The Song

Most of us have indelible soundtracks accompanying our childhood and young adult memories. The music ranges from the popular radio of the time to commercial jingles, church hymns, TV show themes…and for me, a lot of it came from my mother. She would sing and whistle snatches of tunes, usually absentmindedly while she was doing something else. Of course she would rarely sing the entire song, so I have an entire library of song pieces and parts stored in my head. (And some of them are really obscure, like “Three Little Fishies” from 1939 — though it’s possible that Mom was singing the Andrews Sisters version from the 40s.)

One such is George and Ira Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay.” I have known the first and last verses of this song forever, but never the middle two. Mom didn’t sing those.

That might be why I love this ad so much. Besides the fact that it’s a perfectly wonderful tear-jerking holiday ad, it’s about a young woman giving her grandmother a generation-bridging gift of music and memory — involving the only two verses of “Love is Here to Stay” that I ever knew.

Posted in ad worth watching, life, music, video | 5 Comments

Wallpaper Monday

Grand Canyon inversion

On Thursday, 11 December, the Grand Canyon experienced a “total cloud inversion.” If this sounds like something backwards, that’s because it is. Normally, temperatures are much higher in the canyon than above it (and it is not uncommon to have summer-ish temps at the very bottom while snow sits on the rim above), but once every few years it gets reversed and a layer of cold air is trapped in the canyon by a layer of warmer air above. If there’s enough moisture in the system, the colder air condenses, forming fog.

You can download wallpaper-sized versions of this photo on the National Parks Flickr page. The NPS also posted a time-lapse video, condensing (ha) 15 minutes of time into one.

(Hat tip to Karyn and Mary.)

Posted in USA, video, wallpaper, weather | 1 Comment

Feather art

Featherfolio

Every now and then I stumble across an artist who makes me wish I had a metric ton of money. Because if I did, I’d have Chris Maynard’s feather shadow boxes all over my house.

His home page states:

Feathers provided by zoos and aviaries are carefully cut, positioned, and preserved in each piece. Most are collected after natural molting, with no harm to the bird. In fact, many of the owners of the feathers in art are still alive and well. Chris Maynard designs, cuts, and arranges the feathers which retain their original feather colors and shapes. He creates tiny flocks of graceful swans using swan feathers; displaying peacocks with peacock feathers, turkeys with turkey feathers, and more.

If you’re a bird lover, check out Maynard’s page, and especially his gallery of shadow boxes. The artistry is painstaking and accurate, and the results are just gorgeous.

Featherfolio blue jay

Posted in culture | 7 Comments

Wanderers

Ooo. This is a gorgeous film, with imaginative and extremely detailed visions of what future Terrans might see if we ever get out of our gravity well and start living elsewhere in our solar system.

The film alone is worth a couple of viewings — and what a perfect choice for narration — but you should also head over to the gallery, which offers a shot-by-shot look at the scenes along with detailed explanations. Best of all, you can download any of the images in wallpaper resolution. (I already have the BASE jumpers from Verona Rupes set on my computer. Wow. Hard to decide which sounds like more fun, BASE jumping on Miranda with Uranus looming in the sky, or flying like a bird on Titan.)

What makes this video so lovely is that much of it is produced from existing photos of these landscapes, and the rest is drawn from existing knowledge. We know these places are out there. We know it really would be possible to fly on Titan, assuming we wore the world’s thickest Polarfleece clothing. Erik Wernquist has just taken that knowledge and rendered it in glorious imagery. It’s as if the scenes I’ve imagined from reading science fiction have now exited my head and appeared on my computer screen.

Glorious.

(You really, really want to watch this full screen and in HD.)

(Hat tip to Inge.)

Posted in astronomy, travel, video | 2 Comments

Peer-reviewed as “excellent”

This paper, containing nothing but these seven words (and the address of the main authors), was accepted for publishing by the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology. It was even peer-reviewed (by an anonymous reviewer, of course) as “excellent.”

Mailing list

*****

It’s an example of a modern scourge of science: predatory journals that spam scientists with offers to publish their work for a fee. The above 10-page paper (which also contains a couple of pretty great illustrative figures and two whole references — you can get the PDF here) was actually created as a joke by the authors, who sent it in response to unwanted conference invitations. The PDF got around as these things do, and a computer scientist sent it to the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology in response to a spam email.

To his surprise, not only was he not taken off the mailing list, the journal accepted the paper and offered to publish it — for the low, low fee of $150. Clearly, no actual human even opened the file.

Here is the acceptance letter:

Acceptance letter

*****

My only question is, what minor changes?

It’s funny, but not really, because this kind of crap is rampant, and scientists who are sweating under the “publish or perish” dictate may not realize (or in some instances care) that the journal they’re publishing in isn’t worth the toilet paper it’s printed on.

Posted in humor, science | 4 Comments

Wallpaper Monday

Europa

What distant planet is covered with ice and vast liquid oceans, is active enough for the ice to be constantly renewed (thus erasing impact craters and creating a mostly smooth surface), yet has gigantic cracks and ridges that imply convection currents? Convection means heat, and heat + liquid water = prime candidate for life.

Well, it’s not a planet, and it’s not very far away (relatively speaking, of course). It’s Europa, one of Jupiter’s largest moons, and NASA recently released this splendid image to pique our imaginations. This is a mosaic made from photos collected by the Galileo probe in the late 90s, reprocessed to create a high-resolution image that shows the moon as we’d see it through our own eyes.

A little detail from NASA’s explanation:

Color variations across the surface are associated with differences in geologic feature type and location. For example, areas that appear blue or white contain relatively pure water ice, while reddish and brownish areas include non-ice components in higher concentrations. The polar regions, visible at the left and right of this view, are noticeably bluer than the more equatorial latitudes, which look more white. This color variation is thought to be due to differences in ice grain size in the two locations.

I can never look at Europa without thinking of Arthur C. Clarke and 2010: Odyssey Two (“ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE”). Despite the continued defunding of NASA and the downscaling of so many great projects, I still live in hope that in my lifetime, we really will attempt a landing there.

(Click the image to embiggen.)

Posted in astronomy, wallpaper | 7 Comments

And the new winner is…

I’ve been out of the news stream for a couple of weeks while in a virtual form of writer’s seclusion…but I emerged in time to find this cheery update from The Independent: Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” has just eclipsed Frank Sinatra’s “I Did it My Way” as the most popular song at British funerals.

Sinatra was the reigning champ for a decade, but the Brits have pushed him out in favor of the local talent. Those who still prefer a bit of solemnity in their funeral music can take heart that the number two and three slots go to “The Lord is My Shepherd” and “Abide With Me,” respectively. However, the number four slot is, er, the “Match of the Day” theme. As I am not a soccer fan, I had to look that one up, and…well. Let’s just say they won’t be playing it at my funeral.

Monty Python, though — that’s a definite possibility. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s the original version from Life of Brian.

However…I’d totally want this version, with the confetti and bagpipes and everything else.

Posted in humor, life, video | 4 Comments

A Tale of Momentum

This little animation is just over a minute long, but its protagonist has tons of character (literally), the best eyebrows ever, and an attitude I have to admire.

And: the animation studio is in Portland, Oregon! It’s HouseSpecial.

Posted in humor, video | 6 Comments

The ESA’s day in the sun

NASA/JPL usually gets all the press, but yesterday the European Space Agency had its moment. That’s because in March 2004 the ESA sent out a probe called Rosetta, which then traveled 6.4 billion kilometers over a period of ten years in order to intercept a tiny little speck of a comet that was zipping along at varying speeds as high as 135,000 kilometers per hour. (Right now it’s going 66,250 kph.) And since no rocket exists that could drive a probe the size of Rosetta all the way to the comet, the scientists who programmed this mission sent Rosetta bouncing around the inner Solar System in order to get gravity-assisted speed boosts off Mars (once) and Earth (three times). This is pretty much the equivalent of hitting a billiard ball off all four sides of the pool table to knock in the 8-ball — if the four sides of the pool table were all simultaneously in motion, along with the 8-ball. And if the whole thing took ten years. And if the pool table was a billion or so kilometers long.

In other words, just getting Rosetta to its destination—Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, but let’s call it Comet 67P for short—was epic. Then last month, Rosetta hovered about 10 kilometers above the comet and took some gorgeous closeups, including this one. Did you know that comets have sand dunes?

NAVCAM top 10 at 10 km – 3

If you want to see the rest of this collection, it’s here.

But that still wasn’t why the ESA was in the news. Yesterday, Rosetta finally released its lander, named Philae, to make a direct landing on the comet. This was a first in human history.

Now, keep in mind that Philae doesn’t have any engines. So the idea was to get Rosetta in exactly the right place, going exactly the right speed (the comet is moving at 66,250 kph, remember—that’s 41,166 mph), so that Philae could be released and then simply drift down onto the comet’s surface. Over a period of seven hours. While everyone is ripping along at Ludicrous Speed. So, no problem. Oh, and did I mention that this was the culmination of ten years of work and waiting? And that some people have spent their entire professional lives working toward this moment?

So, here’s one of them. Her name is Monica Grady, she’s the Professor of Planetary and Space Science at Open University and a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), she’s been on the Rosetta team since the beginning, and in this video she is reacting to the news of Philae’s successful touchdown with the typical reserve we expect from a decorated British scientist.

The “David” she is apologizing to is the BBC’s Science Editor David Shukman, who appears to have quite enjoyed that enthusiastic hug. And who wouldn’t?

You can learn much more about Rosetta, Comet 67P, and little Philae on the ESA’s web site. It’s a good primer with easy-to-understand text, but if you’d like a visual shortcut, don’t miss the two animated videos describing the journey (Are We There Yet) and the preparation for landing (Preparing for #CometLanding). I really can’t see NASA producing these! They are without a doubt the most adorkable science videos I have ever watched. And yet they still manage to get all the relevant information across. I can’t wait to see the next one.

Finally, and possibly best of all, SPLOID has put up size comparison photos of Comet 67P. Some of them are courtesy of the ESA, such as this one comparing the comet to London.

Comet and London

You can also see it compared to Amsterdam, Madrid, Paris and Rome. But my favorite images are the ones by high school physics teacher Christopher Becke, who decided to show what the comet would look like next to various science fiction ships…like Battlestar Galactica.

Comet and battlestar galactica

You can also see it compared to the Death Star and various Federation constructions like Deep Space Nine and a Federation Space Dock (which is freaking huge; I had no idea).

Science is cool.

Posted in astronomy, event | 4 Comments

The Caphenon

I’ve been waiting a long time to post this one.

The book cover for my new science fiction novel The Caphenon is done, and it’s beautiful. Having a ship I envisioned in my head take shape in the “real” world is a pretty amazing thing.

Those of you who know me from my online stories and who loved Without A Front will be delighted to know that The Caphenon is a prequel to that novel. I’ve created a new universe for the Alseans to live in, with the usual complications of politics and philosophy—and of course a whole lot of world-building added in.

And yes, Without A Front is next in the pipeline. It will be divided into two volumes to be published next fall. The Caphenon will be out in March 2015 in both e-book and paperback format.

The Caphenon

Here’s the blurb for The Caphenon:

On a summer night like any other, an emergency call sounds in the quarters of Andira Tal, Lancer of Alsea. The news is shocking: not only is there other intelligent life in the universe, but it’s landing on the planet right now.

Tal leads the first responding team and ends up rescuing aliens who have a frightening story to tell. They protected Alsea from a terrible fate—but the reprieve is only temporary.

Captain Ekayta Serrano of the Fleet ship Caphenon serves the Protectorate, a confederation of worlds with a common political philosophy. She has just sacrificed her ship to save Alsea, yet political maneuvering may mean she did it all for nothing.

Alsea is now a prize to be bought and sold by galactic forces far more powerful than a tiny backwater planet. But Lancer Tal is not one to accept a fate imposed by aliens, and she’ll do whatever it takes to save her world.

If you’d like a sneak preview, head over to my book page at Ylva Publishing and click on “Read a PDF Online” in the Excerpts box.

You can also check out my author page, and maybe bookmark that one, because by this time next year there will be two new novels in the “Books by” section. It’s going to be a busy year!

Posted in event | 10 Comments