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).

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

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

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • December 25, 1924 – Rod Serling

(10) COMICS SECTION.

(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.]

Swarovski Crystal Star Wars Figures

John King Tarpinian snapped this photo of Swarovski’s window display at his local mall.

Just won the lottery and need the right holiday gift for the Star Wars fan in your life? That’s the price level we’re talking about, for the big guy, anyway…


Star Wars – Darth Vader, Limited Edition 2017

$ 10,250.00

Limited to 300 pieces worldwide, this unique masterpiece is only crafted on demand and comes with a certificate of authenticity. An exclusive design showing Darth Vader, one of the most popular and iconic characters from the Star Wars movie series, with over 29’000 hand-set crystals. Authentic and detailed, this stunning Limited Edition showcases Swarovski’s expertise in the Pointiage® technique, and each piece takes over 120 hours to complete. Each one is engraved with its own edition number on the granite base, and delivered in a premium blue suitcase. The shipping procedure includes insurance and a delivery notice. Find out more about this procedure under Online Shop Assistant – Order Process. Decoration object. Not a toy. Not suitable for children under 15.

  • Size: 10 3/4 x 5 1/2 x 3 7/8 inches

Star Wars – R2-D2

$ 239.00

Fans of Star Wars: The Force Awakens can find a home for iconic droid R2-D2. The lovable character has been expertly crafted in crystal and features 446 luminous facets and detailed prints. Sure to amuse and impress, it’s a must-have for any aficionado. Decoration object. Not a toy. Not suitable for children under 15.

  • Size: 2 5/8 x 1 3/4 x 1 5/8 inches

Star Wars – C-3PO

$ 325.00

From a galaxy far, far away to your own home, with this stunning depiction of C-3PO. Exquisitely crafted in golden and red crystal, it boasts black detailing and a white crystal base. In all, the ever-helpful droid, which featured in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, features 537 sparkling facets. The perfect present for those who follow the Star Wars franchise. Decoration object. Not a toy. Not suitable for children under 15.

  • Size: 4 3/8 x 2 1/8 x 1 7/8 inches

Star Wars – BB-8

$ 129.00

Bring the excitement of Star Wars into your home with this exquisite depiction of BB-8. Instantly recognizable from his turn in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, everyone’s new favorite droid has been expertly crafted in crystal with 226 sparkling facets and detailed prints. A must for any Star Wars fan. Decoration object. Not a toy. Not suitable for children under 15.

  • Size: 1 7/8 x 1 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Pixel Scroll 3/4/16 Mellon Scrollie and the Infinite Sadness

(1) ABCD16 AWARDS. Ben Summers’ cover design for Lavie Tidhar’s novel A Man Lies Dreaming has won an Academy of British Cover Design Award in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category.

a-man-lies-dreaming

The complete shortlist with images of all the covers is at ABCD16 Shortlist and Winners. There are more sf/fantasy books among the finalists in other marketing categories.

(2) MAC II LEADERSHIP REORGANIZES. The 2016 Worldcon decided its communications will be better with a single voice at the top and replaced its three-co-chair structure (“Team LOL”) with a single chairperson, Ruth Lichtwardt.

Diane Lacey, another of the co-chairs, will become a Vice-Chair, and the third, Jeff Orth, is said to be deciding among several options for continuing his work on the con. The decision was shared with the division heads at a meeting last weekend.

(3) AMAZING CELE. Mike Ashley chronicles the reign of Amazing editor Cele Goldsmith in “The AMAZING Story: The Sixties – The Goose-Flesh Factor”. Pulpfest is serializing Ashley’s history of the magazine, first published in its pages in 1992.

[Cele] Goldsmith chose all the material, edited everything, selected the title and blurb typefaces and dummied the monthly magazines by herself. [Norman] Lobsenz, who arrived for an editorial conference usually once a week, penned the editorials, read her choices, and wrote the blurbs for the stories. They did cover blurbs together, and Goldsmith assigned both interior and cover art.

Goldsmith had no scientific background but had a sound judgment of story content and development, and this was the key to her success. She accepted stories on their value as fiction rather than as science fiction. “When I read something I didn’t understand, but intuitively knew was good,” she said, “I’d get ‘goose flesh’ and never doubt we had a winner.” That “goose flesh” was transmitted to the readers. I know when I encountered the Goldsmith AMAZING and FANTASTIC in the early 1960s, I got goose flesh because of the power and originality of their content. As I look now at the 150 or more total issues of those two magazines that Cele Goldsmith edited, that thrill is still there.

Other installments already online are:

(4) JAR JAR JERSEYS. The Altoona Curve minor league baseball team will host another Star Wars night – if the team isn’t too embarrassed to take the field….

Last year, the team wore these beautiful Jabba the Hutt jerseys. For our Star Wars Night, we’re following that up with a jersey featuring another controversial Star Wars character, Jar Jar Binks. Like last season, we will have appearances by the Garrison Cardida of the 501st Legion.

 

Meanwhile, the Birmingham Barons have enlisted fans to pick the Star Wars-themed jersey their players will wear during a game this season.

(5) GREAT POWERS. An interview with Tim Powers conducted by Nick Givers has been posted at PS Publishing.

NICK GEVERS: In your new novel, Medusa’s Web, you set out a very interesting and mesmerizingly complex metaphysical scheme, of spider images that draw human minds up and down the corridors of time. What first suggested this scenario to you?

TIM POWERS: I thought it would be fun to play around with two-dimensional adversaries after reading Cordwainer Smith’s short story, “The Game of Rat and Dragon.” I decided that since such creatures would be dimensionally handicapped by definition, why not have them be fourth-dimensionally handicapped too? I.e. they don’t perceive time, and therefore every encounter these creatures have with humans is, from the creature’s point of view, the same event. So by riding along on the point of view of one of them, you can briefly inhabit whatever other encounters it’s had with humans, regardless of when those encounters happened or will happen.

This seemed like an opportunity for lots of dramatic developments, and even one very intriguing paradox for our protagonist to blunder through.

(6) A MOVIE RECOMMENDATION. Zootopia is getting a lot of buzz, and Max Florschutz agrees it’s a winner in a review at Unusual Things.

First, a quick summary for those of you who just want the yay or nay: Zootopia is an excellent, wonderful film with a lot of heart, a lot of adventure, and a wonderful moral at its core that wraps up everything in a fantastic way. Put it on your list.

Now, the longer explanation….

(7) TIM BURTON PROJECT. Entertainment Weekly has a report on “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (film)”, due in theaters September 30.

In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the latest fantasy from director Tim Burton, Asa Butterfield plays Jake, a 16-year-old plagued by nightmares following a family tragedy.

On the advice of his therapist, the teen embarks on an overseas journey to find the abandoned orphanage where his late grandfather claims to have once lived. Not only does the place turn out to be real, it also serves as the gateway to an alternate realm where children with strange powers are looked after by a magical guardian (Penny Dreadful star Eva Green) and time moves of its own accord.

 

(8) POLITICAL SCIENCE FICTION. At the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Andrew Liptak names “6 Political SF Novels as Bingeable as House of Cards”. One of them is –

Jennifer Government, by Max Barry

Max Barry’s second novel is a fantastic satire of globalized trade and the deregulation of industry. In this alternate future, the United States has taken over much of north and south America, with government and its services privatized. Citizens take on the names of their employers, and the titular Jennifer Government is an agent tasked with tracking down the perpetrators of a series of murders . The crime turns out to be an attempt by Nike to drum up notoriety for a new line of shoes, but the plot quickly escalated beyond what anyone planned. It’s a ridiculous, often funny book that shows off a very different, but scarily plausible, hyper-commercial world.

(9) ONCE MORE INTO THE SPEECH. MD Jackson touts favorite examples of “The Rousing Speech” at Amazing Stories.

There’s always a rousing speech.

When the odds are against you, when the forces of darkness, or the alien invaders, or the giant lizards have gathered and your pitifully small band of heroes stand against them, the single vanguard against annihilation, what does your leader do?

Well, if he’s any kind of leader he starts talking.

Motivational speeches keep your team together and focused. Rousing speeches keep your smallish army from losing soldiers due to desertion rather than the upcoming decimation. And it’s got to be a doozy of a speech in order to make otherwise sensible men and women stand with you against almost certain death….

One of my favorite rousing speeches comes from an episode of Star Trek. In Return to Tomorrow, a second season episode from 1968, William Shatner throws all the weight of his dramatic acting into a rousing speech: The infamous “Risk is our business…” speech. It doesn’t come before a battle, but before three of the crew, including Kirk, decide to have ancient powerful aliens take over their bodies. Despite the context and the odd placement of the speech which doesn’t really further the plot, the speech has become iconic for its application to the entire Star Trek universe through all the series and movies. It kind of sums up what Star Trek is all about.

Risk. Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.

And with Shatner`s just-shy-of-bombast delivery, the speech is kind of powerful.

(10) TONY DYSON OBIT. The builder of the original R2-D2, Tony Dyson, died March 4 reports the BBC.

The 68-year-old Briton was found by police after a neighbour called them, concerned his door was open.

He is thought to have died of natural causes. A post-mortem is being carried out to determine cause of death.

Dyson was commissioned to make eight R2-D2 robots for the film series. He said working on it was “one of the most exciting periods of my life”.

The look of R2-D2 was created by the conceptual designer Ralph McQuarrie who also created Darth Vader, Chewbacca and C-3PO.

Prof Dyson, who owned The White Horse Toy Company, was commissioned to make eight models plus the master moulds and an additional head.

He made four remote control units – two units for the actor Kenny Baker to sit in with a seat fitted inside and two throw away units to be used in a bog scene in Empire Strikes Back where a monster spits out the droid onto dry land, from the middle of the swamp.

(11) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 4, 1967 — Neal Hefti won a Grammy for our favorite song, the “Batman Theme.”

(12) YO, GROOT! According to the Daily News, Sylvester Stallone has joined the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Who might Stallone be playing? Perhaps, Peter Quill’s (Pratt) father. We know that coveted role will appear in the sequel. However, most people assume Kurt Russell already snagged that part and a source for the Daily News says Stallone’s role is just a cameo.

(13) KRYPTON ENNOBLED. As Yahoo! News tells the story, “Polish chemists tried to make kryptonite and failed, but then made a huge discovery”.

Avert your eyes, Superman, because according to news out of Poland this morning, a team of chemists just got awfully close to actually creating the fictional substance of kryptonite. Don’t sweat too much though, Clark — the scientists were only able to bond the element of krypton with oxygen (as opposed to nitrogen) which wound up creating krypton monoxide. Inability to create real kryptonite notwithstanding, the fact the chemists successfully bonded krypton with anything is a revelatory achievement for an element previously known to be entirely unreactive. In light of the success, krypton (which is a noble gas like helium and neon) is no longer considered inert.

Conducted at the Polish Academy of Sciences, a team of chemists ran krypton through a series of various tests to build off a previous study positing that the chemical may react with hydrogen or carbon under extreme conditions. What they discovered — and subsequently published in Scientific Reports — was that krypton, while under severe pressure, also has the ability to form krypton oxides after bonding with oxygen. Thing is, the chemists didn’t actually see the reaction happen, but rather, used genetic algorithms to theorize its likelihood.

(14) GUESS WHY ZINES ARE COMING BACK? News from Australia — “Sticky Institute: Internet trolls sparks resurgence of zines ahead of Festival of the Photocopier”.

Photocopied zines are making a comeback, with some young self-publishers keen to escape the attention of online trolls.

While the internet has democratised publishing, allowing anyone to potentially reach a global audience with the click of a button, vitriolic internet comments are pushing some writers back to a medium last popular in the 1990s.

Zines, or fanzines, are self-published, handmade magazines usually produced in short runs on photocopiers or home printers.

Thomas Blatchford volunteers at Melbourne zine store Sticky Institute, which is preparing for its annual Festival of the Photocopier later this month….

While unsure of the exact reason for the resurgence of zines, Mr Blatchford said it was more than just a “weird nostalgia thing”.

He said some zine-makers had been scared away from online publishing because of unkind comments from people on the internet.

“There’s some horrible people on there,” he said.

(15) BATTLE OF THE BURRITO. John Scalzi is engaged in a culinary duel with Wil Wheaton.

Some of you may be aware of the existential battle that Wil Wheaton and I are currently engaged in, involving burritos. I am of the opinion that anything you place into a tortilla, if it is then folded into a burrito shape, is a burrito of some description; Wil, on the other hand, maintains that if it is not a “traditional” burrito, with ingredients prepared as they were in the burrito’s ancestral home of Mexico, is merely a “wrap.”

Expect someone to write a post soon complaining that Scalzi is doing to Mexican food what he did to sf, by which I mean someone longing for the days when you could tell what you were buying by looking at the tortilla cover…

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Brian Z., Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, and Chip Hitchcock for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Soon Lee.]

Fly R2-D2

sw r2d2 plane 2Luke Skywalker felt safer when R2-D2 was flying behind him and All Nippon Airways (ANA) hopes passengers will feel the same way when it introduces Star Wars livery, with the iconic R2-D2, on its newest aircraft, the 787-9 Dreamliner, as announced at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim in April.

“The R2-D2 motif works well with ANA’s blue logo design on the aircraft’s fuselage, and many people associate R2-D2 with competent and reliable service-also hallmarks of ANA’s 5-star service,” said Takashi Shiki, ANA Executive Vice President, Sales & Marketing.

150416-1

This will be the first time a Star Wars character will appear on the exterior of a commercial aircraft, and marks the beginning of a five-year ANA Star Wars™ Project and agreement with The Walt Disney Company (Japan) Ltd.

The design will appear on one of ANA’s Dreamliners this fall, though the carrier has not yet determined what routes it will fly.

(To see an extensive photo collection of aircraft in advertising livery, click here.)