Pixel Scroll 11/11/17 The Pixel, We’re Told, Never Gives Up Her Scroll

(1) 2017 GALAXY AWARDS. Here is a partial report of the winners of the 2017 Galaxy Awards, presented in China at the Chengdu International SF Conference.

Mike Resnick won for Most Popular Foreign Author.

Crystal Huff tweeted two other results:

(2) I SAY HELLO, YOU SAY GOODBYE. The Atlantic asks “What Happens If China Makes First Contact?” The author traveled to China to report on its SETI efforts, and had lengthy conversations with Liu Cixin whose Three-Body trilogy explores the hazards of such contacts.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (seti) is often derided as a kind of religious mysticism, even within the scientific community. Nearly a quarter century ago, the United States Congress defunded America’s seti program with a budget amendment proposed by Senator Richard Bryan of Nevada, who said he hoped it would “be the end of Martian-hunting season at the taxpayer’s expense.” That’s one reason it is China, and not the United States, that has built the first world-class radio observatory with seti as a core scientific goal.

Seti does share some traits with religion. It is motivated by deep human desires for connection and transcendence. It concerns itself with questions about human origins, about the raw creative power of nature, and about our future in this universe—and it does all this at a time when traditional religions have become unpersuasive to many. Why these aspects of seti should count against it is unclear. Nor is it clear why Congress should find seti unworthy of funding, given that the government has previously been happy to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on ambitious searches for phenomena whose existence was still in question. The expensive, decades-long missions that found black holes and gravitational waves both commenced when their targets were mere speculative possibilities. That intelligent life can evolve on a planet is not a speculative possibility, as Darwin demonstrated. Indeed, seti might be the most intriguing scientific project suggested by Darwinism.

Even without federal funding in the United States, seti is now in the midst of a global renaissance. Today’s telescopes have brought the distant stars nearer, and in their orbits we can see planets. The next generation of observatories is now clicking on, and with them we will zoom into these planets’ atmospheres. seti researchers have been preparing for this moment. In their exile, they have become philosophers of the future. They have tried to imagine what technologies an advanced civilization might use, and what imprints those technologies would make on the observable universe. They have figured out how to spot the chemical traces of artificial pollutants from afar. They know how to scan dense star fields for giant structures designed to shield planets from a supernova’s shock waves.

… Liu Cixin told me he doubts the dish will find one. In a dark-forest cosmos like the one he imagines, no civilization would ever send a beacon unless it were a “death monument,” a powerful broadcast announcing the sender’s impending extinction. If a civilization were about to be invaded by another, or incinerated by a gamma-ray burst, or killed off by some other natural cause, it might use the last of its energy reserves to beam out a dying cry to the most life-friendly planets in its vicinity.

Newsweek has placed its wager: “Search for Aliens: Why China Will Find Them First”

(3) WHERE’S FALCO? Marcus Errico, in a Yahoo! Movies post called “Find the Falcon! How Lucasfilm and fans have been playing hide-and-seek with iconic ‘Star Wars’ ship”, says that Disney has gone to elaborate lengths to hide their full-scale Millennium Falcon model but fans have found out where it is by using aerial photography.

This week’s headlines came courtesy of one Kevin Beaumont, a Brit who, using Google Maps, was able to spot the disguised ship near Longcross Studios outside of London. Disney covered the Falcon with sheeting and tucked the beloved “hunk of junk” behind a ring of shipping containers, shielding it from fans and Imperial troops alike

(4) WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY. James Davis Nicoll faces his greatest challenge:

TFW I realize as a tor.com reviewer I am competing against myself as a jamesdavisnicoll reviewer and vice versa. No choice but to double down until I emerge victorious.

(5) G.I. JOE AND BARBIE, TOGETHER? Two toymakers could become one — “Hasbro reportedly makes a takeover bid for struggling rival Mattel”. The Los Angeles Times has the story.

Mattel has struggled with slumping sales despite hiring a new chief executive early this year, Margo Georgiadis, a former Google executive.

Mattel in late October reported a 14% drop in its third-quarter sales, excluding the effect of currency fluctuations, and suspended its quarterly dividend. It blamed some of the decline on the recent bankruptcy filing of retailer Toys R Us Inc.

That prompted S&P Global Ratings to lower its ratings on Mattel’s corporate debt, and led one analyst to say that Mattel might be better off as a takeover target.

“We believe its brands and manufacturing footprint could be worth more than $10 billion in their current state,” analyst Gerrick Johnson of BMO Capital Markets said in a note to clients. “Thus, the company could have value to a financial, industry or entertainment conglomerate buyer.”

Mattel’s market value is $5 billion after the stock plunged 47% so far this year. The stock jumped 5% Friday to close at $14.62 a share.

(6) FAAN AWARDS. Corflu 35 announced that Nic Farey will be the FAAn awards administrator for the 2018 awards, given for work published in 2017 and to be distributed at Corflu 35 in Toronto.

(7) LIGHTNING STRIKING AGAIN AND AGAIN. Andrew says, “This story is reminiscent of the ‘On/Off’ star in Vernor Vinge’s Deepness in the Sky.” From the BBC, “‘Zombie’ star survived going supernova”:

When most stars go supernova, they die in a single blast, but astronomers have found a star that survived not one, but five separate explosions.

The “zombie” star kept erupting for nearly two years – six times longer than the duration of a typical supernova.”

“Intriguingly, by combing through archived data, scientists discovered an explosion that occurred in 1954 in exactly the same location. This could suggest that the star somehow survived that explosion, only to detonate again in 2014.

The object may be the first known example of a Pulsational Pair Instability Supernova.

“According to this theory, it is possible that this was the result of a star so massive and hot that it generated antimatter in its core,” said co-author Daniel Kasen, from the University of California, Berkeley. “

(8) SUPERGIRL. A genre figure joins the list of the accused: “Warner Bros. Suspends ‘Supergirl,’ ‘Flash’ Showrunner in Wake of Sexual Harassment Claims”.

Andrew Kreisberg, executive producer of The CW DC Comics series including The Flash, Supergirl and Arrow, has been suspended by producers Warner Bros. TV Group over allegations of sexual harassment by multiple women.

Warner Bros. Television, the studio behind the Greg Berlanti-produced comic book shows, has launched an internal investigation into the claims leveled against Kreisberg.

“We have recently been made aware of allegations of misconduct against Andrew Kreisberg. We have suspended Mr. Kreisberg and are conducting an internal investigation,” Warners said in a statement late Friday. “We take all allegations of misconduct extremely seriously, and are committed to creating a safe working environment for our employees and everyone involved in our productions.”

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • November 11, 1994 Interview with the Vampire premieres.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOYS & GIRLS

  • Born November 11, 1922 — Kurt Vonnegut
  • Born November 11, 1960 — Stanley Tucci, actor (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Muppets Most Wanted, Jack the Giant Slayer, The Hunger Games series).
  • Born November 11, 1962 — Demi Moore, American actress (Ghost)
  • Born November 11, 1964 – Calista Flockhart (Supergirl)
  • Born November 11, 1966 – Alison Doody, actress (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
  • Born November 11, 1974 – Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception)

(11) CALLING GITCHY GUMIE. Matthew Johnson’s offered these lyrics in comments to help File 770 compensate for failing to mention the anniversary of the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald as an item in “Today in History.”

The legend comes down from the APAs of old
Of the fanzine become a webjournal
The pixel, we’re told, never gives up its scrolls
In the winds of September eternal.

With a full load of links and a hold full of thinks
And Ray Bradbury stories remembered
With two fifths of scotch and a God that they’d stalked
Through the winds of eternal September.

(12) PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER. N.K. Jemisin tweeted:

(13) GOOD TASTE? Annalee Flower Horne questioned Windycon’s choice for a panel title.

(14) FOLKTALES. NPR interviewed Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Maria Tatar, two Harvard professors, about their anthology: “‘Annotated African American Folktales’ Reclaims Stories Passed Down From Slavery”.

On the complicated history of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus stories

Gates: Joel Chandler Harris did an enormous service. We can debate the fact that, well, he certainly wasn’t a black man, and we could debate what his motivation was, and we can wonder, did African-Americans receive any percentage or share of the enormous profit that he made? The answer is absolutely not. But on the other hand, a lot of these tales would have been lost without Joel Chandler Harris.

Tatar: I was going to present the counter argument that is, did he kill African-American folklore? Because after all, if you look at the framed narrative, who is Uncle Remus telling the stories to? A little white boy, and so suddenly this entire tradition has been appropriated for white audiences, and made charming rather than subversive and perilous, dangerous — stories that could be told only at nighttime when the masters were not listening.

Gates: But think about it this way: It came into my parlor, it came into my bedroom, through the lips of a black man, my father, who would have us read the Uncle Remus tales but within a whole different context, and my father, can we say, re-breathed blackness into those folktales. So it’s a very complicated legacy.

(15) HOW LONG WAS IT? ScreenRant plays along with the ides this can be done: “Science Determines When Star Wars Movies Take Place”.

As reported by Wired, Johnson posits that based on the development of life, culture and approximate age of the planets in the universe, Star Wars takes place about roughly 9 billion years after the big bang that created the universe as it is now known. If true, this leaves at least 4.7 billion years between the stories of Star Wars and the present day world. In other words it is “a long time ago.”

The most interesting evidence Johnson gives to this theory is the planet of Mustafar; the site of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s climatic duel in Revenge of the Sith and later home to Darth Vader’s castle. Mustafar is a planet overflowing with lava and containing a nearly ridiculous amount of volcanoes but that climate isn’t all that different to what Earth was like in its early stages. Similarly, Hoth, the famous snowy planet from Empire Strikes Back, could be another Earth-like entity experiencing an ice age. Star Wars‘ motif of having “themed planets” is really nothing more than Earth-esque planets being in different stages of development.

(16) BEHIND THE IRON FILINGS. A BBC report ponders “Why Russia’s first attempt at the internet failed”. (Video at the link.)

In the 1960s, a Russian engineer proposed a civilian computer network to connect workers and farmers all across the Soviet Union, and the idea made it all the way to the highest authorities in Moscow.

What went wrong? Watch this video to find out, and read this in-depth piece for analysis on how this Soviet failure unfolded.

(17) LONGHAND. “The Feeling of Power” redux: “Do we need to teach children joined-up handwriting?”

The US state of Illinois has passed a law requiring school students to learn joined-up handwriting, or “cursive”, overriding the governor’s veto.

It is no longer a requirement in US schools, and some countries have dropped the skill from the curriculum or made it optional.

Why, then, do some – like the UK – still insist on it in a digital age? Shouldn’t children learn to type effectively instead?

(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. The Evening Standard breaks down the “John Lewis Christmas advert 2017: Watch as snoring and farting Moz The Monster emerges from under the bed”.

John Lewis this morning unveiled its latest Christmas campaign advert that features a young boy who befriends a scruffy monster who is sleeping under his bed.

The two-minute advert, set to a cover of Beatles track Golden Slumbers by Elbow, tells the story of Joe – who realises a snoring and farting 7ft imaginary monster called Moz lives under his bed.

Joe – who is played by seven-year-old London twin brothers Tobias and Ethan – befriends Moz and the pair get up to mischief, playing in the boy’s bedroom in to the small hours.

After a number of sleepless nights, Joe keeps falling asleep during the day. So Moz decides to give him a night light, which when illuminated makes the monster vanish meaning Joe can sleep undisturbed.

But as the advert comes to an end with the tagline “For gifts that brighten up their world,” viewers soon realise when Joe turns off the night light, Moz returns – meaning they can remain friends.

…Much like the poor boy he keeps awake at night, Moz the Monster feels a bit tired. While undeniably sweet, Moz is a bumbling character that you can’t not love, we have seen it all before. The monster is – really – a hairier version of Monty the Penguin, the CGI star of a few years ago.

 

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Nic Farey, Andrew, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day StephenfromOttawa.]

See Contact at Clarke Center 5/8

Contact
On May 8 the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination presents Contact (1997), adapted by Carl Sagan from his original novel and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey, the film follows Dr. Ellie Arroway in her attempt to make first contact with extra terrestrial intelligence.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute Trustee Jill Tarter, and award-winning science fiction author David Brin.

The event will take place in Atkinson Hall Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.  Doors open at 5:40PM. Screening begins at 6:00PM. Please RSVP for admission at contact-imagination.eventbrite.com.

IAU Rejects Vulcan As Name of Pluto Moon

Pluto

The International Astronomical Union has decided Pluto’s two newly-discovered moons will be named Kerberos and Styx, despite Vulcan having been the overwhelming preference of voters in an online poll conducted by SETI.org.

Satellites in the plutonian system are named for characters and creatures in the myths surrounding Pluto (Greek Hades) and the classical Greek and Roman Underworld.

According to the IAU, while it can assign the name Kerberos without any fear Pluto’s moon will be confused with the asteroid named Cerberus, the name Vulcan cannot be used because it once was given to a hypothetical planet between Mercury and the Sun that has been proved nonexistent. They also assert, “Vulcan does not fit into the underworld mythological scheme.”

Of the 450,324 votes cast in the Pluto Rocks poll Vulcan received more than 150,000, Cerberus around 100,000, and Styx, Persephone and Orpheus each collected over 50,000.

The moons join Pluto’s previously known moons Charon, Nix and Hydra.

William Shatner, who had urged his Twitter followers to vote in the poll and write-in Vulcan, reacted to the decision with disappointment: “I think they used us for promotional purposes! They’re probably Star Wars fans!”

Herakles and Kerberos

Herakles and Kerberos

The Frugal Alien

Gregory Benford outside the UCI observatory.

Searchers for extraterrestrial intelligence have spent years listening for continuous, structured signals being punched through interstellar space by a civilization lavishly investing energy and technology in an attempt to contact its neighbors.

But what if the alien scientists running this project were on a budget — just like their human counterparts? They’d have to take a more economical approach.

That’s why future researchers will probably be looking for “Benford beacons.”

Astrophysicist and SF writer Greg Benford, his brother Jim — a physicist specializing in high-powered microwave technology — and Jim’s son Dominic, a NASA scientist, contributed two studies to the June issue of Astrobiology . They propose that an alien civilization striving to optimize costs and make its signaling technology more efficient, would prefer signals that are pulsed, narrowly directed and broadband in the 1-to-10-gigahertz range.

“Omnidirectional beacons are big-time and expensive, but easily noticed,”says James Benford. “But we haven’t seen any, so the observational test result is that they don’t exist.”

“Which is a problem for SETI,” writes Astronomy Now contributor Keith Cooper, because —

many of our detectors are designed to spot exactly these kinds of signals, rather than the shorter beacons. The characteristics of Benford Beacons are a short duration and a rapid revisit time. All they have to do is pique our curiosity and, once detected, we may study the location of the beacon with more scrutiny to try and detect the real message content in the form of a fainter, lower power signal. So we’re searching for what may appear at first glance to be transient radio pulses, and we’ve found plenty of these.

Cooper speculates, “Maybe when we finally open our ears to Benford Beacons, we’ll be surprised to find that everybody has been yelling at us all along.”

[Thanks to Dan Goodman for the story.]