Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"The Future Will Destroy You"

What I'm listening to nowadays:

"The future will destroy you with tragic new inventions, to keep you on a chain. To be your everything. The future will destroy you with complex competitions..."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Best of space photos

We're living in a golden age for people who love space imagery. Between the constellation of unmanned probes and rovers zipping around our solar system and crawling across the face of Mars, the Hubble Telescope's views of our galactic neighborhood and beyond, and the International Space Station looking down from low orbit, each week brings at least one or two new images that drive home the wonder and scale and sheer beauty of the universe. Or at least the beauty that we humans and our young machine ecology perceive.

So, with out further ado, my favorite space-related imagery of recent years. All photos courtesy of NASA and JPL.

Saturn's icy moon, Enceladus

Soyuz capsules attached to the ISS

The Shuttle Endeavor attached to the ISS

The Hubble's shot of the Horse Head Nebula from earlier this year

Another Hubble shot

The south pole of Mars, as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
The aftermath of a recent solar eruption, as captured in UV by  NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory

Astronaut Tracey Caldwell floating in International Space Station's observation copula not long after its installation

Dry ice mounds near the Martian south pole

Jupiter's frozen moon Europa
The great rift of Mars and the largest volcanoes in the solar system

The Curiosity rover's self-portrait

Space station and space shuttle amid the vastness

Cassini's view of Saturn's north pole and its great hurricane

A massive solar flare in UV from May this year. Powerful enough to have caused wide-spread damage on Earth, if it had taken place a week earlier.

Venus transiting the sun last month. Solar Dynamics Observatory.

A rover-eye view of the local Martian landscape

Friday, October 25, 2013

Braids of plasma and magnetism

A 30,000 kilometer braid of twisting plasma flung out by the sun, and ley lines of magnetism boiling across the surface in the aftermath. All of it caught in gorgeous HD at various intensities of ultraviolet out toward the high end of the spectrum.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Who we were

Our ideas about it keep evolving as more fossil evidence allows us to refine this picture of our ancestral selves.

BBC News - Blow to multiple human species idea:

'via Blog this'

Monday, October 07, 2013

Three barbers

During the year I spent in South Korea there were three older Korean ladies who ran the barbershop I visited every two weeks. My last name, apparently, was a source of serious vexation for them. They seemed utterly certain that there had to be a connection between the surname and my heritage. Which isn't the case to the best of my knowledge. As far as I know I received my genes from recent ancestors mostly in Europe, with some from Lebanon on the maternal side of the  family lineage. That explanation, however, failed to carry water with the barbers.

After an initial round of very direct and repeated questing - and my admittedly incomplete Cliff-Notes summation on the naming conventions of England as I understood them – my conversational relationship with the barbershop trio settled into a kind of cat-and-mouse exercise in inquiry. Each biweekly visit kicked off an animated dialog in Hangungmal, in which it sounded like they were reviewing the state of the debate to date, while one of them shaved my head with the clippers. By the time it was time to take warm water and a straight-razor the back of my hairy neck, another one of the trio would introduce a new round of indirect questions designed to ultimately unearth some familial or at least significant geographic connection to black America. Nevada during the 80s and early 90s was a pretty pale and homogeneous place, so I had to answer in the negative for the last one, but they persisted.

The thing is, they were really good at it. Sometimes we’d be five minutes into a conversation on food, the weather, or things that people do on vacation before I’d realize that we were again touching on race and ethnicity as they seemed to perceive it.

This went on for about six months, with the trio demonstrating an amazing ability to continue generating novel avenues of conversational investigation to get at what they seemed to see as a hidden truth. Eventually, however, the matter seemed to sink into a category labeled Foreign Madness of Americans Beyond Explanation. Something that they simply strove to accept, no matter how strange or puzzling. There would be some suspicious glances, as though I was hiding something from them, and the occasional muttering under ones breath in Korean, but for the most part the questioning ceased. Then we got a new platoon sergeant. A short, but powerfully built Sergeant First Class who had black skin and the last name of White. After that any veneer of restraint in the barbershop was gone. The matter had been promoted from Beyond Explanation, to Foreign Strangeness that Must be Understood NOW. The questioning was fast, strident, and non-stop, and only ended for me when I hopped the freedom bird back to the States a month later.

On one level the whole thing was amusing and even charming at times. It made for a nice distraction from the often brutal weather, and the reality of the famine next door in the North, which claimed over a million lives and sent a pulse of desperate defectors through the labyrinth of rusting landmines and razor wire that is the DMZ. On another, I remain frustrated and baffled. Did I ever really understand the conversations? What were the barbers actually thinking? Did any of my explanations of US culture and history penetrate? Were their assumptions and premises really as simple as they sounded? Why the hell did this topic demand such a level of passion on their part, especially in a racially homogeneous country like South Korea? They always danced around that issue when I asked. Would I have heard the same questions if I’d been getting my hair trimmed in downtown Seoul, rather than by three working class women in a camp out in the sticks six miles away from North Korea?

All I know for certain is that if Ewah University or any other Korean institution of higher education ever needs three assistant professors of rhetoric and inquiry, I’d be happy to make a recommendation.