Snapshots 93 Million Miles from Earth

Here are 4 developments of interest to fans:

(1) Emma Thompson plays author P.L. Travers, creator of Mary Poppins, and Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, forthcoming in 2014. The movie is based on the (apparently) difficult 14-year negotiations required to bring Poppins to the screen. According to The Hollywood Reporter :

A three-pack-a-day smoker, Disney died of lung cancer in 1966 and Hanks said he would chain smoke his way through the movie, but that’s about as close as the production will get to any controversy or conjecture surrounding the iconic animator.

When asked if he would be a “warts and all” portrayal, Hanks responded, “He wasn’t a warty guy. There was the labor issues that were in the forties and stuff like that. But by and large, no.”

Warty or not, Travers tried to keep Disney from infecting her work with what she considered his worst traits as a moviemaker. A 2005 New Yorker article recounts:

But after Disney’s years of fawning attention, Travers arrived in California expecting to be deferred to completely. Moreover, she was not as awed by Disney’s achievements as others were. Young Richard Sherman may have considered Walt Disney “the greatest storyteller—maybe the greatest man of the twentieth century,” but Pamela Travers had discussed her poetry with William Butler Yeats and shared a masthead with T. S. Eliot. She thought that “Steamboat Willie” was a fine entertainment for youngsters, but she considered most of the Disney oeuvre manipulative and false. In her mind, he traded in sentimentality and cynicism, two qualities she despised.

She ended up despising the Mary Poppins movie, too.

(2) Blowing things up on Mars, yeah! Or as Discover Magazine cleverly put it — Now you will feel the firepower of a fully armed and operational Mars rover.

Many objects like gas clouds and stars emit light naturally. We just have to observe them and pick out the signatures of the different chemicals in them.

For a Martian rock, though, we need to dump some energy into it to excite those substances. And that’s why Curiosity has a laser on board. It can zap a rock with a short, intense pulse of laser light, and the rock will respond by glowing. A spectrometer – a camera that can separate light into individual colors – then observes the glow, and scientists back home can see what the rock’s made of. It’s like DNA-typing or fingerprinting the rock, but from 150 million kilometers away.

Reports are the laser worked perfectly, blasting away at the rock with 30 one-megaWatt pulses (lasting 5 nanoseconds each!) in a span of about 10 seconds.

(3) “Nerdgassing” is still in the lexicon at Bad Astronomy. Could the SH.I.E.L.D.’s Helicarrier really fly

SPOILERS: yes, kinda, but at grave cost to the planet below it.

It turns out that just to power the thing would take about a trillion Watts – enough to supply electricity to a billion homes. That might prove detrimental to the environment. Worse, the air blasted downward from the fans would have to be moving supersonically to support the tremendous weight of the Helicarrier, so it would pulverize anything near where it was landing.

And before I get accused of nerdgassing about the movie, note well that what I bet most people would think is the craziest thing about the Helicarrier – its ability to cloak – actually strikes me as being possible…

(4) Fans are still busy revising the Guinness Book of World Records. A London Star Trek convention set a new record for the largest gathering of people dressed as characters from the series – their 1,083 costumed Trekkies edged the old record of 1,040 set in Las Vegas two months ago.

Outlandish costumes were ubiquitous at the event, which saw Britain’s first Klingon wedding on Friday. Swedish couple Jossie Sockertopp and Sonnie Gustavsson tied the knot in full Klingon attire and exchanged vows in the fictional and guttural-sounding language of the Star Trek characters.

[Thanks for these links goes out to David Klaus and Sam Long.]

This Week in Words: Nerdgassing

Early in June, John Scalzi invented the word “nerdgassing” It’s a wonderfully evocative word that means just what you think. But feel free to duck over there and read the definition. And the examples. And the comments. Enough fascinating stuff that I’ll probably need to rename this post “Next Week in Words” by the time you remember to come back.

When somebody invents a new word, how do you predict whether it will become popular? My suggestion is to try substituting it in a famous movie quote. The word should be a hit if it sounds good coming out of the mouths of famous actors and actresses…

From Spartacus:
Kirk Douglas: I’m nerdgassing…
Tony Curtis: No, I’m nerdgassing!
Everybody: I’m nerdgassing! I’m nerdgassing!

From Casablanca:
Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that nerdgassing is going on in here!
Croupier: Your iPod, sir!

From Sunset Boulevard:
Norma Desmond: We didn’t need nerdgassing. We had faces.

From Jerry Maguire:
Renee Zellweger to Tom Cruise: You had me at “nerdgassing.”

From Apocalypse Now:
Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall): I love the sound of nerdgassing in the morning!

From Taxi Driver:
Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro): You nerdgassing to me? You nerdgassing to me? You nerdgassing to me? Well, who the hell else are you nerdgassing to? You nerdgassing to me? Well, I’m the only one here.

Yes, our judges say it’s a winner!