Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What in the world(s)?

Had we but world enough, and time ...

One of the best known, best realized, most beloved worlds of science fiction is surely Dune, the centerpiece, eponym, and (in a sense) main character of Frank Herbert's most acclaimed novel. If you share even a fraction of my affection for the story/world, you're certain to enjoy " 'Dune' concept art shows the evolution of David Lynch's sci-fi vision" (for Lynch's 1984 film realization).

It IS a grand canyon
(If there is a flaw in Dune, it's homegenity: a "desert planet."  Why do I consider that a potential flaw? Because the one inhabitable world known to science is far from uniform. Check out -- everyone of 'em on Earth -- "50 of the most incredible natural phenomena you’ve ever seen.")

In the of-but-out-of-the-this-world category ...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

That does not compute

Today let's consider some news in the wild, wacky world of personal (and impersonal) computing ...

If you hate Windows 8, you're not alone. If you are perfectly happy with Windows XP, you're also not alone -- and you're likely dreading the April end of support for that product. In between, of course, is the semi-XP-like Windows 7 -- only it has been scheduled to go away in October. It's noteworthy then that "Microsoft Extends Windows 7 Availability for Businesses."

(Windows 7 isn't a panacea for XP refugees. Why? Because you can't upgrade [change only the OS, leaving your data intact] when switching from XP to 7. You can only upgrade to 7 from (shudder) Windows Vista. Going from XP straight to 7 entails a clean install of 7, so you'll have to back up your files on other media, wipe your disk, install 7, and finally restore all your files.)

Tired of hassling with Windows? Frustrated that every other Windows release (ME, Vista, 8) is a turkey? Is a forced software upgrade pushing you (mutter, mutter) to buy a new PC?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Arcana and sundry

Fans of science -- and fans of SF, who significantly overlap with the aforementioned group -- are a curious bunch. Whatever our primary area(s) of study, both find enjoy a broad range of other interests. Hence ...

Internet years vs. dog years
An Internet year is pretty much the inverse of a dog year. And so, lots of companies that not long ago bestrode the Internet like giants are, well ... reduced to wee status. From PC World, see "From Netscape to Napster: Whatever happened to yesterday's giants?"

Did you ever try one of those clunky, expensive, 3-D TVs? The kind dependent upon clunky, expensive, per-viewer goggles? Probably not. Did you buy one? Almost certainly not.  From IEEE Spectrum, see "3-D TV is Officially Dead (For Now) and This is Why it Failed."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Of distant worlds

Recent years have offered a steady stream of exciting exoplanetary news. Here's a smattering of such findings I've collected since my last astro-centric post.

That dot? Beta Pictoris b.
Let's begin with (IMO) the most visually stunning item, even though very few pixels are involved: an exoplanet, 63 light-years distant, directly imaged by a ground-based telescope. See (from The Register) "ALIEN WORLD Beta Pictoris snapped by Earth's Gemini 'scope." (That's sloppy headline writing: the star, Beta Pictoris, is not viewed. It's intentionally occluded lest its glare wash out the planet. The world is Beta Pictorus b.)

How was this bit of astronomical legerdemain accomplished? With adaptive optics, a serendipitous spinoff from research into antimissile lasers. Adaptive optics is a wondrous technology.

Next up: different cleverness. The Kepler observatory identified, sans direct imaging, many an exoplanet. The method: spotting the slight dips in brightness as distant planets transited distant stars. With the failure of two reaction wheels, the orbiting telescope, alas, can no longer point steadily enough to continue making such precise observations.

Or so it was believed ...