Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The fate of stars

How about this one? WD1202-04 is a white dwarf, what's left of a dead star. It has a brown dwarf orbiting so close together that eventually they will hit each other and explode.

To make things even more interesting, when the white dwarf was a red giant, the brown dwarf was inside it. Which should have torn it apart, but nope. It survived, likely barely (unlike any planets in the system).

Weird, eh? We keep finding all kinds of different stars and planets out there, and few of them seem to follow what we thought were the rules...

Monday, June 26, 2017

How many planets?

Eight? Nine? Ten? Eleven?

Arguments about the status of Pluto aside (and some people are obviously arguing that if Pluto counts so does Eris, even Ceres), new research indicates there may not only be one planet-sized object in the outer system.

The "presence" of the new planet may be revealed by alterations in the orbital plane of Kuiper Belt objects. If it exists, it's about the same size as Mars.


Friday, June 23, 2017

The Lights of Sand Island

Yes, two in one week.

I'm taking players to Duluth, Minnesota, for The Lights of Sand Island, a one-off adventure for the vs. Ghosts line (vs. M engine). It's designed to be easy for convention play and similar.

It's also based off of a real life shipwreck - highlighting how dangerous Lake Superior can be even today, and much more so before ships routinely carried radar...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Space Junk

It's a huge problem - in 2013, NASA was tracking 500,000 pieces of debris. The big fear is what's known as "Kessler syndrome" - a chain reaction of satellite destruction that could interdict us from large parts of Earth's orbit.

A smaller issue is that people have, yes, been hit by space debris. Lottie Williams, for example, was hit by part of a propellant tank in 1997 (she was uninjured).

Part of the solution is that we now care a lot more about what happens to obsolete and defunct satellites. GEO satellites, for example, are obliged to carry enough fuel to move them to an out of the way "graveyard" orbit. Other satellites are designed to de-orbit - to burn up intentionally in the atmosphere.

But in the long term, we need to do something about the hazards to navigation. The most common concept is a "space janitor" - a robot satellite that is designed to collect pieces of space junk.

Emilien Fabicher has an interesting - and exciting - proposal. His robot would use a strong magnetic beam to chase down defunct satellites and alter their orbit, either sending them into the atmosphere or into a better parking orbit.

The magnetic beam would grab satellites at a range of 10 to 15 meters and then shift their orbit.

We science fiction fans have a word for this.

It's called a tractor beam.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Fallen Dark Cover Reveal!

And...here it is!


Woot!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

New Release!

Well, technically it was posted on Saturday, but I didn't want to do this over crappy hotel wi-fi (I managed to draw a room that appeared to have no decent LOS with the receiver).

The release is the first of the Dark Hold Goblin Adventures, designed to be used with the main setting book (You might be able to use it without, but I'd recommend getting both). It's a classic dungeon crawl that should take most groups 1-2 sessions to complete.

The PDF is available through RPGNow.

The print book can be purchased from Rebel Minis own site here.

And for a little optional extra, the titular Cerebeast can be found in miniature form. (Yes, the mini came first).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Back!

Safely back to Virginia. Very, very tired, so no real post tonight - just letting everyone know I'm home.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

...and Batman

Batman is often seen as the darkest of DCs heroes (By people who don't know about the Punisher).

But there was an antidote. From 1966-1968, Adam West starred as Batman in a TV show that was lighthearted, fun, and embraced its comics-driven goofiness. With Burt Ward as Robin, the show went as far as to add visual sound effects. It also gave us Eartha Kitt as Catwoman (Julie Newmar did more episodes, but Kitt is the one people tend to remember).

The show was flamboyant and very much part of the sixties - although I'd argue that the current Flash TV show catches much of its spirit. Oh, and of all the actors that have played Batman, only West is the correct height per the "vital statistics" DC provides for the character - 6'2.

West and Ward returned in The New Adventures of Batman for a single season in 1977, but the magic was apparently gone - times had changed. But he didn't entirely give up on being Batman - he reprised the role in Legends of the Superheroes (1979) and as a voice actor in Superfriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984), The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1985), Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and the Robot Chicken DC Comics Special 3: Magical Friendship. And he played the Mayor in The Batman, voiced the Grey Ghost in Batman: The Animated Series and voiced both Thomas Wayne and Proto-Bot in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. His last "appearance" as Batman? It will be released later this year, an animated direct to video Batman vs. Two-Face movie, perhaps closing the circle. (Burt Ward also returns as Robin, Julie Newmar as Catwoman, and William Shatner will be voicing Harvey Dent).

And he also appeared in some other superhero shows - Powerless, Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, The Super Hero Squad Show, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, the 1990s Flash series, and the short lived vigilante show Black Scorpion, in which he played a villain. One starts to get the feeling he liked being in superhero shows - but his extensive filmography also includes Family Guy, FanAddicts!, The Fairly OddParents, The Secret Files of the SpyDogs, Danger Theatre, The Last Precinct, The Detectives and a wide variety of random appearances in all kinds of things.

In other words, he was a versatile actor, but he was always Batman - to the point where he became a character himself - he played himself in Space Ghost Coast To Coast, Hope & Gloria, Murphy Brown, The King of Queens, etc. People tend not to think of Adam West as a real person.

Which might explain why even some non-fan blogs I follow have stopped to mourn.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wonder Woman

I've been boycotting DC movies since the utter fiasco that was Man of Steel, which led me to the conclusion that Zack Snyder should not be allowed anywhere near Superman.

Watching Wonder Woman allowed me to come to an analysis as to why: Snyder thinks Superman is a warrior. Superman is not. That reluctance to fight, that struggle with responsibility and power is not there in Snyder's Superman.

Snyder did not direct Wonder Woman - but was involved in the script. And Wonder Woman shows a different side of the hero's conflict - the knowledge that in order for there to be peace some have to fight.

The movie was a period piece and an origin story - and a war movie. And to helm it the studio made a risky choice.

Patty Jenkins. She hadn't directed a movie since Monster in 2003, only a handful of TV episodes and TV movies. She's won awards, and Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her performance in Monster, but looking at her filmography makes one go "Why her?" A serial killer movie, an episode of Arrested Development, two episodes of Entourage (a series about Hollywood), two episodes of The Killing (crime/cop show), one episode of Betrayal (drama), a TV movie about a journalist.

There's been a criticism circling that has merit: Jenkins is not an action director.

And it made a huge difference. Because Jenkins is not an "action director" she was not caught up in the ways people film action. Her fight sequences were refreshingly clean, making it easy to keep track of what was going on (although there was some bullet time we could have done without). Her choices of camera angle were different and in this case different is good. Maybe we need a few less "action directors."

Moving on to the movie itself. The choice to cast primarily athletes as the non-speaking Amazon warriors was brilliant. They looked like fighting women, not supermodels. I also had no idea Chris Pine looked like Steve Trevor. Must have been the hair.

The language off between Diana and Sammy/Sameer was...well, I have never seen a language off before, and it was brilliant. Sameer, ably played by Moroccan Said Taghmaoui, was a well-designed character and used as an opportunity "I'm the wrong color" to subtly point out the racism of the time without hitting us over the head with it. Plus, more brown people in my superhero movies, please.

The Chief - omg, the Chief. The decision to include a version of Apache Chief in the movie could have been terrible. Given Hollywood's record, I would have expected it to be terrible, with some white guy cast and lots of hand signals.

Instead, they dropped the Apache and cast a Canadian Blackfoot, Eugene Brave Rock in the part. They let him use his own language, and although the smoke signals part was a little bit eye-rolly, they turned the character into a comment on colonialism, not the disgusting stereotype I was afraid we would be getting. (And spoiler: Ares is a suave Englishman. Because of course he is).

Lucy Davis was an awesome Etta Candy.

The bait and switch with the sword was also awesome. Loved 8 year old Diana - so cute.

And spoiler: Thanks for actually having Trevor die not be miraculously rescued, because this is a WAR MOVIE.

So, on to the bad parts...because although I thoroughly enjoyed this movie there were a couple of things that got in the way.

1. It would have made a much stronger comment on gender roles, patriarchy and, you know, all the things Wonder Woman is supposed to mean if they had stuck with the original and had the Amazons created by Hera. Instead, they were made by Zeus. Seriously? Why? What was the point of this change?

2. The opening. Sorry, writers, but ex-PO-sition. Stop it! The movie would have gone from good to great if it had started with Diana leaping off the cliff to rescue Steve Trevor (yes, we'd have lost baby Diana, but as awesome as she was, we did not need Hippolyte's dark idea of a bedtime story), and if the key information had been given to Steve, who would not be expected to know it, in dialogue. The weakness of the scriptwriters was soliloquys and speeches, so we needed fewer of them. They committed the Sin of Prologue (Prologues are not always bad, mind).

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday Update

Okay!

So - most of this week has been working on the next adventure for my campaign and whipping Fallen Dark into shape for publication.

And...it's "finished." (Air quotes because I know well that when I get the print proof I will spot more typos. Just the way the world works). Cover art has been ordered. I'm now aiming to release on July 7, assuming my cover artist doesn't get sick and Createspace doesn't lose my proof again. (Which shouldn't happen - we do seem to have finally expunged all instances of my old address from their database, but...)

I'll keep everyone updated. Now's a good time to snag Fallen Dusk if you don't already have it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

NASA's Lastest Invention...

...is crumb-free bread. Yup.

It might sound weird, but breadcrumbs are dangerous in microgravity. Bread has, in fact, been banned in space since some Gemini astronauts contaminated the circuitry with a corned beef sandwich. Instead, astronauts eat wraps made with tortilla, which doesn't make crumbs.

Various dough mixes and oven types will be tested soon. (Although personally, I'd be just as happy with the tortillas).

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How many human species again?

Neanderthals. Denisovans. And, of course "modern" humans.

The assumption that modern humans appeared in east Africa as a new species has been challenged - by remains found in Morocco and all over the continent that push our existence back 100,000 years, but also imply that...well, what?

What if we didn't appear in one place and spread? What if modern humans, even before spreading out and mingling with Neanderthals and Denisovans, were already a blend, descended from a variety of species.

Which all reminds us that "human" means "genus homo." And challenges, as is happening so often these days, the very definition of a species.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Huh...inspiration?

Apparently, Elon Musk was inspired to start his career in space by...

Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy.

I'd have thought it would be some nice Heinlein, myself ;).

Monday, June 5, 2017

Is it a planet...

...or a star?

Well, obviously KELT-9B is a planet - it orbits a star, it's only twice the size of Jupiter, it's 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit...

...wait, what? That might seem like nothing, but the sun is only 2,000 degrees hotter, and the sun isn't the coldest star out there, nope.

Oh, and just to add to the fun, it's in a polar orbit around its star. And tight in. It's probably boiling off into space, but planets aren't supposed to be hotter than stars.

The universe continues to surprise us with its strangeness.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday Updates

I'm going to start trying to do this again, particularly now I've got most of the Projects I Can't Talk About (hopefully there will be more) out of the way.

First, if you haven't backed the Equal Opportunity Madness kickstarter and are at all interested in stories written to make H.P. Lovecraft spin in his grave whilst simultaneously honoring his legacy - do. Yes, we're fully funded BUT if we can make it to our $3,000 stretch goal we'll be able to do the anthology as an audiobook. As this anthology was conceived at Balticon, it really needs to be available in audio, right? 16 days left to back.

What I'm working on:

Three short stories, two of which are finished, but I don't have anywhere to send them right now. The third is for a call.

Final edits of Fallen Dark, Lost Guardians #2. As I'm juggling this with reading the Hugo packet it may take me a bit - I'll keep everyone posted. Also, I learned a lesson last time - that I want to read the print proof BEFORE making the ebook available for pre-order. Last time I found a bunch of typos after the point where Amazon lets you change the file without banning you from doing pre-orders for like a year. So, that's a pro tip. Because trust me, when you have your book as a physical paperback in your hands - it's almost as good as reading it out loud.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fun On The Sun

Well, not quite, but the Parker Solar Probe will approach within 6km of the sun's atmosphere - closer than any spaceship yet. Assuming we don't mess up and drop it right into the star, the probe will sample and measure the sun's magnetic fields and take other readings designed to improve our ability to forecast space weather and reduce the damage it can cause.