Pixel Scroll 12/25/17 When All Of A Sudden There Arose Such a Pixel

(1) STAR EXPLAINER. The New York Times profiles sf fan favorite Brother Guy Consolmagno in “Searching for the (Star) Light at the Vatican Observatory”.

Some 2,000 years ago, a celestial phenomenon is believed to have lit up the sky. Guiding the wise men of New Testament lore to the birthplace of Jesus, the star of Bethlehem has since become a planetarium and Christmas carol favorite.

What that star might have been — a comet, supernova, or the conjunction of planets, let alone whether it ever existed — is one of the recurring questions that Brother Guy Consolmagno is called on to answer even though, he noted dryly, “it has nothing to do with our work as scientists at the Vatican Observatory.”

“Too often people get distracted by the Star and forget to look at the Child! And yet I also have to admit I feel a certain joy in the story, and a joy that this story has been so popular for so many people over the centuries,” said Brother Consolmagno, since 2015, the director of La Specola Vaticana (which translates as Vatican Observatory). “Of course, we have no idea what Matthew was writing about. It doesn’t matter!”

The observatory is the only Vatican institution that does scientific research, and Brother Consolmagno, a former physics professor and later-in-life Jesuit, is the public face of an institution whose work “is to show the world that the church supports science.”

(2) UP ABOVE THE WORLD SO HIGH. And here’s what you can look forward to if you keep watching the skies – “Astronomy Calendar For 2018”

(3) TRACKING SANTA. It wasn’t an unlisted number after this happened: “NORAD’s Santa Tracker Began With A Typo And A Good Sport”.

This Christmas Eve people all over the world will log on to the official Santa Tracker to follow his progress through U.S. military radar. This all started in 1955, with a misprint in a Colorado Springs newspaper and a call to Col. Harry Shoup’s secret hotline at the Continental Air Defense Command, now known as NORAD.

Shoup’s children, Terri Van Keuren, 65, Rick Shoup, 59, and Pam Farrell, 70, recently visited StoryCorps to talk about how the tradition began.

Terri remembers her dad had two phones on his desk, including a red one. “Only a four-star general at the Pentagon and my dad had the number,” she says.

“This was the ’50s, this was the Cold War, and he would have been the first one to know if there was an attack on the United States,” Rick says.

The red phone rang one day in December 1955, and Shoup answered it, Pam says. “And then there was a small voice that just asked, ‘Is this Santa Claus?’ ”

His children remember Shoup as straight-laced and disciplined, and he was annoyed and upset by the call and thought it was a joke — but then, Terri says, the little voice started crying.

“And Dad realized that it wasn’t a joke,” her sister says. “So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho’d and asked if he had been a good boy and, ‘May I talk to your mother?’ And the mother got on and said, ‘You haven’t seen the paper yet? There’s a phone number to call Santa. It’s in the Sears ad.’ Dad looked it up, and there it was, his red phone number. And they had children calling one after another, so he put a couple of airmen on the phones to act like Santa Claus.”

(4) DIAGNOSIS GRINCH. The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga, in “The Grinch needs a good cardiologist, and other holiday stories explained by scientists”, interviews area scientists who answer scientific questions posed by fictional works, such as why Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s nose glows.  (It could be because Santa’s sleigh crash-landed into the Red Sea and Rudolph got doused in glowing coral.)  Among the scientists interviewed was Johns Hopkins medical school cardiologist Dr. David Kass, who argues the reason why the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes in a day after he pigs out on Whoville food is that the Grinch is a snake and snake’s hearts expand after big meals.

(5) THE PERMANENT CAMPAIGN. Charles Stross, jockeying to keep his series eligible for a future year where he thinks there will be more UK voters to back him, asks —

Please do not nominate the Laundry Files for the best series Hugo award in 2018.

(Explanation below the cut.)

The rules for the best series Hugo award stipulate:

Previous losing finalists in the Best Series category shall beeligible only upon the publication of at least two (2) additional installments consisting in total of at least 240,000 words after they qualified for their last appearance on the final ballot and by the close of the previous calendar year.

This means that if series X is shortlisted in 2018 and loses, it won’t be eligible again until two more installments amounting to 240,000 words have been published in a subsequent year.

There is a significantly better chance of either series winning the award at a British—or Irish—worldcon, such as the one in Dublin in 2019, simply because the worldcon attendees will include more of my UK readers. However, a nomination in 2018 would probably lose (there are plenty of very good series works by American authors: consider Max Gladstone or Seanan McGuire, for example) and thereby disqualify me from eligibility in 2019.

(6) NOT TOO LATE. If you didn’t already get the gift you wanted this holiday season, maybe you can fill the void with the “Star Wars R2-D2 Coffee Press”. Or not – I keep visualizing giving R2 a sinus headache every time…

(7) OBITUARY.  Heather Menzies-Urich (1949-2017), best known for portraying Louisa von Trapp in the 1965 film The Sound of Music, died December 24 at the age of 68. Her main genre credit was starring as Jessica 6 in the TV series Logan’s Run (1977-78). She had an uncredited role in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969); other genre appearances include Sssssss (1973), The Six Million Dollar Man (one episode, 1977), Piranha (1978), Captain America (1979), Endangered Species (1982).


  • December 25, 1980 Altered States first premiered in theatres.
  • December 25, 1999 Galaxy Quest opened.


  • December 25, 1924 – Rod Serling


(11) NAUGHTY. The Guardian’s research shows Home Alone atop the pyramid — “Data sketch: the most pirated Christmas movies”. It’s A Wonderful Life is listed, too – I thought it was in public domain now?

(12) CHIANG OP-ED REBUTTED. Tech Crunch’s Jon Evans mounts a defense: “Ted Chiang is a genius, but he’s wrong about Silicon Valley”.

Ted Chiang isn’t just one of the greatest science-fiction writers alive — he’s one of the greatest writers alive full stop. Which is why I was so saddened and disappointed by his recent excoriation of Silicon Valley in BuzzFeed. As the tech industry grows ever more powerful, we need brilliant minds critiquing and dissecting its many flaws. Instead we got a trenchant takedown of a Valley that only exists in the minds of especially shallow journalists.

To be clear, his larger point is dead on: that being that the worry about an AI which maximizes for the wrong thing, most famously one which is told to make paperclips and responds by turning the entire planet into paperclips, is a worry which applies perfectly and exactly to capitalism itself.

…But the thing Chiang doesn’t get is: Silicon Valley is actually not a home of paperclip capitalism. That’s Wall Street. That’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man-style neoliberal globalization. That’s not the tech industry. The Valley is a flawed and sometimes terrible place, true, but it’s a nuanced sometimes flawed and terrible place.

(13) WATER IS COMING. I don’t know if it would melt the Wall, but it wouldn’t do any good to the rest of the world — “This is what global warming would do to the ‘Game of Thrones’ planet”.

The warring inhabitants of Westeros — one of the four known continents in the Game of Thrones world — dread the planet’s long, unforgiving winters. But a global warming event there, stoked by an influx of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, would likely be even more dire.

Earlier this week, University of Bristol climate scientist Dan Lunt published a study that modeled the doubling of carbon dioxide on the Game of Thrones fantasy world. His results show that if these levels doubled over the course of a century, the average temperature on the planet would warm by over 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.5 Fahrenheit. This climatic shift would make some areas nearly uninhabitable and unleash devastating natural disasters.

(14) A TOM LEHRER HOLIDAY. Mr. Sci-Fi renders the Science Fiction Christmas Song (recorded in 2014.)

Sci-Fi Ubergeek Marc Zicree sings Tom Lehrer’s Christmas song as great science fiction Christmas images from 1950s Galaxy Magazine and other sources flash by. Marc just recorded this song for Coast to Coast AM’s Christmas Album, with proceeds going to charity.


(15) THE DARTH VADER YULE LOG. A seasonal tradition (since 2015).

Gather the younglings for a centuries old family tradition the Darth Vader Yule Log. Sith Lords will be roasting on an open fire, as you sit back an enjoy some holiday classics.


[Thanks to Carl Slaughter, JJ, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Daniel Dern, and Steve Green for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day OGH.]

62 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 12/25/17 When All Of A Sudden There Arose Such a Pixel

  1. Typo: “He main genre credit” – Her, not He

    It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t public domain anymore, that’s why it’s not run everywhere like it was prior to 1993

    And the most adorable R2D2 gift is the Swarovski crystal one – that combines two of my mom’s favorite things so I had to get it for her.

  2. Jamoche: Thanks for the correction — appertain yourself your favorite beverage! (What’s your feeling about egg nog?)

  3. (5) I mentioned it over there, but to me, the main flaw of the Best Series Hugo is the way that it is open for jockeying on the year it should be nominated. (Of course, that flaw is due to trying to stop an even larger flaw: the same series reappearing year after year.) I hope this will become less apparent in the future.

    (12) Here it’s Evans who fails to understand capitalism. Elon Musk wants to go to Mars and save the planet, yes. But the only way that Musk can imagine doing so is by Musk first amassing a vast fortune. He isn’t doing so by political means and asking for all of the USAs resources, like Kennedy did when he gave the goal of going to the moon.

    Capitalism great strength is that it can unfetter ambition for the individual, be it a (Ford) car in every house, a computer on every desk (running Microsoft software), or going to Mars (in a rocket built by Musk).

  4. (7) You spelled died with the rare silent “H” (And I think I’ll be adding some brandy to my egg nog while we’re at it)

  5. [And the Annual Returning of the Presents begins.]

    Click (tip of the hat to Lis Carey).

  6. I can’t speak for the full length movie because it doesn’t exist in my personal Christmas tradition, but in the cartoon, the Grinch’s heart grows before he eats any of their food. He packs it all in sacks intending to dump it off Mt. Crumpet and it’s key to the plot that his heart grows on the mountaintop.

  7. The 1966 animated version accurately reflects the rather brief text that Seuss wrote. I only skimmed the awful live version so I’ve no idea what it held to be the cause.

    All the food, all the gifts and everything else he stole the night is returnedto the Whos. It’s a lovely secular look at Christmas with not a baby Christ, his parents or even a manger to be seen.

  8. Meredith moment, Walter Jon Williams first Dagmar Shaw book This is Not A Game is available on Amazon UK for 99p in Kindle format. Your retailer of choice may or may not also have it.

  9. Never scroll your grandma with a pixel.
    It makes a poor impression on her file.

    I’ve always enjoyed the book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. That’s probably why I bounced off the animated special so hard, with all those batting eyelashes and padding songs (I do like Thurl Ravenscroft’s singing voice, and they manage to keep things moving during “You’re a Mean One…”). Talking to various in-laws over the past couple of days, that was their objection to the live-action “A Christmas Story” that just showed on Fox. I shared their objection, but when they weren’t singing, it was a fairly good retelling, and I thought the change they made to the Chinese restaurant scene was fitting and humorous.

    *Not to be confused with “Grandma Got Scrolled Over With a Pixel,” which has probably already been suggested.

  10. Kip W notes I’ve always enjoyed the book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. That’s probably why I bounced off the animated special so hard, with all those batting eyelashes and padding songs (I do like Thurl Ravenscroft’s singing voice, and they manage to keep things moving during “You’re a Mean One…”).

    I read the book decades after first seeing the animated version. Both work equally well and I do like all of the songs. The Pandora channel for Christmas songs has all the songs from it in heavy rotation.

    Just watch the Dr. Who Christmas special. Good ending to the run of the current Doctor.

  11. (5) Smells an awful lot like campaigning for an award.

    (12) Silicon Valley is absolutely home to paper-clip capitalism. The paper-clips just come in a different shape.

    I find it laughable how people mis-identify capitalism as some sort of rapacious ideology. It is a system of economics that affords the greatest opportunity for individual action/performance and hopefully success. Capitalism is precisely why Silicon Valley came into existence. It is the single most effective engine of human progress.


    All the food, all the gifts and everything else he stole the night is returned to the Whos. It’s a lovely secular look at Christmas with not a baby Christ, his parents or even a manger to be seen.

    But there was certainly a religious component implied at the ending.


  12. Erg….forgot the box…

    But as it is any list of Christmas movies that excludes Die Hard is suspect at the least.


  13. I find it laughable how people mis-identify capitalism as some sort of rapacious ideology. It is a system of economics

    These are not contradictory.

  14. Dann – personal rule is any list that doesn’t mention both Die Hard and Gremlins is not a list that reflects my interests.

  15. Capitalism is an excellent engine of wealth creation. Viewed from a certain ideological perspective, wealth creation can look like it’s synonymous with progress but in fact it’s only part of what makes up progress.

    Like anything else humans create, capitalism needs to be used correctly, which given the kind of tool it is, means laws and regulation to keep it from running wild. That’s not saying capitalism is bad; it’s saying capitalism isn’t a pure and perfect magic system, independent of the people using it and what they’re using it for.

    In some systems, the temptation is self-righteousness. In others, it’s insolence.

    In capitalism, the temptation is greed, which, if unrestrained, does indeed lead to rapaciousness.

  16. Dann: “It [capitalism] is the single most effective engine of human progress.”

    Hampus: “Still not true.”

    I say Dann has a point, though it’s not the one he’s thinking of. If pre-Soviet Russia had gone through capitalism before the revolution, I think things would have worked out a lot better. I don’t know much about Marx, but I do know (I think I know this) he regarded capitalism as progress over feudalism and a necessary step before socialism.

    I wish I’d found time for that reading group on Capital last year. I’d like to know more about Marx than what his admirers and detractors say.

  17. @John A. Arkansawyer–

    I say Dann has a point, though it’s not the one he’s thinking of. If pre-Soviet Russia had gone through capitalism before the revolution, I think things would have worked out a lot better. I don’t know much about Marx, but I do know (I think I know this) he regarded capitalism as progress over feudalism and a necessary step before socialism.

    A point which I think is in support of yours: No country which has experienced capitalism has gone for full-blown communism. The only countries that have done that are countries that tried to leap directly from pre-industrial, more or less feudal agriculturalism into industrial modernization (e.g. the Chinese and Russian empires), and the countries they forced it on at gunpoint.

    Countries that industrialized first, with capitalism evolving to support that, never quite got the full-blown revolution of the proletariat that Marx envisioned. They got pieces of it that alarmed the capitalists and the bourgeoisie, but those proved to be growing pains, with, in most countries, workers, capitalists, and government arriving at a mutually workable democratic socialism. Capitalism is still there, doing its job, but regulated, so that it doesn’t serve only the most successful capitalists.

    The US remains an outlier, never having fully embraced democratic socialism, and now trying to recreate the worst excess of unrestrained capitalism, which, if we don’t turn back up from the brink, will not end well.

  18. Sadly my 91-year-old mother, who came to town for the Christmas holidays, has been bedridden for a few days. I will need to join my brother and sister tomorrow to decide the next steps. Will have to miss doing a Scroll today. Please keep the discussion flowing while I’m offline.

  19. (pokes head out of rabbit hole)
    (brushes twigs from beard)
    (staggers forth)

    So, looks like the same ol’ gang. Did I miss anything noteworthy?

  20. You would think the Beeb, of all places, would get this right:


    “Jodie Whittaker has made her debut as the first female Time Lord in the Christmas special of Doctor Who.”

    Collectively, they are all Time Lords. This includes Romana and Missy, who was in the previous episode. Jodie is the first female Doctor.

    Twitter is already taking them to task.

  21. @John A Arkansawyer, Lis Carey:

    Getting into Marx and Marxist theory is a fraught field, because Marx wrote rather convoluted prose, many of his works were unfinished, and has been subjected to over a century of interpretations and misconceptions. A lot of his theories and thoughts have also proven to be dead wrong, or irrelevant, or were topical around circa 1870 but is hardly so 150 years later.

    On the other hand, Marx was pretty damn central to the development of economics, history, sociology, and the evolution of the organised socialist movement. He solved a central problem in economics at the time (where does the capitalist’s profit come from?), explained the recurrent economic crisises that capitalism suffers and what they accomplish, and told historians that they needed to study the economic functions of any past society. For sociology, he is considered one of the founders.

    So any reading of Marx will preferably need a study guide (which likely will turn out to be very political) or be very critical (that is analytical, per Marx’s terminology).

    For what it’s worth, Marx never really described a communist society, he rather defined it as a class-less and state-less society. Per that definition, there has never been a modern such.

  22. First female Time Lord, IIRC, would be Rodan (played by Hilary Ryan), the space traffic controller in “The Invasion of Time”. (Even if they do boring menial jobs, they’re still Time Lords.)

    Unless, of course, you count Susan Foreman. I suppose you should. Even though she left the show before she, or anyone else, knew there were even such things as Time Lords.

  23. 5 and @Dann

    my thought exactly. what’s next? don’t vote for my series until the con is in my hometown?

    wait, wait, here’s a bus load of voters?

    The erosion has set in. The tiny trickle has turned into a flood…the slippery slope ( which began online with the acceptance of “recommendation” posts – we can actualy trace this history) is slipping.

    I am disappointed.

  24. It’s also possible that he considers that the book he’s releasing next year will be a stronger book. Just sayin’.

  25. best of luck with your family situation, Mike.

    5. @Cassy B. Isn’t that up to the voters to decide?

    At the very least, this is a request that ought not to have been made by the author, or in a round-about fashion in say, a blog post that discusses how the regionality of a worldcon can affect the outcome of the Hugo voting (hint hint).

    As it is, it is an overt request to manipulate the outcome – exactly what I and so many others objected to with the puppy shenanigans.

    Further, it gives aid and comfort to “the enemy” by clearly demonstrating that “insiders” do, in fact, attempt to manipulate the vote, when what is needed is several years of scrupulously avoiding even a hint of manipulation.

  26. Best wishes to you and your family Mike. Take care of them first, we’ll look after the shoggoth.

  27. @Steve Davidson re (5):

    In an ideal world, every series would be able to be nominated freely every year, and we’d still have a decent rotation of the nominated series. We don’t live in that world. Thus the need for a series to “recharge” before it can be nominated again.

    If Worldcon was always at the same spot, or always in North America, then it wouldn’t really matter which year OGH (or anyone else) was nominated. But now we have a situation where the Worldcon moves around, and an author being published in year X (when they little chance) can mean they being blocked on year X+1 (when they have a larger chance).

    Do I like it? Not necessarily. But this is a single negative side effect arising from several things I consider positive or necessary.

  28. @Mike

    Best wishes to you and your mom for a successful rebound.

    More on the less important things later.


  29. An author has the right to withdraw a work from consideration. Charlie may be being more forthright about his reasons, for which he should be thanked. He could have said something like “I don’t consider the works that currently make the series eligible to be sufficiently representative of the story I’m trying to tell; wait till the next one comes out.”

    If anyone can think of a practical way to make the rules in such a way as to prevent the same series from being nominated over and over again without any negative consequences, suggest it. A lot of things we put into the rules aren’t there because we enjoy baroque rules, but because, like baseball’s infield fly rule, those things are there to prevent a worse problem.

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