It's entirely possible that Enes Kanter is the only person with a conscience in the National Basketball Association.
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Friday, October 29, 2021
Thursday, October 28, 2021
Astronomers at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics believe significant dips in X-ray emissions from a spot in the Whirlpool Galaxy are caused by a Saturn-sized planet orbiting its star at several times the distance between Earth and the sun.
While exoplanets -- the technical name for planets outside of our solar system -- have been found throughout the Milky Way, the new body, dubbed M51-ULS-1b, is the first strong evidence of a planet outside our home galaxy. Its distance from its primary and the specialized measurements used to locate it mean that the astronomers aren't likely to ever be able to confirm M51-ULS-1b is an actual planet, although they are pretty certain it is.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is 31 million light years from us, which means that the X-rays and other sources studied which suggest there is a planet actually began their journey to Earth during the Oligocene Period, 31 million years ago. On Earth, that era saw early versions of horses, and the ancestors of modern dogs and cats. Primates of the time retreated from what is today Europe to concentrate in the area that would become Africa.
Of course, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the evidence which today suggests M51-ULS-1b exists happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
Saturday, October 23, 2021
Fire is the fourth in the sidecar sequence called the Torch novels, following the backstage fight against the evil and shadowy Mesan Alignment that's trying to bend the star nations of humanity to its wishes. Weber co-writes this series with Eric Flint and it's mainly focused so far on Republic of Haven spymaster Victor Cachat and the Star Empire of Manticore's top agent, Anton Zilwicki. It picks up the story on the planet Mesa itself after that world was devastated by the Alignment's escape and Manticore's conquest. The Mesan storyline focuses on the way that its former citizens and serfs are forced by circumstance -- and orbiting Manticore dreadnoughts -- to pick up the pieces of their society and rebuild it on a more just and egalitarian footing. On Old Earth, recently brought to heel by the Grand Alliance Fleet commanded by Harrington herself, the Solarian League works its way through a constitutional convention designed to sweep out previous corruption, both Alignment-related as well as ordinary. The convention winds slowly -- overseen by, among other observers, orbiting Grand Alliance dreadnoughts -- and ties in with Cachat and Zilwicki's primary goal: Find out where the scampered Alignment members escaped to.
Unlike a few other recent Honorverse outings, Fire has a real, live discernible Point B as a destination and a real, live journey towards it. It clearly leaves room for more novels in this particular sequence, although Honorverse event threads are bundled closely together enough by now that whether or not the story advances through one set of novels or another is mostly a matter of emphasis.
But Flint and Weber take an exhaustingly long time to get to that point B. We first see Victor and Anton figure something out. Then we meet some Mesans who meet with our main cast and they figure that something out. Then the Manticoran occupying officers figure the same something out. Then we go to Earth and meet some Solarians who figure the something out. Every discovery happens with little or no variation in style or dialogue. Every character speaks in the same dry, wry, witty ellipticisms and few, if any, meandering asides are actually set aside in order to choose brevity over the chance for a quip.
Fire is just more than 700 pages long and should be about a third of that. It's filled with chapters that should be pages, pages that should be paragraphs, paragraphs that should be sentences and sentences that should be left out. The suffocating length dampens all but the last dregs of enthusiasm for attempts at whimsy -- such as the ruler of one planetary system insisting her title will be Her Mousety rather than Her Majesty, or the running gag of characters being brought up short wondering about the origins of common phrases dating back to the ancient days of our era. One of the latter is actually funny -- probably not the one Weber and Flint think, though -- but the humor has been leached away by the other dozen times the joke shows up.
Reading Fire is indeed a chore, but because actual plot development occurs, it's a necessary one. Is that worse than laboring through something like 2016's Uncompromising Honor and its grand total of almost zero plot development? Hard to say.
But neither of them is as much fun as reading some good, fast-paced military science fiction with solid world-building, just enough technical detail to be interesting and real stakes where you wonder if some of the characters you're following will make it all the way through. Like, say, this one.
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
The assumption is that scientists dislike what is often called "pseudoscience." But, as Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder explains in a post from earlier this month, they may develop more of an appreciation for it than you would think.
Pseudoscience is something that has the patina of science. Those explaining it might use scientific words or claim that experimental data confirms what they say. Some fields of pseudoscience use scientific tools and language in their discipline. Astrology, for example, is bunk. But astrological predictions are based on the motions of planets and stars and those are determined by math and astronomical observation.
Hossenfelder says that one effect of pseudoscience is that skeptics often develop real scientific information in refuting it. She highlights how the common experimental techniques of single- and double-blind research studies came about from attempts to disprove pseudoscientific claims.
In this sense, pseudoscience is a specific form of incorrect information, and the scientific process is about checking into information to see whether it is accurate or not. Scientists can also use that process to demonstrate that widely-held pseudoscience is inaccurate.
Of course, lots of people keep hold of their disproven beliefs in spite of evidence to the contrary. But science hasn't found a solution for that.
Sunday, October 17, 2021
Although it is the home of spectacular autumn scenes and some other very neat things, October doesn't really rise to being among the top months for me. The main reason is its very last day, All Hallows Eve, contracted to Halloween. Nov. 1 was long called All Saints Day, and in many cases some four or five hundred years ago, "Saints" and "Hallows" were interchangeable words. All Saints Day was meant to provide a feast day for the remembrance of Christian saints who might have been lost to record over time. It became in many places a day for remembering those in a church or community who had passed during the year.
As any number of "ackshually" experts can tell you, other, somewhat darker or more mysterious holidays from pagan religions were also celebrated at around the same time the Christian community fixed for All Saints Day. The best-known was the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Originally connected to the autumn solstice and the end of the harvest season, Samhain (pronounced "saw-wain") marked the time of the year when the sun was actually up for less time of the day than it was down -- literally, a darker time of the year. Invested with mystical significance, many believed that the special day was a time when the barriers between the natural and supernatural worlds were thinner, and thus food offerings were left to appease roaming spirits who would then skip eating the livestock.
Beginning in the 9th century, Christian churches marked All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2. Samhain customs merged with Christian customs to produce something like our modern Halloween. A lot of people will say thus that Samhain predates Christianity, and perhaps it does. But Model Ts predate my Toyota Tundra, too, and I know which one I'd prefer to drive on a regular basis. Sometimes older doesn't mean truer.
Now, I have nothing against trick-or-treaters or candy or costumes or anything like that. But still, the day helps produce some of my least favorite movies and programming from among that least creative genre, horror. Some of the supernatural trappings from the old Samhain days could be a little scary, and they have been helped to metastasize to the sewage explosion of the modern horror genre, most closely linked to the Halloween holiday.
My newsfeeds, streaming channels and what have you are filled with advertisements for simplistic bloody garbage dressed up to "mean something." And it reaches heights (depths) of stupidity like Halloween franchise heroine Jamie Lee Curtis claiming that the most recent entry is some kind of commentary on the January 6 Capitol riots. I welcome All Saints Day as a chance to reflect on the good people in the faith who have gone before, who may have labored in some far-off place where no one wrote down their words or actions, and they were known but to God and the beneficiaries of those actions. But I also welcome it as the end of putting up with horror crap overload for another 11 months.
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
As many news outlets noted, Star Trek's William Shatner was given a ride into near-space on Jeff Bezos' Blue Origins spacecraft. At 90, he becomes the oldest person to ever ride into space. And of course, his iconic role as James T. Kirk, captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, means he has finally had the chance to touch a sliver of the arena in which the imaginations of countless fans have been following him for more than half a century. Videos record how profoundly the experience affected him and I look forward to what he may share when he has had some time to reflect and process.
A lot of these billionaire space dudes are also major-league dorks. But they do sometimes take their piles and piles of money and do some cool things with it.
Sunday, October 10, 2021
Noticed that friends have begun posting about preseason schedules for the National Basketball Association upcoming season. I'll watch another NBA game when someone from the league offers some indication that they know the Uighur people exist and are being systematically wiped out both culturally and literally by the government they won't even breathe crossways of and the only reason is cash.
Saturday, October 9, 2021
This is about the only forum for this observation, and it may not interest very many people. I just finished the virtual edition of our Annual Conference, and one of the presentations was from the president of the university affiliated with my denomination. It's also the college where I used to work.
He's new in this job, but every last bit of his presentation was just him reading a speech. I worked for two university presidents and have watched the ones from this particular university deliver reports now for more than 25 years. I will never understand why these people who have at their disposal energetic and talented young people who could put an engaging face on their institution insist on deluding themselves that anybody wants to hear them talk.
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Monday, October 4, 2021
I don't pretend my blog is apolitical, and I don't pretend my beliefs aren't primarily conservative with a dash of libertarianism. But in more recent years I've tried to keep political posts more about thinking and policies than personalities and characters -- and not just because 98 percent of those are, um. icky. I'm trying to model behavior I'd like to see, even if the number of people who read what I say is not large and the number of people who consider themselves guided by my opinions is even more not large.
But I really do feel I have to make a political statement: It's wrong to follow people into the bathroom with a camera, cell phone or otherwise. I am saddened to make this statement, not because I find the position a difficult one to take or because it represents some deeply divisive political position. I'm saddened because that statement should be one of basic courtesy, common sense, and a whole host of other things that have nothing to do with politics. But because of people without courtesy, without common sense and without manners, it has become a political one.