Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dark Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows dwarf galaxy NGC 5195. Combined with Messier 51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, they seem to form a question mark. Today's image is a close-up of the "dot" under the question mark, showing dust clouds and young stars.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Crab Canon

A nice little visualization of J.S. Bach's Crab Canon (from his Musical Offering). As the commentary tells it, part of the discussion in Douglas R. Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Add a twist (Mobius strip...twist...get it...oh, never mind!) to the visualization for sheer joy.

Galactic Center

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is brought to us by the wildly talented Tony Halles. Messier 8, Messier 20 and NGC 6559, all beckoning us towards the galactic center in the region of the constellation Sagittarius.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Strawberry Fields

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Sun in the orange-red skies above Strawberry, California. Near the site of the Rim Fire (visible from space), the sky (and the Sun) have taken on a very unhealthy appearance.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Freshman Advisory

Back in January we were invited to a meeting at the high school. It seemed they were going to a new schedule, "the drop bell rotation" or some such. The class length would be increased, one period added, the number of electives would be increased. In order to fit everything into the schedule, lunch periods would be changed and you would also "drop" one period each day and rotate (hence the name). So, you'd start your day with period one on Monday, period two on Tuesday, etc.

The attraction here was an increased number of electives. If there's one issue we've had in school it is boredom. When The Young Lady gets bored, she gets distracted and does not do her work and her grades drop. She's a smart kid, I'll happily admit smarter than me...but easily distracted.

So we picked electives and back-up electives, six in all, for the two elective periods. And waited for the schedule...and waited...and waited. If there's one thing our school system is known for, it is inefficiency!

The schedule is posted, so I take a look. O.K., there's the drama class she picked, but I don't see another elective. And what's this "Freshman Advisory" class? I flipped through the course catalog, searched the various websites...nothing. So I called the guidance counselor (and again) and e-mailed the guidance counsel (and again).

Finally, the guidance counselor called back. It seems "Freshman Advisory" is a class for all incoming freshmen. Well, other than those who have not done so well on the ASK test (a test that they teach you how to pass, rather than actually teaching material and having you learn things so you can think). Anybody with lower ASK scores will take a math "lab" or a language "lab".

What is "Freshman Advisory"? Well, students will have the "opportunity" to do their homework or to meet with a teacher about a subject and the like.

Oh...we used to call that "study hall". Or, more appropriately, "uncontrolled chaos".

My theory is they got this new schedule but they didn't get the money to pay for the electives. Or, in the great leveling, we don't want to slight those who have poor ASK scores by giving the other kids a chance to take an elective (which they might enjoy, and therefore, learn from) so we'll "punish" all the other kids by having them waste 90 minutes each day (four days a week).

Calling Distant Stations

Over at The Kernel, James Cook talks about the mysterious UVB-76 signals that leak out of Russia. While an interesting article, I wonder how authentic it is. An abandoned military post...abandoned because of...fog? (Oh, but won't the conspiracy theorists have a field day with that fog!) who feeds the (ineffective) guard dog? Full of water, but still with a readable notebook and paper signs? Well, staged or real, it's a fascinating story that pops up now and again. Maybe I should buy a shortwave radio so I can scan for the broadcasts.

Active System

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows an active weather system dumping water over the plains of Canada.

Monday, August 26, 2013

They Ride

It worked once. So it must work again, right? Another podcast! More blather!

Gas Cloud

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us planetary nebula NCG 7027. Planetary nebula were first called that as they looked, well, more like spheres with detail rather than points of light with no detail. They are actually shells of gas, as this Hubble Space Telescope shows in this detailed picture.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Boy Loves His Dog

Harlan Ellison talks about A Boy and His Dog, now out on Blu-Ray (I will have to get one of those, someday). And now...a secret! You can get books direct for Harlan! Now that I've scored several autographed books, I don't mind sharing. Actually, I encourage you to share as well! And maybe this site will be updated (2007, forsooth?)! Addendum: Things learned from the commentary track. Addendum: Somewhere buried in moldering issues of Starlog, Harlan Ellison discusses a television series based on the movie and the stories. And I'd love to see the novel that has been in the works for years. But I can only assume, like the full-length novel based on my favorite Ellison teleplay, Demon with a Glass Hand, that we'll never see it.

(Insert Joke About Coffee in the Military Here)

Two Marines experiment with coffee over the years and many miles, including one jaunt into Afghanistan. The result is an iBook (alas, no version suitable for a mere Kindle user such as myself). Will this push me into buying an iPad? ;)

The Long Cruise

The New Horizons probe to (cough) minor planet Pluto (and beyond) has already started exploring the Pluto-Charon system even though the flyby won't be until July 2015. The link will bring you to an image taken by New Horizons of Pluto and Charon. Want to explore Pluto on your own? How about by a Lego model of the probe?

Ten Years of Red

The Spitzer Space Telescope has explored the infrared bands of the spectrum from its orbit for ten years now. Ten years!

Fast Mover Captured by WISE

And speaking of asteroids, is that a UFO from Mars passing through the Orion Nebula? No, it's Near-Earth Object 1998 KN3. The image was snapped by the WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer) telescope, which has been recommissioned (past it's intended mission, now completed) to search for both asteroids and comets.

Capturing the Rock

NASA has released new images and a short video for the proposed mission to capture, redirect and then examine (probably a carbonaceous type) asteroid using a combination of robotic and crewed vehicles. I really like this mission, but I wonder if NASA can carry it through given the near lack of enthusiasm (and therefore support) from the Congress and the Administration towards the agency. There's a lot of incremental progress in the agency, but any big project seems doomed to be underfunded, constantly retasked and the like.

On Listening To Too Much Dan Carlin (05)

Party fragmentation: Need for a third party (or more) in US. Joining of Tea Party and Coffee Party as Caffeine Party. Fragmentation of party after failed election attempt into multiple parties. Coca-Cola Party, Jolt Party, Sanka Party, even the Postum Party. This effort ultimately failed when it was shown that many of these (the aforementioned Coca-Cola Party, the Starbucks Party) were only fronts for the corporations that they took their names from.

Arps in Collision

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Arp 271, an interacting pair of galaxies. Interacting means "colliding" in this case. For more on Halton Arp, the man behind the Arp Catalog, take a look here.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is an image of our small blue marble made up of over 1,400 even smaller images. Did you wave "at" Saturn and send your picture in? Maybe you were included in this collage!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Nova Delphini

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a spectral view of "new star" Nova Delphini. The clues to the fate of the star are found in the lines of the spectrum. Nova Delphini might be fading...might be resting before brightening further: in either case, if you have a chance, take a look!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This Is How You Lose Her

Some nifty stuff today via the Penguin USA Twitter feed (RandomPenguin, I say). First, artwork from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz (somebody I, need to reality, it will be somebody who will be placed on the ever-tottering Mount Toberead!). Second, from Junot Diaz, how he writes. I love stuff like this even though I've proved again and again I have no writing talent. Stay tuned, more will be posted (either retro, or going forward).

Patient Zero

Greetings! Yes, it's me, the guy behind what was The Eternal Golden Braid which later morphed into The Lensman's Children. So, what the heck, Fred? Well, there will probably be a longer post down the road about my thoughts on this blog, but the main reason is: links. Yes, a lot of stuff I had linked to over the years on The Lensman's Children vanished, and I really was not willing to go back and edit, hunt, etc. the existing blog mostly due to the fact that it had grown (after a couple of restarts) to over 3,900 posts.
So, here we are again/here we are new. This blog will move forward from this point, with new posts. And, it will fill in from the past, as I look at the posts at The Lensman's Children and update them and take them down. Stay tuned. We're in for a bumpy ride.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Perseids over China. It's like driving through a snowstorm!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sky Glow

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video that shows both noctilucent clouds and aurora over Scotland. With crepuscular or anticrepuscular rays they would have had a trifecta!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Southern Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day again teases me with a view I can only barely glimpse thanks to suburban skies (and too many trees to the south).

Friday, August 16, 2013

The "New" Star

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day invites us to say "howdy" to a "new" star. A nova has been found in the constellation of Delphinus. Initial estimates put it at magnitude 6, when I last checked (last night) some reports were putting it at magnitude 4.5 or below and reports are it being an increasingly easy target in even modest instruments such as binoculars.

Assembly Required

The latest entry in NASA's large image archive is a view from the Apollo era: The Vehicle Assembly Building. Used for the Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets, then modified for the Shuttle, it is again being modified for the (knock on wood) Space Launch System.

A Foolish Move

In this image from NASA's Large Image Gallery, a small galaxy is caught in the act of "ramming" a much larger galaxy. The smaller will probably not survive, or if it survives, it will exit resembling it's former glory not at all. Most of it's stars will join with the larger body.

Night Launch

In this entry from NASA's large image gallery, a sub-orbital ("sounding") rocket launches from Wallops Island in Virginia.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Stream

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day combines data from orbiting and ground-based observatories, using data from visible light and radio, to trace the origin of the Magellanic Stream: the Small Magellanic Cloud encountered a larger dwarf galaxy and lost out.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Razor's Edge

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the setting Moon, a Moon so thin in it's fingernail-clipping crescent that it can barely be seen as it sinks into the sea.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a nice time-lapse view of the Perseids. You'll see that all the streaks seem to be coming from one central point, the radiant, or the orbital stream of the bits and pieces that make up the "shower". (We all know what happens when we cross the stream, right?)

"Mouseover" the image to get constellation information.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Friday, August 9, 2013

Fallingwater I

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows an arrival from the Perseid meteor shower falling in the skies over Albrechtsberg Castle in Austria.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sharper View

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows that the Hubble Space Telescope is still doing pretty good for an aging instrument that needs corrective lenses. NGC 3370 in Leo struts its stuff.

The Random Penguin

I will admit to having more than a couple of Penguin editions on my shelves. For a long time, that was the only way to get copies of J.G. Ballard or Olaf Stapledon in these benighted colonies. Penguin is celebrating its 75th year by absorbing other companies and throwing a bit of a party.

What were the original Penguin titles? Here's a list.

And here's an interesting project: A read of all the "Penguin Classics". Go!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a wonderful shot of the night skies of Iceland. Meteor streaks and curtains of aurora! (Mouseover for star and constellation identification.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dull Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is another superb effort by Robert Gendler, using images from the Subaru Telescope: S Mon, the Cone Nebula, the Fox Fur Nebula, and NGC 2264.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Crazy Moon

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Jupiter's ever-changing moon Io. Thanks to the tidal tug-of-war that is the Jupiter system, there are no (permanent) maps for these territories.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


The latest Ansible is up and is, as usual, a joy to behold. All hail Dave Langford! All hail Discordia!
Iain Banks had a surprise memorial in a 24 June Independent crossword set by 'Alchemi', featuring the one-word answers BUSINESS CANAL DREAMS COMPLICITY CROW ROAD WALKING GLASS WASP FACTORY WHIT. [PM] On 23 June, asteroid 5099 was officially named Iainbanks by the International Astronomical Union 'and will be referred to as such for as long as Earth Culture may endure.' (Minor Planet Center blog, 1 July)
H.P. Lovecraft will join Neil Gaiman and Frank Herbert (see A312) as a place name. The city council of Providence, Rhode Island, voted to give the name H.P. Lovecraft Square to the intersection of Angell Street, where HPL lived for years, and Prospect Street, home of his doomed character Charles Dexter Ward. (Providence Journal, 17 July) [PDF] Eldritch geometries and blasphemous ichor are surely to be expected.

Fritz Leiber Reads Clark Ashton Smith

Just what it says above. You're welcome.

More links to Leiber audio here.

Little Wars

An interesting article about how H.G. Wells helped to codify the hobby of wargaming. Amazing to see his miniatures are still in use by his grandson!

Galactic Seedling

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 3718 in the constellation Ursa Major. To me, it looks like a seed caught in the wisps of other plant matter.

Tank Farm

Ah, the good old days at the dawn of the shuttle program. When people were thinking about, well...recycling! Space stations from external fuel tanks, why not? Even folks like Larry Niven (with Steven Barnes) and David Brin were thinking about that and writing stories using these things. What Might Have Been.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a nice stacked image of the Moon and a long-term exposure of M31, The Great Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. If M31 were as bright as the Moon, it would be one heck of a sight in our night sky!