Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tower to the Stars

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a satellite communications station under the southern skies (Milky Way, Aurora Australis, Large and Small Magellanic Clouds). Wow.

Golem and Jinni Detective Agency (Another 15 Picosecnds of Fame)

I've been a listener of The Incomparable Podcast since it was in the single digits. For Episode 196, I get to appear (along with regulars Jason Snell and Scott McNulty, as well as other guest panelists Paul Weimer and Shaun Duke) in a deep look at this year's nominees for the Nebula Award. Let me know how you like it!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Purple Haze

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Planetary Nebula Abell 36 in the constellation of Virgo. As the central star shuffles towards the white dwarf phase of existence it throws off clouds of gas, creating the nebula.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Alpha of the Omega

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows one of the most spectacular globular clusters that circles our home galaxy: NGC 5139, Omega Centauri.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


David Foster Wallace seems to like Ulysses by James Joyce. Some where out there is a quote which goes something like "When we retire, we can sit in our libraries and annotate our books." I've never been able to find that quote again and sometimes wonder if I imagined it.

Assembly Line

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Messier 17 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Coming nicely into view for us this time of the year, Sagittarius (and neighboring Scorpius) are wonderful areas to explore with binoculars. You won't see detail like this, but you'll stumble across nebula and clusters by the bucket and serendipitous discovery is half the fun~

Monday, May 26, 2014

Cosmic Tracking

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video that shows the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. Even better than synchronized swimming!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Station and Storm

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the International Space Station in the night sky with a few members of a new meteor swarm, the Camelopardalids, formed from the debris trail of the recently destroyed periodic comet 209P/LINEAR.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows an atmospheric phenomena that I've never seen (or heard of) before: a circumhorizontal arc, clouds acting as prisms, and creating a "horizontal rainbow"!

Go, Go, Go Godzilla!

How plausible are giant monsters? Something to ponder while waiting for the movie to start.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Target Acquired

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows an orbital dance. The ESA's Rosetta probe has been wakened successfully and is on track for it's rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us emission nebula NGC 6164 in the constellation of Norma (yes, Norma!). Created by the star found at the center of the nebula, will another (planetary) nebula be formed when that star goes boom at the end of it's life?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


A (somewhat sparse) look at David Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy", still three of my favorite albums by one of my favorite rock musicians.

At the Core

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day takes a close look at the center of Messier 61, a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Virgo (part of the Virgo Cluster).

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Spot On

Following up on yesterday's entry that featured a possibly fading Great Red Spot, today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows that same feature as imaged by Voyager 1 in 1979.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fading (?) Storm

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows mighty Jupiter and his mighty storm, The Great Red Spot. Is the Spot (a massive storm) fading? Give it time, it has come back before!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

In the Blue of Darkness

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a composite image from the edge of the Solar System: crescent-lit Neptune with rings and a crescent Triton.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Space Oddity

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a streaming video, live from space. The HDEV Project allows "ordinary folk" to see what the astronauts and cosmonauts and others see from the International Space Station, as it happens.

(If you see a grey screen, it means the camera is off for a variety of reasons: keep watching, it is worth it.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows CG4, a "ruptured" cometary globule in the constellations of Vela and Puppis. The classification is not accurate; a cometary globule has as much to do with comets as a planetary nebula has to do with planets.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Flame Nebula, within the "belt" of Orion. Also easy to spot (a lot more easy to spot than from my backyard!) is the Horsehead Nebula. "Mouseover" the picture to get the view in a different light (x-rays).

Friday, May 9, 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Wrenching It Around

Does Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. need fixing? Jim Steranko thinks so and he has some suggestions (with a tip of the mask to Jeff Patterson).

I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us the "tail-end" of NGC 3628 in the constellation of Leo. Popularly known as the "Hamburger Galaxy", it's a nice target in a populated region of the spring sky.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fine Grained

A model of the International Space Station and a space shuttle. So what, you say? Made. Out. Of. Toothpicks.


Online friend Damien G. Walter, having scored an interview with Harlan Ellison, moves on to interviewing Neal Stephenson!

And In One Heel

Death's in Homer's epic poem. Break it down.


My life is all the much poorer for not having any such establishment in my area.

Before Technology, The Enabler

The plight of the author in the days of paper mail. I'm sure it's a lot worse now (on the other hand, there are a lot more author types so there are more targets...)


Happy birthday to Gene Wolfe! A nice writeup on the Gollancz blog. (A tip of the helm to Paul Weimer for posting the link.)

There's A Story Here...

I was struck by this image spotted in my "Tumblrs" this morning. A pair of shoes, a journal, a string, a key. Where is the owner? Has she or he gone for a swim? A walk? Or something else?

Write the story. I'll wait.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is an image by the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, on it's way to "Mount Sharp" in Gale Crater. "Mount Remarkable" is only five meters in height, but Curiosity will stop and take a look.

Mind Meld: Reading and Re-reading

(It's live! So here's a link to the full column plus what I wrote and submitted. Go and read the whole thing, your wallet may groan from all the book purchase ideas you jot down!)

So Paul came to me and asked me to write about books that I read and re-read until they fall apart (which is kind of amusing, given the care I take of the books I own: I recently gave several books to my mother-in-law and she asked me if I had read them, they looked so new). I thought about this for a while. I could have written about my youth in New Jersey, when I traveled the galaxies and when bookstores were so rare that I did not have one in my town until the 1970's. I did read many books then that (almost) fell apart, a combination of there being so few genre books being published (compared to today; anybody who claims "there's nothing to read" isn't looking hard enough!) and there being so few sources (rummage sales, garage sales and the library were my primary sources until around 1976).

While I have many favorite books and many favorite authors from that period (still), I thought it better to talk about some books that are not only read and re-read, but which helped me as well. You see, in 2001 I witnessed (directly) something that affected me badly, and which still affects me today ("trigger warning": contains real-world events). While this has not entirely gone away, in fact, probably will not ever go away as long as certain sights and smells remind me, I can point towards certain books and authors and thank them for helping me "muddle through" and start on the road to healing.

Which books? Which authors? In particular, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford D. Simak, Spider Robinson and Patrick O'Brian. What is it about these four that struck me in the same way and helped?

Arthur C. Clarke died in 2008 and by then was pretty much forgotten by all the cool kids. But I'll start with him as he was the first of these four that I started reading and several common elements can be found. Clarke never wrote very long novels. In fact, with some of the doorstops that get published these days, his novels might fit within chapters of today's books. those relatively short works he shot off more ideas per page than most writers manage in the thick tomes that seem to fill the bookshelves these days. He was always optimistic, always filled with awe at the universe, able to excite you on subjects as diverse as the ocean, space exploration or mathematics. I needed short works as my attention span (indeed, there were times when I even despaired of being able to think clearly anymore) was shot. I needed optimism, as I clearly had lost all of my own. And I needed ideas to get me out of a hole. Clarke was this and more; even his after thoughts caused interest (and a drain on my wallet).

Clifford D. Simak is another name that we have mostly forgotten. I first read his stories in various multi-author anthologies and the anthologies by him alone, courtesy of those rummage sales that m parent's visited during the year to stock up on Christmas presents (all hail the Science Fiction Book Club and whatever member in the Teaneck, New Jersey area that bought so many volumes that ended up on my shelves!). Simak is often seen as the creator of "pastoral" science fiction, stories where a simpler life takes precedence. But Simak wrote about space travel, time travel and may have contributed as much to our picture of robots as Isaac Asimov did. He also wrote of compassion, humility, loyalty and friendship. In books such as City, Way Station, The Goblin Reservation and stories such as The Big Front Yard I found a quieter time to help me heal and the qualities of being I thought I had lost.

I first came across Spider Robinson when a local magazine stand/soda fountain ("local" being that I had to walk six miles, no joke, to get to it) started selling Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact magazine. He told quirky little tales about a bar named Callahan's (a place to me as mysterious as the far side of the galaxy, being that I was too young to actually go to a bar) where everybody knew your name, where people made room for you, and even aliens or time-travelers might fine the answer to what ailed them. The series grew from a sprinkling of short stories, to novels and even a offshoot series (Lady Sally's). While some may be put off by the style (many puns) or the let's-hold-hands-and-think-positive-thoughts solution to some of the stories, I sorely needed a place like Callahan's in 2001 onwards and these stories were the next best thing.

And, finally, Patrick O'Brian. Now, I know that Paul said "genre" and O'Brian's long series about Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend Doctor Stephen Maturin (naturalist and intelligence agent) are not "science fiction", but could counter that they both bear many similarities to science fiction and influenced authors of said (for example, David Drake). Be that as it may, I mention O'Brian as I've read and re-read the books in these series (overall, I've probably read the entire series six times and some individual novels as many as twelve or more times), so I think this counts as something that I've read until it fell apart. I gave my trade paperbacks first to a co-worker to get him hooked and then to both my father and a brother-in-law. I bought a large boxed set, which is in rotation on a regular basis. I bought the audiobooks and listened to them all over one summer (one interesting thing about this experience was how much different I interpreted some of the stories based on who the narrator, the incomparable Simon Vance paced and enunciated).

Why this author and series compared to the other books I mention? Running as a strong thread through all of the books of this series is friendship, compassion, humility and loyalty. And music. All things I needed to ground me and thaw me and start me on the path back.

Night after night they played there in the great cabin with the stern-windows open and the ship's wake flowing away and away in the darkness. Few things gave them more joy; and although they were as unlike in nationality, education, religion, appearance and habit of mind as two men could well be, they were wholly at one when it came to improvising, working out variations on a theme, handing them to and fro, conversing with violin and 'cello; though this was a language in which Jack was somewhat more articulate than his friend, wittier, more original and indeed more learned. They were alike in their musical tastes, in their reasonably high degree of amateur skill, and in their untiring relish. (Patrick O'Brian, The Far Side of the World

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lens Crafting

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a demonstration of gravitational lensing. A supercluster allows us to peek behind (and much further away!).

Sunday, May 4, 2014

At the Core

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows you the spectacular skies towards our galactic core. Train your telescope or binoculars in the direction of Scorpius and see what you can see! ("Mouseover" the image for a constellation guide.)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Hind's Variable

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows that strange region known as Hind's Variable Nebula. Located in the constellation of Taurus, it is not only home to a nebula which varies in brightness but also the first T Tauri star discovered. Take a look, as the nebula won't be around for long!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ansible! (Merry Month of May)

(Yes, I need to catch up and post these closer to the drop date!)

Dave Langford returns with another edition of his excellent round-up of genre news! Look: Links!

A round-up of Hugo fuss links here. Worth picking through.

Safe Viewing. After long negotiation with the BBC and careful screening-out of vile Western corruption, North Korea has decided on three BBC television series which its people can be allowed to watch: Doctor Who, Top Gear and The Teletubbies. (Independent, 6 April). [MPJ]

Half Dome

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the night sky of Yosemite National Park.