Thursday, February 28, 2008

On the Eve of Your Birthday. . .

This post is directed toward my sister, Naomi. But y'alls welcome to read it if you like.

Hi, Naomi. This is normally the post where I would post up stupid YouTube videos of idiots doing birthday raps. But today, I have a confession to make. It's a confession of a secret kept by the entire family, and they won't be happy that I told you, but goddamn it, I love you too much keep this from you any longer.

Here it goes. For the past twenty years you've been told that you were born on the late evening of February 28th, 1988. This is a lie; you were actually born a few minutes after midnight, February 29th. With the help of our doctor, who aided in falsifying your birth certificate, we faked your birthday to prevent you from having to face the stigma of being. . . a Leap Year Baby.

All your life, we've tried to convince you that you were bon on the twenty-eigth of February, going so far as to hold fake birthday parties and give fake birthday presents. Mom, Dad, the doctor, and me were the only ones to know about this. . . until now.

Naomi, you would be twenty today. On the eve of your birthday, February 29th, I think it is time for you to know. . .


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Star Wars. . . Nothing but Star Wars . . . Give me Those Star Wars. . . Don't let them E-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-end!*

I'm in my mom's office, pissing away reading break and waiting for word on our cat Cedric, who's undergoing balldectomy getting neutered at I speak. To pass the time (which I could've been spending doing marking. . . or something-- anything-- out in the open air) I thought I'd write about the lastest bit of space news I've come across.

Sometime last night, while the rest of the western hemisphere stood in the freezing air waiting for a lunar eclipse, the US Navy shot down one of its own country's spy satellites. The satellite was in a decaying orbit, and some believed that it might be able to partially survive re-entry and crash somewhere on Earth--more specifically, somewhere on Earth that's Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran. There's also speculation that the spy satellite contains large amounts of unconsumed hydrazine rocket fuel, which might pose an environmental hazard (indeed, the fact that the fuel was unconsumed, and hence unable to laung the satellite to higher orbit and greater velocity, might explain why it is falling in the first place).

Naturally, the United States government is keeping mum about this whole affair. After all, government and military secrets are at stake, and besides, the whole thing is so embarrasing that. . . oh look, the Department of Defence posted a video of the Navy blowing up the satellite:

Apparently, the cloud of gas that appears after the explosion was indeed unburned hydrazine, according to a spectral analysis.

Now, I can understand the DOD posting the video in order to quell the public's worries of, how shall I put it, a KILLER FUCKING SATELLITE:

But, being the paranoid sort that I am, I couldn't help but wonder if there was something else going on here. Then I remembered that China, just one month ago, also blew up a satellite with a ground-based missile:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- China last week successfully used a missile to destroy an orbiting satellite, U.S. government officials told CNN on Thursday, in a test that could undermine relations with the West and pose a threat to satellites important to the U.S. military.

According to a spokesman for the National Security Council, the ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile knocked an old Chinese weather satellite from its orbit about 537 miles above Earth. The missile carried a "kill vehicle" and destroyed the satellite by ramming it.

The test took place on January 11. (There was a link to a video here, but I cut it out. You can find it at the main site.)

Aviation Week and Space Technology first reported the test: "Details emerging from space sources indicate that the Chinese Feng Yun 1C (FY-1C) polar orbit weather satellite launched in 1999 was attacked by an asat (anti-satellite) system launched from or near the Xichang Space Center."

A U.S. official, who would not agree to be identified, said the event was the first successful test of the missile after three failures.

The official said that U.S. "space tracking sensors" confirmed that the satellite is no longer in orbit and that the collision produced "hundreds of pieces of debris," that also are being tracked.
So. . . is all of this just an outer space pissing contest between China and the United States? Are we about to enter a new Cold War in Earth orbit? The U.S. has issued diplomatic protests, and President Bush has been waving that little of sabre of his over issues of American outer space policy for some time now:
The United States logged a formal diplomatic protest.

"We are aware of it and we are concerned, and we made it known," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Several U.S. allies, including Canada and Australia, have also registered protests, and the Japanese government said it was worrisome.

"Naturally, we are concerned about it from the viewpoint of security as well as peaceful use of space," said Yashuhisa Shiozaki, chief cabinet secretary. He said Japan has asked the Chinese government for an explanation.

Britain has complained about lack of consultation before the test and potential damage from the debris it left behind, The Associated Press reported.

The United States has been able to bring down satellites with missiles since the mid-1980s, according to a history of ASAT programs posted on the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site. In its own test, the U.S. military knocked a satellite out of orbit in 1985.

Under a space policy authorized by President Bush in August, the United States asserts a right to "freedom of action in space" and says it will "deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so."

The policy includes the right to "deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests."

Low Earth-orbit satellites have become indispensable for U.S. military communications, GPS navigation for smart bombs and troops, and for real-time surveillance. The Chinese test highlights the satellites' vulnerability.

"If we, for instance, got into a conflict over Taiwan, one of the first things they'd probably do would be to shoot down all of our lower Earth-orbit spy satellites, putting out our eyes," said John Pike of, a Web site that compiles information on worldwide security issues.

"The thing that is surprising and disturbing is that [the Chinese] have chosen this moment to demonstrate a military capability that can only be aimed at the United States," he said.
Again, maybe I'm being paranoid, but isn't it also strange that just a month later, the U.S. destroys one of it's own satellites, for all the world to see?

But Anyway. . . as long as you're here, read My Story II and give me some input, dammit! I plan to do this for money and acclaim and girls one day!


Bad Astronomy Blog Article

BBC Online Article on Spy Satellite

CNN Online Article on Chinese Missile Launch

*The title is based on Bill Murray's "Star Wars Song" from the early years of Saturday Night Live. I couldn't find the original clip, but I did find this video by DickSharpe80 which has the song on it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

There Will Be Blood. . . IN SPACE. . . .

. . . Space . . . Space . . . Space. . . space. . .!*

It's long been known that Saturn's moon Titan has a huge amount of organic (carbon-based) chemicals, both in its dense atmosphere (twice as dense as Earth's) and in its frozen lakes of methane(recently photographed by the Huygens probe). Scientists believe that Titan's hydrocarbon content is very similar to that of Earth before the beginning of life, and thus that the moon-- which has been effectively "frozen" for billions of years-- provides a snapshot of our own world from ages past.

Big whoop.

Fortunately, Cassini-Huygens researcher has found an actual good reason to care about Titan: TAITEN HAZ TEH OILZ!!!1!1
Saturn's moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to new data from the Cassini spacecraft.

The bounty of fuels, however, is on an orange-coloured moon at least 1.2 billion kilometres from Earth, a trip that took the Cassini spacecraft seven years to make.

Researchers from the European Space Agency first reported their findings about the ringed planet's moon in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters on Jan. 28.

Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar team member from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said the estimated fuel reserves are based on Cassini's surface maps of the moon, which show what appear to be lakes and seas. Researchers speculate the liquid is methane, one of the few known molecules to exist as a liquid in such extreme cold.

The scientists also believe dunes on the moon's surface are made of complex organic molecules called tholins.

"Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material-it’s a giant factory of organic chemicals," said Lorenz in a statement. "This vast carbon inventory is an important window into the geology and climate history of Titan."

Although only 20 per cent of the moon's surface has been mapped, the researchers have already found dozens of lakes that individually could house as much energy as the 117,000 million tonnes of proven reserves of oil and gas on Earth.

"[Our] global estimate is based mostly on views of the lakes in the northern polar regions. We have assumed the south might be similar, but we really don't yet know how much liquid is there," said Lorenz.

The dense haze of Titan's mostly nitrogen atmosphere had prevented earlier attempts to view the surface of the moon before the U.S. space probe Cassini first arrived in 2004. Radar is the only way to pierce the haze surrounding Titan, which has an atmosphere 10 times denser than Earth's.

The probe's next flyby of Titan is on Feb. 22, 2008, when it will observe the landing site of the ESA's Huygens probe, which landed on the moon's surface in 2004.

The combined Cassini-Huygens mission is a co-operative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. It first launched from Earth in 1997.

Titan's dense atmosphere and presence of carbon-based material have fascinated scientists who see it as a time vault of what Earth may have looked like billions of years ago, before life formed and introduced oxygen into the atmosphere.
As the article says, Titan is over a billion kilometers away(When? On closest approach? Furthest?) so there probably won't be any attempt to extract it. However, for the sake of balance-- actually, for the sake of my contract obligates me to climb my political soapbox at least once every three blogs-- let me just point out some of the stupid things that supposedly reasonable, advanced civilizations have done to get their hands on oil:

*As I wrote this, I found myself wondering if "Space" is really spelled like that.

Having been an astronomy and space travel nut my whole life, I now suddenly wondered why I had written a word that sounded like "Spa-kay" (Latinesque pronunciation). I actually had to look up the word "space" on Google to make sure it was spelled properly. Stupid foreign languages messing up my science!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

My Story, Part II

I'm in lab. Again. Same as before.

To pass the time this time around, I decided to add another incomplete exceprt for my short story, "Achilles." This time, you'll actually figure out part of what the title means. Enjoy!

Megan had nearly forgotten about Peter's party. Though good friends since high school, they had not seen each other very often those last few months. Megan's tendon was healing, and Peters was visiting universities around the country. Her invitation to the party was almost accidental. She crossed paths with Peter at the shopping mall near his place.

"Peter!" she said.

He stopped in front of a t-shirt logo shop and turned around. Megan limped toward him.

"Hey, Megan," he said.

They usually hugged when greeting, but this time he didn't move, so she hugged him. They talked about the universities that Peter had visited. Megan thought it would be impolite to talk about her heel, and she didn't, apart from a brief mention about coming to the mall to try out her "sea legs." This had nothing to do with why she was really there-- or rather, it was as good an excuse as any. It was conversation at any event, even if it didn't compare to the beaches of Point Grey.

"Yo, Peter!" said someone else.

"Oh, Jim!" Peter said.

Jim emerged from behind Megan, standing at their side.

"Jim, this is my friend, Megan."

"Hi," she said.

"Hi. Jim." he said. They shook hands, and after some small talk, he then asked, "So, you looking forward to the party?"

And that's how she was invited. This was thursday morning. The party was friday night. A couple of hours after sunset, the guests arrived bearing gifts: nachos, vegetable platters with dip, fried wanton, some cases of beer. Megan had only remembered the party early that evening, just before she was about to go to sleep at her friend Mel's apartment. By the time she arrived at Peter's houce, most of the guests had already come. Still, there was enough room in the driveway for her to park her car. She knocked on the door once, and then again when Peter didn't answer. Finally, he opened the door.

"Megan!" he said. He was clearly surprised to see her.

"Hi," she said.

"Come on in!"

She handed him a shrimp cocktail on her way in through the door.

"Hope no-one's allergic," she said.

"Wow, thank you!" he said, admiring the platter.

She was pleased. She had stopped at a grocery market to buy the platter, even though she was already late. It wouldn't have been worth it if he didn't like it. She liked feeling like she still knew him after all. He set the platter on the kitchen table with all the other snacks the guests had brought. None of the guests were downstairs, and loud noises eminated from the floor above.

"We're just upstairs, watching the game," Peter said as Megan untied her shoes. "I'll see you up there, unless you need a hand?"

"I'm fine."

Peter walked up the stairs. Megan slipped her right shoe off first, careful not to bend her foot upward the way she always did when she took her shoes off before the accident. As she slipped off the other shoe, she heard Peter upstairs.

"Hey guys, my friend Megan is. . ."

His voice, and the sound of the TV, faded. Peter must have closed the door, she thought. Why would he do that? She made her way carefully up the stairs and through the door to the media room.



"Megan, how are--?"

"Come on in--"

"Sit down--"

"Have a seat--"

"--how are you--?"

"Nice to meet you!"

Peter's friends, about ten in total, greeted her in unison, the moment she entered. They sat on a half-ring of sofas surrounding the TV, watching a hockey game. The couches were packed, save for a big, conspicuous gap between Peter and Jim from the mall.

"Hi everyone," she said.

"Have a seat!" Jim said, pointing to the empty spot on the couch. "We made room."

She moved to her seat quickly, trying not to block anyone's view of the TV. The room was dark, and she nearly tripped over a guest's leg.

"Oh no! Are you okay? I'm sorry!" the guest said.

"Yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine."

She say down.

"You like hockey?" Jim asked.

"Enough, I guess," she said.

"Canucks verses Oilers. Third period, score's--AWW!"

"AWW!" the others said.

"Reeeee-jected," Peter said.

"Aw shit!" JIm said. "So close. So close."

"How the hell does he get away with this all of a sudden?" another guest, a girl, said.


"Not sucking, that's what!" the girl said.

"He doesn't suck," someone else said.

"He so sucks!"

"He's not the best."

"They've had him all season, he hasn't done shit all."

"Well, he did do shit all th-- OH!"

"OOHH!" they all said.

Megan's spot wasn't as big as it looked, and she was uncomfortaable between Jim and Peter. She actually didn't enjoy hockey at all. It was boring to her, and she started to wonder if she should have just crashed at Mel's place after all. It was another one of those times when she went without sleep for days, and the fatigue was starting to hit her. The room seemed to spin a little as the game wore on, and it was harder for her to keep her eyes open and focused.

The light came on suddenly. The game was over. Megan lifted her head from the couch. Everyone was standing.

"Don't get up, Megan!" Peter said.

He stood at the entranceway of the media room.

"Where are you going?" Megan asked.

"We're playing werewolf downstairs," he said. "But don't get up. SOme of the guys are gonna stay up here and play Halo."

Jim and the girl were connecting a game console to the TV.

"Do you play Halo, Megan?" Jim asked.

Megan didn't like how curious Jim was. She turn to the door, but Peter was already gone. The girl placed a contoller in Megan's ahnd, and the five other guests who stayed upstairs all took seats on the couch as the game began.

"Like Halo?" Jim asked again.

"Never played it," she said.

"You've never played Halo deathmatch?" the girl said. "You're missing out!"

"I'm more of a Metal Gear person myself," Megan said. "So how do I start?"

The girl took Megan's controller, pressed a few buttons, and handed it back to Megan.

"Just use the d-pad to type in your name," the girl said. "Whatever you want."

After a momeent of thought, and longer fiddling with the buttons, she entered the name of her player: Achilles. No-one asked whether this had anything to do with her foot. Within that very minute, the game began. Achilles and his partner, thrilla_in_vanilla-- who together made up team O'Doyle-- stood side by side on a beach near an otherworldly ocean. Their enemies, the Lesbian Seagulls, lay hidden in the wastes beyond. Guns in hand, they moved forward along the beach, the thrilla in long strides and impossible leaps, Achilles more cautiously. When thrilla was well ahead, he begun to shine a bright orange. He was under attack. He tried to dodge, but was down quickly.

"Leeessssbian Seagullllllll!" cried their enemies. They would be coming for Achilles next.

Achilles strode to a rock formation and-- after Megan asked which button made her guy crouch-- hid behind it. She waited, long enough for the trilla to return.

"Megan, where are you?" the girl who handed her the contoller asked.

"You're on my team, right?"

"Of course I am."

Megan, who briefly considered pointing out that the Lesbian Seagulls were both guys, instead simply mentioned that she couldn't ay anything that would compromise her to her enemies, who were within earshot.

"Well, I need some fucking help," the girl said.

Achilles rose and marched toward the plastered-on sun to the west(she assumed) following the faint sound of gunfire. Then, after much taunting between the players, he appeared. He was distant atff first, and Achilles could not tell if he even was a seagull, let alone lesbian. Quickly, and while still distant, the figure opened fire, hitting Achilles three times with a bath of orange glow. There was a rapid beeping sound that had to be Achilles' warning system. In a panic, he ducked-- this act, while accidental, helped him evade another stream of deadly energy from the opponent's gun. He circled while still crouched, searching for his enemy, eventually spotting the villain on a quick, straight approach. Megan could now clearly read his floating nametag, King_Dubya. She pressed a button, and before she was even sure the gun had fired, the king was slain.

"Aww!" one of the guys cried.

"O'Doyle Rules!" the girl said.

"Nice shot, Megan!" Jim said. It was the first time he had commented on anyone's markmanship that evening.

"Come on Megan, say it!" the girl said.

"O'Doyle Rules!"

Still unsure of how she had done what she had done, Megan vowed nonetheless that Achilles would vanquish the other foe on team Lesbian Segull-- Jim. Even if this wasn't his nametag, she knew by elimination that he must be the only other player in the game.

Unfortunately, killing Jim proved difficult. He was a talented player, and despite her best efforts, he always managed to escape Achille's clutches. The game went on for more than an hour, and Megan's joy og glory had faded. The hour was not without its conquests-- Achilles had slain the king three more times, to the cheers of her compatriots-- but those conquests were hollow next to the greater prize. The combat was exhausting, and Megan, by the shaking of her hands and the shortness of her nerves, could feel hunger coming on. But she could not yield.

Peter came upstairs to see how she was doing.

"Fuck me!" Megan said, throwing the contoller onto her lapjust a Peter entered.

"Jesus, chill out!" he team-mate said.

"Sorry..." said Megan.

"Hey Megan," Peter said. "You sound pissed."

Megan sighed.

"Yeah, I'm just kickin' everyone's ass is all," Jim said. "You'd be pissed too if you had to go up against someone this talented."

"You, talented?" Peter said.

"Hells yeah," Jim said.

"How you doin', Meg?" Peter said.

"She's kickin' ass too!" Jim said, overjoyed.

Megan lenaed her head back briefly, eyes closed. She didn't seem pleased with Jim's compliment.

"Are you hungry?" Peter asked of Megan.

"A little, but I can wait," she said. "How's the shrimp?"

"Good," he said. "We're all eating up down there. You should join us. It's no problem if she leaves, right?"

"No, we're just between games," Jim said.

"In a few minutes," Meagn said. "I still gotta kick Jim's Lesbian Seagull ass here."

"Really?" Peter said. "Okay, uh... Can I borrow Jim for a minute?"

Jim looked up.

"What is it?"

Jim stood up and followed Peter into an adjacent room, while the others waited for him to return. Their conversation was inaudible at first, but Megan, facing away from the two on the couch, was gradually able to hear.

"Look, I have..."

"I know you have, man."

"I have been...I've been trying all night."

"Why say that?"


"That you're kicking ass?"

"'Cause I am!"


"It's not like her hands are hurt, man."


"Besides, she's kicking ass too. I meant that. I mean, for a beginner."

"But you know how competitive she is, right? Right?"

"Of course I do. So what?"

"Look, she won't tell this to anyone, but... look, I really think she needs to get some rest."

The conversation was inaudible from that point.
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