Friday, August 18, 2017

Out Of Here

Yes, because I'm an idiot and missed the memo on the eclipse - I'm going to be in Europe visiting family and vacat...ahem, doing research for the next two weeks. I won't be posting on this blog (the other blog has posts queued).

When I get back I'll be going right into edits on Rising Dawn (Lost Guardians #3).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Next Frontier

NASA has selected six missions for further study as part of the Explorers Program.

The three full Explorers missions are:

1. Arcus - an X-ray spectroscopy mission to study the gas around stars, galaxies and galaxy clusters.

2. FINESSE - an infrared spectroscopy mission to study planet formation.

3. SPHEREx - a near-infrared imaging program that should tell us more about the beginning of the universe and evolution of galaxies.

Three more missions, called "missions of opportunity" are also being studied.

1. COSI-X - a gamma-ray telescope mounted in a balloon to study antimatter and radioactive elements.

2. ISS-TAO - an X-ray detector that will be put on the ISS to look for supernova shocks, neutron star bursts and neutron star mergers.

3. CASE - fine guidance detectors for the ESA"s exoplanet survey.

I think I'm most interested in SPHEREx and of course the exoplanet survey is important. Most likely - they're out there...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One step closer... being able to 3D print replacement organs (I think we can all agree that not having to rely on donors is a good thing).

Researchers at Oxford and Bristol universities have come up with a high resolution scaffold that puts individual cells right where they need to be. The organs could be made using the recipient's own stem cells (or a donor's if there's some genetic reason not to use the patient's - but the patient's are better because it eliminates rejection).

Wouldn't it be great if everyone who needed a new liver or kidney could get one?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Acknowledge Them

The death of stuntwoman SJ Harris while filming Deadpool 2 is a highly tragic accident.

Harris was a professional stunt rider and road racer - something went wrong and it is likely her death was simply that. An accident.

This one was high profile, but in early July John Bernecker fell from a balcony while doing a stunt for the TV show "Walking Dead" - he also died.

Stuntmen (and women) have been risking their lives for our entertainment since the start of visual entertainment. Olivia Jackson lost her arm while doubling for Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (this was also a motorcycling accident). Harry O'Connor was killed in a parasailing accident while doubling for Vin Diesel in XXX. And, surprise surprise, a stuntman, Art Scholl, was killed filming the flight sequences for Top Gun.

Actors have also been injured doing their own stunts, but when a stuntman is injured or killed, much of the time no mention is ever made of it. We don't even know their names. (Whilst a lot of us remember Brandon Lee's death - he was shot with a blank, which is why they're very careful how they use blanks now).

So, I'd like to dedicate to SJ Harris a mention to all stuntmen and the dangerous work they do so we can escape reality for 90 minutes or 2 hours.

Monday, August 14, 2017


...really hope that the celebrity deaths in threes isn't going to become awfully specific.

Victor Pemberton both acted in Doctor Who (in the 1967 episode Moonbase) and wrote precisely one Doctor Who arc.

So, why is he important?

Because in that sadly mostly-lost story, Fury From The Deep, he introduced something that is now one of the symbols of the show: The Sonic Screwdriver. (He also wrote one audio adventure and wrote the novelization of Fury from the Deep himself). He had a lot of experience in radio as well as TV. Oh, and he created the Lighthouse Keeper in Fraggle Rock, which Americans probably won't understand the importance of.

Pemberton died today at the age of 85.

Friday, August 11, 2017

British Fruitcake

....has to be one of the most inedible creations ever made by man. It's even worse than American fruitcake.

So when somebody said they found 100-year-old fruitcake in Antarctica that was "almost edible" I knew it had to be British fruitcake. (It was, it was dropped by Scott's expedition). Because fruitcake is only almost edible anyway.

(Why yes, I am ribbing on my own country. You're allowed to join in. Ugh, fruitcake).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Shooting Stars

If you're planning on observing the Perseids this year, the fireworks show will peak on August 12 at...1pm. In other words, you want to be out the night before or the night after. The recommended time is before dawn on August 12.

Unfortunately, the moon will be full, which won't help for meteor viewing - you need to get out of the city to get a good view.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Largest Land Animal... some kind of brontosaurus, right?

Actually, it's now Patagotitan mayorum - weighing in at 152,000 pounds. That's ten times the weight of the largest elephants.

Scientists believe this is close to the maximum size for an animal in our gravity. (And likely land animals could not get this big right now due to the lower oxygen compared to the Cretaceous).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


The signature Japanese monster was introduced in 1954 as a cautionary tale about nuclear weapons.

And he rapidly became an international phenomenon. In fact, Godzilla movies are still being made today - there's one scheduled for release in 2019. Kaiju - the Japanese word for monster - has developed a specific meaning in English and we talk about kaiju movies.

In 1954 there was no CGI and not really any animatronics. So, how did they do the monster?

The answer: A stuntman in a suit. And the man they hired was Haruo Nakajima - who had four credits as a stuntman in Samurai movies at the time. He was given no briefing on how to play the monster - so he spent hours at the zoo, looking at elephants, bears and other creatures to create the distinctive gait (and, of course, the distinctive victory dance).

Most people who aren't serious monster movie fans don't even know Nakajima's name (a common fate for stuntmen) - even though he played Godzilla 12 times and also took a turn as King Kong, Baragon, Matango, Rodan...basically, he played monsters (and on occasion swordsmen). He retired from acting in 1973, no doubt exhausted from all of those rubber suits. His last outing as Godzilla was in Godzilla vs. Gigan.

Nakajima died this week at the age of 88 after a struggle with pneumonia. I'm going to go attempt that dance now. Doesn't work as well without the rubber suit.

Monday, August 7, 2017

And a followup...

...on the eclipse glasses thing. Here's another great way to safely get an interesting look at our sun during the eclipse.

It's called a pinhole viewer and you can make it out of an old cereal box.

Please don't ever stare directly at the sun with your unprotected eyes. Please.

Friday, August 4, 2017

If... are not, like me, the idiot who planned a trip ages ago and didn't hear about the eclipse until you'd already planned on being in the other hemisphere...

Then be very careful about viewing the eclipsed sun. Apparently, some companies are selling eclipse glasses that don't meet proper safety standards.

The correct standard is ISO 12312-2 - it'll be printed on the glasses. This is for US - other countries will have their own standards. Also, don't look at the sun for too long anyway.

Let's not have anyone go blind, okay?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

All Creatures...

...Great And Small.

Those who know me know I keep my funny bone in an odd place. The majority of comedies do nothing for me...or, worse, are just plain annoying. The rare exceptions tend to be British.

British sit coms just aren't like anything made anywhere else. And British sitcoms that come with cute animals, well...

All Creatures Great And Small ran from 1978 to 1990 and starred Christopher Timothy, Peter Davison (Yes that Peter Davison) and Robert Hardy.

The last is probably better known to readers of this blog as Cornelius Fudge. Hardy was also well known for playing Winston Churchill (in Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain, Agatha Christie's Marple (The Sittaford Mystery), the mini-series War and Remembrance and another mini-series Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years. Talk about being typecast. For sci-fi fans, he also showed up in The Lost World TV movie, a Gulliver's Travels mini-series, a Frankenstein movie (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1994) and an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

He was active for over 70 years.

Robert Hardy died today at the age of 91.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

One step closer... the first genetically modified humans. Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University were able to edit out a disease causing gene from viable human embryos.

The technique is not yet ready to try on embryos intended for implantation (the success rate was only about fifty percent, although none of the successfully edited embryos showed other changes) - but the ethical issues are already being raised. Is it okay, for example, to change somebody's genome without their consent? (I would argue that yes, if it's done to save their life or prevent them from developing an unpleasant disease. Maybe my friend with cystic fibrosis can weigh in on this).

Of course, some people think it should be made illegal because, well, it's apparently worth having dead kids to prevent designer babies. (I think you can tell where I stand).

I firmly believe that yes, we should pursue this, but with appropriate care and consideration for, above all else, the health and welfare of any children that result.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Houston, We Have A...


The historic Mission Control room from which the Apollo missions were monitored is in an abysmal state. It's been left to decay (and looted by souvenir seekers).

So, NASA has responded with, no joke, a kickstarter.

They've already met their goal of $250,000 - but I'm sure they could use a little bit more cash.

(And you can get the t-shirt).

Everyone's crowdfunding these days...