(1) CAMERON’S SF OVERVIEW. It’s remarkable how many people think I haven’t covered this before. But as my motto says, “It’s always news to somebody.” At AV Club: “James Cameron’s Story Of Science Fiction is a solid, albeit navel-gazing, primer”.
Cameron has made some truly great sci-fi movies (Avatar notwithstanding), and if anyone else were heading up a discussion of the genre, they’d undoubtedly devote a segment or several to the creator of the Terminator franchise. As he notes during a chat with Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Skynet” is synonymous with “robot revolution.” There’s no denying what Cameron’s contributed to the genre, and there’s a certain joy in seeing him geek out with Lucas, who had to be cajoled into participating, and Spielberg.
(2) LEFT COAST. Detailed options for watching the launch in person are given at the link: “Where to Watch NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Launch from the California Coast”.
NASA’s next Mars mission will be the first Red Planet spacecraft to lift off from the West Coast. The InSight Mars lander is scheduled to launch on Saturday (May 5) at no earlier than 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT/1105 GMT). Here’s how you can watch it in person, or online at Space.com or other locations.
InSight will provide an interior snapshot of Mars to learn more about how rocky planets are formed. A heat probe will dig under the surface to look at the temperature of the interior. A seismometer will measure marsquakes and meteorite hits. In addition, a radio science instrument will transmit InSight’s position to Earth as the planet wobbles in its orbit around the sun. The wobble provides information about the composition and size of the Martian core.
(3) BONESTELL. The Newport Beach Film Festival screens “Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future” on May 1.
Behind every architect and builder is an artist who takes designs and ideas, morphing them into beautiful images for everyone to understand. Chesley Bonestell was this artist, yet very few know his name. He worked on the Golden Gate Bridge and the Chrysler Building, as a matte artist on famous movies like Citizen Kane, and his mesmerizing paintings of planets and star systems helped jumpstart America’s space program. His iconic “Saturn As Seen From Titan”, became known as “the painting that launched a thousand careers.” Discover the power of the forgotten man whose art inspired Americans to conquer “The Final Frontier”.
Watch the trailer – Ray Bradbury shows up at 2:08.
(4) ONE IS THE ONLIEST NUMBER. Ars Technica’s Chris Lee says that in her new book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder argues that the search for Beauty and Naturalness may be leading theoretical physics in a wrong direction. Well established physics whose math looks beautiful now were often regarded at ugly kludges when they were proposed: “Lost in Math: Beauty != truth”
…Hossenfelder is sounding that alarm by suggesting that perhaps theoretical physicists need to spend a little more time on introspection and examining some of their working assumptions. Theoretical physics has been starved of new data for more than an entire generation. How can a theoretician choose a good model in the absence of data? And how do you choose which experimental options to pursue based on competing theoretical models?
…In Lost in Math, Hossenfelder delves briefly into the history of particle physics in order to explain the success of the Standard Model of particles and forces. She touches on why we’ve not had any unexplainable data from experimental particle physics for the last 50 years. She then takes us on a tour of the data that make us think we should be looking for physics that is not explained by the Standard Model—dark matter, dark energy, and cosmic inflation.
…But what makes a “good” theory in the absence of data? You and I might think that this would be predictions for new data and, yes, that plays a role. But Hossenfelder takes us into a realm where theories are decades from being tested. Unfortunately, we need to evaluate their quality now so we can determine how much effort we put into preparing for those tests. What is the criteria for that?
The answer is… ugly. Theoreticians make the following sorts of arguments: the Standard Model is described by math that physicists find beautiful; therefore, we insist that new physics be described by mathematical beauty. That’s paired with another argument, termed naturalness. What is naturalness? It turns out that everything should be about equal to one. If a theory produces a very large number, that is OK, as long as it also produces another very large number so that the difference or ratio of the two is, you guessed it, roughly unity. One is the most natural and only acceptable answer. Any other answer is unnatural because it is unlikely to occur by chance.
(5) PAROLINI OBIT. Gianfranco Parolini (1930-2018): Italian director / screenwriter, often billed as “Frank Kramer”, reportedly died April 26 at the age of 88. Genre entries include The Fury of Hercules (1962), The Three Fantastic Supermen (1967), Giant of the 20th Century (1977). He also introduced one of the iconic spaghetti western anti-heroes in Sabata (1969).
(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS
- Born April 30, 1938 — Larry Niven
- Born April 30, 1985 – Gal Gadot
(7) COMICS SECTION.
- Beware “friends” bearing harpoons – Speed Bump.
- Daniel Dern sent along his explication of today’s Sally Forth, because a lot of us will need one —
Hilary is their teen-age daughter. Here’s the speech being referenced:
The guy (Michael Keaton) driving Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and his date to the school dance isn’t just the date’s dad, he’s also the Big Bad for this movie (The Vulture). Peter didn’t know that until he showed up at their house, dad didn’t know Peter was S-M until this conversation.
(8) BOARD GAME ACCUSATION. Eric Franklin synopsized a “Communiqué from the French Game Designers Union about the Alien / Nostromo game”
“The brief: A few years ago, François Bachelart showed an Alien-themed game off to a publisher (Wonder Dice). It’s not uncommon for designers to create prototypes and the like for dream licenses – re-theming a game is often part of the development process. They negotiated with the designer for a while, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement.
“Wonder Dice recently announced that pre-orders are opening soon for a game called Nostromo, which bears striking similarities to the design that Bachelart showed them – only it doesn’t have his name on the product and the publisher is claiming it’s an in-house design. It looks like they actually managed to land a license to use Alien, too, which is impressive.”
The publisher has made several public statements, none of them good. One of their statements is quoted on Kotaku (originally in French, and the text shows signs of being a product of Google Translate): Alien Board Game Accused Of Plagiarism, Publisher Threatens To Sue Critics.
Franklin adds: “Copyright on board games is … interesting. Because you can’t copyright game rules. Sorta. You can copyright specific expressions – that is, you can copyright specific wordings and the rules as a whole, but if someone else clones your game using different art and phrases their rules differently, it’s (oddly) completely legal. If you start to dig into this, it’s a real rabbit hole that will eat hours of your time.
“But that also means that game designers have no legal protections when something like this happens, and it needs to be fought out in the court of public opinion.”
(9) MYTHCON NEWS. The Mythcon 49 Progress Report is now available to read online or download and print. Our own Dr. Robin Anne Reid is a Guest of Honor. The con is in Atlanta, July 20-23. The theme is “On the Shoulders of Giants.”
The extended deadline for Paper Proposals is MAY 15.
(10) DEAD CHANNEL. Now available: “Dead Channel: Music Inspired by William Gibson’s Neuromancer”.
Six Colors’ Jason Snell is enthusiastic:
My friend Antony Johnston doesn’t just write comics, novels, and graphic novels that get turned into “Atomic Blonde”. He also writes electronic music as Silencaeon. This week he released a new album. I got a preview a few months ago when he sent me a track called “Wintermute”, and I started laughing… because I realized that the entire album, titled Dead Channel, is an homage to one of my all-time favorite books, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, which begins with the line:
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
The album, which is great to have in the background while you’re focused on your computer screen, whether you’re writing, coding, or hacking into cyberspace while avoiding some nasty black-ice countermeasures, is officially “Music Inspired by William Gibson’s Neuromancer”, and even features an excerpt from the book at a key moment. The whole album, as well as the rest of Antony’s music stuff, is available at Bandcamp.
(For more on “Neuromancer”, check out this episode of the Hugos There podcast featuring my friend Lisa Schmeiser.)
(11) SHORE THING. The BBC indulges in some lit tourism: “The Scottish island where George Orwell created 1984”.
George Orwell escaped to a remote Scottish island to create his final masterpiece – the dystopian classic 1984.
Going into the Corryvreckan whirlpool is a heart-stopping experience even when conditions are relatively benign.
It hits quite suddenly as you are passing through the narrow stretch of sea between the islands of Jura and Scarba.
One side of the boat drops away and you find yourself sitting on the deck.
Then the other side goes and you are grabbing on to the guard rail to stop yourself sliding in the opposite direction.
It must have felt something like this when George Orwell found himself in the throws of the Corry on the way back from a picnic on the west side of Jura.
But for him, it was so much worse than being knocked about a bit.
The outboard motor was wrenched off and his young nephew, Henry, attempted to row them towards a rocky islet of Eilean Mor.
(12) CHEATERS WHO PROSPERED. For awhile — “China shuts down Player Unknown cheat code gang”.
Chinese police have arrested 15 people suspected of creating cheat programs for the popular Player Unknown Battleground (PUBG) game.
The cheats helped people survive longer, aim more accurately and spot foes in the competitive shooting game.
The 15 suspects have also been fined about 30m yuan (£3.45m) for profiting from the cheats.
Chinese police are expected to make more arrests as they break up the gang that made and sold the programs.
…PUBG is hugely popular in China and almost half of its players live there.
(13) SPEAKEASY. Jason Fagone, in “The Quest To Save Stephen Hawking’s Voice” in the San Francisco Chronicle, discusses engineer Eric Dorsey’s efforts to preserve Stephen Hawking’s synthesized voice after in 2016 Hawking and his staff found that the CallText 5010 speech synthesizer which has served Hawking faithfully since 1986 was collapsing, and the company no longer existed and its source code might be permanently lost.
Wood explained something so improbable that Dorsey had trouble understanding at first: Hawking was still using the CallText 5010 speech synthesizer, a version last upgraded in 1986. In nearly 30 years, he had never switched to newer technology. Hawking liked the voice just the way it was, and had stubbornly refused other options. But now the hardware was showing wear and tear. If it failed entirely, his distinctive voice would be lost to the ages.
The solution, Wood believed, was to replicate the decaying hardware in new software, to somehow transplant a 30-year-old voice synthesizer into a modern laptop — without changing the sound of the voice. For years, he and several colleagues in Cambridge had been exploring different approaches. What did Dorsey think?
(14) CELEBRITY BUS. James Corden takes the Avengers: Infinity War cast on a tour of Los Angeles. It’s really entertaining.
(15) LATE TO THE PARTY. Marvel itself is asking, after Infinity War, “Where Were Ant-Man and the Wasp?”
[Thanks to Gregory Benford, Daniel Dern, John King Tarpinian, Steve Green, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Carl Slaughter, Lynn Maudlin, Gerry Williams, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Matt Y.]