Friday, January 30, 2015

Night Flight to Polar Waves

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a time-lapse image of sounding rockets being launched to explore the Aurora Borealis. Star trails, exhaust trails, lasers and auroral curtains.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Vermin of the Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Asteroid 2004 BL86 as it passed through the Seven Sisters (Messier 44) the other night.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lovejoy in the Attic

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) under spectacular winter skies (much better than any of us have seen with the naked eye!). A long-exposure teases out the details of the Milky Way's "attic" (looking out towards the edge, rather than in towards the center, which we would see if we were looking at Sagittarius): Barnard's Loop, Messier 42, the Rosette Nebula and more. "Mouseover" the picture to get a guide to the stars, clusters and nebula in the area.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lines of Force

There have been a lot of images of lines of force this week: wind patterns from the winter storm I'm sitting under, cloud patterns on Jupiter from the New Horizons flyby. In today's Astronomy Picture of the Day we have lines of magnetic force as detected by the Planck probe.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows twisty solar prominences courtesy of the hard-working SOHO vehicle (discoverer of many, many comets).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Swan's Way

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a combination of x-ray, visible and radio frequencies stacked to give a fuller view of Cygnus A.

Friday, January 23, 2015


After being stopped by security for wearing a multi-tool, Leatherman company president has engineers design a multi-tool that is hidden within a bracelet.

On the Bridge

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the "bridge" of a spaceship, the Cupola (off of the Tranquility Module) on the International Space Station, here fitted out for work with Canadarm2 and the recent docking of the latest SpaceX Dragon supply capsule. What a view!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Two Trails

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day brings us the streak of flame culminating in an Atlas V vehicle carrying a U.S. Navy satellite while above Comet Lovejoy sails past Taurus and the Pleiades.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Steven Hart

I am sitting here in shock, having just learned that college friend, writer, curmudgeon, appreciator of beer, bookstore entrepreneur, truth teller, father, husband, friend Steven Hart has passed away.

This will take some getting used to, it is not right that we lose him and are left with the idiotic bastards that he so eloquently railed against.

Steve (along with Ron Fischer, Joe Zitt and a few others) introduced me to much of the music I still love today: The Talking Heads, Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and more. We had similar tastes in genre fiction and introduced each other to many books (less so to genre movies and television, that was too small a market not to have seen it all, but he introduced me to many non-genre works such as Kurosawa), both genre and non-genre.

He got me started in music in another way: He had an all-in-one phonograph/radio (speakers were separate where the phonograph had broken. He sold it to me for the cost of a six pack of beer and a pair of meatball subs from the "gut truck" that parked near the dorms at Livingston College. Ron Fischer was able to fix the phonograph with a bit of grease and it worked fine for years afterwards. We both got the best end of that bargain!

We were both on the college radio station and the college newspaper (but he stuck with the newspaper until graduation while I dropped both when I started working full time as well as going to school full time).

When he opened Nighthawk Books in Highland Park (it should have been an ideal place, but the town government seems to have this distorted view about how to grow the business tax base), I unloaded a hunk of my collection there to help him grow.

It was a real joy to see him start in his own books and as his own publisher!

Rest in peace, Steve.

More Detail

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day follows up on earlier ones. The amount of detail being shown in these Comet Lovejoy photographs is amazing!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Into Focus

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a view from the Dawn asteroid explorer, now on approach to minor...sorry....dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt. Dawn on approach to Ceres, New Horizons on approach to Pluto and Charon, good times for planetary exploration!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Unfamiliar Messier

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day takes one of my favorite observing subjects, Messier 42, The Great Nebula of Orion, and casts it into a different light: a view from the infrared frequencies courtesy of the WISE orbiting observatory.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tailing Off

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the wonderful structural detail "amateur" astronomers are teasing out of Comet Lovejoy.

Friday, January 16, 2015


A clueless commentator (is there any other kind) was on CNBC yesterday wondering why mall retail sales haven't improved since gas prices have dropped and "that's just like getting a tax refund!"

Really? Let's break it down and think about it all.

First, just because pump prices have dropped, it doesn't suddenly mean you have an extra $500.00 to put into the mall. Sure, gas prices have been trending down for several weeks, but they are only down a bit each week. And you buy gas each week. So while you might have an extra $500.00 in your pocket if you only buy gas once a month and you bought $1,000.00 last month and you only spend $500.00 this month...on a week-by-week basis you're only ending up (each week) with enough for a extra cup of coffee or two and put it towards that, or upgrading some of your food purchases, or maybe splurging on a meal out rather than $500.00 worth of stuff from the mall.

Second, I could point towards the proximity of the biggest annual spending spree of the year, Christmas. It's only January. Everybody spent to buy gifts. Maybe they don't need anything, Mr. Commentator?

Third, I would point towards the permanent sale mentality that chains such as WalMart or Target have instilled in the consumer. Unless those retail mall stores advertise big (and let's not forget about all those Christmas sales where people bought a lot of stuff, see previous point), people are not going to go to the malls to spend that extra $500.00 they probably don't have (see other previous points).

Fourth, let's think about costs and wages. Despite claims that the cost of living has been rising "slowly or has been "stable" if you look closely you'll see that the government likes to jigger such things by looking at prices ex ____ where ____ = things that have gone up in price (like food). Also, there's a ton of data that shows that wages have mostly been stagnant (frozen) for several years...if you're lucky. More than likely, your wages have fallen because you were laid off, cut back, etc. Toss in that CPI that really has gone up because we hide things, well then, I think that extra $500.00 you have might go towards upgrading food or getting an extra meal out rather than going to the mall (because, see previous points).

Fifth, the internet. Seriously. When was the last time you went to the mall for shopping? Notice how out of touch they're becoming (especially the "anchor stores")? I haven't shopped in a mall (other than a big box bookstore) in at least ten years. My wife has been more recently, but more often she'll go to a standalone store or a big box. And then there's the internet. Other than one suit, all my clothing for the past ten years has been purchased online. There's just so much less stress. (I don't like shopping!)

Finally, stuff. Maybe we just have too much stuff? How many big screen T.V.'s do you need to buy every year? How many pairs of shoes? Maybe people are taking that $500.00 and putting it towards..savings?

Conclusion: Clueless Commentator on CNBC has to get off of Wall Street and into the Real World and take a look around. Not everybody lives the way you do!


A few days ago, this memo about the new offices for Wired circulated, causing much hilarity on the intertubes (lots of people posting pictures of their desks). Of course, some people posted pictures that showed they probably either cleaned up before taking the picture...or they actually don't do any work in that space.

It looks like these spaces are spreading through tech and media, but do they actually "work"? People spread out, people personalize. If people need to clean up and avoid putting coffee stains on the walls, people may no longer be creative. Shouldn't a media or tech company be creative rather than coffee free?


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows four images made ten years ago as the Huygens lander (carried by the Cassini orbiter) made a successful descent and "splatdown" on the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest and (possibly) most complex moon.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day brings us the conjunction of Venus and Mercury in the evening sky. I spotted them both Tuesday night (naked eye)!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rich Field and Comet

The winter skies aren't as "fun" as the skies of our other seasons, but the region around Orion, "the attic of the Milky Way" are a treat to explore. Especially, as with today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, there happens to be a comet in the region as well!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

John Hill

John Hill, designer of many games that occupied many hours of my time such as Squad Leader (and Advanced Squad Leader), Johnny Reb and much more has passed away. I was privileged to have participated in a couple of Johnny Reb games that Hill ran at various HMGS conventions such as Cold Wars and Historicon. He was a very nice gentleman, patient, willing to talk and answer questions. He will be missed by the gaming community.

Addendum: An appreciation by Mister Nizz.

Fragile (Yes)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows The Soap Bubble Nebula, found in the area of NGC 6888, The Crescent Nebula, in Cygnus. This object was first identified by an amateur astronomer in 2008 (and independently found several days later by other amateur astronomers). Amateurs can contribute to the field!

Lost Dog

Has the ill-fated Beagle 2 lander been spotted on Mars? Stay tuned!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Fast Times in the Republic

Mel and Patricia Ziegler; Wild Company—The Untold Story of Banana Republic (Simon & Schuster; 2012; IBSN 1451683480).

Wild Company is the tale of how two people left their unsatisfying jobs, created something they really weren't willing or able to nourish, and ultimately lost control of their creation. Their creation lives on, subsumed in a corporation that neither cares about or wants to remember what made the creation great, just one bland face of three.

The Ziegler's both worked in journalism but were unsatisfied with their jobs. They stumbled into running a clothing chain due to a combination of luck, skill (art and writing, as well as an excellent eye for design) and serendipity. The book tells of many highs (finding bargains, excellent sales, extreme customer loyalty) and lows (they seemed to blindingly trust people and hire on a whim at times, which lead—in one case—to the loss of an very productive day's receipts due to a dishonest employee, and—in another case—to tens of thousands of dollars of merchandise being lost to another dishonest employee).

I was actually surprised how early on in the chain's story they were acquired by The Gap. That acquisition gave them the capital to expand, add more things to the store and even (eventually) design their own clothing rather than sell (mostly) military surplus. But it also eventually doomed Banana Republic as it was. The earliest sign of this was the clash between the lawyer the Ziegler's had for the deal and The Gap's corporate counsel. Then came three family member's from The Gap's founder to work in Banana Republic. Two of the three seemed to fit in, but the third was an ongoing exhaustion to Patricia Ziegler with weekly and daily clashes over materials, clothing lines, new product launches, the way stores looked, etc.

Eventually the Ziegler's left Banana Republic in what amounts to a coup by people within The Gap. The Ziegler's spent some time resting, launched a few efforts (some, like The Republic of Tea—subject of another co-written book—succeeded, whiles others did not) and watched while Banana Republic became what it is today: no different from The Gap or Old Navy, just a variant upon the same bland theme.

Who is blame? The Ziegler's? The Gap? Mel and Patricia had (still have, I'm sure) plenty of talent when it came to writing, design and the like. Not so much when it came to managing the business. Maybe things would have been better if they had found a good partner early on who could manage things while they concentrated on their talents? The Gap initially acquired Banana Republic both for the growth and the culture. Maybe if they had allowed more of that culture to flow up into the larger entity rather than fight the smaller entity they would be more than a bland mall store today?

It's really a shame, I think. Banana Republic succeeded because it was quirky. They had excellent merchandise (I believe I still have several of their shirts in my closet) and led the way in bringing us several design trends that we still see (the para-military or adventurer look is still with us) today. The catalogs and stores had a unique identity that set them apart from other Main Street or faceless mall storefronts. All gone, alas.

Is it possible to have quality, growth, quirkiness all in one? Is it possible keep what made a company great over the life of a company? I don't know, but I eagerly await the next Banana Republic. I need some new shirts.