Archive for November 2014

Interstellar, of Course…   Leave a comment


Credit: “Interstellar” Media Image –

Yes, I’ll admit I’m a geek.  I married one, too.  So of course we felt it necessary to see “Interstellar.”  We read up on it, exchanged speculations on the theories behind it, compared different viewpoints, opinions, reviews, all of that.  After all of this effort, a sensible decision was cast to go and see it, already.

So last night, after first ducking into Target to purchase some chocolates to stick into our pockets so we wouldn’t have to pay the ridiculous price of $4.oo for a $1.oo candy bar, we went.  It was great to go into a theatre filled with our kinds of people, equally geeky and completely silent during the showing, with only the rare murmur of approval over a spectacular scene.

Naturally, we weren’t disappointed.  Both of us loved it and spent the ride home discussing it.  And I could go on about this, that or the other thing regarding the vagaries of space-time travel and the physics behind it.

Why would I?  You know all that anyway.

What got me were the small touches, the little hints of things to come and viewpoints either behind the characters or the writers who invented them.  First on my list were the books on the shelves in Murph’s bedroom.  How many of you took a good look at them?  Here’s two that caught my immediate attention:  “The Stand” and “Outlander.”

“Outlander” caught my eye because Diana Gabaldon wrote this book regarding a portal that transports a woman through time, and Stephen King’s “The Stand” because the human race is nearly killed off in that one.  Both of those elements were the story in “Interstellar.”

Actually, books do figure prominently in the movie.  Take, for example, the school district’s reliance on “corrected versions” of history.  The moonwalk was all propaganda to economically bankrupt the Soviet Union.  After all, the Soviets never made it to the moon, so that propaganda campaign must have worked.  Yet Murph refuses to believe it all and listens to her father, who reinforces the truth.

All that talk about chemical compositions and how it affects environments and circumstances also gave me the goosies.  The way how too much nitrogen in an atmosphere isn’t ideal or any atmosphere’s makeup is so sensitive to various forms of life made me smile.

But really, when you get right down to it, the use of time as a resource and element defined the film.  Everything from the father Cooper as a younger man visiting his daughter Cooper as she lay dying, much older than he (all right, how many of you also knew that was Ellen Burstyn?), to the astronaut left behind for 23 years when Brand and Cooper seemed to be gone only minutes?  Or the gradual shift of Earth from viable to slowly dying, which seemed to take both an interminable and finite amount of time?

I could go on about many, many more things about why we enjoyed “Interstellar” so much, but that would take time, so if you haven’t seen it, take the time and go!

Forces of Nature   Leave a comment

It’s November here in the United States, specifically in New York State.  Nothing’s weirder here than the weather this time of year.  I’d like to illustrate this point with the following picture:


Snow 11-14-14 a

This was my house last Friday.  On first glance, it would appear to be a pleasant scene, just a hint of snow to make things pretty.  Upon further inspection, however, the Japanese maple wasn’t through with its leaves.  Sure, there’s a neat circle of leaves on top of the snow, creating an artistic touch, but honestly, if the tree had its way, it’d rather let this season pass without having to worry about the next one butting in.  “Say, wait,” the Japanese maple thinks, “this is my season – fall – and I’m not finished dumping my leaves just yet.  Winter, BACK OFF!”

Yesterday, I arrived at work.  My place of employment is next to a river that cuts through a mountain ridge.  It’s my practice to check out the river after I park my car.  It’s pretty, so it gives me a positive note upon which to begin my day.  This is what I saw:

Icy River 11-19-14

At first glance, I’m thinking this is kind of weird.  Is this an alien message?  Not quite a corn crop circle, but indeed some sort of symbol.  Check it out: it’s a clearly-defined crescent, or even a “C”.  Could it even be some sort of map?  Within the shape, there’s a few distinct islands floating.  Maybe this is a harbor or a bay, and those little shapes floating within could depict landing places, or locals/islands where pickup/dropoffs are designated.  Or perhaps someone/thing with a name beginning with “C” is supposed to do a task?  Could this be a sign from up and out there, calling for immediate response?

Sure, the rational part of me’s thinking it’s just an eddy and that’s how the water’s flowing as it slowly freezes.  But one never knows the messages lying beneath the forces of nature…


Snow 14-14-c


Incredible!   Leave a comment


Credit: ESA, Artist’s Impression

OMG, this is a BFD!

I, along with everyone else who keeps their eyes on these things, shouted a big hoot of delight this morning when I saw Philae Lander put on a real showstopper of a landing on a duck-shaped comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko just after 11:00 am, EST in the USA.  Released from Rosetta, it marked a real victory for a huge gamble that will reap large rewards for anyone who’s interested in the miracles of our solar system.   I’m sorry, but I’m at a loss for words to describe what an amazing accomplishment this for the ESA, for science, and for our futures, so excuse the sap.

The New York Times posted a series of tweets that a very excited Philae, who couldn’t wait to touch down on the surface of 7P/C-G after journeying ten years to get there (do you blame it?).  The newspaper also has a series of incredible photos that document the comet as detail its landing place.

What makes this such a special event?

Landing on a relatively small target from a great distance notwithstanding, it’s ESA’s and the world’s first opportunity to scientifically examine, up close, just exactly how a comet operates, what it sees, where it goes and what it does for a living.  The pictures indicate that its shape isn’t anything to brag about, but again, it’s the first time anyone has ever set foot on such a heavenly object and it’s a premiere learning experience for all.  NASA has also contributed three instruments to the lander mission, so what makes this even better its international, offworld educational opportunity.

Philae’s got a big job ahead of it.  With only 64 battery hours to get through its tasks initially, it will depend upon solar batteries to provide it with power until March.  That, and it has an awful lot of tweets to send us to let us know how it’s doing!

For a laugh, check out xkcd’s comic on the event.

The Dark Side of Star Wars   Leave a comment


You’re sitting in your favorite chair, reclining and relaxing to that iconic sci-fi morality tale trilogy, Star Wars.  You’re petting the cat, eating popcorn as you watch planets blow up, walkers trip and burn, even the Death Star going ka-blammo!  It’s all good fun, and you even find yourself cheering.

But did you even consider the toll?  I hesitate to say “human” toll…many species lives were lost.  And it’s kind of sad, don’t you think?  But then again, it’s all in the name of a heroic cause, and now, if you click on the above link, you’ll have your opportunity to cheer on the death and destruction, as Digg has tallied all 2,005,645,868 deaths in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Quite a feat, I’m sure, but worthwhile, just in case you wondered…and admit it…you have…


The Ultimate Risk   Leave a comment


Credit: Virgin Galactic

Everyone knew the risks.

Saturday’s tragic crash of Virgin Galactic’s space plan over the Mojave Desert was inevitable.  Two highly regarded pilots subjected a new technology to a test that partially failed.  I say “partially” because the launch plane lived to see another day, while the space-skimming component didn’t.

As horrific as it must have been to watch the crash, again, I say, all knew it was a definite possibility.  Anyone who flirts with the impossible does.  Is it wrong to test fate?  Certainly not.  It’s expected.  Demanded, even, if humankind’s going to stretch its limits to infinite levels.

Long before the days of Icarus, the absence of wings from the human anatomy led the drive to create the next best thing.  Someone’s always thought up of a way to fly without success, but it wasn’t until November 1783 that two French citizens, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes, took flight in a hot air balloon created in 1782 by  Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier.  That’s when the earthbound soul could gaze upon the world in an entirely new perspective.

For the next 100+ years, serious study involving the physics of lift and sustained flight occurred.  Notably, Sir George Caley’s work led to the first manned, controllable glider capable of sustained flight in 1853.  Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, important research and experimentation regarding steam-propelled flight occurred.  In 1874 Félix du Temple created an aluminum plane with a 13-meter wingspan.  After launching from a ramp under steam power, it remained airborne for a short but significant hop, causing it to be the first hop achieved powered by an engine.  In 1875 Thomas Moy set into flight an tandem-winged monoplane dubbed “The Aerial Steamer.”  Alexander Mozhaiski, a Russian, built a steam-powered monoplane and in 1884, managed to launch it from a ramp and it remained aloft for 98 feet.

Each of these experiments edged pilots closer to their goal of sustained flight with the use of power to achieve it.  Here’s where the controversy comes in.  Gustave Whitehead fans know for sure it was he who took to the air on August 14, 1901 in Fairfield, Connecticut and stayed there using his Number 21 Monoplane.  It was an event reported in the Bridgeport Sunday Herald. In January 1903 he claimed to repeat his feat two more times.  Even Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft stated in 2013 Whitehead was first.

On the other hand, the Smithsonian Institution is sticking to its guns saying that the Wright Brothers, using their unstable, nearly unmanageable aircraft, took flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina on December 17, 1903.  Each brother had his turn, with Orville flying 120 feet in 12 seconds, and Wilbur beating his brother by going 852 feet in 59 seconds.

All these contributions were significant.  In ten years’ time, flying machines progressed to such a level they became not instruments of how humans can soar with the birds, but shoot them down like game.  World War I pilots became famous and infamous, as their canvas and wood planes were capable of killing not just the enemy, but anyone who was brave enough to fly them.

After the war, flight technology progressed rapidly.  Aviators pushed the limits as quickly as the engineers who built the planes they flew.  Charles Lindbergh was the first to cross the Atlantic without stopping, and Charles Kingford-Smith was the first to cross the Pacific uninterrupted.  In 1924 the first aerial circumnavigation was conducted by the United States Army Air Service using a team of pilots.

Of course we all know what came next.  World War II brought on unparalleled use of planes as weapons, with the first jet coming from Germany at the end of the war.  That led to a combination of supersonic planes and the development of rocketry.  Far more pilots died as a result of war than as a result of experimentation of new technology, but it is although through the applied usage of flight that humans have created new boundaries to serve new purposes.

Planes launched a powerless Enterprise, the first American space shuttle.  Eventually, rockets got them into space.  The missions also met with tragedy twice.  But look what those missions gave us: a new understanding to what is possible, and what might be.

My heart goes out to the families whose members made the ultimate sacrifice for pushing the boundaries.  Their contributions are not forgotten.  Their deaths are not in vain, but will one day serve as an example of what can be ultimately achieved when one bravely steps out to take the ultimate risk.



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