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Reader Request Week 2017 #4: Haters and How I Deal With Them

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 04/12/2017 - 11:34
For this one I received a couple of email requests, and I’m going to conflate them into a paraphrased question which goes like this: Your site motto is “taunting the tauntable,” so why don’t you go after your haters more? And I’m all, ooooh, so let’s talk about my haters a bit. My haters generally […]

Spring Has Sprung, 2017

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 17:14
Some pictures from the Scalzi Compound, today, when spring was in bloom.

Reader Request Week 2017 #3: Utopias

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 11:47
Ken Baker asks: If you don’t mind a question about another writer’s work: The Culture in Iain M. Banks’ series of novels is depicted as a Utopia. There is no need for money or laws, virtually any material thing anyone wants is available for the asking, everyone is beautiful and lives a long, happy life […]

Today’s New Books and ARCs, 4/10/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 04/10/2017 - 17:02
Catching up on some books that arrived while I was away on tour. What here looks intriguing to you? Tell me in the comments!

Reader Request Week 2017 #2: Those Darn Millennials

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 04/10/2017 - 15:27
Srs asks: Many people over a certain age have the opinion that Millennials think they know it all/have overly inflated self-esteem/etc because they were given participation trophies when they were young. Do you think this opinion has any basis in fact? Nah. One, of course, an older generation being angry at the Millennials for the […]

Reader Request Week 2017 #1: Punching Nazis

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 04/10/2017 - 10:31
It’s time to begin this year’s Reader Request Week, and let’s start with something punchy, shall we? Janne Peltonen asks: What do you think of the whole ‘punching Nazis in the face’ phenomenon? I found it very confusing. It seemed to me to be mostly about performance (‘let’s show the power-hungry extremists that we resist’) […]

Those seven planets... what a universe

Contrary Brin - Sun, 04/09/2017 - 18:38
At a time when public confidence is (ironically) plummeting, we see example after example of our society's competence and reasons for confidence.

But first: does anyone know of some public event or resort along the path of the August Solar Eclipse that might need an astrophysicist-speaker-Sci Fi author and former solar astronomer (!) to liven up the festivities? Entertaining sci-blather R-Us! (See more, below, about the Big Event.)

== Goldilocks and the Seven Medium-Sized Meatballs ==

The NASA announcement of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a nearby red star, five of them at least arguably within that star's Continuously Habitable Zone (CHZ) or Goldilocks (just right) Zone  is wondrously thought provoking in several ways:

1) Just the awe and wonder of it. And how amazing it is that the transit method has found so many systems, when it can only catch 5% of what's out there.
2) Note the scale of this system. The star puts out 0.05% as much light and heat as our sun. All of the planets orbit within the same distance range as Jupiter's outer moons orbit our system's giant planet.  In fact, this star is only a little more than a giant planet.  
3) Ponder what science fiction foretold. This is essentially the mini solar system that Arthur C. Clarke envisioned surrounding an ignited Jupiter, in his novel 2010.  (This is Arthur's Centennial year.)
4) With that in mind, ponder Goldfinger's Rule.  One planet in a Goldilocks Zone is happenstance. Two might be coincidence.  Three....?  Five...?  I'm not "sayin'"... just hinting. Remember the 'Verse' from Firefly?
5) Before you get excited, remember these planets are likely to be tidal locked, with one face permanently starward.  And tiny red stars tend to be Flare Stars, intermittently burping radiation. So any life would face challenges.
6) This system would seem an excellent target for some kinds of exoplanet direct viewing missions. Advantages:  Well-understood orbits and a very dim star, allowing better contrast. Disadvantages: planets are very close to their star and hard to separate... only the system is close to us, so that's partly offset.
7) Their sun is a dwarf star. We're looking for family members in a "goldilocks Zone." What else could we call these seven worlds but Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy... and...
8) Should we aim SETI scopes to look in that direction?  Yep! Should we send "messages"? Nope.
== Earth based science ==
The new, geostationary weather satellite GOES16 offers gorgeous views of Earth.
(I must point out that the Bushes - both of them - sabotaged Earth science, especially by NASA and NOAA... but nothing like the slashing we are seeing from the Trump Administration, which has cancelled four weather-and-resource satellites and ordered NASA to stop all mention of studying Earth as a planet. 

(Why would anyone -- even fanatics servile to coal barons -- do such shortsighted and blatantly corrupt things?)
Back to progress... they can't stop it entirely. NASA has contracted for a new type of spacecraft that will refuel satellites in Low Earth Orbit and also provide boost to new trajectories. Downstream: the possibility of servicing higher orbits and even swapping out old, worn-out or obsolete parts.
The NASA astronauts who fly aboard Boeing's new spaceship will wear sleek, blue suits that are lighter, simpler and more comfortable than the bulky orange gear of the space shuttle era. 

A concept that was formerly only in science fiction: Japan's space agency JAXA launched an electrodynamic tether to catch, grab, decelerate and dispose of orbiting debris. This method, pioneered by the father of space tetherdynamics, Joseph Carroll, was illustrated in the first chapter of my novel, Existence. And way back in the 1980s, in my short story “Tank Farm Dynamo.” (Alas, late news. This attempted tether deployment failed.  When will they learn? If you want tethers to go, ask Joe.)
Kewl images of telescopes... taken at long range by telescopes in space.
==The Promises - and Perils - of Asteroids ==
Two upcoming asteroid missions: A newly announced NASA mission will send a spacecraft to Psyche - an asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. “With a diameter of 210km, Psyche 16 is among the 10 largest objects in the asteroid belt, and it's especially interesting because it is metallic, composed largely of iron and nickel. Scientists think the intriguing object may be the exposed core of a planet that was once roughly the size of Mars but lost its outer, rocky layers due to a series of violent collisions.”
Another NASA mission will visit the heretofore unexplored swarms of "Trojan" asteroids that have accumulated at the L4 and L5 points of Jupiter's orbit around the Sun.
It’s already clear that the Trump Administration will cancel NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) – sending robots to grab asteroid chunks and take them to lunar orbit for human analysis. They will replace it with the longtime Republican obsession, to re-do Apollo landings on the Moon, along with Russia, China, India, Europe and other wannabe copycats, eager for footprints on an orb with absolutely no near-term useful traits. This article tries to make it seem that ARM was similarly pointless. It wasn’t. It had dozens of excellent scientific and commercial goals, some of which might make our children spectacularly rich. Ironically, that is anathema to Republicans. Expect more propaganda like this. 

Late news: They just cancelled the mission to explore asteroids for resources that could threaten Earth-based resource extractor-parasites.  Just sayin'.
To be clear, it’s not just the spectacular riches that should take us to asteroids, but their potential threat.  Watch these videos about possible impact effects. Look into contributing to the B612 Foundation, which aims to protect us from giant rocks!  (I am on the Board of Advisors.) 

The lesson?  Elect dinosaurs and risk becoming like dinosaurs.
And yet, am I hostile to endeavors like Moon Express, which aim to win the Google Lunar XPrize, by landing a privately funded, mobile lab on the lunar surface by December 31? Of course not! Good luck to them and to the other contestants! May they prove me wrong about the dearth of near-term value to be found there. Moreover, we’d be fools not to keep sending scientific bots down to our nearest neighbor. At NIAC we have founded many prospective mission technologies, including robots that might rappel down into lava tube caves. Others would use mirrors to redirect sunlight to the bottom of polar craters and power rovers into that dark, possibly icy realm.
None of that is the same thing as redirecting NASA’s core efforts into a gigantic, multi-billion dollar manned moon landing boondoggle. Again, let Russia, China, India, Europe and other wannabe copycats chase second-place pride with footprints. I’ve lifted my gaze to Mars. And to get there, we’ll need to get rich and experienced with the real stepping stones.
== Eclipses and other wonders ==
The August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse will be the first visible only in the US since the American Revolution, and the first total solar eclipse to sweep coast-to-coast in 99 years. A total eclipse will be seen from a path over 62 miles (100 km) wide, and will last for two minutes or more. Happily, a partial eclipse will be visible from all of North America.  Totality will span a band 100km wide from Oregon to Missouri to South Carolina.
A cool Gizmodo article forecasts some of the scientific wonders we can expect, in 2017.  Including more gravity waves from LIGO, two new satellites that should appraise thousands of new planets, a first close look at the Milky Way’s super black hole, amazing bio possibilities with CRISPR tech, and yes, climate news. Watch the cultists bray for several years that “there’s no warming!” because 2016 streaked to such a record high (after five other record highs) that there will be some reversion to mean… which they will interpret as “global cooling!”
While I am generally deeply skeptical of UFO stuff, for many reasons, especially logical ones, I do keep a mind-section open to new inputs. And this one is kinda creepy. 
Axiom, the new Journal of Interstellar Studies, contains the following papers: Kelvin F. Long, Is the Concept of (Stapledon) Universal Mentality Credible? Tong B. Tang, Origin of Life, Inflation and Quantum Entanglement. 

Oh and -- David Brin, How Might Artificial Intelligence Come About: Different Approaches and their Implications for Life in the Universe.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Today’s View From a Window

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 04/09/2017 - 15:36
Not from a hotel window, from one of my house’s windows. Because I get to be home for a whole week! Whatever shall I do with myself? (Sleep, mostly.) Also, remember that I am doing the Reader Request Week starting tomorrow, so get your questions in — here’s the place to do that. And also, […]

View From a Hotel Window 4/8/17: Madison

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 04/08/2017 - 16:34
A lovely, sunny day in the Midwest. Tonight Madisonians and those who choose to come into the city will have the opportunity to see me at 7pm at the Central Library. Why not take advantage of the opportunity? It will be lovely to see you! Tomorrow, I am home. For a whole week! It’s Holy […]

View From a Hotel Window 4/7/17: Northampton

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 15:49
Perhaps the most inspiring view yet! Don’t worry, the hotel room itself is pretty nice. I’m in Northampton at the moment but tonight’s event is in South Hadley, at Odyssey Bookstore, at 7pm, with me, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch. Our plan as I understand it is to sit around and talk about the writing […]

Reader Request Week 2017: Get Your Questions In!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 07:47
Next week, rather than being on tour for some or all of the week, I will be home the entire time, which makes it the perfect time to have my annual Reader Request Week! So let’s do this thing, shall we? For those of you just catching up, Reader Request Week is when you suggest topics […]

View From a Hotel Window, 4/6/17: Concord

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 04/06/2017 - 12:44
Today, another parking lot, but an extra-fancy parking lot because it has Tesla chargers in it. I’m getting all the swank, people. Tonight: Gibson’s Bookstore in currently rainy Concord, New Hampshire. 7pm. My understanding is that there will be pie. Oh, yes. Pie. Tomorrow: South Hadley, Massachusetts, and Odyssey Bookstore, where, if you attend the […]
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