Friday, November 28, 2008

Links Friday: 28 Nov

Underground glaciers found on Mars. [link]

Sweet wrist mounted computer. [link]

Why we keep church and state separate. [link]

The Big Picture is a collection of themed photos posted every couple of days by The Boston Globe. Check out the International Space Station pictures and how the station has grown over the years. [link]

Tilt shift photography seems to have become popular lately. It allows for a narrow depth of field at a distance so what you're shooting looks like models. Keith Loutit has some great tilt shift videos that look like stop motion of models. [link]

Lycos (remember them?) has opened up an online free movie library. [link]

Crash tests on a Smart Car ForTwo

You probably heard about the astronaut that dropped her tool bad while on EVA last week. Well some amature astronomer caught sight of it. [link]

A meteor recently passed over Edmonton, Canada. Here's the best video I've seen of it.

Play "Doom" online for free. [link]

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Movie review: Twilight

Yummy and I went to see "Twilight" Sunday. "Twilight" is the first book of an ongoing series about a girl and her vampire boyfriend. One could compare the popularity of this series to Harry Potter with the male fan base removed.

A seventeen year old girl goes off to live with her sheriff father up in the perpetually cloudy northwest United States. Skipping ahead... she starts dating a vampire. He's not the kind of vampire that drinks the blood of humans. He and his family eat animals and vegetables and whatnot.

The vampire has all the abilities of modern vampires with none of the weaknesses. He's fast, strong, good looking, and can read minds. When he goes into the sunlight he twinkles instead of dying. You kill them by tearing off their heads and burning the body.

The movie wasn't the disgusting pre-teen romance crap that I expected from the vampire-romance genre. OK, it was a bit, but not as bad as it could be. Take all three Spiderman movies and cut out almost everything but the Peter and MaryJane scenes and you're close.

Yummy has read the books. She didn't approve of some of the casting and said that there were some minor but not terribly significant deviations from the book. I mean, outside of cutting 300+ pages down to roughly 40 pages of the same formatting.

Most of the action is like what you see in the show "Smallville". Not much at all. Just the occasional demonstration of powers. There is a fight scene near the end of the movie when the central vampire family meets up with another family that isn't committed to protecting humans.

It wasn't awful, but I won't be getting it on DVD.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Movie review: Quantum of Solace

At long last we're getting back into movies that don't suck.

"Quantum of Solace" is probably the first Bond movie that's a sequel. Most of the movies stood on their own. You didn't need to see what happened previously in order to know what's going on. But with the previous Bond movie, "Casino Royale", the franchise has been rebooted. "Casino Royale" was the last book to be made into a movie, but the last of the unfilmed Ian Fleming books. It was also the most accurate book adaptation of any Bond film.

"Quantum of Solace" picks up just minutes after "Casino Royale" ends. There's a very jerky high speed car chase down a winding mountain road with lots of close ups so that it can be tough to know what's going on.
There's a brief interrogation where very little happens outside of the villain taunting MI-6 about how little they know about his organization. Then there's gunfire and escape. Bond spends much of the rest of the movie chasing down this villain and killing people. For a little bit I started to think of it as "The Bond Identity".
Bond is forced to turn rogue when M calls him in despite his progress in the case.

In the end very little is gained aside from learning the name of the new secret criminal organization that we're hoping runs through the next several movies.

I bought "Casino Royale" on DVD. It's the first Bond movie that I've bought. "Quantum of Solace" isn't something I'd want on DVD unless the next movie is another sequel that's good enough that I'd want "Quantum..." to fill the gap between the two.
However, I would be interested in seeing a video game based on "Quantum of Solace".

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Anniversary

On 23 November 1963 the first episode of "Doctor Who" aired in England. That makes yesterday the 45th anniversary.

Many people think poorly of the original series. They appeared to spend more on tea than they did on sets. The Doctor often had to face the horrible mop monster or the creature from the bubble wrap lagoon. But they had some great actors and better writers. They were good enough to make giant salt shakers seem scary. They were good enough that the show kept on going despite changing the cast every few years.

Or at least until the 80's. Then the writers turned to crap. We thought the actors were crap, too. It wasn't until someone started making Dr. Who audio programs using Doctors 5 through 8 that we realized that Doctors 6 and 7 were actually pretty good and that it was the material they were working with that was awful.

The new series operates a bit differently. The writers are great, the actors better, only now they have an actual budget. The show holds such a special place in British culture that they get to do things that no other show can pull off. Like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" did here, celebrities jump at the chance to do a cameo on the show. But probably the biggest thing they got to do was film inside Shakespeare's Globe Theater. Nobody gets to do that. Nobody.

To give some indication of how far it's come, I give you the first ten minutes of the pilot episode "An Unearthly Child".

Friday, November 21, 2008

Links Friday: 21 Nov

Collectable religious cards. (link)

50 great examples of tilt shift photography. (link)

The new Star Trek movie trailer. (link)

The trailer for the movie "The Unborn". (link)

The trailer for Pixar's new movie "Up". (link)

Adobe Photoshop modeled in reallife (link)

The first two minutes of the Doctor Who Christmas Episode. (link)

Game: Phage Wars (link)

You've heard stupid user stories. Here's some stupid tech support stories. (link)

Saturn sings. (link)

From the Wall-E DVD: Burn-E. (link)

End of the world headlines (link)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dougmas Jar

This is a long one. Sorry.

The time around the Winter Solstice is known among Dougintologists as the Dougmas Season. One of the ways we celebrate Dougmas is with a Dougmas Jar.

The idea is simple. You want to take jar and decorate it. On December first this jar gets placed near wherever you drop your keys and wallet and whatnot when you get home in the evening. As you're emptying your pockets you drop your change into the jar. You do this for the whole month and then on New Years Day you count up the change and write a check for that amount to your favorite charity.

The Church of Dougintology has its own preferred charities.

The Solar Electric Light Fund ( provides microloans to people in remote areas that the electrical grid hasn't been, or can't be, wired. $500 can provide a house with solar panels, batteries, and lights. Maybe even a small fridge to keep vaccines from spoiling.

Trees for the Future ( plants trees in barren areas. I believe that $0.10 plants 1 tree. The desert generally known a the Sahara Desert (Sahara is actually just one part of the huge north African desert) continues to expand due to poor land management. TftF works with the locals to plant Moringa trees in these areas. There's already enough rain, but the soil is often packed hard. The trees help break up the soil so other things can grow, provide food for the locals, and eventually become fuel.
I like this one because it helps create an environment where the locals can support themselves instead of continually needing donations of food and money so they can continue living where nobody should be living.

For Douglas Adams (a Dougintology saint) I include:
* The Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation (
* Save the Rhino (

The Do-Not-Give list:
This tradition started because of the overly secular nature of the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army is one of the most universally recognized charities. They provide food and shelter for the homeless whether due to poverty or disaster. Seems like a good cause, right? Alas, they are also a religious organization. Their giving is based on whether or not you believe what they believe or are at least willing to sit through their services. It's not out of the kindness of their hearts that they're helping people. It's just a tool to try to manipulate the most vulnerable into sharing their beliefs.

And then there's their stand on gay rights. They do hire gays, but only because they're legally required not to discriminate in their hiring practices. They've spent several years spending your donations to lobby the Bush administration to give them a waiver on having to not discriminate. They've spent donation money to fight equal rights for homosexuals laws in Scotland. They refuse to provide aid to poor gays. They refuse to provide equal benefits to gay employees.

Just added to the Do-Not-Give list: The Christian Children's Fund.

You may have heard that Gary Gygax died on March 4th of this year. Gygax is best known as the creator of Dungeons and Dragons. D&D not only helped provide many thousands, if not millions, of geeks with a social life and human interaction but also spawned dozens of board games, computer games, books, and comic strips. He was a beloved father figure for many geeks. So at this year's GenCon Indianapolis they dedicated the Charity Auction to Gygax's favorite charity: The Christian Children's Fund.

They raised $17,000 for the charity but when they tried to present it the charity rejected the money. They didn't want to take money from D&D players or that was raised via the sales of D&D material. They felt the money was somehow tainted and that the poor children that might be fed or provided with clean drinking water were better off hungry than fed with dirty gamer money.

The money did finally find a good home. The Fisher House Foundation doesn't discriminate about who gives them money. The Fisher Houses are like Ronald McDonald houses for wounded soldiers. While the soldier is in the hospital his family gets to stay in the Fisher Houses for free. But I think there may be some arrangement about who does the cooking in the house. They were happy to have the money.

The Church of Dougintology frowns on any kind of discrimination and use of carrot or stick to manipulate people into sharing your beliefs. It encourages everyone to find their own beliefs even if that belief is no belief.

We disapprove of faith based charities partially because they usually refuse care to people who refuse to attend their services first. It's not charity if you're using it as a bribe. This is not what Jesus would do.
We also disapprove because a healthy chunk of the money is used to buy Bibles instead of food or health care. We're giving to help the poor, not teach them that their ways are wrong and they should reject their medicine men.
And partially because they'll refuse aid to good Christians whose lifestyle they disapprove of. So what if the homeless gay guy is only homeless because his parents' Christian beliefs required they throw him out of the house when he came out of the closet.

Anyway, I found a jar for this year. I may even decorate it. If you do something similar I'd love to hear it.

Operation Foxhole ( creates care packages for soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. There are religious groups that create care packages but they're mostly religious DVDs and books. Operation Foxhole is run by soldiers. Their care packages include things that deployed soldiers actually want. Things like fresh socks, Skittles, and whatnot. They accept donations of money, goods, or letters. You can use the link above to find out more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rerun: Schrodinger's Cat

I have to run off to class and don't have time to write a proper entry so you get another science lesson. Tomorrow I tell you about the Dougmas Jar.

In 1935 Irwin Schrödinger came up with the thought experiment known as "Schrödinger's Cat".

In the previous lesson how we learned that subatomic particles, such as electrons, don't really seem to exist in one place until you see them. Instead they give the appearance of existing in a cloud of places where they possibly or probably are until they're observed.

Here's how Schrödinger suggested you imagine it in relation to isotope decay.

One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.

Huh? Let me rephrase.

Take a box. In the box you put a cat. Next to the cat you put a vial of poisonous gas. The vial of gas is sealed by a complicated device containing an atom of a radioactive element that has a 50/50 chance of decaying in the next hour. When that element decays it will release the gas and the cat will die. Now seal the box.

When you come back in an hour the radioactive element may or may not have decayed. In fact the math shows that it has both decayed and not decayed and it has neither decayed nor not decayed. The only way to find out if it has decayed or not is to open the box and look at the cat. Until the box is opened the state of the cat is in flux. The cat is both dead and alive and neither dead nor alive.

Irwin regretted writing this explanation for the rest of his life. Most people misunderstood what he's explaining. The cat isn't real. The experiment wouldn't work. It's only told to try to explain subatomic behaviors on a scale we can better grasp

Among physicists this thought experiment has provoked several philosophical physics questions. You can read more about them at Wikipedia. Among non-physicists this provokes mostly misunderstandings. In the crap-science film "What The #$*! Do We Know" they try to make this a point of religious thought for worshipers of a 35,000-year-old warrior named Ramtha.
Some eastern philosophies make the point that we control our own universe. This is true as far as how an individual views his own life. Getting fired can be a crushing blow or a breaking of chains. Your car breaking down can be a point of great stress or the beginning of a story you can tell for weeks. But your viewpoint can't change the nature of water or manipulate matter as the movie tries to claim Schrödinger proved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Movie review: Bender's Game

The scheduling imbeciles at Fox killed Futurama a few years back by giving it a time slot that was often overridden by football. But a change in management and high ratings for the reruns made Fox take a second look. Instead of producing new episodes they're making straight to DVD movies that will then get broken up into half hour bits for television broadcast.

The first was Bender's Big Score.
The second was The Beast With a Billion Backs.
Tuesday they released "Bender's Game," the third of the new Futurama movies.

"Bender's Game" was very much like the TV series. It was funny but not as funny as the first two movies.

The main story line is about Bender trying to learn to play Dungeons and Dragons. But once he managed to develop an imagination he couldn't shut it off. His whole world got twisted to fit his D&D fantasy.

A side story is about a fuel shortage being caused by billionaire oil and robot tycoon Mom in order to drive up prices. But Professor Farnsworth knows the secret of her power source and vows to destroy it and free the world from her monopoly.

The two stories collide in a fantasy world that spoofs "The Lord of the Rings", Dungeons and Dragons, with a dash of Harry Potter.

This movie isn't as self referential as some of the previous Futurama movies. But I also didn't laugh as much. Even so, if you were a fan of the show you'll want to pick this one up.

Monday, November 17, 2008


go'way. Sick.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Links Friday: 14 Nov

Phil Plait talks a massive and rather impressive deep space image. Those aren't stars. They're galaxies.

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy.
You can watch an astronomy related video per day starting in January or contribute a video now.

The original ending to Little Shop of Horrors

Atari Joystick candle

Make your own Gummy Legos

Trailer for the video game Snoopy: Flying Ace

The stick introduced to the Toy Hall of Fame

Hardest Game ever.

NASA engaging in antique data recovery.

And finally we say goodbye to the Phoenix Martian polar lander whose signal was recently lost and has been declared dead.
This was the lander that saw it snowing in the upper atmosphere, took pictures of dust devils, and dug up ice out of the soil to establish the existence of water on Mars beyond any shadow out a doubt. It's life expectancy was 90 days and it lasted twice that.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Since my readership has nearly doubled (up from 8 per day) in recent weeks I feel I should explain what Dougintology is.

Dougintology is what I call my own personal religion. It's not so much what I believe, but what I would believe if I did believe.

It seems clear to me that none of the current religions are correct.

Suppose for a moment that what I was told in Sunday School when I was really young is correct and that God himself wrote the Bible. You can take that as a grandfatherly figure hand delivering a stack of paper written in his own handwriting or just dictating it to a few dozen individuals. However you think he did it we're starting at a true and correct version once upon a time.

Since then the book has been translated and those translations translated several times over with each iteration getting twisted by a little or a lot to fit the religious perspective of the translator. Some religious leaders have cut passages and even whole books that didn't fit what they wanted taught. The whole New Testament was assembled by political leaders who were trying to end the feud between the Christian and Pagan populations of Constantinople.

At this point even the Pope admits that much of the Bible isn't true. It's allegory.

And how is your religion determined? By proper education into the various options and contemplation of the nature of creation, the afterlife, and the soul? No. It's part of your culture. If it weren't, the various religions wouldn't clump by geography as it does now. People choose their religion only about as much as they choose what language they want to speak.

This isn't to say that the popular religious texts are without value. You must simply pick and choose what parts have value and what parts don't. Just like any other book.

When the Bible talks about a camel passing through the eye of a needle the word that was translated as "camel" properly translates as "camel hair rope". A minor difference but a clear example of how things can go wrong in translation.

Dante's "Divine Comedy" is a fairly accurate telling of the Catholic views of the afterlife in his day. In recent years, however, the Vatican eliminated the last official beliefs in any part of it when they eliminated Limbo. Was the afterlife that Dante wrote about a departure from God's original word that has been corrected or is the church cutting out parts they don't like?

Lilith used to be listed as Adam's first wife. In Hebrew and Muslim variants of the Old Testament she still is.

I pull from several different texts, religious and non, when establishing what I think would make for a good religion. Parts that encourage slavery, rape, incest, and the like get cut. Parts that condemn eating shrimp or wearing poly-cotton blends I ignore. Parts that talk about unicorns and genies I laugh at. I build my own allegories where I see interesting parallels. I establish my own holidays.

As we move into the holiday season you'll see several posts much less serious than this one talking about some of my holidays and seasonal beliefs. You'll probably like them a lot more than this post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rerun: Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

I've got a thing or two to write about, but they'll take time. So, since I have a bunch of new readers, I'm reposting an entry from September 2007 instead.

I am a geek of all trades. Among the many kinds of geek that I am, I am a sci-fi geek. The best kind of sci-fi are the kinds where the science is based on real science. An understanding of the fundamentals is key to appreciating some books. So I'm going to give some simple lessons in areas of physics that most people aren't likely to have dealt with.

Let me start by insulting your intelligence and work up to more complicated issues.

Things that you can touch are called "matter". If you smash up matter into little bitty pieces and then smash it up some more you get what are known as molecules. Break down the molecules and you get atoms. Atoms break down into neutrons, positrons, and electrons. In charts of atoms you get a picture that reminds many people of the Solar System picture. That is a big thing in the middle with smaller things going around it. In an atom the thing going around is called an electron. But instead of having a nice orbit where you can point at the electron and say "there it is" the best you can do is point to an area around the nucleus (the big thing in the middle) and say it's in here somewhere. You can chart the probability of where it is, but if you actually measure it then you've changed it.

At the subatomic level - I mean when working with the electrons, neutrons, and positrons - there's all kinds of weirdness.

Watch this film that explains the double slit test.

Dr. Quantum Explains Double Slit Experiment

Posted Jun 07, 2007

This is the strongest experimental proof of alternative universes.

Remember what I said about not being able to know where the electron was around the nucleus? Just where it PROBABLY is. Similarly, in the experiment you just watched you only get to know where the electron you're firing PROBABLY is. Some scientists think that the electron is in all the locations it could be but in parallel universes. So even when firing just the one electron at a time all the possible electrons in all the possible universes interfere with each other and make the pattern on the wall. BUT when you put up something to see which slit the electron goes through you force one of the universes to become OUR universe. This is what Doc Quantum meant when he said that it "collapsed the wave form". All the possible universes collapsed once observed.

Think of "Back to the Future". By going back in time they changed things and reality split into two alternative time lines. So Marty had to go back and fix things so that the two realities collapsed back into one. It's fun to think about alternate realities where Hitler died in that WWI gas attack and what not. But what about that reality where the only difference is you wore a green shirt one day instead of the blue one. The color of your shirt didn't change anything so those two realities collapsed back into one once two versions of you take the shirts off. Similarly, all those parallel and interfering universes with the electrons collapse into one. When they collapse depends on when they're observed. If observed before going through the slit only one hits the wall. If you wait to observe until after it hits the wall then all the other universes have messed with it. Only one of the many possible electrons in the many possible universes gets to hit the wall. But all the possibilities influence the path it takes.

I know, freaky, huh?

We have nothing but science fiction writers to allude to multiple universes on a super-atomic scale. It's just a helpful allegory to help understand the weirdness of the double slit experiment. And it's a fun "what if" thought experiment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

I don't usually do any kind of Memorial Day or Veterans Day related post. Usually what anyone writes just comes out cheap or sappy or maudlin or lame in some way. But yesterday J.D Frazer, creator of the comic "User Friendly", did one I like.

I'm going to Mars and I'm taking...

Congratulations, out of all of the applicants your name was chosen to be part of the first Mars colony. You'll be taking a craft up to the orbiting shipyards where you'll board the colony ship with five other people. Over a span of six months you'll make your way across the void to the red planet where the six of you will take the equipment stowed aboard the ship and setup the initial settlement. Shelters, gardens, water purifiers, air recyclers, waste disposal, rations and the like are all provided.

You probably won't make it back to Earth. You can't even get shipments for another 2 years after you land. You're allowed 5 personal items. Weight isn't really an issue. For the purposes of this thought experiment your feather pillows and your autographed Wile E Coyote anvil are equal. What are your 5 things?

Someone else's list.

Monday, November 10, 2008

mythological creatures

I was thinking about mythological creatures the other morning, like I often do, and it occurs to me that centaurs and fauns may be the same creature.

Think about it for a moment. You're a traveling storyteller. You spend your life moving from town to town where you tell stories and spread news of surrounding areas. In order to keep the attention of your audience you have to keep your stories succinct and moving quickly.

Keeping that in mind, if you were talking a centaur without drawing it how would you describe it?

Now how would you describe a faun (or satyr)?

You need pictures don't you?

It's a question kind of like the one about the mermaid. She's half fish and half woman, but which half is which? Or is it like how Obama is half black and half white but in no way resembles a zebra or dalmatian?

You're telling all these kids about your mythological being and you talk about someone who is half horse and half human. They get an image in their head and go on to try to draw the creature. In both their lower torso is fuzzy and hooved while the top is bare. But does it have two legs or four? Humans and horses both have four appendages, why would a crossbreed have six?

It could well be something bigfoot-like. All covered in horse fur, a mane, and a tail. Or maybe just a person with a really long face.

I dunno. This is what I get for thinking.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Links Friday: 7 Nov

A heron catches and eats a rabbit

Octopus learns to kill lights with a squirt. Also juggles hermit crabs, smashes rocks against the glass, and plays with the fung shui of the tank.

Moon bound Indian rocket takes new pictures of Earth.

The Cassini probe sends back new pictures. This time of the southern polar region of Enceladus.
Archives at

A new cartoon I found. This is one of my favorites from the archive.

Creepy pictures

Books with more accurate titles

J Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Changling, and a bunch of comics) is writing the "Forbidden Planet" remake. There's a link, but that's pretty much everything.

SHIELDS! Somebody invented shields!

Bacon beats Fries

This might mean more to a former Kansan, but this is an article about one of rabid "Christian" Fred Phelps' sons who turned from his dangerous family.

How to make a Yip-Yip costume. You know. From Sesame Street.

Sugar cube sculptures

Once upon a time you could order monkeys from comic books. Here are some stories of people who did that.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Are sci-fi movies killing interest in the space program?

Not long ago astronaut and moon walker Buzz Aldrin said that fantastic science fiction movies and TV shows are to blame for the general lack of interest in the space program. The general idea was that people see giant alien space craft, warp drive, transporters, etc. etc. so the International Space Station, droids creeping around on Mars, satellites buzzing Saturn and Venus seem pretty lame and boring in comparison so people lose interest. Kids study computers and business instead of engineering because real space programs seem like rubbish compared to TV and movies.

Many prominent science fiction authors were asked their thoughts on the topic.

That's what they think. What do you think.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Book Review: The Forever War

Why I hadn't heard of this book before I don't know. This is classic science fiction.

"The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman is the story of an interstellar war with the rules of physics I discussed yesterday in effect. The author supposed that the space program would continue to expand through the 70's and 80's and even find a way of jumping from specific points in space fairly easily. But there's all this other space travel that must be done that isn't just between those points. They have the engines to propel the ships at accelerations that would reduce any of us to a red paste with tiny bone fragments in it. They also have ways to store people so we won't die during maneuvers.

In the mid-90s some of our colony ships disappeared. Investigations into these events point to an alien species. The result is war. Instead of recruiting the poor, uneducated, and lower classes they start drafting the really smart people. Physicists and chemists and engineers and whatnot. Our central character is one of the first to be drafted. He goes off for training, fights in a battle and returns home. For him it's only been two years. Back on Earth it's 2023. 25 years gone just like that. He sees a bit of what has been happening here and decides to go back out to fight some more.

He serves for a few more years and is one of the few who have managed to survive as many battles as he's been in. Centuries have now passed and he goes to a veterans planet to recover from some injuries and blow some of the credits and interest he's built up before going back out.

When the war finally ends our hero is the only person who has served from beginning to end. It's been about 10 years for him. For Earth it's been 1143 years.

The author creates a great universe and writes it well. He not only talks about the war from the soldier's perspective like "Starship Troopers" or "Old Man's War" but he spells out the history of mankind as it changes over all those centuries. It was a good book and I'll be keeping an eye out for the sequels. This book stands alone. The sequels aren't necessary. He certainly doesn't seem to be setting up for one.

Director Ridley Scott had planned this book to be his third science fiction movie following "Alien" and "Blade Runner" but couldn't land the rights. After 25 years he did finally get the rights sorted out. Expect the movie sometime in 2010.

I had a similar idea for a TV series about a group of people who operate an interstellar shipping vessel. The show follows them as they hop from planet to planet and return to Earth every so often. But every time they get back to Earth it's only been a year for them but decades have passes. People they meet can come back in later episodes, but only for a couple of Earth based episodes since they age so much. Governments rise and fall, social movements come and go. Dialects shift and slang changes. Plus, there's everything going on on other planets and between the planets.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Election Etc.
There is, quite literally, partying in the streets.
At 11:00 I heard a car zipping by with people cheering. It's now pushing midnight and I can hear the honking and cheering all up and down U st 3 blocks away and Georgia Ave. 2 blocks away.

Kinda surprising that Obama only got 92% in DC. I thought he'd get at least 95%

Walking around today everyone looked so happy. The cashiers in the stores, the receptionists in offices, the people on the sidewalk, the sandwich artists at Subway, the people in the office and in neighboring offices... everyone was happy. After 2 years the election is over and we all already knew the Anti-Bush was gonna win. It was a good day.

ABC's online video stream was pretty great. Clean picture, good resolution, good frame rate. Well done ABC.
I can't speak to anyone else's stream.

There was one angry teen wearing a McCain sticker. Tough luck, kid. America is gonna try being the good guys again.

Space Etc
Wednesday, Nov. 5 (probably tonight) is part 1 of the Taurid meteor shower. Alas, rain is possible and clouds are likely. Maybe those of you outside DC can see it.
If you can't see part 1 you can try for part 2 on Nov. 12. Alas, even if it's clear the moon should be nearly full.


I need to cover this before I do tomorrow's book review. I'll try to explain it as best I can. It takes some brain twisting, though.

Time and space are connected. The flow of time changes depending on a variety of factors. The most significant factors are gravitational forces and relative speed compared to others. WAIT! Don't leave. I'll give examples.

For every foot you climb from the surface of the Earth time moves faster by 1 billionth of a second. This is a rough approximation but close enough for our purposes.

GPS satellites use a unique orbit between the communication satellites in geosynchronous orbit and the weather satellites, space stations, and space shuttles in a low, 90 minute orbit. They're high enough that they're moving 45 millionths of a second faster per day than the people in the cars they're tracking.

But they're also moving faster than those of us on the ground. In their particular orbit they slow relative to us by 7 millionths of a second per day.

So all in all the GPS satellite is moving 38 millionths of a second faster than you or I. That's not much, but light can travel 7 miles in those 38 millionths of a second. So if the internal clocks aren't constantly being updated they'd become off from the correct position by 7 miles a day.

Einstein predicted this but I don't think he ever saw the experimental data to back this up.

Are you with me so far? If not stop and chew on that for a bit. The next step is to expand that real world example into examples you'd only see in science fiction.

You can calculate the relative time difference between an Earthbound observer and a person in a ship flying near light speed with a simple and familiar equation.


That's the square of the time of the observer on Earth (a) minus the square of the distance traveled (b) equals the square of how long it takes the traveler to get there.

The classic example is when you take a pair of newborn twins, put one (Carl) in an absurdly fast rocket and fire it into space while the other (Al) stays behind. Al ages 25 years while Carl roars through space to his destination 24 light years away. Then Carl turns around and comes back. Another 25 years passes for Al before Carl shows up. Carl steps from the ship only 14 years old. Al, who stayed here, just turned 50.

25 years2 - 7 years2 = 24 light years2

This is one of the problems with most science fiction. When the Enterprise goes to warp they very likely will never see their families again. By the time they get back from Vulcan (a.k.a. 40 Eridani - ~16 light years away) even at the speed of light (warp 1) everyone they know is now 32 years older while they've barely aged at all.

All good and befuddled now? Please ask questions. I'll answer the best I can.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Continuing to dodge TV

So far I have successfully managed to avoid watching broadcast television this season. But I'd like to be able to watch the election results roll in Tuesday night. Luckily, the networks have this covered as well.

Most sites will be updating their sites constantly. A few will put up another video every half hour. This will not do.

Liz Gannes at says:
On Election Day, ABC News will offer livestreams of its own newscast, the scene at both the McCain and Obama campaigns’ headquarters, and a stream of roving reporters in battleground states. It will also offer a live results map, searchable exit polling data, liveblogging and results via SMS. CBS News will be offering county-by-county results updated every minute, liveblogging, as well as a simulcast of its TV coverage, starting at 6:30 p.m. EDT. Around 2 a.m. EDT, Katie Couric will host a live webcast on and to address participants’ questions.

full text at

I'd like to already have the links ready but we'll all have to settle for being pointed at the overall website.