Thursday, September 27, 2012

Two Excellent Comets Coming in 2013

There will be an awesome one in March 2013 and then - no exaggeration - the greatest one of your lifetime, and maybe the millennium, in November. Brighter than the moon.

Halley's Comet as recorded in the Bayeux Tapestry, which is probaby better taken as a record of the Norman conquest of England than an astronomy text. But still.

Puppets and Metal and Lovecraft

Imagine if Cthulhu and aliens invaded Fraggle Rock all to the tune of Mastodon.  That's exactly what you're about to see.  You're welcome.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Summary of Actual, Current Starship Designs

From Popular Mechanics here.

Jack London, The Scarlet Plague (1915)

It's not exactly a zombie novel, but it's definitely post-apocalyptic.   (Yes, and it's by that Jack London.)  For a return-to-the-stone-age work set in the ruins of San Francisco, I prefer Earth Abides by George Stewart, but this is still an interesting early twentieth century, return-to-savagery in a morally indifferent universe piece.   Full novel at Gutenberg here.

* * *

The old man peered from under his green leaf at the danger, and stood as quietly as the boy. For a few seconds this mutual scrutinizing went on; then, the bear betraying a growing irritability, the boy, with a movement of his head, indicated that the old man must step aside from the trail and go down the embankment. The boy followed, going backward, still holding the bow taut and ready. They waited till a crashing among the bushes from the opposite side of the embankment told them the bear had gone on. The boy grinned as he led back to the trail.

"A big un, Granser," he chuckled.

The old man shook his head.

"They get thicker every day," he complained in a thin, undependable falsetto. "Who'd have thought I'd live to see the time when a man would be afraid of his life on the way to the Cliff House. When I was a boy, Edwin, men and women and little babies used to come out here from San Francisco by tens of thousands on a nice day. And there weren't any bears then. No, sir. They used to pay money to look at them in cages, they were that rare."

"What is money, Granser?"

Before the old man could answer, the boy recollected and triumphantly shoved his hand into a pouch under his bear-skin and pulled forth a battered and tarnished silver dollar. The old man's eyes glistened, as he held the coin close to them.

"I can't see," he muttered. "You look and see if you can make out the date, Edwin."

The boy laughed.

"You're a great Granser," he cried delightedly, "always making believe them little marks mean something."

The old man manifested an accustomed chagrin as he brought the coin back again close to his own eyes.

"2012," he shrilled, and then fell to cackling grotesquely. "That was the year Morgan the Fifth was appointed President of the United States by the Board of Magnates. It must have been one of the last coins minted, for the Scarlet Death came in 2013. Lord! Lord!—think of it! Sixty years ago, and I am the only person alive to-day that lived in those times. Where did you find it, Edwin?"

William Gibson: SF Writers are Screw-Ups

...when it comes to making real predictions anyway. He makes the excellent point that we remember only the successes, but we don't compare that number against the overall denominator of all predictions. Most of which are goofy and wrong. SF is great because it allows us to bring an additional element of literature into play (setting) instead of just accepting it as a given, thus considering counterfactuals and asking questions that we would not be able to otherwise. But as fiction, it's always a mirror of the people writing and reading it, and the time and place they live.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How to Build an Interstellar Ship

This piece focuses on the here-and-now urban ecology applications that could help drive the development of interstellar-travel-oriented biotechnology. This is smart because a nearer-term payoff dramatically helps to move technology like this forward, and it's why the recent asteroid mining proposal is exciting (though there hasn't been a lot of discussion since the initial press release).

Another possibility, if not for interstellar travel, then for colonizing Mars - settling Antarctica sustainably.

You think that's inhospitable? Seriously? Then you don't even want to see Mars. That's all water laying around. Plus there's air. And Antarctic settlements wouldn't last two years once the supply lines shut down.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An Amazingly Disgusting 1980s Cartoon: Inhumanoids

It really is amazing that this grotesque series got picked up by a network, in the 1980s. Evil giant undead creatures living underground? See-through digestive chambers used to torture people? I mean come on. If you don't watch the whole thing (which you really should) skip to 17 minutes even for a real time-stopping gem of a line by the gastrointestinally gifted main antagonist (give it a few seconds).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Vandenberg Launch Now Scheduled 14:39 Pac Time Thurs 13 Sept.

And I'm not holding my breath for that one either.  Too bad it's during the day.

Send Ships to Space With Nuclear Bombs

It was called Project Orion - documentary here.  There was actual U.S. Federal research money spent on this.  If you've ever read the Niven-Pournelle novel Footfall you've heard of this before.  (Thanks to Kevin for the tip on the documentary.)

More Nerdy Things in San Diego

The personal drone company 3D Robotics, which also has a manufacturing facility across the border in Tijuana.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


For the MD/PhD's for metal, to celebrate my joining this august assemblage, a selection from the greatest movie ever made, Knights. This is a moving film about empowering disabled people with sialorrhea in the Southwest:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sugar Molecules Found Around Young Star

IRAS 16293-2422 is a young binary system, and now carbohydrate molecules - specifically, glycoaldehyde - have been found in the dust around it. What's interesting is a 2005 paper showing higher-than-expected abundance of sulfur-containing molecules; sulfur is important in biology since it is relatively easily oxidized or reduced and can form bridges with itself.

The less speculative reason this is interesting is because it has implications for the evolution of life and the deposition of organic molecules in an early solar system that would make Earth-like life possible. More speculatively, if such things as von Neumann probes exist, these dust clouds around young stars (if common) would be substrate-rich places to reproduce if they're using organics, since they wouldn't have to go down a gravity well or even drill into an asteroid as has been previously discussed.