Argo, Technorati and Me

Technorati specializes in the inscrutable business of ranking over a million blogs according to their “authority,” their impact on the blogosphere.

For a long time File 770‘s ranking has been pinned in the 15000 range. Compare that, if you will, to Scalzi’s Whatever. Today it ranks 2187 — but it has been as high as 130.

Ranking 15,000th means showing on the list between such internet luminaries as Slot Car News and Budget Travel Phillipines. No reflected glory there, unlike the day Whatever’s ranking of 401 threw it into a tie with Roger Ebert’s blog.

But for the first few weeks of October, File 770 embarked on a giddy ascent of Technorati’s list that seems to have been directly linked to the worldwide publicity for and immediate popularity of Ben Affleck’s movie Argo.

It’s not like I wrote that much about Argo, or more than the average number of people read those posts, or linked to them. However, I noticed that for many days Technorati had seemingly locked on one of my Argo posts as being File 770’s most recent, though in reality it had that status for a day at most. And while that post was locked on, here’s what was happening to my ranking —

October 9, 2012
Rating of 124
Ranking of 9922

October 10, 2012
Rating of 124
Ranking of 9003

October 16, 2012
Rating of 132
Ranking of 8033

October 17, 2012
Rating of 131
Ranking of 7623

October 18, 2012
Rating of 131
Ranking of 6891

October 19, 2012
Rating of 131
Ranking of 5996

October 24, 2012
Rating of 138
Ranking of 5632
(Between Steve Sailer Sucks and BTB Fitness.)

Then overnight on October 25, File 770 plunged back down the charts to 16413, just one notch above the Ashley Tisdale Fan Site. Apparently the market for Argo-inspired posts had crashed. 

One other peculiarity is that along the way, in addition to my subsidiary rankings for Entertainment (2155), Comics (485), Books (1258) and Science (1837) the system gratuitously added “Politics,” for which I ranked surprisingly well (7977) considering my studious effort to avoid ever touching on the subject.

Nor can I explain why File 770 ranks better among comics blogs than books – all the credit probably belongs to James Bacon for pointing me at his Forbidden Planet blog.

Saturn Burps

These red, orange and green clouds (false color) in Saturn’s northern hemisphere indicate the tail end of the massive 2010-2011 storm. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

This is an especially gassy week in the solar system: today NASA released a report about the Cassini mission titled “NASA Spacecraft Sees Huge Burp at Saturn After Large Storm”:

Data from Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) instrument revealed the storm’s powerful discharge sent the temperature in Saturn’s stratosphere soaring 150 degrees Fahrenheit (83 kelvins) above normal. At the same time, researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., detected a huge increase in the amount of ethylene gas, the origin of which is a mystery. Ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas, isn’t typically observed on Saturn. On Earth, it is created by natural and man-made sources.

Cows are not to blame this time. Plants naturally produce ethylene. It can be used to hasten the ripening of fruit. And a great deal of ethylene is manufactured — it is one of the most commonly used organic compounds.

Red Planet Cattle Drive


spirit_roverScientists expect to find methane on Mars, and Curiosity’s onboard lab will be testing for it. The important issues are how much is there,and how variable is the supply. Variability might show the gas has a biological origin.

Preliminary estimates of Martian methane have already been made using astronomical observations. Malynda Chizek, an astronomy graduate student at New Mexico State University, spoke about this last week at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences meeting.

Detecting methane on Mars could lead to evidence of life, as roughly 95 percent of the methane in Earth’s atmosphere is a product of biology, Chizek said. In her recent talk at the DPS meeting, she undescored the volume and significance of methane on Mars by using a very Earthly creature that produces the gas: cows.

So how many cows would be required to equal the amount of methane that scientists have observed on Mars?

“Depending on which observations I am looking at, that number is close to 5 million cows, or roughly 200,000 tons of methane production per year,” Chizek reported.

Update 10/25/2012: John King Tarpinian found a great picture which I want to use, although it’s of another rover, Spirit.

Lard of the Rings

Denny’s invites you to stuff yourself as often as Hobbits with selections from its Middle-Earth-themed menu, coming November 6 as a tie-in with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And being a fan I’m sure you’ll give the idea some thought.

Items on the menu include Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies, Bilbo’s Berry Smoothie, Gandalf’s Gobble Melt, “The Ring” Burger, Hobbit Hole Breakfast, Frodo’s Pot Roast Skillet, and the “Build Your Own Hobbit Slam” with optional items such as “Shire Sausage.”

The advertising campaign has already kicked off in Los Angeles. Around town are unbranded billboards displaying a message written in runes. Translation: “Middle Earth is coming to America’s diner.” English text will replace the runes on October 24.


TV spots promoting the menu will air beginning November 12.

Trading cards are part of the tie-in campaign, too, reports Advertising Age:

Denny’s customers will also receive a trading card pack with select “Hobbit”-inspired entrees that include collectible cards — there are 12 in total to collect — and Denny’s coupons. The chain will also put QR codes on placemats that will provide customers with additional “Hobbit”-related content such as videos, online games and a behind-the-scenes look at the national TV spot.

Hobbits eat seven meals a day – breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. Once Denny’s publicity takes hold Taco Bell’s “Fourthmeal” will sound like nothing more than a healthy snack.

[Thanks to Janice Gelb for the story.]

Rusch Explains Why Writers Disappear

Kristine Kathryn Rusch offers a dozen reasons why writers disappear. She assembles inside information, adds the seasoning of her experience, and clearly explains hitherto misunderstood truths about the workings of the publishing industry.

Many are technical or legal, others are frankly humorous:

The publishers, editors, and agents all know each other and gossip routinely. They also would tell stories about writers who acted badly, and those writers would find themselves effectively blacklisted. Now, when I say badly, I mean truly bad behavior. Not rudeness (most writers are rude, sorry to tell you), not lack of social skills (most writers work alone and forget how to be around people), not even things like slapping an editor can get a writer blacklisted.

Rusch says the order of magnitude of bad behavior needed to get blacklisted is something like calling up the CEO of a major chain bookstore and abusing him because his stores aren’t stocking enough copies of the writer’s book.

There are three posts in the series. Here are the links to Why writers disappear, Part 2 and Part 3

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the link.]

Clark Kent: “Take this job and…”

He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more? Clark Kent quits the Daily Planet in Superman #13 while giving an Aaron Sorkin-style lecture on the media. It’s part of DC Comics’ New 52 reboot.

“This is really what happens when a 27-year-old guy is behind a desk and he has to take instruction from a larger conglomerate with concerns that aren’t really his own,” Sott Lobdell, the writer of “Superman” issue# 13 told USA Today.

“Superman is arguably the most powerful person on the planet, but how long can he sit at his desk with someone breathing down his neck like the least imprtant person in the world?”

I thought that Kent’s insignificance was the hallmark of Superman’s success at maintaining a secret identity. Not that I can explain why he wants one. Unlike mere mortals such as Batman, Superman could, after all, go around as himself all the time.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]

Tarpinian: A Final Bow

By John King Tarpinian: On Sunday, October 22 the cast of Ray Bradbury’s Pandemonium Theatre Company gave a final farewell to their friend and mentor at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena, CA. This was a very casual event, no fancy staging, costumes or makeup, just actors who loved Ray saying goodbye. To honor Ray’s love for libraries 100% of the box office went to the Friends of the South Pasadena Library.

The mayor of South Pasadena said a few words as did the head librarian. Then a few of the actors took turns giving a reading from a scene of their favorite Bradbury play that they’d appeared in. Then they said how Ray touched their lives and careers.

People were reminded of a few actors who got their start under Ray’s wing. F. Murray Abraham’s first paying job, on stage, was in the Wonderful Ice Cream Suit in Los Angeles. Joe Mantegna played in a stage production of WICS in Chicago and went on to reprise the role in the movie of the same name. The last crop of actors in Ray’s theatre troop hopes their being touched by Ray’s magic portent great things for their future.

Afterwards, actors and patrons were invited to raise a glass of champagne (or sparkling apple juice) to Ray in a final salute.

Colbert in Hobbit

Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report will appear in a cameo in Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy according to the Hollywood Reporter. Not in the first film, which arrives in theaters in December, but one of the remaining two.

So what does he play? It’d be hard to keep him from being typecast as a troll…

[Thanks to Janice Gelb for the story. But she’s not to blame for the punchline.]

Snapshots 93 Million Miles from Earth

Here are 4 developments of interest to fans:

(1) Emma Thompson plays author P.L. Travers, creator of Mary Poppins, and Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, forthcoming in 2014. The movie is based on the (apparently) difficult 14-year negotiations required to bring Poppins to the screen. According to The Hollywood Reporter :

A three-pack-a-day smoker, Disney died of lung cancer in 1966 and Hanks said he would chain smoke his way through the movie, but that’s about as close as the production will get to any controversy or conjecture surrounding the iconic animator.

When asked if he would be a “warts and all” portrayal, Hanks responded, “He wasn’t a warty guy. There was the labor issues that were in the forties and stuff like that. But by and large, no.”

Warty or not, Travers tried to keep Disney from infecting her work with what she considered his worst traits as a moviemaker. A 2005 New Yorker article recounts:

But after Disney’s years of fawning attention, Travers arrived in California expecting to be deferred to completely. Moreover, she was not as awed by Disney’s achievements as others were. Young Richard Sherman may have considered Walt Disney “the greatest storyteller—maybe the greatest man of the twentieth century,” but Pamela Travers had discussed her poetry with William Butler Yeats and shared a masthead with T. S. Eliot. She thought that “Steamboat Willie” was a fine entertainment for youngsters, but she considered most of the Disney oeuvre manipulative and false. In her mind, he traded in sentimentality and cynicism, two qualities she despised.

She ended up despising the Mary Poppins movie, too.

(2) Blowing things up on Mars, yeah! Or as Discover Magazine cleverly put it — Now you will feel the firepower of a fully armed and operational Mars rover.

Many objects like gas clouds and stars emit light naturally. We just have to observe them and pick out the signatures of the different chemicals in them.

For a Martian rock, though, we need to dump some energy into it to excite those substances. And that’s why Curiosity has a laser on board. It can zap a rock with a short, intense pulse of laser light, and the rock will respond by glowing. A spectrometer – a camera that can separate light into individual colors – then observes the glow, and scientists back home can see what the rock’s made of. It’s like DNA-typing or fingerprinting the rock, but from 150 million kilometers away.

Reports are the laser worked perfectly, blasting away at the rock with 30 one-megaWatt pulses (lasting 5 nanoseconds each!) in a span of about 10 seconds.

(3) “Nerdgassing” is still in the lexicon at Bad Astronomy. Could the SH.I.E.L.D.’s Helicarrier really fly

SPOILERS: yes, kinda, but at grave cost to the planet below it.

It turns out that just to power the thing would take about a trillion Watts – enough to supply electricity to a billion homes. That might prove detrimental to the environment. Worse, the air blasted downward from the fans would have to be moving supersonically to support the tremendous weight of the Helicarrier, so it would pulverize anything near where it was landing.

And before I get accused of nerdgassing about the movie, note well that what I bet most people would think is the craziest thing about the Helicarrier – its ability to cloak – actually strikes me as being possible…

(4) Fans are still busy revising the Guinness Book of World Records. A London Star Trek convention set a new record for the largest gathering of people dressed as characters from the series – their 1,083 costumed Trekkies edged the old record of 1,040 set in Las Vegas two months ago.

Outlandish costumes were ubiquitous at the event, which saw Britain’s first Klingon wedding on Friday. Swedish couple Jossie Sockertopp and Sonnie Gustavsson tied the knot in full Klingon attire and exchanged vows in the fictional and guttural-sounding language of the Star Trek characters.

[Thanks for these links goes out to David Klaus and Sam Long.]