Thursday, February 28, 2013

Small World

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is one of the "small planet projections, seemingly creating an entire globe (and enormous inhabitants) out of a small scene. The Full Snow Moon shines over a tiny snowy planet.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

21: In Memorium

A much-loved member of The Gunroom (the mailing list dedicated to Patrick O'Brian "...and everything else...") has passed away. At 5:46 P.M., I shall raise a glass to the memory of Gary, a gentleman if there ever was one. Another "lissum" (member of the mailing list) posted this quote from 21 (the final, unfinished installment in the Aubrey-Maturin series), so I post it here as well.

Quietly indeed they sailed along, with gentle breezes that wafted them generally northwards at something in the nature of five miles in the hour, northwards to even warmer seas. Little activity was called for, apart from the nice adjustment of the sails, and although the exact routine of the ship was never relaxed nor her very strict rules of cleanliness, these long sunny days with a soldier's wind seemed to many the ideal of a seaman's life—regular, steady traditional meals with the exact allowance of grog, hornpipes in the last dogwatch, the deep melody of the Doctor's 'cello from the cabin and the cheerful sound of the gunroom's dinner: the future lost in a haze somewhere north of the equator.
Clouds

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is an utterly amazing shot of clouds. Yes, clouds. Be amazed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

To Kipple

Interesting news: 50 previously unknown poems by Rudyard Kipling have been found. I look forward to their publication!
Class Reading

W.H. Auden required his students to read more than six-thousand (6,000) pages of material for his class.
Spice

A moment of silence for Paul C.P. McIlhenny, USMC Reservist and CEO of the McIlhenny Company, makers of Tobasco. It is fitting that McIlhenny was a USMC Reservist because he knew the food we ate and we apprecaite the little bottles (later pouches) of Tobasco that MRE's came with (and the larger bottles that dining halls had).

A tip of the chef's hat to you!
For A Rainy Day

Did you know that it "rains" on the Sun? Yes, not water but it is "rain"! Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows "coronal rain". What mad universe!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Rainbow Mercury

The Mercury MESSENGER probe has been in orbit around Mercury, beaming back data from various instruments. Here's a "whole face" image built up out of data from chemicals, minerals as well as the physical look: these are not actual colors of the planet, but exaggerations to enchance differences. Beautiful plumage!
Moon Planet Moons

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a pretty nifty juxtaposition of our Moon, Jupiter, and three of Jupiter's moons! Oh, and a smaller vehicle within our own atmosphere.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Great Whirlpool

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a image made up of separate pictures from both ground-based and space-based telescopes. It shows Messier Object 51, The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici and the complex interplay between gas and dust found therein.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Name of this Place is...

February 22, 2013 marks the 20th Anniversary of my favorite science fiction series. Surprisingly, my favorite is not Star Trek but Babylon 5 (and my second favorite is the similarly-themed—in some respects—Stargate series of shows).

Why was Babylon 5 my favorite? I liked Star Trek, especially the original series (which I saw during the initial run). But my favorite episodes were usually where the crew and the Federation are not the top dogs in that corner of the universe, where they often at least partially fail at what they are trying to accomplish: Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Cage/The Menagerie, The Doomsday Machine and the like. In the first, the Enterprise runs up against the barrier that surrounds our galaxy (at least in that universe!), leaving the ship crippled, crew injured or dead, and two members of the crew dangerously changed. In the second, the Enterprise finds a planet so potentially dangerous to the fabric of society that the Federation quarantines the planet from any contact. In the third, one ship is destroyed and the Enterprise is damaged fighting an alien doomsday device that has been roaming the universe for eons.

Babylon 5 is similar in that we are on the ascent, we are not yet top dogs. Some races are older, wiser, more technologically advanced. There's a lot of competition, serious competition, for survival. People are good, bad, and every shade in between. The story is filled with tragic figures (note especially the arcs of Londo and G'Kar). And the show was interesting in that the consequences of one story went forward throughout the rest of the series; in fact, there is an overall five-year story arc (battered somewhat by the departures of some stars and even the cancellation of the show on one network and the rebirth of the show on another network, but still strong enough to be seen).

So, on this anniversary, I'm starting a rewatch of the series as well as the special movies, the cancelled follow-on first series (Crusade) and the second follow-on series that never made it past a pilot (Legend of the Rangers). The sets have been struck and destroyed, the stars have moved on, aged, and (alas) in some cases, died. But the memories of that "bright beacon" still live on.

Links: Wikipedia page. Season One. Season Two. Season Three. Season Four. Season Five. ...and...

The venerable and still excellent source of all knowledge, The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5.

Viewed: In the Beginning (prequel movie); The Gathering (pilot movie, revised version). Season One: NYA. Season Two: NYA. Season Three: NYA. Season Four: NYA. Season Five: NYA.

Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe all attracted me for similar reasons: Earth was on the defensive (very much so, given the enemies faced!), and the stories sometimes took a dark turn because of that. The multiple series did not have an overriding arc like Babylon 5 (but SGU might have been taken that route, we'll never know since it was cancelled!), but definitely had multiple mini-arcs either over a season or within a season. While it is not celebrating a similar anniversary (yet!), I have started a rewatch of the series, beginning with SG-1.

Main SG-1 Wikipedia page here. Stargate Atlantis Wikipedia page here. Stargate Universe Wikipedia page here.

Viewed: Stargate (original movie). The Children of the Gods (pilot movie). Season One: The Enemy Within; Emancipation; The Broca Divide.

Down the road? If I have time this year, a rewatch of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica series is in the works. Stay tuned.
Baking

As this has generated some interest both on the Twitters and in a Google Community I am in, here's the recipe for Oat Cakes that I made today (two batches). I find them to go especially well with things like lime or ginger preserves or orange marmalade.

2 cups all purpose flour.
1 to 1.5 cups of rolled oats ("quick" oats will do, but rolled or uncut oats are better).
3 teaspoons of baking powder.
3 teaspoons of coarse salt (I use kosher or sea).
2 tablespoons honey.
3 tablespoons olive oil (regular or extra virgin).
2 eggs.
Milk, beer or water (amount varies).

Turn your oven on to 350 degrees F. Mix all the dry goods together with a fork, blending well to make a "crumble mix". Add the honey, olive oil and eggs, mix to combine slightly. Add your remaining liquid, a quarter cup or so at a time, mixing until you have a dough just firm enough to shape to patties with your hands. If you go too far with the liquid, add a little more oats to soak it up (I generally add a extra half cup over what I found in the original, 1 cup, just for the taste).

When the ingredients are mixed and your oven is heated, form patties and place them on your baking sheet. You should end up with six to eight patties (10 patties would probably be small enough that you would need to adjust baking time). Place in the oven and bake for 25 minute or until golden brown.

Cakes can be served cold or warm, split and served with butter or preserves or even cheese. I really like the slightly salty taste that they have. Enjoy!
FLASH! (Aaaaa-aaaaaa!)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a very lucky shot of the Chelyabinsk meteor. Luckily the photographer had set up to take a panoramic shot of the landscape at that time.

(The title of our post? I'm surprised you need to ask!)
To Jupiter!

The ESA is planning to send the Jupiter Icy Moon Orbiter to the Jovian region in 2022 and NASA/JPL are contributing some instruments to the mission. Can't wait to see photos from this mission!
Day 177

A panorama view of what Curiosity saw on Mars on Sol 177. Use your mouse to zoom around!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Snapshots Into the Light

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is another variation on the theme of tourism. Once again, MSL Curiosity stops a passing martian and asks the it be included in the panorama.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Engage Tractor Beams!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a proposed "gravitational tractor" being used to "tow" a dangerous Earth-crossing asteroid out of an orbit that intersects with that blue marble in the distance.

Why would we want to do this? Assuming you missed last week's asteroid flyby and meteor strike (two separate events, mind), take a look at this graphic. Vermin of the skies!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Next Flight

Hey, nice new spaceship getting ready for a flight here!
An Odd View

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day looks surreal. Unreal. Like bad special effects! The Cassini orbiter snaps a picture of Saturn's northern polar hexagon plus a glimpse of the rings. Strange days, indeed!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Low Mover

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the innermost planet of our Solar System, Mercury, hopping low along the horizon. I've only been lucky to catch it once (too many trees in my area!).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Skyfall II

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a video compilation of several shots of the Great Russian Meteor (is that the official designation now?).
Another Round at Callahan's

Way Back In The Day, I started reading Analog, which had grown out of Astounding. When I started buying issues (vs. finding them used or discarded, or the stories collected in anthologies), John W. Campbell, Jr. had passed on and the magazine was under the editorial direction of Ben Bova.

Early on in my reading there appeared on Spider Robinson and stories about a place called Callahan's.

Not all the stories were "science fiction", at least not how Campbell would have defined them. But they were excellent stories filled with real characters. The few stories became several, then a book, two books, three books, novels instead of stories and so on. The bar exploded, threw off branches in a whore house and eventually moved south to Florida.

I'd read a new installment when it came out, glad to visit with old friends. I'd wish that some of the things in the tales were true, such as the magic coffee maker. And, now and again, I'd wish that the place was true, a place where you could unload your troubles.

Now and again I visit the series again. It usually happens when times are troubled: the two most recent visits were after the deep funk (PTSD) that I feel into after 9/11 and after all the pain and suffering that both my father and father-in-law went through before they both died. Stories as therapy? Who knew!

All I know is that in this seemingly increasingly fractionalized and polarized world of ours, where we align ourselves with smaller and smaller groups and become seemingly more intolerant of any countering viewpoint...we need a place like Callahan's more now than ever.

This most recent read-through was started after hearing a long (very long) seminar that Spider Robinson held (live) "at" StarShipSofa. I don't know if Tony Smith will eventually make that audio available for download in general, but I hope he does and I hope when he does, that you listen to it. It will do you wonders.

This most recent read-through also marks the transition from the series being read mostly on paper to being read on paper, electronic and audio. I believe that at this point the entire series can be found in at least two formats, if not all three.

Spider Robinson; The Callahan Chronicals (Tor Books; October 1997; ISBN 0-812-53937-0; cover by James Warhola). Made up of Backword; Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (Introduction by Ben Bova; Foreword; The Guy With the Eyes; The Time-Traveller; The Centipede's Dilemma; Two Heads Are Better Than One; The Law of Conversatin of Pain; Just Dessert; "A Voice Is Heard In Ramah..."; Unnatural Causes; The Wonderful Conspiracy); Time Travelers Strictly Cash (abbreviated omnibus edition) (Fivesight; Dog Day Evening; Have You Heard the One...?; Mirror/rorriM, Off the Wall) (all read below); Callahan's Secret (The Blacksmith's Tale; Pyotr's Story; Author's Note; Involuntary Man's Laughter; The Mick of Time); Post Toast; Author's Final Note; Callahan's Bibliography; Appendix: Callahan's in Cyberspace.

Counts as twelve (12) entries in the 2013 Year in Shorts.

Electronic editions resemble the individual volumes above, except for Time Travelers Strictly Cash, which, for the electronic version is restored to its original paperback form (where a mixture of Callahan's and non-Callahan's stories were presented): Forewords; Fivesight; Concerning Fivesight; Soul Search; Concerning Soul Search; Concerning Spider Versus the Hax of Sol III; Spider Versus the Hax of Sol III; Also Concerning Spider Versus the Hax of Sol III; Dog Day Evening; Concerning Dog Day Evening; God Is An Iron; Concerning God Is An Iron; Concerning Rah Rah R.A.H.; Rah Rah R.A.H.!; Have You Heard the One?; Concerning Have You Heard the One?; Local Champ; Concerning Local Champ; Concerning The Web of Sanity; The Web of Sanity; Mirror/rorriM, Off the Wall; Concerning Mirror/rorriM, Off the Wall; Serpent's Teeth; Concerning Serpent's Teeth.

A mixed bag. Spider owed Jim Baen a Callahan's collection but did not have enough entries to make one (the first collection brought Spider a great many, as he might say, cheese sandwiches). So he filled it with a number of other bits and pieces. God Is An Iron, for example, is part of a novel (Telempath). Serpent's Teeth feels like a cross between Robert A. Heinlein and John Varley (Spider has a connection with both, so maybe not so odd a thought). There's one review column sample and a essay on Robert A. Heinlein and several Callahan's tales. You can go with the version of this book that appears in The Callahan Chronicals or this extended (original) version for a wider view of Spider's work.

Counts as twenty-four (24) entries in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

Counts as

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Passing Through

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a brief video showing Asteroid 2012 DA14 as it passed by our small blue rock last week.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Southern Comet

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a very nice shot of Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6a) sweeping across the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. Globular cluster 47 Tucanae and the Small Magellanic Cloud are also visible here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lunar Ghosts

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the king of the planets, Jupiter, two moons and two moon shadows.

One of my most amazing experiences as an amateur astronomer was setting up one night in January and focusing in on Jupiter. It was the clearest I had ever seen it, not only belts, but details in the belts. Suddently one edge showed the shadow of a moon. Then another shadow. I watched them as they tracked across Jupiter's face. Then I tried to stand up, and had trouble walking. I had actually spent over four hours looking through the eyepiece, very late on a January night, with about a foot of snow on the ground. It was more spellbinding than most Hollywood efforts!
Fire in the Sky

Reports are coming in of a meteor that fell (burned up? hit?) over Russia. Here's an amazing collection of "dashcam" and cellphone footage via Slate, including the effects of the sonic boom (not an explosion, just the sonic boom)!

Hey, time to fund Space Guard?

Video 01. Video 02. Video 03 (you can hear the multiple booms near the end). Video 04 (watch windows being blown out!).

Best one yet: view of the fall captured by an orbiting weather satellite!

Pictures of what is said to be a hole caused by a piece of the meteor (in ice).

One person took the satellite image (above) and matched it with Google Earth. A 200-mile long trail!

According to one tweet, this site says (in Russian, sorry): "...meteor, not artificial, 30 km/s on flat trajectory, not seen before entry by Earth-based assets..."

Addendum: Substantial updating to details in this story from The New York Times. Another video, from a parking lot. Bolide early on, boom comes at around 7:00 minutes. 20 Hiroshima Bombs? Video from a city camera. Different security camera footage, with the meteor coming almost right at it, includes falling snow and shocked birds. Washington Post article on the aftermath.

Good compilation video from multiple cameras. Could be World War III.

How is it we know that 2012 DA 14 and the meteor are not related? NASA explains.

Update: Astronomy Picture of the Day supplies another compilation video.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cryptic Tarkin

Grand Blog Tarkin on Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, one of my favorite books. Interesting stuff here!
Cliff Stoll and the Curta Calculator

Great little piece by tech and math guru Cliff Stoll about the Curta Calculator.
Many Pale Dots

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a whole bunch of pale dots: blue, red, white and more. It's a portrait of most of our home system, as imaged by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Orion in a Different Light

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Great Nebula in Orion (M42), closeup and in a different light: the orbiting WISE observatory shows it in infrared, with an astonishing amount of difference from what we see in visible light.
Snapshot

Damn tourists. Always taking pictures. Always having people take pictures of themselves. Here we see MSL Curiosity has persuaded some of the native martians to take a snap of itself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fire in the Sky

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Northern Lights over Alaska...and reflected back in a pond from below. "Mouseover" the picture to see constellation outlines.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Star Clouds

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a section of the Large Magellanic Clouds known as N11, a region where stars are being born.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Vermin of the Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a sky crowded with stars...and asteroids.
Scanners Live in Vain

The Pointless Weblog seems to be jam-packed with scans of funky SF art! Cool!
Birthing Chamber

This NASA Large Image can be linked to two earlier posts: this Astronomy Picture of the Day and this Astronomy Picture of the Day of the Trifid Nebula. M42 as a stellar nursery!
Loss

Apollo 1 remembered.
Food in a Tube

While the crew of the International Space Station eats food in space in a variety of forms, it looks like those who fly extended missions in the U-2 reconnaissance are not as lucky!
So, How Was Your Weekend?

Two images from NASA's Large Image of the Day show how mine was. In the first, "Nemo" (I really wish they'd stop naming all these storms; it is nothing more than marketing hype) moves towards me and in the second the storm moves away. Luckily, we were on the border; folks north got it much worse.
Venus

Following up on this, this installment of NASA's Large Image of the Day shows you how far technology comes: here's a much better "look" at Venus, courtesy of the Mariner 10 mission. I recall seeing this in the newspapers of the time; but my local technology not having advanced to the point of the internet or even cheap photocopying, I made a pencil sketch of the image.
Secret Histories

While listening to an episode of the excellent Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff (Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws talk about history, gaming, design, politics and more), they mentioned a treasure trove of maps found in a house and managed to spin it into a story worthy of a Tim Powers tale. Good stuff!
The Day of the Jack L.

A two-part interview with one of my favorite (college era) science fiction writers: Jack L. Chalker. Part 01 can be found here. Part 02 can be found here.

Thanks to Vonnie Winslow for taking the time to transcribe this!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Train in Vain

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows The Great Meteor Procession of 1913. One large rock that broke into several smaller? Take a look at Shoemaker-Levy 9 as a possible example.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Barnard's Galaxy

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 6822, Barnard's Galaxy in the constellation of Sagittarius. Not a spiral, but a beautiful dwarf irregular.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Off on a Comet!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Comet Lemmon (C2012/F6) near the south celestial pole. This is one of three (3) comets that might be a good sight in the sky this year.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

M106

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a good example of what happens when you turn astronomical imager Robert Gendler loose on an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Magic.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Ancient Shores

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day show MSL Curiosity's shadow at the area dubbed Point Lake on Mars. Streambeds have been found. Lakes? Why not? There may not be water there now, but why not? What can be found in such an area? Where did the water go? Where is it now? Think about that.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Under African Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video showing the night skies in Namibia. Wonderful stuff!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

M42 in Orion

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a wonderful shot of the Great Nebula in Orion, focusing in on LL Ori and a pronounced bowshock as the nebular gases boil off.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Spiral

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a slightly different angle on a view of Andromeda that I posted earlier this week. Now it looks even more like a scene out of a Star Trek movie.

Scratch that. Not Star Trek. Star Trek never had a really completely galactic scale. No, it looks like something we'd see in a Lensman movie, if a proper one were ever made!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Ansible!

Our monthly genre nightmare is over. Rejoice and be glad!

As Others Quote Us. 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, said Isaac Asimov ...' (Rory Carroll, guardian.co.uk, 10 January) But the writer inexplicably fails to cite Arthur C. Clarke's three laws of robotics. [DL]

Jabbagate. 'The Turkish Cultural Community of Austria said in a statement that a Lego set of Jabba's Palace from the Star Wars series is racist because it appears to closely resemble the Hagia Sophia (formerly a mosque) in Istanbul, the Jami al-Kabir mosque in Beirut and a minaret and therefore reinforces negative stereotypes about the Middle East, according to the Austrian Times. The statement threatened legal action against Lego if it does not withdraw the toys.' (Huffington Post, 24 January) [DKMK] Presumably it also closely resembles Jabba's Palace as portrayed in Return of the Jedi in 1983, in which case these expressions of shock, horror and outrage have been a long time coming.
Night Launch

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the launch of the Atlas-V carrying NASA's TDRS-K (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite) into orbit.