This combines together on one page various news websites and diaries which I like to read. See also: Francis is (my own blog)
Seems I bought a case of con crud home with me from Dublin; the first server software upgrade went off okay, but then I spent the rest of the week dying of
Ebola man flu rather than working. This puts me behind schedule and means that I'm going to be busy for the next few weeks playing catch-up—I have a novel to redraft and deliver by mid-month (the sixth Laundry Files book, "The Annihilation Score"), and another novel to redraft and submit in final form before the end of the year (ideally before the end of November: "Dark State", book 1 of a trilogy that really needs a better title than "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation").
I am hoping to lay on some guest bloggers in the next couple of weeks (all being well we should have visits from Nicola Griffith and Kameron Hurley). And I'm still going to see if I can frame my thoughts on Scottish independence coherently. However, that last one is going to have to wait until after I finally exorcize the shoggoth that's currently haunting my nasal sinuses.
This graphic from GroupM’s recently released “China’s Herculean E-Commerce Market,” captures the state of the country’s online shopping boom based on a mobile survey conducted by Decision Fuel from 1,500 smartphone users across city tiers. In terms of online shopping spend as a percentage of income, consumers in fourth-tier cities were the biggest shoppers with 27% of their spending going towards ecommerce. This makes sense as fourth-tier cities typically lack the retail infrastructure to access the brands and products that are available on Tmall and JD.com, but it also speaks to China’s adoption of ecommerce as a primary purchasing channel that established itself before brick and mortar shopping. [GroupM]
I'm home. Two weeks on the road, 1300 miles driven, two international car ferries, two large SF conventions (the worldcon and the eurocon) and about six business meetings later ... I'm home. So normal blogging will resume once I catch my breath, work my way through the washing pile and the correspondence car-crash, and get time to think.
(Meanwhile. Some of you might have noticed that we're now into the last three weeks and change of the Scottish independence referendum campaign, and a major political debate took place yesterday. I wrote about the Scottish political singularity a while ago; I can write some more, if you want me to—or I can keep the blog a Scottish referendum free zone if enough of you yell at me. Opinions in comments, please!)
So I just sent an email to my agent and editors containing [private] Dropbox links to the first draft of a vaguely trilogy-shaped thing. And I am exanimate. The trilogy-shaped thing, even in a rough first-draft form (which will expand as I stuff various left-over bits of plot up its arse, at my editors' prompting) is the longest first draft story I've ever written. In fact, I am thinking of changing my name to Mr Earbrass and emigrating to a land that has not yet discovered paper, never mind semiconductors.
I try to live my life by several simple rules, starting with "1: Don't Die". (If you violate rule 1, all the other rules become irrelevant.) Somewhere in the top 5 rules is "Never try to eat anything bigger than your own head", and I think I just broke a literary tooth on it. The longest first draft of a story I ever completed before this was the first draft of something called "A Family Trade", which ran to 156,000 words. It got edited, expanded, edited again, split into two books ("The Family Trade" and "The Clan Corporate"), published, then redrafted and recombined and republished as "The Bloodline Feud", in which form it runs to 195,896 words (I got down on my hands and knees and counted them). That was in 2002, before my arteries hardened and my memory softened.
This juggernaut weighs in at 303,397 words and can be expected to prolapse to around 330,000 before it's published (in not less than 12 months' time—it needs editing, redrafting, cursing at, ritually foreswearing, and then submitting to the production pipeline). And you should take it from me, it's quite challenging trying to hold the equivalent of an 800-900 page story in your head long enough to make sense of it and not randomly forget or confuse things like the main protagonist's age and gender, which of their relatives you killed off at the end of the previous series, and what time of year it's supposed to take place in. Or even what it's about. (I keep chanting "this is my big fat post-Edward Snowden near-future panopticon security state dystopia with parallel universes", but it isn't helping. I know: it's about badgers. Or the impossibility of badgers. Something to do with set theory, maybe.)
Part of what let me hold it together was Scrivener. I've praised Scrivener's virtues before; suffice to say, if you want a metaphor and you're used to writing software, if Microsoft Word is a text editor (probably some kind of cut-down crappy proprietary Emacs clone without the GNU functionality), then Scrivener is an Integrated Development Environment like Eclipse or XCode, only for books or other long compound documents. I've been slinging around a Scrivener project containing close to 930,000 words of prose—the current and new Merchant Princes series, in one handy cross-referenced hierarchical compound document with twiddly bits.
Another thing that helped me hold it together was Handeze orthopedic gloves, because near-fifty-year-old hands and this sort of word count do not make for pleasant bed-fellows.
Finally, I owe my sanity to having kept my attention focussed on the next-but-one novel in the pipeline. Because nothing gets you through the sucking swamp of despair that is the book you are writing right now like the bright, shining lure of the next-but-one book waiting just over the hill of optimism at the other side of this slough of despond.
But back to lessons learned: I humbly asked my agent to do me a favour. "Yes, what?" "Next time I express an interest in writing a manuscript more than 140,000 words long, would you mind hitting me in the face with a baseball bat until I return to sanity?"
She said yes! (My agent has my best interests at heart: letting my drive myself insane would be bad for her bottom line.) Anyway, just remember this, folks: it may be big, but it ain't clever.
PS: On another note: Now the Hugo voting is closed, I can let my arse-length hair down and vent, very diffidently, about my reviews. Specifically, reviews of Equoid (which is finally available in hardcover).
Yes, some of the reviewers spotted the odd pop-cultural reference in the novella. Many of them even realized it featured H. P. Lovecraft (gasp!) as a character. But honestly, does nobody read Cold Comfort Farm these days? Or grow up watching Trumpton, or reading about the adventures of the girls at St Trinians, or remember this sketch from Not The Nine O'Clock News? Critics! What is happening to your cultural literacy these days?
After a pause of about a week in daily image releases from Rosetta, ESA has begun sharing four-image sets of photos of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko and invited the public to help produce pretty pictures from them.
Fortunately, several of our authors here at Astrobites have taken a gap year prior to starting graduate school, and we’d like to share our experiences and advice with our readers. Even though we are speaking from an astronomy background to other astronomers, our gap year experiences are diverse enough such that students in other fields might find this information helpful as well.
Several of our authors spent their gap year working on a research project at their undergraduate institutions. In this post, we will share our experiences with being a “pseudo-grad” student (i.e. having the research responsibilities of a graduate student, but without being formally enrolled at an institution and having to take classes, teach, etc.)
It Actually Is Rocket Science! (Anson Lam)
When I started my senior year at Caltech, I wasn’t terribly motivated to apply to grad school. Even though I wanted to get a PhD at some point, I also wanted a break from the endless cycle of classes and problem sets. I still enjoyed doing research though, so I sent a bunch of emails around the astronomy department asking if anyone would be willing to take me into their group for a year. It took a number of tries until I was successful, but I ultimately ended up working on the Cosmic Infrared Background ExpeRiment (CIBER) as a full-time research assistant. Even though I had a lot of experience doing other types of research as an undergraduate, this project was quite a unique experience. For one, I had an opportunity to work on instrumentation, which was something I had never done before, nor had I really considered as a research option. I also had the opportunity to go on a month-long field deployment at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where I was helping out with assembling and launching the CIBER rocket.
Even with doing research full time, it was still easier to finish up my graduate school applications and GREs without the usual craziness that I had to endure as an undergraduate. I don’t think I would have fared as well if I had applied during my senior year. My graduate school visits were more relaxed as well, since I didn’t have to worry about classes. In fact, a number of graduate students I had met during my visits mentioned that they wished they had taken a gap year too, so I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
My gap year wasn’t all work though, and I still had opportunities to do fun and interesting things outside of research. We had a number of visiting graduate students from Japan and Korea in our research group, and it was fun getting to socialize and mingle with collaborators from different cultures (I’m Chinese-Canadian-American myself). I even started learning Korean as a foreign language just for fun. I also enjoy endurance sports, and I spent a considerable amount of my free time doing a lot of distance running and racing in various triathlons. I didn’t always have the time to do these sorts of things as an undergraduate, so it was definitely a cool way to spend time before starting graduate school.
Other gap year tips:
When Life Gives You Lemons, It’s Okay to Ask Around for Some Sugar Water (Korey Haynes)
When I was finishing my senior year of undergrad, I had limited research experience and–I will own this–terrible Physics GRE scores. I got into one graduate program I regretted applying to at all (I had done an REU there and knew I could get in, but didn’t actually like any of their active research areas), and so I had a sit-down with my adviser to discuss my options. I was debating whether to enter a program I didn’t like just so I could keep moving forward, or move back in with my parents and either change career paths entirely (and I had no idea what to do with a B.S. in astronomy), or wait tables for a year and attempt the subject GRE again. My adviser came through for me in a huge way by offering funding for a year to do full-time research with him. My college didn’t have a graduate program, so the idea of getting this kind of position hadn’t even occurred to me. I wasn’t even aware this was a possibility without graduate experience, but I jumped at the chance.
That was the year I learned how to be an astronomer. I had limited programming experience up until that point, so I taught myself IDL that year, as well as finally getting comfortable with DS9, IRAF, and general Unix scripting. I learned a whole new portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (my experience so far had been visual or radio data, and I spent the year doing infrared spectroscopy), learned how to run an independent research project and collaborate with other scientists, presented my work at that year’s AAS, and by the time I left a year later, I had a first author paper in press and offer letters from multiple graduate institutions. It was the most scientifically productive year I’ve had yet.
My advice? Do talk honestly with your adviser. I still feel incredibly grateful to have had such supportive mentors, and my experience, time and again, has been that astronomers really do want to help each other. Talk to your adviser, talk to other professors. Mine was a bit of a special case, so if you’re planning on finding a research position, you should look around 9-10 months in advance. But don’t assume that just because it’s late in the year (this all fell into place around the end of April for me) that you’re out of options.
Work and play: the benefits of extra time (Elisabeth Newton)
In my senior year, I was faced with the endless circuit diagrams and oscilloscope drawings of my work-intensive electronics lab and the challenge of teaching for the first time. Midway through fall, I had given no thought to graduate school or the GREs and so I was quick to decide that grad school could wait another year. Many of my classmates were making similar decisions, so I never felt that taking a year off wasn’t an option. Not having to worry about applying to graduate school gave me the time to spend my fall semester learning electronics, teaching astronomy, and fencing with my club team.
Like Korey, my undergraduate thesis advisor offered to keep me on as a full-time research assistant after I graduated, which is what I eventually chose to do. I also had the option to teach full-time at our University’s tutoring center, continuing the teaching I’d been doing. Both opportunities opened up in March. I don’t remember why I chose research over teaching, but in retrospect I see both as having been wonderful opportunities. One thing I did learn from being a researcher is that I enjoy being a full-time astronomer; knowing this was a good source of motivation during the grad school application process.
For me, there were two very big benefits to taking a year off. First, I was able to devote a significant amount of time to my graduate school and NSF applications. Because my position was flexible, I could take the time I needed, and because I was immersed in a supportive academic environment, I also was never far from advice. Second, I was privileged enough that after working for part of the year, I was able to take time off. Encouraged by my advisors, I spent the remainder of the year really taking a break: I traveled both in the US and abroad and spent much-needed time with family and friends back home.
This infographic from TMall shows the online purchasing habits of 5,600 consumers who shop through the Tmall.hk cross-border platform. Known as Haitao, Chinese consumers are able to make purchases through a network of logistics and marketplace providers who faciliate direct shipping from global brands and ecommerce websites. Although these items typically take longer to reach consumers, the total market for cross-border ecommerce is expected to double in size this year to more than USD 22 billion, with Chinese consumers opting to purchase more predictable items through these channels such as beauty (31%) and baby care (17%) products. [Tmall via CIW]
天猫抽样了5,600位在天猫国际上购物的消费者,不出意料地,美妆(31%)及母婴用品(17%)是大部份海淘用户的首要购买宝贝。尽管,消费者需要等比较久的时间才能收到货, 但这从境外国际品牌端到天猫国际站所建立的渠道,却可以大大地满足中国内地的消费欲望。预计这波海淘风潮,将会大幅快速增长,交易金额并期望达到两百二十亿美金。[Tmall via CIW]
Music Right then, time for another one of these. On Digital Spy (where else?), Amelle talks about the chances of "Sugababes" reforming. She's still up for it (of course she is) but she's sure Jade isn't and Heidi's "half and half". Then there's this:
"If it doesn't happen, it's not meant to be," she continued. "Obviously everyone talks about the Sugababes name and what is happening with it, but I'm very easy-going.The bootcamp reference is to Tumble, I suspect, which is the thing everyone watches waiting for Doctor Who to start. Three things on this:
"If we don't use it and regroup, I'd quite happily give it someone else and let them take the reins. Whether it be MKS or another three random girls, or three little babies we're training right now in boot camp!"
The excitement is building for Hayabusa 2! The spacecraft is now complete and ready to be shipped to its launch site. JAXA unveiled its next interplanetary traveler to the media in a special event on August 31.
TV Blimey, I mean yeah, ok. Yes. I mean, well … Frankly I’m flummoxed and although it’s not the first time that’s been the case with the global franchise entity that is Doctor Who, it’s quite some time since I’ve watched the credits role and really not known what to make of it. Even though Into The Dalek (thought I’d get the title in early this week) is doing everything you’d expect from an episode of the global franchise entity that is Doctor Who, at a certain point it dislodged itself from my attention and just sort of seemed to be happening without my involvement because I was spending so much time trying to work out the implications of this, that and the other for the programme.
Such things are a natural reaction when elements have been re-engineered to this degree and so many elements in so many ways. It’s rather like when you move house or change jobs. You’re discombobulated because although there are some familiar elements like everything that is you, you have to discover everything else all over again from where to get the best coffee, where to have lunch and how the photocopier works, not mention who amongst the dozens of fresh colleagues which ones you don’t think are unspeakable. My insta-reaction to tonight’s episode will be the viewer or let’s face it fan equivalent of that. So for the purposes of the next twelve paragraphs its best to stick to a single inevitable question. Was it good episode?
Despite being the first “ordinary” episode in over eighteen months and only the second featuring a new Doctor it had much to do which is presumably why it fell back on a few old standards and greatest hits as a way of showing how the new Doctor’s reaction differs to his predecessors. Moffat’s strategy here is to mesh together the central ideas of Eleventh’s first two “ordinary” episodes, an “anatomy” tour including digestive gunge scene (ala The Beast Below) and Daleks, or more specifically the Doctor turning a Dalek which seems to have become essentially benevolent evil in order to prove the point that Daleks are essentially evil (Cf, Victory of the Daleks. Frankly it’s amazing that the soldiers here aren't clerics.
My guess is there’s no great scheme to it, no, even given Moffat’s own dislike of The Beast Below, attempt to re-engineer the thing and do it properly ala John Hughes and Some Kind of Wonderful. The original version of this paragraph attempted to construct some comparison but I couldn’t make it work because, in fact, they probably didn’t even notice. Which is fine. Miniaturising people and having them climbing around the interior of a Dalek hasn’t been done, as far as I can remember and is just the sort of thing to fire children’s imaginations, the production design the stuff of the cross section from The Dalek Book amongst other sources, the biology of the mutant itself still in keeping with that established in Dalek.
It’s nine years since Rose gave a Dalek compassion and eleven since the release of Jubilee, so giving a pepperpot compassion has a newness. Interesting that it was also the Doctor’s companion’s touch then, which opened up the Dalek to new possibilities, to begin to hate its own existence. Then it committed suicide. On this occasion it rejoined its fleet in order to do who knows what. But like I said I don’t think there’s a scheme to it, unless there is to be discovered later. What is notable is how joyfully ruthless the Daleks are allowed to be again here and the complete lack of the new paradigm in any sense, doomed almost as soon as Mark Gatiss voiced his concerns about the hump on his Victory of the Daleks commentary.
Except the notable difference between both those episodes and this is that love doesn’t conquer all. Like Ford Prefect that time he attempted to convince a Vogon not to throw them out of an airlock by singing him a few bars of Beethoven’s 5th and was thrown out of the airlock anyway, the Dalek stares into the Doctor’s soul, a Doctor who thinks he’ll find just as Grandfather did in The Rings of Thingy some exciting grand narrative about hope, instead finds himself glaring contemptuously at him. Which is also pretty depressing for the viewer because at the end of The Day of the Doctor, the Time Lord seemed to have found some inner piece and a sense of purpose and a couple of episode later, albeit with a thousand years of Christmas in between, that’s all been forgotten.
The Doctor. In this month’s magazine, you know the one, the authors on the first three TDAs, 12DAs or NDAs or whatever we’re calling them notes how they were watching or reading this episode and there was a line which made them think, “Oh that’s new.” That’ll be the one about the dead soldier’s remains then. That’s dark, the darkest thing I think we’ve heard a Doctor say in relation to the death of a human, certainly since the series returned. Gone is the man who apologised to the deceased for not saving them. Not that he isn’t challenged about it. He just doesn’t seem to understand compassion himself (which foreshadows the end of the episode but nevertheless).
This is dangerous, solidly, properly dangerous and perhaps that’s one of the elements which threw me at the end of the episode. I’ve always said that one of the reasons the television version of the Sixth Doctor doesn’t work and one of the reasons I largely have issues with the Third is that they’re not nice for pretty much of the time. Twelfth isn’t quite full on Mindwipe, but there are moments here when I just simply, flat out, didn’t like him and I wonder how that’s going to play with families. I think of the kids running around screenings and conventions in their fezzes with their sonics and wonder how they’ll react to someone purporting to be the same man letting a man die and not seeming to give too shits afterwards.
As an adult it’s thrilling. There’s nothing better than an unpredictable Doctor because it creates unpredictable stories and like I said last week, The Waters of Mars is sinister as is the Eleventh Doctor’s manipulation of Amy in The Almost People but they were exceptional moments for what were essentially benevolent figures. Twelfth it seems is forever looking at the big picture even to the point of not being able to see the wood for the trees or as was the case here the cranium for the Dalekanium (with Clara on hand to smack him around the face) (the post-nuWho equivalent of a kiss presumably) or to complete my original point that there are individuals involved that may be worth saving. He doesn’t give a shit even if you are having chops for tea.
Welcome Danny Blue. Structurally the episode’s fascinating, with a slightly tricksy editing configuration at the beginning in which the temporal and narrative order attempting to create the same sensation as the soldiers in dealing with how the Doctor appears to them, by mixing his encounter with the Dalek and, as about ten or so people have joked on Twitter chunks of Waterloo Road-style mayhem. Part of me wonders if this might not have benefited from something rather more straightforward given the introduction of what seems like is going to be an important Chesterton, I mean John Watson, I mean character but that’s the part of me which gets up at 6:50 every morning even when he’s not working because he prefers the routine so he doesn’t deserve an opinion.
The choice of colour in this new character seems significant too, not least because Clara noticed Zawe Ashton’s Journey Blue shared the commonality. We’re also clearly supposed to find his tear significant given the close-up (cf, The End of the World) (not that I’m reading that much into it) (unless it is that war he’s referring to) (keep an eye out for pocket watches). Samuel Anderson’s an instantly likeable presence which is somewhat helped by the way he’s given some narrative agency from the off in a way that Rory had to wait whole episodes for and Mickey didn’t really enjoy for a season and a half. So far he seems to exist purely as a cantilever against the new Doctor’s cantankerousness.
His existence also has the odd effect of sapping Clara of a bunch of her own agency. After last week in which she became the viewpoint character for much of the time, here she seems reduced to being the Doctor’s taste arbiter and Danny’s potential object of affection. Indeed there are scenes played from the point of view of the brilliant Zawe's Journey. Jenna Coleman’s performance is as superb as its ever been and of course, we’re still in the business of defining the new Doctor which needs time and these things oscillate. But it is interesting that it wasn’t about her being introduced to the new person. Not that we didn't learn something new about her. She's a Guardian reader. Quite right too.
One bit of business not covered here last week is the new title sequence and music. Well, I like it and have done since it was originally uploaded to Youtube. The imagery is stranger than the usual time vortex, more literally demonstrating the TARDIS's passage through time whilst retaining the moment when she hangs in space. The music's another fun interpretation too, less EPIC than Murray's mixes for earlier series, more consciously evoking the classic era by doing for the Delaware arrangement what his series one orchestration did for the TV Movie. Notice how the font is oh so similar to the one used by the unified merchandising plan from the late 90s and appeared on cds, videos and novels.
All of the elements are there and thanks to Ben's direction it is certainly very chilling especially with some of the old school Troughton period visual surrealism as the characters passes through the eye stork and the Doctor mentally connected with the Dalek (and far more successfully so in terms of visuals than the still accurately named Nightmare in Silver). Like reticence, like Clara to the Doctor in places, is because, like I said I’m still trying to get used to things which is why these post episode reviews can be dangerous, in a way. My guess is that just like last week, when I watch it again, my appreciation will increase. So in the end, to answer my original question is it a good episode? I don’t know. But I think it tries to be and I think that’s probably the point.
(Note to visitors: I am not American and this is not an American blog. Please check your cultural assumptions!)
I’m on a work/vacation road trip, but I’ve been unable to avoid the bad news coming out of Ferguson. And thinking about the wider societal questions that it raises.
How many of these fundamental principles of policing (emphases mine) are the police in Ferguson still following, either in practice or even just to the extent of paying lip service?
To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them*.
It seems to me that if they’re not committed to the Peelian principles, then they’re not a police force: they’re something else. And the mind-set of a gendarme is not the mind-set of a police officer; it’s the mind-set of a soldier at war.
(Footnote: Yes, I am aware of the role of racism in determining the unadmitted objectives of American policing, and I believe I know what current events in Ferguson are really about (warning: dark humor alert). But what’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander and even if you’re not a member of one of the cultures on the receiving end of the jackboot today, the fact that the jackboot exists means that it may be used against you in future. Beware of complacency and apathy; even if you think you are protected by privilege, nobody is immune. See also Martin Niemoller.)
I'm currently hitting a road block with the latest memes around business model canvas and it's driving me nuts. First, let me be clear, I find business model canvas an extremely useful tool but it's not the beginning but the end of a long road.
Whenever I look at doing something in business, the first thing I do is map out the landscape focusing on the user needs. In figure 1, is an example map (an old early draft) from a section of the security industry.
Figure 1 - Security Industry.
Film It's a long story which involves a lot of this:
La stratégie de la poussette
From Paris With Love
The Brothers Bloom
The Stroller Plan/Strategy (the anglaise title depends on where you are in the world) is a pretty typical example of why I've decided to watch all of this French cinema. The tendency with national cinemas that are not your own is just to see the award winning material distributed by boutique labels or studios whereas to properly understand the structure of a national cinema you really need to see everything and that includes the pretty generic, mainstream romcoms. In The Stroller Plan, a freelance artist attempts to win back his girlfriend who split with him because he didn't want to have children with her by pretending to be the father of a baby who's tumbled into his hands after a neighbour has an accident. She happens to own a nursery having given up her job as a pediatrician and hilarity ensues.
Actually no it doesn't. I laughed once, not that I can remember why . It's a series rote comic situations that much better writers and comedians could probably make something of, a French studio reaction to Apatow by producing a movie length sub-plot from What To Expect When You're Expecting which is less vulgar than both. The leads are all perfectly fine but they're given nothing to work with. All of which said, it's still fascinating to see all of this playing out against historic architecture rather than the modernist steel and concrete of US films (unless they're brown stoning) and the credit sequence is really nice idea as the many floors up to their apartment each illustrate part of their initial relationship from the couple's first drunken night together after a party through to the break-up when they reach the top.
Six years after District 13, and two years after Taken ("I will find you..."), here's From Paris With Love another of Luc Besson's action productions which all pretty much have the same story of a mismatched couple destroying half of France through cars and heavy weaponry in order to do a thing. Unlike Taken which was more akin the US-style in narrative and characterisation terms, this strings together a series of barely replated set pieces (something to do with a counter terrorism operation related to drug lords) (I think?) (it's a bit like Quantum of Solace in that it seems as though there's a whole scene's worth of exposition that's gone missing in the middle) and gives Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Travolta characters which barely stretch beyond their wardrobes.
Mostly it's the kind of this liked by the kinds of people who like this kind of thing. In comparison to District 13 it feels a bit restrained and dirgy like John Woo's US films, as though a director is reigning in their abilities either due to time or needs of the mainstream marketplace. The action sequences are nowhere near as balletic and impressive as District 13 or indeed any of the Besson related material in production in the late 90s to early 00s. Much of the time it's nearly impossible to understand the structure of some sequences, just sets filled with squibs and bullet holes. There's also a really depressing running gag about Travolta referencing past film glories that just seeks to remind us how good he was during his revival and how far he's fallen since.
Film Surprisingly bijou list below considering there wasn't haven't been spending hours watching athletes and achievements (however tempting that was after seeing the Nanjing Youth Olympics opening ceremony. Instead this week was filled with going on Tuesday night with friends, watching the television version of The Girl Who Played With Fire and two documentary series, Andrew Graham Dixon's Art of China and David Olusoga's The World's War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire which as the deleted scenes which turned up during the Commonwealth Remembrance coverage indicated shows that even in relation to the so-called Great War, our general understanding of who fought who over what and who died is astonishingly simplistic. For years I used to watch a documentary first thing in the morning. Not sure why I stopped. Begun again now. Oh and Doctor Who.
Short Term 12
The Kings of Summer
Chronique d'un été
À bout portant
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
You will have noticed the appearance of French in this week's list. In the middle of the muddle of trying to decided what to watch but wanting to have some continuity to what I'm watching, I realised that since I actually do quite like watching French film and films set in France, I should watch some French film and films set in France. So I've decided to work through all of the French cinema available on Netflix and Amazon Prime and assigned one of my Lovefilm by-post disc allocations to a massive unruly list of everything available as a kind of serendipity engine as well as adding in the material I haven't seen made by other countries but set there. It's entirely unmetered and I've avoided reviews. I want to be surprised and lose myself in another nation's cinema and this seems like the way to do it.
A bout portant, English title Point Blank, is a tight actioner (only 80 mins) about a trainee nurse whose wife is kidnapped by hoodlums and finds himself on the run for a crime he didn't commit. The crime itself is a major shock so I won't spoil it because this is well worth tracking down. As the set-up suggests director Fred Cavaye has in mind to offer Hitchcockian twists for the 24 generation and it works, partly because lead actor Gilles Lellouche has the perfect face for romantic comedy but compellingly finds himself dealing with murderous gangsters and police officers. It's a bit like casting Adam Sandler in a Tony Scott actioner. Expect this to gain an extra half hour when it's remade in Hollywood which it undoubtedly will be. Starring Mark Wahlberg.
Throughout District 13, I was distracted by just how much it seemed to be a French remake of a US film featuring Paul Walker and Vin Diesel sans cars and sure enough the film has actually been remade in the US with Paul Walker, the final film he was working before the tragedy. Having seen neither Escape from New York or Ong Bak, I can't comment in its similarity to those. It's a very functional film in narrative terms, essentially three long set pieces but it's quite aware of this and happy to simply offer some spectacular parkour stunts amid some one dimensional social commentary, the majority of it created without the aid of CGI or wires which in retrospect makes it something of a successor to the old silent slapstick, to Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd, but with more frequent cutting.
The advertising for Short Term 12 is a bit misleading. My impression, admittedly based on the poster and Kermode's review was of an unremittingly grim investigation into the US care system full of heartbreak, pain and not much in the way of levity, one of those Ken Loach or Mike Leigh pieces which essentially reminds us that our society remains broken. It is full of heartbreak and pain, but it's also incredibly warm, funny, has depthful characters you can really become attached to and utterly lacks the slightly (slightly?) judgmental tone which can marr my appreciation of both Loach and Leigh, presumably because writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton has worked in this very system and has an insider's appreciation that isn't just a enunciation of class.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is an enunciation of class and a great deal more. Felicity Jones is back in period as a young woman who realises she's about to marry the wrong man but is held back from what she really desires by social convention and the needs of her family. Based on a novel published by the Woolfs in 1932 and the only really prominent work by its author Julia Strachey, as filmed it's essentially a Poirot mystery without a body and the ensuring Belgian detective (an impression underscored by an appearance by Agatha herself, Fenella Woolgar) (it's a Unicorn and the Wasp reunion). There are secrets and conspiracies, hearts are broken but no one dies. There's a notable use of colour timing changing the hues of the image to denote the flashback sequences which I've not seen before too.
The Kings of Summer was released last year when I was in the midst of my hernia horror and so I decided to save it for the following Summer, planning to watch it on a nice warm day. It rained. But it didn't matter because I'd entire misjudged the content which is essentially Stand By Me without a body and not The Inbetweeners US (which is a function of me sometimes ignoring everything about a film bar the poster). It rains in the film too, the dreamlike montage sequences seem to flashforward and suggest how these boys who build a house and emancipate will memorialise this summer, the details which will offer a nostalgic glow when they chained to a desk in an office or teaching kids the ages they were, themselves ready to go out and manufacture similar memories.
One of my guilty pleasures is the Teenagers React To series in which The Fine Bros introduce a piece of 80s or 90s technology or ephemera to people born in the following decade and film the results. Some of the kids offer quite wise assessments usually in the order of knowing that when the Gameboy was first released it was cutting edge and their predecessors would have found them just as exciting as tablet computers are now. Inevitably:
Rewatching Scream this week, which is now eighteen years old, for the first time in over ten of them, through this lense, is like glimpsing an alien world. Randy works in a video shop in a pre-dvd era and Tatum has to visit to bring a film for her and Sidney to watch. The sheriff questions the fact that Billy Loomis has a cell phone (which must make teens now guffaw) and it takes them a day to request the records. Plus these teenagers wouldn't phone in their threats so no scary voice. The whole thing would be conducted over snapchat or some such and victims could simply block them. Sidney does her homework on a DOS based programme which looks like some early version of WordPerfect. Oh and nothing about the film would work in a world with a proliferation of CCTV cameras. Other than that it hasn't dated at all.
Tomorrow morning (UK time) we will be updating the operating system on the server this blog and website runs on. Service may be intermittent as we're going to have to reboot it at least once. (In case you're wondering it's on Debian Stable, but an old release thereof—so it's time to blow off the cobwebs and bring it up to date.)
[this stage is now completed]
Some time in October the server is going to be switched off and spend about six hours overnight in the back of a truck as it is moved to a new hosting centre. I'll give you some more warning in the days before the move. Note that this is "overnight" in UK time, so it'll be an afternoon outage for most of you.
Next, Google have (un-)helpfully announced that, in an attempt to drive the internet onto SSL (to reduce third-party snooping) they are soon going to begin down-ranking search results from non-encrypted web servers (i.e. results obtained over HTTP, not HTTPS).
Now, speaking personally, this is an inconvenience to me. My blog is public, and if you post a comment on it you are posting it with the expectation of it being read by all and sundry. I don't need a secure server for what I do on the web: I'm not running an e-commerce site.
However, I'm all in favour of reducing corporate and government snooping on the open internet. And I'm all in favour of my blog still featuring high in the search results when you hunt for my name.
So, once we've done the operating system upgrade, we will be adding a multi-homed SSL-capable web server to this system. Once we're done you will be able to find the blog via https://www.accelerando.org/ as well as http://www.accelerando.org. (We'll probably make some other changes, too, including allowing you to leave out the www prefix. Shocking, I know.)
However. This machine provides web services for multiple domains, and in order to provide a secure web service for multiple virtual hosts with only one IP address (they're in short supply) we have to use a server-side extension called SNI. SNI is not supported by some older web browsers, notably Internet Explorer 6 on any operating system, or IE running on Windows XP, or Safari on XP.
Let me emphasize that the site will remain fully accessible and functional via unencrypted HTTP, just like you're using right now. However, if you want to thumb your nose at the NSA and for some reason insist on running Windows XP, you'll need to grab a copy of Firefox or Opera.
Karl Battams highlights the historic discovery, by an Air Force satellite, of a sungrazing comet.
NASA has explored the solar system since the 1960s, but it has rarely been the top priority for the space agency. Jason Callahan breaks down how planetary science has been funded over the years within NASA's larger budget.
Amir Alexander reviews Alan Hirshfeld's newest book, "Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe."
The Planetary Society sponsored all-sky optical SETI search at Harvard University went off the rails, telescope roof rails that is, but it is back on track and hunting the sky for ET.
Now: Sort out your tests.
Soon: Ask yourself serious questions.
September: Letters of recommendation.
Early October: Work on your fellowship applications.
Late October: Apply for fellowships.
November: Work on your graduate school applications.
December: Send in your grad school applications.
January: Try not to stress out!
February-March: Hear back from schools.
March-April: School visits.
April 15th: Make your decision.
NASA's Space Launch System passed a critical milestone yesterday, but buried within the announcement was news that the first launch could slip by nearly a year.
Tanya Harrison wraps up the final week of Mars sample return analogue mission operations at the Canadian Space Agency.
The Kepler satellite is really good at finding things that go bump in the night. Even though the spacecraft was crippled and has been repurposed as K2, there are tons of data to analyze. While Kepler’s specialty is hunting for exoplanets, it also finds lots of interesting stars along the way. As a rule, the more we look at stars imaged by Kepler, the more oddballs we find. This paper by Thompson et al. describes a new category of eccentric binary stars discovered by Kepler and dubs them “heartbeat stars.”
As you can see, heartbeat star light curves somewhat resemble an echocardiogram, which is what got them their name. But what is physically causing this odd pattern?
In a traditional eclipsing binary star system, we see a dip in the light curve when one star passes in front of the other. Heartbeat stars, on the other hand, do not always eclipse. Instead, they have extremely elliptical orbits, which causes the two stars to spend a short amount of time very close together as they race past each other and a long amount of time farther apart. The main dip and subsequent peak of the “heartbeat” signature occurs when the stars are closest together and tidal forces are incredibly strong.
When tidal forces affect a star, they distort its shape and cause brightness variations. If you visualize two perfectly spherical stars orbiting each other, the out-of-eclipse luminosity should be constant. But if the two stars slightly distort each another with tidal forces, they become somewhat squished and more like ellipsoids than spheres. As a result, you see more star surface area during one part of the orbit than another, and that causes a slight increase in overall brightness.
Now, imagine dialing this effect up by drastically increasing the orbital eccentricity. Instead of happily orbiting in circles with constant velocity, the two stars spend most of their time far apart, and a few harrowing hours racing past each other. Or, to put it another way: hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. This is a heartbeat star.
Tidally distorted light curves were first theorized in 1995, but the first well-studied example was published in 2011 using Kepler light curves. This paper presents 17 new systems on top of four that were previously known, and successfully models how the tidal distortions contribute to light curves. They also measure radial velocity points for some systems and show that these are generally consistent with the orbital solution.
The discovery of so many heartbeat stars raises an important question: how can they exist at all? Over time, the orbits of relatively short-period systems (it only takes these stars several days to fully orbit each other!) should become less eccentric and more circular. But if this always happened, we wouldn’t see any “heartbeats” at all. One possible explanation could be the presence of a so-called third body—a faint star or planet that perturbs the orbit and keeps it eccentric. But this is not fully understood.
A smaller effect seen in many heartbeat star light curves is pulsations. These are the little wiggles in the red light curves above—one or both stars are pulsing in and out, or “breathing,” as they orbit (see a similar situation explored in this astrobite). The authors find that the majority of the heartbeat star pulsations are some harmonic of the orbital period. This suggests that tidal distortions may be causing the pulsations, and is a very interesting topic for follow-up studies.
A collection of pretty pictures by cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, who currently serves as a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station.
We all know NASA needs more money to achieve its goals. But competition for money is intense within the U.S. federal government, and two trends have made it harder for NASA to get what it needs.
This chart from the Boston Consulting Group takes a look at consumer spending sentiment over the last four years based on a survey of 1,000 MACs (middle-class and affluent consumers w/ RMB 7,200+ monthly income) in 12 cities across China. While the data shows recovery with 31% of MACs planning to spend more in 2014 compared with only 27% in 2013, the levels were still below 2011 and 2012 with many respondents voicing a desire to save money in order to focus spending on quality over quantity in their purchasing. When comparing MACs in large cities to their counterparts in small cities, there was a drastic difference with only 28% of tier-1 MACs planning to spend more in 2014 compared to 34% for MACs in small cities. [BCG]
Van Kane explains three factors that make exploring Europa hard—factors that can make a mission concept that seems like less actually be more.
I was recently asked how accurate the 'Wardley' maps produced of a competitive landscape are? An example map (an early draft for a border control system) is provided in figure 1.
Figure 1 - An example map.
I, um, appear to have won another Hugo award.
Things have been kind of hectic this past week (it's a worldcon: I also threw a large birthday party—I turn 50 in about 8 weeks time—and we drove 450 miles to get here), hence the lack of blogging. I'll try and say something coherent in the next day or two, but tomorrow I've got to drive another 300-odd miles, en route to Dublin for the Eurocon.
In the meantime, my thanks to everyone in the WSFS who voted for "Equoid". And we had an excellent set of results last night.
The Rosetta team has announced the selection of five regions on Churyumov-Gerasimenko that they will study as possible landing sites for little Philae. Now, as Rosetta surveys the comet from its second triangular "orbit" at an average distance of 60 kilometers, the mission will target these spots for extra attention.
Music Video evidence that Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan are back together recording. Or at least they're together and afraid of spiders:
If you are a participant in GREATEST INTERNATIONAL SCAVENGER HUNT THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN ...
Do NOT send me email.
If you send me email asking for me to do your homework for you, I will mock you publicly on this blog.
As per previous blog entries: I am not your bitch.
(This notice prompted by the fact that I am currently being mailbombed by people who want me to do their homework for them. Really fucking annoyed now. Got a job to do and a deadline to hit: You. Are. Not. Helping.)
Clarification (having slept on it): the thing about GISHWHES is that I've never heard of it, never volunteered to participate in it, and had no idea what a scavenger hunt was before this pile landed in my inbox. I'm not merely trying to work—I'm about 99% of the way into a third of a million word death march to finish a trilogy, I've got a deadline looming in the next week, I'm utterly exhausted from over-work, and I am not generally receptive to being bombarded by requests to write flash fiction (which I don't do, anyway) several times a day. It feels very much like a case of "shoot at the monkey's feet, watch the monkey dance" by a random internet flash mob, and it is not fun.
Longer term: perhaps GISHWHES, in future years, could establish a mechanism for allowing people in my position to post a "don't contact me" request. Then exploding messily all over twitter wouldn't be necessary.
I'm not the only professional working SF/F author who is having this problem; a bunch of us are comparing notes, and several are highly annoyed by it. Because it's not just one team doing it—one higher-profile author than me is fielding what seem to be hundreds of requests.
The shortage of new blog entries is down to me being on a death-march to the end of the first draft of an entire fricken' trilogy—alternatively, a 950-page novel that will be published in three volumes some time from late 2015 onwards (most likely in early 2016).
I have passed the 292,000 out of 300,000 word marker and am plodding along. Meanwhile, my current state of mind can be accurately summed up by the following three tunes (links via YouTube):
They're coming to take me away, ha-ha, he-he, ho-ho (Cover by Lard)
ah-ah ,eh-eh ,oh-oh ,yawa em ekat ot gnimoc er'yehT (B-side of the original single, by Napoleon XIV)
They Took You Away! I'm Glad! I'm Glad! (by Josephine XV)
Go on, I dare you to play them back to back without wincing.
Today I’m here to sell books—not mine but books by other SF writers you know. Books available from online booksellers built by and for the SF community. This is essentially a commercial for a purely SFnal book-buying ecosystem: books by SF writers, published by SF writers, and sold by SF writers, with as much of the proceeds as humanly possible going to the creators. You can buy—without DRM—novels and short stories, collections and anthologies and magazines, stuff that you might actually want to read, and read anywhere, on any device.
Queen of this trio of innovative booksellers is Book View Cafe. BVC is a publishing collective initially formed in 2008 around a core group of SF writers who wanted to use the internet to sell their work. Six years later, they have a spiffy website with a daily blog and a formidable catalogue, both new and back-list. They sell in many formats—EPUB and MOBI, of course, but also a few in PDF, and a handful as audio and/or paper (these two last mainly, I think, through third-party retailers).
Book View Cafe is where you’ll find Nebula- and Hugo-winning novels and stories by Vonda N. McIntyre. She does much of the coding that makes the books you buy render beautifully, and she’ll be a Guest of Honour at next year’s Worldcon. I’ve been a fan of her work since reading The Exile Waiting, then Dreamsnake, then Superluminal. (Even her Star Trek novels are good.) Her Nebula-winning The Moon and the Sun will be a film starring Pierce Brosnan, Bingbing Fan, Kaya Scodilario, and William Hurt next year.
There’s a new blog post up on BVC every day. One of the bloggers—who, like McIntyre, is one of the collective’s founders—is Ursula K. le Guin. No doubt you’re familiar with her stories (novels such as The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea trilogy; shorter work like “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”) but you might be less familiar with her non-fiction. Le Guin is never afraid to say what must be said, often with compassion, sometimes with scathing wit. I still grin when I think about her review in the Guardian of Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, more particularly her opinion of Atwood’s squirming away from the Science Fiction label.
Book View Cafe is where Linda Nagata publishes her novels, new and old. Try The Bohr Maker or her recent, Nebula-nominated Red: First Light. This is hard SF, military SF, and a bloody good read. I enjoyed it immensely.
As I’ve said, Book View Cafe began with SF writers but now they also sell historical, romance, and mainstream fiction. In the US you can find their books in your local library thanks to a clever deal with Overdrive. About 95% of their revenues go directly to authors. For more info than I could possibly give you here, see their FAQ. I think you might be particularly interested in how the collective works. And buy a book while you’re there; they’re not expensive.
I’m also inordinately fond of Wizards Tower Books, the sales arm of Wizards’ Tower Press. Formed by Hugo Award-winning fan Cheryl Morgan four years ago to sell both the books of other independent presses and their own WTP list, they’ve lately had a rethink and are now selling only their own books. Their list is small and interesting, with writers such as Lyda Morehouse and Ben Jeapes. Again, they’re available DRM-free, in just about any format. And you don’t have to choose which one: you get all formats included in one low price. For multi-platform folk, this is a great deal. The storefront is a bit sparse at the moment, as it’s just reopened, but I have no doubt this will change. Meanwhile, go take a look and see if there’s anything you fancy.
And finally there’s Weightless Books. This is the one with, possibly, the most varied selection. They have books by Kelley Eskridge, my wife: her novel, Solitaire, and the truly amazing collection, Dangerous Space. (Yes, of course I’m biased. I’m her wife. But take my word for it: if you want your conceptions about gender forcibly rearranged and your heart squeezed by truly fine fiction, then this is the collection for you.) They have work by another Kelly, Kelly Link. Lin’s husband, Gavin Grant, founded Weightless (and runs it with Michael J DeLuca) to sell Small Beer Press books. The works they sell now number in the zillions (it’s a technical term), work by everyone from Kelley to Kelly to Peter Dickinson to Lavie Tidhar, as well as anthologies such as Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best, and magazines like Lightspeed and Clarkesworld. All in a variety of formats and DRM-free. You can read them on anything, anywhere, anytime.
These three online book shops—Book View Cafe, Wizard’s Tower Books, and Weightless—are all worth your time. And money. They are enterprises built by SF readers and writers for SF readers and writers. The money stays in the community and supports the creation of more good books. Go buy something.
This chart from Vipshop’s investor presentation from May 2014 reflects the online discount retailer’s bullish outlook on the market, which was recently confirmed by their results from the second quarter of this year. For the three months ending in June, Vip.com saw order volume grow 138.4% YOY to 26.3 million orders, and active consumers grow 167.9% to 9.3 million. With rising demand from consumers who refuse to pay inflated China prices for brand name goods, and a lack of retail infrastructure (outlets) for brands and suppliers to closeout excess inventory – discount ecommerce platforms like Vipshop and flash-sales sites like Glamour-sales appear well-positioned to profit from China’s online shopping boom. [Vipshop]
@geoffarnold : I'll stick with what I wrote '05. By 2020 utility compute market is almost $1T and private (on prem) cloud < 5% & declining.— swardley (@swardley) May 9, 2013
Shooting video of a lumpy moon crossing the Sun and turning it into a giant googly eye is not a new activity for Curiosity, but I get a fresh thrill each time I see one of these sequences downlinked from the rover.
(or more specifically is in the process of buying) ... a further piece to the gaming industry puzzle.
@dermotcasey : NB IMHO I'm expecting AMZN to chew up gaming platforms, take a big bite out of grocery and then chow down on insurance.
— swardley (@swardley) November 16, 2012
The Earth is constantly reached by highly energetic nuclei from our Galaxy and beyond that we call “cosmic rays”. When these nuclei, mostly protons, interact with our atmosphere, they produce showers of particles that can be detected by balloon experiments or by experiments on the ground. The origin of these cosmic rays is not well understood. They span such a large range of energies (from 108 eV to 1020 eV, roughly), that it is hard to think that they could have a common origin. The lower energy cosmic rays (below ~ 1017eV) are thought to arise from the remnants of supernova explosions, while the more energetic ones are suspected to come from active galactic nuclei, gamma-ray bursts and quasars in other galaxies.
In general, it is hard to pin point the direction of the sky from which the cosmic ray is coming. The typical distance (or gyroradius) that a cosmic ray can travel before changing its direction due to inhomogeneities in the magnetic field of our Galaxy is 1 light-day. Any source of cosmic rays that we can think of (like supernova remnants) are much farther away. For example, the Vela supernova remnant is 800 light years away. Hence, the initial direction of the cosmic rays should be washed out before they reach us. However, scientists are puzzled: several experiments have reported an excess of TeV (1012 eV) cosmic rays coming from certain directions in the sky.
The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory (HAWC) is an experiment under construction near Sierra Negra, Mexico. It is originally built for the purpose of detecting gamma-rays. However, highly energetic cosmic rays are also detected by the experiment. When a cosmic ray reaches the atmosphere, its shower of secondary particles produces Cherenkov light when they traverse HAWC’s water tanks, and it is this light that is detected. With this information, the direction of the cosmic ray can be inferred to within 1.2 degrees. On the one hand, Cherenkov light from cosmic ray showers are a nuisance to the gamma-ray observations that are the main aim of HAWC, but it also constitutes an interesting measurement on its own. After roughly one year of gathering data, HAWC has measured variations in the cosmic ray intensity across the sky at the level of 0.0001.
The HAWC team has found an excess of cosmic rays coming from three different regions of the sky, as shown in Figure 1 above. All of these regions had previously been identified by other experiments (the Milagro experiment and ARGO-YBJ), and one of these regions is now detected more clearly in the HAWC data, confirming the previous results. The colors in the map indicate the significance level: a comparison of the level of detection of each feature to the noise in the measurement. The authors also explore the energy spectrum of the cosmic rays coming from Region A, the most significant region detected, and they find them to be more energetic than those that come from the whole sky, on average.
The team has also computed the power spectrum of the cosmic ray intensity. This is a function that tells us the relative abundance of intensity variations of a given scale in the map (commonly used in cosmology), and it is shown below in Figure 2. The blue points give the power spectrum of the whole map, while the red points correspond to a version of the map where the largest scale variations have been subtracted. The gray bands indicate the expected result if the cosmic rays came from random directions in the sky. Both the detection of the three excess regions and the structure in this plot can help elucidate the structure of the magnetic field in the neighborhood of the Earth, the physics of how cosmic rays propagate throughout the interstellar medium and the locations of Galactic sources of cosmic rays.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune, image magician Björn Jónsson has produced two new global mosaics of the distant ice giant, the highest-resolution ever made.
This infographic from WhoisHostingThis.com breaks down the state of social media firewalls around the world. There’s no underestimating the way that China’s digital ecosystem has been shaped by guidelines that have favored domestic platforms like Weibo, Youku, and Baidu – but as the lines blur between mobile apps and browser-based websites, it will be interesting to see how booming global messaging apps and photo-sharing platforms will evolve, and whether brands will invest in domestic equivalents or choose to promote their global channels here. [WhoIsHostingThis.com]
TV Evening. Well then yes, ok, there wasn’t a possible scenario in which I wouldn’t write about Doctor Who on Doctor Who night, especially after Keith said such nice things in the comments. There was a moment when I thought, you know what, they can do without me, I want Doctor Who to be just about Doctor Who and not about spending the following two hours writing about it before bedtime and the fixing process during the wait for the ratings in the morning. Why can’t I just make a few weak jokes on Twitter, tut at Gallifrey Base for two minutes then go off and wait for it to appear on the iPlayer so I can watch it again in HD, my television still being one the ones which says it's HD until you try to watch Freeview and the true horror of the deception is revealed. Yet, it’s Saturday night and here I am typing along to Adele’s Daydreamer. Again? Why? Why?
Well, because, frankly, there’s so much to write about. Even after nine years of being back on television, Doctor Who, the entity, the programme, the worldwide broadcasting phenomena, the franchise of franchises, still has the capacity, well the capacity to be old and new, borrowed and blue (actually with as slightly sepia hew but we’ll cover that in the relevant paragraph). It would have been very easy to simply continue the style and substance into the next Doctor’s reign, for the “Moffat era” to have a cohesive sheen ready for cultural theorists to pick over when the next person, sorry Mark Gatiss takes over, but like JNT when Andrew (one l) Cartmel took charge, or earlier under Graham Williams when Douglas Adams handed on to Anthony Root, the tone has changed. It’s a different programme. Except thanks to the differing mechanics of how television work now, it’s the same writer.
There’s a new executive producer of course. But due to the differing balance of power now, this whole shift was Moffat’s choice. He’s been a bit cautious in the run up to publication/projection about exactly how he views the change other than to say it was important to refresh things, and all we've really heard otherwise from both opening director Ben Wheatley (that’s A Field In England's Ben Wheatley) (for goodness sake) and Jenna, was about a darker tone, the scenes being longer, being more like the classic series which seems like a decent structure for the next few paragraphs. There’s just a general sense, despite the presence of the Paternoster Gang and a familiar adversary from the past, of everything being in the air, of the last vestiges of what we might expect from nuWho becoming something which isn’t really, is something else. There’s a political analogy here somewhere, probably, but it escapes me in a way that it doesn’t.
Darkness is an interesting word. How is the show darker? Clara’s literally breathless escape attempt isn’t that different an action beat to Amy pretending she has her eyes closed in the forest even if the former lacks the Doctor’s comforting voice to guide her. Is it that we genuinely didn’t think for a moment that the Doctor wouldn’t return to save Clara? Is it that for a second we thought he’d done something unmentionable to the homeless person to gain his clothes? That he called him a tramp? That he was capable of piking the clockwork man? Notice that we didn’t see a human spontaneously combust, just the dinosaur. Is it that lots of the scenes are visibly lit darker? The new creamier hue to the photography over the previous blues and greens? I’m not sure that it’s much “darker” in terms of story than previously in the likes of The Waters of Mars. We’ll return to this I expect. At this point I’m not sure. I'll get back to you.
Yes, the scenes are longer, and how. Whole scenes full of dialogue, characters talking that go on for minute upon minute without cutting away to something else. Which isn’t to say that in previous post-2005 years there haven’t been long scenes, and The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit springs to mind in this regard, yet here the scenes often play out in oners, on steadycams like some John Wells production or indeed the camera simply abides, with the action playing out within frame. That creates a new sense of unease as we expect a cut away to some other piece of business and yet there’s Clara going and having a look out of the window. We’re not already in the drawing room with Vastra and Jenny. This post-credits scene is six minutes long. Clara’s confrontation with Vastra’s another four minutes. Clara’s initial meeting with the Doctor in Mancini’s is ten minutes before the lift starts.
Lord knows how this will work in a much shorter run time and there’s the potential that along with the simplistic overall story, it’s simply a function of Deep Breath’s duration (finally mentioned the title) and introducing Peter Capaldi (and the new lead actor) nevertheless there’s a genuine sense of taking mid-twentyteens sensibilities and reintegrating the pacing of the classic series circa the 70s and early 80s. Even to the point that you can guess which bits might have been shot in the studio and which on film even though its all shot on HD. Even to the point that you wonder if some of those interior shots which are supposed to be exterior are purposefully looking like interior shots which are supposed to be exterior (because they do) (the beach). I’m almost amazed they bothered to create a CG T-Rex and didn’t simply buy a Walking With Dinosaurs action model from Amazon and push it into frame.
Except the tonal shift runs deeper. After previous regenerations we've been slap bang into a story set "now" (or "year from now"), partly because it was to RTD’s taste and expectation of the need for audience recognition and then Moffat aping such as a way of settling the audience into what was his new house-style then. Yet, here we are again in Victorian London, a place which in the past couple of years has the same claim to being the show’s “contemporary” setting as well, a contemporary setting. This isn’t quite like the shift from Pertwee to Baker. The Fourth Doctor was annoyed whenever the Brigadier dragged him back to Earth. It’s a shift in how the Moffat somewhat trusts the audience to keep with the show (more later) even when the setting doesn’t reflect their world, presumably because at this point the pretence that Earth-5556 has anything to do with the real world is unforeseeable.
But like The Eleventh Hour, he’s careful to provide enough points of familiarity, not least Vastra, Jenny and Strax being brilliant (and complaining about their screen time is like moaning about the Brigadier and Harry being in Robot a lot). Clara’s vital in this too, since as the other main tributary of continuity, she’s now shifted from being plot point in search of a character to fully fledged companion and viewpoint figure for the audience saying all the things we might potentially say about the new Doctor, perhaps voicing many of the comments that greeted Capaldi’s announcement in comment sections across the web. You could view that whole scene as Vastra telling such people to behave themselves and hold in their ageist prejudices. To an extent, that’s the bad cop approach, essentially saying “He’s the Doctor whether you like it or not…” and people will react to that the way that people will react to things.
Having always been a fan of Jenna Coleman, but understanding people’s resistance to her because of her status within the arc of the bottom eight last year, I was unsurprised by her luminance in Deep Breath. Having been hired because of her chemistry with one leading man, she’s continued that, albeit in a different way, with another and yes, I’m going to say it, in much the same way as Lis Sladen back in the day. Unlike Sarah-Jane however, this is arguably the same Clara. It’s simply, as we’ve discussed, she has tons more dialogue and character beats which aren’t about plot so much as giving her some extra dimensions. One oddity is her not apparently knowing who Amy is, or indeed the notion of regeneration which is which is at variance with what we saw in The Name of the Doctor, Clara and the TARDIS and The Ultimate Guide. Hmm….
The good cop approach is Matt Smith storming re-emergence at the end. This had been spoiled months ago by someone eavesdropping on set that day, but they’d surmised it was some message, yet instead here he was, the previous model interloping on his successors introduction. When was this shot? During the Time of the Doctor with Jenna filming the other side of the scene months later? Pixley only know but if so, it’s seamless and again, a new approach to an old problem but a problem which has changed slightly also thanks to the reason why the show went on the transcontinental publicity tour. Matt Smith helped break the show across the world and to some extent it is for that audience to reassure them that this is the same character with a different face. It’s also for kids for whom he was their first Doctor to reassure them of the same thing, in a different way.
You could ask why this is necessary - Tom’s Doctor didn’t phone Peter’s companions to reassure them ("Hello, Adric? Is that you? Could you put Nyssa on, I want to have a chat about the new chap.") but like I said Matt Smith is, or rather was as much a part of the brand as the TARDIS and sonic screwdrivers and although the show has always sold internationally it was nothing like this. Even the New York Times today ran a Capaldi interview and I haven’t seen Twitter speaking with one voice to quite this degree outside of proper news stories since the 50th. More than ever this is a managed transition and if those closing moments resemble anything, it's a US presidential inauguration albeit with a time and space machine being handed over rather than a country, and a single fictional constituent who didn’t vote for change to be convinced that it’ll be ok.
Having just rewatched that scene back it’s notable just how well directed and edited it is. When Twelfth asks Clara to look at him, his eyebrows and the rest of his face fill the frame but when we cut back to Jenna it’s from a side on view, then back to Capaldi’s face and it’s like we’re viewing him together and I bet there were a few of us who did finally accept him as the Doctor in the moment when she finally hugged him (though given the complex cleverness of his performance I expect it was much earlier than that). In an episode which if Extradential is anything to go by was shot in continuity, we can see the actor learning to play the character on screen as the character discovers himself and in those moments it is as though the performance reaches a nexus point (having toured a fair few Baker and Tennant-like moments along the way). He is the Doctor and I like it a lot.
Which would be the perfect conclusion to this thing I wasn’t going to write especially since it’s gone midnight, but what to make of the ending after the ending? Having said that the story arcs would be on the low-low this year here’s Michelle Gomez dressed as Eliza Doolittle and claiming to be the Doctor’s girlfriend Missy (“I mean Mom.”) (no scratch that, wrong telephone box) in what looks like the garden simulation from The Girl Who Waited. It seems like a classic misdirect from Moffat to cause to us moan about the adherence of the repeated Melody-Lem but if she is the one who's helping to keep these two together, whatever could her motive be? All will be hopefully be revealed in time for the 51st anniversary, give or take a couple of weeks. Has the Doctor given up on his quest for Gallifrey or will she turn out to be the vital clue that leads to its resurrection?
A couple of points to note on terms. I'll use figure 1 and 2 to describe the process of change. For those completely unfamiliar with mapping then I'd suggest watching the video and reading through the slides provided in the early post on 'Playing Chess with Companies'.
Figure 1 - A 'Wardley' Map
I've been asked for a lot of advice on mapping recently. Some of it has been fairly basic, so I've put together a rough guide to get people started.
Did you just wrap up a senior thesis? Are you getting started on an astro research project? If you, too, have been working on a project that you want to share, we want to hear from you! Think you’re up to the challenge of describing your research carefully and clearly to a broad audience, in only one paragraph? Then send us a summary of it!
You can share what you’re doing by clicking on the “Your Research” tab above (or by clicking here) and using the form provided to submit a brief (fewer than 200 words) write-up of your work. The target audience is one familiar with astrophysics but not necessarily your specific subfield, so write clearly and try to avoid jargon. Feel free to also include either a visual regarding your research or else a photo of yourself.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Poruri Sai Rahul
Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai, India
Rahul is pursuing an integrated BS and MS degree in physics at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. He’s also the head of the amateur astronomy club, Astro IITM. He did the work below under the guidance of Prof. Anand Narayanan at the Indian Institute for Space science and Technology, Trivandrum, India.
Colors of Quasars from the SDSS DR9
The practice of photometric redshift estimation through multi-band photometry was initially put forth by Baum 1962 but has only become popular and powerful at the turn of the century. The efficiency of these methods depends greatly on the amount of overlap between adjacent filters, which is why photometry using SDSS u, g, r, i, z and 2MASS J, H, K bands has an advantage over the conventional UBVRI photometry.
Colors of Quasars by Richards et al. 2001 is a study of the color-color and color-redshift relationships of 2625 quasars, mostly from the SDSS DR3 catalog. As only part of the original data set was available on the internet, instead of reproducing the results, I worked on extending them using quasar data from the SDSS DR9. Using sql query, I retrieved photometric data on 146,659 quasars and constructed the color-color and color-redshift relations. Variation in the color can be explained using the various emission and absorption lines that are characteristic of quasars. Refer to sec. 4.3 of Richards et al. 2001 for a detailed explanation.
A pesky radio problem that has occasionally stymied LightSail has returned, scrubbing the mission's day-in-the-life test.
The Mars gremlins really had it in for Curiosity this month. A computer glitch and slippery sand conspired to delay the rover's progress toward Mount Sharp. And shifting rocks proved unsafe for drilling. The rover will continue driving toward Mount Sharp, departing Bonanza King without drilling, skirting Hidden Valley along a plateau to its north.
Rosetta spent the week transitioning to a lower orbit from which it continues to observe the comet. This weekend, the mission will select about five landing sites for more detailed study. They have also now estimated the mass of the comet.
So last time I wrote I was all "Yay, writing" and then promptly didn't do any more. Basically because I was yet again updating the code that runs this blog and couldn't really create anything new until it was done.
It's still not done, but it's done enough to write another post and most likely break your RSS readers again.
Sorry about that.
But hopefully all being well I can now focus on getting back on track again, and also finally getting all my Flickr photos back online. All of which I'll detail in another post.
Written by Mary Schmich
[from the single: 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)', EMI, 2000]
Five pieces of music which make me cry:
(1) ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ – The Spinners
(2) ‘Moonlight Sonata’
(3) ‘Abide with me’
(4) ‘Dignity’ – Deacon Blue
(5) ‘The Sunscreen Song’
Five more pieces of music which make me cry.
(6) 'The JCB Song' - Nizpoli
(7) 'This is Heaven To Me' - Madeline Peyroux
(8) 'Closing of the Year' - Wendy and Lisa
(9) 'Claire De Lune'
(10) 'Into The West' - Annie Lennox]
Music Musical artists having their music given away free has a range of implications, so it was with a deep breath and heavy sigh when I was notified because I'm on her publicity mailing list that Shakira's new album is being given away free to people who download her iphone app.
But I still quite like Shakira (having been there since just on the cusp of Laundry Surface) but had entirely forgotten to buy the album. Now a mobile phone company has paid for a copy for me. Which is fine.
You can have a free copy too if you download the app and follow the instructions. They do ask you to fork over your email address and mobile number so I suppose it also depends on how squeemish you are about that sort of thing.
The track Empire has the lyric"And stars make love to the universe ..." if that helps. Rihanna's on one of the other tracks too.
Understanding galaxy evolution is a major goal of astronomy. In recent years, much work has been done to understand how galaxies can alter their appearances, form stars or bar structures, how they behave in groups and clusters, and much more. It is an active topic of research, and we are gradually beginning to put together a solid picture of how galaxies grow and mature. However, the most serious challenge lies in understanding the earliest eras of galaxy evolution, how the first galaxies formed, and under what conditions. It’s an open question deeply connected to our understanding of cosmology, and the main difficulty in answering it is simply that it’s extremely hard to see the earliest galaxies.
Astronomers use the fact that light takes time to travel to look back in time. If our telescopes catch light that has been travelling for seven billion years to reach us, then that light was originally emitted roughly around when the universe was half of its present age, by today’s estimates. The farther out we look, the farther back we look. Of course, there are incredible technological hurdles to overcome if we want to keep looking farther out. Finding the earliest galaxies requires long exposures on very sensitive instruments, plus some handy tricks like the ones described in this paper.
The authors of this work describe how they found 16 extremely distant galaxies in the data of the CANDELS survey using what’s called a “break” method: a “break” is a point in a spectrum where the light intensity sharply drops off, mainly because certain colors of light are being absorbed by dust or gas. This means that if you were to take two pictures of the same galaxy in two different filters, one below the break and one above the break, you’d see nothing in the first picture, and a bright galaxy in the second picture (see Figure 1). This spectral feature will then be redshifted with distance, creating a method to potentially find galaxies with these features at great distances.
For a long time, astronomers have used the Lyman Break technique for this sort of thing, but a galaxy has to be forming a lot of stars to have a Lyman break. But a massive and evolved galaxy wouldn’t register with that technique, and some recent studies have shown that such galaxies do exist at such early times. For that reason, the authors use the Ballmer break instead, since it appears in evolved galaxies. Examining the selected galaxies shows that they are between redshifts 3 and 4.5, which means we are seeing them as they were when the universe was only about 1 to 2 billion years old!
There is more to learn from the photometric data, as they include photometry in 14 different filters. By matching all these wavelengths to model galaxy spectra, it is possible to get a rough idea of how old and massive the galaxies must be. The authors find that the galaxies are quite massive (an average mass of ∼ 5×10^10 solar masses) and relatively old: an average age of about 800 million years, at a time when the universe was no older than 2 billion years. That leads to the surprising conclusion that an old, evolved and mostly quiescent (not star forming) collection of galaxies formed this early in the universe – a population of galaxies that we are only now starting to uncover. It is possible that some of these galaxies formed the bulk of their mass only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang and might be the descendants of Lyman break galaxies at higher redshift. Figuring out just how this newly-discovered type of galaxy fits into the larger picture of galaxy formation and the evolution of the universe will tell us quite a bit about these early times. More research is needed!
On October 19, the Mars rovers — like their orbiting cousins — will become comet flyby missions. Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will pass within 140,000 km of Mars.
What’s new at Stardust@home, the groundbreaking program that asked volunteers to help find interstellar dust particles collected by the spacecraft Stardust.
TV While I continue to ponder what I'll be doing after Doctor Who on Saturday night, here's what's happening in some other mythology trying to tie-down the rules of how their universe works as though that's a good thing and won't end up handcuffing or more accurately straight-jacketing creatives and fans for the next few decades. Some notes:
(1) The best thing about the video is the presenter's t-shirt. That is a very cool t-shirt.
(2) Where's Earth-1? Is that the pre-52 Earth? Why's it not on the map? Or is the whole Flashpoint thing supposed have changed the whole of the multiverse?
(3) In this context, presumably "Earth" means "Universe"? In which case what about Krypton?
(4) So Hades is also the phantom zone and it exists outside of normal space. Does that mean all of the various Kryptons in all of these universes send their criminals there? Can these criminals meet each other and interact? Isn't there some duplication? What about the good people sent their by the Justice League of super-villains?
(5) I like all of the maneuvering in trying to crowbar in all of the monotheistic and polytheistic religions, though its notable that its essentially "heaven" and "miscellaneous land".
(6) I do like the classical philosophical vibe.
(7) How does this fit in with the Omniverse?
(8) Haven't DC readers suffered enough?
If you're attending Loncon 3 and want to see me, bookmark this blog entry. I'll update it as things change.
I'll be at Loncon 3 from Thursday August 14th through Monday 18th. Afterwards, I'll be travelling to Dublin for Shamrokon, the Eurocon. (No, I will not be attending Nine Worlds: doing three large conventions on consecutive weekends would be insane.) See below the fold for my schedule for the London trip, including non-convention events. I'll post my Shamrokon schedule in a different blog entry, once it firms up.
Note: the first event is provisional.
6pm, Forbidden Planet, 179 Shaftesbury Ave, London
Titan Books mass signing
(This event is provisional: I'd like to be there, but I'm driving down from Leeds to London that day and my ability to make the signing depends on traffic, hotel check-in, the car not catching fire and exploding en route, and so on. So I'm promising nothing. Your consolation prize if I crash and burn along the way: Cory Doctorow!)
LOLcats in Space: Social Media, Humour, and SF Narratives
12:00—13:30, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)
This panel will focus on the challenges science fiction authors face in dealing with the plot and setting implications of social media. How do these tools affect the way stories unfold? Can writers represent the playful and ever-changing conventions of social media discussions without writing a novel that looks hopelessly dated before it even hits the shelves, and if so how? Put another way: would Kim Stanley's Robinson's 2312 have been greatly improved by a GIF of a spinning asteroid with a cat in it saying: Asteroid kitteh sez yur lint trap'z fulla cat haerz? So panel. Very discussion. Wow.
The Fermi Paradox in Light of the Kepler Mission
19:00—20:00, Capital Suite 15 (ExCeL)
The Kepler Mission has been hugely successful in searching for exoplanets. It's results have been used as the basis of claims that Earthlike planets lie in the habitable zones of 20% of stars in the galaxy. This would mean that the nearest habitable planet s just 12 light years away. If habitable planets are so common why have we seen no sign of intelligent life spreading from star to star? Does this mean that we really are alone in the universe? The panel considers Kepler and other results and try to come up with more informed answers to Fermi's infamous question: "Where are they?"
Scientists vs Authors Quiz
22:00—23:30, Capital Suite 14 (ExCeL)
After their narrow defeat at Eastercon, will the Authors get their revenge or will the supremacy of the Scientists go unchallenged? See what SF writers know abotu science and what scientists known about SF at the rematch!
12:00—13:00, Autographing 9
20:00—21:00, The Bar (ExCeL) (You will need to sign up in advance: space is limited!)
Reading: Charles Stross
15:00—15:30, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)
(And later that evening you will
probably definitely be able to find me in the Hugo Losers' Party!)
Rat's Monkey's Ass
10:00—11:00, Capital Suite 3 (ExCeL)
Swearing in science fiction and fantasy is occasionally a minefield of anachronism, but then, there's often nothing weirder than hearing someone yell "frak". Or even worse, a teenage character that refuses to curse at all. This panel will explore swear words in the genres. What purpose does swearing have within a society? What purpose does it serve in fiction, and how important, or not, are profanities to the narrative? When are invented curses more (or less) effective than real (contemporary or historical) examples, and why?
The Ruling Party
15:00—16:30, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL)
Is there an Alternative? Increasingly it seems that, no matter which party is elected, they do the same things. Charlie Stross has suggested that no matter who is elected, the Ruling Party, an agglomeration of top level politicians across all parties, always has the controls. Is there any alternative to this? Is this a bad thing? And if it is, what can we do about it?
Other stuff is going to show up here in due course: watch the skies!
[This is an essay in the old sense of the word. I'm not here to pick fights or bludgeon anyone with my point of view on SF1. I want to explore, to wander a little. I've used footnotes not as a scholarly buttress but in an attempt to keep this exploration from becoming a hopeless tangle.]
I’m English. I've lived in the US a long time (in fact last year I got my US citizenship) but I’m still English. You can tell: all I have to do is speak. There's no hiding that accent. In England, I belong. I visit often; I feel at home; I just don't live there anymore.
A few years ago, when William Gibson was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, he said: I am a native of science fiction but no longer a resident.2 I understood exactly what he meant.
My most recent novel, Hild, has no fantastical elements whatsoever. It's not set in a secondary world, there are no dragons, no wizards casting spells, no special swords or magic rings. Yet the book has been nominated for three SF awards3. Why?
Perhaps it's because I'm a native of SF and it shows: Hild might be a literary novel but it speaks with a fantasy accent and uses the grammar of science fiction. It relies on world-building, the grand "What if...?" learnt reading and writing SF. More than that, it relies on readers being willing to take that leap of faith into the unknown—the ability to take odd spellings, strange names, unfamiliar concepts in stride, to risk just going with the flow and trust it'll make sense eventually—that is one of the mainstays of our genre.
Perhaps it's because of the setting. Hild begins fourteen hundred years ago, in the north of Britain. A time that used to be called the Dark Ages, lit in our imagination by flickering flame, with menhirs looming from the mist and men on horseback waving swords. It was a time when kings were petty warlords, might was right, and some thought there was a god on every hill.4 The tropes of this milieu are often appropriated by fantasy writers, so much so that it's become a cliché. But here's the thing: the setting of Hild is real. Hild was a real person. Everything in that book could actually have happened.5
Perhaps, then, it's because I deliberately worked to give the book the feel of myth and epic. It might be a novel of character—Hild is in every single scene; there's no "Meanwhile, several hundred leagues away in the head of a character you've forgotten about"—but it's painted on a heroic canvas. There's gold and glory, plots and politics, sweeping change and a focus on systems (economic, climatic, and behavioural). There's also very human joy and misery, fear and hope, lust and boredom, and a few simple contentments.
I admit, I wanted Hild to be the Platonic ideal of a novel: to feel like myth, yet to make sense not only on an epic but a personal scale; for its magic to be the wild magic of the landscape and that of the human heart.
Margaret Atwood (in)famously defined speculative fiction as being about what could happen. If we focus only on that and ignore her other idiotic pronouncements6 , then Hild is separated from the genre only by a matter of tense; if I've done my research properly, it's what could have happened.
In this sense, then, I'm comfortable defining Hild as speculative fiction. It relies on a tradition practised by fantasy and science fiction writers and readers. It could not exist without the particular reading stance honed by and required by genre, the willingness to reach understanding as one proceeds. But I was surprised when it (along with Karen Joy Fowlers's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) was nominated for a Nebula.
Clearly some voting members believed a fantasy accent or science fiction grammar enough for a book to belong to the genre. But maybe it's not the books that are considered to belong but the authors.
I can't speak for Karen but, yes, I am part of the SF community and have been for decades. And it is a community (or, rather, many interlocking communities). I went to the Nebula Awards Weekend in San Jose not because I thought I'd win—I knew I wouldn't7—but to hang out in the bar. To spend time with my people. Because the readers and writers of SF are my people. I feel at home here; I belong.
In May, before I went to the Nebulas, I read a review of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry, edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson.8 Frances Power, the reviewer, suggests (I'm paraphrasing) that speculative writing helps us to live because the definitions by which we live are products of culture. They are imaginary; we made them up.
She's referring to the work of Judith Butler on the gender binary but I think her opinion applies equally to the artificial division between SF and so-called mainstream fiction: both are cultural constructs, invented categories; we can uninvent them.
The tricky part, of course, is who are We—whose definitions are we using?
The world is changing. It no longer belongs to angry white boys sitting around in their white-wall buzz cuts eating white bread and watching Leave It To Beaver. (I'm not sure it ever did, but they certainly thought so.) The world is changing and the SF community is changing with it. I understand that this upsets some people; change is hard. But change also lies at the heart of the genre. It's who we are, what we do. We ask "What if...?" and follow the answer relentlessly.
The big "What if..." in Hild is: What if women had always been real human beings, human in, of, and by themselves rather than in relation to men? What if, despite the stories we've been told—and ask yourself who told those stories—women have always found a way around their constraints, just as we do today? What would history have really looked like? I wrote this book to find out.
What we read, what we experience in the privacy of our heads, changes us one at a time. For me the best books put us right there, right then with a character, make her experiences our own, his lessons our lessons, their lives ours lives. We become them, just for a little while, and come back increased.
In this way, books can change the world: they change us, one at a time. With Hild I've come back to the question that lay at the heart of Ammonite: What if all people are just people? What if that has been, is, and will be true in every time and place?
And so, for me—though of course every writer is different—the past is where I turn the key that unlocks the answers. If someone like Hild, someone with her agency, her will, her determination was possible fourteen hundred years ago, then she is possible now. If she's possible now then the odds are good that we're making very sure she will be possible in the future. And suddenly the world looks different: if the lights go out, women don't have to be chattels.9
This is why I made the world of seventh-century Britain as real as I could, why I decided against an alternate history or secondary world fantasy, though that would have been far easier: I wanted to change this one.
At SF gatherings built around books and stories—functionally I see no difference between conferences, conventions, and award weekends—the sense of community is palpable. It can be hard to tell the difference between writers and fans. First and foremost, SF writers are fans; we are readers. In this genre there's an assumption of equality between those two sides10 that I had no idea was not true for others. The gathering is structured for mutual support of readers and writers. We exchange reading recommendations, information on publishing, direct experience of life, the universe, and everything. The weekends (they are usually weekends) are administered and run by the community itself.
In my experience, then, the SF community is something special. Yes, there's always been in-fighting, some of it vicious. We have always fought, as all communities do, over who owns the clubhouse: who makes sets the standards and makes the rules? Who is Us and who is Other?11
Our community is in the process of experimenting, of unmaking and remaking. Expect the pendulum, the definition of what is and what is not genre, to swing wildly meanwhile. I have no doubt that many find this unsettling, but meanwhile there are some astonishing moments.
It was amazing to sit at the Nebula Awards and watch women win, cheer women of colour as they climbed the stage, listen to a woman who loves women tell her Toastmaster jokes. It was fabulous to see men applaud heartily and laugh at the jokes about gender. To me and many people in that room, it felt like a vast hand pushing aside old boundaries, making room for even more experimentation.
And isn't that the point of SF, to experiment, to ask "What if...?"
Perhaps my insistence on realism is what disqualifies Hild as SF. I'm okay with that. For now. But it'll be interesting to see if this holds true in the future, to see who We become, who owns SF.
1 I'm going to use SF as an umbrella term to cover fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, horror, etc. It's just easier.
2 I'm paraphrasing. This was relayed to me secondhand at a dinner party by someone who attended the ceremony. That was six years ago. But I think the essentials are accurate.
3 Shortlisted for the Nebula and John W Campbell Memorial Awards and named a Tiptree Honor book.
4 Not everyone, of course. Perhaps not even most. Then, as now, culture was not monolithic; there were many layers, levels of status, belief systems. Then, as now, individuals in the same family could have radically different worldviews. (Just like the SF community. Or communities. I'll come back to this.)
5 Though I did, apparently, make one idiotic error regarding hay: they kept it loose and didn't bale it. (Mea culpa.) What people of early seventh-century Britain did or did not do with hay, though, is not (in my opinion) enough to classify a novel as fantasy.
6 See, for example, the Guardian.
7 Though I admit I was disappointed when I didn't win. Yes, intellectually I knew I wouldn't. Yes, I've won it before. No, Hild's not fantasy. Yes, it was an honour and delight to be shortlisted. But it turns out hope springs eternal and I want all the prizes!
8 May 2014 issue of Poetry magazine, beginning p 105.
9 Or the world all white, or straight.
10 Samuel R. Delany has talked about the egalitarian foundations of the genre as we know it today. I can't find the reference but he mentions Wagner and his demand that audiences listen to his music as though it were more important than they were. And how SF's refusal to privilege creator over audience antipates postmodernism. Or something like that...
11 Men and Women. White people and People of colour. Straights and Queers (whether we're talking sexual orientation or gender identification). Able and Differently Abled (whether we're talking physically or neurologically). The list is almost endless—and not particular to SF. Religion and class and political ideology are the stuff of war and revolution.
[Many thanks to Gary Wolfe, Jonathan Strahan, and Kelley Eskridge for the conversations that helped shape some of these ideas. See, for example, this Coode Street podcast.]
Tanya Harrison reports on Canada's efforts to simulate a Mars sample return mission here on Earth.
Dance Find above the opening ceremony for the current Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing which I watched this afternoon, and, frankly, it's awesome. Empty theatrics in comparison the London 2012 achievements, but still an utterly beautiful expression of human achievement. The first hour is essentially the admin, flag parade and speeches and you can skip that if you like, but shift to minute 1:08 and prepare to gape. If the dance version of Andrew Graham Dixon's Art of China doesn't do it for you, the chunk after that really should. Wow. Oh and watch on a big screen if you can, yes definitely.
TV You will have read about this everywhere else already but in an unexpected or not unexpected move, the BBC, or more specifically the iPlayer which has quickly turned itself into a new television channel via the back door (and the line leading BT Wholesales junction box) have announced they're resurrecting Doctor Who Confidential Cutdowns, sorry Doctor Who Extra:
"The BBC has today announced Doctor Who Extra - a brand new series, exclusively on BBC iPlayer. Doctor Who Extra is much more than a ‘making of’ show as we follow Peter Capaldi every step of the way throughout the creation of his first season as the Doctor. Over the course of 12 programmes we trace the highs and lows of Doctor Who’s most ambitious run of episodes yet, getting the inside take on series 8 from the people who made it."Or the "lows" as far as we can tell you now because let's face it you'll have to wait another twenty years when everyone's left the programme and the extra features on the super enhanced version of the show on whatever medium its delivered on for the real dirt about fallings out and actors being grumpy on set (but not too much because we've all still got to meet each other in Big Finish's green room) (in the unlikely event they have the license for nuWho by then).
Books More proof, as if you needed it, that everything is just about Doctor Who. Not having read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, I didn't have any idea that there was a character called Jamie. On the occasion of the tv adaptation beginning transmission and Fraser Hines being cast, Doctor Who News has highlighted this post on the author's website about what inspired her to write the series:
"I rarely watch TV, but at the time I was in the habit of viewing weekly PBS reruns of Doctor Who (a British science-fiction serial), because it gave me just enough time to do my nails. So, while pondering the setting for my hypothetical historical novel, I happened to see one very old episode of Doctor Who featuring a "companion" of the Doctor's-a young Scottish lad named Jamie MacCrimmon, whom the Doctor had picked up in 1745. This character wore a kilt, which I thought rather fetching, and demonstrated-in this particular episode-a form of pigheaded male gallantry that I've always found endearing: the strong urge on the part of a man to protect a woman, even though he may realize that she's plainly capable of looking after herself.The character's full name is Jamie Fraser, but she says he didn't know what the actor's name was until ages after she named him because the episode's credits were missing. Now, that is weird. Three sleeps.
"I was sitting in church the next day, thinking idly about this particular show (no, oddly enough, I don't remember what the sermon was about that day), when I said suddenly to myself, Well, heck. You want to write a book, you need a historical period, and it doesn't matter where or when. The important thing is just to start, somewhere. Okay. Fine. Scotland, eighteenth century."
This chart from L2′s Prestige Hotels 2014 Digital IQ Index, compares user reviews on regional OTA (online travel agencies) websites for 66 global luxury hotel brands. Surprisingly, only 65% of the prestige hotel brands analyzed were listed on APAC travel booking sites compared with 86% in the U.S. and 73% in Europe. This comparatively low percentage jumps out even more when considering the fact that Asian travelers wrote nearly twice as many reviews for prestige hotels than their western counterparts. With travel from Asia, and China in particular, still in the early stages of a global boom, brands must be proactive in securing listings on OTAs to capture the word of mouth that often dictates the planning decisions of regional travelers. [L2]
在L2的Prestige Hotels 2014 Digital IQ Index报告中,其分析66家精品酒店在线上旅游代理商的评价一览。出奇的是,亚太区用户贡献了将近两倍的精品酒店评价数,而其评价列表中的精品酒店数竟仅有65%,美国及欧洲则分别享有86%及73%。在中国旅游人数急速增加的同时,精品酒店也许应该想想怎么样在线上旅游业者的评价功能里,表现出色。[L2]
Now that a Tiger Team has assessed the nature and causes of damage to Curiosity's wheels, I can finally answer your frequently-asked questions about what wheel damage means for the mission, and why it wasn't anticipated.
(Popping back in briefly: Nicola will be back again with a new essay on Thursday.)
I have a heavy iOS habit. And (you're not going to be surprised by this) I also have a couple of Android devices. My first real smartphone, back in 2003, was a Palm Treo 600; I switched to the iPhone 3G after Palm jumped down the rabbit hole in 2008. So I have a lot of legacy apps that run on mobile devices, and I thought I'd indulge in a little rant about the most annoying facets of the app store lifestyle.
Let's leave aside the issue of the creeping commoditization of software and the fact that these walled gardens are driving us to rent, rather than own, some of our most intimate moments. Smartphones are the third stage of the personal computer revolution, taking personal computing into the pockets of billions of people who don't even know they're carrying around sophisticated network-connected supercomputers with online access to the sum total of human knowledge (and in turn accessible online to the sum total of human computer criminals).
The fact is, we're increasingly coming to depend on these pocket wonders to keep us in touch with our friends, locate us when we're lost, to do business, to schedule our lives. And it's probably necessary for them to be locked down and centrally provisioned, because most of the folks who own them don't have the faintest clue about network security and, more importantly, don't have the time or energy or brain cells to learn how to defend themselves. This brings us to the app store model for curating software configuration: the Google Play store on Android, the iTunes Store on Apple devices, and various half-assed attempts at building proprietary company stores from Kindle, Nook, Windows Mobile, Samsung, and any other company who think they can hold their users to ransom.
For most mobile apps I use iOS. This is not an accident. Firstly, walled gardens may be prisons, but the bigger they are the less you notice the walls: also, Apple has always had a focus on design aesthetics that the rest of the CE industry has never understood. Simply put, the best iOS apps are pretty, and if I'm going to be interacting with a device from dawn 'til dusk I do not want it to offend my eyes every time I look at it. The flipside is that the Android ecosystem has, until iOS 8 ships, been more flexible: there are things Apple simply won't allow in their store, and if you want them you're going to have to look outside the walls.
But now for my main gripe. I've been using iOS devices since the iPhone 3G (not the 3GS), and I have to say that the App Store has usability flaws that are becoming crippling.
I'm not going to gripe about it being part of iTunes. iTunes has morphed from a CD-ripping and MP3 playing tool in 2000 into Apple's content and media store. But the iTunes app store offers virtually zero library management and curation tools.
Yes, you can view your app purchases by platform (iPhone/iPod Touch, or iPad, or Universal) and you can check for updates. But most of the development effort seems to go into how to sell you new apps, not manage the ones you've got. So my app library is slowly sinking under a pile of ...
* Abandonware. Many apps simply aren't updated. The developer gave up on them (often due to paltry revenue) with the result that they're rotting and no longer work once iOS retires one framework too many.
* Take-overware. Some apps are abandoned because the developer sold out to another company who wanted them for the staff, not the product. Big visible examples of this are QuickOffice (once a stand-alone office suite for phones, it's now being rolled into Google Drive as a bunch of editing tools) and Stanza (once the best ePub ebook reader on iOS; then Amazon bought the company for their ebook development expertise and left the apps to rot). Documents to Go may be joining QuickOffice soon—the developers were bought out by Blackberry, and although it's still occasionally updated the update tempo has slowed right down. In fact, since Apple focussed so intently on building out the iWork suite as a cloud-based cross-platform tool, most of the rival cross-platform office suites have withered on the vine, aside from Microsoft Office (perched lonely like a Microsoftian colonial outpost in the hinterlands of iPad-land, requiring an Office365 subscription to work). There are plenty of text editors, and a couple of fine document processors (Textilus, I'm looking at you) and some day soon Scrivener is promised on iOS. But I'm a bit peeved that over the years products I've spent good money for have been pulled right out from under my fingers and shut down without so much as a by-your-leave.
* Forced upgrade-ware. This is an increasing problem. Time was when software was expensive and came in boxes and you expected a new version every year or three, for which you would pay. Then the app store model cut the feet out from under the expensive boxed software industry. Now, if you want powerful software, it takes a lot of effort to make the stuff. So it's no surprise that some of the better apps in the app store cost rather more than the £0.99 norm—OmniOutliner, for example, is US $29.99. GoodReader, the best PDF reader/annotator I've found for iOS, is $6.99. These apps aren't cheap and maintaining them costs money, and it shows. But because the Apple app store only allows for a one-off purchase, the developers eventually see sales tapering off. So they run on forced obsolescence. Support and upgrades for an old version stops, and a new one comes along that you have to buy afresh—OmniOutliner 2, or GoodReader 4. The trouble is, the old version sticks around as a zombie in your iTunes library: I'm now looking at about three or four versions of Marvin, my ebook reader of choice, three versions of GoodReader and two of OmniOutliner. All of which insist on residing on any Mac I have registered with my Apple ID, sucking up valuable space.
* Get-out-of-my-face-ware: I just saw an app update today, for the Croatia Travel Guide I bought a couple of years ago when I visited Croatia. I am glad it is still being updated but I am less than charmed to be bugged about it, because I will not need it until the next time I visit Croatia, and while Croatia is charming this isn't likely to happen in the next couple of years. There is a lot of stuff like this in my iTunes library—cruft downloaded once out of curiousity and never touched since (many games, for example), or stuff used once but no longer of interest, or stuff purchased and immediately regretted because it didn't do what I needed. Many SF conventions publish their program guides as apps, so I've got about half a dozen bespoke apps for conventions long past gathering dust in my filesystem: then a couple experimented with commercial conference guide packages (which offered free entry-level versions of their software) until those products priced themselves out of the fan-run convention market. And they still keep updating on me.
* Excessively-updated-ware: I still have my old iPhone 3G. It sits on a stand on my bedside table, sans SIM card, as an alarm clock. (I can reach out in the night and hit the button to see what time it is without being kept awake in-between by a glowing display.) It doesn't update to anything more recent than some version of iOS 4. There are apps on it that claim to have updates pending ... but they won't install or run on it.
I have about 33Gb of apps in my iTunes library, on each of the three SSD-based Macs I use and have registered to that account. I estimate that at least 10Gb of these apps are unwanted. Some of these apps are big—games, mostly, clocking in at over 1Gb each. But there are 350 .ipa installer packages, the oldest date to 2008, and a bunch of them are basically trash that I can't delete without the store persistently trying to make me re-download them.
Apple, the iTunes app library is broken from the point of view of anyone who uses it intensively over a period of years. But I think you can probably fix it. Here are some features that I think would make life easier for people like me (of whom I believe there are some millions):
* I want to be able to create my own lists and "playlists" of apps, link them to folders ("all apps in this list go in such-and-such a folder") and tag these for downloading/synching on specific devices ("a folder containing playlist named 'Office apps' goes onto all iPads except iPad 1 but not iPhones or iPod Touches").
* I want to be able to lock some apps to never update, regardless of what the developer thinks. Or to retain a given old version for one specific iOS device that can't update—an iPhone 3G, or an iPad 1, for example. ("This app is needed in an iOS 4 compatible flavour for my old phone, and in the latest available version for every other device.") You don't need to support the old devices: just don't wreck my ability to restore them by trashing the last version of an app to run on them.
* I'd like to be able to tag apps for updating based on priority. Sometimes I'm on the road or on a train or in a hotel with limited wifi, or roaming on 3G data. When that happens, I want to update the apps that are important to me first. For example, security patches for DropBox or Pages are always going to be more important than some random game that can wait until I get home from a business trip. And I want my devices to know this so that I can leave the process of downloading app updates on automatic.
* I want to be able to "un-buy" an app. Not necessarily to be given a refund, but just to delete the waste of money, brains and disk space from my library forever so I'm never bugged to update it again and it doesn't spawn endless useless space-consuming copies across every Mac I own.
* I want to be able to link two apps so that iTunes knows that one of them supersedes the other. That way I wouldn't "un-buy" GoodReader 3, but iTunes would nevertheless stop insisting that I install it or update it, because it would be flagged as superseded-by GoodReader 4.
* Better still, Apple should offer developers the option of in-app purchases for updates. Limit it to no more than once per year, to prevent a forced-upgrade treadmill, and allow users to decline to update—but at least stop spamming our iTunes libraries with never versions of apps that relegate old versions to the state of abandonware.
* I want to be able to create views of my iTunes app library that hide some apps without deleting them from the database. (That "playlist" feature? Give me a special playlist called "hidden". Sort of like the undeleted items in the trash can. I can dive in and rummage for something if I find a pressing need for it, but otherwise it shouldn't clutter up my view of my iOS lifestyle.)
Final note: this is a gripe list for the Apple iTunes app store for iOS. However, you can come up with a near-identical list for the Google Play store. I'm pretty sure a similar but disjoint set of gripes exist for the Windows Mobile app store. It's an inevitable consequence of the app-ification of our lifestyles. App stores were designed for cheap, simple devices. But iPads and big Android tablets and Surface RT tablets aren't simple devices: they're about 80% of a personal computer, and within the next 2-3 years they will, to all intents and purposes, be the curated personal computing platform of choice for most people.
Over to you folks. What do you acutely feel the lack of in these curated app collections?
I hadn’t intended to start blogging here until next Thursday, when my novel Hild comes out in the UK, but, hey, I saw the news about Marvel’s Thor and couldn’t resist.
So: Thor is now a girl. This changes everything. Sort of.
Let’s ignore the fact that Thor is a god, and mere mortals shouldn’t expect gods to behave like us, because if you take that thought train too far we end up wondering why gods are identified as one sex or another in the first place. And then we have to get into a long and complicated discussion of how religion works and next thing we know the wheels have come off. Today I’d rather stick to the notion of Thor as entertainment. (I can’t speak for tomorrow…)
Entertainment—just like religion—reflects culture rather than leading it. You could make a different argument, perhaps, about Art with a capital A but, again, for today let’s avoid those derailing possibilities and stick to entertainment. And comics, and the films based on them, are first and foremost entertainment.
Traditionally comics were supposed to entertain boys and young men, though girls and women have always also read them. Girls, though, were basically ignored as a demographic by creators and powers-that-be so comics were designed with the sensibilities of boys in mind. At least this is what I used to think until reading Saladin Ahmed's Buried Badasses: The Forgotten Heroines of Pre-Code Comics. Go read it. Women—and people of colour—were catered for, and advertised to, in comics until the fifties and America's moral panic over, well, everything. But in the last sixty years, and now, not so much. (This is currently true in much entertainment media. See, for example, women in film or women in literature stats.)
The results are apparent in the art. The bodies of comic book characters of both sexes are anatomically impossible. And women are ridiculously sexualised. If you have no clue what I’m talking about go read Jim Hines’ Cover Posing posts—be sure to click through to the group pose wherein our own Charlie Stross bares more than most of us would probably like.
So will Thor be drawn differently? The writer of Thor, Jason Aaron says. "This is not She-Thor. This not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe."
The preliminary art isn't terrible: the new Thor shows no cleavage, no bare midriff or thighs. But if her breasts get any bigger they will overbalance her. And I would like to have seen her posed in action mode instead of in a pose that takes up little space. The armour, of course, could be better--but it could be better in almost every comic I've ever read, where improbable isn't a glitch it's a feature.
So what if Marvel really means it? What if the new Thor behaves exactly like the Thor we know?
Call me wary. Old habits are hard to break, and these particular habits run deep in the f/sf genre in every medium. Genre—like gender—is a reflection of culture (and etymologically they come from the same root).
Think for a moment about the terms Hard SF and Soft SF. Or, actually, to save you effort, here’s a short (and deliberately provocative, sorry1) snippet I wrote for Science Fiction Studies five years ago:
Hard Takes Soft, Still
SF as a genre is terrified of the body. As a result, its depictions of physical pleasures are rare. Historically, writers and readers seem to prefer their characters to pop nutrition pills rather than delight in a gourmet meal, dwell 24/7 in sterile environments rather than wander through a wood, and jack into virtual sex rather than touch another human being.
When SF does dare mention sex, the focus is on the intellectual and emotional aspects of the experience. SF still subscribes to Cartesian dualism: the mind is pure, adamantine, and noble, the body bestial, soft, and squicky. (I have talked about this at length elsewhere: see my essay “Writing from the Body.”) Even a hint of body-to-body sex can be enough to earn an sf novel an Approach With Caution warning—that is, categorisation as soft SF.
In this regard, the world-view of the SF Old Guard has a lot in common with that of the cultural guardians of Old Iceland. Embedded in the Icelandic sagas is that society’s tendency to divide the world—politics, intelligence, gender, sexuality, the physical properties of objects—into hvatr (hard) and blauôr (soft). Hard equates to bold, independent, powerful, vigorous, sharp, dry, and decisive; soft to weak, powerless, dull, moist, and yielding.
Guess which was deemed the more admirable quality.
Guess which kind of SF, hard or soft, is privileged critically.
For the Old Guard, a novel’s hardness depends to some degree on the biological sex of bodies entwined. Women are perceived as literally and metaphorically softer than men. If the viewpoint character having sex in an SF novel is a woman, the squick factor is doubled. If she’s having sex with another woman, the Old Guard passes out.
Consider reviews of my second novel, Slow River (1995), in which much real estate was devoted to denouncing (I’m paraphrasing) the “exclusively and explicitly lesbian sex.” The thing is, there’s plenty of heterosex; reviewers just couldn’t see past the (to them) Othersex. Given the way they carried on, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was porn. Certainly many dykes read the reviews, thought “Woo-hoo, one-handed reading!” and bought the book. Then they sent me pissed off emails: Where’s all the sex??
Consider, too, a well-known experiment: put ten engineers in a room, three of them women. Ask observers how many are female; they will say “half.” The Other blots out the Norm. (Yes, this experiment is ancient as these things go—dating from the 1960s or 1970s, I think. No doubt observers in today’s brave new world would require as many as, gasp, four women to qualify as “half.”)
This is as true now as it was then. It’s the twenty-first century, yet still I have never seen Slow River—a novel stuffed with shiny hardware, chemistry, and extrapolations about the future—labeled as hard SF. The Old Guard still rules.
Given my brief Hard Takes Soft was a necessarily simplistic argument—in the real world nothing is uniform. But what's interesting to me, five years later, is that it already feels a little out of date. For starters, I’d change "is privileged critically" to "was privileged critically." Now I'd say, on balance, that the automatic privileging of hard sf over soft is no longer something to bet on unthinkingly. The world is changing. Again. A look at history shows many pendulum swings—each accompanied by much agitation from the peanut gallery ranging from complaints of the established citizenry to the destruction of civilisation, never mind all-white, for-boys comics—and I think this is one such. Notions of gender are undergoing a seismic shift—see, for example, my recent post about the word Wife—and the genre is moving with it. The great boulder is rocking in its cradle.
My hope is that soon it’ll be thundering downhill, unstoppable. My hope is that we can look back in five years and see the Thor news as a twitch in the seismograph. But so very much depends on how the artists draw her.
1 It was for the symposium, Sexuality in Science Fiction, a "mosaic of position papers" edited by Rob Latham and the brief was that we be pithy and provocative.
I'm going to scarce around here for a wee while; I'm one of the guests at Edge-Lit 3 in Derby this Saturday (which also involves spending most of Friday and Sunday on trains), and then I've got to get my head down and finish volume 3 of the new Merchant Princes trilogy before setting out in mid-August on a road trip to Loncon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention in London (and the following weekend, Shamrokon, the Eurocon in Dublin). (Note: I will not be driving to Dublin—I'm delegating the watery part of that journey to P&O ferries.)
Anyway, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Nicola Griffith as my next guest blogger. I've known Nicola for close to thirty years, and she's one of the under-appreciated treasures of the SF/F field: possibly the strongest LGBT voice of our generation. Here's how Nicola describes herself:
Like Charlie I was born in Leeds. In fact, that's where we met, in a pub. But now I live in Seattle with my wife, writer Kelley Eskridge. I'm a dual UK/US citizen.
I've written six novels, a handful of short stories, and edited three anthologies. I've also written a multi-media memoir (scratch-n-sniff cards!) and some essays. Between them these works have been translated into 10 languages, won the Nebula, Tiptree, World Fantasy and Lambda Literary Award (six times) as well as things like a BBC poetry prize and the Premio Italia. I've also been on a few shortlists, too (some more than once): Locus, Hugo, Seieun, Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, etc.
My latest novel, Hild (just out in the UK from Blackfriars/Little, Brown), startled me utterly by being shortlisted for five awards in fields I didn't expect. Now I'm working on a second novel about Hild. You can find me at my blog, on Twitter, and on my research blog.(In addition to her own blogging, I'm hoping to organize a blog roundtable in which LGBT SF/F expert and fan Jane Carnall will interview Nicola about Hild and other aspects of her work. Watch the skies!)
You can buy "Hild" from: Amazon (UK), Amazon (US), Waterstones, and Google.
A fascinating graphic from The Wall Street Journal reveals some of the unofficial reasons that might be driving premium brands like Burberry and Estee Lauder to open official flagship stores on Tmall. While many industry watchers were left scratching their heads as to why Burberry would risk its exclusive brand position to open a store on Tmall when they already operated a brand ecommerce platform - analysis from YipitData paints a more interesting picture showing the disappearance of over 98% of gray-market products in just three months. This is a very attractive incentive for brands and it looks like we may be seeing more and more premium flagship shops opening on Tmall, but it will be interesting to see how Alibaba balances the inevitable sales shortfall between full-price products and discount gray-market goods. [WSJ]
近日,华尔街日报发布了一项调查,说明奢侈品牌进入天猫开设旗舰店的可能原因。在多数市场及产业观察专家摸不着头绪时,YipitData点出了一项惊人的发现。以博柏利(Burberry), 雅诗兰黛(Estée Lauder)跟倩碧(Clinique)为例,有将近98％的高级仿制品在品牌高调进入天猫旗舰店的行列时消失不见,这项发现将可能会大量地刺激奢侈品牌蜂涌至天猫,以断绝假货盛行,届时阿里巴巴的高仿奢侈品收益来源可能将会面临巨幅缩水。[WSJ]
I am off to Loncon 3 tomorrow morning, by road. Stopping overnight in Leeds, then proceeding to London on Wednesday; I hope to be at the Angry Robot/Titan Books mass author signing at Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue, this Wednesday evening at 6pm.
TV In an surprising move, the BBC's official Doctor Who site has released this complete episode guide to the new series. Previously fragmentary lists have appeared in Radio Times, and it might well me that something similar will be published tomorrow which is why this is up tonight so that people who don't want to fork out their £1.60 don't feel like there's content out there they won't be privy to (even though it's being copied and pasted elsewhere as we speak) (seriously, it's already up on the Wikipedia). Either way, it makes for intriguing reading.
For one thing it means that none of these titles offer spoilers of the magnitude of "Bad Wolf" or "The Wedding of River Song" a couple of notoriously omitted titles of the past. Part of me wished I'd not seen any of them but boy if a couple don't make me giggle. I'll not actually say which ones just in case you want to keep entirely spoiler free.
I think I'm safe highlighting that three of the episodes directed by women which is all to the good. I would have been even happier if some of them were actually written by women, for goodness sake, but it seems Helen Raynor remains unique, at least in nuWho terms, in that regard.
The other headline of sorts is the number of writing credits Steven Moffat has. In previous seasons he's written about five or six episodes himself - and if you count Deep Breath as two (which most people seem to be on the strength of its duration) then this year it's five.
But he also has a number of co-writing credits, on Phil Ford, Gareth Roberts and Steven Thompson's episodes.
As anyone who's read The Writer's Tale will know, Russell T Davies extensively rewrote other writers, even Mark Gatiss. Some of them come across as near page one rejigs, knocked out at 3pm amid emails to Ben Cook. But only rarely did he take a credit for himself; in my memory its only the 2009 specials were that was the case.
So what's the jig here. Did he present an outline which they completed or did he redo their material and take a credit because its as much is voice as theirs? What was the division of labour here? It doesn't matter that much, especially if the episodes turn out ok, and we don't know who really wrote what in the last few years anyway, it's just interesting to see Moffat's name as well as theirs and with authors who have previously worked on the show, not with newbies.
Five sleeps, everyone, five sleeps, then deep breath and ...
So I thought I’d kinda-sorta got my direction set for a few year – steady, reasonable job doing a variety of things in a think-tank setting. Irreconcilable differences over IP caused a parting of the ways, and I’m back on my own account again.
That’s all gone now. And I’m glad; every time something burns down I think really hard before rebuilding. Sometimes people accuse me of spending more time thinking about what to do than doing it; yes, I could be a lot more productive, but not necessarily make more progress. Measure twice, cut with a single blow.
So here’s what I want. I want a space, a big space for people to live and work together, and it has to be in London. The space is on the same general template as Hub Westminster or Limewharf. I’ve worked with both of these spaces in their inceptions, producing TRUTHANDBEAUTY and Big Picture Days respectively. These events were explicitly meant to form strong intellectual communities around the new space, but neither one was able to properly embed: the somewhat abstract and analytical nature of the networks I was building were perhaps a poor fit for a straight social enterprise or art, science and social innovation framing. We did great talks and workshops, created insights of real value, but could not fit those perspectives and those networks into these ongoing projects.
I want to fix that: I want to build an Embassy for the Future in London, not as futurism, not as a predictive model, but as a real ongoing effort to produce transformative cultural innovation. I want to build the future.
But you know that. What’s the exact mechanism? What is “Insight Culture.”
Insight Culture is an attempt to directly address the gap between the facts we have and how we communicate to each other and act. A sample fact: “methane is starting to be released into the atmosphere, triggering potentially catastrophic global warming.” Now the gap: we’re doing very little about climate. The day to day state of consciousness we cultivate and the social discourse which supports it takes these vital facts and makes them socially difficult or impossible to act on. We pretend nothing is wrong to each-other, particularly with people we do not know very well, and this basically fools our monkey minds into thinking nothing is wrong. The inertial of society prevents us from panicking when it is appropriate, as in this instance.
Insight culture is not about fear. Insight culture is about emotional realism. It is about taking the facts we have in front of us, fact about how the world works, and what science tells us about the cosmos, and making them real in our narratives to each-other and in the lives we lead. It is about squaring what we know with what we do. Insight culture is about building social integrity as a path to personal integration. To live in a way which is congruent with all our knowledge about the world and about ourselves, starting with getting the stories we tell each-other to be fully congruent with the facts. There’s a lot of stuff that I know that I can’t really act on because I’m part of a society which minimizes those truths: we can change that, together.
Why does Insight Culture need its own space? It needs a “temple”, it needs a place in which the social rules alter as soon as you walk in the door, and change back when you walk out. Without that container, the effort will simply dissipate: there’s no social context like this that can operate without its own grounds. In this sense, insight culture is very much an embassy – an altered jurisdiction, a place where the rules are not the same.
So how might all this work? Here’s what I imagine happening: somebody wants to run a workshop on a fact they know that they are having problems socially integrating into their lives. They get together some people to participate, with the group’s goal being to square the facts and their own actions, to find an integrated position relative to the non-socially-integrated truths.
Let’s take something simple: “smoking kills far more people than heroin, but the government isn’t really helping people stop smoking.” That fact hits hard: every time I see a talented young friend with a cigarette, I want to scream. I suspect some people feel the same way when they see me with a hamburger: that’s life. Nobody is perfect. So we do a workshop: people who are into smoking, who know prevention, speak. They explain the facts, so we are fully informed. And then we talk, and think, and talk, and think. We whiteboard, and we express, and we write down. Map the hypocrisies, in our societies and in our lives, deal with the emotions, tell our stories, change the narratives, and integrate a new social reality within the room, within the group that we are in: “we understand smoking and smoking prevention in a new way, and we really feel it.” Inside of the room, inside of the workshop, the narratives shift and people’s emotions shift into a natural integrated congruence with the facts on hand. New stories emerge about smoking and our relationship to it, and some of those stories might reach far outside of that workshop and into the wider world.
Change the world through changing yourself.
This kind of thing has been tried a couple of times before. Less Wrong is perhaps a less group process and integrative psychology based, but it’s got the same impulse: squaring our actions with what we know from science. Shintaido performed a similar process for the martial arts in 1965 – a multi-year retreat called Rakutenkai in which they broke down the martial arts and built them back up again for a new age. You could call these things Temples of Truth, Embassies of Free Inquiry. They’re places and spaces where people strive to tell the truth to themselves and each-other, as a way to change what is happening.
I want one like this in London, and I want it to work in a new way.
This is a big ask. It’s a proper Crazy Idea. It’s financially unrealistic, indirect, and generally completely off the map of the possible. So let me address some of those objections.
But we have to try. I have to try, at least.
I have no idea how to make this thing real. A prototype of this vision was floated for this building in Woolwich but we couldn’t get the team together and there were shadows over the residential angle. Fundamentally, we didn’t have enough money to do this.
Option one: I make the cash by doing straight commercial stuff, and hope it works well enough to leave enough of a resource base to underwrite this.
Option two: somebody has a bead on financing this that comes from a politically aligned and ideologically motivated source, not a funder that will constrain us to working on polite problems and thereby getting nothing at all done.
Basically I want to scale the process that results in phrases like “collapse means living in the same conditions as the people who grow your coffee“.
I think I know how, and I think it’s worth doing. But today, all I can do is tell you what I want, and what I think is important.
Tau Ceti has long captured our imagination, and is featured in many science fiction books, movies, and games (e.g. Figure 1). This star has similar mass and luminosity as the Sun and is only 3.65 pc away, making it the second closest G type star to our own (after Alpha Centauri). To fuel the imagination of sci-fi enthusiasts even further, in 2013 five planets orbiting close to the star were tentatively detected with the radial velocity technique. Additionally, astronomers have known since the 1980′s that Tau Ceti hosts a debris disk. The authors of today’s paper take a closer look at this debris disk with the Herschel Space Telescope.
The dust in the Tau Ceti debris disk emits only in the far-infrared and the sub-mm wavelength regimes, meaning the dust is fairly cold and relatively far from the star. This makes a perfect target for Herschel, which is sensitive to long wavelengths. The Herschel observations resolve the disk at 70 and 160 microns, constraining the outer extent of the disk.
The authors fit model disks to the Herschel images (see Figure 2) and to the spectral energy distribution (SED) of the disks emission. They find that the disk is very broad, extending from somewhere between 1 and 10 AU out to around 55 AU.
The authors then use the inferred properties of the debris disk to study the planets in the system. The radial velocity method can only measure the minimum mass of a planet, as only the radial component of the planet’s orbital motion can be detected and the inclination of the orbit is generally not known. In the case of Tau Ceti, however, the inclination of the debris disk can be determined from the Herschel images, and it is a decent bet that the star, planets, and debris disk all rotate in the same plane. The author’s find that the system inclination is 30 degrees, and the planets have masses of 4.0, 6.2, 7.2, 8.6, and 13.2 times the mass of the Earth on orbits of 0.11, 0.20, 0.37, 0.55, and 1.35 AU, respectively.
We know that planets will perturb and sculpt a debris disks, as well as scatter each other gravitationally. Is this model of Tau Ceti’s planetary system stable? The authors test this by running dynamical simulations of the planets and disk (see Figure 3). They find that the five planets are very stable (as long as they have relatively low eccentricities) and that debris can exist as close to the star as 1.45 AU, with an additional stable region between the two outermost planets.
Future observations of this disk at higher resolution (with ALMA, for instance) will better constrain its inner edge. If the edge is farther out, there may be additional planets in the system with larger orbits, but if the edge is found to be within 1.35 AU, the existence of the original five planets (which were only tentatively detected) would be in question. Science fictions fans will have to wait a little longer to learn the truth about one of their favorite planetary systems.
The latest snaphots from the "Mars Webcam" include something special.
Opportunity just completed its first drives upslope on its long journey toward the crest of the highest rim segment of Endeavour crater, “Cape Tribulation.” Larry Crumpler gives us an update on what to expect next from the little rover that could.
Politics The one occasion I gave in to a chugger was outside the old Blockbuster Video on Allerton Road. It was a rainy day, I was in a fresh, romantic mood and she was working on behalf of Amnesty International and needed to do the bare minimum to convince me to hand over my debit card details. I'm not sure what good my £5 does each month but I always like to keep an eye on what Amnesty is doing.
Now they're in Ferguson, Missouri. The situation in Ferguson, Missouri is now such that Amnesty International observers have moved in. From Buzzfeed:
"Jasmine Heiss, a senior campaigner with Amnesty who is a part of the team in Ferguson, said the use of the “cross-functional team” — which she said included community trainers, researchers, and human rights observers — was “unprecedented” within the United States for the group."
This chart from TechinAsia tracks the official number of monthly active users (MAUs) on WeChat as reported by Tencent through the most recent quarter (Q2 2014). WeChat continued its impressive growth, adding over 40 million MAUs, although the downward trend in annual growth rates may indicate a saturation point as most netizens are already using the app. With WhatsApp currently at 500 million MAUs, it will be interesting to see if the China-centric messaging app will take the top spot this year. But with expansion plans ramping up in Southeast Asia and South America, Tencent appears to be shifting its focus to growing those markets outside of the mainland. [TechinAsia]
Every few weeks, my work at mySociety sees me travelling down to London to meet clients. The Liverpool to London train link is actually very good,1 and it’s run by Virgin Trains, who are, as far as I can tell, one of the more switched-on British rail providers.
I typically book far enough ahead that I get a table seat so I can get stuff done. Even when I don’t get a reservation, I’m usually lucky enough to find space somewhere, often crammed into a two-seater with a person who’s trying as hard as me to pretend—in that most British of ways—that the guy next to them doesn’t exist.
Today however, dear reader, my cosy schedule was turned upside-down. I not only booked too late to get a reservation, but also turned up to the platform to find every man and his dog was on the 10:47 to London, and un-occupied, un-reserved seats were pretty much nowhere to be seen.
Vultures, dragging wheely suitcases and folded waterproofs, scoured the aisles, while great agglomerations of baggage collected in every spare corner of the train like fat in an over-stressed artery.
On my second pass through carriage D (the unreserved coach) looking for any spaces I might have missed before, I suddenly realised the two seats everyone was ignoring. Quietly folded in the corner of the walkway between the coach D toilet and the doors, was my unassuming throne for the day.
And I mean that with only a hint of sarcasm – by typical standards these seats are actually pretty good. There’s nice air flow from the carriage doors and air conditioning (which is more than could be said for the stuffy, sweaty coaches), lots of natural light, and a good metre or so of leg room (except for when people occasionally wander past).
As soon as I saw the seats, I wondered whether sitting on them would break some sort of rule. Were they just for people waiting for the toilet? Surely not. Maybe disabled seats, since they're the closest to the door? Not as far as I could tell. They were odd little things, but I figured, if I left it any longer, the vultures would get them. So I sat myself down, and waited for the train to pull away.
It didn’t take long for me to realise the seats also come with a comedy soundtrack for your journey: the sounds of the toilet next door – from people entering, flushing and washing, to the vocal declarations of the door locking system.
Virgin Pendolino toilets, in case you’ve never visited one, are a curiosity of toilet-based over-engineering.
Vaguely pear-shaped in plan, with the toilet bowl, mirror, and miniature sink squished up into the smaller end, the larger, rounded end of the cubicle houses a ridiculous revolving door. This must have seemed like an obvious solution to the train’s designers: doors require space to open into, especially wheelchair-friendly doors, but space is at a premium on a train, so how about a door that slides round? Genius.
“But while we’re at it,” the designer must have said, “let’s make it a game to actually get into the thing. Let’s remove the door handle, and replace it with a button that’s positioned off to the side, so it looks like it opens the carriage door to the right instead.”
“Genius!” says a second, “They’ll love that. It’s quirky!”
“And when you get in, let’s present them with three inscrutable buttons to close it again.”
“But won’t that cause embarrassment?” asks the account manager.
“Nah! We’ll paste a little user manual to the wall explaining how the buttons work, and in case they miss that, we’ll add in a stern but calming female voiceover that tells them what they’re doing wrong.”
It feels a bit like a scene from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. But it’s true. You walk in and you’re faced with this:
If you’re foolish enough to miss the middle button (perhaps mistaking it for a light, or assuming this space-age toilet must lock itself, given the lack of a manual lock on the door) then after a few seconds the toilet detects your mistake and shouts:
Attention, toilet door is not locked! Attention, toilet door is not locked! To lock the door, press the padlock button.
From my spot outside the cubicle, I imagined hilarious scenes of occupants taking their place on the toilet, trousers around their ankles, when this voice echoes around them, “THE DOOR IS NOT LOCKED!” and like rabbits in the headlights, they themselves suddenly picture someone opening the door on them at that very instant. They dive across the cubicle, half naked, to press the padlock button, desperately attempting to counteract the buffeting of the train, lest their finger over-reach and press the “open door” button, barely an inch lower, instead.
I mean, why on earth are there two buttons, one for closing the door, one for locking it? When does anybody ever want to just close the door, without locking it?2 They obviously realised the little red light above the padlock button wasn’t clear enough, so they added a honking great padlock light further up – but I speak from experience when I say, even with the second padlock light, you have absolutely no trust that the door is actually locked.
Anyway, once you actually lock the door (accompanied by another stern announcement of “TOILET DOOR LOCKED”) and lift the loo seat, you’re greeted by this sticker on the inside:
For maximal embarrassment factor, a voiceover announces the monologue while you stand there, unsure of whether to start your business, or wait until she’s finished.
Please don’t throw nappies, sanitary towels, paper towels, gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes, dreams, or goldfish down the toilet.
Somebody at Virgin obviously had fun writing that. And on the train back later that day, I heard a lady chuckling about it as she returned to her seat. But not much in life prepares you for having a toilet speak to you while you start using it.
Even the toilet flusher is over-designed. Why go the easy route and have a handle like every other toilet in the world, when you can instead hide a push-button marked “F” down behind the loo seat?
“What if people leave the loo seat up, or don’t spot the button?”
“Don’t worry. We’ll stick a big sign up, telling them where it is and what it does. People love reading stuff in toilets.”
The thing is, toilets are the sorts of things you want to operate on auto-pilot. We’re all trained, from a very young age, on how to use toilets. And with a few stylistic alterations, 99% of the toilets we see in our daily life look pretty much the same. The doors either lock with a sliding bar or a rotating latch. The toilet flushes with a lever in the top corner, or a push-button, top centre.
When you encounter, then, a different toilet, those years of practice go out of the window. At the very moment you have only one over-bearing goal in your mind—relief!—you’re instead forced to analyse a panel on the wall and re-learn how a door works.
How hard would it have been for them to put a manual lock on the door? Or even an electric lock that looks like a manual lever? And the toilet flusher – yes, reusing the same button as in the door controls elsewhere probably saves money, but why on earth position it bottom centre of the toilet backplate, where exactly zero people will expect it? To force me to close the lid? Surely there are less confusing solutions.
As a designer it’s often tempting to reinvent the common stuff, to come up with some new take that’ll make your work stand out. But the answer is almost always just to go with what people expect.
Nobody’ll thank you either way, but at least if you build on their existing experiences, they won’t be left fearing indecent exposure while using your toilet.
My previous colleagues at ScraperWiki, who commuted fairly regularly to government offices in London, would regularly joke that their 1h45 commute from Liverpool was quicker and more comfortable than many of their counterparts theoretically “living in London,” out in underground Zone H or something, two hours from the centre. ↩
My colleague, Mike, suggested the split closing/locking system might be in there for parents who want their children go to the toilet unaided, but don’t want the kids to lock themselves in. Which is fair enough. But during my journey, every single parent who arrived with a child went inside the cubicle with them, rather than waiting outside. ↩
Music As well as watching the extraordinary performance of the Team GB athletics people at the European championships this afternoon, I was having one my regular clear-outs of Twitter people, the followed, because having reached the two thousand limit I can't really justify keeping an eye on anyone who's only tweeted a couple of dozen times or once a month.
Manageflitter was a pretty decent aid in this, with its many sorting option helping to ferret out feeds that I'd followed after having met a person at a thing five years ago but who hadn't tweeted since or who'd been part of someone ongoing news story the context of which I'd forgotten. Managed to lose a good hundred and fifty, though I with I could just follow more than two thousand people. That would be easier.
In the midst of all this I was reminded I was following Adele (official), whom it ranks as "inactive" and "quiet" but who in a rare moment tweeted the following news which I'd entirely missed and has been widely interpreted as the singer suggesting a new album is imminent:
Bye bye 25... See you again later in the year x pic.twitter.com/HEmY14El5s
— Adele (@OfficialAdele) May 4, 2014
Seven possible interstellar dust grains have been found by Stardust@home, a citizen scientist project that The Planetary Society helped out early on. The dust grains would be the first ever examples of contemporary interstellar dust.
Dr. David Crisp explains how NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) works, and what its first light spectra tells his team about the spacecraft’s performance.
Rosetta has nearly completed its first funky three-cornered orbit in front of the comet. Each day we're getting views of the nucleus from more directions. I step you through Churyumov-Gerasimenko's geography.
Film Heavily abbreviated list this week (and a bit back catalogue at that) because I've been catching up on Veronica Mars, The Honorable Woman (which is storming towards a pretty marvellous conclusion), Extant (which frustrates beyond measure) and the European Athletics Championship which is a potent enough drop of methadone after coming down from the Commonwealth Games. The clear highlight's been the mascot, Cooly, far more visible on screen than usual, and the commentators reaction to his existence. Their befuddlement at his or her sheer energy and athletics skills clearly has them wondering just who is behind the mask, though after this monumental bit of hurdling the other day, they probably know full well.
It Rains On Our Love
Bright Young Things
John Dies At The End
The 6th Day
Some people don't like Bright Young Things. The machinations of "society" people are an acquired taste. Bbut I think Stephen Fry works hard to magnify the satire in Waugh's book (not that I've read Vile Bodies) but also to make the characters sympathetic enough that we understand that there was just as much human wreckage at the top of the society as to the bottom, especially at this nexus point in history between the two wars when many such families lost everything. I was interested to hear on the commentary that Waugh set his book in the future ending it in a world war. So many other narratives seem to suggest it wasn't inevitable, that we had seen the war to end all wars.
The other reason to watch, especially if you're of a certain disposition, is that it's simply easier to list the people who haven't been in Doctor Who. Tennant's in there of course and Fenella Woolgar plays a character called Agatha for goodness sake. At a certain point in this rewatch I joked that Mark Gatiss would probably wander through, not suspecting for a minute that he'd actually turn up about ten minutes later. It was the screen debut Stephen Campbell Moore and he's remarkable and if we had a proper film industry would have gone on to bright young things himself. Unfortunately for him Toby Stephens exists in the world and probably snaffled what could have been some his perfect roles.
John Dies At The End is fine, but you can see that something as mega as Guardians is just at the edges if only the filmmakers had been working with a massive budget rather than the coppers which led to whole sequences being played out against green screen and cgi settings less convincing than early period Wing Commander or Red Alert cut scenes. Bits of it are fabulous, and there are dozens of interesting ideas and some funny jokes not least in relation to Paul Giamatti but there's an incoherence which doesn't quite work in its favour. Comic films are always less funny when the action is undermotivated or the storyline poorly explained which is odd in this case when you consider how much of it is narrated.
The 6th Day was genuinely simply a round to it; for a while Columbia/TriStar dvds (I think) had the same advertising booklet within and this was about the only film on it I hadn't seen. It's about what I expected, Arnold thrown into a sci-fi concept (cf, Total Recall) and dealing with the consequences. Apart from the way it dancing around the fringes of "Religion good! Science bad!" without quite committing to either, is how back in 2000, there was no concept of a future with tablet computers (despite the preponderance of PADD on Star Trek: The Next Generation) and their lack is strange, especially in the remote control helicopter sequences which seem bizarrely antiquated now.
White dwarfs are dense stellar remnants, roughly the mass of the sun and the radius of the earth. They’re the hot core of a star left over after nuclear fusion has stopped and the star has expelled its outer layers into a planetary nebula. They are also odd but interesting places to learn about exoplanets. In this case, the authors were looking not at a planet itself, but at a debris disk around the white dwarf J0959 0200, which was likely formed from tidally disrupted planetesimals.
The authors were comparing WISE and Spitzer IRAC infrared observations of white dwarfs, and found an infrared excess. This extra infrared emission is most likely caused by dust in a debris disk around the white dwarf absorbing the light from the white dwarf and re-emitting it at infrared wavelengths. This data was from 2010. Looking to learn more, they obtained updated Spitzer measurements in 2014. They found that the source had decreased in brightness in the 2 IRAC bands at (3.6 and 4.5 microns) by almost 35%. They also had J, H, and K band data from 2005, so they obtained updated measurements in 2014, and found that the source decreased in brightness in the K band (~4 microns), while remaining unchanged in J and H bands (~2 and 3 microns, respectively). This is consistent with the results from Spitzer, and it means the cooler, dusty component of the system is decreasing in brightness, while the hotter white dwarf itself remains unchanged.
So if the disk has decreased in brightness, what does that mean? Well, the infrared excess is due to a disk of dusty material around the white dwarf. How much infrared excess you see depends on the width of the disk (the radius of its inner and outer edges) and its inclination. If you have a disk that is edge-on to the line of sight, then you don’t observe much of the disk, or therefore much infrared excess. But if the disk is face-on to the line of sight, you see the whole disk, and lots of infrared emission. And obviously the more surface area the disk covers–the closer, or smaller the inner radius and the bigger the outer radius–the more excess you see.
For the data taken in 2010 and earlier, the observers measure so much infrared excess that the disk must be face-on and have a very narrow inner edge (only 10.5 times the radius of the white dwarf, which itself only has a radius about that of the earth!), so that it is thoroughly heated by the white dwarf. The outer edge is less well constrained, because it is cooler and best constrained by 8 micron observations, which were not available for this project.
What then, accounts for the drop in flux observed between 2010 and 2014? The model that best describes the observations and makes sense with the 2010 observations is that the inner edge of the disk moved out from 10.5 times the white dwarf’s radius in 2010 to 14 times the radius in 2014. Essentially, the disk was destroyed from the white dwarf’s side. See Figure 1 for details. But what can cause this? The authors offer two suggestions.
The first is that an asteroid could have impacted the disk and disrupted it. But it would have to be an anomalously large asteroid to cause the large increase in the inner disk radius observed. The other explanation relies on the fact that prior to 2010, a very hot inner disk temperature was required to explain the observations. Such a high temperature makes the inner disk unstable, and dusty/rocky material could interact with the viscous gas and cause sudden events of high rates of accretion onto the star–high enough to dissolve something like 3% of the disk’s mass within ~300 days, in a disk that would otherwise stick around for roughly a million years. If this second case is what happened, that level of accretion will be observable similar to a nova event. The authors advise observing the star on shorter timescales in order to catch a future such event in action and answer definitively what’s going on around this dusty–now slightly less dusty–white dwarf.
"A Spacecraft for All" is a new website by Google Creative Labs that will host citizen science data from the ISEE-3 Reboot Project.
Composed by W.G. Snuffy Walden
[from: 'My So-Called Life: Original Soundtrack', 1995]
Music There is something gut wrenching about the cancellation of a favourite television show, especially a drama. Over the period of broadcast the viewer invests a certain emotional interest in the lives of the characters. So when these characters are left in the middle of story arcs or plotlines we are denied something which he rightly expect in real life. Closure. One show in particular was a particular pain.
For some reason I keep coming back to ‘My So-Called Life’. Every year I get the shows out and watch them again. Every year I see new things. I understand more. I'm twenty-eight now. What's going on?
When you're a teenager, and you have those problems, and you know your friends will make fun of you if you tell them, you look to film, music and TV for answers. Living in England, honest to goodness teen shows are pretty thin on the ground. There's 'Byker Grove', 'Grange Hill' and hints of 'HollyOaks' and that's about it. The trouble is that none of them quite has the audacity or time slot to cut to the heart of what its actually like to be a teenager. Most of the time you have to look to US shows like 'Dawson's Creek' or 'Buffy: The Vampire Slayer'. But standing above them all was 'My So-Called Life' a television programme that answered all of our questions. When the show was transmitted on our Channel 4 in 1995 it was stupidly popular.
No one had seen anything like this. Suddenly you knew what to do about that older boy or girl you fancy. Or if you have feelings for the girl next door. Or if you weren't sure about your sexuality. Or if someone loved you but you couldn't return their feelings. Or if you got handcuffed to a bed. Your heart was broken by it week after week, but you came back for more because you knew it was doing you good. A free hour of therapy.
Even if you didn't want to admit it, you were one of them. You were Rayanne Graffe, afraid of the world and overcompensating. Sharon Cherski, searching for your own identity beneath the expectations of others. You were Ricki Vasquez unsure who you were but quietly finding an equilibrium. You were Jordan Catalano torn between your friends and something else. You were Brian Krakow, the romantic with so many high expectations of people. You were Danielle Chase, always being kicked out of different rooms. You were Patty Chase fighting to keep your family together. You were Graham Chase fighting to keep yourself together. And you were always Angela, your world falling apart around you, every choice being wrong, every moment a battle, but somehow slowly working it all out.
Then, after nineteen episodes, it was gone. Replaced, I believe, by a rerun of 'Matlock'. The show should never have been cancelled. It wasn't fair goddam it. And not on that cliffhanger. But perhaps it had the right end. The perfect ending. The only ending this show could have had. Making a choice then watching in pain the road not travelled. So like life. So-called Life.
This year we would have had its sixth season. All of the contracts would have been up for renewal. The teenagers would have been twenty something. Characters would have gone, new characters brought in. The writing teams change. But it would not have been the same show.
The show I keep coming back to.
[Commentary: One of my many, many obituaries this was originally posted to the IMDb on 27 October 2000 where it sat on the front pages for many, many months. Since the series wasn't released on dvd for at least another two years, the above was written from memory and multiple viewings of the final episode, the only episode I managed to record on original broadcast because I happened to be home from college that week (I think). We've probably talked enough about this in the blog's history, though there's always something new, like discovering this track by The Ataris which probably sums up how most of us feel about Claire Danes, even now.]
Now that we have reasonable confidence that our Mars orbiters will be safe from the close passage of comet Siding Spring, we are free to be excited about the opportunity that the encounter represents. At a community workshop on August 11, representatives from Mars missions shared their plans for great comet science.
Super-Earths: Not So Earth-Like
Of all the kinds of planets we’re finding around other stars—hot Jupiters and mini-Neptunes and those dubiously called “Earth-like”—super-Earths orbiting close to their stars are among the most abundant. About half of sun-like stars are thought to host planets with radii one to four times that of Earth’s, with orbital periods of less than 100 days. While planets so close to their stars are poor candidates for habitability, they are important to understanding the possibility of other habitable planets in these seemingly common systems.
There are two theories for the formation of close-in super-Earths: they either formed in-situ (where they are), or they formed farther out and subsequently migrated inward. This paper discusses several flaws with the in-situ formation model: it presupposes an extraordinarily massive and dense protoplanetary disk, and it assumes that orbital migration isn’t influential in planet formation. In fact, there is a very strong case for orbital migration being nearly inevitable. Thus, the authors work on the assumption that super-Earths form farther out in the disk and then migrate inward. (This means that super-Earth composition is likely to be higher in volatiles than terrestrial worlds are; in other words: not rocky.)
Super-Earths vs. Terrestrial Planet Formation
It is thought that, in our system, the big gaseous planets formed more quickly than Earth and its rocky compatriots; it’s reasonable to think, then, that super-Earths will also form more quickly than terrestrial planets in their systems. So a migrating super-Earth, forming out past the habitable zone (HZ) but migrating through the zone to its tight orbit, has the potential to wreak havoc on the formation of Earth-like planets in the HZ. The super-Earth will be fully formed and migrating in while the material that will come to form terrestrial planets—rocky worlds in the HZ—is still in debris, smaller planetesimals, and larger planetary embryos.
So we’ve got a super-Earth migrating in from beyond the HZ to a point closer in to its star, basically barreling through the band of material that could come to form Earth-like planets. Is that a problem?
A big variable is how quickly the super-Earths migrate. And this ends up being the deciding factor in the fate of rocky planets around super-Earths. When super-Earths migrate inward quickly, they do little to disturb the protoplanets and planetary embryos that go on to form terrestrial planets (see figure). However, slow-moving super-Earths push and pull much of that rocky planet fodder with them into their close-in orbits, depleting the areas where terrestrial planets could form.
The authors of this paper came to this conclusion through a range of situations, with varying migration speeds for the super-Earths and distributions of protoplanetary material in the terrestrial zone. They also tested systems with multiple super-Earths migrating inward in sequence, inspired by the Kepler-11 system, which is home to six super-Earth-type planets.
The simulations had of two phases: The first phase began with a disk of planetesimals and planetary embryos orbiting within the habitable zone, and one or more migrating super-Earths starting farther out; the outcome showed the super-Earth’s effect on the protoplanetary material. Then, in the second phase, the researchers simulated the evolution of the remaining protoplanetary material to see if, after a few million (simulated) years, the habitable zone had enough material left to form any truly Earth-like worlds.
They found that the mass of the migrating super-Earth made little-to-no difference on the outcome. What mattered was the speed. A super-Earth that took a mere hundred thousand years to migrate in from 5 AU to 0.1 AU scattered or accreted the planetesimals and embryos in its orbit, but the debris didn’t scatter far. Once the super-Earth had made its way through the HZ, 75% of the initial rocky matter had survived, and the subsequent simulation showed the familiar pattern of terrestrial planet formation from that material.
A slow super-Earth, on the other hand, does much more shepherding of planetesimals, dragging them with it inward toward the star. The slow migration allows for much of the rocky protoplanetary material to be captured in orbital resonance with the super-Earth, and in toward the star they spiral together. Any migration timescale over a million years leaves much less than one Earth mass of material in the neighborhood of the habitable zone, so much less that in some simulations the HZ was effectively cleaned out.
But What About Us?
If super-Earth migration is so common, why are all the big planets in our Solar System so far out? Super-Earths are sometimes called mini-Neptunes, too, after all, and our own Neptune is nowhere near a hundred-day orbit. Saturn and Jupiter may have served as buffers, impeding Uranus and Neptune from migrating. This paper suggests that our Solar System may be atypical. The chance for abundant terrestrial planets in other systems may largely depend on how quickly or slowly those not-so-Earth-like super-Earths migrate.
This infographic from the Adobe Digital Index’s “Best of the Best Benchmark” report for the Asia Pacific region, quantifies the benefits that brands employing best practices in digital are enjoying in their regions. Analyzing data from 120 billion visits across 16,000 websites, the report shows performance gaps between the top 20% of websites when compared to overall averages based on smartphone visits, tablet visits, stick rate, visits per visitor, minutes per visit, and conversion rate. Of particular interest is the share of smartphone visits to mobile optimized websites, which outperformed the average by more than 60% – which highlights the importance for marketers to create native experiences across all digital platforms. [Adobe Digital Index]
在Adobe Digital Index 所发布的Best of the Best Benchmark报告,分析亚太区各大品牌在互联网上的表现。此报告采样一万六千个网站上的一千两百亿访问量, 根据来自智慧型手机及平板的流量、每次访问停留时间、独立访问时长、及购买转换率,有将近20%的网站表现出色。另有比平均值高出60%的访问,偏好于从智慧型手机到移动端优化网站的访问,这说明品牌在手机端网站的相容性及优化程度,能够大大提升访问的比例。[Adobe Digital Index]
Jason Perry brings us a report on recent ground-based observations that shed new light on the most powerful of Io’s volcanic eruptions.
LightSail-A's radio system has been fixed, and the spacecraft is now preparing for its August 20 day-in-the-life test.
This graphic from Contact Lab’s Luxury Digital Behavior report takes a closer look at the differences between luxury shoppers in Shanghai and New York when seeking information for future purchases. The study compared 922 individuals aged 25-54 in New York (69% having made one luxury purchase in the last 12 months) against 975 individuals in Shanghai from the same demographic (80% having purchased one luxury item in the past 12 months). Not surprisingly, Chinese shoppers based more of their decision on word of mouth with advice from friends/family/colleagues representing the most popular source of information (67%) and online reviews coming in fourth place (58%). Magazines were the most popular information source for New York shoppers (52%), tied with brand websites (52%) which also ranked high as an information source for Chinese luxury shoppers (66%). [ContactLab]
Contact Lab在所发布的Luxury Digital Behavior报告中,点出生活在纽约及上海的奢侈品消费者差异性。样本采样介于25岁到54岁的年龄区间,在上海及纽约分别抽样975位和922位受访者,其中有69%的纽约受访者,在过去一年中,有过购买至少一件奢侈品衣物的经验,而有80%的上海消费者有过相同经验。而在购物资讯来源排名中,纽约消费者偏向在杂志上获取资料,而上海受访者则偏向家人朋友间的口耳相传,品牌官方网站则位列不同消费族群的亚军。[ContactLab]
Updated using Planet on 2 September 2014, 05:48 AM