Posts Tagged ‘ Hey Fanboy! ’

World Space Week! With Balloons!

2010.10.04
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THE THINGS YOU LEARN WITH a computer: This is World Space Week, shining a pre-dawn beacon on the modern launchpad set, and in observational honor thereof I offer the Brooklyn Space Project: a father-and-son team who sent a HD-camera-and-GPS-equipped weather balloon to touch the edge of space. (Evidently these things are all the rage on YouTube, but it’s the first one I’ve seen.) My favorite moments were the weird electronic chorus at 60,000 feet (?) and learning that a collapsing weather balloon does make a sound when there’s no one in space to hear it scream. (Pun courtesy of Ridley Scott.)

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$1 Says Martians By 2020

2010.09.30
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AS OUR EYES GET BETTER adjusted to the eternal night sky (read: as we build bigger and more specific telescopes) we are beginning to discover that planets are more common than we thought — and now, life may be as well.

Yesterday’s Wired News carries the story about Gliese 581g, the first exoplanet found within a star’s habitable zone — meaning the orbital zone favorable to liquid water and, at least as we know it, life.

So I’m creating a Martian Pool. $1 says we find exoplanetary life, or compelling evidence favoring the discovery of same, within 10 years. Who’s in?

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Fiction: The Little Green Man Who Didn’t

2010.09.27
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HE WAS DANGLING FROM THE upper corner of my typewriter window, upside-down and scowling, when I first saw the Man from Mars.

That’s what he was, no doubt about it. He was three feet tall, emerald green where the spacesuit didn’t cover him, and with more-than-vestigial antennae sprouting from a large bulbous head. His expression mingled disappointed with disbelief, as though his worst hopes had been realized about a minute before he appeared.

“I cannot believe you people,” he was saying. “Just can’t believe it.”

“I’m not sure I believe in you either,” I said.

He climbed down around the sill until his scowl was level with my eyes. “That’s not what I meant,” he said. “Would you mind opening the window?”

“I would,” I said. “How do I know you’re, you know … not part of some invading force?”

“Because I can’t even open the window by myself,” he said. “The latch is on your side.”

“So it is,” I said, and raised it.

He stepped into the room. The spacesuit was ribbed silver and sans helmet, although a tubed canister on his back suggested its existence somewhere nearby. Most likely in a flying saucer, of course.

“This is why I contacted you,” he said, looking up at me with hands on glistening hips. “You remember.”

“Remember what?”

“Remember me. Remember us. The little green men from another world. Few do these days. I mean, you still use a typewriter. And not for irony.”

“I like to pound the words into the paper,” I said. “It feels like I’m sculpting them.”

“Whatever. You still remember the Old Ways.”

“I thought I was the only one who used that term. You mean, of course, when the future was shiny and worth a damn?”

“When there was a future. These days it’s all zombies, and mutants, and vampires, which are by the way the most pretentious of all the undead.”

“No question there,” I said. “But what do you mean?”

“What was the first post-apocalypse you remember?” he asked. “Mad Max, wasn’t it?”

“No, Road Warrior,” I answered. “I missed the first film somehow. But I had a subscription to Heavy Metal. The Church of Moebius.”

“Whatever. Remember the world situation then?”

“Sure. 1980s. Ronald Reagan and the Evil Empire. We kept expecting nukes to drop every evening.”

“Right. Sure did take off, though, didn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Post-apocalypticism. It’s a very seductive look: dead cities, mutants trading in the wrecked underbelly, black trenchcoats, green lighting. It’s very easy. Not like futurism — optimistic futurism, anyway. See the connection now?”

I didn’t, and said so. He looked at me with patience.

“You weren’t expecting the future anymore…” he began.

My heart froze.

He looked at me in sad silence.

“My God. What happened to us?” I asked. “This is why there’s no jetpacks – we’ve torn down all the launchpads and replaced them with franchised dead things.”

“That is about the size of it,” he said. “That’s why I’m here — to say goodbye, to someone who’d miss me.”

“But wait! What about Roswell?” I asked. “Flying saucers are still part of the brain politic.”

He stepped to the window, put a leg up. “But those saucers crashed,” he said. “And you people autopsied the occupants. See?”

Then he was gone.

I hope he comes back.

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First Graf: Ringworld

2010.09.22
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SINCE 1970, LARRY NIVEN HAS written four books and a number of articles concerning the Ringworld: an Earth’s orbit-diameter ribbon made from disassembled planets and populated by its builders with all manner of adaptive species, each with its own culture and agenda.

Who built it? Why? And what caused its civilization — one vastly superior to 29th century Known Space — to fall so abruptly? These questions are at the core of the eponymous first novel, where two humans — 200-year-old Louis Wu and his 20ish inamorata, Teela Brown — join the aliens Speaker-to-Animals (a Kzin, something like an ironic feline wookiee) and Nessus the Puppeteer (a three-legged, two-headed galactic captain of commerce) in an exploratory mission to the mysterious structure.

Neal’s bias: Classics, especially for those with a heavy worldbuilding fetish, although Ringworld and The Ringworld Engineers also stand alone fairly well. I enjoyed the first two novels immensely;The Ringworld Throne I thought better the second time (but was close to the Eight Deadly Words on first read) and Ringworld’s Children largely for how The Master integrates (the technical term is “retcons“) the latest cosmological theories on dark matter and the like. Four rockets. Check ‘em out.

In the nighttime heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flicked into reality.

His foot-length queue was as white and shiny as artificial snow. His skin and depilated scalp were chrome yellow; the irises of his eyes were gold; his robe was royal blue with a golden stereoptic dragon superimposed. In the instant he appeared, he was smiling widely, showing pearly, perfect, perfectly standard teeth. Smiling and waving. But the smile was already fading, and in a moment it was gone, and the sag of his face was like a rubber mask melting. Louis Wu showed his age. …

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Why We Didn’t Finish Watching “Avatar”

2010.09.05
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ME: “THEY SURE USED A lot of tech to spin a yarn about how tech is bad.”

She: “Nice visual imagination, though.”

Me: “Very nice. And the acting and casting are spot on. But it’s a planet full of Magic Negroes. Blue Magic Negroes. And there’s still two hours left.”

She: “Let’s read aloud ‘Lord of the Rings’ instead.”

Me: “Okay.”

(Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh. But I did find it to be so obvious as to insult my intelligence. (I mean, the Good Guys wearing organic bodies and the Bad Guys wearing robot bodies would be thrown back as too small by other metaphoragers. But mostly I don’t like being preached at, even when I agree with the preachment (and especially the latter if it’s heavy-handed). I did want to like it; some of my friends did, and one who’s reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver’s character, and doing some fairly serious and beautiful work along tangential lines (i.e., avatar as revelatory experient), is “all about it” the way I am about, well, Judaism. But when A&I started saying things like “This must be where the hero doesn’t know that the monster behind him frightened off the monster in front of him,” the spell was, alas, broken.)

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Jack Horkheimer, A”H

2010.08.24
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HIS CRACKLY EXHORTATION TO “KEEEP Looking Up!” now residing in the ears and cassettes of those who loved his weekly five minute-PBS-slice of observational astronomy, Jack Horkheimer, AKA “The Star Hustler,” passed through the luminiferous aether this morning on the way to consult Mr. Sagan about young DeGrasse-Tyson. Mr. H will be missed as much for inspiring stargazers to look out into time as for inspiring nerds to keep it real, old-school (e.g., Demosthenes or Galileo):

Recognized by his TV sign-off “Keep Looking Up”, Horkheimer revealed that although he intends to be stargazing well into the third millennium, nevertheless he has already erected his own tombstone with the following epitaph:

“Keep Looking Up was my life’s admonition,
I can do little else in my present position.”

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Prosatio Silban and the Mayor of Ixtachet

2010.08.10
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EVERYONE WANTS TO BE THE Mayor of Ixtachet, at least until they become so: this Prosatio Silban discovered on a chance visit to the edge of the Blue Void which forms one border of the Uulian Commonwell.

Ixtachet was one of the few villages in the Commonwell not blessed with verdant pasturage and running streams. Instead, its inhabitants lived in a series of cliffside huts, each with a breathtaking view of the Blue Void’s eternal twilight and a small landhold containing a handful of roosts for the precarious-clinging snoat, whose richly flavored eggs were the economic foundation of Ixtachet’s existence. The village consisted solely of the cliffside huts, one public well, and a great warehouse called the Mayor’s House, and was largely unvisited save by those lost or seeking snoat eggs.

As a wandering cook, Prosatio Silban was both – rather, he had been lost until he realized (as one long-schooled in Uulian delicacies) where he was, and the prosperous figure before him had introduced himself as the Mayor of Ixtachet. He certainly looked the part: well-made red and yellow silk robes set with small gems, and well-fed mouth set in a disapproving frown.

“Unless you are licensed by the Victualer’s Guild, I can sell you no snoat eggs,” said the Mayor of Ixtachet. “They have each one of them been marked or spoken for.”

Prosatio Silban displayed a confidant’s smile. “Surely you could spare a single egg – say, sufficient for a half-dozen custards to adorn the table of a discerning Heir Second, as a complement to clinking crystal and after-dinner laughter?”

“Alas, no,” replied the mayor. “I could no more spare an egg than I could spare an Ixtachetian.”

“Why so?” Prosatio Silban asked.

The Mayor of Ixtachet then related his particulars: that his village was the only spot along the Blue Void’s rim where the tentative snoats would roost, and then only under such conditions as could be guaranteed through constant supervision by the entire village. The eggs brought almost incalculable wealth, but so busy were the Ixtachetians with snoat maintenance that they could spare only one day a year to enjoy it: the day they buried the old Mayor of Ixtachet and elected the new. Everyone wanted to be Mayor of Ixtachet – it meant a rest from the ceaseless toil of snoat-watching – and the election generally picked that year’s most charismatic and beloved person; it was considered an act of both mercy and trust.

But the Mayor’s task it was to guard the village’s health as well as its wealth: the vast treasure would also have been his pleasure were not his the hands which repaired and rebuilt, his the tongue which dealt with (licensed) traders, his the eye which oversaw everything and his the shoulders which carried it all, day by day.

This lesson was only learned on the first day, and confirmed by slow experience, because those who learned it were too enfeebled and used up by their service to warn their successors on Election Day.

“All they see — all I saw — is the robes and the restfulness,” said the Mayor of Ixtachet. “Not the responsibility.”

And as Prosatio Silban bade the village an eggless farewell, he reflected: Everyone wants to be the Mayor of Ixtachet – and probably, always will.

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Pithyism #4 of 8+

2010.07.16
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KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, BUT SO is imagination: isn’t it sad that today’s kids will never know the fun we had speculating about Martians?

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From Persephone to Canaveral

2010.07.08
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REMEMBER THE TV SERIES FIREFLY? The epic, intelligent, Star-Wars-without-aliens, Emmy Award-winning 2002 Joss Whedon production? Which Fox canceled after 14 episodes? Big fan campaign spawned the 2005 cinematic sequel Serenity? A feat unequaled since Star Trek v. NBC c. 1968? Remember?

If yes: Did you know that since June 19, 2007, the complete DVD sets of both series and film have been whizzing overhead every 90 minutes or so on the International Space Station? Neither did I, until I happened across the blog Breaking Atmo: Serenity to ISS on STS-117 written by one of the fellows who put them there. The blog’s not been updated since that tremendous day (or shortly after), but if you’re at all a Browncoat (or just want to be shiny) you’d best not be ignorant of this. Dong ma?

If no: It’s not too late for you[1]. Rent or buy them today; you’ll want to see each of these again at least twice (except maybe for part of “War Stories”). Seriously. Ferstehen?

(PS to Mr. Whedon, who in these days of technowonderment may even be reading this: Thank you, sir, for creating the quintessential retroseminal space opera. You’ve really upped the ante for, and inspired the hell out of, the rest of us.)

[1] For another view from our couch, see Ann’s excellent http://sacredwilderness.net/2010/07/why-you-need-to-watch-firefly-and-serenity/.

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Sizing Science Fiction

2010.06.17
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ADMIT IT: YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED to compare the Millenium Falcon to a Danube-class runabout. Well, they’re about the same length according to Jeff Russell’s STARSHIP DIMENSIONS. SD scales nearly every species, starship and space station in the visual science-fiction universe (I mean, he’s got Robbie the Robot and the whale probe from Star Trek IV and the space stations from 2001 and DS9 and even real vehicles like the Apollo rockets and ISS and and and GoshWowBoyOBoy).

Metaphorager say: 5 beanies. Click ‘em out.

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Frank Frazetta, RIP

2010.05.11
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Frank Frazetta 1928-2010

IF YOU GEEKLY ADOLESCED IN the 1970s, his illustrations danced through your dreams, between your headphones and into your all-night D&D sessions. His is the pen that transported us to immortal Barsoom and summoned Conan with his blood-dark legions; whose ink-wet brush splashed with light and weird shadow barbarian, cowboy, and demon prince alike; whose voluptuous Vampirella idiom was often copied, occasionally parodied, never equaled.

Frank Frazetta: February 9, 1928 – May 10, 2010. Thank you, sir, for bringing us wonders.

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Lunar Update: Back to the Redrawing Board

2010.05.06
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LAST OCTOBER, I POSTED “A Proposal for the Moon of Earth” — “a suitable solar-powered visual display in the lunar crater Tycho, for the purpose of looping Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film ’2001: A space odyssey.’” The original idea visualized a miles-wide JumboTron that could be seen through a backyard telescope (say, the 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain in my living room). The seemingly impossible logistics didn’t bother me — after all, it’s Only An Idea, and one for which I’m offering a spurious and very large reward to anyone who can complete it. I put out some feelers, made appropriate noises on appropriate websites, and figured we’d all have a good laugh and go on to the next thing.

Then I heard about the IPN Project, whose goal is “to define the architecture and protocols necessary to permit interoperation of the Internet resident on Earth with other remotely located internets resident on other planets or spacecraft in transit.” And it occurred to me that APftMoE might actually be possible: not by building a giant video display, but a smaller one — oh, say, large enough to fit inside a full-size monolith model and produce an image sharp enough to be transmitted to Earth by a moon-based webcam (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: TVA-1

Thus, and from this moment on, APftMoE is no longer dedicated to building a giant video display — we are now dedicated to building a rocket which will deliver and deploy the “TVA-1″ module consisting of a power source, webcam, transmitter and monolith with embedded HD display. This should give us a great view of the crater rim in the background, prove less costly of both time and money, and make it more feasible and attractive to potential backers and/or sweat-equititians.

I’ll make a few phone calls. Meanwhile, stay tuned to http://metaphorager.net/lunar-enterprise/ for updates!

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You Can't Stop The Signal:
Celebrating the remaining days:hours:etc until Apophis II. Live it up, Earthlings.

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