"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Neon Change of Mood

Taking a microbreak from reading on my porch, I looked up and saw a wonderful juxtaposition of cloud and tree. It was a sweet view for a guy who spends much time with his head in the clouds. Playing in Photoshop CS5, I was able to radically alter the original mood of the scene. Employing the Neon Glow filter, the image feels downright treacherous. Scroll down to see the original image.

And a more faithful rendering of what my eyes beheld would be...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Engineering a Personal 'Mars Crossing'

Mars CrossingMars Crossing by Geoffrey A. Landis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I met Geoffrey Landis recently at NASA Glenn Research Center, I asked him about his inspiration as a writer of science fiction. His answer both fascinated and disappointed me. In the thumbnail sketch Dr. Landis provided, there was no burning-bush moment that preceded his journey into the realm of sci-fi writing. Instead, he described his initial creative forays as almost a whim, just a perfectly reasonable outlet for the knowledge his graduate studies provided. Oh well. That works I guess.

Still, there is no missing the passion and affection Landis has for his subject. Not unlike the late Carl Sagan, Landis is first and foremost a dedicated scientist. His choice to write a novel, whatever deeper personal reasons might exist, comes as a remarkably practical endeavor—a means to popularize his academic knowledge for a wider audience than peer-reviewed journals afford. Such is Mars Crossing, Landis’s award-winning opus for the red planet.

Mars Crossing gets down to business with an exploration team landing on the surface. What needed back story there is Landis splices into the narrative along the way, interlude style. At first, this piecemeal delivery of exposition seems an obligatory choice to make the characters sympathetic. But over the course of the novel, a compelling order develops with each character getting the spotlight in turn, always at the right moment to add human drama to a particular story development. As it turns out, Landis is quite the narrative engineer.

Indeed, engineering is what the plot smacks of. Priority number one is showcasing as much of Mars as possible, from its sun-seared mid-latitudes to its icy polar expanse. Driven into the Martian wilderness by the failure of their return vehicle, the small ensemble must traverse major geologic features of the planet to reach a distant rescue vehicle left by a previous mission. Along the way they experience a range of hazards real explorers will likely face one day. They also rely on an impressive assortment of advanced technologies currently in development. At times they seem dragged along by Landis’s grand design.

Initially I was concerned the novel would prove a literary letdown. Not so. With each new test, the cast becomes more sympathetic. A climactic monologue by one of the characters strikes an especially poignant tone. At last, Mars becomes something more than a dry, impersonal place. It proves extraordinary and capable of resonating with the human spirit.

Mars Crossing had one noteworthy disappointment for me. Landis misses opportunities to milk suspenseful moments. Granted, his storytelling is fueled by a wonderful candidness about everything from racial dynamics to microgravity sex. Yet often Landis’s prose displays a mission report dutifulness that wants for a bit more space-opera panache. In a plot where every new development displays a utilitarian quality, always serving the author’s scientific agenda, the prose sometimes exhibits a drama-sapping succinctness.

Then again Mars, not humanity, is the main character. And few people are as qualified as Landis to serve as tour guide. In person and on paper, he has taken me there twice, and both times I have come away satisfied. It’s also a credit to Landis, whose NASA research depends on public funding, that he doesn’t shy away from depicting the considerable risks inherent in a Martian voyage. As with his straightforward answer to me about the choice to write science fiction, Landis’s novel tackles directly the dangers of venturing to Mars. I thoroughly recommend Mars Crossing to readers interested in getting to know the red planet in a personal way.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 14, 2012

Receiving the Sunset with Texturizer

Cheap camera! Splotchy resolution! My hasty purchase of a Vivitar somethin'er'other has been a major frustration. I hoped jumping from a cheap 3.2 Megapixel camera to a cheap 12.1 Megapixel camera would up the quality. Nope. Lesson learned. Next camera purchase will be a true investment. Anyhooo, I've decided to make the most of my limited camera by playing aggressively in Photoshop CS5.

Click on images to see them full-size.

These two images utilize the Texturizer filter in Photoshop. With one easy customizable tool, I've created the impression my photos have been printed on canvas. Somehow, for me anyway, the texture cancels out the splotchy resolution. Hope you enjoy.

We will be losing our green leaves soon, and they didn't have a very fun lifetime thanks to the dry summer. So here they are, receiving the low-angle rays of the setting sun. The view is from my porch.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Geek the Library...Lowell Style

While I don't see the above photo securing me modeling gigs any time soon, it sure was fun to participate in a Geek the Library campaign. This ongoing event is in full-swing at the Chelsea District Library. People in the community come to a photo shoot and declare something they geek. For me, the choice was easy.

The purpose of this campaign is to generate awareness for how libraries help people connect with things about which they are passionate. Chelsea's library has acquainted me with books by scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, DVD specials from National Geographic and the BBC, and most importantly has offered me a place to follow ongoing missions of NASA and other space agencies. Here is a review of the most recent geek treasure I discovered at the library:

Percival's Planet: A NovelPercival's Planet: A Novel by Michael Byers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The prose of this novel arrives like a well-cooked steak, a whole steak dinner actually. No one taste or aroma dominates, which is not to say the meal is uneventful. Yet the food is incredibly satisfying, and at some point you realize the chef has carefully chosen each ingredient and maintained remarkable control over the cooking process. Such was my experience digesting Percival’s Planet by Michael Byers.

The story follows a small ensemble of characters who find themselves in orbit around the astronomical mythology of Percival Lowell. In real life, Lowell popularized Mars (at the expense of good science) and also hunted unsuccessfully for Planet X. ...

For the remainder of the review, head over to Goodreads.com

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Still Love Eastwood, Partisans However...

It was a comedy routine. It was a bit with an empty chair and a one-sided conversation. Clint Eastwood was horsing around and loosening up the crowd. Shaky delivery? Yes. Stuttering, sputtering attempt at improv? I think so. But it was comedy. 

Why the empty chair? He needed the chair empty so that he could pull off not one, but two "F*** You" jokes from the pulpit of the RNC. That's right. Eastwood warmed up conservatives with a little masturbation humor. That’s got to count for something. And whatever happened to being good sports when someone who doesn't hate you roasts you?

Regardless, Clint proved yet again just how easy it is to fluster the Democratic Party. It's just too damn easy. Thus said Danny Concannon on The West Wing: Why are Democrats always so bumfuzzled? 

My answer: because like their Republican arch enemies--yes arch enemies is the perfect term--like their enemies, Democrats seethe inside and grind their teeth when challenged by those foolish people who think differently.

I'm under no illusion that he's going to read this. Still...Clint, you and I are going to be voting for different men come November. But I still love you. And I still love your marvelous career and film work. There was some good stuff in your routine. Especially that part where you looked the entire RNC in the eyes and reminded them that politicians are just employees who work for us. 

Here are some things that should have bugged Democrats much more than Clint's comedy routine:

  • Governor Romney's I'm-a-died-in-the-wool-conservative routine  He's polished it up to a mirror finish over the last six years of his campaign, but it's still a routine. Why do you suppose he said almost nothing about his time as the Massachusetts governor?
  • Governor Romney bragging about being a baby boomer  a generation that has spent its entire lifespan living off the fat of big government. Enjoy the freeways this weekend, people.
  • Governor Romney boasting about the Apollo space program, a shining example of what big government can do. 
  • Governor Romney mocking science, and more particularly President Obama for seeming to play god with the oceans  Really, Mitt? Teasing others for playing god? You are a practicing Mormon. You literally believe you will become a God in the afterlife, ruling over worlds without number. You believe that when you defend the United States, and if you get to preside over them, you will be preparing the New Jerusalem for Christ's return. If these Mormon doctrines are indeed your personal beliefs, how can you possibly prosecute a war without feeling holy about it? (Spare me the rebuttal. I'll take religion off the table when the RNC does.)
  • Missing the great opportunity before us – That bugs me more than all of the above. We now have a race between two intelligent, ambitious candidatesexperienced leaders who have both shown a genuine love of kin and country. We could have an exciting issues-based campaign, if it wasn't for the bitter feud now preoccupying our two secular churches. Yes, our political parties are churches, of the worst kind, run by rich grumpy prelates who remain pathologically intolerant of contrary thinking. 

I doubt he'll ever read this, but Mitt, the premise you gave for not reelecting President Obama is flawed. I, and many other supporters of the President, have enjoyed plenty of days since voting for himdays filled with deep gratitude and enthusiasm for his hard work and accomplishments. Unlike Republicans, we rightly give him credit for much more than just having that one guy killed.

Lastly, Democrats, don’t make Clint Eastwood’s comedy routine the issue. That is a copout. Stop pouting over the latest brazen joke. Instead, give Americans the substantive issue-based campaign for which they are currently starved.