Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mixing nature with space exploration

Sometimes the results are hilarious.

NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

Go, frog! Go!

(More on this at Universe Today.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pronouncing Sandoval

While reacquainting myself with the classic At Folsom Prison album by Johnny Cash, something grabbed my interest. I doubt that I noticed this particularly interesting item way back when I was a kid listening to my father's copy of this album, but, if I did, I probably didn't think about it too much.

What I find interesting is in the bit just after the song "The Long Black Veil". If you are not familiar with At Folsom Prison, it was recorded live during a concert in a prison, the actual Folsom State Prison in California. And Folsom did not shut down for Johnny Cash's concert. It kept on operating. In the background during some of the songs you can hear bells ringing (as secure doors are opened, I presume), and in between songs prison officials make any necessary announcements for the prisoners. In the recording I have isolated below, one official calls for a prisoner to go to another section.

He says the name twice, pronouncing it with a Spanish emphasis and an English "a". Then he spells out the name. And then he pronounces it once again, this time with an Anglicized emphasis.

That's curious. Why did he feel the need to call out the name with two different pronunciations and emphasis? It's obvious that the announcement was intended for the ears of the prisoner named Sandoval, but was it a widespread practice in California back in the 1960s (when the album was recorded) to pronounce Spanish names with an English phonology, as the prison official did the last time? Would a Hispanic person back then expect to hear san-DO-vul rather than SAN-do-val, and the official was just making sure the announcement wasn't missed? Or was the official simply unsure if he was pronouncing it correctly in the first place, so he covered his bases?

In places that are heavily Hispanic, like San Antonio, Spanish surnames are all over the place, and even white guys like me know how to pronounce them. Some people have problems with ényes and double-r trills (one girl I knew pronounced her name "Aguirre" as uh-Gary because she couldn't trill for the life of her), but the generally accepted practice is to use Spanish phonology with Spanish names, even if you are speaking English. Is it different in California, or was it merely different back then and that's not the case today? I don't know, because I'm not from California, and I haven't been in prison. But I am genuinely curious.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What I just bought for $5.00


That's Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison, one of the most influential albums of my young, tender formative years. It was one of my father's albums, and it was also one of the albums my mother hated for us boys to listen to. So, of course we listened to it on the sly whenever we could.

And, believe it or not, I never had this complete album in my collection. Until today, when Amazon chose to run it as a special -- just five dollars. For the whole album.

Childhood memories relived are worth a few bucks, dontcha think?

Now, excuse me while I go listen to it again. On the sly, for old time's sake.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

On my way back

I've been gone too long, and I think I'm on my way back. Hope to see you soon, in the next few days or so.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Best headline of the day

"Why Is Our Solar System Such a Cosmic Weirdo?"


Monday, March 18, 2013

Hiatus, again

I'm going on another, short blogging hiatus. February was crazy busy, and I thought I would have a reprieve in March but it's actually shaping up to be even busier, what with my own kids' stuff and my own family members to keep track of and even some friends who need a helping hand from time to time. In short, it's a very busy time in the household.

I fully intend to be back, hopefully with a quieter April. In the meantime, here is a photograph of a repurposed tractor seat for you to enjoy.

Monday, March 04, 2013

What I just finished reading

Dragon's Egg
Robert L. Forward

I read this book on a recommendation from Alan at Blogonomicon. It's a work of hard science fiction, which means it portrays situations based on real scientific principles and theories rather than "soft", magic-like science that gives you convenient plot devices such as transporters, warp drives, and midichlorians. Hard science books don't always make for the best of stories, but they are usually very interesting anyway. As long as they are well written and don't read like textbooks.

Dragon's Egg certainly doesn't read like a text book, but it is also not the most exciting of tales. It tells the story of a neutron star upon which life has formed. The dominant animal species on Dragon's Egg (the name of the star) is the cheela, and they live at a highly accelerated rate compared to humans.

As the neutron star approaches our solar system in 2050, a human science expedition is launched to study it. As the humans map the the star they make the startling discovery that there is a civilization on the surface, one that is capable of building large structures. The cheela take notice of the human space craft in the sky, and eventually they work out a system of messaging that allows them to communicate in a clunky way. (The human messages appear very slow and drawn out to the cheela, and the cheela messages have to be slowed down by a computer for the humans to understand them.)

The humans transmit as much information as they can to the cheela, including the entire contents of an encyclopedia. Even though it takes the humans dozens of hours to transmit all this data, to the cheela it is several lifetimes. In the course of one day, the humans observe the cheela as they absorb human knowledge, grow from a clan society to one of empire, and fianlly  take to the stars, surpassing even the humans in their knowledge of the universe. The cheela even give back some of what they have learned, which proves to be beyond the comprehension of their human friends.

Very heady stuff. But it's easy to read, too. You don't need a degree in astrophysics to appreciate the theories explored in this book (though it might help), and many of the cheela characters are interesting in their own right, despite being little blobs with twelve eyes. But, in all, the story is not compelling, and the human characters are virtually faceless despite the author's attempt to flesh them out. We see many generations of development in the cheela, but nothing really happens on board the science ship except the gathering of data and the transmission of information. There's a bit of drama involving some equipment work outside the ship, but it doesn't last long, and there's no real sense of urgency in the episode. In short, this is a story of the cheela, and the humans are there just as a framework.

If you are interested in how the universe works (as I am), you will probably enjoy reading this book (as I did). But if your sci-fi fare tends to run toward Star Wars or Battle Star Galactica (either incarnation will do), you might want to steer clear of Dragon's Egg.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Slinging space junk

Space just above earth is crowded with junk. How cool would it be to have a spacecraft that could fling that junk back down to Earth and do it in a cost-effective and fuel efficient manner?

It would be way cool, that's what. And the Aggies are proposing just that as a way to declutter Earth's orbits. And they are calling it TAMU Sweeper with Sling-Sat.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Saturn view

I watched all those videos of that meteor exploding over the Russian landscape, and I was suitably giddy, awed, and a bit frightened, all at the same time. I didn't do a blog post about the event right away, and when I finally got a chance to sit down here and think about it, I thought that everything that could have been said about the event had already been said, and in a better way than I could phrase it. And those images and videos have already made all the rounds and stirred up excitement across the globe.

But I have seen something that is just as spectacular as a meteor mushroom cloud, and it hasn't received nearly as much media attention. It's this incredible image returned to us by the Cassini spacecraft.

Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

That deserves at least as much attention as a meteor over Russia. Dontcha think?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Mouse's Conquest

Yes, you've heard about the takeover. Now it's complete, and official. I have gathered the proof today.

The Empire has fallen. To the ---- uh, Evil Empire.

Soooo, ---- maybe it won't be so bad?

Friday, February 01, 2013

Thinking alike

Well, hush my mouth and call me corn pone.

Remember back in December when I argued that Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, was needlessly living the life of a poor man because he should be using his genius for the greater good? And getting rich while doing it, thereby supporting his poor aunt and his wife?

Back then, I said this:
Those are web shooters, and Parker invented them when he was just a teenager. This is a remarkable invention, combining a completely engineered synthetic substance with precise mechanical operations  to allow the user to SHOOT WEBS!!!  Strong, sticky webs that can be dissolved at a precisely determined time.


Why is this invention not being used for all kinds of practical applications right now? The executives at 3M would have a field day with this! Or, they would spend all kinds of resources trying to woo the person who created these astounding gadgets to come work for them. Why doesn't Peter Parker go to work for such a company -- or even try to take it over -- and become wealthy so that he doesn't have to worry about where he will get the basic necessities of life? Why doesn't he invent other things and sell the patents so that he and his loved ones can live a comfortable life while he fights crime in his spare time?
I still stand by that sentiment. But, as the ol' Good Book says, there is nothing new under the sun. Those comic wizards at Cracked just came to the same conclusion, except they did it in a much cooler and funnier way. And I'm sure they got paid for it, too.

(Jump to 3:27)

You're an astute man, Michael Swaim. Astute.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Martian spring

It happens, and it does some weird stuff that can only be seen on the Red Planet.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Accept: Stalingrad

Well, here are my initial thoughts on Accept's Stalingrad: Very, very good. My thanks to the South Texas Pistolero for convincing me to give it a whirl.

This is timeless metal/hard rock at its finest. Accept has been around since the mid-1970s, and it's really kind of amazing that they are still around. And that they are still cranking out the heavy music like they do. But, they are, and they're doing a good job of it.

I haven't listened to Accept much lately, but part of my rock and metal education came from the band's earlier albums, like Breaker, Restless and Wild, their self-titled debut album, and Balls to the Wall. So it's gratifying to see that they can still get together and produce quality material, and that Wolf Hoffman still shreds like he used to.

The current singer, Mark Tornillo, is a worthy successor for the original screamer, Udo Dirkschneider. Udo was unique, and his contribution to the world of metal is undeniable, but Tornillo works well. At times he kind of sounds kinda like Udo, but at others he sounds a lot like Brian Johnson, and that makes for a fine metal wailer.

The songs that have struck my fancy so far are "Twist of Fate", "Hellfire", and the title track, though all of them are fun to listen to. This was a good buy to make (especially since I got a cool download deal at Amazon for $3.99!), and I thank the Pistolero for his recommendation. By all means, keep making suggestions!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Preparing to read

I finally received that book that I ordered on recommendation from Alan at Blogonomicon. I've just started on it, so I don't have any opinion to share, yet. But here's what the book looks like: 

Dragon's Egg
Robert Forward

 This book must be out of print, because I could not find any copies on Amazon labeled "new" that were less than $19.00, and all of the other copies available were from third-party sources (with new paperbacks starting at $10.49). So I found a hardcover from some obscure book seller that came out to only $5.09, including shipping, and I ordered it.

Here's what I got in the mail:

 Look like any particular kind of book to you? Like, maybe a library book? Awesome, because that's what it is! An old library book!

My copy of Dragon's Egg by Robert Forward is a discard from the public library in Manchester, Connecticut. That's kind of cool, I guess. I've never gotten such a deal on a hardcover book that didn't come from a yard sale or from Half Price Books, and I'm glad I got this one. But I wasn't expecting to see a library book show up on my front porch.

And, bonus surprise? The branch library's name:

Yep, the colonial city of Manchester apparently has all of two branches in its library system, and one of them happens to be named after Dick Cheney's daughter, Mary.

No real connection to anything the book is about, but something quite interesting to notice, anyway.

Now, on to the reading ......