Eponymously Yours, W. Skeffington Higgins|
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|Thursday, November 28th, 2013|
While preparing for Thanksgiving festivities, I switched on the good old Macy's Parade. And discovered another thing that high-definition TV is well-suited for. But I noticed a couple of odd things.
1. A large marching band playing "Simple Gifts" in the middle of this very large and colorful parade, accompanied by performers in bright skirts twirling huge, colorful flags. Wouldn't a sentiment like "'Tis a gift to be simple" be better expressed by, say, a single person walking down a deserted street, playing a dulcimer?
2. A commercial for a new animated movie entitled Frozen
. It had not occurred to me-- and maybe it had not occurred to executives of the film company-- that this would result in an announcer uttering the words "Disney's Frozen
." Will this rumor never die? I checked Snopes. No, he's not
|Helps Put You on the Road to Optimum Health, It Says Here
As the Quantum Wellness Botanical Institute LLC of Beverly Hills, California can tell you, nothing says "Our product is firmly grounded in evidence-based nutritional studies appearing in respectable peer-reviewed journals" quite like naming it MEGA-NUTRITION ORGANIC SUPERFOOD:
Tastes good, and it's so good for
you. And remember, kids, "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease." Says so right on the label.
|Thursday, November 7th, 2013|
|My Windycon 40 Schedule
I'm back in the U.S.A. To my delight, the Lufthansa flight home had an episode of Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion
on its video jukebox. Though my feeble German skills are wholly inadequate to follow actors speaking rapid, colloquial German, it was nonetheless interesting to watch episode 1, "Angriff aus dem All" (Attack from Space). The set designs are terrific, and the special effects reasonably effective.
What really sold me on this show was the way it livened up a simple "two spacemen talking in a bar" scene. The bar's window offers a view of the giant fish cavorting above the underwater city-- nice touch. Then, unexpectedly, THIS happens:
Friends, the future is going to be different
Anyway, it's good to be home.
Next up: Windycon this weekend. Forty, and I've attended thirty-seven of them. Wow.Colonizing Space
Saturday, - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm - Jr Ballroom AWill space travel ever be safe enough and cheap enough to really colonize other planets? Can a moon or Mars colony really work? Will space colonization be government sponsored or private citizens? What happens if we can’t leave Earth?
Bill Higgins (M)
Catherine ShafferGravity: Film v. Science
Saturday, - 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm - Jr Ballroom AThe Alfonso Cuaron film Gravity certainly looks beautiful and makes full use of 3D technology, but how accurate is it? Cuaron has admitted that scientific accuracy was allowed to float out the window for the needs of the story, but Astronaut Mike Massimino has praised the film and Neil de Grasse Tyson has tweeted about its inaccuracies. Our team of technogeeks dissect, celebrate, and go fanboy over the film.
Steve Collins (M)
Robert J. Trembley
[This should be a hoot! Beware, there will be SPOILERS at this panel.]The Future of Private Space Exploration
Sunday, - 10:00 am to 11:00 am - Lilac ANow that NASA is out of the space business private developers are stepping in. Can private space exploration really give us the future sf predicts? How can we help get there?
W. A. (Bill) Thomasson (M)Vandals of the Void: Damaging Meteorites from Chelyabinsk to Chicago
Sunday, - 11:00 am to 12:00 pm - Jr Ballroom BA window-shattering shock wave injured 1100 Russians and startled the world a few months ago. Meteoric violence is rare, but it can be devastating-and meteorites have assaulted Chicagoland at least twice. Bill Higgins reviews the Chelyabinsk blast, reveals our local impacts.
|Tuesday, November 5th, 2013|
|Farewell to Florence
This is my last night in Florence. Among those I would like to thank are:
Brother Guy for playing road-trip buddy, interpreter, and sometime tour guide. My wife, K, for giving me up for a week, for which she has been cruelly repaid with a lousy cold and flu. Mrs. Nancy Husted, for instilling a desire to see Florence-- more about her another time. Jo Walton, who never met Mrs. Husted, but definitely plays on her team. Steve Collins, actor, musician, explorer, who would never claim to be a Renaissance Man, for travel tips. And the mysterious Ex Urbe
, whose writings about Rome, Florence, the Renaissance, and especially gelato were excellent preparation for a trip to Italy. Not to mention her "Spot the Saint
" series, a candy-coated way of turning Christian iconography into a puzzle, invaluable in fighting glaze-over and incomprehension; I must have seen a hundred Annunciations in the past two weeks, and a hundred and fifty Madonnas With Child.
The costly all-the-museums-you-can-eat Firenze Card made gluttons of brotherguy
and me. It confers the privilege of avoiding ticket lines and the necessity for reservations, so if one likes, one can imagine that one is a distant Medici cousin or something. However, its clock is ticking, so the value-minded will race to cram in enough museum visits to break even on the combined admission costs in a mere 72 hours. This might be Avarice rather than Gluttony. I will need to consult Dante.
Having nothing else to do in Florence but eat and sometimes pray, we blew well past the break-even limit. The official count is not yet in but I believe we did eight before Guy got on the train back to Rome and I squeezed in 2.5 before the card expired. This was not exactly sane. It sure was educational, though.
Since the Firenze Card also confers free Wifi, you'd think I'd have posted to Livejournal more while in Florence. Guess not.
I frequently found myself thanking the people of Florence for keeping all these artworks, buildings, gadgets, etc. for so many centuries, plus rescuing them from floods and fires, restoring them, and so forth. And there's one more person I'd like to thank. You know who you are.
|Wednesday, October 30th, 2013|
|Monday, October 28th, 2013|
|An Announcement from the Vatican (Observatory)
From: "Consolmagno, Guy J - (brotherguy)"
Date: October 28, 2013, 1:19:41 PM GMT+01:00
Subject: Seminar Tuesday
Our guest, Bill Higgins, will give an informal seminar after coffee tomorrow (Tuesday):
Antimatter: from Quantum Physics to Science Fiction
Antimatter, a bizarre family of particles first discovered in the 1930s, eventually became known to the general public by becoming commonplace in science fiction stories. The path from science to fiction passes from quantum physics through astronomy, and the study of meteors, before falling into the hands of such SF writers as John Campbell, Robert Heinlein, and Jack Williamson.
William S. Higgins is a Radiation Physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
I am very, very grateful to those who made it possible for me to be here.
|Sunday, October 20th, 2013|
|Boustrophedonically Yours, W. Skeffington Higgins
This week, I got to use the word "boustrophedonic
" in a sentence.
Then I realized that this was the first time in the current decade I had used it. It just doesn't come up very often.
(We had brought a roll of drawings into a beamline enclosure as a reference. When one leaves, one must check for radioactivity on ones's person or objects one is carrying. My colleague Mike was frisking the roll with a pancake counter, scanning it from end to end, rotating the roll a little, then moving the frisker in the other direction.)
If you, too, want to work "boustrophedonic" into your conversation, it may be best to go someplace where corn-on-the-cob is being served.
|Friday, October 11th, 2013|
|A Word to Those Who Like Movies about Spaceflight: See EUROPA REPORT First
is really good. But.
If you are the slightest bit inclined to see Europa Report
, which has just come out on DVD this week in the U.S., try to see it before you watch Gravity
. Like the newer film, it works hard to depict astronauts in a realistic fashion-- in certain ways, its astronauts behave more believably than Gravity
's-- making very good use of its limited budget. Europa Report
is a decent hard-SF found-footage film that is considerably better than I'd expected. It deserves to be appreciated on its own merits.
If you watch the big-budget major-studio special-effects extravaganza first, your appreciation of the small-budget independent film may well be threatened. Already Gravity's box-office receipts
have surpassed those of Europa Report
by a factor of more than eight hundred
is a noble attempt to make a hard-science-fiction "space suit film
." If at all possible, it should be an appetizer to Gravity
's feast. See it first.
|Monday, October 7th, 2013|
|Young Von Neumann Encounters Punched Cards
In addition to his work on pure mathematics, John von Neumann
contributed fundamental advances to dozens of fields, from quantum mechanics to weather prediction. In particular, he was a pivotal figure in the development of electronic digital computers.
I've been reading George Dyson's terrific book Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe
. Within its pages, I found an interesting quote. Von Neumann's father Max was a Budapest banker who discussed his work with his children at the dinner table. Dyson quotes Nicholas A. Vonneuman* in John von Neumann As Seen by His Brother
. Dyson writes:
Max believed in demonstrating practical examples of the industrial applications of finance. "If these activities involved financing of a newspaper enterprise, the discussion was about the printing press and he brought home and demonstrated samples of type,” says Nicholas. “Or if it was a textile enterprise, e.g., the 'Hungaria Jacquard Textile Weaving Factory,' the discussion centered around the Jacquard automatic loom. It probably does not take much imagination to trace this experience to John's later interest in punched cards!"
This offers a connection between Jacquard's loom
and an individual deeply involved in developing the stored-program architecture now featured in virtually all computers. I should add this quote to my "Babbage's Favorite Picture" talk.**
* Different members of the family Anglicized their Hungarian names into different spellings.
**It took me fifteen years before I managed to find an image of the Jacquard Jacquard
, but I now see that it pops up on Wikipedia for all to see in seconds.
|Friday, October 4th, 2013|
|Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013|
|Stick-Figures Everywhere Are Celebrating
Asteroid 4942 has been named Munroe
, after Randall Munroe, the cartoonist who draws XKCD
. Here is its entry
in the Small Bodies Database.
The first thing I did was try to figure out whether 4942 Munroe was big enough to pose a threat to Earth. I was excited to learn that, based on its albedo (brightness), it’s probably about 6-10 kilometers in diameter. That’s comparable in size to the one that killed the dinosaurs—definitely big enough to cause a mass extinction!
Please don't kill us all.
|Tuesday, September 24th, 2013|
|Thirty-Five Years before the Beamline
Anniversary yesterday: On 23 September 1978, I joined Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory as an engineering physicist in the Neutrino Department.
So far, it's going well.
W. Skeffington Higgins. Detail from 1978 staff and faculty photo of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Michigan State University. Death ray by Tullio Proni of Isher Enterprises, on loan from the collection of Mark Hyde.
|Thursday, September 5th, 2013|
|Man Minus: The Voice of Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)
My friend Fred Pohl passed away last weekend. There are appreciations of him sprouting up all over the Net. Some that have come to my attention include Jo Walton's
, Joe Haldeman's
, and one on his own blog site by Leah Zeldes
Fred connected us to the age of pulps, when science fiction was still forming itself, and to the first decade of SF fandom. He had innumerable tales to tell, about those days, and about all the years in between.
I'd like to share a few links, in particular audio and video where you can hear Fred tell stories and converse with his colleagues.Frederik Pohl reminisces at Windycon in 2012 (MP3)
, courtesy of Leigh Hanlon's Chicagoscope
.Fred and Jack Williamson discuss “The Art, Science and Combat of Collaboration”
, a 1977 panel at Confusion, from The Time Traveler Show
and the Science Fiction Oral History Association.SFFaudio page rounding up audio of Fred's fiction
Also from SFFaudio
, a 1972 interview with Isaac Asimov and Fred Pohl together: Part 1 (MP3)
. Part 2 (MP3)
. Video of Fred's 2004 talk at the Library of Congress
(Realplayer format).Mentions of Fred in my own blog. "Eponymously Yours, W. Skeffington Higgins."(Prose) interview with R. K. Troughton
at Amazing Stories
.Edited to add:
Another audio track by Fred Pohl exists, but as far as I know it's not available online. In 2002, celebrating Windycon XXIX, ISFiC Press created A Walk on the Windy Side
, a compact disc containing comedy, songs, and stories.
On this CD, Fred reads his 1949 story for Planet Stories
, "Let the Ants Try." It's a 28-minute track. Each person attending Windycon was given a copy, but no further copies were sold, so the album is rather scarce.*
On the theory that two nonagenarians are better than one, the StarShipSofa podcast interviewed Jack Vance and Fred Pohl together
In the 1960s, Fred was also a regular guest on Long John Nebel's late-night radio talk show. Some tapes of this show are floating around the Net, but I can't lay hands just now on any episodes that may feature Fred.
* I'm on it too, performing Jeff Duntemann's filksong "Our Space Opera Goes Rolling Along." Maybe I should put it online somehow. The tune is public domain, and I could probably get Jeff's blessing.
|Sunday, August 25th, 2013|
|Celebrating Hugh Daniel: Ann Arbor, Michigan, Saturday, 28 September
[Lesli Daniel passes along details of a Michigan event for friends and family of her brother Hugh. --WSH]
Finally we have the details for Hugh's memorial in Ann Arbor. We apologize for the delay and the changes.
Celebrating Hugh Daniel's LifeDate:
Saturday, September 28, 2013 Time
: 3 - 7 p.m.Where
: Delhi Metropolitan Park
Huron River Dr. & E. Delhi Rd.
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103
(It is an outdoor setting, so dress accordingly)Parking
: The entrance fee will be waived if you inform the gate that you are with the Daniel PartyBring
1. It's a picnic. Meatballs, pulled pork and corn on the cob provided. Please bring a side dish, drink or dessert to share. BYOB beer and wine; no liquor allowed in the park.
2. A memory, story or reflection of Hugh to share.
3. Photos are welcome. Bring on flash drive or CD or email at least 24 hours ahead to firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Memorabilia for display if you'd like.
5. A child-like party 'tude resplendent with costume, toy, talent or any expression you so desire - even if it is black garb.
6. Lawn chairs. There is a shelter with picnic tables, but you may desire something more comfortable.
We will start with remembrances, for which we welcome any and all to share a story, a though, a photo or anything they wish to share. We will then scatter his ashes in the Huron River so that he gets one last trip through Ann Arbor. The picnic will follow. This will be a causal event and we encourage children and a party atmosphere.
Hugh is going to join Gene & Majel Rodenberry on a deep space, permanent celestial journey to ?? The flight launches in fourth quarter 2014 by Celestis
. If you would like to contribute to launching him, please visit Hugh.xisp.net
. As you know, going into space was always his fantasy.
Please share this email announcement far and wide.
If you have requests or idea for honoring Hugh's life, please contact Lesli Daniel. Should you have an interest in showing your respects through flowers, the Family invites you to support his space travel in lieu or a donation to a non-profit of your choice.
Barbara Smart Daniel, Hugh's Mother email@example.com
Lesli Daniel, Hugh's Sister, LesliHiker@gmail.com
Hugh Daniel in 1995. Photo by Rodford E. Smith.
|Deep in Illinois
The marathon renovation of our Other House continues. This involves many, many trips to Henry and Peoria, and may help explain why you haven't seen much of me here.
I have, however, seen quite a bit of the Zorro sign
in the past few weeks. I try to salute him whenever I pass by on my way to the lakeside.
Some kind friends have volunteered to help us next weekend, so there is hope for great progress.
|Tuesday, August 13th, 2013|
|The Dark Secret of Chillicothe
These days we have been making many trips back and forth to repair the house of my late mother-in-law. It's in the vicinity of Henry, about two hours from where we live. We go on to stay with family in Peoria, about 45 minutes beyond that.
As a consequence, we find ourselves driving, as we often have, through Chillicothe, Illinois, population 6000.
A few weeks ago, a new sign appeared.
1 -4 SUN WED SAT
MCCULLEY ZORRO EXHIBIT
The sign whizzed by. Synapses fired in the next few hundred milliseconds. Zorro? Why would a historical society have a Zorro exhibit? Wait, wasn't the author who created Zorro a guy with a name something like McCulley?
By the time we got where we were going, I was bursting with curiosity, but also out of range of my cellphone network. I had to wait for hours
before I could google.
Sure enough, Zorro, the masked swordsman of old California, sprang from the pen of Johnston McCulley
. The Chillicothe Historical Society
recently became aware that McCulley grew up in their town, graduating from Chillicothe High in 1901. They've decided they ought to celebrate him
. An exhibit opened earlier this summer
I didn't know much about Zorro. His name came up in my studies of pulp fiction and comics. I had seen a few Zorro movies and a few episodes of a TV show. But I loved
the idea that an ordinary-looking town could secretly be connected to a legendary swashbuckling hero.
Last week, a new sign appeared.
A life-size figure of Zorro himself now adorns Chillicothe's Fourth Street (which I think of as Route 29). ( Zorromania in ChillicotheCollapse )
The sign was designed by Peter Poplaski, a comics artist and scholar who is a thoroughly devoted Zorro enthusiast. He provided the museum with some of its memorabilia, and with an impressive portrait of McCulley which now hangs there.
Here's a video clip of Mr. Poplaski discussing how Zorro was distinct from other adventure heroes of the time
(after a commercial rolls).
Read The Curse of Capistrano
, the 1919 story in which McCulley introduced Zorro. Or download the book version, retitled The Mark of Zorro
Almost immediately, Hollywood embraced the mysterious black-clad crusader. You can watch the 1920 silent film The Mark of Zorro
, starring Douglas Fairbanks and directed by Fred Niblo.
Here's a 1958 Life spread on the TV incarnation, including plenty of masked children with swords and mustaches
Further talkies, radio shows, movie serials, extremely corny clips of Walt Disney plugging Zorro to the Mouseketeers, comics, audiobooks, and cartoons I will leave as an exercise for the googler.
So far, I have not found myself in Chillicothe on a Wednesday, a Saturday, or a Sunday between 1 and 4. Therefore I have not yet seen the McCulley exhibit.
But I will one day. I feel it is my destiny.
|Tuesday, August 6th, 2013|
|On Hal Clement, Valentine's Day, and Boston
Hal Clement was one of the great science fiction writers, and an enthusiastic participant in programming at SF conventions. His talent in explaining and speculating about science, which fans experienced in reading his fiction and hearing him at cons, reminded us that he must have been very good at his vocation as a high school science teacher.
The New England Science Fiction Association
After his death, NESFA decided to honor him by establishing the Hal Clement Science Speaker as a memorial. Each year we bring someone who shares his wide interest in science combined with a love of science fiction to speak at Boskone.
I am pleased to say that I have been invited to be Hal Clement Science Speaker at Boskone 51
, 14 through 16 February 2014, in Boston.
I am grateful for this honor, especially because I've always wanted to attend Boskone. Boston is a great city that I always love to visit. So I'm really looking forward to Valentine's Day.
|Thursday, August 1st, 2013|
|My Schedule for Musecon 3, 2 – 4 August in Itasca, Illinois
is nearly upon us and the program is now available
. I'll be at the Westin Chicago Northwest, in Itasca, Illinois, participating in a couple of items:Todd and Bill Provide Endless Amusement
Sat, August 3, 4:30pm – 5:45pm
Todd Johnson, Bill Higgins
Endless Amusement is a book, published in 1820, containing 400 scientific demonstrations, experiments, tricks, and projects for young readers. Join Todd Johnson and Bill Higgins for Regency-era fun, as they try out a couple of the saner suggestions. Merely discussed will be the ones our hotel would not allow (plenty of recipes for fireworks) and the ones that are rather dangerous ("DISSOLVE 100 grains of mercury by heat, in an ounce and a half of nitric acid...")Ukulele Summit
Sun, August 4, 9:00 am – 10:15 am
Lisa Golladay, Michael Blake, Bill Higgins, Bryan Peterson
Four strings and the truth. Bring a uke, borrow a uke, teach a song or learn some new ones. Absolute beginners welcome; also blazing hipsters, guitarists who seek the light, and those of us for whom vaudeville never died (you know who you are).
(Yes, Lisa, I know who I am.)
|Tuesday, June 25th, 2013|
|My Schedule for Duckon 22, 28-30 June in Wheeling, Illinois
has been kind enough to invite me to be Science Guest of Honor
next weekend, 28 through 30 June, in Wheeling, Illinois. Here's the current draft of the Duckon program
My events (in addition to Opening Ceremonies and Closing Ceremonies):
8 PM Friday: Classic SF/Fantasy/Horror
What makes War of the Worlds memorable? Our panelists will share their lists of famous and not so known pieces of literature they would definitely keep on their shelves and pass down to the future generations. Even though these “treasures” were written more than forty years ago or older, they are still enjoyable today and beyond.
10 AM Saturday: Curiosity’s Journey Continues: NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Rover
The Mars rover Curiosity brought a sophisticated toolbox of instruments to study the surface of the Red Planet—including one that can fire a laser pulse to vaporize a rock, then capture its spectrum.
Join Bill Higgins to review what Curiosity has taught us during 11 months of exploring a region in Gale Crater where water once flowed.
(Curiosity keeps exploring; I keep talking about her.)
10 AM Sunday: Vandals of the Void: Damaging Meteors from Chelyabinsk to Chicago
A window-shattering shock wave injured 1400 Russians, and startled the world, a few months ago. Meteoric violence is rare, but it can be devastating—and meteors have assaulted Chicagoland at least twice. Bill Higgins reviews the Chelyabinsk blast, reveals our local impacts, and examines whether we can fight back against our asteroidal foes.
(This is a new talk I cooked up out of fascination with the Chelyabinsk incident.)
11 AM Sunday: Beauty of Science
Many times science and art often intertwine. There is a natural beauty everywhere from geological formations in Mammoth Cave, to streaming light emissions of the Northern Lights. Some art has to be discovered and science will be the tool to reveal them. Join our panelists as they share some examples of how they see beauty in scientific discoveries.
Times may well change; this schedule is not final, so check with Duckon once the con begins for the latest schedule.
Needless to say, I'm very much looking forward to the weekend!
|Friday, June 21st, 2013|