May 292017

The Disney movie “The Black Hole” was a little “off.” Still, for a lot of us 70’s/80’s kids, it’s something a little special. Heck, it is – to the best of my knowledge – one of the few movies (never mind the “Disney kids movie” subset) that has the villain die at the end… and then get sent to Hell. Even if that was only a delusion by one of the other characters, it was a hell of a thing to see on the screen back then.

Like most sci-fi movies, the “sci” was pretty awful. The ship designs were basically nonsensical from a basic engineering standpoint. Still, the starship Cygnus was an undeniable thing of beauty. Made from a whole lot of photoetched brass, it was a massive “cathedral” of a spaceship model. It’s a crying shame that Disney has not yet seen fit to release “The Black Hole” on Blu-Ray, if for no other reason than to see the Cygnus in hi-def.

As a modelgeek, I’ve always wanted a good model of the Cygnus. MPC released a 1/4225 kit in 1979; it was certainly a product of it’s time. Like the MPC Star Destroyer, it’s a good *approximation* of the Cygnus, but given the filigree nature of the Cygnus’ construction, a conventional injection molded plastic kit for kids could hardly be expected to be very accurate. Even so, copies of this kit are going for prohibitively high prices (here’s one on eBay for a mere $350).

Technology has advanced to the point where a really impressive model of the Cygnus can be 3D printed… and is available for purchase. Available through Shapeways, you can buy all the bits and pieces needed for a ginourmous 1/700 Cygnus… for about $1200.

Here’s a Flickr account of someone who bought the parts and built up the kit. He went the extra mile and added a laser-cut plexiglass inner structure for strength and lighting purposes.

It is… really impressive.


The results do show the current limitations of 3D printing when seen close up. The surface finish is unfortunate. But 3D printing has produced parts that would be essentially impossible with injection molding… and the technology will only get better and cheaper in time. Give it a few years, and Shapeways will probably have parts with far better surface finishes and for (slightly) less cost.

 Posted by at 2:55 am
May 282017

A few days ago word began to spread of a prank where an intentionally utterly nonsensical paper on the utterly nonsensical field of study that is “gender studies” was published in a peer reviewed journal.The problem there was that the journal involved is one of those “journals” where if you pay their fees, they publish. It’s basically self-publishing, so apart from the amusement factor… meh.

But now comes a better example of “there be something wrong with peer review:”

Is this the world’s smartest canine? Or has science gone to the dogs?

In short, a dog is sitting on the editorial boards of seven medical journals. Whoopsie.

 Posted by at 10:40 pm
May 282017

Take a wild guess.

The Coat of Arms Said ‘Integrity.’ Now It Says ‘Trump.’

In short, the Brits issues a “coat of arms” to a family decades ago, then Trumps company Culturally Appropriated it.


Especially lame: that Trump, an American, felt the need for a “coat of arms” or gave a damn about heraldry. Such things are not only anachronisms, they are about as non-American as you can get, ranking up there with reverence for (rather than a sneering disdain for) royalty or a fascination with ones distant ancestry.


 Posted by at 8:08 pm
May 282017

What’s the most popular boys name in the Muslim world? “Mohammad,” or some spelling variation thereof. What’s a real popular name in the Spanish speaking world? “Jesus.” What’s *not* a popular name in the Anglosphere? “Jesus.” This has always kinda surprised me. Naming kids after revered characters is quite common, yet in the English speaking world naming your kid after the primary religious figure is considered inpoor taste. That said… “Joshua” is popular enough, won’t get you a second glance. Yet “Joshua” is the Anglicized version of the Latin name “Iesous,” which is a Greekified version of the Hebrew name “Yeshua,” what Jesus would have been called by the Hebrews of that time and place.  Similarly, Mathew, Mark, John, Paul, Ringo, Steven, Luke, Han, Adam, Mary, David, Debby, Abigail, Peter, Joseph and a number of other distinctly Biblical names are now quite popular.

Why blather forth about this? Because I laughed my face off a few days at WalMart. Wandering about, minding my own business, I passed by a common enough WalMart trope: a mother yelling at her oblivious, misbehaving horrible little brat. You learn to tune such things out. But something penetrated the wall and got my attention: the mother, in yelling at her child, kept calling him “Messiah.” Now maybe it’s “Massiya” or some other oddball spelling, but the pronunciation was the same. And it seems to me that if “Jesus” is considered poor form, surely “Messiah” should be too.

Ponderable: if “Mohammad” is popular in the Islamic world, how about naming your kid “Allah” or “Mahdi?” Surely that would result in nothing but praise and instant puppies.

 Posted by at 1:17 pm
May 272017

So, progress on the novel has been brisk of late. The end is in sight! I’m currently sitting at about 400 novel-length pages, which is frankly probably far too long for a first novel by an unknown nobody. But, y’know, editing… For all I know, cut all the drivel out of it and it might result in a pamphlet.

But let’s say it gets published, and meets with great acclaim. Huzzah! One thing that authors seem to do is book signings. Now, at the best of times this idea fills me with an uncomfortableness. On the one hand, being the center of attention? Bleah. On the other hand, how many times have you gone to a Books-A-Barnes & Borders and saw a book signing by an author you’ve never heard of, hawking a book that seems uninteresting to you, and the author is sitting at the table, piled with books… and there ain’t nobody there. Yeesh. Talk bout a buzz kill. About the only thing more distressing than being the object of attention of a bunch of strangers is to be *ignored* at such an event. I always feel *real* bad for the very sad and lonely looking authors at such empty events.

So, California has come up with a solution: basically make book signings illegal.

California threatens to shut down book signings and therefore small booksellers

If you are selling a “signed something-or-other worth more than five bucks,” guess what… onerous new book-keeping regulations:

Sellers must, among other things:

  1. Note the purchase price and date of sale,
  2. specify whether the item is part of a limited edition,
  3. note the size of the edition, anticipate any future editions,
  4. disclose whether the seller is bonded,
  5. divulge any previous owner’s name and address,
  6. if the book was signed in the presence of the seller, specify the date and location of the signing, and identify a witness to the autograph.

And what happens if you don’t have such records for a book signing that occurred, say, five years before the State official shows up to check your papers? Potentially tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Ta-da. No more book signings.

 Posted by at 6:10 pm
May 252017

There seem to be two primary ways to tell if a forthcoming movie or TV series is going to be bad:

  1. The released materials – photos, descriptions, clips, trailers, etc. – just look or read as “bad”
  2. The people promoting the show start putting plans in place to downplay how awful it is, or to explain away a forthcoming disaster.

With Star Trek: Discovery, we’ve had a whole lot of #1. The disregard for established continuity, the jarring design elements, the apparent lack of any actual familiarity with Star Trek on the part of the people behind the show have led a *lot* or people to conclude that this STD is gonna burn.

But now they’re entering into Phase 2. Specifically… the “Ghostbusters 2016” playbook of “let’s blame the fans:”

Racist Star Trek Fans Decry Discovery‘s Diversity, Revealing They Know Nothing About Star Trek

Yeah, that’ll certainly help fix the problem. Someone doesn’t like your show? Call them a racist or a sexist. It worked *so* well for Ghostbusters 2016.



 Posted by at 11:15 am
May 252017

The first launch of the Electron launch vehicle almost made it to orbit. Launched from new Zealand, Rocket Lab’s two stage vehicle is designed to be cheap and expendable, with a projected launch price of about $5M and a payload of just a few hundred pounds. The dollars/pound cost of the vehicle is pretty bad compared to the likes of the Falcon 9,  but that’s to be expected. Economics does not scale down well with launch vehicles. But if you have a burning need to put a small payload into space in a hurry, a launch vehicle like this should be attractive.

New Zealand space launch is first from a private site



 Posted by at 6:08 am
May 232017

On the scale of planets, every known material is essentially a fluid. Build an Earth-sized cube out of diamond, and it will collapse under its own weight into a close approximation of a sphere. With that in mind, there are really only a few things that determine the shape of a planet. Structural strength? Nope. Surface tension? Nope. Magnetics? *Maybe,* if there were some insanely powerful magnetic fields involved. It basically comes down to gravity and centripetal force. Under most conditions, what you have is a blob of matter trying to condense down to a sphere, but being pulled into a slight oblate spheroid due to spin. If you jack up the rate of spin, the planet will become more and more oblate; spin it fast enough and the outer rim will reach orbital velocity and bits of the planet will start dripping off. But until that point, the planet will be basically just a flattened sphere.

A few years ago someone ran the numbers and found that if things were *just* right, you could have a toroidal (donut) planet.That would be definitely interesting, but while it doesn’t violate the laws of physics, it is vanishingly unlikely to occur naturally. Such a world would almost certainly have to be *built,* using technology and engineering far beyond us. This type of world would also need active intelligent maintenance in order to survive in the long term (and this probably means “historical long-term,” not “geological long-term”).

But another contender has stepped to the fore, the “synestia:”

The structure of terrestrial bodies: Impact heating, corotation limits, and synestias

This is a naturally occuring non-spherical world. But it is *not* an inviting place, nor one with a well defined surface. The idea is that early on in the development of solar systems, molten rocky worlds would get slammed now and again by giant impactors; hitting just right, they’d throw up a cloud of rock vapor that would form a funky shape that would persist on the order of a century. The heat of the vapor would help it maintain its shape; as the heat dissipates, the structure collapses, back down into a sphere.

 Posted by at 2:19 pm