Saturday, June 26, 2010

Students Shoot Down Disintegrating Spacecraft!

Yes, it's true! (If you forgive my slight poetic license.) High school students from Brookline, Massachusetts shot a terrific video of Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft coming down through the atmosphere and breaking apart in a fiery cascade over the Australian outback. The lucky students were aboard a NASA DC-8 aircraft, monitoring the reentry, which landed a separate reentry vehicle (visible to the right of the breakup in the video), bringing back samples of an asteroid.

I can't find a way to embed the video (dang!), which might be just as well, considering how my last embedding effort turned out. But watch it here. And read the full story about these high school students who got a surprise trip Downunder in a NASA jet.

Labels: , ,

What Drives Us?

I first came across this video on Tobias Buckell's blog. It's a short animation of a talk about what gives us motivation, according to psychological studies. The speaker is Dan Pink, author of the book Drive. If you're interested in which drives us more, money or satisfaction, take a few minutes to watch this.

(EDIT: That totally broke out of my template, and I can't seem to make the screen smaller. So I took out the embedded video. But click the link!)

There's a longer version of his talk on (And enough cool talks on to keep you from your work for hours.)

I wondered how sound the actual science was, so I asked my resident expert, my brother Chuck, who happens to be a distinguished professor of psychology. The answer? "Go to Deci and Ryan have been studying these things for...40 years." Sound, in other words, but hardly new.

New or not, though, it's something people all walks of life would do well to think about.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Undersea Talk

We've just passed the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jacques Cousteau, the famed underwater explorer who died in 1997. It was Turner Classic Movies that turned me on to this fact, by running a series of classic Cousteau TV documentaries, including Cousteau Odyssey and the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

I practically idolized Cousteau during the period that these shows aired. In fact, as a college student who had taken up scuba diving (in chilly Rhode Island waters), I wrote to Captain Cousteau, basically asking for a summer job. To my delight, he wrote back, saying that he'd like to meet me the next time he was in New York. I waited, and didn't hear from him. I wrote again, and heard back again. But unfortunately, the meeting never happened. (This was long before email or cheap long distance telephone, so the whole thing hinged on snail mail.) Despite that disappointment, I maintained my interest in underwater exploration. I even used it in my SF—with a novelette in F&SF, and later, with my novels Seas of Ernathe and The Infinite Sea.

I was feeling nostalgic for those days tonight, poking around online—and in the process, I came across this Ted Talk by National Geographic underwater photographer Brian Skerry. It's a great talk, and is filled with phenomenal undersea images. Give it a look. 

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 13, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog

A little while ago, I was wondering aloud to my wife Allysen whether keeping this blog going was a smart use of my time. After all, I don't post to it nearly as frequently as I should to keep up an audience, and it does take up writing time that arguably I should be spending on my next book. Still, it's a connection to you folks that I might not otherwise have. (Yeah, I could post to Facebook instead—but really, what's the diff?)

And so, with perfect timing, along comes a very funny column in today's Boston Globe:  "Not Blogging," by James Parker, a contributing editor to The Atlantic. After the first two lines, I knew I had to read it aloud to Allysen. Says Parker:

I should have one, of course. I mean, shouldn’t I? I’ve been urged to get one. A confused middle-aged literatus like me, trying to keep himself afloat while the old industry paradigms, the old machineries of reputation and reward, shiver into fragments around him? I need a blog. A place to consolidate my brand. A forum for my views, untrammelled, unedited. A one-stop shop for all my “stuff.”
That established, he goes on to offer the opposing view:
So allow me then to dissent — to offer, if I may, a small and fading valentine to not-blogging. Or, as it used to be called, “living.”

Let’s start with the most obvious point against blogging: the labor. A blog must be fed several times a day, like a weight lifter or a Great Dane. Are you ready for that kind of commitment? Update, update, keep the posts coming... We all know the tiny electronic swat of dismay that one experiences upon checking a favorite blog and finding it unchanged or unrefreshed. Do that too often to your readers and they’ll ditch you, and your blog will die...

It’s not that I won’t blog — I just can’t. I’m a slow writer, for one thing. I write ve-ery slowly, in a soft mist of incomprehension, like a garden gnome coming to life on an English hillside. This is no good for a blogger. Bloggers write fast. They react.
I do sometimes wonder if that describes me. Though certainly there are some days when, if I didn't write a little on my blog, I wouldn't get any writing done at all.  Hmm...

Excuse me while I go make sure that this isn't one of those days.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Booming School, or F**king Proper F**king Booming—Oil Booming, That Is

Here’s a video anyone concerned about the BP oil spill should watch. That's pretty much everyone, right? It's got lots of bad language, but what's a little bad language when greedy, incompetent corporations are busy destroying the planet? Watch it even if it bothers you. The first couple of minutes of the video are background. The real meat of it starts with the discussion of booming school. This is based on an article originally published on Daily Kos.

I just finished writing about the wonderful new space technology being developed. But technology has its dark side, and this story is all about technology badly used. That's important to know about, too.


Falcon 9's Successful Launch to Orbit

I wrote recently about how Falcon 9, a new launcher from SpaceX, was awaiting its first test launch. Well, last Friday it went off beautifully. This is the rocket that’s scheduled to take over the job of carrying cargo (and perhaps eventually people) to the International Space Station after the retirement of the shuttle fleet. This flight carried a dummy Dragon capsule into orbit. The Falcon 9 builds on the model of the Saturn 5 moon rocket, using a cluster of nine engines, and having the ability to achieve orbit even it loses an engine. It's in the size and power class of the Delta IV and Atlas V launchers that currently serve many launch needs. But the goal of the program is to bring down the cost of launch to orbit.

Here's a video that pretty much shows the whole flight to orbit in realtime, mostly from an onboard camera. It's pretty cool. Note that it starts at T minus one minute, so you might want to fast forward at the beginning.

You can see a shorter "highlights" video, and lots of other info at the SpaceX website.

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Jeanne Robinson 1948 – 2010

Jeanne Robinson—wife of Spider Robinson and his coauthor of the Stardance novels—died last Sunday after a long bout with cancer. I knew Jeanne well enough to say hello to, on the rare occasions when we met her and Spider at cons. I feel as though I know them better than I do, from their work. Jeanne's passing marks a sad loss for the SF community.  Spider has written about her passing on the Stardance Movie blog.

Labels: , ,

Hawks on a Ledge

A family of red-tailed hawks have taken roost on the front ledge of a building near us, opposite the Fresh Pond Shopping Center in Cambridge. The first flight of one of the fledglings created quite a stir the other day. And the day following, I happened to be passing through the parking lot of the office building when I found a crowd of people gathered around a parked car. There, on the roof of the car, was the young hawk—peering around, probably wondering who all these yahoos were that were getting in the way of his flight training.  I snapped a few shots with my cell camera, and a few minutes later, he took wing and got himself up onto a tall CVS sign in the same lot.

They've been drawing crowds of birdwatchers from all over the area. There's a gallery of some pretty good pix on But—rather like my experience watching the space shuttle launch—the pictures don't compare to standing fifteen feet from the (not so) little guy, watching him try to make sense of it all. I could identify.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Trouble in Dogland

Our boxer Hermione took one wrong step on Sunday—she ran into something sharp on the playing field, a piece of an old soccer goal. I was home making coffee when Allysen arrived carrying our fifty-pound dog, who was bleeding from a nasty gash above her left front paw. (Several neighbors, bless them, had pitched in successively to help carry Hermione from the field.)

A long visit to the Mass Vet Referral Hospital later, we learned that she was in not just for stitches but for surgery, because she had not only cut her leg but had hit two arteries in the process. (Fortunately, we'd bandaged her up tightly.) She came home with a nice purple wrap covering a splint that extends all the way to the end of her paw; the injury was near a joint, and that had to be immobilized. We, needless to say, also brought home an impressive vet bill. 

The old girl is going to be fine, but for the next two weeks she's going to be stumping around the house like a peg-legged pirate on this splint. We've taken to calling her Thumper.

Here's a picture of Hermione and Moonlight on a happier day.

Labels: ,