Snapshots 63 Groats in a Guinea

Here are 11 developments of interest to fans:

(1) It was the brightest space explosion in history:

Astronomers suspect what we are seeing is an unfortunate star that drifted too close to a supermassive black hole at the center of its galaxy and was ripped apart by fierce gravity. The ionized gases released by the star’s destruction formed a swirling “disk of plasma” around the black hole, which blasted unimaginable beams of energy out into space. It’s these that we are continuing to see.

“Blasted unimaginable beams of energy” – you don’t often see a science journalist dipping a pen into E.E. Smith’s incandescent inkwell this way, though to be completely fair to Doc his prose was even more colorful – he’d have written, “ravening beams of coruscating energy.”

Still, it isn’t any wonder the tone of the article inspired David Klaus to comment, “R.I.P. for any planetary civilizations in a direct line within that galaxy. They just got blasted into gamma-ray death.”

(2) A Chaos Manor correspondent points out that when a German TV news channel reported the Bin Laden killing they made a little mistake:

Unfortunately, in its haste to offer a SEAL logo, someone at the station actually mustered the logo of the “Star Trek” Maquis Special Operations Seals Team VI–a bunch of nasty little 24th century terrorists.

(3) The Library of Congress opened its ”National Jukebox” website on May 10, which seems worth knowing even if there isn’t any stfnal content in the first 10,000 Edison discs and Victor platters. These old recordings are in themselves a kind of time machine:

The Library of Congress is flipping a switch Tuesday that will open a large chunk of the national archive of more than 3 million music and spoken-word recordings archive public streaming as part of a new National Jukebox project, a joint venture between the library and Sony Music that will give free access to thousands of Sony-controlled recordings long out of circulation because of commercial or copyright issues.

Some of the 10,000 titles streamable at the new National Jukebox website have been unavailable for more than 100 years, a significant chunk of them because of complex laws controlling ownership of sound recordings, which did not become subject to federal copyright laws until 1972….

“The only artist whose work has remained in print since it was recorded is Caruso,” added Matthew Barton, the library’s curator of recorded sound. “You’ve always been able to get Caruso, in whatever the current formats were. But he wasn’t the only star of the day, he wasn’t the only opera singer recording — but he’s the only one that has been consistently available from the rights holder.”

A lot of rarities here. For example, I listened to this recording of Sousa’s Band playing “Stars and Stripes Forever”.

(4) Naomi Alderman’s Borrowed Time was described on BBC Radio 4’s World At One as “the first Doctor Who book to be written by a literary novelist” (May 6 program, about 23 minutes in.)

Steve Green dryly comments: “[That] must come as a surprise to Michael Moorcock. To be fair to Naomi, she dismissed any distinctions between ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ in the subsequent interview. “

(5) Plans for a Do-it-yourself Dalek are posted in an article at The Telegraph:

While every Doctor Who fan knows that the robot mutants were created by the evil scientist Davros from the planet Skaro, these blueprints were road-tested by Sixth Formers at a school in North London.

An introduction to the plans, which would challenge even those with years of assembling Ikea furniture, noted that the pupils were able to construct a “magnficient black-and-orange specimen” in just two weeks, at a cost of £12.

The text of the cover letter originally sent with the plans appears in Letters of Note. I got a chuckle from one of the comments on the post:

I am just about old enough to remember the Radio Times Doctor Who 10th anniversary magazine that really did contain blueprints for a Dalek. Okay, I’m easily that old.

(6) The LA Times tells about a funding crisis facing the Allen Telescope Array, run by the SETI Institute near Mt. Shasta (CA), an enormous ear listening for any sign of intelligent life in the universe:

The search was based on the premise that alien races, like us, would use microwave transmissions and we might be able to hear them.

In 1993, Congress killed the funding. That could have spelled the end of the search, but large donors, including Hewlett-Packard executives and Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, pulled out their checkbooks to keep it alive.

SETI researchers for years relied on borrowed telescope time to scan thousands of stars for a signal that could have been produced only by someone else out there. All that changed in 2008, when the 42-telescope array was built here with a $30-million gift from Allen, for whom it is named.

The array was intended to be a first step toward development of a full 350-dish array, which the institute predicted would catch a promising signal every few hours, and a serious candidate every six months. But the institute was unable to attract enough donations and grants to expand it.

(7) I’m glad to hear that “aerospace archeology” is one of the missions supported by the military at Cape Canaveral:

At first glance, Thomas Penders’ job with the 45th Space Wing may seem like walking a tightrope.

As an aerospace archaeologist and cultural resource manager at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., he ensures the 45th SW can continue to be America’s premier gateway to space through unhindered development on the Cape. On the other hand, he has a responsibility to protect the Cape’s 5,000 years of history from that very development.

The two missions, however, go hand-in hand.

Mr. Penders has one goal in mind: to help ensure the 45th SW and the Air Force are stewards of the past while continuing their space mission. He must survey each of the Cape’s 16,000 acres before a construction project must be stopped because excavators have found a pre-historic migratory camp, a 150-year-old unmarked grave or part of a 50-year-old launch complex buried by vegetation.

(8) Loved this review of Ghost Stories stage play in Toronto:

Despite being a fairly faint-hearted fellow myself and, unlike my British counterparts, forbidden from drinking on the job, I strapped on my Medic Alert bracelet and bravely gave Ghost Stories a try. Disappointingly, the show didn’t quite live up to its horrific reputation and I remain unhospitalized. It’s a lark with a few skilled chills, but Toronto’s emergency rooms aren’t about to be inundated with cases of ghost-traumatic stress syndrome. Ghost Stories is set up as a lecture given by a skeptical professor of parapsychology – incidentally, a very similar conceit to local theatre company Unspun’s 2006 Fringe horror hit Minotaur. In his years of ghost hunting, Dr. Philip Goodman (Jason Blicker) tells us, he has interviewed only three men who have shaken his non-belief in ghosts, and their stories are the subject of the evening.

(9) The Penneys forwarded a Toronto Craigslist ad from someone seeking an investor in their Anti-Gravity propulsion engine. “After many years of research going through the full spectrum of quantum math, physics and beyond, we are at the point where we want to take concepts from paper into prototype. If this area of development interests you then please do get in touch.” Sounds like just the sort of thing Jack Aubrey would have squandered his prize money on.

(10) Classic old Star Wars fanhistory here:

For the documentary, the early convention footage was donated to filmmaker Tom Wyrsch by the estate of the late Bob Wilkins, host of the locally-broadcast Creature Features show, which ran from 1971-84 (Wilkins hosted until 1979). In it, Wilkins’ camera man captures rare 16mm images of Star Wars fandom in its infancy on display at the Space-Cons, emerging from the well-established Star Trek fandom juggernaut that exploded after the show’s cancellation in 1969.

(11) Rose Fox at Genreville watched live online coverage of the Hugo nominee announcement. She complimented the poise shown by the announcer as he named the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form nominees:

I greatly admire the dignity with which the Admiral announced the fourth item.

“The Lost Thing,” of course, has already won an Oscar; will a Hugo be anticlimactic?

Well played, Rose. The “fourth item” was the nominee with Bradbury in the title — so it’s only right that it be followed by something “anticlimactic.”

Elsewhere in the same post Rose voiced some slight dissatisfaction:

I suspect there’s a list of people who get embargoed press releases. I am not on that list. I should find out how to get on that list.

Yes, it’s evident an embargoed press release was circulated ahead of the official announcement. I can’t speak from personal experience, just that the comments I’ve seen on the subject indicate that’s the case. But I wouldn’t say the subject is worthy of even the trivial amount of controversy I may generate by discussing it at all.

Ask yourself, how does any news reporter benefit from receiving the Hugo nominees in an embargoed press release? Let’s assume everybody behaves professionally and honors the guidelines for releasing the information, which in this case probably meant holding it until the end of the online announcement (as everyone seems to have done.)  Does the reporter really have the jump on anyone? No. Anything they do with the press release happens after an online announcement, doubtless echoed by any number of people on Twitter or blogs. And if the Worldcon is taking care of its business, after the list has been posted to the convention website. The only benefit of having an advanced copy of the list is that a reporter can ready the text (and comments, if any) for distribution at the moment the embargo is lifted, rather than having to begin the process at the moment the general announcement is made. It’s perfectly reasonable that Rose, a Publishers Weekly blogger trying to report the news in realtime, would want to be added to such a list. She’s to be congratulated for succeeding with the resources available to her.

All else is vanity, as they say. Who doesn’t want to be one of the well-connected people walking around with the advance list of Hugo nominees in his pocket (on paper, PDA or phone)? If there’s any controversy it’s not about reporting news. There’s too little support for the argument that a reporter who didn’t get an advanced copy has suffered any genuine disadvantage.

[Thanks for these links goes out to David Klaus, Isaac Alexander, Lloyd and Yvonne Penney, Steve Green, Chaos Manor and Andrew Porter.]

3 thoughts on “Snapshots 63 Groats in a Guinea

  1. It may be an irony of existence that, in a favoured galaxy, life might be commonplace, civilizations may be numerous at any given moment. But in the universe at large, perhaps life is scarce. The least little thing — a satillite galaxy plunging throught the core of another, a black hole absorbing a number of stars that spiralled too close, excited magnetic fields, too furslugginer much dark matter — and another 500,000,000,000 star systems are sterilized, just like that!

  2. How sure are you that the National Jukebox has no “stfnal content?” Perhaps there are songs or spoken-word performances related to SF or fantasy or horror. I hope anyone who finds such will report back to you.

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