Pixel Scroll 4/18/18 Wanna Bees Pulling Gees Through The Trees

(1) LUKE SKYRANTER. Movie Banter brings you “10 minutes of Mark Hamill being HONEST about The Last Jedi.

No matter what you think of the film and the way Luke Skywalker was portrayed, thank goodness Mark isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He is sincere and cares about the franchise as much as he cares about the fandom.


(2) THE BREW THAT IS TRUE. Inverse explains that “Ewoks Are Coffee Farmers According to Star Wars Canon”.

The upcoming Han Solo movie will, no doubt, make all sorts of changes to Star Wars canon, but a just-released book about Han and Lando’s adventures quietly revealed that Ewoks are actually renown coffee farmers. Yep, those cute little Imperial-killing teddy bears are responsible for the best cup of java you’ll find outside of Dex’s Diner.

The book, Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel, came out earlier this week, and it follows the two coolest characters in the galaxy across three distinct time periods. In one of them, set after Return of the Jedi but well before The Force Awakens, baby Ben Solo kicks his dad in the face. Later in that scene, Han’s culinary droid, BX-778, brews up a mean cup of Endorian caf. (Coffee is called “caf” in the book because, well, that’s how Star Wars rolls).

(3) STURGEON ANALYSIS. At Rocket Stack Rank, Eric Wong’s analysis shows the Sturgeon Award nominees are highly correlated with other guides to outstanding short fiction: “Sturgeon Award Finalists Versus Other Top Stories of 2017”. Greg Hullender says:

Last year too, the Sturgeon Award Finalists were the most accurate guide to which stories would be broadly recommended (by serious reviewers, major anthologies, and prestigious awards). http://www.rocketstackrank.com/2018/01/2016-best-sff-short-fiction-guides.html

There’s definitely something special about this award. It should get more attention than it does.

(4) THESE POTATOES AIN’T GONNA PLANT THEMSELVES! Or will they? “All by Itself, the Humble Sweet Potato Colonized the World”.

Of all the plants that humanity has turned into crops, none is more puzzling than the sweet potato. Indigenous people of Central and South America grew it on farms for generations, and Europeans discovered it when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean.

In the 18th century, however, Captain Cook stumbled across sweet potatoes again — over 4,000 miles away, on remote Polynesian islands. European explorers later found them elsewhere in the Pacific, from Hawaii to New Guinea.

The distribution of the plant baffled scientists. How could sweet potatoes arise from a wild ancestor and then wind up scattered across such a wide range? Was it possible that unknown explorers carried it from South America to countless Pacific islands?

An extensive analysis of sweet potato DNA, published on Thursday in Current Biology, comes to a controversial conclusion: Humans had nothing to do with it. The bulky sweet potato spread across the globe long before humans could have played a part — it’s a natural traveler.

Likewise, ArsTechnica says “Sweet potatoes may have reached Pacific Islands 100,000 years ahead of Polynesians.”

“This finding is likely to be controversial because it calls into question the alleged contacts between Polynesians and Americans in pre-European times,” Oxford University botanist Pablo Muñoz-Rodriguez, who led the study, told Ars Technica. “[The] sweet potato was the only remaining biological evidence of these contacts.”

Muñoz-Rodriguez and his team sampled DNA from 119 specimens of sweet potatoes and all of their wild relatives, including a sweet potato harvested in the Society Islands in 1769 by the Cook expedition. With those samples, Muñoz-Rodriguez and his colleagues built a phylogenetic tree: a family tree that shows evolutionary relationships among organisms based on the differences in their DNA. For plants, researchers often build two phylogenetic trees: one for the DNA stores in the nucleus of the plant’s cells and one for the chlorophyll-producing organelles called chloroplasts, which have their own DNA. Genetic material doesn’t always get passed on in the same way for both, so it’s sometimes useful to compare the two.

The team used the phylogenetic trees to estimate how long ago each branch of the tree split off from the others. It turned out that the Society Islands sweet potato hadn’t interbred with Central and South American lines for at least 111,500 years…

(5) TODAY’S JOB LOST TO ROBOTS. WIRED Magazine reports “A Robot Does the Impossible: Assembling an Ikea Chair Without Having a Meltdown”. I’m beginning to suspect Brian Aldiss wrote the wrong ending for “Who Can Replace A Man.”

Researchers report today in Science Robotics that they’ve used entirely off-the-shelf parts—two industrial robot arms with force sensors and a 3-D camera—to piece together one of those Stefan Ikea chairs we all had in college before it collapsed after two months of use. From planning to execution, it only took 20 minutes, compared to the human average of a lifetime of misery. It may all seem trivial, but this is in fact a big deal for robots, which struggle mightily to manipulate objects in a world built for human hands.

(6) ALL IN A DAY. Initially, Patrick Nielsen Hayden made his feelings clear about a new book coming out which has the same title as an Emma Bull novel. (Jump on the thread here.)

Later he apologized. (Thread begins here)

(7) DOG DUTY. The New York Times inquires: “Do You Know Which Dog Breeds Are in a Mutt? Scientists Want to Find Out”.

One of the favorite pastimes of dog people is guessing a mutt’s ancestry.

Is that scruffy little guy in the dog park a mix of Afghan hound and Catahoula leopard dog? Is the beast that bit someone really a pit bull, or a cocker spaniel-beagle potpourri? And how about your aunt’s yippy pillow on paws — Maltese/poodle/peke?

If you’re wondering about your own dog you can, of course, get a DNA test. But there’s a lot of open territory for that familiar figure in the canine world, the dog guesser. You know who I mean, they’re like dog whisperers, but louder.

Now all self-proclaimed experts have a chance to prove their mettle or meet their comeuppance. The MuttMix survey debuted on Monday. It is citizen science for people who are willing to be proven terribly wrong, a dog quiz that tests how good you are at figuring out what a mutt is made of.

The survey is being run by the Darwin’s Dogs program at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., a center for genome studies, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Fellow dog guessers (yes, I confess) proceed at the risk of your exceedingly high self-regard….

(8) THE MODERN PROMETHEUS. Mary Shelley biopic opening in theaters May 25.

Starring: Elle Fanning, Maisie Williams, Bel Powley, Douglas Booth, Joanne Froggatt & Stephen Dillane She will forever be remembered as the writer who gave the world Frankenstein. But the real life story of Mary Shelley—and the creation of her immortal monster—is nearly as fantastical as her fiction. Raised by a renowned philosopher father (Stephen Dillane) in 18th-century London, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) is a teenage dreamer determined to make her mark on the world when she meets the dashing and brilliant poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). So begins a torrid, bohemian love affair marked by both passion and personal tragedy that will transform Mary and fuel the writing of her Gothic masterwork. Imbued with the imaginative spirit of its heroine, Mary Shelley brings to life the world of a trailblazing woman who defied convention and channeled her innermost demons into a legend for the ages.


(9) NEXT ON HIS AGENDER. Jon Del Arroz, worried there might still be a few people he hasn’t alienated this week, announced he is “Coming Out As A Woman” [Internet Archive link] – which is to say, adopting a pseudonym.

After serious deliberations, I will be only submitting short fiction to professional markets from a new female pen name. I’ve come up with the name, I’ve got the email address, it’s ready to go. I will be, for all intents and purposes, a female author. It’s the only way to get ahead in the business, and the smart thing to do. I won’t be broadcasting the name here in case of any inadvertent discrimination, but I will keep you informed as to how reactions change based on having a female name. It’ll be interesting to say the least.

(10) PRELUDE TO SPACE. NPR tells about “Antarctic Veggies: Practice For Growing Plants On Other Planets”.

…Now, the greenhouse project, called EDEN ISS, is fully operational. Bamsey’s colleagues in Antarctica harvested their first salads last week.

And while growing greens in Antarctica is exciting — for much of the year there’s no fresh produce at Neumayer Station III — Bamsey says the end goal of this project is much farther away. EDEN ISS is a practice round for cultivating food in space.

The eight-nation team of EDEN ISS researchers chose to grow “high-water-content, pick-and-eat-plants,” Bamsey says, “things that can’t normally be stored for long periods of time.” The crops include lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, swiss chard, and herbs — basil, chives, cilantro and mint. One-tenth of the yield will become research data, while the rest will help feed Neumayer Station III’s crew….

(11) SPACE DIAMONDS. “Inter Jovem et Martem”? “Meteorite diamonds ‘came from lost planet'”.

A diamond-bearing space rock that exploded in Earth’s atmosphere in 2008 was part of a lost planet from the early Solar System, a study suggests.

The parent “proto-planet” would have existed billions of years ago before breaking up in a collision and was about as large as Mercury or Mars.

A team has published their results in the journal Nature Communications.

They argue that the pressures necessary to produce diamonds of this kind could only occur in planet of this size.

Using three different types of microscopy, the researchers characterised the mineral and chemical make-up of the diamond-bearing rocks. The fragments were scattered across the Nubian desert of northern Sudan after the asteroid 2008 TC3 exploded 37km above the ground on 7 October 2008.

(12) MUSICAL INTERLUDE. Another Instant Classic by Matthew Johnson:

Yub nub, yub nub, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive

Well you tell by the way I use my spear
I’m a murder bear, I got no fear
Speeder bikes and Empire goons, I’ve been kicked around
My forest moon
And now it’s all right, it’s OK
I’ve got stormtroopers to slay
And way above, I think I spy
A Death Star hangin’ in the sky

Whether you’re a Jedi or just a little yeti
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Feel the walkers breakin’, this tree trunk is a-shakin’
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive

Yub nub, yub nub, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Yub nub, yub nub, stayin’ alive

Well you might think I’m a teddy bear
My god’s a droid in a wooden chair
I may just have stone age tools
But I’m the end of those Empire fools
And now it’s all right, it’s OK
There’ll be some fireworks this day
And way above, I think I spy
A Death Star fallin’ from the sky

Yub nub, yub nub, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Yub nub, yub nub, stayin’ al-i-i-i-ve…

[Thanks to JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, Carl Slaughter, Andrew Porter, Mike Kennedy, Daniel Dern, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editors of the day A.G. Carpenter, Ingvar and Cassy B.]

172 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 4/18/18 Wanna Bees Pulling Gees Through The Trees

  1. (9) I’ve already used the line about “Arroz by any other name” on this forum, but his latest shenanigan practically screams for it, so please consider it said. Again.

  2. @Contrarius: I’ve never tried the HD replays; I’m not sure I have the sitzfleisch for one in what the movie theaters consider seating. (I’m not much of an opera fan in any case; most operas slight the chorus, and I had too many concert operas piled up due to the specific — and financially-damaging — tastes of a past music director.)

  3. Dear JJ,

    Heheh, yeah, French will do that to you.

    I dare not try to speak what *very* little French I know when going to Montréal or Paris. Spending my entire life in the San Francisco Bay Area, my instinctive second-language pronunciation rules are all for Spanish! Imagine what French sounds like when J is pronounced like H, LL like Y, and R’s are strongly voiced and r-r-r-rolled. It is beyond embarrassing.


    Dear PJ,

    House seems to be just fine! Honestly it’s a big surprise to both Paula and me, but after 30+ years the cliff still hasn’t gotten anywhere close to our lot, let alone the house. We have stopped living like it’s going to happen soon. Because it’s kind of like dying. Will the house inevitably fall down the cliff? Yes… But probably not today.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 

  4. @Ctein: “my instinctive second-language pronunciation rules are all for Spanish!”

    In high school, a French Canadian friend of mine read Spanish from the text book to me quietly in Spanish class a few times as if it were French, which was hilarious, at least to us at the time. 😉

  5. @Chip —

    I’ve never tried the HD replays; I’m not sure I have the sitzfleisch for one in what the movie theaters consider seating.

    Now that so many theaters are installing these wonderful padded recliners, you ought to try it! Though of course YMMV, and opera is not to everyone’s taste.

    The turning point for me with opera came with the installation of subtitles/supertitles in the performance halls. I could never really be bothered with opera until I could understand what was going on. But I love going to see the Live in HD broadcasts. 🙂

  6. Some lls in french are pronounced like some ys. But I do understand. My attempts to pronounce Romance languages do tend to spin off French, and I cracked my brother up once by saying I’d answer a Spanish query with “No Parlo Espanol”. Though he did note that it kind of proved the point in itself, though.

    (I felt a little better when I did end up in a French conversation with some other visitors while in Spain…)

  7. I once answered “Habla usted español?” with “oui.”

    In my defense, this was in a suburb of Paris, and I then did my best to help the inquirer; she had no French, and the museum staff had no Spanish. I don’t have a lot of French, but the difference between “none” and “a little” was enough to get me through a week of tourist stuff.)

  8. @Vicki —

    In my defense, this was in a suburb of Paris, and I then did my best to help the inquirer; she had no French, and the museum staff had no Spanish.

    Which reminds me of the time I traveled to Italy with a concert group as a high school senior. At one point some of us got lost on the way to a venue. Fortunately, I spoke enough Spanish, and it’s close enough to Italian, that the locals were able to direct us.

    (Incidentally, if anyone here is Italian — I LOVED Italy, and the Italians I met there. I’d love to go back someday.)

  9. When we were in Italy, I ordered a sandwich at a truck stop, and someone ahead of me got the last one. Faced with this unexpected situation, I froze up and went mute. I couldn’t say a damned thing. I didn’t try Spanish or German, just acted like an idiot and took whatever they offered me. I hope I never go that simple again.

  10. I thought I’d suffered an eyeglass malfunction or a brain problem when I went to Vancouver. I couldn’t read the line under the English!

    After a few seconds, half my brain slapped the other half. “This is Canada. It’s in French, not Spanish.”

    Still less mind-boggling than that time I went to the deep Midwest and everything, even in hotels, was completely in English. No second or other lines at all. Bwuh?

  11. I don’t remember much in the way of bilingual signage in Colorado, but with the amount of bus travel I did, I got used to hearing announcements repeated in Spanish. For a while, Sarah was quite young and watched Dora the Explorer, and I couldn’t help noticing that Dora spoke Estación de Autobuses—bus station, where everything is repeated dos veces—two times!

  12. For reasons that never made sense, even to me, I originally decided that “Bujold” must be pronounce “byoo-hold”. There was a bit of Spanish influence in my thinking (god knows why), but that obviously isn’t enough to completely explain it. It took me quite a while to get out of the habit. (I still struggle a little, in fact.)

    Re: Foreigner. It’s a slow-starting series, in my opinion, but the payoff is totally worth it. The first one is pretty decent, but then it doesn’t really get moving till about book four or so.

    When she gets to the point where she no longer feels she has to remind us “the Atevi are alien and don’t experience the same emotions we do, and there’s no direct translation for ‘friend’ into their language, or ‘man’chi’ into ours” every few pages, the pace starts to pick up.

    I nearly stopped after three, but by book six, I was starting to get good and hooked. And so far, they’ve mostly kept getting better as the series progresses.

  13. Dear Lurker,

    One of the cool things I noticed in San Juan Puerto Rico was that it was truly bilingual. Some signs were in Spanish. Some were in English. Some were in English and subtitled in Spanish. Some in Spanish, subtitled in English. Even within a single establishment, one would see the variations.

    pax / Ctein

  14. @Xtifr —

    “Re: Foreigner. It’s a slow-starting series, in my opinion, but the payoff is totally worth it. The first one is pretty decent, but then it doesn’t really get moving till about book four or so.”

    Thanks for that!

  15. My mom’s friend told us about the first time she spoke French in front of her college class. The teacher asked her why she was speaking French with a German accent. It was because her high school French teacher had been German! Oops!

    I remember when I lived in Orlando, Florida, there were a few places with Spanish signs and English subtitles.

  16. In Helsinki, there are signs in Finnish, English and sometimes Swedish. Sometimes all three, and sometimes just Finnish and Swedish, which can be disconcerting when you are hunting for the English…

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  19. @Contrarius: the recliners (in new theaters or retrofitted) are what I hate. I don’t like to lie back to watch (didn’t even before I got progressive glasses, which mean I have to push my chin through my sternum to keep the screen in focus when I’m reclined), and the seats are so deep that the front edge, even when padded, bites under my knees. (I’m a couple of sigmas off mean proportion: average height, but my inseam is the same as my 5’0″ partner’s. It makes finding an acceptable car even more fun….)

    adding to @Xtifr: the first two trilogies, especially the first, are almost 1+2 rather than a real 3-book arc; after that they’re more tightly coupled. I still don’t recommend them to novice Cherryh readers as it’s a lot of pages and possibly the strangest aliens who must be understood (rather than glanced at sideways like the Knnn), but I’ve loved every set; my only constraint is that I will not start reading until I have a full set in hand. (I’m like this about other two- and three-book sets also, but more rigorously for Cherryh.)

  20. @Laura: “The teacher asked her why she was speaking French with a German accent. It was because her high school French teacher had been German! Oops!”

    Hahaha, thanks, Laura; that made me LOL. 🙂 I’m sending your comment to my parents, who speak (some of) several languages, including French. I know they’ll get a kick out of it.

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