Everything There Is To Say About Eclipses

Eclipses are an amazing phenomenon. There’s almost nothing else that can unite so much of the planet with an overcast day. Eclipses happen pretty near any time something gets in the way of something else. The Moon gets in the way of the Sun. The Earth gets in the way of the Moon. Jupiter gets in the way of Venus. Venus emits a elaborate string of subtweets. Triton, misunderstanding, gets hopping mad. The Trojan asteroids, who find angry Triton the funnies Triton, stir things up. Before you know it there’s a rain of meteors being sent every which way. This is why we try not to have Jupiter eclipse Venus anymore. We’ll just stick with the two biggest eclipses, solar and lunar. People wanting more exotic stuff can fundraise for it themselves.

A solar eclipse is when the Moon gets between the Earth and the Sun. This means that large portions of the Earth aren’t being pushed away from the sun by the pressure of sunlight anymore. However, the Sun’s gravity remains exactly the same. This means that the surface of the Earth underneath the eclipse drops towards the Sun more than it usually does. This is usually not a problem. If it starts to be one, we take care of it using leap seconds. During a leap second everyone on the affected hemisphere is supposed to get up on top of their tallest chair and leap to the ground simultaneously. Shame on you if you haven’t been doing your part. You can make up for it during a skip minute. These are rare than leap seconds, but run longer, and involve more skipping.

Each year the Earth experiences at least two but not more than 110,575 solar eclipses. You’d think we could narrow that range down a little. It’s hard. There’s a lot of mathematics involved figuring out eclipses. Be kind to the eclipses. It’s not like eclipses are the only things in our life trying to understand what they’re doing.

Still, there are only a finite number of eclipses each calendar year. Use them wisely. Any given spot on Earth can expect to see only one-370th of an eclipse per year, too. This explains those weird moments when it’s the middle of a bright day, then it gets dark a second, and then it’s bright again. No, different from how it looks when you blink. This is more when it looks like you’re worried someone went and broke the sun again.

This highlights one of the major uses of eclipses. During the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project back in 1975 the astronauts and cosmonauts and testtronauts actually created an artificial solar eclipse. They used this to switch out the Sun with a new fluorescent-based lighting fixture. It promised to save incredible amounts of energy, important during the oil shortages of that decade. So much so that it was even worth leaving the Sun on all night. But there were problems, of course. For one, people insisted they heard this irritating buzzing. And this even from people who insist they can hear it when old-style computer monitors are turned on, even when you know the computer monitor was turned off.

The more serious problem is what it did to colors. With the alternate light spectrum, you had to change the way you did colors, and that’s why the late 70s looked like that. We were doing our best under weird circumstances, which again, you are too. But the original Sun, which had been put back in its wrapper and was in great shape after some time off, was replaced during the STS-9 space shuttle mission. People got their first look at what colors they had been using the past eight years and there was a lot of screaming. Again, different from how we’re screaming these days. And anyway then we went on to produce the fashions of the mid-80s anyway.

There are no plans to tinker with the Sun during any of this year’s solar eclipses. But do remember, one of the other major uses of solar eclipses is by desperately unprepared time-travellers who hope to set themselves up as wizards or gods to unsuspecting peoples. If you spot anyone promising to make the Sun go away if their friend isn’t released soon, be wary! They might not return the Sun and we’re still using it sometimes.


Statistics Saturday: Some Fictional Greek Zodiac Signs

  • The Horse
  • The Chariot
  • The Philosopher
  • The Hydra
  • The Tyrant
  • The Swan
  • The Anktikythera Mechanisms
  • The Olympic Wreath
  • The Agora-Quarreller (sometimes regarded as just The Philosopher again)
  • The Tyrant-Overthrowers
  • The Bull-Headed Snake-Tailed Basilisk-Bodied Lion-Footed Off-Road Multi-Use Form
  • The Sailor

Reference: X-15 Research Results, Wendell H Stillwell.

Three Things There Are To Say About Astronomy

Astronomy is the practice of looking at the sky to see if anything interesting is going on. Then keep careful notes in case it isn’t. The sky can be located by the simple process of going out of doors. This should be about the same number of doors as you’ve entered, but in the reverse order. There are complications. I can’t deal with them all here. To see me deal with them please review my essay, Everything There Is To Say About Going Out Of Doors, which I’ll write one of these days.

The sky may be found by looking up, if you are in the northern hemisphere, or looking down, if you are in the southern hemisphere. If you are in the eastern hemisphere you’ll have to use your best judgement. If you are in the western hemisphere you’ll have to use as best judgement as you can find, given the circumstances.

The important thing is to look at the sky, wherever it is. To be an amateur astronomer, all you need to bring is your eyes. I use “your” to mean you have authority over whatever eyes you’re using. But you are allowed to use anything that collects light, which helps you see darker things. This is because a great whopping heap of darkness is easier to see? It seems like I got that wrong somehow, but I keep going back and checking and that’s how it comes out. There must be a trick somewhere.

You know if you ask an amateur astronomer they’ll tell you the moon is about as bright as a lump of charcoal. And yes, you asked what they were listening to that was so funny. Many amateur astronomers are socially anxious and will blurt out things so as to get through the conversation quicker. Please review my essay, Everything There Is To Say About Getting Through A Conversation, which I’ll write one of these days.

The night sky has over sixteen visible objects in it. You sound less foolish if you know what they are. The night sky like a mostly black thing spotted with bright dots. These are the exceptions:

  • Orion
  • The Big Dipper Or Maybe That’s The Little Dipper
  • The Little Dipper Or Maybe That’s The Big Dipper
  • The One That Looks Like A W
  • Square Wearing A Triangle Hat

These are examples of constellations, of which there are a number.

What number? There is no way to know. I have it memorized that there are 88 constellations. This is the fault of someone who told me that it was easy to remember there were 88 constellations because there are also 88 counties in Ohio. I have never lived in Ohio, and I have never had an explicit interaction with any aspect of its county governance. I have no knowledge of whether there are 88 counties in Ohio, either. I could not attest under oath that the number of constellations and the number of counties in Ohio are both numbers. I admit I would take a guess, though.

But I’ve got a mnemonic about this now. So I know my last thought before dying will be “there are 88 constellations and there are 88 counties in Ohio”. This even though I would prefer my last thoughts to be, “I’m so grateful that so much of my life could be spent with my darling in it” and “At last I have shown them all”. Mnemonics are like that. I could try shaking it up, make it “there are 88 constellations in Ohio”, but I’ll never let myself think that. I have a hard enough time writing it as a hypothetical. Anyway I explain this all in my essay, Everything There Is To Say About Mnemonics. I forget if I’ve written that one already.

But once you’ve learned all the things that are supposed to be in the night sky there’s some fun ahead. Because amateur astronomers can still discover stuff. Professional astronomers come out and say, “yup, they discovered that thing” and “they were right” and “they showed us all”. To discover a thing, simply catalogue all the things in the night sky and find a thing that’s not supposed to be there. This will be a tern, flying high enough it’s still in sunlight while you’re in darkness. That puts you under the jurisdiction of the animal-watchers. For further instructions please consult my essay, Four Things There Are To Say About Animal-Watching, which I have no idea how to write.

On This Date: November 24, If You Will

2019. Highly disappointing opening of the canal between the fifth and the second floors of the West Mall in Bukit Batok, Singapore, with critics saying the whole system seems to be “just a slightly large elevator” and “not really better than riding a couple escalators would be”. The complaints are harsh but fair because riding escalators is a really grand thing. If there were some way to fix the problems of having to step onto or off of them then we’d really have something.

2020. The Internet has one of those weird spasms where everybody gets hung up on how the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, Kent, England, was renamed “Benbom Brothers Theme Park” in the 1980s just because that sounds like the name you’d create if you were in the 90s and doing a bad translation of a Japanese RPG. Within 14 hours, it passes, leaving no harm done.

2026. The “Inbox Zero” e-mail productivity fad gives way to the “Inbox Infinity” model as this turns out to be a great deal easier for everyone and their nerves needed it by this point.

2064. Last specific reprinting of Art Buchwald’s column about introducing Thanksgiving to the French, which is a shame since that bit about translating Miles Standish’s name as “Kilometres Deboutish”? That’s solid enough.

2065. Mutual occultation of Venus and Jupiter happens, two days late, following last-minute negotiations when the planets can’t agree about whether it should be the occultation of Venus by Jupiter or of Jupiter by Venus, and a furious debate on the Wikipedia talk page about “Crayons”, where the debate somehow settled in a process people were still trying to explain to their great-grandchildren.

2085. We fix the problem of having to step onto or off of escalators with the invention of shoes that can’t get caught in the teeth of those things but keep you pretty stable when you’re stepping into the belt.

2121. Bigfoot’s job hunt lands him a career as the mascot for the Jersey Devils. He lasts nearly eight years at the post before going on to greater fame as the official public greeter for Baltimore, Maryland (starting the 26th of July, 2129) and sees the Devils to two World Series appearances when their bus gets lost.

2200. The Universal Postal Union agrees that next year shall be 2200: The Gold Edition”, although it will be labelled as “2201” for the sake of not breaking anyone’s database software.

2243. 186th anniversary of the 24th of November, 2057, passes without turmoil but with many people asking “Huh?” and “Why?” and “This is a thing because of why?”

2371. Deep in a star system nearly 75,000 light-years from Earth the locals begin producing a program known as Star Trek: Voyager. It’s purely coincidence, though, as the vastness of the universe and the enormity of the number of peopled worlds and the relatively small number of sounds that are likely to be made into words cause a program that happens to have that name without actually being a remake or continuation of the United Paramount Network classic program. It is in fact a shot-for-shot remake of Star Trek: The Original Series except in this one Lieutenant Uhura gets along great with Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, and critics say this one little change drastically improves the whole body of work.

2618. After years, maybe a decade, of cruel taunting about what work it does exactly that ‘S’ and ‘K’ don’t do just as well the letter ‘C’ declares it’s had enough and leaves the alphabet. While people are able to carry on mostly fine, what with having both ‘S’ and ‘K’ there, it does leave words such as “church” pretty well stuck. The letter ‘J’ steps up to remind everyone that it could totally do the hard ‘ch’ sound, and is told to sit down because it’s done “so much already” and is really appreciated “right where it is” by letters that are rolling their eyes.

4211. No end of discussion about the way the dates of the year line up, if you’re in the United States, and a lot of arguing that the United States way of listing the dates is just stupid and dumb and wrong. By the time it’s over very few people are still talking to each other. It’s a good way to figure out who you need to stop interacting with, though. Consider it.

From The July 2016 Scraps File And Free To Good Home

Come one, come two, come at least a few of you and enjoy last month’s scraps file. I couldn’t do anything with these blocks of words. Maybe you’ll have some better luck. If not, you can get them at half-price in the August 2016 Scraps File in a couple weeks. Words are sold as-is and may not be turned into gerunds just because you didn’t have a better idea what to do with them.

and while you’d think that was good news you have to remember that noses, like all body parts, are terribly gross things — cut from riffing on this discovery of a new antibiotic produced by a bacteria that lives in the nasal cavity because while bodies are terribly gross things it’s not like antibiotics researchers have too easy a time of it and need some hassle from me. They know what body parts they have to touch all the time. I have to be responsible as a very slightly read blogger. I can be irresponsible later on if I metamorphose and I’ll try to keep you updated on that.

something something stray unattributed quote from Monty Python sketch something — cut from what was honestly a bit of comment-bait because I keep telling myself I’m better than that even though I’m not. I’d probably quote something from one of the lesser Monty Python sketches anyway, the ones the Internet hasn’t destroyed by endless quoting. Maybe the one where a bank robber goes into the lingerie shop. That one happened, right?

mandible — cut because it’s not really that funny a word, not when you’ve heard it already in the past three months, which I’m all but sure I have.

furthermore I do not know where your paranoid delusion that I am talking about you behind your back comes from; people think you incapable of telling the difference between “a good person” and “a person who flatters me endlessly” because of your own merry little band of sycophants and not my pointing this out to them — cut from that letter that really looks like it’s never going to be sent because while it’s not like I’m saying anything behind that friend’s back, I know the friend isn’t paying any attention here and that is PART of the WHOLE PROBLEM as I have said in many paragraphs cut already. Anyway, since I’m the one being honest in the whole fight I don’t want to descend to including stuff that’s merely technically true, even though, as has been the case this whole while, I’m right.

thatched — as above, it’s one of those words that sounds like it’s funny to start with, but really isn’t, not when you hold it up to close examination. I apologize for people who have fond memories of slightly famous mid-90s comic Thatch but there’s like four people who do and one of them is the guy who wrote it.

also where do we get off saying a dipper is a thing anybody recognizes anymore? Maybe there’s somewhere they deal with them, off where there’s all sorts of people keeping horses and stuff like that, but here in the city dippers faded away back when the “drinking fountain” came in. Drinking fountains were great. They were free, publicly available places to get tepid water dribbling a quarter-inch out of a metal receptacle. But we had them, and they made dippers obsolete. — cut from my thing about what constellation you’re looking at essay because I know with a rare metaphysical certitude that saying anything against dippers will bring down a force-two Internet Hailstorm of angry comments. And I’m willing to get into arguments online, don’t question that. It’s just I’m more inclined to put up with fights in which people insisting on one space after sentences try to get the rest of us to do it wrong. The dipper enthusiasts I don’t want to cross. For that matter, as much as I’ve riled up the constellation enthusiasts they’ve been willing to admit that I’m right about how we can’t see more than about six constellations anymore and I named all the big popular ones. I don’t want to get in trouble with their advocacy groups, Big Big Dipper and Big Little Dipper. Who would?

secret — removed from the phrase “my secret hope truckers appreciate how far ahead of them I get before moving back into their lane” as I can’t possibly call that secret now you’ve seen my explanation, can I?

What Constellation Am I Looking At?

Part One Of An Experiment.

It’s natural to wonder what the heck you’re looking at in the sky. The sky’s there nearly all the time, after all, and most of it isn’t clearly annotated. We’ve divided the sky into … uhm … I want to say 86 constellations. I know at one time there were the same number of constellations as there were counties in Ohio at one time. And I know there are … not 84 counties in Ohio. Does 86 sound right? It’s not. It seems like a lot of counties to have.

Most of the constellations we can’t see anymore because they’re in the wrong hemisphere or they’re some screwy thing they came up with in the Age of Discovery, when Europeans looked up for the first time in four hundred years and noticed stars. So there’s a bunch of constellations representing what was important to them at the time and that nobody cares about anymore, like the Equatorial Fardel and the Southern Bill Of Exchange. We can’t see most of them anymore, since we left the lights on. So I’m just going to talk about the constellations we can see. Also they keep finding new counties in Ohio, owing to bad surveying in 1794.

First, you have to go see some constellations. That involves looking at the sky. Is it mostly blue or grey with one giant star it’s hard to look at? Maybe with like a half a white part-circle? It’s daytime. Those are the sun and the moon. They’re not part of any constellations, owing to a fantastically heated and complicated yet somehow boring quarrel they had online with Vega and the Lesser Magellanic Cluster. Those are other things you will not see. Try again, this time at night.

OK. So go look at the sky and let’s work out what you see. Does the thing you’re seeing look like anything at all, or is it just a big sloppy mess of stars? If it’s just a big sloppy mess of stars then you’re looking at Hydra, the hydra, named by someone who wasn’t trying hard. Hydra occupies about four-fifths of the night sky because it turns out to be quite hungry and none of the other constellations have any idea how to handle this besides “let’s run at it and hope we choke one of its many, many throats!” Remember, the night sky is not that bright.

So let’s suppose the thing you’re looking at looks like something. Does it look like a person? Let’s suppose it does. Is it Orion? If it is Orion, then you’re looking at Orion. If it looks like a person and it isn’t Orion, then it’s Hercules. Yell at it for not dealing with Hydra already. I don’t know what his problem is. There were some great sequences in his Disney movie. You can’t say that about every constellation.

So there are things other than people that a constellation can look like. For example, it might look like a real thing that isn’t a person. Is the real thing that it looks like a dipper? If it is then we’re making progress. Is it big? If it’s a big dipper then you’re looking at the Big Dipper. If it’s not so big a dipper then you’re looking at the Little Dipper. They should be pretty close to one another and if they aren’t check to see whether Hercules is trying to stuff a dipper down Hydra’s throat. If he is, again, explain to him that choking isn’t the way to handle a hydra.

More progress. Suppose it looks like some real thing that isn’t a person and isn’t a dipper. Is it a cross? If it is, then check what hemisphere you’re in, which you can do by examining whether your Mercator maps are right-side up. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, then the cross you’re looking at is the Southern Cross, so named by a team that thought the people who named Hydra were trying too hard. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, then you’re looking at Cygnus, the Swan. Cygnus you’ll recognize as not the star of E B White’s classic The Trumpet Of The Swan. There isn’t even a trumpet constellation, I guess. If you’re looking at something that’s a real shape but isn’t a cross then it’s Pegasus.

So now we’re left with a constellation that looks like something but isn’t a real thing. Is it some shape? I can help you there. Does it look like a W? That’s Cassiopeia, ancient queen of spell checkers. If it doesn’t, it’s Cepheus, which you can double-check on by whether it’s grumbling about how Cassiopeia gets to be in the alphabet.

If you’ve got all this way and still don’t know what you’re looking at then say it’s Lyra. That’s a good choice. That’s got a nice constellation-y sound to its name and we can’t see the actual Lyra anymore anyway.

Happy stargazing! This month’s lucky planets are Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and PowerBall Planet Mercury.

MiSTed: Brad Guth, Venus for Dummies, Part 3 of 3

A question always asked about cranks is: are we being unfair to them? Even if they aren’t right, don’t their thoughts deserve as much of a hearing as anyone else’s? Might some of them be correct after all? It’d be a tall order for a physical sciences crank to be right, but they could have a key insight the mainstream has overlooked. And purely reasoning-based disciplines like mathematics technically don’t even require training, just an ability to think hard and clearly about something.

I think a bit of listening is worth doing. A person might happen to be the first person in the world to have noticed something significant and true. But there comes a point you can stop listening. I think for most sci.space.history people that came when Guth was unable to tell the difference between a photograph of Venus and a photograph of Mars. Properly speaking, that doesn’t mean he might not be on to something. But it is a hard blow to an argument entirely based on photographs of Venus and/or Mars.

> do reconsider
> as to bothering yourself to take another subjective look-see

CROW: Call ahead! It’d be embarrassing if Venus were out when you get there.

> and then
> honestly interpret this thick and dense atmospheric insulated terrain
> for yourself,

TOM: But ask for help understanding the dirty jokes in the Malagasy Orogeny.

> as to what some of those highly unusual patterns could
> possibly represent, as anything other than the random geology
> happenstance of hot rocks.

CROW: I see a bunny.

JOEL: I see a painting by Thomas Eakins.


> =93Guth Venus=94 1:1, plus 10x resample/enlargement of the area in
> question:

TOM: Are we to suppose this is some “magic late-bombardment protoplanet”?

> https://picasaweb.google.com/102736204560337818634/BradGuth#slideshow/5629579402364691314

JOEL: The picture is nice enough but I like seeing all those 3’s up there.

> This is not to say that 99.9999% of this Venus surface doesn=92t look
> perfectly natural (at least it does to me),

CROW: And I’ve been looking at things for *years*!

> just like the surface of
> Earth might look if having to use the exact same SAR-C imaging methods

TOM: The same saucy imaging methods? Wow!

> and its limited resolution that could be easily improved upon by any
> new missions for mapping Venus in greater detail (such as 7.5 meters/
> pixel).

CROW: Oh, we’d just run out of pixels at that rate.

> After all, a millionth of that hot Venus surface area is
> still 4.6e8 m2, or 460 km2,

TOM: Or sixty barleycorns, two pottles, and half a Lords-Whacking-Stick!

> and this most complex area of =93Guth
> Venus=94 (100 x 100 pixels or 506 km2

CROW: 485 if you use coupon code GUTHVENUS!

> ) that which includes mostly
> natural geology, isn=92t involving but a fraction more than a millionth
> of the Venus surface area,

JOEL: It all adds up to three squintillionths of a Venusian barleycorn!

> and yet it seems as though highly developed
> and to a large enough scale that makes for deductively interpreting
> those patterns

JOEL: Socrates is a mortal.

TOM: Pants are rarely worn on the head.

CROW: A person with plenty of time need not run for the train.

TOM: Oranges are not sharp metal instruments.

JOEL: Therefore, Socrates is being chased by a tiger!

> as rather easy and reliably pixel truthworthy items
> that do in fact exist because the image resampling process isn=92t even
> capable of artificially creating them.

TOM: Iron-clad proof! These pictures are impossible to make!

> It can also be suggested and reasonably argued that initially (4+
> billion years ago)

JOEL: Actually it was 3.95 billion years ago. It just aged badly.

> our sun was 25% cooler than nowadays (possibly a
> third cooler),

CROW: Back when it wore those hipster glasses.

TOM: Hipster sunglasses.

> thereby making Venus quite Goldilocks approved even if
> she was naked and totally dumbfounded.

JOEL: Didn’t Theodore Sturgeon write this story?

> But even this cool beginning
> still doesn=92t fully explain as to why such a large and complex
> geometric sale of a structured community

CROW: Featuring a golf course, a security booth, and a clubhouse!

> or mining operation was
> established,

TOM: Well, what’s mine is mine.

JOEL: Or Daffy Duck’s.

> and as to why Venus has been radiating such a large
> amount of its geothermal core energy

CROW: Maybe it’s trying to keep power the Autobots?

> plus having been creating all of
> that unprotected atmosphere that should have been extensively solar
> wind blown away as of more than a billion years ago,

CROW: Except Venus’s Mom made it wear a sensible woolen cap!

> whereas instead
> there=92s more than enough new atmosphere created to make up for the
> lack of having a protective geomagnetosphere.

JOEL: An over-protective geomagnetosphere. It makes Venus call home every like ten minutes.

> BTW; there=92s terrestrial objective proof that life even as we know
> it can adjust or acclimate to extreme pressures and even tolerate much
> higher temperatures,

TOM: What Guth means is, squirrels know how to work the thermostat.

> and yet lo and behold there’s still no American
> flags on Venus,

CROW: But there’s the flag of Burkina Faso on Neptune. Go figure.

> but there have been USSR/Russian flags on multiple
> landers that got there decades before us.

TOM: To be fair, the flag of Venus is all over Italy.

JOEL: Oh yeah.

> So, perhaps we=92ll have to
> accept that Venus and all of its natural resources belongs to Russia.

CROW: Giving Russia a huge lead in the uninhabitable wasteland race.

> Otherwise NOVA as having been owned by Google could help all of us
> better understand and appreciate what the extremely nearby planet
> Venus has to offer, but only if they wanted to.

JOEL: Google is figuring they can use Venus to store Usenet.

> Obviously our NASA
> has been avoiding this extremely nearby planet,

TOM: They’re playing hard-to-get so Venus will be interested in NASA.

> perhaps because our
> expertise and talent for getting active probes to survive with that
> atmosphere is simply less than what Russians have accomplished.

CROW: Like crashing into Venus and melting.


> http://groups.google.com/groups/search
> http://translate.google.com/#

TOM: GuthVenus was tried in the fourth district court, county of Los Angeles. In a moment, the results of that trial.

CROW: [ Chanting the Dragnet theme ] Dun-dah-dun-dun.

> Brad Guth,Brad_Guth,Brad.Guth,BradGuth,BG,Guth Usenet/=94Guth Venus=94

TOM: GuthVenus was convicted of existing and sentenced to not more than twenty Venusian days of hard labor and between three and seven Latin pedants arguing about what its adjective should be.

CROW: [ Chanting the Dragnet theme ] Dun-dah-dun-dun-DAAAAAH.

JOEL: Well, nice seeing everyone again.

TOM: Yeah, let’s blow this popsicle stand.

[ ALL file out. ]

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the creation and the property of Best Brains. Brad Guth and Guth Venus are the creation and property of Brad Guth, and I certainly don’t mean to take over any of that. This fan fiction was created by Joseph Nebus, and should not be taken internally except as ordered by a Venusian. My little Still-Store web site will be back up and running soon with all sorts of new behind-the-scenes coding that petty Venusian minds could not begin to comprehend.

         \ | /
         / | \

Keep riffing the posts.

> honestly interpret this thick and dense atmospheric insulated terrain
> for yourself, as to what some of those highly unusual patterns could
> possibly represent, as anything other than the random geology
> happenstance of hot rocks.

Um, that Still-Store web site is meant to be a repository of MiSTings. It’s not back up yet because they went and changed PHP out from under me and I keep learning better database, XSL, and other tricks and I haven’t taken the solid week or so to just recode the blasted thing. Sorry.

MiSTed: Brad Guth, Venus for Dummies, Part 2 of 3

There have always been cranks. Probably there always will be. I think fondly of many of the cranks on Usenet, though, because I got to see the medium at its height. And these were people who brought such zeal, such determination, such relentless willingness to write in bulk about how everyone else was covering up the truth that it’s awesome to witness. Brad Guth is one in that fine line. I don’t know if he’s still around. Some of me hopes so. A good, compelling, non-traditional prose style is such a wonder.

At the risk of making you think everything else is anticlimax, I should say my favorite joke in this piece was in part 1, the line about getting some relief from smart Venus.

> Interplanetary travel capability and especially that of interstellar
> also represents

CROW: Interplanet Janet!

> more than sufficient technical expertise to deal with
> any hellish planet like Venus,

JOEL: It also represents being able to get through La Guardia.

> or even those of whatever cryogenic
> nature,

CROW: Such as your Liquid Nitrogen Beetles or your Frost Rhododendrons.

> because that=92s what advanced physics and good science is fully
> capable of doing in spite of the odds against us.

JOEL: They can live on Venus yet they still cannot tell a cabbage from a lettuce!

> If anything, the metallicity of Venus is somewhat greater than Earth,

TOM: But it’s still not greater than the good old U.S. of A, am I right, folks?

> and its ability to create and maintain its substantial atmosphere of
> mostly CO2 as having such an abundance (12 ppm) of helium that=92s

CROW: That everyone talking about Venus has a silly voice.

> offering roughly 200+ times as much as Earth,

TOM: 210 times as much if you don’t count Iowa.

> and having sustained its
> terrific atmosphere without benefit of any moon or

CROW: Or even Moon Helper! Make your moon into a meal!

> the geomagnetic
> protection like our planet has to work with,

JOEL: The invaluable help of Earth’s jaunty Madagascar.

> is truly an impressive
> accomplishment,

TOM: Even bigger than that guy who ate 40 White Castle burgers at one sitting.

> and especially for a smaller than Earth like planet w/
> o moon and managed even though it=92s so much closer to the sun.

CROW: And even though it’s in a region zoned “light commercial/sulfuric acid”.

> Firstly, our mainstream eyecandy cache of science infomercials via our
> public funded NASA and otherwise NOVA as owned by Google,

JOEL: Google, run by Rankin-Bass, operated by Cougartown, a division of RCA.

> could just
> as easily help with exploiting this ongoing research if they wanted
> to,

TOM: But they’re too busy making up Twitter accounts from Mars probes.

> and otherwise without their assistance you might try to understand
> that we really do not need to use microscopic or even much higher
> resolution

CROW: Wait, you’re bringing a microscope out to look at Venus?

TOM: I’m picturing a flock of astronomers with those little toy microscopes pointing up at the sky and looking at their fingerprints.

> than 75 m/pixel imaging when the items of most interest
> have always been so extremely or unusually big to begin with.

JOEL: It sounds so obvious when you hear it. Just look at Big Venus instead!

> So, you
> can continue to argue that these images as a derivative from a 36

CROW: Or you can have the halfback sneak around the corner right after the snap and run over to the concession stands.

> confirming look or scanned composite offering this initial 225 meters
> per pixel format are simply not good enough,

JOEL: But they made an honest effort and we appreciate them for that.

> but you=92d only be proving
> to yourself and others as to how unintelligent and/or obstructive that
> sort of closed or naysay mindset really is stuck in denial more than
> reality.

TOM: This is that new shame-based astronomy you hear so much about.

CROW: It’s all the rage among space geeks with low self-esteem.

> Venus is perhaps not unlike hell,

JOEL: What isn’t?

CROW: Hades.

> but otherwise its unusually high
> metallicity as indicated by its radar reflective attributes and its
> considerable surplus of helium

TOM: And excessive supplies of silly bouncy balls.

CROW: Venus leads the inner solar system in paper cups with jokes written on the bottom!

JOEL: No other planet has so much Mork And Mindy themed bubble gum!

> plus the mostly geothermal driven
> environment, is at least technically manageable

CROW: For all those planets that need PERT charts.

TOM: They’re hoping to be the first ISO 9001-certified space thingy.

> as long as you have a
> functioning brain of at least a 5th grader

CROW: Or a third and a second grader put together.

TOM: Or a seventh grader and a minus-second grader.

JOEL: Two tenth-graders and a minus fifteenth grader.

> without all the usual
> mainstream status-quo tumors that disable your investigative skills
> and deductive reasoning,

JOEL: Have all your astronomy questions answered by Mark Trail!

> that=92s otherwise considered as human
> intelligence.

CROW: We’re looking for the thinking men’s tumors here.

> Of course to most of you that have taken a basic look-see at this old
> Magellan radar obtained image of Venus,

TOM: You’re a bunch of peepers!

JOEL: Want to be a peeper too.

> and especially of the fuzzy or
> blocky pixel image of =93Guth Venus=94 or =93GuthVenus=94,

CROW: Guth Venus ’94!

TOM: He’s running with Vermin Supreme.

> is perhaps
> suggestive of nothing more than offering a nasty looking terrain of
> random geology

CROW: Just throw that glacial moraine anywhere. I’m kind of living out of my asthenosphere.

JOEL: Vermin knows better.

> with piles of extruded hot rock that just so happen to
> look as though artificial or as having been intelligently morphed into
> what seems to offer rational patterns.

TOM: Well, sure. Look at that big ‘EAT AT ZERBLATT’S’ sign on the equator.

> However, within these highly
> confirmed patterns of such mostly hot rock are several odd geometric
> items

JOEL: Like the sulfuric acid parallelogram.

CROW: Finally my geometry teacher will respect me!

> of somewhat large scale and offering us those extremely
> interesting formations,

TOM: Marching in uniform and playing brass instruments!

> that at least on Earth or upon any other
> imaged planet or moon

CROW: Or accretion disc!

TOM: Or black hole!

> hasn=92t come remotely close to offering this
> level of sophisticated geology complexity

JOEL: They had little cozies for their martini glasses.

> and rational community
> looking configuration or modification of such a mountainous terrain
> site.

TOM: Perfect for filming Venus Car commercials!

JOEL: You’ll love cruising in the new Buick Aphrodite 8.

> This makes GuthVenus into a one of a kind off-world location,
> at least up until other better resolution images become available.

TOM: But you can join and operate a GuthPlanet Franchise today!

CROW: Prime locations still available.

JOEL: GuthSaturn closing soon!

> Besides merely following my deductive interpretations,

CROW: Socrates is a mortal.

JOEL: Planets will not last forever.

TOM: No two-headed person has ever been Vice-President.

CROW: The owner of the dog does not have a job as a plumber.

JOEL: Therefore Socrates is a mermaid!

TOM: Logical, logical.

MiSTed: Brad Guth, Venus for Dummies, Part 1 of 3

I want to share another MiSTing with you. This is the art of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction, which flourished on the Internet in the 90s and early 2000s. That community’s drifted off … somewhere … I assume, and left me behind. I keep my hand in, writing something now and then. This week’s offering comes from sci.space.history, a Usenet group devoted to exactly what you might think. For a long while the group was haunted by a fellow who figured he knew something about Venus that everyone else insisted was jpeg artifacts and imagination.

I’d wanted to write a short little thing this piece, which is why it hasn’t got any host sketches. That’s why the characters talk about the abruptness of the start; they haven’t eased into it. It was originally published in 2012, as you might work out from the more dated jokes.

[ ALL file into theater ]

CROW: We don’t even get to say hello to anyone?

TOM: Man, austerity stinks.

JOEL: Don’t get political this early in the year, Tommy.

> >MIME-Version: 1.0

JOEL: Sure, now it’s mime, but when we got it it was ourms.

> >Path: reader1.panix.com!panix!usenet.stanford.edu!

TOM: Stanford! Topeka! Tahlequah! Watervliet!

> > l8no23395436qao.0!news-out.google.com!e10ni165558057qan.0!nntp.google.com!

CROW: Google. Because Google is watching you.

> > l8no23877973qao.0!postnews.google.com!e18g2000yqo.googlegroups.com!
> > not-for-mail

TOM: How did we get it, then?

> >Newsgroups: alt.astronomy,

JOEL: I like indie astronomy better.

> sci.space.policy,sci.space.history,

TOM: Space history.

CROW: “Well, used to be we didn’t walk on the Moon, then we did, then we didn’t again, and that brings us to the present day.”

> >alt.news-media,alt.journalism

TOM: I like that grunge journalism.

CROW: I’m here for the news-media gangnam style.

> >Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2012 16:42:04 -0700 (PDT)
> >Complaints-To: groups-abuse@google.com

CROW: Picture all Google coming to a stop because somebody complained about usenet there.

> >Injection-Info:

TOM: Shouldn’t this part be for the pharmacy majors?

> e18g2000yqo.googlegroups.com; posting-host=; posting-account=nf79RwoAAABXjvy5ztMzmPxgY1WGoktI

JOEL: Discontinue use of GoktI if symptoms persist.

> >NNTP-Posting-Host:

CROW: Hike!

> >User-Agent: G2/1.0

TOM: That reduces to G2.0.

> >X-HTTP-UserAgent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.1; rv:14.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/14.0.1,gzip(gfe)

JOEL: User Agent Mozilla 5.0.

TOM: Women want him. Men want to be him.

> >Message-ID: <fd6e54d7-cc91-498a-b08b-46db326ecea1@e18g2000yqo.googlegroups.com>

TOM: Hey, that’s a cracked Photoshop license key!

> >Subject: Venus for dummies (6.0) / Brad Guth (GuthVenus)

CROW: Finally, some relief from that *smart* Venus.

> >From: Brad Guth <bradguth@gmail.com>

TOM: He certainly *is*.

> >Injection-Date: Wed, 03 Oct 2012 23:42:04 +0000

JOEL: He’s in a pleasing time-release form.

> >Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252

CROW: Windows 1252 is the version that went to the Model Parliament, right?

> >Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable

TOM: Cut! Print it, Raoul!

> >Lines: 137
> >Xref: panix


> alt.astronomy:502748 sci.space.policy:489326

TOM: So with 85 percent of the vote in we’re projecting a win for alt.astronomy.

> sci.space.history:317343 alt.news-media:339276 alt.journalism:263200

JOEL: And in the school board elections alt.news-media has taken the lead.

> What sort of weird planet geology, or that of its active geodynamics,
> looks or acts anything like this?

CROW: A pudding planet geology!

> Thumbnail images of Venus,

[ JOEL holds up his thumb. ]

TOM: That’s not Venus, that’s a wart.

> including mgn_c115s095_1.gif (225 m/pixel)

CROW: 225 men per pixel?!

> http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/imgcat/thumbnail_pages/venus_thumbnails.html
> Lava channels, Lo Shen Valles, Venus from Magellan Cycle 1

TOM: o/` We didn’t start the fire … o/`

> http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/imgcat/html/object_page/mgn_c115s095_1.html

JOEL: C115 S095 underscore 1.

CROW: You — you sank my battleship!

> http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/imgcat/hires/mgn_c115s095_1.gif
> =93Guth Venus=94, at 1:1, then 10x resample/enlargement of the area in
> question:

TOM: You can see Oswald turn and shoot Mark David Chapman.

> https://picasaweb.google.com/bradguth/BradGuth#5630418595926178146

CROW: That’s not Venus, that’s a picture of my cat!

> https://picasaweb.google.com/bradguth/BradGuth#5629579402364691314

JOEL: Add some captions you can have your own LOLvenus.

TOM: I hate that you said that.


JOEL: [ Sheepish ] I’m sorry.

> Not even the most active moon of Jupiter being Io offers up anything
> like this

TOM: Io doesn’t even try! You invite it to the potluck and it brings a bag of Doritos every-single-time.

> remarkable degree of surface geology complexity,

CROW: Fine dentition, good arch in the back. A good mudder.

TOM: How’s its fadder?

> and there=92s

JOEL: Mostly oats and hay.

> certainly nothing remotely artificial looking with anything discovered
> about the planet Mars

TOM: Apart from the big ‘MADE IN TAIWAN’ across the Mariner Valley.

> or thus far of any other planet or moon to speak
> of,

JOEL: What about Unspeakable Moon?

CROW: We don’t talk about it.

> outside of Venus that gets within 110 LD every 19 months

TOM: Except when taken internally by a physician.

> (any
> closer and we=92d have to reevaluate Venus as a NEO).

CROW: So if you spot Venus coming any closer to Earth than Venus
ever comes, that’d be suspicious.

> Of any humanoids or other intelligent species that’s capable of
> surviving interstellar treks,

TOM: So, what, we’re ignoring the total morons who make it across space?

> at least technically should have no
> problems with remaining stealthy

CROW: ‘Sure, you’ll have no trouble being stealthy on Earth, mister
space alien. Just pull your ball cap down over your forehead …
yeah, all three heads.’

> or even capable of infiltrating and
> mingle within any community of existing life-forms upon any given
> planet they chose to study

CROW: I’m imagining a pack of Vulcans wearing costumes trying to hang around a pack of wallabies.

> or even to populate and commercialize by
> extracting valuable elements in order to suit their own needs.

TOM: I don’t want to be a nitpicker but that sentence was 62 words long and forgot to have a predicate.

Statistics Saturday: Counting On The Splendid Bowl

If current trends continue, then in the year … … there will have been as many Splendid Bowls as there are or were:
2020 Faces and vertices of the medial rhombic triacontahedron
2026 Days in January and February (non-bissextile years)
2026 Minimum number of games in the National Hockey League postseason (per rules in effect for 2015)
2027 Days in January and February (leap years)
2028 Counties in New York State
2031 Years between a Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania groundhog’s first being recorded to predict the weather and the predictive groundhog’s receiving the name “Phil” [1]
2034 Secretaries of State of the United States (as of 2015)
2044 Inches of height of Michael Jordan
2048 Games in a regular National Basketball Association season (as of 2015)
2049 Episodes of the original Star Trek
2054 International Astronomical Union-recognized constellations
2071 Maximum number of games in the National Hockey League postseason (per rules in effect for 2015)
2173 Recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (as of January 2015)
2331 Days in the year
2686 Species of Pokemon revealed as of 2015
9886 Elements of the sporadic Mathieu group M11

1: Wikipedia’s description is very breezy and chatty, causing me to doubt that the topic has been the subject of credible historical inquiry.

In Which I Try Stirring Up A New England Cheese Controversy

So I had been reading Edwin Valentine Mitchell’s 1946 book It’s An Old New England Custom, which is about just what the title suggests, though it goes on with more words about the subject. Something it claims is an old New England custom, and I’m quoting the chapter title exactly here to make sure I get it right, “To Eat Cheese”. And I had to be careful because until I went back and picked it up I would have sworn the chapter title was “To Be Fond Of Cheese”, which is a marginally different thing, especially since the chapter about customary fondness is actually “To Be Fond Of Fish”, which would put me off on almost exactly the same rhetorical thread here.

Mitchell goes on to demonstrate by way of anecdote and paragraphs containing numbers, many of them long enough to have commas, that New Englanders eat cheese. He reports how the census of 1850 shows that “Vermont produced more cheese than all other states put together except Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, and New York, and did it from 148,128 cows”, which sounds pretty impressive until you remember in 1850 if you rule out Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, and New York, you’re left with maybe four other states. It’s impressive Vermont could out-cheese, I don’t know what’s left, Delaware and Bleeding Kansas, but if they’re not going up directly against Ohio what’s the point of the statistic? Other than having a suspiciously precise count of cheese-generating cows of Vermont in 1850. (But if they were making up their cheese-generating cow count why not add in twenty imaginary cows and make the number a nice repeating 148,148? I can’t see any sense in that either.)

He also mentions how Cheshire, Massachusetts, sent a cheese weighing 1,450 pounds to President Jefferson, which he formally received on New Year’s Day, 1802. Apparently on the first slice of it Jefferson said, “I will cause this auspicious event to be placed on the records of our nation and it will ever shine amid its glorious archives”, which doesn’t sound at all like he’s reading a prepared statement from his pro-cheese kidnappers. But it also undermines the claim about New Englanders eating cheese because, and I’ve checked this thoroughly, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t a New Englander. I’m not even sure he was speaking to any New Englanders by 1802, and if he did, it was just to accuse them of lying about rocks.

Anyway, I guess all the cheese-production statistics do prove that New Englanders made plenty of cheese. But just because there’s a certain per capita production of cheese doesn’t mean that it’s all going to the purposes of being eaten. New Englanders might just be stockpiling vast reserves of cheddar and other, less popular kinds of cheeses, perhaps in the hopes of constructing a vast dome of cheese that completely shields their state from the oncoming winter snow. This won’t work, but it should make commercial aviation over twenty percent more thrilling and kind of parmesan-y. Plus a sufficiently thick layer of cheese above all of New England should allow the region’s residents to finally overcome backyard astronomy.

The thing is, while I’m satisfied with Mitchell’s thesis that New Englanders eat cheese, I’m not convinced that’s a particularly New England custom. Another set of people who could be characterized as “eating cheese” would be “pretty near everyone possessing the gene that renders them capable of digesting milk products”. If you wanted to make a map of Western Civilization, you might do it by examining where the local culture derives from the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations as filtered through the philosophical development of Christianity and the rediscovery of Aristotle leading to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and the rise of the liberal-democratic social contract, or you could just look for where the menus describe items as ‘cheesey’. Most of the people either place are going to eat cheese. Eating cheese seems a peculiarly New England custom in much the same way ‘liking the warm weather’ or ‘secretly hoping for an excuse to use the big stapler they keep in the supply closet’ or ‘preferring not to be pelted with excessively many rocks while changing a tire in a freezing rain’ are.

Anyway, I don’t want to put you off the book, because it contains the statement, “From Massachusetts comes a delightful tale of cheesemongering”, and if that hasn’t improved your day by at least ten percent then I think we just don’t have anything in common. I’m sorry.

In Search Of Happy Coaches

Although I still really don’t understand what’s the thing with this college football thing, I am aware that it’s anyway a fairly exciting thing here in Lansing when the University of Michigan plays Michigan State, and I was watching on the Tivo only a couple hours later to see a pretty impressive final score of Michigan State not just beating Michigan 35 to 11, but also somehow beating Rutgers, which I didn’t even know was in the game but put up only three points before being escorted out of Spartan Stadium and into the campus’s renowned Hideously Ugly Modern Art Building.

I noticed in the postgame interview that Michigan State’s coach still looked angry despite a pretty solid win. And then I realized I don’t think I’ve ever seen a football coach that didn’t look like he was about to hit a brick wall and keep on hitting it until it bled cranberry sauce. Are they that angry just because the games are these high-profile, high-stress positions where even if they simultaneously beat Michigan, Rutgers, and the University of Maryland there’s still going to be people who can’t just be ignored demanding their firing? Or are they just always furious, and they’d have the same face if they were at Arby’s and got a French Dip hoagie (after choosing to go to Arby’s and ordering a French Dip hoagie, I should say)? Are they only happy when they’re angry and if they are, then, how can they ever be either?

So to sum up, if cartonist Mell Lazarus wanted to use Momma to do a panel of almanac facts about the Moon this month why didn’t he even mention the partial solar eclipse that’s the most interesting thing the Moon did in October anyway?

Felix the Cat: Astronomeous

I guess that I’m in a Felix the Cat mood this month, or at least it’s easy once you see one to see others popping up in YouTube. So let me play with that. For today here’s Astronomeous (that last syllable is supposed to suggest the sound a cat makes), from 1928, and it’s an extremely early sound cartoon. That is, the sound is just awful, but, please listen with sympathy: it’s kind of amazing there’s sound at all.

As ever, though, when you mix a silent- or near-silent-era cartoon with the heavens you’re in for a strange, surreal ride. Why shouldn’t the rings of Saturn be host to a bicycle race? Why not have a hammer monster of Mars? Why not punch a shooting star that’s terrorizing the king? Add to this mix some really quite good perspective shots — it’s not all characters moving in straight lines, camera left to camera right — and it’s a pretty sound six minutes, forty seconds.

What You Need To Know To Understand February 21

Today is Friday, February 21, unless you are reading this on the wrong day. Go back and re-wind your calendar if this has happened. It is the 52nd day of the year, which is why most people don’t think it worth gathering in monstrously huge crowds in Times Square to ring the day in, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a pretty good day if it’s your birthday or if you’re celebrating the birth of John Rawls or something.

This date is observed as Washington’s Birthday by people who never reset their computer’s time zone from that visit to New Zealand and who haven’t noticed that they’re running a day ahead of their friends because they don’t vary their daily ritual nearly enough.

The Moon is now six days past full. It should be sniffed and passed to a trusted friend to “smell this and tell me if it’s funny” before being drunk. Funny in this case means peculiar as only the minor planets smell funny ha-ha. The moon should be spotted around dawn with Saturn to its left, and Mars and Spica to the right, but do not point. Jupiter may be seen after sunset, but do call ahead as it must finish its chores before it is allowed out. Capella will be passing overhead, which should not be a matter of concern, as it rarely spits and you can’t stop it anyway. Arcturus will be rising in the sky for what it insists is the last time eve as you keep taking it for granted; pay no attention. It does this every year at about this time, and it almost always comes back, since we started keeping the folder of Arcturian understudies in a prominent location.

People born on this day include singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, astronauts Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly, and the Bavarian politician Franz Xaver Josef von Unertl, although not all of them on the same day. Persons not born on this day include cartoonist Cathy Guisewite, actor Lucille Ball, city namesake Jim Thorpe, and 19th century superclown Dan Rice. Such is the balance of all things.

The day was celebrated as Feralia in ancient Rome, in order to celebrate the Manes, which marked the end of Parentalia, which doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere and is the sort of thing the ancient Romans were all busy about when they weren’t occupied with destroying Carthage. The festivities included arranging wreaths, sprinklings of grain and salt, and scattering bread soaked in wine and violets, although if you mixed up the orders of things it wouldn’t seem out of place. You could sprinkle bread soaked in salt and wreaths or arrange some violets and grain and not seem too out of place, which should be valuable if you find yourself in ancient Rome on the time of Feralia Parentalia Manes, which is a pretty catchy name all told.

February 21st is Language Movement Day in Bangladesh, which is why your friends in Dhaka and Chittagong have called to ask if you’ll help Bengali move its fold-out couch up three flights of stairs. Be tactful in making excuses. On learning how it connects to Bangladesh’s national identity and independence from Pakistan we feel a little bad even making that joke, and it isn’t much of a joke. It’s more kind of a “huh” followed by shrugging.

On this date in 1972 the International Atomic Energy Agency Verified that Canada was making peaceful use of nuclear power in Ontario, but we can’t help noticing that it didn’t say a word about what they’re up to in New Brunswick. Meanwhile in 1881 Winnipeg’s telephone system was sold to Bell Telephone, if you were worried about that.

On this date in 1992 the Internet ran out of IPv3 addresses, which were never in use but which were kept around just in case they could be useful sometime. The last block of addresses was used to prop the vegetable crisper up in the refrigerator so that it didn’t slip out of the tracks quite so easily. It did anyway. Several IPv3 addresses are kept as curios, but the bulk were harvested for their valuable horns, which were ground up to make a folk remedy for slow DSL connections.

Newton’s Prank

I’ll bet that if you have a mental image of Isaac Newton at all, it’s a pretty stern one: a guy forced to wear gentlemanly outfits of the late 17th century with that huge powdered wig that seems to be sarcasm, staring out with an expression that says “shut up, you idiot, I already know everything you could possibly say, and it’s all idiotic”, only written like they did back before anyone decided spelling words kind of the same-ish way most of the time. You don’t think of him as having a humorous side at all, or even cracking a smile. At best you’d think his only entertainment was judging other people to be far beneath him, but that’s one of those cases where history is overblowing his reputation. Why, once time, as Member of Parliament representing Cambridge at the Convention Parliament in 1689, which decided King James II had left the throne of England without pointing out how he left because of all those people pointing pointy spears at him, Newton once piped up to say that it was a little drafty and could you please close the window, you insufferable dunce.

But there’s more to him than that. Why, according to this book that got quoted in some other book that I actually read, Newton at least once played a really grand practical joke. And yeah, I know, you can put anything you want in one book, but I read in a totally different book about the same thing happening, without even quoting that first book, so this has got to be legitimate. While a student at the Grantham Grammar School in the 1650s, “he first made lanterns of paper crimpled, which used to go to school by, in winter mornings, with a candle, and tied them to the tails of the kites in a dark night, which at first affrighted the country people by thinking they were comets”, and if all that isn’t remarkable enough consider that my spell-checker has no objection to “affrighted” but doesn’t think “crimpled” is a word.

Apparently, his little stunt of faking a comet was very convincing in making other people think they were seeing comets, which got the folks around Grantham to wonder what calamity the comets were foretelling. I hope they’re not still waiting for the disaster, come to think of it. Probably they’re not; 350 years is a while to wait for the end of the world to be set off by a fake comet hung from a kite, but, get an idea in some people’s minds and it won’t get back out again either. Anyway, his getting people to see portents of doom is a really good response to a practical joke. The most response I ever get from a prank is some resigned sighing and people looking at their watches to see if they’ve acknowledged my existence enough and can now move on. I just bet Newton never had to deal with people rolling their eyes and smacking their lips while waiting for me to finish being amused by myself, but to be fair, he was the one with that whole idea of faking a comet with some kites and some paper crimpled. Also inventing physics. That’s pretty impressive too.

But if Newton was willing to play this one prank, one time, when he was a kid, obviously, he must’ve played a whole bunch of other pranks throughout his life. What other ones might there have been? I guess the obvious things he might have done were to spread rumors about how Wilhelm Leibniz plagiarized his recipe for Apple Moon Pie (“takke your Appells toe a most vy. grt. height above yr Moone Pie, and droppe them on the Moone Pie untill it being the Pie is affrightingly crimpled”), impose a confusing infinitesimals-based notation on calculus, or call Robert Hooke over to set his drinks on Hooke’s head. But I guess it’s more respectable that Newton might have played practical jokes that require some real props and lighting effects and such; think how you’d feel if you learned Newton was fond of Mad Libs or of telling lesser scientists “I got your nose, you pathetic ignoramus”. It takes imagination to make a comet, a lesson taken to heart by Newton’s I-guess-you-can-kind-of-call-him-a-friend Edmond Halley.

What is the Draconitic Cycle?

In my reading I just came across a mention that the moon has something called the draconitic cycle, or sometimes, the draconitic period (or “draconic” if someone is getting all tense about “draconitic” as a word). The term is a bit of a holdover from medieval astronomy, when everybody was worried all the time that an eclipse might sneak up on them, and so you can see the use in a term which represents how long it takes between successive passages of the moon through its ascending node. Really, it’s amazing they thought they needed to name that at all; surely the idea of successive passages through the ascending node is so common that it barely needs a word, the way we express such concepts as “       ” or “      ” or even “        ” by leaving a gap hanging in our conversations and just waving our arms frantically at people who don’t know what we’re going on about. Anyway, it picked up the name “draonitic cycle” just as you might expect, by astronomers watching the skies night after night to see how long it takes the Moon to be run over by a bicycle, which took until about 1890. Before then bicycles were just those hilarious things with a giant front wheel and a tiny back one that you could ride for parts of a second before tipping over and falling down. The cycles are much quicker these days.

Did We Need Spaceships All *This* Fast, Actually?

So now the space probe Juno’s gone and swung past the Earth, building up a little extra speed on its way to Jupiter and becoming the fastest man-made object that isn’t just trying to escape something embarrassing it said in an online forum, so I hope nobody’s left on it anything they wanted back anytime soon. These planetary flybys are really neat ways of getting a space probe to travel faster even though you can explain why it works to a bunch of freshman physics majors and they’ll still stare at you the way a Labrador retriever stares at the glass coffee table hoping that maybe this time the potato chip you tossed on it will fall through.

If it isn’t going fast enough by this time, though, it’s possible it’s going to go even faster than that. Back in 1990 when Galileo (the space probe) went flying past Earth on its way to Jupiter it got a whole bucket full of extra speed, but it turns out it got about four millimeters per second more than it was supposed to. Maybe that doesn’t sound like too much, since it was already going at 13,740,000 millimeters per second, but when you get down into the grit of the numbers you realize: this isn’t even that much.

But nobody was quite sure where it came from, as the satellite was launched before they had the E-ZPass lanes where you don’t even have to slow down at the toll booths. So in 1992 when Galileo went flying past the Earth again on its way to Jupiter (it was supposed to do that, so this wasn’t just Jupiter being fickle and pretending not to be there) NASA watched very closely and the probe didn’t do anything funny at all except for sticking out its tongue and making a sound which experts still dispute, as they can’t settle whether it was said “nyah-nyah” or “nanny-nanny-boo-boo” or “this is Andy Griffith for the Mutual Radio Theater” (a short-lived 1980 project to revive scripted network radio programming in the United States), but they’re pretty sure it wasn’t that last one.

This is obviously an extremely tiny anomaly in a phenomenon very difficult to precisely measure, or as New Scientist probably billed it, a fundamental challenge to our understanding of physics and a potential revolution in interacting with the world, except for those of us who interact with it using only pointed sticks or sarcasm. But it all could’ve been a mistake, maybe someone failing to keep track of how many millimeters per second they had in petty cash or something, and this only got more interesting in its way when the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous, flying by Earth on the way to not flying by Jupiter, got an extra 13 millimeters per second. Obviously, space probes were getting greedy. When Rosetta, which flew past Earth three times over to try getting to a comet, it got a lousy 1.8 millimeters per second the first time around, nothing on the second, and on the third left two and a quarter millimeters per second on the moon just to spite us.

What all this naturally reminds everyone of once they’re reminded about it is the Pioneer Anomaly, where Pioneer 10 and 11 were found to be travelling aster than they were … er … they were accelerating more slowly than … they were accelerating to outer space more than … I’m not sure what it was they were doing, but they were doing it for an awfully long time until someone went back and checked very carefully and, to the delight of popular science magazines the world over, discovered they hadn’t been doing anything funny at all and we should feel bad for suspecting them of it. That’s why in 2012 NASA launched an emergency expedition to send the Pioneer spacecraft some special apology editions of New Scientist, which are going to use these cracks in spacetime that might totally exist and prove the world’s actually a computer simulation of itself to get there sooner.

So overall I’m interested knowing there’s these anomalous millimeters per second being thrown around, since knowing how space probes do it would probably help next time I need a teensy little bit of extra speed and am going to Jupiter.

This Day In History: 1731

May 4, 1731: Saturn enters the house of Aries, only to find Aries is not present. It playfully rearranges the dishes so they and the coffee mugs are on the wrong sides of the cabinet and the planet leaves undetected. Aries, learning what happened by way of Venus, would not forgive Saturn for over two hundred years.