End of Year Starlinks

December 30th, 2013

Yesterday, I drove 1000 miles back home from visiting family in St. Louis, so a delay in the starlinks for the week.

Woman stabbed father in a fight over constellations. We have the internet and phone apps — no reason for this any more!

Americans less likely to trust scientists, science journalists. They have some reason, especially in the latter case, but apparently a lot of it is because they think the scientists succumb to political ideology. Nope — it’s the deniers. Follow the money. If you can. And evolution is not up for debate anymore, but fewer Republicans believe it. The fact is that a consensus of scientists is the best (only?) standard for whether you should believe in something. If it’s tainted, it’s less tainted than everything else.

SMBC’s solution to the Fermi paradox. Not new, but well done.

The physics of melting gold in The Hobbit. A little geeky, even for me.

Iron Man saved my life
. I have that issue!


Why we should all fear the online mob
. It’s a very disturbing trend. No matter how righteous your cause, I’m not going along any more. These mobs breed censorship, intolerance, and injustice, even when they claim that’s what they’re fighting. Here’s a real-life example, but luckily there’s only hypocrisy here, no ruined lives.

How not to make a sexist tech product. Personally, I wish they’d make everything in purple, which is my favorite color, and easier to use.

io9 muses on death rays and plutonium.

Bananas as we know them likely to go extinct. And this has happened before. Probably easier to save than resurrect, but maybe not so easy.

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Starlinks

December 23rd, 2013

Trying to destress and relax over the holidays here. Not usually the easiest season for me.

You’re going to flip for the sun…or maybe it will flip for you. This happens pretty regularly, but the details are poorly understood. Work for solar astronomers!

THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS! I mean, THERE ARE FOUR ARMS!

The risks of terraforming Mars.

Lack of money likely to shutdown a lot of US telescopes.

Angry scientist a lot more rational than other angry people ranting about problems in the world. Vaccines, here.

Brian Malow on communicating science. When he was at Launch Pad, we should have had him present this, in addition to his comedy routine.

Violet Cosplay! (Incredibles.) Just makes me think how much Peter Parker’s Spider-man costume likely would really suck.

Caffeine and alcohol the ideal combination! Calling rum and coke, or my favorite, diet Mt. Dew and Jim Beam.

Monday Starlinks

December 16th, 2013

First, a “nearby habitable planet” infographic. But what’s habitable is somewhat of a moving target.

And check out the story about the water geyser erupting from Europa — if only for the ludicrous second picture where a low-res and high-res image have been put together.

Is the universe a hologram? Or could it collapse today? But what if we have rainbow gravity? Or do we live in the Matrix? Personally, I’m thinking some theorists and science journalists have been bored… I’m an empiricist, and will stick with the possible illusion of objective reality until there’s compelling evidence to do otherwise.

Got some useless and boring kitsch laying around? Make it horrible and entertaining…

Even though a recent study says you shouldn’t listen to music while studying (or writing or…), I’m happy to trade a little efficiency for a more enjoyable environment.

Religion on the decline. (Skip the misleading headline about god dying.)

Read the reviews for this moderately pricey TV

Eight things the world’s most successful people have in common. I managed to say “no” last week to an interesting and important request that would have cost me a lot of time, so maybe I’m learning…

Evidence that drinking alcohol extends life — even heavy drinking with its cons. Article speculates that this is associated with the social benefits.

Foolproof party banter for scientists. Not really, but it’s not bad advice, although it does assume scientists are socially retarded.

And, how to make people like you: six science-based conversation hacks. Also not bad advice…

Older article I came across about getting tenure at a research university. I did many things right, a few things wrong, but Wyoming is also not a top-ten research institute as is being discussed. We actually care about teaching here, for instance.

Ninjas vs. Professors.

The enduring wisdom of Carl Sagan. I remember watching this when it first aired.

Sunday Starlinks

December 8th, 2013

I should never assume I have any extra time the last week of classes. A million things always come up, especially in the season where students apply for jobs and grad school.

6-year-old tries to save NASA. The Obama administration does seem to have it out to make big cuts. Bill Nye is also on board.

Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system. No duh. I looked up his publications, and they seemed to vanish after 1966, with only a very few after that (Note that there are a few other P. Higgs in the list that I couldn’t automatically filter). Look, Nobel-prize-winning work is quality work, but if you hire someone to do research and they stop publishing, we call that “deadwood.” So while I do think we need to shift the scales more toward quality as opposed to quantity and the system is far from perfect, I’ve seen this article passed around like productivity is bad and that we should give smart people free rides for life if they did something great once upon a time. Imagine publishers paying Haper Lee or J. D. Salinger salaries for books they never turn in, or the Bulls continuing to pay Michael Jordan today, nearly two decades after he played for them.

This next story is a good one comparing theorists to observers. Avi Loeb, like Peter Higgs, is a creative and successful theorist, although Loeb has continued to be productive post tenure. Anyway, it’s speculation about an early stage in the history of the universe that could have been amenable to life. My first thought was that this was crazy, but then I started thinking “maybe….”

Even Congress is thinking about life in space. I hope they’re taking it seriously and not googling “Scientists are…” the way many seem to be doing.

A lot of exoplanet news recently: Phil Plait on three newly imaged exoplanet systems. Second planetary system like ours discovered by Shannon Hall. Hubble finds signs of water in other exoplanets.

Some thoughts about the price of success from Michael Swanwick. I am starting to understand this better than I wish I did.

Interesting but speculative idea about dark matter, which may have already been detected.

Applying science to communicate science. Sounds like a good idea.

Smarter people stay up later, do more drugs, and have more sex. More interesting than the article was the bio of the writer Sean Levinson: “Born with a prehensile tail in an Amish commune just west of Beijing, Sean Levinson always dreamed of being crowned lord of the dance. Unfortunately, his goals were derailed after he responded to an ad for a fluffer posted by Elite Daily. It was here where Sean discovered that all he was really after was drugs, money, and a lucrative job that would get him more money to pay for drugs. You can catch him on a biographical special on MTV next month titled: He’s the Man: The Sean Levinson story.”

My friend Stephanie Slater is the December woman physicist of the month.

The Eye of Michelle Bachmann. Science related, really!

Less science related — Katie Couric giving a platform to vaccine deniers.

Superheroes are a bunch of fascists. I don’t agree with the author’s premise. The boy scouts, on the other hand…

The Russian path to immortality funded by billionaires. Maybe I should have focused on making a fortune first, astronomy and science fiction second…

Sunday Starlinks

December 1st, 2013

I think I need to get a full-spectrum lamp. Some years, like this one, the short and dark days really get to me. You’d think an astronomer wouldn’t mind…

To be or not to be, Comet ISON gets beaten up by the sun, survives, but not clear yet what kind of show it’s still capable of putting on.

To explore is to live, to remain human. Amen. Agree with this completely. More than that, even.

What do we know about the early universe?

Redefining the habitable zone. I live in Wyoming, so I understand…Planet Sahara and Planet Wyoming both contain inhabitants…

The star as a starship. Zwicky, Benford, Niven, etc… Good stuff.

Astroboffins? Astroboffins? WTF am I reading here? Interesting story about black holes totally ruined by bizarre “boffin” terminology. OK, maybe I’m not just as up on my British slang as I had thought, but the term fails for me.

Ancient “ghostbuster demon” creatures pooped together. That is the headline, and I approve.

“Negative data.” This is all too true a scenario, and the current system does not reward those who publish the null or uninteresting results. There should be a journal with a low barrier to publication that lets us write short letters summarizing the experiments that didn’t yield anything interesting enough to write up in detail and publish in a top journal, an arduous and expensive process (in time and money).

Ray Kurzweil still looking toward immortality. “Some people think they’re going to die someday. I got news: you never got to go!”

I saw the Loch Ness Monster, but maybe that’s just me. Actually an article about an interesting topic: the perceptual limitations of humans, unfortunately under the patronizing title “Be Less Stupid” and with some elitist text.

Surreal painted faces. I just like these.

What color is the universe? Such a human-centric question!

Monday Starlinks

November 25th, 2013

Still having issues switching over to the new computer and keeping track of things, so here we are a day late…

Golden Goose Award highlights strange sounding science with big benefits. Easy way of finding basic research that paid off in hard to foresee ways.

Is the Universe Saddle Shaped? No, this is not a result from cowboy astronomers from Wyoming! It’s also not definitive.

Relaunch the Space Race! I kind of agree — competition has its advantages.

A letter of recommendation for Einstein. Yes, it was positive.

Academic Scattering. One reason the life of a scientist is not for everyone.

Nature has 20 tips for evaluating scientific claims, but I worry that anti-science deniers will use lists like this for more nefarious purposes.

High-Paying Jobs for People Who Don’t Like Stress. Astronomer made the list, but I think the numbers are exaggerated a little. More senior tenured profs may make that kind of money and don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, but until that point, not so much in that location of parameter space.

A nice, brief article about the science of dragons. What’s plausible, what’s not, kind of stuff.

The science of Thor. OK, but personally I’m not wild about trying to make the Marvel Universe on the big screen magic free.

U.S. Army to have Iron Man suits in four years. OK, not quite Iron Man level, but a start.

The physics of “taking a bullet.”

I love this one: Thanos and Darkseid are Carpool Buddies with Doom.
10 Reasons the SyFy Channel sucks. They got a lot of them there, for sure. I can’t disagree with most.

13 Reasons to Read Sci-Fi by Women. Some good choices, a few I’d not heard of and can watch for, so a nice list.

Kind of weird article tying together chess and science fiction “grandmasters.” Worth a quick look, still.

Climate change is not undergoing a “pause.” And the “unavoidable” solution to climate change. The first story is illustrative of science at work, and a big problem for deniers to cope with. The second makes sense at one level, but I think there may be other solutions, but that nuclear power should be on the table and part of them.

I would pay real money for a real flying Enterprise like this!

Gravity parody set in Ikea.

Dan Simmons on The Abominable.

A not so radical or original explanation for the Fermi paradox.

David Brin at Centuari Dreams re: risk of METI. I tend to side with Sagan’s line of thinking on this, as I tend to think anyone capable of harming us is also capable of finding us without our help. Also James Benford on METI.

David Gerrold on living in the future. But why not the internet AND flying cars?

Held by Elves for seven years…and it wasn’t even at a science fiction convention.

Hawking bored by Higgs. Would have preferred something surprising. (Note: this is how scientists think, as opposed to how science deniers think scientists think.)

How a scientist (Richard Feynmann) tricks his brain into solving complex problems. I admit — I do think of things like this, which is also useful as a science fiction writer.

The Preacher on TV? Can you imagine it? Who should play Arseface?

A textual analysis of the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight books. Interesting, but I’m not sure it means a lot.

50 Life Hacks. Simple, but not as obvious as they seem. I’ll probably use a few of them.

Stories like this one make me pretty sure humans would have sex with aliens, too.

Transformative Science Fiction Movies

November 20th, 2013

A friend and I were talking over beers the other night, and discussing the handful of movies that had transformed the experience of going to the cinema. They contain unique elements not seen before, and influence everything that comes after. Some of the transformation is simply in the realm of special effects, but some of the differences are more profound. Let me explain by providing a list with some words of explanation for each. In reverse order…

Gravity (2013).  I have never seen a movie like this before (a refrain that will hold for other entries, too).  Watching the movie in 3-D IMAX felt like the closest I could imagine coming to a space experience.  This will be the standard for films set in space for years to come, and many of the techniques used to shoot this will become standard (a refrain that will hold for other entries, too).

Avatar (2009).  This was the first movie I saw in the modern 3-D, and the most amazing realization of science fictional world-building I’ve ever seen.  The work that went into this film was amazing.

The Matrix (1999). The “bullet time” special effect alone raised the bar for all other movies to follow.

Jurassic Park (1993). This was the first movie I saw in which I thought dinosaurs looked authentic and believable. The integration between the CGI and the human actors defined state of the art. Go watch any other movie from the late 1980s/early 1990s and compare.

Blade Runner (1982). This is the realization of the dark, gritty cyberpunk dystopia hitting the big screen in a big way for perhaps the first time. This marks a turning point in many respects for broadening the spectrum of visions of the future.

Alien (1979). While alien monster movies were not new in 1979, this film forged new ground. Ripley is not an obvious hero, just a working stiff on a dirty space barge, and notable for being female but not a damsel in distress or a Barbarella style sex kitten. The “John Hurt moment” redefined how shocking a movie could be.

Star Wars (1977). The special effects were amazing for its day, and the impact of the franchise was perhaps unique in the history of movies.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The science and special effects were fantastic, and the way its slow pace and big shots reflects the size and isolation of space is unmatched. The amount of respect for the intelligence of the audience would be unheard of today, even if many original viewers were stoned while watching it.

King Kong (1933). A big step back in time, surely skipping a lot of worth entries, but King Kong surely was a milestone in the special effects business, and defined how many big monster movies would be done for decades to come.

Honorable mentions: Blair Witch Project/Cloverfield (2008), for pioneering the found footage format.

This list is far from comprehensive, especially going back to before I was born when it is harder for me to recognize the transformational films.  What have I missed?

 

Superheroic Science!

November 18th, 2013

I took the weekend off the big proposal deadline Friday. I’ll do a starlinks post soon, but in the meantime, the video of my recent talk in Gillette, WY, on the science of superheroes is now available. Enjoy!

Comments welcome.

Sunday Starlinks

November 10th, 2013

November is always crunch time for me. No, not NaNoWriMo, but it starts with Halloween and throwing a party, and then has a proposal deadline for the National Science Foundation on the 15th, and just driving for the end of the semester takes an effort. So, the slow blogging continues. But here are some links to clear out for the week:

Over at Amazing Stories, I talk about the first books coming out of Springer’s Science and Fiction series. If you read this blog, they’re likely of interest to you. Check them out.

Jamie Todd Rubin relates his experience at the most recent Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers. He liked it.

My buddy Pat Hall’s quasar research gets some media attention. I found one example of the kind of rare object he’s talking about, some 15 years ago, but he’s done a lot more work thinking about them.

Keep tabs on Comet Ison!

Largest structure in the universe apparently found. I’m a little skeptical, but some good people are involved and a line line of quasars sounds cool!

The sequester is still there, and not good for NASA astrophysics. I should know…just got a grant turned down.

Another anthology of exoplanet stories that looks similar to the Kepler’s Dozen I was recently part of. Sean Carroll on the recent exoplanet research and Fermi’s paradox.

The next world war to be fought by enhanced humans. Maybe. I actually have a much worse vision.

Trying to reconcile relativity with quantum mechanics. Interesting.

This is the future: man uses 3D printer to make a prosthetic hand for his son for about $10.

Don’t let climate change deniers convince you that we’re in a warming “pause.” From Phil Plait.

Fortune teller accused of fraud — duh!

Scientifically accurate Thundercats. Fun! Sort of…

Loki sits down with some kids… Love it!

I liked Ender’s Game okay, but didn’t love it. Apparently it didn’t do well enough to make a sequel likely.

Neil deGrasse Tyson wrong about Thor’s hammer? Say it isn’t so! But the real problem is that the thing is magic, even with the science patches the movies are trying to do.

A mother censoring Harry Potter on the fly reading to her child. Uncomfortable with this.

The only writing advice you’ll ever need. (From Michael Swanwick, a pretty damn good writer.)

Dr. Who vs. Jesus. Funny.

I want my bathroom to look like the transporter room from Star Trek. Don’t you?

All hail the Gore King! (I’m not saying it’s a dinosaur, but it’s a dinosaur.)

Working on number 4 from this list right now.

I don’t know where this came from, or if it’s viral marketing, but it’s creepy and brilliant: genpets.

Republicans trying to tie down the NSF with more justification busy work…when I know from personal experience how seriously the process is already taken. I can’t help but feel that some politicians don’t get science and try to impose their own perspectives on things they know nothing about.

Apparently Netflix is going to make a series of Marvel Superhero TV shows, featuring Daredevil and more. After watching House of Cards, hell yes!

Anyone read any Carlton Mellick III? I want to try, I think…

A lot of articles about imposter syndrome recently. Here’s a nice blog post about it, and how it’s a positive thing, if viewed objectively.

Probably 1/5 Sun-Like Stars Have Earth-Like Planets in Habitable Zone

November 4th, 2013

A couple of years ago, following the initial Kepler data release, I thought the numbers indicated it was at least 1/100, and likely much higher. Better statistics/analysis seem to indicate a number like 1/5:

“What this means is, when you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, who led the analysis of the Kepler and Keck Observatory data.

Keep in mind that they all won’t be perfectly “Earth-like” — Venus has a runaway greenhouse effect that makes it less than habitable, for instance. But it does mean that we’re probably closer to living in a Star Trek style universe, with lots of “M-Class” planets and potentially a lot of life in the Milky Way.

Sunday Starlinks

November 3rd, 2013

I’m at a bit of low, emotionally and physically, after the inevitable post-Halloween crash. Winter is coming, too, with shorter days and colder weather. NSF grant proposal deadline looms. Exams are sitting on the desk, waiting to be graded. Some people get by on routine. I never have a set routine, and sometimes I regret it. Well, here’s one glimpse from the big annual party:

kickasshitgirl

On ghost hunters and science.

Astronomy in the 2014 US budget.

The Big Data Brain Drain and Why Science is in Trouble. I don’t quite agree. Scientists want to do science, not just make money and analyze data for its own sake.

Graduate school Barbie. Some nuggets of truth buried in the hyperbole.

Natalie Portman, astrophysicist in Thor, hoping to inspire careers in science.

An animator explains why she studies physics.

On the other hand, Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy sling the pseudo science.

Real scientists proudly not detecting dark matter.

The science of surviving being buried alive.

Star Wars meets Thomas Kinkade. I kind of like these.

On a related note, Neil deGrasse Tyson on how to blow up a planet. I agree with his answer.

Adventurous astronomers wanted for TV show “Enter the Wild.” For me, once upon a time, a no brainer. Now, with sleep apnea and more, not so much.

Planet of the Octopus.

And some speculative science about an ancient kraken, for real. Intriguing, but not yet convincing.

Video games vs. real life.

25 Websites to make you Cleverer. Some good ones, for sure.

How to succeed at publishing: give up writing. Hmmmm, not sure if entirely serious…

Ten failed climate denier arguments. More than ten, actually, but this is a good start. This website is more comprehensive.

What’s wrong with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? More than a few things, unfortunately.

Stephen King’s advice to his younger self.

The drop in the comic book market. I sold some for about $1500 two decades ago, and have one rare keeper that would likely sell for about $5000, but wonder how much the rest are worth these days.

The secret of how math works. Not a secret to those of us who do it.

Jean-Luc has a funny: http://i.imgur.com/rfcyV2x.gif

Second Halloversary

October 31st, 2013

My bootiful wife and I have been married two years now!

ushalloween fronthalloween

She did the amazing decorating in front. Hope the kids aren’t too scared…or the party-goers tomorrow night for Day of the Dead party.

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