Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: Soon I will be writing the wrong year on all my checks

Someday I will be able to reminisce like this: "While I was on the moon I wrote a postcard to Mom; then I traveled through the tail of a comet and skirted the tongue of the sun as it lashed out into the darkness. My new novel was a rip-roaring success, selling over fifteen copies to people who are not my relatives! And I managed to find time to visit my brothers in TN, PA, and CA."

I have not done any of these things. This is what I did do this year:

Wrote novel #2.
Drove a boat- Rob's boat, on Great East Lake.
Went to NC.
Ate at the Cheesecake Factory.
Closed my knife on my finger.
Went to Canada.
Rewrote novel #1.
Went to Long Island.
Theatre: Man of La Mancha (ME, board op), Wizard of Oz (ME), Spelling Bee (ME, board op), Hairspray (ME, ASM), Cabaret (ME, spot op), A Christmas Carol (ME, crew).
Hunted lobsters.
Found a shark on the beach.
Learned 200 new words: petrichor is my favourite.
Watched my friend get married; I also threw a bridal shower.
Stuck my feet in the ocean.
Got a ginormous blood blister.
Interned at Calypso.
Almost fell out of the grid.
Walked in the rain.
Moved into an apartment.
Worked at the gym (I lead a thrilling life, I know).
Got a cat and named her Goblin*.
Learned ever so much about space.
Went to the zoo! Got a free ticket!
Climbed Mount Major (which is not quite as tall as Mount General).
Went to Boston.
Celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Turned 23.

*This is my cat, Goblin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Fascinating Exploits in Space, Part 1

My least favourite part about falling is the bit where you hit the ground. This effect, of course, is only caused by Earth trying to keep us safe from the cold, dark universe. I often, however, think about the idea of falling, or rather drifting slowly, softly, gently through the air--you know, flying. Unfortunately, flying is not that easy.

When I was three, my babysitter was watching my brother and I play in the front yard. We were playing the jumping game. He would jump off the porch step into the grass; then I would jump; then he would go up a step and jump; I would follow. Naturally, any of the consequences of this would be his fault, reason being that he was setting a bad example. I decided to skip the in between steps. Who needs those, anyway?

Long story short: I broke my leg. Spiral fracture. I had a cast from my foot to my hip. I didn't cry until we left the hospital. My mom bought me a cat. My babysitter did not have any long-term psychological injuries.

I am not afraid of heights. In fact, one of my jobs involves wandering around 20 feet over people's heads and hanging 25 pound lights from pipes under my feet. At the theatre, my favourite seat is on the top of the ladder. At the park, my favourite seat is on top of the truss. Three days after I broke my leg, my mother caught me climbing a tree, cast and all. My leg is not broken anymore.

One day I hope to go hang gliding. I plan to soar through the air and feel the wind in my face and see the little tiny people down below, and imagine that I am hang gliding through the stars, with stardust blowing through my hair and gazing at the little planets down below. I will catapult through nebula and surf over the gravitational winds. I will narrowly skirt the lip of a black hole and swing out towards a lonely wandering planet where I will make a vacation cottage on the edge of a volcanic lake.

Then I will invite my cat, my whole enormous family, and all of my extra families, and all of my friends to come visit and we will have Christmas on another world, and when we go home it will just be like a dream- the best dream ever.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Santa Claus Massacre

News Alert! Santas are dead!

Today is the day after Christmas, and I was shocked to find that Santa did not make it beyond most houses yesterday. As Dave and I walked around a rather nice neighborhood on Long Island, we saw an appalling number of dead Santa Clauses lying in one yard after another, their red clothes melted in a sad, forlorn heap and stakes attached to ropes tying the poor plastic corpses to the ground; Frosty was caught in the crossfire; his poor white body lay melted on the ground.

We must stand up! Take a stand! Stand for good! Stand up for Santa to help Santa stand up! Who else will bring our children their toys? Who else will try to fit down our impossibly small chimney and stovepipes? Who else will not be allowed to laugh in Australia because it sounds like he's insulting women? Santa Claus. Therefore, we must take care of him: for all of you who still have your Santas intact, protect them. You never know which of your neighbors is on an anti-Santa strike team. Watch out. Protect our beloved icon.

At any rate, Santa brought me lots a great presents this year: a hex bug, some chocolate, a gas card. Aunt Jan gave me a beautiful sweater, and Sandy gave me a picture of a nebula!!! and a cardigan. Dave gave me bananagrams! All in all a good day. I hope yours was, too.

Now, protect your Santa! Or Christmas will never live again.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hanging the Universe on my Christmas Tree

I don't have a Christmas tree. But if I did, I would want to fill it with UFO ornaments like my Great Uncle Bill did. Or ornaments shaped like stars and galaxies and nebulae. In fact, instead of a tree, I'd just like a tree-shaped picture of the universe, or a piece of the universe that someone shrunk down to fit in my living room. I could hang a wreath-shaped nebula on my door and use comets like icicle lights on my bushes. Comet tails would make beautiful ribbons to tie up the gifts and Saturn's moons and rings could be the trains on the train track under the universe tree.

Instead of presents I would name stars after my friends so that the whole universe would be just like my living room, with Grady and Styliani and Dave and Evan and Peter; and they could go visit the star I named after them. Or perhaps as a gift I would take them on trips to Jupiter or Kepler 20e or Kepter 20f, or maybe, if they didn't want to go, I would simply catch a moon and wrap it with a bow. They could use it to decorate their living room.

My gingerbread house would actually be a giant gingerbread solar system, with Earth and Mercury and Neptune all flying in massive loops; the sun would have giant frosting sunspots, the asteroid belt would be made of gumdrops, and inside the moon I would hide lots and lots of twizzlers. I wouldn't be picky: Pluto would be a planet again, and we could invite Eris to join the party, too.

My Santa does not ride in a sleigh or wear red; he rides in a blue police box which breathes loudly as it lands, and produces an interesting looking man with an interesting looking screwdriver. Then I climb into the blue police box which can travel through space and time, and he takes me to Midnight where the Sapphire Waterfall cascades down diamond peaks, or maybe just to Kepler 20e, if there's anything interesting there. Or, better yet, he could take me home.

Even if you haven't caught the universe to decorate your living room, have a fantastic period of time where you don't have to work, spending your days and nights with family and friends, watching the stars glisten on your tree and hearing the music of the universe serenade your hopefully magical days. Enjoy the candles in the windows and the rather small moon which has replaced your coffee table, and don't forget: the Dr. Who Christmas Special airs today! 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Favourite UFOlogist--Guest Blog by Peter Sieling

Thanksgiving gatherings in our family included my Methodist preacher father, uncle John, a devout Mormon, and uncle Bill, a UFOlogist. We cousins ate at the kid’s table, out of sight of the adults. Fifty years later we still remember when Janie shot a pea straight up and it stuck to the ceiling (and for all we know it’s up there still…).
            You would think the adult conversation must have been fascinating at the adult table but I doubt it. Adults know how to avoid really fun topics at family parties. After dinner, Uncle John always stretched out on the floor and fell asleep. Uncle Bill wandered over to the piano and played pop tunes from the 1940’s. I don’t remember what my dad did—probably teased my cousins.
            Uncle Bill was a famous UFOlogist. As an optical physicist, he was especially interested in analyzing UFO photos. He interviewed George Adamski, the man who flew in an alien ship back in the fifties or early sixties, and other UFO celebrities. Bill translated the book Angels in Starships.
            As a teenager, I attended one of Uncle Bill’s slide presentations in Dresden, NY. It lasted nearly three hours—slide after slide of UFOs and alien beings from his collection. Most were obvious fakes, but some were genuine, according to Uncle Bill.
            Bill occasionally brought UFO books to family gatherings. One that I remember had big beautiful glossy photos of flying disks. The author claimed to have met many times with the aliens. They told him that most humans were not highly evolved enough to talk to them (they used direct mind-to-mind communication). The author must have been more evolved, as they met with him and taught him many truths, Bill said.
            “What truths?” I asked Uncle Bill.
            Bill hesitated before answering. It seemed as if the teachings were a secondary issue to him. The big thing was that extraterrestrials were visiting earth and communicating with humans. I felt, on the other hand, that if extraterrestrials were teaching humans, they must have something worth hearing, useful things like power supplies used in their ships, weird metal alloys, and interesting additions or corrections to our theories of time, space, and relativity. “Why, they told him that mankind has the power to, um, control their own destinies, and that we must learn to live in peace and cooperation with all the rest of the world…”
            I was disappointed with his answer. Space aliens would not teach humans the philosophy of secular humanism. We already have that. I expected something so foreign and bizarre, that I wouldn’t believe it. Humans can’t come up with anything truly new. We create myths from composites of that which we’ve already seen. The ancient gods were larger than life (and wickeder) men and women. Dragons are big lizards with bat wings. Science fiction writers assemble their sentient aliens from ants, spiders, herbivores, or bees. I wanted something stranger than giant egg-laying machines and slimy moon creatures.
            I visited my Uncle Bill and Aunt Rhoda a couple years before they died. Bill and I sat at the piano and he showed me the four diminished chords. He had taught himself to play the piano and had a name for each chord. There was a flying saucer ornament hanging from his Christmas tree. Now that I was an adult, I couldn’t ask about flying saucers.
            Uncle Bob says before Bill died, he decided UFOs were all a hoax. I think it’s all a hoax too, except that one of my cousins saw one landed in a field with two extraterrestrials walking around outside it, in metallic colored suits, like My Favorite Martian wore. She still says she saw them to this day, forty years later. I believe my cousin. So I live in paradoxes. I file UFOs in the same box as wild cougars with orange tracking collars, cloning wooly mammoths, cold fusion, global warming, and 100 mpg carburetors—interesting things to believe in, hope for, or fear, but not things to alter the routine of daily life.
            Until, late one night, driving down the dark rain soaked highway, suddenly the car engine dies and there’s a bluish light hovering above the road, blinding me…

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Watch Out For Argyles--They Eat Turtles

I once had a turtle. His name was Lionel. I used to feed him peaches and take him for walks in the park. We played hide-and-seek in my one room house, and one day I watched him fall down the stairs--very slowly. He would fall, land on his back, rock back and forth to flip over, and promptly fall down to the next step. Twice a week I gave him baths on the porch, and generally, we had an idyllic life--except for the large cockroaches that liked to sneak in occasionally. I finally let Lionel go, because even the littlest turtle deserves its freedom.

The god Mercury invented the lyre from a turtle shell. I wonder what he did with the turtle. Hopefully he gave it a new shell and let it go. The planet Mercury doesn't have any turtles, at least as far as we know, although if some sort of life did live there, turtles would probably be likely candidates.

One day on Mercury is equivalent to 179 Earth days. That would be like if the sun went down twice a year instead of every twenty four hours. It would have to be a very hearty turtle whose shell could protect it from the 800 degree Fahrenheit days and the -290 degree nights. Perhaps it would be a turtle whose shell could open and close. A Mercurian Turtle's predator would probably be an argyle. Argyles are large angry creatures with teeth than can slice through stone. They are distinguishable by the pattern of large coloured diamonds in the fur on their backs. Argyles roll in pools of quicksilver (mercury) so that when night comes it will harden into a protective covering. If given the opportunity, argyles will eat humans too.

Lionel and I did come across one argyle when we were walking in the park one warm afternoon. Due to the lack of pools of mercury on Earth, however, the argyle had no protection and ran away rather than try to eat Lionel or me.

Now I am picturing you, surrounded by dust and sitting in a crater, playing a lyre, and walking your pet turtle as the very, very, very large sun sets very, very, very slowly on Mercury. Glittering comets streak through the sky as shining white lines, and a range of mountains peeks out from a crater in the distance. It is a beautiful, everlasting, afternoon. Oh, but watch out--there's an argyle right behind you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Lose Weight, Comet Style

Adrenaline junkie? My friend Chelsea went skydiving on her birthday. My uncles used to waterski barefoot. But check this out. A comet, named Lovejoy, took a mad free fall through the sun. As in, it's trajectory was aimed directly at the sun, and it hit the sun, and then came back out the other side. The scientists watching it expected complete vaporization, since the corona of the sun is approximately two million degrees Fahrenheit. Here, watch some videos of it. It looks a bit worse for the wear coming out the other side, don't you think? The comet lost 90% of its weight and it's tail, so this also seems to be a highly effective weight loss program. 

So instead of bungee jumping, how about trying that on your next birthday?

If you don't want to take a mad leap into the sun, how about starting your own space program instead? Billionaire Paul Allen has joined Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos in their quest to launch ships into space. Allen has a new idea, which is brilliant: imagine an aircraft carrier. You know, like the boat. Now imagine a spacecraft carrier--but instead of a boat, it's an airplane that launches rockets from the sky. With a wingspan longer than a football field, the airplane should help to cut back on launch costs and delays by launching the rockets wherever conditions are best, as well as giving us safer orbital access to space.

Before you know it they'll be launching rockets to the sun--so all you'll need to do is hitch a ride on one of those, and you can try comet Lovejoy's weight loss program.

Three reasons why comets are awesome:

1. They have plasma tails.
2. They are giant snowballs. With ice. And mud.
3. They are badass, and take mad dives into the sun.

Forget surfing, forget mountain climbing, forget skydiving and bungee jumping, forget theft, forget skateboarding and demolition and tractor pulling and extreme sports in general: just crash a spaceship through the sun's corona. Then you'll be awesome, and have a great body.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

You Can Stomp On Monsters, But Not On Black Holes. So Don't Try.

If anyone ever tells you there's no such thing as monsters, they're lying. There are monsters all over the place. It's just that we've gotten quite good at ignoring them, banishing them to the outskirts of civilization, or remaining ignorant. Children understand this. When they are afraid of the dark, it's because they know that the biggest, meanest, most dangerous monsters are invisible; and what is the dark but a very commonplace version of invisibility?

 I suppose you want some examples of monsters. That's good, because that's what I was going to tell you next.

Category 1: Monsters We Ignore

You know that guy who cuts you off? Or the one who reads their receipt at the cash register with eight people in line behind them, finds a $1 mistake, and makes the cashier call a manager immediately? Or the lady in front of you who drives 35mph exactly in a 40mph zone, and is going exactly the direction you are? These people are not monsters. But they have little monsters inside their heads. Little monsters that whisper "who are you?" and "why?" and "RAWR" and "you're stupid". These little monsters can have devastating consequences on us. Sometimes they're even contagious. But usually we just ignore them.

The second type in this category are monsters such as The Runny Nose, The Hang Nail, and The Sneeze. These are constantly attacking, but we've developed complex defense systems that allow us to ignore the monsters most of the time.

Category 2: Monsters We Banish

These monsters usually take forms of bears, mountain lions, volcanoes, and poisonous reptiles. Typically we keep them at bay by installing electric lights everywhere, shooting at them if they come to close, or destroying their food sources and habitats. These ones are probably the least dangerous and the most feared.

On the other side of this coin is the Germ. The germ is tiny, but it invades our body and slowly takes out one of our functioning systems at a time. We have developed many defense mechanisms for this one; the main one is banishment through vaccinations.

Category 3: Monsters We Are Ignorant Of

This is a bit of a difficult category, because if we're ignorant, it means we have no knowledge. However, I at least know of one: black holes. You think your teenage brother eats a lot? My little brother would wrack up a $400 grocery bill all on his own when he was thirteen--a black hole would eat the whole planet if it could get its greedy little hands on it. And that would just be the beginning. A black hole would eat our sun as well as all of the surrounding stars. It just sucks in everything, like a giant vacuum--it eats stars, planets, moons, dust, asteroids, entire galaxies. Even you. The worst part is that they'll eat light: mixing your wildest fears into one terrible creature: a giant, ravenous monster that consumes everything, in the dark. Not only would it be consuming you, you wouldn't be able to see it.

So just watch out for little monsters and big monsters, because they're sneaking everywhere, stealing your socks and your hair, making you grumpy and scratching your car, and the only way to fight back is to stomp on them. Except black holes, you can't stomp on those.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

After Curiosity Killed the Cat, She Got a Masters in Astrophysics

Yesterday I was at work. I was lying on the ramp on stage right, waiting for the bloody-long counting house scene to finish, and staring up through the grid at the ceiling--arched-brick vaulted ceilings are very cool. A bit of light bled from stage, but otherwise the only colours immediately visible to my eyes were various shades of black. I started imagining that I was not looking up, but instead looking down.

I kept looking down--down 25 feet with nothing to stop me from falling into the arched-brick trench, except for one lonely pipe sticking out from the grid. It was awesome. I love space--and not just outer space, but all kinds of space (another reason why the ocean is so magnificent).

This should help you understand why I am jealous of the Mars Rover. Curiosity not only gets to soar into the atmosphere and look down on Earth from way up in the sky, but she has blasted completely through the atmosphere into the great vacuum of space surrounding our little tiny planet, and has managed to already (in less than a month!) travel more than 31 million miles towards Mars. That said, she still has over 300 million miles left to traverse. To top it off, she gets to land on a completely different planet and explore miles and miles of countryside more or less untouched by humans.

While I may be a little jealous, I am also extremely excited. Curiosity has a lot of technologically advanced equipment on board. This is what she has planned for us here on Earth:
  • Information about rocks (you probably guessed that one)
  • What is all this methane from? A theory about whether life does or doesn't exist on Mars. (Finally! Evidence one way or the other!)
  • Pictures. IN COLOUR. Let me repeat that. COLOUR PICTURES. Panoramic ones, too! Not just pictures of the rocks, but of the landscape and terrain, and already they are planning to stitch them together. Somebody buy me a poster!
  • COLOUR VIDEO. Did you catch that one? COLOUR VIDEO. We get to WATCH the scenery of MARS, as well as the descent from outer space to the surface. Also, let me add this: it's HIGH DEF. I hope it comes out in theatres.
  • Best yet, it's going to EMAIL IT TO US FROM MARS. Okay, email might not be quite what is happening, but you get the drift. It's going to send it to us. We don't have to wait. Well, I might have to wait. But the scientists don't. And the sooner the scientists get it, the sooner they share!
Curiosity has three cameras, four spectrometers (which measure light), two radiation detectors, an environmental sensor, and an atmospheric sensor. The size of a small SUV, she has 6 wheel drive, can turn 360 degrees in place, and has the ability to climb steep hills. Basically, she's the coolest robot we've ever made.

Currently, the rover is on a steady, unhindered track towards Mars, and is already working to monitor the effects of radiation while protected by the spaceship, with the hope that this will help us understand how this sort of trip might affect a human.

One day I hope to travel to Mars, although I doubt the chances of that are particularly high. For now, I'll just stare up into the deep dark heights of the theatre, and imagine I'm looking down from a spaceship at the dark arched-brick vaulted side of Mars.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Wrote a Text Message for the Aliens- Does anybody know their number?

The problem with my microwave is that it beeps five times. It annoys me more than the rotting smell that sometimes pervades my kitchen due to the terrible plumbing in my building or the way my cat sits against the wall and locks her unwavering stare on me with her unremitting eyes, without blinking, for indefinite periods of time.

In addition to beeping five times (instead of four or six or one), it doesn't stop beeping even when you open the door or hit clear. In fact, I firmly believe that I could take a sledgehammer and smash it into tiny, tiny pieces, and it would still finish all five beeps. Other people believe that if you gave a family of monkeys a typewriter and convinced them to bang on the keys, eventually they would produce the works of Shakespeare- bound in leather, of course.

The funny thing is, if you add Evolution into mix, a monkey of sorts named William did produce the works of Shakespeare--he just did it after he technically was not classified as a monkey, and with a quill pen instead of a typewriter.

Last night, I was grumpy.
So was my phone. Or, as it said, "FGERUMPY."

My cell phone and I were having the sort of evening where you break glasses, spill beverages, and have to dig through the trash to pull out something which you should not have thrown away; and, after having a large amount of juice poured all over it, my phone was not feeling very amiable. It was feeling so irritable it decided to translate all of my texts into Azerbaijanese. How? you ask. Simple, by adding a 'z' everytime I typed 'a', an 'r' to every 'e', an 'f'' to every 'g', and some weird combination of 'b', 'v', and 'c'. In addition, instead of exclamation points, I could only type upside down question marks.

My text to Dave, explaining why I was fgerumpy, looked something like this:
"I beroker az glazss, fgot chocolazter on my paznts, threrw azwazy az pererfgerctly fgood pazckazfger aznd spillered juicer on ERVBERERY THINFG so now my phoner wont stop azddinfg as aznd zs aznd es eznd rs im fgoinfg to fgo inlsazner¿b¿b¿b seriously? upsider down querstion mazerk? ¿b?¿b¿b¿b noooo (thoser ¿b wererer suupposerd to bver erxclazmaztion points. so mazny azazazazazaz hazhazhazhazh¿b¿b¿b kill mer now."
That last bit was supposed to be "hahahaha!!! kill me now."

This text could be very important, crucial even, to the development of human civilization. A cell phone zaps the information being sent to the nearest cell phone tower. If monkeys can write Shakespeare, then I could be, purely by accident, writing a message in an alien language. And if my call were to be intercepted by, say, a radio signal being sent to outer space, then perhaps it would get beamed all the way to another planet and received by an alien civilization.

Perhaps my message says, "Hugs and kisses! Miss and love you! -Earth". Or perhaps it actually means,  "Doom on you!"

Either way, first alien contact could be all my fault. Let's just hope they're nice.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Call Me When I Can Hang My Laundry By The Giant Space Ocean

I love New England. These are my reasons:

Reason #1: There is always weather. Always. Rain, fog, sleet, snow, hail, sunshine, wind, weird cloud formations, hurricanes--everything. And I love weather. In fact, this morning I walked out the door at 4:36am, and got slammed in the face by a sheet of water--wind and water at the same time! Fantastic.

Reason #2: The ocean. The ocean is everywhere. It doesn't just stay in the giant crater where it lives. It sneaks up through cracks in the sidewalk to tickle your bellybutton, it leaps over the pier and sneaks into your socks, and it has this way of latching on to the air and grabbing you from behind in a damp, salty hug. You can taste it in the fog, you can smell it in the air, and if you're feeling ambitious, you can stick your feet in it.

Reason #3: It's gorgeous. The sky is gorgeous. The ocean is gorgeous. The mountains are gorgeous. The snow is gorgeous. The hills are gorgeous. The countryside is gorgeous. Magnificent, wonderful, glorious, majestic, resplendent, astonishing, splendid, formidable, awesome, breathtaking, transcendent, pulchritudinous, imposing, etc. And you can drive over the ocean!

Reason #4: Pictures like these.

You may have noticed that all of my reasons have to do with water. Contrary to popular belief, I am not a fish. I am, however, made up of 70% water. It's likely that you are too.

The coolest thing about water is probably the giant space ocean. If I were a few million times larger than I am and could live on the edge of that space ocean, watching a billion stars set over a glittering cloud of water vapor so big it could supply 140 trillion Earth-sized planets with oceans and oceans of water, my life would probably be perfect. I might even sell everything I own and buy a space ocean houseboat so I can hang my laundry out to dry by the light of a few galaxies.

That said, if you happen to invent a "make something a million times larger" machine that is shaped like a houseboat, with an "anti-asphyxiation" button and a stick shift that goes 1-2-3-4-speed of light, call me first.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Day the Sun Got Littler

This morning I couldn't see the sun because a dull cover of grey clouds ensconced the chunk of landmass where I live. But there I sat, still contemplating the sun and her magnificent death rays and reading her online dating profile, when I surprised myself by thinking, "well, that's not very big!" To put it in context, consider the two freaking gigantic black holes recently discovered by some astronomers in California. The article states, "Both encompass regions or 'event horizons' about five times the distance from the sun to Pluto." 

So I decided to do some math.

Math can be quite inspiring.

The distance from Pluto to the Sun is 3.67 billion miles*. 3.67 billion miles times 5 is 18.35 billion miles across, a number that is impossible to grasp. For help understanding big numbers, ask xkcd. Basically, the span of the biggest black hole's event horizon stretches for this number of miles:

18,350,000,000 miles

My next step involved finding out the size of the sun, because the sun is the biggest thing I know and can see and with which I mayhaps have some sort of understanding. So I read about the sun... heat... fire... solar system... moon... mass... distance... earth...

diameter: 864,938 miles.

And I thought to myself, "well, that's not very big."

Of course the Earth is smaller than the sun, and the continents and oceans are smaller than the Earth, and you could keep going like this until you get to quarks, but compared to the vastness of the universe, the sun isn't very big. Neither are we.

But who cares? Because we have great big minds which try ever so hard to encompass great big ideas which are mind boggling and socket blowing and bubble popping all at the same time; and despite our desperately diminutive state of existence, we will continue to build whopping big robots that explode from the surface of the earth in search of life on other planets, we'll still jump in front of trains to save a little girl's life, and we'll still continue to fight with each other, just to prove that we're right.

*Speaking of Pluto, the probe which is set to reach the not-quite planet in 2015, moved closer to Pluto than any probe before it three days ago.) 

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Greatest Battle of All Time: The Leaf Blower vs The Nap.

My biggest trouble with napping during the day  is that every time I try, an ever-present leaf blower begins to roar outside my window. I can never see this tenacious creature, but nevertheless it's there, blowing leaves while I'm trying to nap. Its hunting howl is the sort of sound which skips your ears and jumps right into your head; it bellows with an endless continuity, persisting through my agonizing attempts to cover my ears, stuff my pillow over my head, and ultimately, squeeze into my closet.

Then, after I've given up all hope of acquiring some mid-day rest, it stops.

The Leaf Blower doesn't seem to bother Goblin. She could sleep through an attack of angry meteors or mordant spiders. In fact, I am certain that my quite languorous cat has a mysterious shield which acts as a barricade around her sleeping body and allows no noise except that of impending danger. 

My parent's new cat, Spidercat, has different super powers. She can jump about five feet, and scale the vertical walls of a house in under three seconds. Her ears are so large that she keeps radar devices stored inside, so she not only knows when enemies are approaching, but she can consume massive amounts of dark matter as she eats said enemies.

I am hoping, with the way science is progressing, that one day I will be able to harness the powers of Goblin and Spidercat so that I can finally get my nap.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Yes. You've got wrinkles, too. Make sure to name them appropriately.

Everyone gets bags under their eyes and wrinkles. Take Dave for example: he's only twenty four, but give him two weeks of working 12 -15 hour days, and suddenly the bags under his eyes are as big as Chandra's twin black holes, the gray hairs around his ears start reproducing exponentially, and he's got Mariana Trench-sized wrinkles.

The word wrinkle is a funny word, especially if you look at it too long. Like this:


Or say it too many times like this:


See what I mean? If you google the word, the first thing that pops up is an ad for anti-wrinkle cream; the second is Wikipedia, which only discusses wrinkles on the skin (no disambiguation!), and the third is the Merriam-Webster dictionary which explains that the aging process is not the only definition of wrinkle: it's also a change in a customary procedure or innovation.

This morning I experienced a wrinkle. It started with this picture (which is awesome):

As I gazed at the picture I suddenly noticed, in the upper left hand corner, the word "supershell". To my great horror, I had no idea what that was. Wrinkle! 

So, you ask, what did I do? Well, I took my only possible course of action: I googled it. To my horror, once again, there was no Wikipedia article! In fact, there were no articles at all! Only research papers. Research papers are wonderful things, but please tell me how I'm supposed to learn anything from this

"H1 aperture synthesis maps of the LMC have revealed an ISM with a turbulent, fractal structure that is self-similar on scales from tens to hundreds of pc [18], likely due to the energy input of OB stars and supernova explosions. "

I kept looking. The whole process is enough to give me wrinkles.

As far as I can tell, a shell is just the outermost blanket of a star, the burning hydrogen. When a star is dying, it blows off this layer (as I explained here). This is also how stellar winds are created. Really, really, really big stars, like the blue supernovas, emit so much gas and dust that they create bubbles of hot gas-- also called stellar wind bubbles, which explode away from the star during its process of fusion reactions. Supershells are the result of a number of stars right next to each other, all exploding hot gas and dust simultaneously. Some scientists suggest that the Gum Nebula is actually a supershell.

So next time you look in a mirror and worry about getting wrinkles, just be glad that when you die you don't explode into giant clouds of gas and dust. Instead, just for posterity, you should name a wrinkle after every person that you know...