Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Scare: Disney Buys Star Wars!

Actually, all of Lucasfilm, including Industrial Light and Magic. They're planning to have a new Star Wars movie for us by 2015. And if that doesn't scare you, I don't know what will. (Well, okay, maybe a hurricane.) In the last few years, Disney has acquired Pixar, Marvel, and now Lucasfilm. That's a lot of heavy lifting, money-wise (over $4 billion  for Lucasfilm alone), and gives you some idea of how much gold the Mouse is carrying around.

But is it a bad thing, or a good one? Well, the Disney ownerships doesn't seem to have hurt Pixar too much. And Marvel seems to be doing okay, judging by The Avengers. But Star Wars? Will we be glad to have another episode, and then another? Certainly the empire has been faltering creatively for decades, so it may be that new blood in the driver's seat will be just what we need. But here’s some perspective offered by Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr:

The new “Star Wars” will come in 3D, IMAX, and someday -- who knows? -- holo-vision and jack-in brain cinema. But Disney CEO Iger’s announcement of the Lucasfilm acquisition is telling. “This transaction combines a world-class portfolio of content including ‘Star Wars,’ one of the greatest family entertainment franchises of all time, with Disney’s unique and unparalleled creativity across multiple platforms, businesses and markets to generate sustained growth and drive significant long-term value.”

There are certain things missing from that sentence, words like movie and story and characters.
Yeah, there is that. 

Meanwhile, in book publishing, Random House and Penguin are merging, and I can't  think of too many examples of giant publishers merging that have been good for either writers or readers. Will this merger better enable them to meet the challenges of ebooks, and promotion through social networking? Well... Richard Bowker has some thoughts on the question. They pretty much mirror my own, so I'll give him the floor. 

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Hunkered Down for Hurricane Sandy

Like millions of others in the eastern U.S., we're battened down, waiting out Hurricane Sandy. We've got bread and batteries up the wazoo, extra water in the basement and garage (I knew those big plastic cat-litter containers I've been saving would be good for something, someday), gas in the cars, and I even got a couple of the window air conditioners pulled for the winter before it started blowing. Where we are, outside Boston, the main concern is downed trees and wires (and I've already called in one of each from my earlier outings).

Here's what Sandy looks like from space:

Interesting sequence of photos:

Edit: We came through it just fine. I wish the same were true of our neighbors down the coast!

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Romney Tax Plan Unveiled at Last!

Romney finally reveals his plans to cut taxes and reduce the deficit,
should he become our next president.

Click the image or go to


Friday, October 19, 2012

Low Tech and High Tech

Man constructs working bicycle from cardboard. It looks great. How cool is that? 

On the high-tech side, Google opens its server farms for us to goggle over. Click here for a great gallery view of caves full of servers, cooling pipes, wires.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Deer Crossing

Caller to talk show asks to have Deer Xing signs moved to lower traffic areas. School crossings, for example, would be a good place. Now who wouldn't be on board with that?

I'll bet Romney would fix this if he were president! And for Ryan, it just goes without saying. 

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Earth-sized Planet Found Circling Alpha Centauri!

Woot! It's finally happened! Researchers have announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet in the star system nearest to ours. Called Alpha Centauri Bb for now (it orbits the star in the Alpha Centauri group called Alpha Centauri B), this planet is roughly 3.6 million miles from its sun, compared to our 93 million miles from our sun.  So it's pretty hot, certainly not in the range for most Earthlike life forms. But this discovery suggests the likelihood of other planets in the star system. Most systems have multiple planets, and the ones closest to their suns are the easiest to detect.

This is so insanely, massively cool. We've dreamed of it for years. And now we've learned that our nearest neighboring star system has a planet the size of ours, and may have other planets in the habitable zone.

The news takes me back to memories of one of the first paperback SF novels I ever read as a kid: Robert Silverberg's Revolt on Alpha C

Who's ready to join me in starting construction of a starship?

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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Sound of Cylons

This is too good not to post. Lovers of Simon and Garfunkel, and lovers of Battlestar Galactica unite!

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Harwich Writing Retreat

I've actually been on Cape Cod for the last couple of days. First the whole family came for a family retreat, and we relaxed and brainstormed about some things we want to pursue in the future as a family. Then wife and daughters went back home, and I stayed holed up in the nice little B&B here, working on the Julie/Ik subplot of The Reefs of Time. (For those of you who are waiting to see if Julie and John will ever get back together, no, that's not a spoiler about a romance between Julie and Ik; however, they do embark on a challenging time-travel experience together. The logic of it has been driving me a little nutty. The Bandicut/Li-Jared subplot, meanwhile, is drawing toward its resolution. And Antares? Well, she has her own problems, but at least she has Napoleon for company.)

And that's all I'm giving up in the way of plot hints. The main takeaway here is that I'm indeed marching this book toward its thrilling, multi-part conclusion! (And then, on to rewrite!)

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Sunday, October 14, 2012


The pictures speak:

Safe on the ground, after shattering a host of records.The streaming has been cutting in and out, so I don't know yet whether or not Baumgartner broke the sound barrier. Press conference about to start.

Edit: He did break the sound barrier, at 833.9 miles per hour in freefall!

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Ballooning to the Edge of Space

I'm watching the live coverage of Felix Baumgartner's balloon flight to the edge of outer space. He's presently at 127,000 feet and still ascending, well past the previous record for manned balloon flight. The plan is for him to jump in his specialized pressure suit and freefall through the sound barrier before parachuting to the ground. 

Live shot of capsule at nearly 128,000 feet

He's having problem with the heat not working in his faceplate, but they've just announced that he will jump regardless. They're beginning now to depressurize the capsule, preparatory to his stepping out of the capsule and jumping...

Stay tuned!

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Heaven and Science

My friend Rich Bowker posted an interesting examination of a Newsweek cover story entitled... well, let me quote Rich:

So Newsweek has a cover story called Proof of Heaven: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife. It’s a pretty standard near-death experience story, with a couple of twists: it’s told by a neurosurgeon, and it took place during a coma during which his brain supposedly wasn’t functioning:
There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.
--read Rich's whole post--
Rich goes on to cite a rebuttal in Huffington Post by physicist and vocal atheist Victor Stenger.

Because I cannot leave well enough alone, I decided to chime in. And here's the comment I left on Rich's blog:
After reading both the Newsweek article and the Stenger "rebuttal" of it, I'd have to say I find both pieces of writing wanting for rigor. Dr. Alexander's piece is interesting and provocative, but, to be sure, not "proof" of anything except that he had an extraordinary personal experience. Was his experience a glimpse of an objectively real extra-dimensional existence? It seemed so to him. You call it "pretty standard-issue stuff for near-death experience (NDE) stories," which it is. But you can't discount the possibility that the reason it's standard issue is because many people have glimpsed the same otherworldly view, and it's actually real. (It could also be because that's the sort of image that the brain circuitry produces under certain stressful conditions.)

Bottom line, I don't know any way the rest of us can know if it was real or not, nor is it clear to me how--even theoretically--one could scientifically study his particular case, unless there turned out to be EEG recordings or something that could shed light, perhaps by recording a burst of brain activity at some crucial point. Even that wouldn't really prove anything. So we're left with the evidence of his subjective experience, which I would say is not without value, but also not a smoking gun. One wishes he had asked those questions about alternative explanations. Maybe he does, in his book.

So Stenger asked the questions for him. And if you wonder if Stenger has a dog in this race*, it's instructive to look at the titles of some of his books: God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist and God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion -- neither of which fills me with confidence about his objectivity on the question. He dismisses Alexander's account as "the classic argument from ignorance," and goes on about the "God of the gaps" view, but I don't think that's a fair characterization of Alexander's account at all. In fact, I don't find Stenger's argument at all more objective than Alexander's. Stenger has a clear axe to grind, and Newsweek and Alexander give him an easy target by claiming "proof of Heaven" when what Alexander has is powerful experiential evidence (powerful to him) that cannot easily be tested.

You're right; it's not proof of Heaven--any more than science shows that God does not exist. Both claims go way beyond the bounds of science.

What to do? Maybe SF has something interesting to say on the subject. Oh wait--it does. Connie Willis's novel Passage.
*I seem to recall that Stenger was one of the authors I complained about in my own critique of the New Scientist's "God Issue" last Spring. I complained because he presented very little science, but did so in a most authoritative voice. And I have to say, the more I read and think on the subject, the more convinced I become that the scientists who speak most authoritatively on questions of philosophy and theology seem to be the ones who fail to recognize when they've stepped out of bounds of science.

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