Monday, January 31, 2011

NASA Photo

The care package from Earth had arrived. Last week, Japan launched the robotic Kounotori2 spacecraft to bring needed supplies, including food, to the International Space Station (ISS). Kountori2 launched from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center a little over a week ago reached the ISS in low Earth late last week. Pictured above, Kountori2 approached the ISS and was about to be grabbed by astronauts with the Canadarm2 and attached to the Harmony Module. In the above picture as seen through a window on the ISS, the limb of the Earth is visible, including white clouds, blue water, and various tan colored landforms. In addition to launches including humans, as many as ten robotic spacecraft may be launched to the space station this year, potentially including spacecraft from Russia, Europe, Japan, and a private company in the USA.

New Unions in Egypt

From Firedoglake:
Barely reported in the West, among the crowds at Tahrir Square last Sunday, a new trade union confederation was announced, the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (FETU), which immediately issued a call for a general-strike. The call has been widely taken up, and many reports now link the uprising to unity with the workers, particularly in Suez, where the battle has been fought most intensely with state police. The new confederation has the support of the International Trades Union Confederation and the AFL-CIO.

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the general strike call initiated from workers in Suez. Whoever initiated it, the new trade union organizations are jumping on board...

Meanwhile, layoffs of Egyptian workers in the Suez industrial zone have been increasing of late, with international companies replacing these workers with foreign imported workers from India and Thailand, causing much resentment, and even supposed notice from the Egyptian government. Now, companies are starting to pull foreign workers out of the area, as the uprising and protest in Egypt does not appear to be dying down and thousands of foreign workers and other foreign nationals, including from the U.S., are crowding Cairo airport trying to get out of the country before a feared explosion.

The contradictions of Egyptian society are most intense in the port city of Suez, home to the Suez Canal, and a major industrial center.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Middle East

Another great image from the Middle East. This one is Reuters, via Al Jazeera. I'm fascinated by the iconography of demonstrations. Here the symbols are traditional: the Hitler moustache and swastika on Mubarak, the child's hammer and sickle face mask. If you look two pictures down, you will find someone using V for Vendetta (the comic or the movie) and the Domino Theory, which comes (as far as I know) from the US and the Vietnam Era. In between is the guy with a sign in English saying Egypt equals freedom. What we have here is an international language and iconography. Demonstrators are signaling to the world.


I suppose I ought to update what I'm doing, though I've been putting most of my daily trivia posts on facebook.

We're having a snowy winter, though nothing like the East Coast. Apparently the snow in the East and in Great Britain is due to global warming. The lack of arctic ice cover is changing weather patterns.

I am writing a fair amount: two new hwarhath stories and a new Lydia Duluth story. My agent has Lydia Duluth story # 6. # 7 and 8 are awaiting final revision, and I am maybe a third of the way through # 9.

Because I like lists, here is a list of Lydia Duluth stories:

"Stellar Harvest"
"The Cloud Man"
"Moby Quilt"
All novelettes, published in Asimov's.

Tomb of the Fathers
Novel, published by Aqueduct Press.

"Checkerboard Planet"
All novelettes, finished but not published.

"Planet of the White People"
In progress.

My writing group likes "Tunnels" best of the unpublished stories. It's about homelessness and has a wonderful Goxhat accountant in it. I try not to praise my own work too much, but the Goxhat are amazing. They have appeared in two published stories, "The Glutton" and "Knapsack Poems." They are also in "Iridium" and "Planet of the White People." They are aliens, and they are very sweet and cute.

Egyptian Photo of the Day

Anothe copyrighted photo. This one is from the Foreign Policy website and is credited to Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images.

NASA Photo of the Day

Celebrating 7 years on the surface of the Red Planet, Mars exploration rover Opportunity now stands near the rim of 90 meter wide Santa Maria crater. Remarkably, Opportunity and its fellow rover Spirit were initially intended for a 3 month long primary mission. Still exploring, the golf cart-sized robot and shadow (far right) appear in the foreground of this panoramic view of its current location. The mosaic was constructed using images from the rover's navigation camera. On its 7 year anniversary, Opportunity can boast traversing a total of 26.7 kilometers along the martian surface. After investigating Santa Maria crater, controllers plan to have Opportunity resume a long-term trek toward Endurance crater, a large, 22 kilometer diameter crater about 6 kilometers from Santa Maria. During coming days, communication with the rover will be more difficult as Mars moves close to alignment with the Sun as seen from planet Earth's perspective.

Friday, January 28, 2011

V for Vendetta in Cairo

I don't usually download pictures that are copyrighted, but I couldn't resist this one in The Guardian.


The Tunisian government has fallen after massive demonstrations. There are massive demonstrations going on in Egypt right now, covered live by Al Jazeera. There were demonstrations in Yemen yesterday and demonstrations in Jordan today, all demanding fundimental change.

Per The Guardian today:
But despite the talk of a "Twitter revolution" it is worth remembering that the specific events that helped fuel this uprising (in Egypt) happened offline. On top of the long-burning grievances of political oppression and economic hardship, it was a 2008 strike by textile workers in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla al-Kubra that fired the imagination of many of those on the streets today. The three people shot dead by security forces during the Mahalla unrest on 16 April inspired an online movement which took its name from the date.

The traditional working class from all corners of the country have continued to provoke and inspire dissident activity ever since, occupying pavements outside parliament for weeks on end to highlight the devastating impact of the neoliberal reforms pursued by the ruling NDP party. Some trade unions – most notably the real estate tax collectors – have gone on to break free from state control.

Away from the economic concerns, anger at police corruption and brutality has been at the heart of the new wave of protest. "We are all Khaled Said," a Facebook group dedicated to the memory of a young Alexandrian man beaten to death by police last year, quickly gained a huge following. Its message of solidarity against the security forces attracted young people who had never before taken part in political activism. "I had never joined any protests before. I didn't believe in the people leading them," said Adef Husseini, a call centre worker in Cairo who took to the street on Tuesday. "Now, though, the people are the leaders."

But what started on Tuesday with a set of specific demands – the resignation of the interior minister, the end of emergency law, and the imposition of a two-term limit on the presidency – has coalesced into something far more radical and brought countless more people, whose latent hostility to the Mubarak regime had never before translated into concrete action, into confrontation with the state.


Featured in this artist's illustration, NASA's NanoSail-D finally unfurled a very thin, 10 square meter reflective sail on January 20th, becoming the first solar sail spacecraft in low Earth orbit. Often considered the stuff of science fiction, sailing through space was suggested 400 years ago by astronomer Johannes Kepler who observed comet tails blown by the solar wind. Modern solar sail spacecraft designs, like NanoSail-D or the Japanese interplanetary spacecraft IKAROS, rely on the small but continuous pressure from sunlight itself for thrust. Glinting in the sunlight as it circles planet Earth, the NanoSail-D solar sail will periodically be bright and easily visible to the eye. In fact, skygazers are urged to participate in an ongoing contest to capture images of NanoSail-D. The images will help NASA monitor the satellite before it reenters the atmosphere in April or May.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

NASA Photo of the Day

Gorgeous spiral galaxy NGC 3521 is a mere 35 million light-years distant, toward the constellation Leo. Spanning some 50,000 light-years, its central region is shown in this dramatic image, constructed from data drawn from the Hubble Legacy Archive. The close-up view highlights this galaxy's characteristic multiple, patchy, irregular spiral arms laced with dust and clusters of young, blue stars. In constrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms. A relatively bright galaxy in planet Earth's sky, NGC 3521 is easily visible in small telescopes, but often overlooked by amateur imagers in favor of other Leo spiral galaxies, like M66 and M65.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Recent Reading

I read Jack McDevitt's new novel Echo, which I went right through. He writes an odd combination of cozy mystery and space opera. This book, not my favorite, is mostly cozy mystery with only a little space opera at the end. I say it's an odd combination, because cozies rely on the familiar and the safe. The murder that happens is not safe, but the world into which the murder intrudes is one of small towns, country houses, comfortable neighbors, adequate incomes, where life goes on (mostly) in more or less ordinary ways, without large and frightening changes.

Space opera, on the other hand, is about huge distances, vast expanses of time, change and danger.

In order to be cozy, McDevitt's books have to give us the familiar: characters with recognizable Anglo-Saxon names, societies very much like our own -- but set in the far future, when humans have faster-than-light travel.

I enjoy his books, even though I don't believe that a society with FTL travel will be like our society, and I don't expect the future to be peopled with humans with Western European names.

The other book I have been reading is Iain M. Banks' most recent novel, Surface Detail. His space operas are full of horrifying violence and cruelty. I am well into this one and thinking, "Why am I reading this?" If I want to read about torture and murder, I will read the news; and I do try to keep up on the news -- not the human interest crimes, but the political and economic crimes. They are horrible and enraging. I don't much want to read such material for entertainment.

The message of Banks' novels seems to be, This is what war is really like; this is what capitalism is really like. What else is new? I figure fiction ought to give a new insight on the world, and best of all -- a way to change the world. Not a complete blueprint for utopia, but ideas for a better life on a better-run planet.

So is this the current problem for science fiction? Are visions of the future either too horrible to contemplate or unconvincingly cozy?

Probably not. There is a lot of science fiction published. But coming up with a convincing vision of future that is not utterly depressing is difficult.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

SF in Trouble

This is from an interview with Ted Chiang, though this quote comes from Gavin Grant:
“Science fiction is one of the biggest threads in popular entertainment,” Grant says. “There are lots of big movies, lots of TV shows based on science fiction premises, but science fiction is having this real trouble looking into the future and imagining what will happen. To look a decade or a hundred years in the future is very difficult, and there are a couple of outs that writers have been using. One, they say it’s too difficult to look into the future so we don’t have to, we can just write fantasy. Or they just look in the past and write steampunk and things like that. Don’t get me wrong, I like these things, but I think one of the things Ted does is to extrapolate rigorously and somewhat harshly, in a way that people can recognize from the life they’re living.“

The quote interests me, because it answers part of my question, where is SF going? What has been happening in the field? It's a better answer than the one I gave in the previous post.