Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows all the currently operating uncrewed exploration vehicles crawling through our Solar System. Now...how about some crewed exploration?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Stone Tree, Star Arch

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Teide National Park in the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife. Stone trees and the arch of the Milky Way. "Mouseover" the image to get a constellation guide.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rainy Days on Saturn

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a storm on Saturn...many times larger than our small blue dot. Imaged by the long-lived (and long may it live) Cassini orbiter, this storm has been observed on Saturn since 2010.

The Taste of the Peculiar

William Gibson: Distrust That Particular Flavor (Penguin Books; 2012; ISBN 978-1-101559-41-3).

I read this collection early in 2012, kept meaning to read it a second time and write a review, but never really got around to either. However, it was no fault of Gibson's, just my increasingly hummingbird-like way of acting these days as my attention span becomes increasingly fractured.

The essays remained in my mind and I would think upon them throughout the year and even haul the book out to re-read them. This past week, I read the whole collection through again, front-to-back. And I suspect that I will be dipping into this collection again and again, focusing on essays, paragraphs, phrases and even pairs of words.

As with his increasingly contemporary novels, Gibson brings his (sardonic and science fictional trained) eyes on aspects of culture, technology and more. The essays range from cities (or particular cities, especially Tokyo, London, New York and—most infamously for Gibson—Singapore) to film to music to individual bits of technology such as cellphones. In the year since I first read this collection, I have caught up (thanks to high-speed internet and the like) with the filmed bits of author and chef Anthony Bourdain, and it's interesting to see how their observations on countries and cities intersect, but, with those intersections, vary widely as to what is observed and what conclusions are drawn.

Gibson protests (too much) about his abilities as a writer of non-fiction. He is wrong here: he's a great writer, fiction or non-fiction. While I wouldn't want to see him take a few years off to write an in-depth study of wristwatches, I hope he continues to delve into wristwatches, coffee makers, manual calculators, film, music and more both in a fictional and a non-fictional sense for a long time going forward.

Made up of: Introduction—African Thumb Piano; Rocket Radio; Since 1948; Any 'Mount of World; The Baddest Dude on Earth; Talk for Book Expo, New York; Dead Man Sings; Up the Line; Disneyland with the Death Penalty; Mr. Buk's Window; Shiny Balls of Mud: Hikaru Dorodango and Tokyu Hands; An Invitation; Metrophagy: The Art and Science of Digesting Great Cities; Modern Boys and Mobile Girls; My Obsession; My Own Private Tokyo; The Road to Oceania; Skip Spence's Jeans; Terminal City; Introduction: "The Body"; The Net is a Waste of Time; Time Machine Cuba; Will We Have Computer Chips in Our Heads?; William Gibson's Filmless Festival; Johnny: Notes on a Process; Googling the Cyborg.

Counts as twenty-six (26) entries in 2013: The Year in Shorts. Previously read in 2012, but never reveiwed.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

By the Way, Which One is Pink?

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day will have you breaking out your classic red-green glasses. Hey, look, we're on Mars! And there's Mount Lookitthat!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Maximum Sols

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a combination of a number of images, collected over a year, by the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory of our quiet star. Doesn't look all that sedate now, does it?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dark Side of the Moon

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a collage of images showing our Moon in various stages of being eclipsed by the shadow of our own planet.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Water is Wet

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video, courtesy of Canadian Astronnaut Chris Hadfield (who is doing a wonderful job of public outreach while in orbit). What happens to a washcloth in orbit? Can you get it really wet? And what happens when you wring it out? Great stuff, here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows (in X-Ray light) the remnants of SN 1006, a star that went quite boom in the constellation of Lupus, in the year 1006. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory imaged the expanding bubble of gas, showing complexity unseen in "ordinary" light.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a very different view of a (difficult to spot) object in the constellation of Orion: the "Horsehead" Nebula, found within the larger Great Nebula of Orion (Messier 42). I've only been able to spot it a few times from my lousy light polluted backyard.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

And Straight on to Morning

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. "Mouseover" the image to see how you can use the one to find the other.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows you what you miss with artificial skyglow. Under dark skies we see airglow (relating to thin clouds), the Gegenscheim (relating to a cloud of dust in the solar system) and the Milky Way (relating to a cloud of stars that make up our galaxy).

Friday, April 19, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 1788 in the constellation of Orion. Subtle whiskers reach out from the Witch Head Nebula and seem to connect it to NGC 1788, a reflection nebula.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Factory Town

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Messier 17, found in the constellationf Sagittarius (which itself lies in the direction of our galaxy's center). The region is rich in detail for the observer (and a number of young, newly-formed stars).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Through the Eye of the Lens

For today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, we set our sights a bit lower than the galaxies and nebula of the past couple of days: a lenticular cloud hovers near Mount Hood.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Between the Strokes of Night

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a view from the ISS (going way back to Expedition Two) of the terminator line on our small blue rock.

Spiral and Loop

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Messier 81, a beautiful spiral seen partway between edge on and face on. M81 is found in Ursa Major, and, as such, can be seen easily just about any (clear) night. M81 is also known for the arc known as Arp's Loop, first thought to be a gravitational tail from interactions with M81's neighbor, M82. M81 is best observed actually at lower, rather than higher, powers due to its large size in the sky (about the size of our own full Moon). Large aperture, dark skies, and a low power eyepiece with a wide field of view is your best bet here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Soul Light

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows exquisite detail in IC 1848, popularly known as the Soul Nebula in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Would you be surprised to learn that neighboring nebula IC 1805 is popularly known as...the Heart Nebula?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A View from Afar

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a shot that I do not recall seeing previously: A crescent Neptune and a crescent Triton seen by Voyager 2 as it heads out of the Solar System.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

Yuri's Planet

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the night "sky" of the International Space Station. April 12 marks "Yuri's Night", the anniversary of the first crewed flight into space. We've come a long way!

Beyond Soyuz

A fascinating look at all the proposed replacement vehicles for the venerable Russian Soyuz.

Culture Shock

Author M. John Harrison said today "My blog is like a blocked drain, full of fatty teratomas & delicious meaty lumps. Why not have a poke around in it?"

Make it so.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

If Only...

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day combines a daytime shot of a cityscape with a nighttime shot of the sky. If only everybody dimmed their lights and such skies really were visible from a city!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Crowded Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a fascinating view of what you see outside of the ISS. "Mouseover" the picture to see the different modules named.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ring Tones

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 3132, the "Southern Ring Nebula" or "Eight-Burst Nebula". This enhanced Hubble Space Telescope image shows amazing detail throughout the interior of the "ring" (bubble). For comparison, here's the northern version.


The father of the concept of the arcology has passed away. One of the more interesting architectural minds of the past century, Paolo Soleri. I first encountered his work in Urban Structures of the Future by Justus Dahinden, and then in various science fiction works such as Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Oath of Fealty.

Addendum: Obituary of Paolo Soleri. A Flickr stream of Acrosanti.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day will bore most (but not all) of you. How far is far? A table of redshifts, linked to this paper, gives you some idea.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

UFO Over the Moon

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows what looks to be a UFO coming into view from behind our Moon. Actually, it's Saturn, undergoing occultation. I've seen this (with Saturn, but also Jupiter) a few times and it is an amazing sight.


Yes, boys and girls: It's time for another episode of Ansible!
Iain Banks's online announcement headed 'I am officially Very Poorly.' was widely circulated and brought widespread dismay: 'The bottom line, now, I'm afraid, is that as a late stage gall bladder cancer patient, I'm expected to live for "several months" and it's extremely unlikely I'll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.' (www.iain-banks.net) Oh damn. There are no words for this.
Michael Moorcock according to one of the more subtly terrifying news stories posted on 1 April, had his beard shaved off. Credit went to 'the famous Texan barber Olaf Priol'. (Moorcock's Miscellany) [RH]
As Others See Us. Marvelling at the success of Game of Thrones, the Telegraph pinpoints its assumed minority audience: 'Aside from The Lord of the Rings, the thinking goes, audiences have always been resistant to grand fantasy. So it is strange that the programme, based on George RR Martin's bestselling books, is Sky Atlantic's most popular, and has drawn millions of unexpected fans: housewives and historians, as well as the expected men with beards.' (2 April) [MPJ]

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Black-Eye Pea

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Messier 64, sometimes known as the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy, or, in this case, the Black Eye Galaxy. Can you tell why?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Andromeda Strain

Look! Look! The Andromeda Galaxy has been invaded! Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Comet PanSTARRS passing one of our extra-galactic neighbors.

Iain M. Banks

Sad news today as respected author (in several fields) Iain M. Banks announces that he has cancer and expects only to live for several more months. Banks is best known to me as the author of a series of spectacular science fiction novels, mostly set in a galaxy-spanning society known as the Culture, teeming with intelligent starships, unlimited resources, meddling governments and a lot of adventure (even in what might be a "post-singularity" time, something many cry we just wouldn't be able to write interesting stories for). Banks (when he writes as "Iain Banks", the middle initial is a kind of code that you're getting a SF novel!) also has written quite a few mainstream literary works, switching effortlessly from one to the other, proving that you can have a career, and a good one, in more than one field.

I wish him well and I wish desperately that the prognosis is wildly pessimistic. May he live long and type fruitfully. If not, I hope that he enjoys his time and does not suffer.

(For a taste of what his writing is like, here's a short film set in the Culture. And a second one, here. Great stuff.)

(Banks on he writing process and more: Part 01. Part 02. Part 03. Part 04. Part 05. Part 06.)

Addendum: Another look at the Culture. Excellent blog posting by Richard K. Morgan on Iain M. Banks. At Tin House, Don Waters talks about reading The Wasp Factory. The Tor Dot Com announcement. Niall Alexander at Tor Dot Com on Banks. Mordicai Knode at Tor Dot Com on Banks. Andrew Brown at The Guardian on Banks. Alastair Reynolds on Banks and his writings. Martin Sketchley draws on some thoughts.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reflections Of

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of reflection nebula IC 4592 in the constellation of Scorpius. The Blue Horsehead (not the Horsehead in Orion) is made up of dust and reflects the light of nearby stars (hence, the blue color, thanks to nearby Nu Scorpii). Another class of nebula is the emission nebula (where the gas glows thanks to energy imparted from an outside source), of which The Great Nebula of Orion is a good (and spectacular, in this photo) example.

Egads, Not Another Hugo Awards Post

It's spring and a young (or old) fan's mind turns to the Hugo Awards. The nominations list came out over the weekend. My only commentary is (and there's a lot of commentary out there, mostly pretty silly): I bought a membership. I'll do my darndest to read everything nominated (pointers to online or downloadable copies of the shorter works would really be appreciated ahead of the packet). And then I'll vote. I hope you do the same!

That is all.

One Way Trip

A mission to Mars in 2023? With a permanent colony from the start? Media stunt or reality, we shall see. Would you go?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Perception Test

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day celebrates the date (April 1) with a test. Which is the moon? Which is the frying pan. Follow the links for even more tests!


Does Pope Francis intend on using the dome of St. Peter's Basilica as a sort of planetarium? Either this will cause heads to spin or it'll turn out to be an April Fool's joke. Either way...interesting!