space colonization as it appeared in several popular works. Bonus points for the citation of the classic work by J.D. Bernal, but here's a corrected link. Jeff Foust says what we all know: NASA is in limbo. No kidding.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows anticrepuscular rays over Colorado. These are formed by a combination of clouds and the setting Sun. I've seen these a couple of times and they've even been depicted in at least one science fiction film.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thin But Rich

Saturn's moon Rhea has been found to have an oxygen-based atmosphere. Not quite at the level we can take vacations there without equipment, but it is significant in that we have now found a second body with an oxygen-based atmosphere out there.
Star Streams and Dust Lanes

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a section of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. A favorite haunt of professionals and amateurs alike, this section of the sky is so dense with galaxies that you need a computer-assisted telescope or lots of patience and a good map to identify all the targets that you see.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Flame On!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula. Located at the edge of Orion's more famous nebula, this is one sight (alas) better viewed with a professional scope than an amateur scope.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a portion of the night sky in the constellation Aries. Reflection nebula, dusty nebula and more!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Even Closer

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is another (much closer) shot from the recent flyby of Comet Hartley 2. IMMMPAAACCCCCTTTT!!!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Innnnn Spppaaaaccce!

Technology on the International Space Station. Makes you feel all retro at times!
Dune...Desert Planet...Arrakis...

Well, not quite. But today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is evocative of that book. A dune field in Proctor Crater on Mars, first imaged 35 years ago by Mariner 9, the probe that was the "singularity" of studies of Mars.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cloud Carver

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 6357 and a star that resides within. As time goes by, radiation (heat, light) pressure from the star causes the gas of NGC 6357 to move, creating the clouds and patterns we see here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B and 7317, Stephan's Quintet. They are also film stars.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I've Only Seen This Once

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a sight in the sky that I was only lucky to see once, under very dark skies in New Mexico. Cygnus (the Northern Cross) and associated nebula (run the cursor over the picture to get some pointers).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gifts for Geeks

In Episode 16 of The SF Signal Podcast, I contribute a couple of low-tech no-battery ideas for our gift guide. Links for the items are below.

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (three volumes), edited and compiled by Leslie Klinger.

Zombie Dice from Steve Jackson Games.

Space Hulk—Death Angel: The Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games.

Phil Eklund's High Frontiers (and expansion) from Sierra Madre Games.
Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro' the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of one of those favorite Fall/Winter objects: the Pleiades (also known as The Seven Sisters). What did the poet have to say?

Locksley Hall (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

COMRADES, leave me here a little, while as yet 't is early morn:
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn.

'T is the place, and all around it, as of old, the curlews call,
Dreary gleams about the moorland flying over Locksley Hall;

Locksley Hall, that in the distance overlooks the sandy tracts,
And the hollow ocean-ridges roaring into cataracts.

Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.

Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro' the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

Here about the beach I wander'd, nourishing a youth sublime
With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time;

When the centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:

When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.--

In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast;
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;

In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove;
In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

Then her cheek was pale and thinner than should be for one so young,
And her eyes on all my motions with a mute observance hung.

And I said, "My cousin Amy, speak, and speak the truth to me,
Trust me, cousin, all the current of my being sets to thee."

On her pallid cheek and forehead came a colour and a light,
As I have seen the rosy red flushing in the northern night.

And she turn'd--her bosom shaken with a sudden storm of sighs--
All the spirit deeply dawning in the dark of hazel eyes--

Saying, "I have hid my feelings, fearing they should do me wrong";
Saying, "Dost thou love me, cousin?" weeping, "I have loved thee long."

Love took up the glass of Time, and turn'd it in his glowing hands;
Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.

Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might;
Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, pass'd in music out of sight.

Many a morning on the moorland did we hear the copses ring,
And her whisper throng'd my pulses with the fullness of the Spring.

Many an evening by the waters did we watch the stately ships,
And our spirits rush'd together at the touching of the lips.

O my cousin, shallow-hearted! O my Amy, mine no more!
O the dreary, dreary moorland! O the barren, barren shore!

Falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung,
Puppet to a father's threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue!

Is it well to wish thee happy?--having known me--to decline
On a range of lower feelings and a narrower heart than mine!

Yet it shall be; thou shalt lower to his level day by day,
What is fine within thee growing coarse to sympathize with clay.

As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with a clown,
And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down.

He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.

What is this? his eyes are heavy; think not they are glazed with wine.
Go to him, it is thy duty, kiss him, take his hand in thine.

It may be my lord is weary, that his brain is overwrought:
Soothe him with thy finer fancies, touch him with thy lighter thought.

He will answer to the purpose, easy things to understand--
Better thou wert dead before me, tho' I slew thee with my hand!

Better thou and I were lying, hidden from the heart's disgrace,
Roll'd in one another's arms, and silent in a last embrace.

Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth!
Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!

Cursed be the sickly forms that err from honest Nature's rule!
Cursed be the gold that gilds the straiten'd forehead of the fool!

Well--'t is well that I should bluster!--Hadst thou less unworthy proved--
Would to God--for I had loved thee more than ever wife was loved.

Am I mad, that I should cherish that which bears but bitter fruit?
I will pluck it from my bosom, tho' my heart be at the root.

Never, tho' my mortal summers to such length of years should come
As the many-winter'd crow that leads the clanging rookery home.

Where is comfort? in division of the records of the mind?
Can I part her from herself, and love her, as I knew her, kind?

I remember one that perish'd; sweetly did she speak and move;
Such a one do I remember, whom to look at was to love.

Can I think of her as dead, and love her for the love she bore?
No--she never loved me truly; love is love for evermore.

Comfort? comfort scorn'd of devils! this is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.

Drug thy memories, lest thou learn it, lest thy heart be put to proof,
In the dead unhappy night, and when the rain is on the roof.

Like a dog, he hunts in dreams, and thou art staring at the wall,
Where the dying night-lamp flickers, and the shadows rise and fall.

Then a hand shall pass before thee, pointing to his drunken sleep,
To thy widow'd marriage-pillows, to the tears that thou wilt weep.

Thou shalt hear the "Never, never," whisper'd by the phantom years,
And a song from out the distance in the ringing of thine ears;

And an eye shall vex thee, looking ancient kindness on thy pain.
Turn thee, turn thee on thy pillow; get thee to thy rest again.

Nay, but Nature brings thee solace; for a tender voice will cry.
'T is a purer life than thine, a lip to drain thy trouble dry.

Baby lips will laugh me down; my latest rival brings thee rest.
Baby fingers, waxen touches, press me from the mother's breast.

O, the child too clothes the father with a dearness not his due.
Half is thine and half is his: it will be worthy of the two.

O, I see thee old and formal, fitted to thy petty part,
With a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter's heart.

"They were dangerous guides the feelings--she herself was not exempt--
Truly, she herself had suffer'd"--Perish in thy self-contempt!

Overlive it--lower yet--be happy! wherefore should I care?
I myself must mix with action, lest I wither by despair.

What is that which I should turn to, lighting upon days like these?
Every door is barr'd with gold, and opens but to golden keys.

Every gate is throng'd with suitors, all the markets overflow.
I have but an angry fancy; what is that which I should do?

I had been content to perish, falling on the foeman's ground,
When the ranks are roll'd in vapour, and the winds are laid with sound.

But the jingling of the guinea helps the hurt that Honour feels,
And the nations do but murmur, snarling at each other's heels.

Can I but relive in sadness? I will turn that earlier page.
Hide me from my deep emotion, O thou wondrous Mother-Age!

Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,
When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;

Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield,
Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father's field,

And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn;

And his spirit leaps within him to be gone before him then,
Underneath the light he looks at, in among the throngs of men:

Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain'd a ghastly dew
From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro' the thunder-storm;

Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapped in universal law.

So I triumph'd ere my passion sweeping thro' me left me dry,
Left me with the palsied heart, and left me with the jaundiced eye;

Eye, to which all order festers, all things here are out of joint:
Science moves, but slowly, slowly, creeping on from point to point:

Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion, creeping nigher,
Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire.

Yet I doubt not thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widen'd with the process of the suns.

What is that to him that reaps not harvest of his youthful joys,
Tho' the deep heart of existence beat for ever like a boy's?

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore,
And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and he bears a laden breast,
Full of sad experience, moving toward the stillness of his rest.

Hark, my merry comrades call me, sounding on the bugle-horn,
They to whom my foolish passion were a target for their scorn:

Shall it not be scorn to me to harp on such a moulder'd string?
I am shamed thro' all my nature to have loved so slight a thing.

Weakness to be wroth with weakness! woman's pleasure, woman's pain--
Nature made them blinder motions bounded in a shallower brain:

Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, match'd with mine,
Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine--

Here at least, where nature sickens, nothing. Ah, for some retreat
Deep in yonder shining Orient, where my life began to beat;

Where in wild Mahratta-battle fell my father evil-starr'd,--
I was left a trampled orphan, and a selfish uncle's ward.

Or to burst all links of habit--there to wander far away,
On from island unto island at the gateways of the day.

Larger constellations burning, mellow moons and happy skies,
Breadths of tropic shade and palms in cluster, knots of Paradise.

Never comes the trader, never floats an European flag,
Slides the bird o'er lustrous woodland, swings the trailer from the crag;

Droops the heavy-blossom'd bower, hangs the heavy-fruited tree--
Summer isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea.

There methinks would be enjoyment more than in this march of mind,
In the steamship, in the railway, in the thoughts that shake mankind.

There the passions cramp'd no longer shall have scope and breathing space;
I will take some savage woman, she shall rear my dusky race.

Iron-jointed, supple-sinew'd, they shall dive, and they shall run,
Catch the wild goat by the hair, and hurl their lances in the sun;

Whistle back the parrot's call, and leap the rainbows of the brooks,
Not with blinded eyesight poring over miserable books--

Fool, again the dream, the fancy! but I know my words are wild,
But I count the gray barbarian lower than the Christian child.

I, to herd with narrow foreheads, vacant of our glorious gains,
Like a beast with lower pleasures, like a beast with lower pains!

Mated with a squalid savage--what to me were sun or clime?
I the heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time--

I that rather held it better men should perish one by one,
Than that earth should stand at gaze like Joshua's moon in Ajalon!

Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.

Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.

Mother-Age (for mine I knew not) help me as when life begun:
Rift the hills, and roll the waters, flash the lightnings, weigh the Sun.

O, I see the crescent promise of my spirit hath not set.
Ancient founts of inspiration well thro' all my fancy yet.

Howsoever these things be, a long farewell to Locksley Hall!
Now for me the woods may wither, now for me the roof-tree fall.

Comes a vapour from the margin, blackening over heath and holt,
Cramming all the blast before it, in its breast a thunderbolt.

Let it fall on Locksley Hall, with rain or hail, or fire or snow;
For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Insurance Agent Needed

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 7252, two galaxies involved in a massive collision.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Chandra has discovered a black hole that is only 30 years old. Holy frack, I'm older than a cosmic object!

(O.K., O.K., before everybody yells at me...yes, I know how old it really is...)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looking at Earth through the recently-installed cupola. What. A. View.

Addendum: A different view of the cupola.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Across the Multiverse

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a depiction of the multiverse concept. Credit to Philip Jose Farmer, Michael Moorcock and others for exploring a hot topic in physics (probably before most of the physicists were born!).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nice Spiral

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day won't get any cute commentary from your guide (me). M66. A spiral galaxy. Coolness abounds.

Addendum: More here. Another interesting story about Saturn here.

Friday, November 12, 2010


A view of the spokes in the Rings of Saturn. A comparison between images collected during the Voyager missions and the current Cassini mission.

The Ground Utility Carrier Plate: A closer view (videocast) of what has grounded Space Shuttle Discovery.

While I am sporting a red eye (courtesty of an over-energetic Miss Mocha, a.k.a., New Dog Mark 4.0) today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is the Iris Nebula, NGC 7023.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Double Crescent

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows two views of the same thing: a thin crescent Moon and a thin crescent Venus.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sunday, November 07, 2010


Eerie reflections in the nebula around Merope (part of the Pleiades star cluster).
What Mad Universe

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the highly active central region of the very active galaxy Centaurus A. Local eyes could see some interesting sights in their night sky!

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows IC 1396 and the "Elephant Trunk" (how many shades of red can you spot?).

Friday, November 05, 2010


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the flyby of Comet Hartley 2 by the EPOXI probe. This was the fifth close encounter with a comet by a spacecraft from Earth. Trivia: what was EPOXI before it was EPOXI? Answer here.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Night Lights

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the night sky...or rather the ground at night...from the ISS.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us the recently discovered Necklace Nebula. A subtle hint for the upcoming frenzy of gift purchasing?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Fermat's Last Theorem


"Yes, dear?"

"Can you do some equations for me?"

"Sure, what kind?"


"Anything else?"

"Wear a bowtie."


"And don't say math. Say 'maths'!"

He sighed. It was a strange relationship. But somehow, it worked.
Fred's Reading Report (Through October 2010)

Yep, behind on my updating. But the numbers have ended October nicely.

Long works? 88 books YTD. Reads through October included Lois McMaster Bujold (re-reading the Canon According to Miles before reading the newest addition); more Jim Butcher and the exploits of Harry Dresden; two volumes by William Gibson; steampunk by Mark Hodder; various bits of non-fiction and much more.

Short works? Since I started including short audio (as I had included long audio last year), it just goes to show you: I drive way too much. One-thousand, nine-hundred and sixty-six items. Gadzooks.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows spicules (jets) on the "surface" of our Sun.

Monday, November 01, 2010

He's Back!

Ansible 280! Accept no substitutes!

The Dead Past. 36 Years Ago, Robert Silverberg wrote a booklet on drugs in sf, now extensively cited in the latest Druglink magazine from the UK charity DrugScope: Marcus Roberts's article 'Dream-Dust from Mars' acknowledges having 'borrowed from Robert Silverman's [sic] "Drug Themes in Science Fiction" published by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse in 1974.' Dr Rob Jackson comments: 'As well as using the surnames Silverman and Silverberg in a randomly interchangeable way throughout the article, he also refers to some bloke called Chine Mieville, and a 1984 William Gibson novel called Necromancer. I have also spotted a Robert Silverman novel called Downward to Earth. (No "the".) If their proofreading is this good in the rest of the journal, I'm not that sure I can trust them to tell the difference even between cocaine and codeine, let alone between methadone and mephedrone.'
Stars in the Furnace

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Milky Way arching over Piton de la Fournaise.