tiger

ellestra


Thoughts, ramblings and other stuff


Waiting for the real action to start
winged
ellestra
I saw Mockingjay Part 1 last weekend. It was OK but I have to admit I agree with the BBC review. I still haven't read the books so my feelings about characters are just coloured by the movies and they did really poor job at making me care about Katniss love interests. They have so little character development that I only know that Gale is supposed to be angry and Peeta nice because book fans told me so. Usually they are just background for Katniss. There isn't any emotional stake in choosing between them and I had to work really hard to remember why is she getting so upset about Peeta. The sad part is that they do better job with almost any other character - from Caesar to Heavensbee and from Rue to Beetee and even president Coin who we just met. But for some reason the characters that supposed to be most emotionally important to Katniss are also most bland - Peeta, Gale, Primrose and Katniss' mother (Do you know she still doesn't have a name listed? She's just credited as Katniss' mother). It'd be easier for me to care if Katniss was obsessing about Cinna than Peeta.

Add to this that this is a filler movie - just a set up for Part 2 when the real action is to happen - and the whole thing feels flat. It lacks a real stakes. The most emotionally moving part is Katniss and Finnick's PTSD. Luckily the conflict that is being set up is compelling. They do a good job showing both the plight of people and their persistence to fight back and the propaganda battle between the sides was easily the best part of the whole film (and the facelessness of the Peacekeepers against the all the faces of the oppressed was pure propaganda moment - Battleship Potemkin style). So even though this is a filler I'm pretty excited for the next part.

And the song is awesome.

Stop worrying and fly away
muppets
ellestra
I saw Birdman and I really liked it. It was much funnier than I expected. The obvious hook is the story of an famous ex-superhero actor trying to do some real acting and the meta layer of Michael Keaton playing him. The meta goes even deeper as the current era of the popularity of superhero movies and blockbusters in general is referenced. My favourite moment was when multiple actors are suggested and they are all unavailable because they are playing superheroes - from Robert Downey junior to Jeremy Renner. Of course when they find the actor it turns out to be played Edward Norton which makes it even funnier as he was Hulk once too. I know that they really wanted Michael Keaton to play in Birdman because of the Batman past. I don't know if they picked other actors based on their involvement in the genre but the fact that Norton, Emma Stone and even Naomi Watts (she was Jet Girl - it counts) also were in comic book adaptations really makes it feel like everyone has been in one (and if you also consider a big budget production - Andrea Riseborough was in Oblivion and Zach Galifianakis was of course in all the Hangover movies and Muppets). Like if you can name someone they must've been a super action hero or at least in a film with one.

[Birdman spoilers]
This is also a story about popularity and what it means in the time when everyone has an ability to take photos and videos and spread them worldwide at any moment. You are never out of view and everything will land on you tube or be retweeted and follow you like the Birdman is following Riggan. It's hard to escape the perception if the most famous role when everyone keeps seeing you as that role all the time. Both in admiration - like fans constantly asking for pictures and disdain - as people dismissing him as that critic did without even trying to judge his play on it's own merits. The fame is inescapable and so is the perception of you it created.

Birdman is also the constant temptation to go back to that level of fame. Riggan is obviously missing it and feels that it might've made a mistake when he gave it up. But he also hates it - he writes, directs and stars in the Broadway play to prove he's a real actor and he avoids all social media that constantly reminds everyone who he used to be. He wants to be taken seriously and it bothers him that people who are taken seriously are now famous for being superheroes. So he tries to ignore Birdman but he also secretly enjoys using the superpowers just like he hates his fame but uses it to get the play happen. And when he finally admits he misses it and for a moment a superhero action invades his world with it's giant monsters and sounds it's like The Avengers landing in the middle of Woody Allen's film. It really shows how unreal and over the top these blockbusters are but also how much more awesome than reality they seem. That's the moment Riggan gives up and that let's him enjoy it even thought it's because he decides to finish it once and for all. It takes near death experience that only made his resemblance of Birdman and his fame grow that makes stop trying to fight it and accept he cannot run away from it. And when he no longer cares to be bothered by it he can embrace it and have fun with it.

We only see him using superpowers when no one is around or at least we never see them from anyone else's point of view. It can all be in his mind - telekinesis and flying are all framed in such a way that he could be just imaging it. Until the end when his daughter looks up and smiles and even though we don't see it it finally seems like someone sees the superhero in him.

Of course there are faults in this film. The whole character of Mike is made of cliches about actors in general but especially Broadway ones. So is the daughter with her addiction. And most of all so is their romance. You just know it's coming just as a plot to make the dad feel even worse the moment they are introduced. Of course that's also true about the critic too. And I practically rolled my eyes at Lesley and Laura kiss. The only good part of that whole thing was Lesley kicking Mike out because of the whole stage rape attempt. No means no even when you share a vagina. But the truth is all of this is just background to Riggan story so it's painted with very broad stokes. His part is what makes the standard story of action star trying to prove his a real actor interesting and fun to watch.

Fantasy appreciation
winged
ellestra
I almost forgot about this so before it's too late here are the winners of The 2014 World Fantasy Awards:

Best Novel
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Best Novella
Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages

Best Short Fiction
The Prayer of Ninety Cats by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Best Anthology
Dangerous Women by Gardner Dozois & George R.R. Martin

Best Collection
The Ape's Wife and Other Stories by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Best Artist
Charles Vess

Special Award - Professional
Irene Gallo for Art Direction of Tor.com

Special Award - Professional
William K. Schafer, Subterranean Press

Special Award - Non-Professional
Kate Baker, Neil Clarke, & Sean Wallace, Clarkesworld

And because I'm almost 2 weeks late here's an extra - Ursula Le Guin's acceptance speech for National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of her contribution to "American literary heritage".


You can read about Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) thing on marysue. I was trying to have nice things here.

Comet Rider
slingers
ellestra
The last week in life of Philae lander was full of danger and excitement. I was waiting with this post until we know more about its ultimate fate and not as good as we hoped but not as bad as it seemed for a while. It did land, it's still on the comet and it sent a lot of useful data but for now it's in hibernation and it may never wake up.

It all started very well - perfectly documented in the xkcd comic of the day (here's frame by frame version). Philae landed perfectly on the chosen spot. I managed to time my day perfectly to be able to see the moment of landing. I wasn't the only one watching - comet landing was trending everywhere and people were pretty positive about it. I remember how happy and relieved they were in mission control - dropping the mike and everything - when it turned out the Philae landed. Then I returned to work and when I looked at it again the news weren't as good. But the harpoons didn't fire and Philae jumped and then jumped again. For next day everyone was worrying if it'd even be able to stick to the comet. This is how its jumps looked from Rosetta.


Eventually it stopped moving and was still on the comet. Unfortunately, it stopped in the shadow of a cliff and only gets 1.5 hours of sunlight per 12 hour comet day. This meant its batteries weren't able to recharge and the scientists scrambled to get it to sent as much data as possible before the battery died. They also risked detaching from the comet just before battery run out to get at least result from one drilling (hoping that if it make it jump again the next site might get more sunshine). That didn't happen but they managed to rotate the bigger solar panel to the sunny spot. Maybe once the comet gets closer the sun the battery would get enough charge again. But for now Philae sleeps.

But we did land on a comet in a mission that took 10 years and were only off by few tiny jumps. And we have stunning pictures from the surface of the comet and Philae sent the results from the landing and subsequent test. Just today it was announced that there is proof of carry organic compounds and they could've seeded Earth with them. And of course Rosetta mission continues as the probe travels with the comet towards the sun it will sample and analyse the gases and dust coming out of 67P.

[Click for some Space Porn]








Rollercoaster weather
lightning
ellestra
When I last commented on weather - on Thursday (all those leaves are gone now) - it was just getting colder after 20-something day that had people wearing shorts all over the campus. On Friday it was barely 5 and it felt colder and as soon as it got dark (and that's pretty soon now) it got even colder. It was -6oC at night and I had to take all the flowers from balcony inside. Then it started getting warmer again and today it was 20oC again and foggy, rainy in a kind of nice warm autumn way. Now it rapidly getting colder again and it's supposed to drop below freezing soon. Tomorrow's highest temperature 3o with windchill making it feel 5 degrees colder. It will feel below freezing all day. It will drop to -7 at night.

It's going to be colder here than in Warsaw, especially at night, but it's supposed to snow back home (with rain to make it really dangerous and unpleasant instead of pretty) so they are still closer to winter. Of course it already snowed in a US - it snowed in the mountains here in October (the skiing resort opened) and in New Mexico at the end of last week . And this second wave of cold is supposed to repeat it all over again (some more panicky media use the word blizzard, other just promise snow storms). I don't think it's going to snow here (my friend said she saw a snowflake on Friday but that's just hearsay) but my Brazilian co-worker can't wait to see some. For now she marvels at her first ever autumn leaves.

I'm waiting for another hot spell - week from now it's going to be above 20 again. Right now forecast says few 16o nights which means sleeping with open windows again. Although I wish the weather would just decide one way or the other. Right now it's almost like switching between winter and summer clothes on a daily basis.

I love mandarines
river song
ellestra
It's been almost a week and I still don't know how I feel about the ending of Doctor Who. There were things I loved and the things I hated but mostly my patience for grand, emotional things that make no sense has been worn thin by this series so I feel kind of annoyed.

[Doctor Who - Dark Water/Death in Heaven SPOILERS]
Let's start with Clara. She has no idea what 3W is but it seems like Danny only just got there and she just buried him so shouldn't she know about this new funeral thing that taken over the world and allows for communication with the dead? So it means that this is all happening in the future (and Missy transferred Danny to Nethersphere timey whimey right in time for Clara's arrival). Near future but still the future for Clara. Which means that if Doctor takes her home she has to live through 3W taking over and not react. Not tell Osgood she is doomed. Not try to find Danny earlier. Just wait till it's over and never see Danny again.

It's like the Moon thing. Clara doesn't seem like a person who would let all those millions die when she could just tell UNIT to help organise a way to save them and to spread the news that Moon dragon is harmless. Same with 3W - is she really just going to sit there ignore the Mistress setting up her trap? The whole thing starts with what she'd do to save Danny and it's blackmailing Doctor into creating a paradox. She doesn't seem like a person who would just stand by.

Maybe Doctor left her in that future. But then what her family and co-workers think about there being missing all that time? Maybe she doesn't live long enough. But what about Orson Pink? Is Clara pregnant and that's why she stays away? But she doesn't look pregnant in Christmas previews and I don't think she'd abandon a toddler to go on adventure with the Doctor.

This is just a tip of the iceberg of thought that sinks the plot when you start to think about it. How could remains of long dead people be any better than dirt? What about future people who have no remains (and robots)? If they get re-bodied too why would burning or not of a corpse really matter? And why say noone ever had this idea when Egyptians obviously did? Where does all that metal come from? Why were they even on a plane when they know about the clouds? Why did

I hated Danny's death. I suspected that he was going to die as he was way too perfect - understanding and forgiving and responsible and loving. So obviously he was fridged just to set the events in motion. I hate it when they make us like a character only so they can become a plot point. Especially when it's so obviously the only reason for their existence. (And no the reversal of usual male/female dynamic doesn't make it any better.)

I also hate that the Nethersphere had to disintegrate. I hate when things get a tidy ending like that - like it never happened and everyone will forget by the next day, right? Especially when I know it's so Danny could sacrifice himself one more time and Clara would be truly heart broken. Also because I'm sure Missy will be back and we went through so many fake deaths so far and resurrections it almost feels like Amy/Rory ending. Instead of sad I feel cheated because I feel like I'm being forced to feel sad. And I haven't even mentioned Osgood yet. She was way to genre savvy not to know what the whispering thing means. Is there a more cliche way of escape?

But I loved Michele Gomez as the Mistress. She was perfect mix of deranged and brilliant. The overcomplicated plan to give Doctor a present out of human race was perfectly in character. For a while Master was becoming more and more obsessed with the Doctor and now it reached true stoker level. I loved that she pretended to be android interface and the kissing and the Doctor's horror when she finally told him who she really was.

Clare impersonating the Doctor once again and lying and talking and manipulating her way out of the tight spot. I even liked how she did what the Doctor asked and didn't believe it was Danny even though he repeated her "I love you" back at her but then believed in him to the end and got Doctor to turn his emotions of because he asked her to do it. And how she risked everything to make Doctor bring him back. Just like Rory was ready to sacrifice the Universe for Amy. The Docotr responds well to that so helping her was a nice bit of continuity. I also loved how she couldn't get over how ordinary and boring his death was. She risked her life on dozens alien planets with the most bizzare circumstances and he was run over by a car. This was one moment when I truly felt the sadness about Danny's death (instead of annoyance).

And I loved Cybermen reveal and UNIT and Kate and Osgood and how Osgood tricked Missy so she could be captured. I loved Cyberman Brigadier saving his daughter and Doctor saluting. This was perfect and perfectly timed in the weekend before the 11 of November. And that Doctor in the end gave the choice back to humans - Danny and the other dead - to save their own world.


So I don't know how I feel. But hopefully the Christmas episode will make it better (and resolve some issues). It has Nick Frost as Santa Claus and can there be anyone more perfect for that (just look at his name)? And it seems like he can go toe to toe with Doctor - at least in this Children in Need (you can donate here) special:
Tags: , ,

Jesień
sunrise
ellestra
Last year it ended to fast but this year it's been warm and sunny so far so autumn looks pretty spectacular. The best season here. The temperatures are nice - it's middle of November and only now we are to have a longer period of below 10oC at day and regular below freezing at night. So far it's only been one or two cold nights in the row before getting really warm again. It was even 20-something still yesterday. I don't have the horrible allergies I have in spring. And the colours are spectacular. Just look at this:



[Click for more...]



Space still more inspiring than down here
slingers
ellestra
Today everyone celebrated the end of a war that started 100 years ago. My family back home is just finishing a 4 day weekend. They saw light show yesterday but today, on the actual holiday, they obviously stayed home. There is nothing like "patriots" celebrating Independence Day by destroying the capitol to want to avoid celebrating.

So let's concentrate on something better. Middle of the night for me and early morning in Europe Philae will detach from Rosetta and start his descent towards the comet. The whole thing will take about 7 hours and will be transmitted on the web so, if you can, you can have it play in the background at work. He can't wait. Let's hope he succeeds.

Through sacrifice to wormholes
slingers
ellestra
I saw Interstellar this weekend. In IMAX because the film is incredibly beautiful. Everyone talks about the wormhole and the black hole but for me it was Saturn that really took my breath away. I loved all the effects of the ship - from practical ones for zero g to the spin of the Endurance. And of course the blight dust on Earth that sold the whole end of civilization premise. A kind of prelude to The Windup Girl on screen.

The blight seemed to be one of those fungi diseases that are the most dangerous to our crops. They can spreads easily because the plant we use are not just monocultures but also often clones. We already've lost the most tasty banana and cacao farms in Brazil to fungal disease. When I was a kid we would burn the dried potato stems in Autumn but now the above the ground part doesn't live long enough. One day this can be our future.

Of course we cannot really change our food sources. There is 7 billion people to feed and the strains we use now where chosen for maximum efficiency. Introducing genetic diversity would most likely make them less productive. So we hope our technology will save us. So this is a story of human spirit and ingenuity and god-like intervention - a strange science and higher power merger - to save human kind. All working together for higher goal - the long road to safe future.

And it is contrasted with short sightedness of people who only think about their own well being and short term comforts that ultimately lead to decline and death. The refusal to even consider more than immediate future and their own safety it might lead to exactly the kind of denial that was the most chilling part of this story. The way that teacher dismissed Moon landing as hoax - it's like the most crackpot deniers got to teach their version in school - just so people don't think of flying when they need to stay to dig in dirt. Even when that's the only thing that can save them.

[Musings on main themes - main story SPOILERS]
Murphy is contrasted with her brother. He is a good farmer - someone more useful in the short term survival but ultimately doomed. She is useless in the crucial food production sense but she hold the keys to the long term survival. But they both try to do what is best for their family and in a way they complement each other. When Ben looses his faith in his father Murphy finally starts understand him. His life allows her achieve the final solution - from letting her follow her scientific interests to keeping her room intact. But in the end it's the science that can save us all. From NASA being the only ones looking to the future and actually trying to save everyone instead just delaying the inevitable doom to the ultimate abandoning of Earth for the habitats we make for ourselves. (Also I loved that in the future Murphy Cooper is the science hero and her father, brother and professor Brand are background men who made it possible - footnotes in her story - one day we may get see that story filmed.)

This was also the story of sacrifice and what you have to do despite the cost and then ultimate reward. About the dichotomy between personal need and the need of all and how sometimes they can be reconciled. When Coop leaves his family it's also between their immediate suffering and their ultimate safety. Coop picks the long goal every time - leaves his daughter even though she begs him not to, goes down to Miller's planet despite time dilation, shoots down Brads ramblings about love to out vote her on the planet of choice and sacrifices himself at the end to let humanity live and gets all his wishes - safety of his family and survival of human race.

While Mann breaks and picks his survival over the human race. He was the best of them all, an inspiration to all the other explores and he broke down when confronted with the reality of it. He fell. He lies and tries to kill them and sprouts excuses because he's unable to confront his own failings and dies due to it. Right above his own frozen hell. In many ways it's a parable on morality where good deeds and selflessness are rewarded and the bad ones are punished.

I knew the moment Coop got those coordinates they were sent so he could go to space. When it turned out NASA didn't do it on purpose I knew that they came from the future - he already went on that mission so he had to have the information to get there. I wasn't sure if he sent it himself or if future humans did it. It turned out it was both. I also suspected from the very first mention that the wormhole was put there by the future humans there - if gravity can be manipulate through time who has a more motivation to save human race than human race? They were ensuring their own future as Coop was ensuring his.


Of course I didn't like everything. My biggest issue was with the sound. It often drowned out the dialogue so I was wishing I was back in Poland so there'd be subtitles. Some of it contained important information so I think a lot of issues people have with plot may come from missing pieces of exposition.

Everything else here is mostly nitpicking - you don't really care much watching because the film takes up too much of your attention and it's science fiction anyway. But it's pretty hard sf, one of hardest on film, so science inadequacies feel more pronounced here than in, let's say, Star Wars.

[Very Big SPIOLERS]
I hated Brand's ramblings about love as 5th dimension that changes universe or something. Biology and evolution don't work like that and movies always butcher those even worse than physics. I loved when Coop dismisses it and she got outvoted even though I knew it meant for sure she was right. luckily she was only literally right about the planet. The whole love thing was figurative.

A lot of people seemed to misunderstand that and think love was the 5D and saved Coop and created the connection through time and space but that's not true. Love wasn't 5th dimension. It had nothing to do with surviving black hole or physics. That was something the 5th dimensional beings did. They created the tesseract of all moments of Murphy's room so Coop could send the data TARS collected (something quantum or other). That data was what finally saved the second part of the equation that allowed for combining gravity and quantum mechanics to find a way lift all the people and materials they need to survive off Earth (there wasn't enough rockets or fuel to do it traditional way so they would all die). This allowed humanity to build the vast habitats a safely live in space.

Love was only used to find when to get that data to Murphy. It was used for social interaction - Coop knew Murphy so he knew which moment to use to give her the information and what to use so she'd understand what it is. Love is used just to understand human psychology. It has no effect on the physics. Because Coop loved Murphy he knew when to give the data to her and what to use so she would understand it and receive it. The 5D beings/future humans didn't know where(&when) to send it without him. If she missed it or misunderstood it it'd all be in vain. It had nothing to do with physics or 5th dimension.It had nothing to do with physics and all to do with human interaction. Which is were love belongs so I was fine with it.

All the exotic physics - wormhole, survival of black hole, tesseract, even the gravity used to communicate with Murph is supplied by 5D beings. Love is only used for understanding human psychology so the right moment could be picked for transferring information.

I had much bigger issues with the fact that they had to go down on all those planets to find out what was wrong with them. Didn't the probes measured temperature and atmosphere contents? Why didn't Endurance have instruments do do this? Why didn't the Lazarus people just transmit this - it couldn't get through the wormhole but it could help the coming ship from Earth prepare for choosing the right place to land? They all seem to have ships that could travel around the planet (Mann did) so wouldn't it make sense to leave couple of satellites on the orbit to get a clue about surface so you can pick the safe spot on the planet. In fact a lot of problems could've been avoided if the Lazarus people would spent some time orbiting and researching their planets before landing. You know, like we do in real life. I hate it when drama just comes from people being stupid. Especially when we are told they are really smart.

I know the black whole was modelled very carefully on actual equations by Kip Thorne and that the star light was a star smeared over the event horizon. And the wormhole entrance seems to be pretty neat representation of how that could look like. But I'm not sure some of those things would actually work the way they are shown. Like the first planet - the tides are pretty neat and obvious with a planet so close to a back holes but everything else? Would it even survive the tidal forces so close to black hole that one hour equals seven years? I know gravity weakens in square ratio with distance but is this really fast enough that, just in a little further orbit (they flew there in back with an orbiter), it was 23 years for Endurance? I'm not good enough at physics to check this without hours of research but all that could've all been solved with above points.

How does the frozen clouds work? How come dr. Mann, someone with knowledge and experience in space travel, wouldn't know what will happen if he depressurised an airlock like that? I knew that. And they didn't tell him - they just tell him not to do it. You start with the "like an explosion" part in a case like this. And finally how come they needed giant rocket to get off Earth but the lander can get them off 1.3 g Miller's planet?

Also why Coop had to sneak out to get to Brand? Shouldn't habitat humans send someone to get her - or at least tell her plan A worked - the moment Coop woke up and told them she was still out there? They had the resources. This whole thing of her (and even her and Coop) being parents to (other Galaxy) whole human race was kind of creepy. Or maybe those habitats are going to Edmunds planet too. Just slowly because they are big. That's much better ending.

And the weak point that probably is more important to non-science people is that TARS was the best character in the whole movie. The jokes, banter, saving single humans and humanity as a whole. Now that I think about it I'm convinced TARS is the future 5D being - the ultimate god-like AI.

My PhD was hard to explain even with words
tiger
ellestra
Every year Science organises the Dance Your PhD contest. Here are all the finalist from Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Social Sciences categories. And this is the winner:


Science isn't always easy to portray in art and it's rarely accurate but Interstellar had it's own science advisor Kip Thorne is Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena design some of it's special effects. New Scientist has spoiler-free guide to the science of Interstellar. Space ships and science - two things I really like together.

And here is first teaser trailer for season 3 of Orphan Black - just in time for Orphan Black Friday

Winter is coming
telamon
ellestra
There are a lot of awesome Halloween costumes all over the web but this one beats them all (straight in the feels). I never noticed the resemblance before.


The clear sign that the year ends is near - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies trailer is here:


We are also getting promos for winter TV.
[The Librarians and Agent Carter]The Librarians series is coming next month and it looks fun (I always liked the movies and as Discworld teaches us one should not cross librarians)


And the Agent Carter preview that aired during Marvel special (Jarvis actor looks a lot like Paul Bettany, doesn't he?)

Robot friend
slingers
ellestra
One of my favourite subjects is AI growth and how we will treat it and how it will treat us. This is what made me start watching Battlestar Gallactica and why I'm so obsessed with Person of Interest right now. And that's why Neil Blokamp new movie Chappie trailer looks pretty awesome. I just hope the story will be less heavy handed on the message than Elysium.

Solid state time
sunrise
ellestra
A week ago it was still 28oC and it was hard to remember that October was ending. Then came the first cooling and the temperatures dropped to below 20o and then on Halloween night it got even colder and started to rain. In the mountains that rain fell as snow which is apparently shocking at the beginning of November (even if not unheard of) but here it was just cold drizzle. A real November weather in other words. It continued on and off through Saturday and the temperature was barely above 10o. On Sunday it was even colder but sunny again and the lack of clouds meant the night got really cold and the temperature dropped below 0o for the first time this autumn. So this morning, while I'm still not fully switched to winter time and it's easy to wake up at dawn, I went and took some photos of frost.



[More...]


Not a good week
winged
ellestra
I know I said I'm done but then today I was discussing rockets with my boss and we started talking about space travel and he couldn't remember how Virgin Galactic flight was to work so he googled it and the first thing we saw was the news. It was BBC article about the crash - it was published just 37 minutes before. Out of all the things we could've talked about...

But of course it wasn't completely accidental. We got there because we started talking about Anteres explosion. And then we got to other ways of going to space (or at least somewhere close to it) and then we saw what happened. This is not a good week to try to go to space.

At least Antares rocket was deliberately destroyed after it became apparent there was a problem to make sure it won't fall on populated area and no one was hurt. Tragically, in the SpaceShipTwo crash one of the pilots died and the other is injured.

It makes one rethink the wisdom of a contest that promises to take you on suborbital flight for a cinema ticket and remember how brave the people who go to space are. This is still a very dangerous job. (But I still want to go)

Ambition
once upon a time
ellestra
The Rosetta mission sent the probe towards comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko more than five times Earth’s distance from the Sun. The Rosetta orbiter will rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and remain in close proximity to the icy nucleus as it plunges towards the warmer inner reaches of the Sun’s domain. At the same time, a small lander will be released onto the surface of this mysterious cosmic iceberg.


Rosetta has reached it's destination earlier this year and now it's preparing to land Philae lander on it in two weeks. And it's not easy as Alexander Gerst shows in space:


The short film directed by Tomek Bagiński I mentioned a week ago is also about this mission

It really makes me wish he did make Jacek Dukaj's Ruch Generała (General's Move) into a film. This would be a perfect look for it.

I promise this is the last science one for now.

Meanwhile on Mars
sunrise
ellestra
Yesterday evening an unmanned rocked carrying supplies for ISS exploded in midair. Noone was hurt and ISS is getting a Progress with supplies today but a lot of science experiments were lost in the explosion. So to think about more successful - like Mars missions.

Last month Curiosity has reached her destination - Mount Sharp, the Kilimanjaro-sized mountain it has been driving toward for much of the past two years.

There is a new country in the space science exploration - India has sent Mars its newest satellite. And it arrived just in time to experience comet coming to Mars with everyone else. All the orbitters hid behind Mars and it worked as all of them are sending us back the reports of their experience. The robots on Mars that were protected from the dust in the tail of Siding Spring by Martian atmosphere have been just standing there taking photos the whole time like any good tourist would. And of course so was everyone with the right telescope on Earth and around it.

But if you prefer to look at Mars itself instead of a blob of ice and dust passing it ESA has video from Mars Express with the flyover Mars terrain in 3D. Just need to find those 3D glasses somewhere.

And if we go there to see it in 3D ourselves it might be best if the whole crew were women or travel in a true SF way - asleep for the whole journey there and back as it's pretty hard to take enough food for the whole trip.

This is all marvellous
sunrise
ellestra
Google doodle today celebrates the 100 birthday of a man who saved me (and millions of other people) from polio Jonas Salk. The polio vaccine changed human civilisation and, if not for the war zones and anti-vaxxers, it could be the second deadly virus we eradicate.

However, today is mostly about Marvel's big announcement about phase 3 films. The list of all Marvel movies coming in the next 4 years has some long awaited names - both Black Panther and Captain Marvel are on it (and yes - that means Carol Danvers). We also learned that Chadwick Boseman is Black Panter but despite the whole internet celebrating it already Benedict Cumberbatch is not Doctor Strange yet. Also despite all the denying next Captain America is going to be a version of the Civil War (highly modified of course - as Feige said "Events of the whole cinematic universe will make all governments in the world want regulation. Not so much about secret identity, but about who reports to who."). And the Avengers 3 are going to be so big they are getting split into 2 movies with Captain Marvel and Inhumans coming in between. I wonder if that means those are all going to happen concurrently. I also wonder if Carol Danvers is going to have a cameo in the Guardians second outing. It looks like Black Panther is going to be introduced in Avengers 2 so it'd made sense to introduce her in similar way. And for as long as it exists you can watch the announcement including a sneak peak of Infinity War:


And of course as promised Agents of SHIELD had the extended version of the first Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer. Here's the leaked version:

And the actual AoS version:

The big science I missed for past few months
telamon
ellestra
All the way back, soon after I got sick, the news broke about the impossible engine. This is the kind of thing that sounds like ure science fiction and almost everyone couldn't believe that it would work (they also didn't believe Chinese scientist who built something similar first) but the nit was built and it's working (as far as I know noone disproved it yet). It uses the virtual particles - the ones that came to existence and almost instantly disintegrate due to some laws of quantum physics - to push the objects around. It's almost like using magic - except it works. It's not very useful right now - you get very little for the amount of power you need to feed it but you don't need to bring fuel with you which makes everything easier - that fuel mass is always a problem. However, the best part for me is that there are still things that can surprise us like this. There might be hope yet for our space dreams.

The panspermia theory has long been one of the explanations of how life could've started on Earth. We know that there are some organisms able to survive in outer space but here are some that got there seemingly on their own and are still viable even after long exposure. Russian cosmonauts have found life on the outside of the International Space Station. They were pretty shocked to discover what seems to be sea plankton on the exterior of the station that is apparently being lifted all the way there by atmospheric currents. And it's somehow surviving there.

A 24-year-old Chinese woman does not have a cerebellum. Cerebellum is a large brain structure (see photos in the link) that is mainly responsible for motor control and also controls some cognitive functions. She had some balance problems since she was a child but was only diagnosed when she finally went to hospital complaining of dizziness and nausea. It's the ninth case in medical history and it shows how amazingly plastic our brains are as other parts of the brain have managed to pick enough of the cerebellum functions to allow her to live relatively normal life.

On the other end of scale transplant of olfactory nerves helps a paralysed patient regain partial movement. Doctors in Poland and scientists from England have used harvested culture of olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) and olfactory nerve fibroblasts (ONFs) to reconnect spinal cord severed by injury. Unlike most of the nerve cells olfactory ones need to grow new axons all the time to connect to new cells in our nose. This made them perfect candidates for growing new connections. The doctors have harvested olfactory bulb during brain surgery and cultured the cells. Then they had removed glial scar tissue and then transplanted the cultured cells into spinal cord stumps above and below the injury site, where an 8 mm gap was bridged by four strips of autologous sural nerve. After two years patent regained some feeling and function - he went from complete paralysis to being able to walk with leg braces and a walker.

No more lies
aeryn
ellestra
Today on Doctor Who we learnt that Doctor uses Google maps for Terrestrial navigation. With the prevalent use of iPads in the future it looks like someone is going to look really dated in a few years.

[Spoiler (click to open)]Last week the Doctor leant Clara was lying to him and today so did Danny. Of course then she did it again - to save the Doctor. As Doctor said last week - great survival skill but bad habit.

It also showcased the difference between Danny and Clara. She was all: amazing forest - contact the Doctor - mystery to solve - go and see the flare. He was concentrated on making sure the kids were safe and getting them home. She'd rather go with the Doctor and he'd rather stay with the kids. And he even forgave Clara's lying. Again. He's almost too nice and grown up for Doctor Who.

The premise of the episode was once again completely ridiculous but, unlike the Moon episode, in this one the emotional point wasn't undermined by its inaccuracies so I could ignore the magical appearances and disappearances of biomass and all that magical solar flare dissolving by trees (but what about satellites and ISS?). But I liked the call backs to previous episodes - even the Moon one.

Also interesting - this series has many more kids in it. It's much easier to remember I shouldn't overthink the science because it's a kid's show when there are kids listening to Doctor's ramblings.

Also Missy is interfering with the Doctor more and more and it looks like this is only going to get more intense.


I should also probably admit that I finally liked the whole episode of Intruders. I watched the final episode and it was almost fun.

[Spoiler (click to open)]
Jack Whelan finally stopped whining about not believing and did a lot of reasonable things - from calling help to burning the Qui Reverti stuff to saving Madison. And then he was invited to be a Shepherd. I'm pretty sure he will accept to get closer to Rose. Now that he knows what she is the only way to keep track of the whole thing is to be close to those people. But I'm not sure why they want him after he destroyed the ability to return for so many of them. Maybe they believe that if they keep him close he'll cause less damage?

Madison, of course, was always badass and she kicked Marcus out to lake afterlife. Now she's back in charge and alone and herself again and if there is another season Jack will probably try to make Amy do that to Rose.

So the good thing is that Jack has finally faced the truth. Too bad Rose didn't. She still doesn't understand that trying to selfishly bring back her love just destroys more lives and that her boyfriend's problems cannot be solved with new body. Also, is Julian Randol everywhere or what?

I still don't understand how the whole possession thing works as Rose in charge 9-10 years ago before Madison was born) to bury Marcus but then Amy was herself again? I thought once they were awaken the Reverti gradually took over in matter of days/weeks/months at most and the original personality just went dormant. Here it looks like they switched for years and Amy and Jack not only moved to Seattle and almost had a baby but Richard Shepherd fell in love with Amy too before Rose took over completely.
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Another year, another eclipse
sunrise
ellestra
As always when I can I took some photos of the eclipse. It wasn't much - there was barely a bite before the sun set - but I only travel for total (and annular) eclipses and this one missed the Earth completely. But if you are north and/or west of here I hope you had good weather and nice viewing spot and saw the much bigger bite. I'm already planning to see another total one.


My favourite photos from today - one looks like sun is an engine spewing fumes and the other like it's eating the tree top.