Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Shopped out yet? Then thank your lucky stars for *this*

Okay, not stars exactly, lucky or otherwise. But nonetheless astronomy news to take your mind off the post-Thanksgiving rat race ....

(Wait. What? You say you're not yet shopped out? Then see "Buy-a-Book Saturday redux." No need to be too literal here.)

Let's start with "An interstellar rock gets a name." The very first known interstellar interloper will henceforth be known -- never mind that it will soon have receded forever beyond our sight -- as Oumuamua. ("This is a Hawaiian name, meaning, roughly, 'very first scout.' ") Or, more formally, as 1I/2017 U1.

Oumuamua (an artists' conception)

We've even gained an inkling about the appearance of Oumuamua. See "ESO Observations Show First Interstellar Asteroid is Like Nothing Seen Before: VLT reveals dark, reddish and highly-elongated object." (ESO is the European Southern Observatory. VLT is ESO's Very Large Telescope.)

You've likely encountered reports that surface flows of water have been detected on Mars. Not so fast. Once geologists from the US Geological Survey reviewed the satellite observations, they reached a different conclusion: that "The case for flowing water on Mars is drying up." More specifically, the geologists interpreted:

... the “streaks” didn't behave like flowing water. For one thing, they existed only at the tops of very steep slopes. For another, the streaks all seemed to end when their slopes matched the dynamic  “angle of repose” — the steepest angle at which a given material can be piled without slumping.

If you've ever tried to build a sand castle, you're familiar with this concept. It's why dry sand -- which has a very shallow angle of repose -- tends to slide out of shape, but wet sand -- with a steeper angle of repose -- can be piled into towers and turrets.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Buy-a-Book Saturday redux

Regularly since 2010, at about this time of year, I've posted about Buy-a-Book Saturday. That's my personal variation on Small Business Saturday: a day (specifically, the second day after Thanksgiving, and one day after retail's infamous Black Friday) on which holiday shoppers are especially encouraged to patronize small businesses. The big-box stores and Internet giants will do fine this holiday season. But will your neighborhood, non-chain shops and boutiques?

Rara avis! Is that a book store? Check it out.

Why the buy-a-book variant? Because what business is smaller than the author toiling away by him- or herself? Because, as I (and many others) post from time to time, the publishing business is becoming tougher and tougher -- especially for authors. Because more than likely you're a reader, else you wouldn't have stopped by this blog.

So: I'm here to suggest you give serious consideration to books -- whether print or electronic  or audio -- for some of your holiday gifting. Friends, relatives, coworkers, your kids' teachers, the local library you support ... surely there's a book that's right for each of them. And at least one for yourself, of course ;-)

Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 best reads

I read a lot: as research, to stay knowledgeable about the genre in which I write, and simply for enjoyment -- overlapping categories, to be sure. Once again continuing an annual tradition, I'm posting before the holiday shopping onslaught about the most notable books from my reading so far this year. When I mention a book, I really enjoyed it and/or found it very useful. Life's too short to carp about what I didn't find notable (much less the several books I elected not to finish).
Presuming that you visit SF and Nonsense because you appreciate my take on science or technology or fiction, you might find, in the post that follows, books you (and like-minded friends, relatives, etc.) will also enjoy. Unless otherwise indicated, the dates shown are for original publication. Each cover shown is an Amazon link, often to newer editions than the original publication (and to Kindle editions, where available).

What's made the cut so far in 2017? Read on ...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Telling (copy)right from wrong ...

Two troubling tidbits from the wild wild world of the creative arts ...

What part of the creative content of a CGI character resides in a movie's script? How much is attributable to the software that shaped the CGI character? If a copyright-able element of a character can reside in a programming tool, does that mean Microsoft has a copyright interest in stories and novels composed using Word? That Adobe has a stake in anything ever Photoshopped?

It turns out those issues are being litigated. See "Hollywood Confronts a Copyright Argument With Potential for Mass Disruption." At stake: who has what rights to use CGI characters in sequels. (And without sequels, it sometimes seems half of Hollywood would be idle.) With super-heroic (and ironic?) restraint and understatement, I can only say ... interesting.

Con artists can also be creative -- and some prey upon aspiring authors. In a scam that was new to me (and abusive of a venerable, well-respected publication), I recently read "Fraudsters Targeting Freelancers With Fake Job Offers." Quoting a key snippet from the Writer Beware post:

Fraudsters are reportedly conducting a phishing scheme aimed at freelance writers.

Individuals using the names of editors and senior management for The Atlantic magazine have sent out numerous fake job and interview offers, using multiple email addresses and made-up domain names. The goal is to obtain personal information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, and other sensitive data. More than 50 writers have reported being targeted by the scheme.

And with that -- all the while imagining my own creative endeavors will somehow avoid entanglement in uncertainty and criminal intent -- I'm off to apply my skills to the novel in progress ...