Thursday, August 30, 2012

To Touch Another Sphere

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a panoramic shot (recently created, no panoramic cameras on Apollo 11!) from Tranquility Base.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Changing of the Guard

Stanley Schmidt achieved the goal of exceeding John W. Campbell, Jr.'s length of tenure at ASF. He is now retiring.
Lightning and Sprite

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a view downwards from the International Space Station. The camera managed to catch the flash of "ordinary" lightning as well as the elusive Red Sprite!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rho Ophiuchi

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the star fields and nebular clouds of the region around Rho Ophiuchi. This beautiful image is not from a space-based platform, but is a ground-based image (showing how far optics, instrumentation and computer power have come over the past few decades).

While this is not the setting of Jack Williamson's classic Humanoids tales, his use of "rhodomagnetism" and "rhodium" plus the world "Wing IV" always coupled that in my mind with this nebula. It would be a great backdrop to nighttime shots of a film project based on the stories!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong

The first man who stepped onto the Moon has passed away. We stopped building the Saturn V, threw away the Apollo infrastructure. We built the Shuttle and threw it away. We've had several iterations of replacements and they seem to go nowhere and probably will be thrown away. NASA is directionless.

Such a sad day in so, so, many ways.

Addendum (items will be added as I find them, if they are unique and interesting): Neil, Neil and Neal.

No posting this week, will try to catch up and back date. I've been painting, moving furniture, mowing, cleaning, steam cleaning rugs and lot more. Some vacation.
The Bombing of Albrechtsberg Castle

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows an (apparent) impending collison between a ground-based castle and a space-based object. In reality, not so much, but it is a lovely night shot.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Conjunction Lapse

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the conjunction (lots of them this week!) between our Moon and the planet Venus. Look at all the thrice-be-damned light pollution!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a time-elapse "streak" picture showing the conjuntion between Mars, Saturn and Spica. The colors of the three celestial bodies are clearly marked in this shot.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Twisted Pairs

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video about DNA. Will this code be found on other worlds or do other means of carrying information across deep time exist?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Brain Pickings

Brain Pickings looks at Mars and the Mind of Man, a book that grew out of a seminar upon the arrival at Mars of the hard-working Mariner 9 (the probe that probably launched a thousand science fiction stories, including the Mars "trilogy" by Kim Stanley Robinson). Great book. Wish the conference had been videotaped and filmed and still available.
Cup 'o Noodles

I, for one, welcome our robotic noodle-slicing overlords.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows cloud-like filaments stretching across Old Sol.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


This evening's walk with Miss Mocha yielded several bats fluttering overhead, two rainbows and another sight of crepuscular rays above the clouds hiding the setting sun. This has been a summer of such sights.
Gravity at Work

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Messier 72, a beautiful example of a globular cluster in the constellation of Aquarius. Globulars are among my favorite things to view with my telescope or even a good pair of binoculars. The strange thing about globulars (to me) is where you can find the most in the night sky: among constellations such as Sagittarius and Scorpius, towards the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. Why strange? Globulars are rare (having been consumed by their larger neighbor) and orbit outside the galaxy, so it is strange that it is easier to spot them looking towards the center, rather than out from the center (in the Milky Way's attic of the constellations on the opposite part of the sky from the two named above).

Richard Feynman once said in response to a picture of Messier 2, another globular cluster:

"He who cannot see gravity at work here has no soul."

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a self-portrait of MSL Curiosity. I've got a number of things to post about the rover (but that'll have to wait for a quieter day!).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Down the Drain

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 5033, a nice spiral in the constellation of Canes Venatici. Ever notice how spiral galaxies from this angle resemble the whirlpools that form when you open the drain of your bathtub?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

We're NASA and We Know It

I think those seven minutes of terror are starting to get to those folks at JPL.
Chiller Theater

A man wakes up to the ultimate horror! Looks like something M. Night Shama-rama-ding-dong would do!
To Your Health!

As if my wife or I needed an excuse: is dark chocolate good for you?
Year's Best

The entire run of The Year's Best edited by Gardner Dozois are making it into eBook format. These books are indispensible guides to the field, not only thanks to their selection of stories but due to the amazing work that Dozois puts into his opening essay. Can't wait to get all the ones I don't yet have and to replace the paper copies I do have (several square feet of shelf space cleared!).
Harry Harrison

And the wheel of life draws to a close over another great one, Harry Harrison. Not of the Golden Age, but the age that followed. I enjoyed many of his books: Captive Universe, the various Deathworld tales, the Stainless Steel Rat stories and more. My brush with him was a brief attempt to purchase (for publication) a SF-RPG that originally had been developed by FASA based on his Deathworld tales.

Obituary by Christopher Priest here. Some of his books as free eBooks here.

Addendum: Harry Harrison on the film version Make Room! Make Room! A roundup of tributes from the Tor Dot Com site.
The Great Wall of Mars

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a "color-corrected" image of what MSL Curiosity is viewing these days (one of the links will lead to the correct color image).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It's Only Tuesday?

I have only one thing to say to that revelation.
Administrivia Trivia

If you'd like to contact me, please e-mail me at Godel Escher Bach at g mail dot com.

Our review policy. Our review policy, enhanced. Our comments posting policy.

That is all.
Hey, Mars!

What's that blue-ish bump on your surface in Gale Crater?
Forgotten Battles

While the general public has let this incident fade from its collective memory, historians are just starting to study the epic battle of Green vs. Tan.
Radiant Source

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a fall of Perseids with a Milky Way backdrop.

Excellent advice to the author from Neil Gaiman. The shorter, the better.
Founding Father

The latest from the highly-recommended (by me) podcast The Agony Column is an interview with James Blaylock. Hear about Charles Fort, PKD, secret societies, steampunk, the madness rays of the KGB, a high school literature class I wish I had had and much more! And more Blaylock in an intriguing review of one of his latest works. Smaller note on the site here as well.

Addendum: Once you get through the Blaylock interview, you might want to listen to the interview with his friend and occasional collaborator, Tim Powers.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video: what would it be like to fly through the universe?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Collision Course

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a very slow traffic accident. NGC 4038 and NGC 4039...merge...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

First Color

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of MSL Curiosity's first color panorama of its new neighborhood. More to come!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dresden Codak

New episode is up! If you haven't been reading these, scroll back through the archives and do so!
Hoaxes and Mistakes

It's amazing the number of mistakes or hoaxes you can find on the internet. For example, a number of people posted this panoramic view of Mars saying that it was from MSL Curiosity. Close, but no cigar: the solar panels are a dead giveaway (MSL Curiosity is nuclear powered). This panorama is from Opportunity and was taken over a period of time from 2011 to 2012.

Another picture started circulating today and has been debunked by the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait. No, this isn't a stunning view of Jupiter, Earth and Venus from the skies of Mars. This is a view generated in a planetarium program.
State of Decay

When the Phobos-Grunt probe failed (for the second time) initial reports out of Russia blamed many things...including allegations that somehow the United States had remotely cyber-attacked the probe.

The reality is probably a bit sadder: how is corruption destroying Russia's proud aerospace industry?

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a Perseid meteor...below the ISS!
Psssttt...Hey Buddy... a spare $1,500.00 you can give me?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

From Terror to Might

The now-famous Seven Minutes of Terror video continues to morph, now into Dare Mighty Things. With even more actual footage included!
The Meaning of Planets

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the meanderings of Mars over time across the night sky. "Mouse over" the image for constellation outlines.
Curious Update

Lots going on Mars even though Curiosity is still being checked out and set up! Will thos folks in Curiosity's Mission Control ever stop partying? For example, how about a view of the local area? The landing thrusters exposed bedrock! (And I wonder why so much of the surface above the bedrock is flat and uniform in appearance: did something erode or move away the boulders we've seen at the other landing sites?) Before and after views of the landing site: watch carefully and you'll see bits and pieces from the landing sequence appear. A closer view, here, shows the appearance of the ballast used in the landing. Similar image here (we sure are messing up the neighborhood!).

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Another Dip

It would have been better if he had accidentally set himself on fire.
Video Combo

JPL has taken the video from landing night plus the animation of MSL Curiosity landing (made ahead of the landing) and combined them. Hopefully the next step will add in the downward "still sequential video" that has yet to be beamed down. Fantastic stuff.
It's Away!

Fantastic shot of MSL Curiosity's heat shield dropping away.

Addendum: Sequential still video of the same action.
The Shallow End of the Gene Pool

Some parental types are too stupid for even words.
Mars is a Place

I think it was Kim Stanley Robinson who used the phrase from the title of this posting in Red Mars. With orbiters like Mariner and Viking, landers like Viking, Pathfinder/Sojourner, Phoenix, Spirit, Opportunity and now Curiosity, Mars is becoming "a place" more and more everyday.

Stuff like this makes it absolutely a "place".
Landing Shot

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is something that should make your jaw drop. If it does not, ask yourself: is there no poetry in your soul? A spaceship descends to the surface of another planet. The picture is taken by another spaceship in orbit around that planet. It is not our planet.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Beautiful Views

Let's see. How about a view of MSL Curiosity and various components? A view of the MSL's neighborhood (click on it! click on it!)?

Amazing stuff.
Space Command

O.K., what the? Maybe a reboot of classic Space Command? Looks almost Gerry Anderson-ish!
Ground Color

Yesterday's press conference on Curiosity showed some color stills (and a ersatz "movie") during the landing but now we have the first color image from the ground!
Bernard Lovell

Another loss for the astronomical community, another childhood hero gone. Sir Bernard Lovell, founder of the Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory has passed away. Jodrell was featured in several of my favorite books of those formative reading years and I often thought that Bernard Quatermass was modeled after Lovell.
The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review we have several items of interest: Jeff Foust looks at the (successful) landing of MSL Curiosity. Jeff Foust comes back with a look at the recent round of Commercial Crew "wins". Dwayne A. Day looks at recently declassified documents on our orbiting national assets. Finally, Michael Listner looks at the legal problems of space debris. Send up the Toybox!
Wheels Up!

Actually, wheels down! Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day celebrates the successful landing of MSL Curiosity in Gale Crater on Mars.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Snapshot Into the Light

I thought it was pretty amazing when they started sticking video cameras onto manned and unmanned vehicles and you could see shots of the shuttle from the viewpoint of the SRB, or an Atlas V boosting New Horizons to Pluto and so forth. Not satisfied with that, we have a shot of one vehicle landing on another planet (taken by another vehicle orbiting that planet) and a short video showing that vehicle landing (more to come as images are transmitted down).

MPOD: February 11, 2002

Several great new images from the MGS today: an astounding view of layers at the northern polar cap; fresh crater rays in the Tharsis region; a spiral cloud (!) at Arisa Mons; signs of change at the southern polar cap; living (or viewing) in stereo with outcrops at Iani Chaos.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video (at some point they might have to change it to be the "Astronomy Image of the Day!) of the night skies from that "other" hemisphere.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

A Couple of Curiosities

What to expect in terms of initial pictures from Curiosity (alas, the pictures being taken during the actual landing won't be available until August 6). And, the Seven Minutes of Terror video is now an infographic!

Beautiful artwork for the audiobook version of Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword. The artist, Thomas Canty, worked on my favorite covers for Michael Moorcock's Elric series (and more).

The latest version of the Mars24 app is up! I first installed this waaaaayyyy back with Pathfinder/Sojourner!
Extended Warranty

Eight-and-a-half years into its 90-day mission, MER Opportunity is going to take a break for a bit while Curiosity makes its grand entrance.

Glad to see NASA didn't do the silly thing of shutting down Opportunity due to funding!

"If the reason we've got to stand down is because another wonderful vehicle is about to land on Mars, I'm okay with that," chuckled Squyres. "We're just wishing the best for MSL. This is a fantastic mission. It's their time. It's going to be a very exciting night when we land and years of excitement after that."

"Everybody's okay with this," agreed Arvidson. "We're in this business of Mars exploration for the long haul. It's a program not just a mission."
IC Nebula

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows emission nebula IC 1396 in Cepheus. A beautiful (subtle and very large) nebula.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Tiny Bubbles

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 7635, The Bubble Nebula, in the constellation of Cassiopeia. It almost looks like a living thing in this image!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Iron Man

Our long national nightmare is over! The Iron Kingdoms RPG is finally on the way. What will this do for those "collectible prices" on the old supplements?

Crash and burn their paper empire, hopefully.
Very Crazy

I've heard several times now that as crazy as the method for getting Curiosity down to Mars is, it is the "least crazy" method. Nobody details what the other schemes are, alas.

How crazy is the landing going to be? Take a look!

Excellent video, NASA, one of your best in terms of the people you got to speak on it!

Dare Mighty Things is the tagline at the end of the video. My fingers are crossed.

Ah, nature. You never know what might crop up.
Treasure Trove

A whole big pile of photos of fans, fan personalities, conventions and more! Another massive archive here (early WorldCons!!!)! Some pictures from 1980 here. And, a final gallery here!

Are geeks a new thing? Oh, heck no.
Say "Hi" to Ernesto!

Welcome, Ernesto! Will you be as much fun as Irene or Katia? I hope not.
The Edge of Night

Probably forgotten by many, we've actually got a vehicle headed to Pluto, Charon and beyond. In the latest issue of the New Horizons news, you can now "fly" the probe through the Kuiper Belt! And, hey, while you're at it, how about a little "citizen science" to help the mission out?
Fungi! Fungi from the Abyss!

Salon picks up on the "amateur" effort to film H.P. Lovecraft's The Fungi from Yuggoth. From the same folks who brought us the amazingly fantastic silent Call of Cthulhu. Buy. Watch. Weep that Hollywood (think the failed effort on At the Mountains of Madness) can't do a tenth as well.
Sing a Song of Ice and Fire

So what do you read while waiting for the next book/next season in the George R. R. Martin epic? Here's one suggestion (and not one I think I would have made to a very general audience!).

Nothing to see here. Move along. Just a little star birthing. Stop being a Peeping Tom.
Put a Little Dick There

Reading the comments and reviews of the remake of Total Recall it is clearer (now more than ever) that most of the people who watch movies "based" on PKD and remakes of movies "based" on PKD have never actually read anything by PKD.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is Messier Object 05, a globular cluster in areas between Libra and Serpens.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

John Keegan

Historian John Keegan has passed away. He was the first historian that I noticed getting a wide reading while I was in the Army and National Guard, I recall, for example, my First Sergeant reading The Mask of Command while we were doing tank gunnery. I've enjoyed all of his books, but most especially that title, The Face of Battle and Six Armies in Normandy (probably the first book I read about D-Day beyond my childhood favorite, The Longest Day). He made history interesting for me again, especially military history, after college when I was less interested in non-fiction than I had been before college.

Thank you, John.

Dem's a lot of sparklies.
The Tides of Europa

NASA has selected a number of items for study...including a submarine probe for Europa!
Hugo Shakedown

Hope you got your votes in. Here are my choices:

(Addendum: September 4, 2012...updated to indicate winners...)

For Best Novel:
01: Among Others; Jo Walton (Tor) (WINNER)
02: Leviathan Wakes; James S.A. Corey (Orbit)
03: Embassytown; China Mieville (Macmillan/Del Rey)
04: A Dance with Dragons; George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
05: Deadline; Mira Grant (Orbit)

For Best Novella:
01: The Man Who Bridged the Mist; Kij Johnson (WINNER)
02: Kiss Me Twice; Mary Robinette Kowal
03: The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary; Ken Liu
04: Silently and Very Fast; Catherynne M. Valente
05: The Ice Owl; Carolyn Ives Gilman
06: Countdown; Mira Grant

For Best Novelette:
01: What We Found; Geoff Ryman
02: Fields of Gold; Rachel Swirsky
03: The Copenhagen Interpretation; Paul Cornell
04: Six Months, Three Days; Charlie Jane Anders (WINNER)
05: Ray of Light; Brad R. Torgersen

For Best Short Story:
01: The Paper Menagerie; Ken Liu (WINNER)
02: The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees; E. Lily Yu
03: The Homecoming; Mike Resnick
04: Movement; Nancy Fulda
05: Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue; John Scalzi

For Best Related Work:
01: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition; John Clute, Peter Nicholls, David Langford, and Graham Sleight (WINNER)
02: Writing Excuses, Season 6; Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Jordan Sanderson
03: The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Googles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature; Jeff VanderMeer & S.J. Chambers
04: Wicked Girls; Seanan McGuire
05: Jar Jar Binks Must Die...and Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies; Daniel M. Kimmel

For Best Graphic Story:
01: Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication; Howard Tayler and Travis Walton
02: Locke and Key Volume 04: Keys to the Kingdom; Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
03: Fables Vol. 15: Rose Red; Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham
04: Digger; Ursula Venon (WINNER)
05: The Unwritten Volume 04: Leviathan; Mike Carey and Peter Gross

For Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):
01: Game of Thrones (Season 01) (WINNER)
02: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 02
03: Source Code
04: Hugo
05: Captain America: The First Avenger

For Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form):
01: The Doctor's Wife/Dr. Who (WINNER)
02: Remedial Chaos Theory/Community
03: The Girl Who Waited/Dr. Who
04: A Good Man Goes to War/Dr. Who
05: The Drink Tank

For Best Editor (Short Form):
01: Neil Clarke
02: John Joseph Adams
03: Jonathan Strhan
04: Sheila Williams (WINNER)
05: Stanley Schmidt

For Best Editor (Long Form):
01: Betsy Wollheim (WINNER)
02: Lou Anders
03: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
04: Liz Gorinsky
05: Anne Lesley Groell

For Best Professional Artist:
01: Stephan Martiniere
02: John Picacio (WINNER)
03: Bob Eggleton
04: Michael Komarck
05: Dan dos Santos

For Best Semiprozine:
01: Lightspeed
02: New York Review of Science Fiction
03: Locus (WINNER)
04: Interzone
05: Apex Magazine

For Best Fanzine:
01: SF Signal (of course) (WINNER)
02: Banana Wings
03: The Drink Tank
04: File 770
05: Journey Planet

For Best Fan Writer:
01: Jim C. Hines (WINNER)
02: Steven H. Silver
03: Christopher J. Garcia
04: James Bacon
05: Claire Brialey

For Best Fan Artist:
01: Brad W. Foster
02: Maurine Starkey (WINNER)
03: Spring Schoenhuth
04: Randall Munroe
05: Steve Stiles

For Best Fancast:
01: The SF Signal Podcast; John DeNardo, J.P. Frantz, Patrick Hester (did you expect anything else?)
02: The Coode Street Podcast; Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe
03: StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith
04: SF Squeecast; Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, Catherynne M. Valente (WINNER)
05: Galactic Suburbia; Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Andrew Finch

For The John W. Campbell Award:
01: Stina Leicht
02: Mur Lafferty
03: Karen Lord
04: E. Lily Yu (WINNER)
05: Brad R. Torgersen

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows star trails. We've seen these before, but this one is unique: it is taken at the south pole, over twenty-four hours!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Another month rolls around and another issue of Ansible rolls out!

THE DEAD PAST. 70 Years Ago, the world war had a chilling side-effect: 'Doc Smith's new [Lensman] book was slowed down for a while for he has gone to work for a big munitions firm as a Chemical Engineer, and since his work for the past twenty years or so has been Cereal Chemistry, and he had to do a little "boning up" on his explosives at first. But he expected to get at it soon the last time I saw him. so perhaps he is already working again in his spare time.' (E. Everett Evans, Futurian War Digest 22, August 1942) A critical insight from the same piece: 'Doc really writes TWO stories in ONE; the "bang-bang" story for the casual reader, and the deeply-plotted, carefully worked out psychological story for the deeper reader and thinker.'
Desert Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a beautiful shot of landscapes and starscapes in Monument Valley.