Tuesday, January 15, 2013

This Immortal Storm

Think controversy amongst genre folk is new, or invented on the internet? Think again.
The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review, a few items of interest. Jeff Foust looks at the golden age we live in (for exoplanet science). Dwayne Day looks back at the GAMBIT orbital reconaissance satellite. Anthony Young discusses the Senate Launch System and how it is driving research into "rebooting" the venerable F-1 engine used on the Saturn V. Finally, Jeff Foust looks at the shuttles on display.
Flareup

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a a short video from NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory, soaking in the rays while orbiting the Sun.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Did Carl Sagan Ever Have This Conversation?

Yes I have a lot of books. I've never had a conversation like this, though.
Still Life with Star Dust

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a nice shot of NGC 2170, located in the constellation of Monoceros. Emission nebula, absorption nebula, stars and more.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Galaxies, Cluster and Nebula

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 602, a star cluster within the Small Magellanic Cloud. Also visible are the dust and gas that contributed to the birth of the star cluster. Beyond (seemingly within) is a galaxy. Oh, and another...and another...and another...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Brother, Can You Spare $800.00?

Not as cool as getting Harlan Ellison's typewriter, but wouldn't this be nifty?
Relativity

Once the area of science fiction, we now see more and more proof of the existence of extrasolar planets. Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a graph built from the data from NASA's Kepler observatory. Models predict ten billion "Earths". Ten. Billion. Now, there are some caveats to the prediction (such as where these planets orbit), but I'll bet this turns out to be a lowball figure.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cluster (I Won't Mention Eno)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Fornax cluster of galaxies, a tight grouping of galaxies in this southern hemisphere constellation. The cluster is also a collection of the evolutionary stages of galaxies: spiral, elliptical, etc.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bullet Time

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day depicts "cosmic bullets" in the Orion Nebula. What are these? The text talks about shock-heated hydrogen gas, a natural process.

I suggest an alternative.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Pay It Forward

We are coming up on the second anniversary of the death of my father-in-law, Anthony Sarcich (to cancer) and the third anniversary of the death of my father to a different debilitating disease.

One thing that we experienced, and we are still grappling with and recovering from, is the absolutely exhausting way a family gets as a result of dealing with everything around a disease.

Really, folks: our society sucks at helping out those with a major illness. Support networks? Where?

Both my father and my father-in-law were extremely lucky in once sense: they both could utilize medical benefits that they had from their jobs, even into retirement, plus governmental plans.

Others are not so lucky. Self-employed folks, like, say, writers. In addition to depending entirely on their own production for money to pay the bills for insurance, they are socked with outrageous fees to pay for these inadequate plans.

The stress does not end there. They must also navigate the dangerous shoals of all the rules and by-laws for these plans. And put up with silly stuff like this.

Done reading that? Does your mind boggle as much as mine? I hope so.

Folks, Jay Lake is facing enough as it is. He really doesn't need to deal with silly horseshit like this. Let's all get together and at least give him some peace of mine when it comes to the money end of things. I kicked in $100.00 (see below for additional efforts). Could you please hit the "donate" button on his site to help him fight the stupidity of the insurance industry as well as help to pay for what little benefits he gets?

Please get the word out and please consider donating directly (please see his site here, and hit the "tip jar" link in the upper left hand corner). Jay has given us endless hours of entertainment and education, both through his books and through his panels at conventions, participation in interviews, and courses and seminars. Let's pay it forward!

MAJOR UPDATE: "There is now a effort by a number of genre folks to help Jay out. You can win rewards! Tobias S. Buckell will unlock his earliest tale or drink Scotch! Mary Robinette Kowal will put an...interesting...spin on one of her stories! And many more levels all the way up to: Neil Gaiman will perform a cover version of a song from the Magnetic Fields album "69 Love Songs"!

I kicked in an additional $200.00 to this effort on top of my initial $100.00 contribution. I'm not saying this to boast, but to show you how serious I am about this. That's $300.00 worth of books I won't be buying...

Please click on this link for details and give until you laugh!

UPDATE! 41% of the first $10K ($20K to get Neil Gaiman). THANK YOU ALL!

UPATE AGAIN! You people are amazing. Jay Lake thinks so as well.

Update: Jay Lake writes about the fund drive.

Update: Jay Lake writes more about the fund drive.

Update on funding on January 12, 2013: $38,697!!!! Fantastic job, everyone!

Thank you.

Update: Rewards of Whimsey!!!

Some of the rewards are rolling in.

$2,000: Tobias Buckell contributes an early effort of writing.

$3,000: Forthcoming (more madness with Tobias Buckell).

$4,000: Mary Robinette Kowal reads classic texts...like they are a phone sex recording.

$6,000: Jim Hines reads an early work of epic fantasy (put down the drinks, but stay for the whole 40 minutes!).

$7,000: Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch perform a Jay Lake story...with sock puppets!

$8,000: Seanan McGuire does filking (forthcoming).

$9,000: Paul Cornell sings Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights (warning: put down the drinks). BONUS AT THIS LEVEL: Mary Robinette Kowal follows up on Paul Cornell's effort by doing a "beat reading" of the You Tube transcript.

$10,000: Cherie Priest dresses up her pets. Call it a work in progress (more forthcoming?)

$12,000: The creators of the Jay Lake documentary will unveil a comic short (forthcoming).

$15,000: A lost Bob Dylan song performed by John Scalzi.

$17,500: A surprise from Patrick Rothfuss reveals his high school novel.

$20,000: Neil Gaiman to perform a cover from the Magnetic Fields album 69 Love Songs whilst accompanying himself on the Ukulele (forthcoming).

$25,000: Seanan McGuire returns at this level to reboot Veronica Mars as a Shakespearean tragedy (forthcoming).

$30,000: A radio play version of one of Jay Lake's stories (forthcoming).

$32,000: C.E. Murphy reads from her first novel (forthcoming).

$35,000: Cory Doctorow unlocks his head. Seriously, I do not know what to make of this one (forthcoming). (Addendum to the Addendum: John Scalzi has some helpful hints.)

$37,000: Howard Tayler will draw Jay Lake kicking cancer's ass. Updated with a video of the picture's creation!

$40,000: ANOTHER SURPRISE (almost unlocked at this point!).

$100,000: JAY LAKE, THE MUSICAL.

Addendum: SF Signal's interview with Jay is worth a listen.
Dog Walk

Waning clipped fingernail crescent;
Rising low in eastern sky;
Snuggling under blanket of fog.
Jellyfish Hunting

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a part of IC 443, popularly known as the Jellyfish Nebula. The tagline at the site calls it "elusive". Believe me, under my suburban skies, that applies to many nebula!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Grand

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of NGC 7424, a face-on spiral galaxy in the constellation of Grus (yes, Grus).

Monday, January 07, 2013

Flaming Star

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows AE Aurigae and its surrounding environs, the Flaming Star Nebula. AE Aurigae is energetic, and does a beautiful job of lighting up the surrounding dust and gas.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Slogging Through

Interesting article (with pictures) by Michael Yon on mud and the military.
The Play's the Thing

Via Winchell Chung, thoughts on conflictless plots for stories.
Here Comes the Flood

What would Mars look like with water? Puts me in mind of Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Skyglow

In this edition of NASA's Image of the Day Gallery, the Earth at night. No wonder I can't see the Milky Way from my backyard any more!
Nursery Crymes

In this edition of NASA's Image of the Day Gallery, the stellar nursery NGC 604.
Betrayal

Lego has "sold out"? Wouldn't this be true years and years (over a decade) ago? Perhaps these themed sets have, instead, saved the company? After all, one can still buy plain bricks, custom bricks and the like, no?
Morning Dog Walk

Night snow melting
Blue skies (no pain), hawks
Mid-winter, warm spell
Homesteading in the Fantasy Universe

An excellent post by Saladin Ahmed about fantasy worlds published by NPR.

Who is Saladin Ahmed you ask? I refer you to this post and to this post on this blog. Highly recommended fantasist and writer.
Minas Morgul

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a dark nebula in the constellation of Scorpius, NGC 6231, popularly known as The Dark Tower.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Helene

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of Helene, one of Saturn's smaller moons. Helene orbits at the leading gravitationally stable Lagrange point created by Saturn and another of Saturn's moons, Dione. The image is a red-blue stereo anaglyph, so get out those 3D glasses!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Taklimakan Desert

NASA's Image of the Day Gallery serves up a view of the snow-covered Taklimakan Desert.
Sunrise and Mountain Top

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is stuff my dreams are made of. Strange new worlds, stunning vistas! Sunrise on the central peak of Crater Tycho, our Moon. Tell me again, why haven't we been back?

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Professional Development

Attention on deck! The Commandant of the United States Marine Corps has issued a new version of the Professional Reading List.

Lots of good stuff here, folks. Recommended if you are interested in history, leadership and more.
Refractions

You think you have a telescope? Hah. You don't have a telescope. You don't even know what a telescope is! Now this, this is a telescope!
Orion Building

Another shot from NASA's Image of the Day Gallery. The Orion capsule, undergoing assembly.
The Coming of the Shadow

The Cassini orbiter is still (!) operating out in Saturn Space (and Beyond the Infinite), sending back spectacular images (and lots of other data) such as this. If you have access to a telescope, cast your eyes towards Saturn in the night sky. You will see the rings at their best for several years and the Cassini Division (hello, Ken Mac Leod!) should be easily visible.
Boom Goes the Planet

In another installment from NASA's Image of the Day Gallery, Tolbachik, an active volcano in Russia, is imaged by the Earth Observing-1 satellite.
Ring Ring

In this installment of NASA's Image of the Day Gallery, we see NGC 1097, focusing especially on its star-forming regions...and...not seen, but felt...its supermassive central black hole.
Another Winter Cluster

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is another great winter cluster pair, M35 and NGC 2158, both in the constellation of Gemini.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

What Mad Universe

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of "Einstein's Cross". A cross-like set of "clumps" set into a galaxy are not clumps within the galaxy at all, but the result of that nearer galaxy acting as a gravitational "lens" to bring a further object into view. What mad universe we live in!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2013: No Battle Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

I'm not sure why I do this now and again, as it rarely lasts far into January, let alone much of the year...but here are my reading plans for 2013.

First "resolution", finish more of the books I'm currently reading and try not to start too many others that hang around!

For fiction, try to read several of the potential Hugo-nominees ahead of the mad rush to the vote.

In graphic novels, continue to get Stan Sakai, as they come back into print, and read them. Also, read the other various Sandman-related items that I have or have seen.

In history, I hope to read The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides again, probably in edition edited by Robert B. Strassler, The Landmark Thucydides. After that, I hope to read Donald Kagan's single-volume The Peloponnesian War, followed by his four-volume in-depth examination of the same: The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, The Archidamian War, The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition and The Fall of the Athenian Empire.

In literature, I hope to dabble in Things Arturian, ranging from Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur to Stewart's Merlin quartet to Sutcliff's The Sword at Sunset to Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. The first three will be re-reads, but most have not been read in years (if not decades). The fourth will be a first-time attempt. I blame Greg Stafford and his excellent Pendragon fantasy roleplaying game, which I hauled off the shelves during 2012 to look at. It awakened the dragon, again.

Beyond that? So many books, so little time, so many ex-lover's to bury. Heck, I have over 100 books in my "Current Reads 01" folder on my Kindle (and about 300 in my "Current Reads 02" folder). I'm not going to get bored, any time soon!
2012: The Year in Review

Another trip around the Son on the Third Rock! How did 2012 go?

I managed to read 446 short works last year (the exact number is always a slippery one as I manage every year to forget to note anywhere from a couple to several dozen short works—this number if probably pretty accurate). Several good new-to-me authors were found (e.g., Ken Liu, E. Lily Yu), several old friends were revisited (Harlan Ellison and Arthur C. Clarke, among others). I did buy into one waste of time (the Zombie vs. Robots series of short works).

I managed to read 84 longer works this past year. As usual, I read many books simultaneously, and several of the books I read last year are in the process of being re-read (e.g., Neal Stephenson, Myke Cole), so they will show up on my 2013 list as well. Highlights for new writers included Saladin Ahmed, Myke Cole and Joe Abercrombie (at the urging of Myke Cole, as a matter of fact). Old friends revisited (or seen for the first time) included Samuel R. Delany, Glen Cook, and Terry Pratchett.

The new editions of Neil Gaiman's Sandman stories were completed last year, so I finished my initial run through the series and followed that by re-reading the first ten volumes during the last few days of the year.

In fact, I probably read more "graphic novels" this year than in any year when I found a chunk of the Naruto manga available. I'm still not hooked on superheroes, in fact, the graphic novels shelves done't even get a visit most times I am in a bookstore, but I'm more aware of what I like and will seek more of it.

Finally, I read several good works of history this past year, as you see in this entry.
Last on the Moon

A blast from the past: the crew of Apollo 17 takes a little spin on the Moon.
Down Down Down Down

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory recently imaged a galaxy in the process of being consumed by a monster black hole.
Long Climb to the Stars

The crew of Expedition 34 to the International Space Station climbs to their Soyuz capsule.

Addendum: An image of Expedition 34's launch vehicle being hauled to the launch pad.
Ornament

It's time to take the tree down in the Kiesche household, but this ornament is worth another look!
Baaaacccckkkkkk!!!

He may be late with his Christmas cards, but the inestimable Mr. David Langford is (hardly) ever late with the latest Ansible!

AS OTHERS SEE THE HOBBIT. A film critique possibly not based on close textual study of the book: 'Cate Blanchett has five solitary lines in The Hobbit, playing some sort of pretty princess, during one scene and has been placed there for matters of fluff and making film premieres actually worth photographing. / There are oak trees in The Hobbit with more input than Cate Blanchett has. Give me one bloody wisecracking woman Hobbit with a sword and a sense of derring-do!' (Grace Dent, Independent, 11 December) [MPJ] The Jackson film trilogy Rose Cotton, Barbarian Swordsperson remains far in the future.
The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review (no issue last week), we find the following: Jeff Foust looks at space issues for the new year. Gary Oleson, Bob Silsby, and Darin Skelly discuss why NASA is necessary for national security. Dwayne Day talks about Neil Armstrong. Wayne Eleazer looks at loss of engine thrust (engine failure to the rest of us!). Finally, Jeff Foust looks at "Doc" Taylor's latest literary effort: The New American Space Plan.
Double Double

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of the beautiful double cluster in the constellation of Perseus. An easy sight in binoculars or low-powered telescope (and even naked eye, given good eyes and dark skies!).
2013: The Year in Audio

In 2012 I changed computers and as a result, I lost my audio count. Last I checked, I was trending towards 2,000 hours of "listening time". Hopefully I can restore the list that I was keeping and update my 2012 entries. In the meantime, on to 2013!
2013: Wars and Rumors of War

This entry serves as a collection of reviews and notes on historical items read, fictional and non-fiction alike, mainly tending towards military events.

Rick Atkinson: The Long Grey Line.

Gary W. Bray: After My Lai: My Year Commanding First Platoon, Charlie Company.

I picked this one up after seeing that The Village (see below) was set in the same area, but in a different period. It was also set after the My Lai incident and involved the same unit (but different people, due to rotation). Bray's story of commanding the unit is interesting, but did not provide much detail on the differences between the way the USMC operated (in The Village) vs. how the U.S. Army operated. It was more a telling of Bray's experiences in Vietnam, with some detail on tactics and the like. (It should prove useful for when I start looking for ideas for future wargame scenarios.)

Michael L. Burgoyne, Albert J. Marckwardt, E.D. Swinton: The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa with E.D. Swinton's The Defence of Duffer's Drift (University of Chicago Press; 2009; ISBN 978-0226080932; cover, historical photograph).

The Defence of Duffer's Drift has now inspired a third tale (that I'm aware of) which is included as the first half of this two-part volume. Duffer's Drift features Lieutenant N. Backsight Forethought who is left, along with his men and a scattering of equipment, to guard a key geographical location (Duffer's Drift) during the Boer War. The story is told in a series of dreams, where in each dream, he arrives on location and has to set up, prepare defenses, scout, react and hold out until relieved. He fails each time but learns a bit more and applies what he learns to each subsequent dream, until he succeeds at his task. The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa is a similar tale with applications on the U.S. Army's experience in Iraq. The book also mentions the second story (again, that I'm aware of) inspired by the original, The Defense of Hill 781 by James R. McDonough, disparaging it as being no longer useful to today's Army. A mistake, I feel. The lessons of Duffer's Drift can be applied to the large mechanized force scenario outlined in Hill 781 as easily as they can be applied to al-Doreaa. McDonough's Platoon Leader is cited as a better work; but I'd argue that the lessons that McDonough learned that lead to the writing of Platoon Leader are seen as well in Hill 781. Pick them all up and give them a read!

C.S. Forester: Rifleman Dodd (a.k.a., Death to the French) (eNet Press; 2012; ASIN B007BKAB2E; cover, historical artwork).

Rifleman Dodd is overshadowed by Forster's more widely-known Horatio Hornblower, which is a shame as it is a wonderful little book. Dodd is cut off behind enemy lines in Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars. Unable to rejoin his unit, he instead plays havoc with the French forces, organizing resistance, carrying out harassment and sabotage and helping to convince the French that it is better to retreat than fight. He keeps his weapon clean and working, his spirits up and improvises on the fly. Part of the USMC Professional Reading Program, I found this a better read than some of the other older items in the list (isn't it time to retire A Message to Garcia, for example?).

Russell Lewis: Company Commander (Virgin Digital; 2012; ISBN 0753540304; cover, historical photograph).

This has turned out (so far) to be my best non-fiction read of the year. Lewis covers his experience leading a British unit in Afghanistan; the story is light on his background and the training of the unit prior to deployment (except a few mentions) but does a fantastic job discussing the make up of the unit, the tactics used, and details of the many engagements they were involved in during their time in Afghanistan. Lewis ends by listing several charities (all based in the United Kingdom) to assist soldiers and is donating his profits from the book to one of the charities. A commendable effort, an excellent read and highly recommended!

Bing West: The Village (Pocket Books; 2003; ISBN 978-0-7434-5757-6; cover, historical photograph).

In the Village, West details a two-year period (plus several follow-up visits) in the village of Binh Nghia (South Vietnam) when a "Combined Action Patrol" of USMC and local forces patrolled, interacted with the locals, and fought the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army to the point where the village was essentially at peace (until the fall of South Vietnam). The Marines involved were not special forces or especially trained for this; they developed standards on their own as to who would or would not fit in, slowly developed a means of operating with the locals, and, most importantly, were given time and enough operating room to succeed.

This book is part of the current edition of the Professional Reading List, promulgated by the Commandant of the Marine Corps. You can see how it would apply to Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the current environment of shifting strategies, short cycles, up-or-out promotions and the like, would a long-term strategy of patience work? Or be allowed to work?

One item in the book that I'm going to look for in more detail elsewhere has to do with the relative success with this unit vs. a tragic failure by a U.S. Army unit not too far away. This village was only a stone's throw from My Lai. How did these two situations go so wildly different?

An excellent read. I've already picked up a second book by West (on Afghanistan) and will pick up additional works by him. I read this book both as a paperback and an eBook (on two different eBook gadgets). Reading the eBook version enabled me to keep notes (and tweet the same notes), but for some reason the eBook does not have the photographs included in the paper edition.