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

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Thursday, May 14th, 2015
8:15 pm
"Quality, Shmality! If I Had a TV Show..."
News that the many-voiced Harry Shearer is leaving the cast of The Simpsons, as the series heads into its 27th season, triggered a discussion around my office.

One colleague wondered why they're still making the show. My position is that they are true to the philosophy Bart expressed back in Season Two, when The Simpsons aired a special tag in tribute to the then-voluntarily-ending Bill Cosby Show (its competitor for ratings on Thursday nights).

My pal had never seen this clip. To Youtube!

And so we see that the producers of The Simpsons are perfectly consistent with the spirit of this 1992 proclamation. This is why I am unsurprised that they continue.

(For the record, I still tune in, because while it's no longer firing on all cylinders, the show can still make me laugh sometimes. But then, given the ravages of time, I have arrived in the demographic slice that is reputed, like Grandpa Simpson, to enjoy Matlock, so why should anybody listen to my opinions about television any more?)
Friday, May 8th, 2015
7:35 pm
V-E Day Dissolves into History
Today is the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Allies and Germany ended (part of) World War II. Around lunchtime, I learned that the celebrations included a parade of vintage aircraft over Washington, D.C., and furthermore, the BBC was streaming coverage of it.

So I tuned in to watch an airshow on my desktop.

And I started hitting the screencap keys.

The BBC had a camera watching the Mall, with the Washington Monument prominent in its frame. I saw a pair of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses cruise into the scene, high above the Monument.

Another camera shot closeups of the aircraft, tracking them as they passed. It was kind of hazy, so lighting was not optimal, but the planes looked pretty good nonetheless.

Finally, in a glorious accident, I commanded a screencap just at the moment of a dissolve between the two cameras.

Thought you'd like to see this.

Images copyright 2015 BBC.
Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
6:00 am
2015 John M. Higgins Award: The Finalists

The S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University has announced the finalists for their annual Mirror Awards. These awards honor "the reporters, editors and teams of writers who hold a mirror to their own industry for the public’s benefit."

As the John M. Higgins Award for Best In-Depth/Enterprise Reporting is named for my late brother, I am grateful to the Newhouse School and to the award's donors for keeping John's name in the minds of his fellow journalists. And I always take an interest in the Newhouse School's announcements.

The finalists for the 2015 Higgins Award are these:

Bryan Burrough, Sarah Ellison, and Suzanna Andrews, "The Snowden Saga: A Shadowland of Secrets and Light," Vanity Fair

Nicholas Carlson, "What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs," The New York Times Magazine

John McDuling, "Why the music industry is trying – and failing – to crush Pandora," Quartz

David Sirota, "The Wolf of Sesame Street: Revealing the secret corruption inside PBS’s news division," PandoDaily

Brandy Zadrozny, "He Bullies Kids and Calls It News," The Daily Beast

Congratulations to the finalists! The award ceremony will take place on Thursday, 11 June, at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York.
Monday, May 4th, 2015
1:26 pm
Guess It's Easy to Get Those Renaissance Cities Mixed Up
The Daily Mail ran a picture portraying the shooting of the new Dan Brown movie, Inferno.

Copyright New Press Photo/Splash News

Their caption?

"Delightful sights: Last week, the cast and crew on Inferno were spotted shooting in the city of Venice"

Unless the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has, unbeknownst to me, turned itself into a nationwide franchise with a branch in Venice, including a sculpture gallery of celebrated Florentines, um, I don't think so.

Copyright 2013 by William S. Higgins

Orcagna is disappointed in the Daily Mail.

I wonder if this movie will have any antimatter in it.
Friday, May 1st, 2015
8:58 am
It's hard for me to imagine how it could be entertaining to watch the Avengers sit around for two hours guessing how old Ultron is.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
6:51 pm
My Schedule for Minicon 50
K and I are headed for Minicon 50 (yeah, fifty Minicons!) this weekend, 2 through 5 April. I love Minneapolis fandom and I love Minicon-- but this is the first time I've been able to attend in a few years. Here are the program items I'm doing. Can't wait!
Inappropriate (Mis)uses of Astrophysical Matter
FRI 8:30 PM Krushenko's

Forget about using the universe for good! That's not the human way of doing things! Murder by black hole was used as a plot device by Larry Niven in his Hugo award-winning "The Borderland of Sol." Dominic Green postulated using a Penrose accelerator as a waste management "solution" in his Hugo-nominated story, "The Clockwork Atom Bomb." A discussion of the Pandora's Box aspect of particle physics and astrophysics within SF.
Chris Beskar
Bill Higgins
Larry Niven
Michael Kingsley

Almost There
SAT 4:00 PM Veranda 3/4

So, we don't have flying cars. What "technology of the future" is actually right around the corner? A discussion of technologies that we almost have licked including nuclear fusion, anti-gravity, cloaking devices, and teleportation.
Bill Higgins
Bill Thomasson
Chris Beskar
Neil Rest
Tyler Tork

Battlefields of Tomorrow
SAT 7:00 PM Veranda 5/6

Powered and unpowered - a discussion of various battle armors in Sci-Fi and the corresponding reality of what is being fielded, under development, and what is to come. Also, find out about the real world development and deployment of lasers, particle beam weapons, rail guns and other directed energy weapons.
Bill Higgins
Chris Beskar
John Stanfield

[Looks like I'll need to get a quick dinner between about 5 and 6:30, or wait and have a late dinner after 8.]

Dawn of the Asteroid Belt: Exploring Vesta and Ceres
SUN 1:00 PM Edina

Asteroids are relics of the ancient Solar System. NASA's Dawn spacecraft orbited Vesta for a year. Now its ion thrusters have propelled it across the Asteroid Belt to Ceres, the largest asteroid, where Dawn has again entered orbit. Join Bill Higgins to explore Dawn's findings at Vesta and its plans for doing science at Ceres.
Bill Higgins

I don't think I've met Chris Beskar, but it looks like I'm going to be seeing a lot of him in the next few days...
Thursday, March 26th, 2015
12:30 pm
Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
8:03 pm
An Autobiography from the Author of MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM!
I have learned that the prominent science fiction author best known for his dystopic overpopulation novel Make Room! Make Room! has posthumously published an autobiography.

I am pleased to inform you that the title of this new book is Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!

There appears to be a picture of a stainless-steel rat on the cover.

Edited to Add:
I'd forgotten the joke I made when Mr. Harrison passed away.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
5:41 pm
Found while Googling "Neutron Flux"
I spend much of my time trying to avoid neutron flux, but apparently there are people who feel differently.

Behold, the Addidas ZX Flux Neutron sneaker:

I'm pretty sure these are the kind of sneakers Doctor Manhattan would wear.

I also learned from a sneaker-collector site (this is the first day in my whole life that I have visited a sneaker-collector site) that I need not worry about radioactive contamination, for the same manufacturer offers a ZX Flux Decon sneaker. Much snazzier than the paper booties I usually wear.

Dangerous Pajamas Detail
Thursday, March 19th, 2015
3:18 pm
Dear Blogmother
To minnehaha K, on your birthday: May you continue to be fabulous, and to inspire others to reach toward fabulousness, for many fabulous years to come!
Wednesday, March 18th, 2015
3:06 pm
Steppin' Out with Alexei Leonov
In an ongoing parade of fiftieth anniversaries of events that deeply impressed me as a youth, let's congratulate Alexei Leonov, Russian painter, retired general, and legendary cosmonaut.

On 18 March 1965, Leonov exited the Voshkod 2 capsule through an inflated airlock, floating in space for 12 minutes.

Painting by General Alexei Leonov of the Voshkod 2 spacewalk.

Here are the first-person accounts of Pavel Belayev and Alexei Leonov as published in Life's 14 May 1965 issue-- sanitized to downplay the worrisome difficulty of returning to the Vostok capsule. Leonov's suit wouldn't fit in the airlock; he reduced the suit's pressure to a hazardous level, risking an attack of "the bends," in order to get it flexible enough to squeeze in.

Working outside a spacecraft, in a suit, had often been portrayed in books and films. I was thrilled to know that it was happening in reality. Truly, we were living in the Space Age. And spacewalks have continued since that day. Спасибо, General Leonov!
Sunday, March 15th, 2015
2:39 am
Worldcon 2015 to Be Held in Spokane, Washington and Low Earth Orbit
Quoting from an announcement from Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, to be held this August in Spokane, Washington:

From: Marah Searle-Kovacevic
Subject: Announcing new Special Guest!
Date: March 14, 2015 5:07:42 PM CDT

We are proud to announce that NASA Astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren is a Special Guest of Sasquan!

Dr. Lindgren will be participating in Sasquan while serving as a flight engineer on the International Space Station during NASA Expeditions 44 and 45. Yes, for the first time in Worldcon history, we will be in direct communication with a member of our community - out of this world!

[Full announcement here.]

Marah Searle-Kovacevic

Hospitality Division Head, Sasquan
Social Media Head, Sasquan

Astronaut Kjell Lindgren

As one of the Usual Suspects where Worldcon space programming is concerned, I welcome Dr. Lindgren to the conversation. May he find his participation in our 76-year-long tradition as rewarding as we do!
Friday, February 27th, 2015
11:59 pm
Leonard Nimoy's Other Gift
On Twitter, actor Tom Hanks writes about the passing of a fellow actor, Leonard Nimoy, with a nice sentiment about his craft.

This led me to post a response.

Collapse )

(For the bewildered, context here and here.)
Thursday, February 26th, 2015
7:01 pm
Meteors. Geek Bar Chicago. Tuesday, 3 March. Speaker: Me.
Remember that time when meteors clobbered Chicagoland? Remember that other time?

The Chicago Council on Science & Technology does a variety of things to encourage public engagement with science in our city. Including holding scientific talks in a tavern.

I'm appearing in C2ST's Speakeasy series next Tuesday, 3 March, at 7 PM. The venue is exciting: the new Geek Bar Beta in Chicago. It's near the triple corner of North Avenue, Damen, and Milwaukee. The topic:
Vandals of the Void: Damaging Meteors from Chelyabinsk to Chicago

Two years ago, a window-shattering shock wave injured 1400 Russians, and startled the world, as a small asteroid hit Chelyabinsk. Violent meteors are rare, but they can be devastating—and meteors have assaulted Chicagoland at least twice. Join William S. Higgins for a look at the science behind the Chelyabinsk blast. And hear the story of Chicago's own local impacts: one smaller than Chelyabinsk, one MUCH bigger.

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 7:00pm
Geek Bar Chicago
1941 West North Avenue
Chicago IL 60622
Twitter: @geekbarchicago

Geek Bar Chicago is handy to the El.

Damage to the Park Forest firehouse, 2003.

Deep strata shaken up by cosmic impact, a very long time ago.

I'm very pleased that C2ST invited me, and I am eager to meet the sort of people who would come out to see a talk like this. Because they've got to be cool.
Thursday, February 12th, 2015
3:03 am
My Schedule for Capricon 35
Capricon is once again at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling, Illinois this weekend, 12 through 15 February. And it will keep me pretty busy, conversing with some delightful people.
Re-starting the Manned Space Program
- Thursday, 02-12-2015 - 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm - Ravinia A
The shuttle program is gone, so what are we going to do next to get back into space? Will NASA be leading the charge, or private companies? Explore the state of re-starting the manned space program.
Chris Gerrib
Bill Higgins
James Plaxco (M)

Rise Up!
- Friday, 02-13-2015 - 11:30 am to 1:00 pm - River AB (Programming - Media)
Aerospace - balloons, zeppelins, airplanes, rocket ships. Fans remain fascinated with flight so let's get together and geek out about it!
Bill Higgins (M)
Emmy Jackson
James Plaxco
Henry Spencer

Rosetta and Ramifications: The Future of Robotic Space Missions
- Friday, 02-13-2015 - 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm - River AB (Programming - Media)
November 2014 saw new milestones in robotic space exploration with the Rosetta mission to comet 67P and the dramatic landing of the Philae probe on its surface. Observational science of Pluto has already commenced with the New Horizons probe that was sent to investigate the Kuiper Belt and will fly-by of the dwarf planet this July. Where do we fly to next, and what should the primary science objectives be for future missions? What new technology do we need to get there?
Bill Higgins (M)
Henry Spencer

Where in the Universe are We?
- Saturday, 02-14-2015 - 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm - Elm (Kids Programming)
Bill Higgins talks to us about outer space and where we, as Earth dwellers, fit into the universe.
Bill Higgins
Lisa Garrison-Ragsdale

Random Panel Topic
- Sunday, 02-15-2015 - 10:00 am to 11:30 am - Botanic Garden A (Special Events - Programming)
What happens to the panel ideas that get rejected? They are reborn here as random panel topics! Our panelists will choose a topic (at random, of course) and speak expertly on them for 5 minutes each. You'll be rolling on the floor with laughter!
Sondra de Jong (M)
Peter Heltzer
Bill Higgins
Mary Mascari
Mark Oshiro

Rocks & Rockets: Dawn of the Asteroid Belt
- Sunday, 02-15-2015 - 11:30 am to 1:00 pm - River AB (Programming - Media)
Asteroids are relics of the ancient solar system. NASA's Dawn spacecraft orbited Vesta for a year. Now its ion thruster is propelling it across the Asteroid Belt to Ceres, the largest asteroid, where this spring it will again enter orbit. Join Bill Higgins on an exploration of Dawn's findings at Vesta and its plans for Ceres.
Bill Higgins (M)

Capricon encompasses four holidays this year: Lincoln's Birthday, Friday the Thirteenth, Valentine's Day, and (according to Bob Trembley) Chelyabinsk Day. Reason to celebrate.
Thursday, January 22nd, 2015
2:06 pm
Why Is Iron Man's Family Tearing up Our Parking Lot?

Stark and Son excavator and backhoe, at work in parking lot near Fermilab's Linac.
Sunday, January 4th, 2015
1:13 am
The Flat Truth
Matthew has a bunch of cherry boards and he wants to build bookcases with them. But, he says, he doesn't have a planer.

Now I know Matthew, a connoisseur of fine tools, would not want to purchase one of the plainer planers. No doubt he would prefer a fancier planer.

How to determine what planer to buy? Seek advice from someone knowledgable about these products, someone who appreciates quality. Matthew needs to talk to a planer fancier.

I wasn't sure what a planer was. My friends explained that it's a machine that cuts a smooth surface into a board, thereby rendering it planar. A planer with helical cutting heads is the best kind; a planer with straight blades might put scallops into your wood. This sounds like it might be fancier, but actually the fancier planer makes a smoother surface, so that the board is plainer.

Tullio said he thought that demanding a fancier planer was going overboard, so I pointed out that this is exactly what this machine is for, going over board. I'm sure any planer fancier would agree that this could hardly be plainer.
Friday, January 2nd, 2015
1:53 am
This Year's on Fire: How Bob Dylan Burned My 2015
So after the countdown to New Year's, and after the champagne, and after I'd played the usual New Year songs with Professor Andy Anda, we were talking to our host Tullio Proni about the new book he's got.

Tullio really, really likes Bob Dylan's songs. I mean, I like Dylan's songs pretty well, but have nothing like the passion Tullio shows. These songs hit him pretty hard, at a tender age, when little else in our culture spoke to him-- all in a context lost in the past, Miami in the late 1960s.

We've sat in the House of Isher living room in the past, and gone through some books of Dylan songs on the uke and/or mandolin. But I wasn't prepared when Tullio hauled out his newest book.

It is comically large.

It contains lyrics to every Dylan song ever recorded.

Plus apocrypha.

By this I mean that if Bob recorded different lyrics on different performances of the same song, the book transcribes the alternate lyrics and mentions where the alternate recording may be found.

Tullio began paging though the book, starting with Mr. Dylan's earliest recorded songs. When he reached a song I knew how to play, or could plausibly fake, we played it.

Sometimes we sang the whole song. Sometimes we just did a verse or two. "Desolation Row" is immensely long, and I maintain that nobody wants to hear a guy perform the whole thing while strumming ukulele chords. But we did a verse from the beginning, a verse from the middle, and the verse at the end.

We talked about what drew us to various songs and how we felt when we first encountered them. We found songs I barely remembered. Naturally we passed up a vast number of songs I didn't know.

I didn't look at a clock. People drifted away from the party.

Since he was to depart in the morning, this would be my last chance in many months to play with Prof. &y &a & his m&olin. Was a chance well worth trading for some amount of sleep.

By the time we reached the late 1970s-- when I sort of stopped paying attention to new Dylan albums, so that none of the remaining songs were familiar enough to play-- it was very, very late.

I lost the first hours of 2015 to The Lyrics: Since 1962.

I'm very tired.

But I don't regret it.

Neither does Tullio. Nor Andy.
Wednesday, November 26th, 2014
9:35 am
My Cellphone Provider Carefully Explains Customer Service
From the site of our cellphone company:

"We are removing the chat functionality to better assist you 24 hours a day.
Call 1-866-NNN-MMMM to speak to a live agent now."

Yes, I never feel better-assisted than when someone removes the chat functionality.
Monday, November 17th, 2014
6:51 pm
Return of the Bus Plunge
As an eyewitness to the Philae lander's final moments of operation, the incomparable Emily Lakdawalla writes:
From our position behind the glass, Steven, Chris and I watched the engineers as they, in turn, watched a set of graphs on their screens — graphs that were declining steadily. Shortly after the motion was commanded, the main bus voltage plunged.
The last place I expected to spot a bus-plunge story was on the surface of a comet nucleus.
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