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Updated: 34 min 14 sec ago

Merry Christmas

Sun, 12/21/2014 - 19:06

It’s almost Christmas here in the great, green north. It looks like our holidays will be mild, wet, and windy, with no repeat of the ice storm disaster that hit us last year, which is just fine, thank you.

In any case, I’m going to be too busy with the usual family and seasonal activities to have anything to do with this blog until at least next week and maybe later.

So have a merry Christmas, or a merry whatever holiday you celebrate, and I’ll see you in a week or two.


National Geographic Photo Contest 2014

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 20:27

National Geographic has always had a reputation for great photography – its staff photographers are among the world’s best. So it should be no surprise that it numbers many talented photographers among its readers, as the results from its 2014  Photo Contest show. There are three categories: people, places, and nature. It’s definitely worth the time to browse through all of it.


Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 04:52

I have friends and relatives who are convinced that the 9/11 attack was the result of a US government conspiracy – something that I think is patently absurd. We avoid discussing the topic because there’s no point in trying to convince someone who’s view of reality is so different. This Scientific American article looks at research into some of the reasons people believe in conspiracy theories.

President Barack Obama has been a busy man while in office: he concocted (more)

How Chris Hadfield got those incredible pictures

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 04:20

During the six months he was in orbit on the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield took thousands of pictures of the Earth. I followed him on Twitter and was blown away by many of his shots, which were both technically accomplished and beautiful. Many of his best pictures are collected in a book, You Are Here. a  copy of which I was lucky enough to get signed by him a couple of weeks ago.

In the video(more)

The coming extinction of salt-water fish

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 04:01

This is not good news for the human race. According to a recent study, salt-water fish could be extinct by 2048. Aside from the obvious effect that loss of ocean fishing would likely cause many people to starve, the effect on the ecology of the oceans would be horrible, possibly leading to the extinction of most oceanic life.

The apocalypse has a new date: 2048.

That’s when the world’s oceans will be empty of fish, predicts an international team of ecologists and economists. The ca (more)

The Earth from space 2014

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 19:27

Digital Globe has launched several earth observation satellites, one with a resolution of 30 cm. (about a foot for you Americans). They’ve collected some of the most interesting and striking images taken from the last year into this 25 image gallery. Each image has a brief explanation of its significance. If you like, you can vote on your five favourite images.

From a purely artistic point of view, this one of the Glastonbury Festival is my favourite.



Android Studio 1.0 is released

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 04:49

Google has released Android Studio 1.0, a full development IDE for Android. Having learned a bit of Java a few years ago, I’m almost tempted to try to build something simple – almost. Right now I’m satisfying my programming itch with some VBA at work – I might even get a blog post out of it.

First released in beta at Google I/O 2013 as a de facto replacement for Eclipse, Studio has grown from an attractive but feature-poor client to one that is practically o (more)

Download the best word processor ever

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 04:05

You can still download Word 5.5 for DOS, the best word processor ever. None of this crappy Windows GUI stuff getting in the way. Just pure, fast ASCII menus. And style sheets the way they should be done.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to install on my PC, which is running a 64-bit version of Windows. I’ll have to try playing with it on my older PC, which still has 32-bit Windows XP on it.

But if you want to relive some memories, or if those of you who wer (more)

Attending the WorldCon by telepresence

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 04:43

Brad Templeton attended LonCon, the World Science Fiction convention in London, in the form of the Beam, a telepresence robot, while he was in Idaho. It seems a particularly SFnal thing to do but it has a lot of interesting social implications as well. If you want to get a handle on what’s likely to be a major emerging technology, read his article about the experience.

I spent the weekend of August 14 in London, though I personally was visiting Coeur D’Alene Idaho. (more)

How most SF gets future culture wrong

Sun, 12/07/2014 - 13:36

Charlie Stross has written a blog post in which he takes one of my favourite SF novels to task. The book is Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton and the problem with it is that Hamilton’s several hundred years in the future interstellar society is pretty much like British suburbia (yes, they have them too). Hamilton postulates that a future society with more or less unlimited resources and easy rejuvenation (hence practical near immortality) will be very conservative, and for the (more)

Orion launch tomorrow

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 18:37

Get the day started right tomorrow – watch the first launch of NASA’s Orion capsule at 7:04 a.m. Here’s what they have planned for the flight.

The so-called Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) scheduled for 7:05 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday compares most directly to t (more)

Typography in Alien

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 19:02

Some people have too much time on their hands. Dave Addey, the author of this blog post about the typography and iconography in Alien must be one of them if this incredibly detailed and meticulously researched post is an example. Pure bliss for a type and SF geek like me.

My third post about typography in sci-fi has been gestating for a while now. Indeed, it’s been slowly taking shape – you might say it’s been forming itself inside of me – for really quite some time. I’m delighted to say that it is now ready (more)

Long interview with Elon Musk

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 20:05

Here’s the transcript of a long interview with Elon Musk, in which he goes into some detail about SpaceX’s plans for a reusable booster and plans for a Mars colony. The interview is in 6 parts and there don’t seem to be any links between the segments, but you can easily change the URL.

[Can you elaborate on what we saw on the video.] Okay, there was quite a lot. Well, what we’re seeing there is – and, like, our communications team just put (more)

Some open source ebook tools

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 18:46

Yes, you can spend a lot of money building an ebook production tool chain – Adobe InDesign or Adobe FrameMaker could cost you a bundle. But you can also do it at no cost using open source tools, and even if you do use commercial tools, the odds are that you’ll end up using some open source tools anyway. looks at some of the tools you can use to make sure that your ebooks are properly formatted.

Self publishing a book has never been easier. There are numer (more)

John Schoenherr and Anne McCaffrey

Sat, 11/29/2014 - 12:14

I grew up reading Analog. I used to haunt the newsstand and corner store every month waiting for it to come in. One of the things I looked forward to the most was a new issue that had a cover or illustrations by John Schoenherr. I wasn’t the only fan of this wonderful artist, as evidenced by the letter from Anne McCaffrey and reproduced on his son’s (more)

Removing conditional text with ExtendScript in FrameMaker

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 04:48

I’m currently cleaning up a bunch of conditional text in an Adobe FrameMaker book. I need to reduce eight conditioanl tags down to two. Because of the complexity of the content and the required updates, I can’t simply just delete the tags or the text en masse – I have to go through the book and figure it out item by item. It makes me pine for the Content Map feature of SmartDocs for Word, which wouldn’t reduce the manual processing, but would greatly reduce the time I have to spend searching for condition tags.

Coincidentally, I cane across (more)

DITA Open Toolkit 2.0 now available

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 04:51

Robert Anderson has announced the availability of version 2.0 of the DITA Open Toolkit. From the dita-users list email:

Last week at the first DITA-OT Day, we were excited to announce the availability of DITA-OT Release 2.0. This release has been under development for a long time now, and comes nearly ten years after the initial release of DITA-OT 1.0.

DITA Open Toolkit Release 2.0 includes the following significant enhancements:

  • New dita command line tool provides a simple command interface
  • XSLT stylesheets have been converted to XSLT 2.0
  • (more)

Russia to launch new heavy-lift booster

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 04:11

Russia is close to launching a new heavy-lift booster to replace the aging and failure-prone Proton. The Angara 5 is a completely new booster that uses new engines that are an upgraded version of those used on the Zenit and Atlas 5 launchers. Lets hope the engines are more reliable than the ones that the Antares booster used.

Weighi (more)

Global warming may make our winters worse

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 04:59

It seems counter-intuitive but global warming may be making our winters worse. The reason – the melting of Arctic sea ice is changing the path of the jet stream  – remember last winter’s polar vortex? It may become a permanent fixture.

Back in 2012, two researchers with a particular interest in the Arctic, Rutgers’ Jennifer Francis and the University of Wisconsin-Madi (more)

Old Time Radio Shows

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 08:56

Here’s a vast collection of old radio shows from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The collection includes X Minus One, which featured much classic science fiction with stories by Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Murray Leinster, Isaac Asimov, and many others. I remember listening to some of these when I was a child.

Unfortunately you can’t download the shows for offline listening, but they offer three players so you should be able to stream the ep (more)