Archive for December, 2011


Another new planet…here in our solar system.

December 6, 2011

Vesta - asteroid, or baby planet?

Maybe we aren’t traveling to these places in person – not yet, anyway – but the robot explorers are doing incredible stuff. Nobody expected the second-largest asteroid in the Belt to look like these images. What caused these parallel grooves?


The NASA Dawn spacecraft, powered by an ion drive like something out of science fiction, is orbiting Vesta and has taken 500 photos so far. The asteroid/planetoid is about 330 miles in diameter. It’s currently 117 million miles from Earth, and Dawn is about 1700 miles away, moving in until it will come as close as 100 miles from the surface. After a year studying Vesta, Dawn moves on to Ceres, the “big enchilada” of the Belt. It should arrive there in 2015.

Dawn spacecraft

With a low-thrust but long-duration ion engine and hardware validated on other spacecraft and satellites, the craft cost about $ 350 million not including the launch vehicle. The ion engine uses electricity from the solar panels to accelerate ionized xenon gas to very high speeds. The spacecraft has less than a thousand pounds of xenon fuel to take it from Earth, past Mars, to Vesta, and onward to Ceres over a period of nine years.

In 2009 Dawn did a close pass of Mars to use the planet as a gravity assist. Without it the spacecraft couldn’t go to both Vesta and Ceres for lack of fuel.

Callibration image of Mars made by Dawn on its closest approach in 2009

It may not be planet-sized, but it’s pretty big. Asteroids may be the space outposts of the future. Using one reduces the amount of structure, and perhaps water and fuel, to be hauled up from Earth.The main Dawn JPL/NASA page.



OMG Marie Osmond?

December 5, 2011

Before and after - she looks like Terri Hatcher now!

I understand the temptation toward plastic surgery for those in the “entertainment” business, especially women. There is more than a little ageism in that industry. But some people take well to it, and have doctors who are real artists, and some…well, some end up just damned scary.

Marie Osmond was blessed with being “cute.” (Valerie Bertinelli was also one of those perpetually cute celebrities, for example.) Apparently the pull of celebrity life was too much for Marie.

I don’t know what they do to lips to make them look like that. It looks like whatever they did to Marg Helgenberger. I know, I’m just some middle-aged guy, what do I know. But geeze, people. Spend all that money, pain and effort, and get…well, you know.

I am once again glad I’m not a celebrity. And in this case, that I am neither a little bit country or a little bit rock and roll. You thought I could leave it alone, didn’t you? Nope. Too easy.)


Wikipedia scares me.

December 4, 2011

No, it’s not the pictures of scary-looking folk they’ve been putting on top of the pages lately. I used to tell kids when I was teaching that the internet was a vast resource but not an accurate one, or words to that effect. I told them that I could set up a site with totally erroneous information and fairly soon somebody would quote it.

It happened, sort of. En route to looking up something else, I found a reference in Wikipedia to this very blog! Sadly, the author of the entry quoted something I had said somewhat out of context. I was reminiscing about a colleague in the music profession who had recently passed, and related an anecdote I had heard second-hand. I can’t verify the anecdote…I heard it several decades ago. I found that anecdote referenced in Wikipedia, implied as fact.

It did reference the blog post, but when you look something up on Wikipedia, how many times do you check the sources? First, to see if the author of the article interpreted the source correctly and attributed the information correctly, and second, to see if the original source seemed reliable? Yeah, me neither.

So, folks, a word to the wise: Don’t trust Wikipedia as a source. It even uses me as primary source material – and as we all know, I’m not to be trusted!


Anybody want to be a first reader?

December 1, 2011

I’ve resurrected my first novel…long-time readers of this blog, all three or four of you! – may remember me excerpting parts of it a couple of years ago, and there may be a possibility of it getting put out where people can actually read it. With a little luck it will be vetted for fitting into S.M. Stirling’s “Drakaverse” canon in the next few months. I could use a couple of people who have better grammar skills than I to help go over it. I also could use a person or two who has read the Draka series, or at least “The Stone Dogs,” to read through it as well.

It’s alternate-universe science fiction. Explaining the Drakaverse would take a couple of thousand words at least, or a couple of hundred thousand. One way to find out is to get the Baen Books ebook called “The Domination,” which has just gone back into print this month. It’s only six bucks for all three books of the Draka trilogy. It’s intriguing but scary alternate history. I decided to tell the story of the early days of the US space program in the Drakaverse, sort of like Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.” Stirling had already given us a very clear picture of the Draka side of the world.

Updates on other novels: The second novel, a near-future science fiction story about the early days of exploration of other solar systems, is sort of stalled. I know where it’s going, but I decided to go on to something else and I shelved it for a while. 

The “something else” is a story that attempts to combine the Michael Crichton techno-thriller style with cutting-edge quantum physics/string theory. Yeah, that’s what I said. To do it justice, I have to learn a lot about particle physics. So there’s a bit of a learning curve! I’m about 30K words into it and it’s going pretty well.

I have another book sketched out, alternate history/steampunk, but nothing’s actually written yet except notes. 

Anyway, let me know if you might be interested in reading “The Righteous Stuff.” I don’t know when I can get it to you but I would be very interested in what folks think of it.

Oh, and if you are somebody I don’t know personally, please include a little bit of a bio and why I should send it to you to read. Pretty demanding for an unpublished novelist, aren’t I?