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Eponymously Yours, W. Skeffington Higgins
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in beamjockey's LiveJournal:

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    Friday, September 12th, 2014
    4:18 pm
    "Say, That Looks Big Enough to Fly a B-25 through!"

    I'm reprinting this from the comments section on james_nicoll's blog, where, in a discussion of planes hitting tall buildings, ethelmay writes, intriguingly:
    Tangent: I once met a guy who had flown a B-25 UNDER the Eiffel Tower. He and his wife were friends of my father and stepmother.

    The spaces at the base of the Eiffel Tower appear to be defined by semicircular arcs. Their diameter is 74.24 meters, for a radius of 37.12 m.

    A North American B-25 has a wingspan of-- well, some online sources say 66 feet. Some say 67 feet. Some say 68. I found one that says 118 inches, but it turns out to be describing a 1:7 scale model. Let's take 68 feet, or 20.7 m, for a half-span of 10.35 m.

    Presuming your transgressive* friend is skilled enough to fly his bomber down the centerline of the archway (as projected onto the ground; a plumbline dropped from the highest point of the arch would touch this), and presuming the wingspan is the dominant constraint (e.g. the twin tailfins are not tall enough to intersect the arch if the wingtips clear it), what is the maximum altitude at which the wings safely pass through?

    This height is the length of a vertical side of a right triangle, whose horizontal side is a half-wingspan in length with a vertex on the arch, and whose hypotenuse is one radius in length with one end at this vertex and the other on the centerline at the ground.

    Pythagoras teaches us that the maximum height is therefore

    SQRT(37.12^2 - 10.352) = 35.6 meters, or 115 feet.

    This answer is a bit too simple. I have treated the semicircle of the arch as if it were in a vertical plane. As anyone can see, the arch is actually tilted, so viewed from the side the tower's base appears to be a trapezoid. So height of the semicircle, and the maximum safe height for the bomber, are actually lower by a factor depending on the angle of the trapezoid's sides. Improving this result is left as an exercise for any student able to determine this angle.

    I have also neglected the calculation of minimum height, which might involve gathering data on the umbrellas over vendors' pushcarts and such.

    I am sure your friend, as a methodical and safety-minded aviator, took all these things into account in making his own calculations.

    * Yet completely awesome.
    Monday, August 25th, 2014
    8:53 pm
    25 Years Ago: My Visit to Neptune
    It's been twenty-five years this week since Voyager 2 performed the first-- and, so far, only-- flyby of the planet Neptune.

    Neptune as seen by Voyager 2
    Neptune, with Great Dark Spot and Lesser Dark Spot.

    That week I was in Pasadena, playing journalist for a very peculiar news service. It was one of the greatest adventures of my life. Shortly after the encounter, I described my Neptune week in an article entitled I Was a 900-Number Bimbo from Outer Space "Phone Call from a Turquoise Giant."

    Neptune encounter trajectory
    Diagram of Voyager 2's Neptune and Triton flyby trajectory.

    The entire article is long, but I'll give you a few excerpts in the voice of 1989's William S. Higgins.

    I'd convinced the people running the National Space Society's Dial-A-Shuttle service that I could absorb NASA's scientific briefings and (quickly!) create clear and concise summaries for the benefit of eager space enthusiasts. I suppose I sounded convincing, because they added me to their team.
    Every time a Shuttle mission lifts off (unless it's classified), a team of NSS announcers is ready at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to keep the phone lines hot with information. When there is space-to-ground chatter, callers can hear it live. When astronauts are asleep or busy, or the spacecraft is out of tracking range, Dial-A-Shuttle plays a variety of short taped features which explain aspects of the mission or report on its latest progress. The announcer breaks in every now and then to identify Dial-A-Shuttle, plug NSS, or provide live commentary. Dial-A-Shuttle has been going since STS-7, and has developed a following among space enthusiasts who rely on (900)909-NASA for fresher information and more detail than other news media give. It made sense to try covering the Neptune encounter. But, of course, there are differences. Voyager has no "voice," so there would be no live audio coming from the spacecraft. On the other hand, we could expect much of scientific novelty to be pouring down the data stream in the three days we planned to operate. It's the nature of a flyby mission to report a lot in a short time, so we could provide a service by telling callers about the latest results in the "quick look" science.

    Read more about Neptune...Collapse )
    This first appeared in an NSS chapter publication called Spacewatch. It was reprinted in 2011. To celebrate the first Neptunian year since its 1846 discovery, Steven H Silver published an all-Neptune issue of his fanzine Argentus, which included my Turquoise Giant piece.
    Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
    1:11 pm
    Song of the Sea: Turning Ink into Light, Again
    If you are a filmgoer who enjoyed the Irish animated feature The Secret of Kells as much as I did, it will please you to hear that Tomm Moore is directing a new film, which is nearly completed: Song of the Sea.

    For dyed-in-the-wool animation buffs,* I have further news. Just as he did with the previous film, Mr. Moore has been keeping a blog describing the ongoing progress of Song of the Sea.

    Yesterday I learned that a trailer is available:

    I have no idea when it might be released here. I have no idea whether it will get wide distribution, so I can see it at the nearby multiplex, or instead appear only at art-house theaters, which would require driving into Chicago. Either way, I'll be in line.

    * Perhaps "inked-on-the-cel animation buffs" would be more correct.
    Monday, July 14th, 2014
    9:28 pm
    Detcon 1: My Schedule at the NASFiC
    Detcon 1 is the name of this year's North American Science Fiction Convention. Detcon will blossom in my old home town, Detroit, Michigan, from Thursday, 17 July, through Sunday the 20th. I've agreed to participate in a bunch of programming.

    Physics, Mechanics, & Logistics of Flying Cars

    Fri 10:00 AM -- Mackinac East
    What would it be like if we DID have flying cars? What are the physical, technical, logistical, legal, and cultural factors we would need to consider? Are flying cars like cars or are they like planes? What will really make cars fly?

    Bill Higgins (moderator), Mel. White, Erik Kauppi, Emmy Jackson

    The Science of Hal Clement's Iceworld

    Fri 12:00 PM -- Mackinac East
    In Hal Clement's 1951 novel Iceworld, characters who breathe hot gaseous sulfur confront the mysteries of Earth, to them an unbelievably frigid planet. Among other things, the legendary master of hard SF foresaw robotic interplanetary exploration in a unique way. And now that astronomers know about thousands of extrasolar planets, does the homeworld of the sulfur-breathers lurk among them? Join Bill Higgins in exploring the chemistry, physics, and astronomy behind the classic story.

    Bill Higgins

    Where's my D@m! Flying Car?

    Sat 12:00 PM -- Ambassador Salon 1
    Science fiction vs. science reality: where did the future go wrong? We may have flying cars, but they're not the anti-grav vehicles that we really want! Humans have been experiencing long-term space flight for years now, but there are no colonies yet in orbit or on the moon. And where's my hoverboard?

    Jonathan Stars (moderator), Douglas Johnson, Ian Randal Strock, Cindy A. Matthews (Cynthianna), Bill Higgins, Dr. Charles Dezelah, Dr. Nicolle Zellner

    Annals of Michifandom

    Sat 1:00 PM -- Nicolet B
    From the Slan Shack and the propeller beanie to Detcon1, Michigan fans have contributed mightily to fannish history and lore. Join us for some rollicking multimedia time travel through fandom Michigan-style.

    Dick Smith (moderator), Cy Chauvin, Tammy Coxen, Gregg T. Trend, Chad Childers, Rich Lynch, Leah A. Zeldes, Tullio Proni, Amy Ranger, Denice Brown, Pat Sims, Roger Sims, Todd R. Johnson, Fred Prophet, Bill Higgins, Tracy Lunquist

    [I don't think Dick Smith has ever lived in Michigan, but he married into Michifandom, and he is greatly concerned with preserving fannish history. So he's a good MC for a two-hour review of the Wolverine State's many-faceted involvement with fandom. Should be fun.]

    The Personal Replicator

    Sun 11:00 AM -- Ambassador Salon 1
    With the introduction of 3-D printers, we're well on our way to Star Trek's replicator. Before long, we'll have access to the alchemist's dream: the ability to manipulate molecules. What are the implications for the world economy? Do we face the possibility of wiping out poverty? What about intellectual property? We will have to answer these questions, and many more, much sooner than you think.

    Jonathan Stars (moderator), Joshua Kronengold, Mel. White, Mike Substelny, Bill Higgins
    Sunday, July 13th, 2014
    2:46 am
    Lachryphagy. Bees. This Post Respectfully Dedicated to James Nicoll
    You know how james_nicoll sometimes suffers through a book of questionable quality, to produce a review that will warn or entertain his correspondents?

    You know how he labels these reviews "Because My Tears Are Delicious to You?"

    Well, over in Thailand, Hans Bänziger of Chaing Mai University and his colleagues described bees that would like to drink James's tears.:
    Lisotrigona cacciae, L. furva and Pariotrigona klossi (Meliponini, Apidae) workers drank lachrymation (tears) from human eyes in more than 262 naturally-occurred cases at 10 sites in N and S Thailand during all months of the year. [...]On man the bees were relatively gentle visitors, mostly landing on the lower eyelashes from where they imbibed tears for 0.5–2.5 min, often singly but occasionally in congregations of 5–7 specimens per eye.
    If you are squeamish enough not to want to see lachryphagous bees in action, DO NOT CLICK ON THIS LINK, which leads to pictures described in this article accurately, but somewhat inadequately,as "Selfie photos by Hans Bänziger." You can't unsee them.

    (It's possible everyone but me knew about this already.)
    Thursday, July 10th, 2014
    12:42 am
    Normal Service Has Been Resumed
    I am pleased to say that, on Twitter, mrbeamjockey is open for business. Until the next arbitrary and capricious suspension, at least.

    Now I will have to think of something to say.

    The spectre of Henry David Thoreau looms: "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."

    We techies hate hearing this.

    Wait a minute-- let me check on something.

    Aha! That supercilious bastard Thoreau had no compunction about jumping on the Twitter bandwagon himself. What a hypocrite!
    Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
    1:03 pm
    Suspended for Tweetcrime! My Brief Career on Twitter
    As 2014 opened, I asked: "Is This the Year for Twitter?"

    Yesterday, I opened a Twitter account. "Beamjockey" belongs to someone else, so I chose "mrbeamjockey" --that's MISTER Beam Jockey to you...

    I installed some profile images. Then I followed a few people.

    I have not yet posted any utterance. As the Twitterfolk say, I have not Tweeted.

    Overnight, some people were kind enough to follow me.

    This morning, I encountered a notice that surprised me.

    Your account (@mrbeamjockey) is currently suspended. To lift your suspension, please visit Suspended Accounts.

    Note that the number of Tweets remains zero.

    The Suspended Accounts page says:
    Hey Bill Higgins,

    Twitter has automated systems that find and remove multiple automated spam accounts in bulk. Unfortunately, it looks like this account, @mrbeamjockey, got caught up in one of these spam groups by mistake.

    We apologize for this inconvenience. It’s possible your account posted an update that appeared to be spam, so please be careful what you tweet or retweet. You might also want to review our help page for hacked or compromised accounts: // You will need to change your behavior to continue using Twitter. Repeat violations of the Twitter Rules may result in the permanent suspension of your account.

    The linked page discusses the practice of following, but it doesn't say anything about "hacked or compromised accounts."

    At the bottom, the Suspended Accounts page offers a couple of check-boxes and a ReCAPTCHA box to restore the account. One of the check-boxes does not have any text beside it. The other, a bit ominously, asks me to swear fealty: "I understand that my account may be permanently suspended if I continue using Twitter in a way that violates the Twitter Rules."

    Kid, you can have your account back, but We're Watching.

    Because I do not know which violation of the Twitter Rules I have already committed, I do not know how to keep this from happening again. I suppose I will check these boxes and attempt to resume my place in the Twitterverse, under the shadow of my criminal past.

    Will this work? Or am I doomed to be on the lam forever, unjustly accused, a fugitive from the Twitter Sheriff, runnin' like a dog through the Everglades?

    Stay tuned.
    Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
    1:19 pm
    Place the Double Quotation Mark
    This just in, from Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:
    A Pennsylvania man was arrested just blocks from the TPM headquarters yesterday morning with a note saying he wanted to "die in combat and want to go to heaven and meet god and a stash of knives, rifles, assault rifles, a shotgun, handguns and even a bottle rocket. He was driving the wrong way on 7th Avenue and his note also discussed his interest in cats.
    Raise your hand if you also want to go to Heaven and meet a bottle rocket.
    Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
    3:02 pm
    Frederick I. Ordway III (1927 - 2014) on Video
    Frederick I. Ordway III has passed away. My condolences to his family and friends. I met him a few times, and was always impressed with his efforts to share his considerable knowledge.

    He was a prolific author of books and articles on spaceflight and its history. Among his articles, my favorite is "2001: A Space Odyssey in Retrospect," p. 47-105 in the 1982 book Science Fiction and Space Futures, edited by Eugene M. Emme. This is a memoir of his work on the epic movie, chiefly concerned with wrangling its science and technology.

    As I have previously written:
    [Arthur] Clarke urged Kubrick to hire Ordway and his artist pal Harry Lange, and soon they were moving to England.

    Ordway served as jack-of-all-space on the research and design of all the sets, models, etc. "I wasn't an expert on hibernation, but I knew who was. I wasn't an expert on food in space, but I knew people who were." He traveled around to various companies and universities, and got expert advice about future possibilities in the technologies the film would portray. [...]

    "Everything had to work. We didn't know where Stanley would point his camera. It could be anywhere on the set." For this reason, every button and display in the spacecraft has a plausible function, every bump and knob on the spacesuits has a reason for its appearance.

    One can hear Fred Ordway speak in a number of clips on Youtube.

    "Science on Screen" talk following a showing of 2001 at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee in March 2014.

    From SpacePod, a 2010 three-part interview about The Rocket Team, Ordway's influential book with Mitchell Sharpe. It's about the German engineers who developed the V-2 missile during World War II, and went on to build ballistic missiles for the U.S. Army and Saturn Vs for NASA:

    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3

    Ordway on the history of the National Space Society. He was a charter member of its ancestor, the National Space Institute, and served on NSS's Board of Governors.
    1:21 pm
    For Sale: Two Worldcon Memberships
    I regret to say that we won't be attending Loncon 3. We have two memberships for sale at $192 each.

    They include voting rights for the Hugo Awards and 2016 Worldcon site selection. The right to download the Hugo Voter Packet is also included.

    The 73rd World Science Fiction Convention is LonCon 3, in London, England, 14-18 August 2014.

    If you know anyone who might desire a membership, please pass this along.

    To contact me by e-mail: higgins at fnal dot gov.
    Thursday, June 26th, 2014
    6:24 pm
    Reviewing Hillary
    I remember studies by Valdis Krebs a few years back on what we can learn from Amazon's "customers-who-bought-this-also-bought" network of political books. I wonder if this network would be any less polarized, or any less depressing to contemplate, in 2014.

    For some reason I recently looked up Hillary Clinton's new book, Hard Choices, on

    The 1024 Customer Reviews have a distinctly bimodal distribution:
    245 5-star
    29 4-star
    26 3-star
    35 2-star
    689 1-star

    Every one of the Most Helpful Customer reviews displayed on the main page (for the Kindle edition) is a one-star review, e.g., "Excruciatingly Boring, Overly Long, Insipid Pabulum." (sic)

    I read a few, and realized that they'd been penned by reviewers who were politically opposed to Hillary Clinton. So I looked at some of the five-star reviews.

    "Yes, the finest fantasy literature in the 21st century." "George R. R. Martin, move over. . . there is a new Mistress of truly Epic Fantasy."


    I'd never thought much about this: Amazon's customer reviews are a political battleground. Meta-arguments about reviewing are also erupting there.

    Also, the work of those determined to signal, by means of one-star reviews, that this is a horrible book is being undermined by those of their fellow Clinton-bashers who are playing the 5-Star Fantasy Novel joke.

    Maybe I'll read some of the 2-star, 3-star, and 4-star reviews to find out how good the book is.
    Tuesday, June 24th, 2014
    10:45 pm
    Blogging (As WHL Says) from an Undisclosed Location
    I am with Chris Olsen, his daughters, and jonsinger.

    Chris is making daguerreotype portraits of Jon. This requires a blazing array of lights, including multiple banks of bright blue LEDs. There are, of course, several steps of treatment with wet chemicals. It is helpful to have the assistance of daughters.

    These pictures look very nice.

    Daguerreotypes. In 2014.

    These are the kinds of people I run around with.

    I am a lucky guy.
    Monday, June 23rd, 2014
    6:05 pm
    When Strikes the Octothorpe!
    An idle thought came to me today. I wondered whether anybody on Twitter had used "octothorpe" as a hashtag.

    The answer is yes.

    Not particularly interesting, but it teaches us that the world abounds with wiseacres like me.
    Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
    8:38 pm
    Jon Singer Sighted
    In his long, weary journey to Minneapolis, jonsinger paused here at the Nuclear Arms to rest. His car pulled up at the curb, and began to disgorge instrument after instrument.

    I have played each of the Fakeleles he brought along. Jon is teaching himself how to play a uke.

    Todd Johnson showed him Fermilab, and he was able to commune with fellow tinkerers.

    We bid him farewell this morning. My phone tells me he made it to the other end.
    Friday, June 13th, 2014
    5:18 pm
    Message from China House 2: I Didn't Know That
    Fortune cookies may be interesting at China House in Warrenville, but the soy sauce packets are even more interesting.

    Sometimes I eat there. Sometimes I obtain food "to go." In the latter case, China House tucks little packets of mustard and soy sauce into my bag.

    When I remove them, I can read the fun facts printed on the packets. I may learn that New Orleans has hosted the Superbowl nine times, or that the Yangtzee River is the third-longest river in the world, at 3800 miles.

    Such trivia, however, did not prepare me for this:
    More amazing facts lie behind the cutCollapse )
    4:39 pm
    Message from China House 1: A More or Less True Fortune Cookie
    China House is my favorite Chinese restaurant. It's not far from the gates of Fermilab, in the stretch of Route 59 that I think of as "Warrenville's Chinatown" because there is another Chinese restaurant across the street.

    The other day, this message appeared in my fortune cookie:
    You are about to become $8.95 poorer. ($6.95 if you had the buffet.)

    I thought you might like to see this.
    Monday, June 9th, 2014
    6:35 pm
    ISEE-3 Has Phoned Home!
    The crowdfunded engineers seeking to revive the ancient ISEE-3 interplanetary spacecraft have succeeded in making two-way contact. Jason Davis tells the story.

    Rather than the kiss of a handsome prince, the spacecraft was awakened by a Software-Defined Radio (27 MB PDF).

    My pal Dennis Wingo is on the team. They're hoping they can command the spacecraft to change its orbit before its upcoming lunar flyby. But the clock is ticking. I wish them luck.
    Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
    7:35 pm
    My Schedule for Duckon 23
    This coming weekend, I'll be involved in a number of program items for Duckon 23, a science fiction convention held in the Westin North Shore Hotel in Wheeling, Illinois. They're also planning for a Zeusaphone performance by the Masters of Lightning at sundown on Friday (if it rains, Saturday).

    The theme this year is "What If?"-- but isn't that the implicit theme of every SF and fantasy convention, ever?

    Saturday, 7 June

    2:00-2:55 P.M. Ravinia A
    The Science of Hal Clement’s Iceworld--Special Science Presentation

    The late Hal Clement, who often attended DucKon, was celebrated for weaving stories out of scientific fact. In his novel Iceworld, characters who breathe hot gaseous sulfur confront the mysteries of Earth, to them an unbelievably frigid planet. Among other things, the legendary master of “putting the science in SF” foresaw robotic interplanetary exploration in a unique way. And the new science of exoplanets sheds light. Join Bill Higgins in exploring the chemistry, physics and astronomy behind the classic story.

    4:00-4:55 P.M. Con Suite
    Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Party

    Join Bill Higgins and friends as he and his helpers make fantastic, tasty ice cream the DucKon way!

    [Another source says this happens at 5 PM. I don't know which to believe. Check when you get to the con. I also don't know who the friends are. I trust the concom will be coming up with suitable utensils and ingredients.]

    9:00-9:55 P.M. Ravinia E
    Hey, Hollywood, You Ruined My Book

    Have you ever loved a book so much that you just couldn’t wait for the movie? And then when it finally came out, it left a lot to be desired. Come and share your tales of dismay and horror at what Hollywood did to your favorite book.
    (Rebecca L. Frencl, David Gerrold, Bill Higgins, Jeffrey Liss, Virginia Massetti (M))

    10:00-10:55 P.M. Ravinia A
    Are We Ready For The What If?

    What do we do when the future comes and we are not ready for it? How do we prepare ourselves for the future advances and reactions?
    (John Higgins, Bill Higgins)
    [Yes, there is a local fan named John Higgins. No relation so far as I know.]

    Sunday, 8 June

    12:00-12:55 P.M. Ravinia E
    Evolution of Battlefield Weapons

    From swords to laser pointed guns, many of us are fascinated by the variety of weapons developed in history to the present. What are the next models of military or home defense? Will the manufacturers go to phasers some day?
    (Walt Boyes, Lee Darrow (M), Chris Gerrib, Roland J. Green, Bill Higgins)
    11:58 am
    2014 Higgins Award Goes to Frank Greve
    The third annual John M. Higgins Award for Best In-Depth/Enterprise Reporting has just been awarded to Frank Greve, for Combat Journalism: Is Reporting on Global Conflict Worth the Risk? ," from CQ Researcher. (CQ Researcherdocuments are normally behind a paywall, but this story has been made available free for a limited time.)

    Each year, Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications announces the Mirror Awards, which honor excellence in reporting on what they call "the media industry" (which I think of as "The Press," more or less). Among these is an award named for my late brother, a gruff but lovable journalist.

    Other nominees for the Higgins Award were:

    Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, "Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax," Deadspin.

    Ryan Burns, "Ferndale Gothic," The North Coast Journal.

    Congratulations to Mr. Greve and to the other Mirror Awards winners and nominees.

    A video is available of Frank Greve's talk on "Rising Risks of Covering Conflict" at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting last year.

    Here's today's announcement of all the Mirror Awards winners . And from back in April, here's a list of the finalists. The Mirror Awards hashtag: #Mirrors14.

    Our family is grateful to Discovery Communications and Time Warner Cable for their gift establishing the Higgins Award, and to the Newhouse School for their continuing efforts in organizing this celebration of excellent journalism about journalism.
    Friday, May 23rd, 2014
    1:08 pm
    Skyrocketing Energy! Clearer Thinking!
    My beloved wife is interested in nutrition. Nathan S. Bryan, Ph.D., knows this, so sometimes one of his brochures turns up in our mailbox. Here's yesterday's science-based natural breakthrough.

    This is my new favorite phrase. I am sitting in my cubicle. Every now and then, I say aloud, "UNLEASHES the FULL REJUVENATING POWER of BEETS!"* My colleagues are getting used to it.

    Bonus points to the layout artist for slightly enlarging the font, as the phrase swells majestically, while switching to beet-colored letters.

    The rest of the copy on the page is quite, if I may use the expression, purple-- Mike Vincent suggested that the copywriter's true calling might lie in comic books-- but "unleashing the full rejuvenating power of beets" is truly magnificent. What spinnitch is to Popeye, the beet is to Dr. Bryan.

    I've had a soft spot for beets ever since they were involved in one of my best jokes.

    The brochure is surprisingly thick. Page 16 will tell you more about the tart, raspberry-like flavor of Dr. Bryan's beverage. In case you'd feared it would taste like beets.

    *Exclamation point in original.
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