Monday, February 29, 2016


It's not often I get to post an Astronomy Picture of the Day on the 29th of February.


An appreciation of a book (that I have not read in a very long time): Samuel R. Delany's Triton.

One quibble:

"But he took it a step further: in the far future, he imagined, humans would calve off from Earth and settle on the Jovian moon of Jupiter."

Surely Delany did not also move that move from where it currently resides?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ultima Thule

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us the northern polar region of Pluto, courtesy of the New Horizons 2015 probe. The north pole. Of Pluto. Think on that, please.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Stacked Spider

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day combines space and ground images of the Tarantula Nebula (NGC 2070), a "active" part of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Fueling Procedure

Pictured above is one lonely, heavily protected, technician fueling the ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter. The TGO and the Schiaparelli lander will be on the way to Mars in March 2016.

The Sprawl

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day brings us a view of the Eastern Seaboard region of the United States of America, as imaged by the International Space Station.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lanes and Starburst

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day peers into Centaurus A, well known for impressive lanes of dust and gas. What's that peeping through? Supernova SN2016adj!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Game of Kings

I'm not sure if either of the shops are still there (last time I was in the area, one was open and one was shuttered at least for that day): bitter chess rivals in Greenwich Village, New York City. Worth posting again, if I've already posted.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows one of several "travel posters" recently released by NASA.

Forty Rules

How to speak good Italian, courtesy of Umberto Eco.

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco has passed away. The world is just a bit duller today.

Addendum: A website dedicated to Umberto Eco (retrieved from the Internet Wayback Machine). Over at Bldg Blog, some thoughts on Eco. An interview at The Paris Review.

INTERVIEWER: You are one of the world’s most famous public intellectuals. How would you define the term intellectual? Does it still have a particular meaning? 

ECO: If by intellectual you mean somebody who works only with his head and not with his hands, then the bank clerk is an intellectual and Michelangelo is not. And today, with a computer, everybody is an intellectual. So I don’t think it has anything to do with someone’s profession or with someone’s social class. According to me, an intellectual is anyone who is creatively producing new knowledge. A peasant who understands that a new kind of graft can produce a new species of apples has at that moment produced an intellectual activity. Whereas the professor of philosophy who all his life repeats the same lecture on Heidegger doesn’t amount to an intellectual. Critical creativity—criticizing what we are doing or inventing better ways of doing it—is the only mark of the intellectual function.


Paul Giamatti on Honore de Balzac's drinking habits.

Umberto Eco on the Macintosh Computer vs. DOS Computers

The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the "ratio studiorum" of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach - if not the Kingdom of Heaven - the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counterreformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It's true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions.....

And machine code, which lies beneath both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that is to do with the Old Testament, and is Talmudic and cabalistic.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Jewels in a Messier Cluster

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 2403, a lovely spiral galaxy found in the constellation of Camelopardalis. NGC 2403 is associated with the Messier 81 group of galaxies.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

X-Ray Eyes Take Flight

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the JAXA H-IIA launch vehicle lifting off, carrying the Hitomi or ASTRO-H X-Ray observatory into orbit.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Arches and Pillars

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the arch of the Milky Way (forever lost to my backyard views, thanks to multiple city-generated light domes) seemingly supported by the red rocks of Australia.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Emitting and Reflecting

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day has the Hubble Space Telescope focusing on the star-forming regions of Sharpless 2-106, a nebula in the constellation of Cygnus.

Monday, February 15, 2016


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows light-colored deposits (salts left by retreating water?) on Mars as imaged by the THEMIS instrument on the venerable Mars 2001 Odyssey orbiter.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Warped View

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a "warped" view of Yutu, the Chinese Academy of Sciences rover on the Moon. While it traversed a "mere" 100 meters on the surface, the instrument package on the rover has functioned since 2014, returning images and data.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Mergers and Acquisition

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video depicting the "merger' between two black holes that generated the signal LIGO caught.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day depicts LIGO data and what it means. In short: gravitational waves! Einstein wins again!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

UI Design

Lately I've had several experiences that make me wonder if we've made any progress in hardware and software. Yes, things run faster and are more powerful. Yes, they are more capable. But are we, the other end of the equation, finding it easier or harder to interact with all these gadgets?

Take this blog. Right now I'm composing during a break at work, on a machine running Internet Explorer. I am composing in a mode which gives me "what you see is what you get". I am putting one hard return between each paragraph.

However, when I get home and use a different computer with the same exact operating system (in theory) but using a different web browser (Chrome), I will see that some of the hard returns don't seem to exist. Or are doubled. In other words: what I see (here) is not what I get (there). Why is that? How can I, a relatively experienced but still (not by any means completely) technically educated user know what is wrong?

I have an Apple iPhone. It's a wonderful device. Why is it, however, that occasionally when I plug it in to synch (usually to load music from my hard drive) I get a pop-up telling me I've experienced an "unknown error" and the iPhone can't synch? Why is it that it actually does synch? Why is it that if I synch again it works and there is no unknown error?

There are known knowns. There are unknown knowns. We know there are unknowns.

When I plug the iPhone in to synch the iPhone asks me "Trust this computer?" Yes, iPhone. It's the same computer that it was yesterday. It will be the same computer tomorrow.

I can't find any obvious way to tell the iPhone to turn that warning off unless I plug it into a completely new (and strange and untrustworthy) computer.

My daughter has an iPod. I have an iPod. We've had these for years. However, recently, iTunes (occasionally, not every time) will give us an error message when we synch. It's not a known error message. It's not a unknown error message. It's just an error message. Or it won't allow the iPod to eject. The time before it did, the next time it might or might not. Why? I don't know. It's a mystery.

I sometimes plug a headset into the computer to record podcasts or participate in a play-by-Skye roleplaying game. Every time I plug the headset in (the same headset for years) I am told that the computer is first searching for, then installing, device drivers. Why is that? Don't the drivers stay on the system to save time?

The same with the Kindle. I plug the Kindle into the computer to "sideload" non-Amazon eBooks. Every time I am told that device drivers are being searched for and installed. Once I plugged, ejected, plugged, ejected, etc. five times in five minutes.

Every time I did this...the computer searched for, and then loaded, device driver software. Five times. Five minutes. And failed, by the way, two of those find times to "find" the drivers. Until I did it again. So in reality: seven times in five minutes, failing twice.

Shouldn't something as simple and constantly used as a device driver remain around?

And speaking of Kindles...I have several gadgets with a Kindle "app". I have three physical Kindles. Why is it that two of these constantly crash and spend anywhere from a few minutes, to over an hour, to reboot? Why do they load up with 24MB+ sized error messages that I must erase by (hah) plugging the Kindle into the computer...opening Windows Explorer to look at their drives (assuming the device drivers has loaded) and then erasing those error message files?

I called Amazon about this once and after working through several layers of help desk people and ending up actual technicians, I was told: "Well, Mr. Kiesche, we don't know why this happens and by the way you seem to know more about the system and the error messages than we do!"

I can only assume that since Amazon doesn't make this model of the Kindle anymore and they seem to be changing software formats once a year, everybody from that "era" has been fired and those of use with this model Kindle must just make do.

And constantly try to install our device drivers. Again.

My mother has a computer. She has (mostly) the same software I do, especially when it comes to things like a firewall. I do this so when she has an issue, I can try to figure out what the issue is, since (in theory) I have the same setup.

So, why is it that she has been plagued with a series of alarming warnings and alerts from her firewall about her anti-virus software? I have the same two programs. I haven't seen any alerts. Are these real alerts? Or are they just trying to drop one for the other and "upgrade" her level of service (in other words, are they trying to scam her)?

We have a new television. A "smart" television. Which means we have new headaches. We switch from the "broadcast" (well, FIOS) service to a DVD. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. We activate one of our streaming services. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. The streaming service "app" doesn't seem to be constantly kept around so we must...wait for device drivers to update.

Have we made any progress here, folks?

Endless Streams

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows galaxies caught in a river: NGC 1531, NGC 1532 and others in the constellation of Eridanus (The River).

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

More Bam

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video showing the appearance and disappearance of a supernova in a galaxy some 80 million light years away. For a brief time, one supernova can outshine all the other stars in its parent galaxy.

Our Macintosh, Who Art In The Valley...

What is the religion of the Mac? Umberto Eco sheds some light on the matter.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Observatories can take on all sorts of form. Pictured in today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is one of the (massive) components of the LIGO Observatory. Are we on the cusp of a major announcement regarding gravity waves? The rumor mill certainly is churning of late...


An online simulator of the Apollo Guidance Computer. There's been some chatter of late about how you've got more computing power in your cellphone than the Apollo vehicles. Maybe we've got more computing power, but you'll need more than a cellphone to get to the Moon.

Release the Martian

An Australian candidate for the "Mars One mission" will inhabit the hab used in The Martian for five days. Potatoes will be available.

Behind the Odyssey

Behind the scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some fantastic shots in here!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Water World

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a nearly full-face image of "dwarf planet" Ceres, as imaged by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Dawn is currently at it's lowest orbit around Ceres, investigating the makeup and geography of the body.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Messier 81 and Messier 82. Notice anything about Messier 82? It's been in a tug-of-war with Messier 81. And gotten off a bit worse for the wear.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Heading Out

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Comet 67/P (Churyumov–Gerasimenko) as viewed by the ESA's Rosetta probe. The comet is heading away from the Sun, taking Rosetta with it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Month in Reading: January

I used to do this in the past and fell out of the habit last year. Let's see how long I can do this in 2016. How was my January?

One goal is to read at least sixty books each year. I only have completed reading two of those (but have plenty "in progress", see that separate list below!). The year always starts off slow and seems to end with more than the goal, so no worries there.

A second goal is to read at least one short work a day during the year. With thirty-one days in January and thirty-one short works read, I think I'm well on the way. The number of works read vs. the number of days in the year eventually will separate. Again, take a look at the "in progress" items below. I'm kind of hoping to read at least most of the magazines I get every month in the month received this year. I didn't make that goal, but I'll keep trying (some of the fiction magazines double up on the months, so maybe I can catch up!).

In progress are: (1) Poul Anderson: The Dancer from Atlantis. (2) Ben Bova and Les Johnson: Rescue Mode. (3) John Brunner: The Jagged Orbit. (4) Eric Flint: 1632. (5) Alexis A. Gilliland: The Revolution from Rosinante. (6) Stanley Karnow: Vietnam. (7) Damon Knight: In Search of Wonder. (8) Fritz Leiber: Smoke Ghost and Other Apparitions. (9) Ellis Peters: A Morbid Taste for Bones. (10) Michael Lewis: The Big Short—Inside the Doomsday Machine. (11) Allen Steele: Sex and Violience in Zero-G: The Complete "Near Space" Stories (Expanded Edition) (Revised Edition). (12) Neal Stephenson: The Diamond Age. (13) Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon. (14) Jonathan Strahan: Meeting Infinity. (15) J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit. (16) David Weber, Timothy Zahn, Thomas Pope: A Call to Arms.

Not the Song by R.E.M.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the full Moon rising. "Mouseover" the image to see the "Man in the Moon" (I always thought the "Woman in the Moon" was a better one.)