GalacticMu

Press your spaceface close to mine

Rocket Rides

Posted by Sunday on Mar 31, 2008 at 7:58 pm

Say, what is a dumb thing to name a spaceship, you ask? How about The Lynx? But Subspace, you say, what’s so bad about naming a spaceship after the stubbiest of cats? To which I say, reader, why not just name it The Diabetic Tabby and get it over with? lynx_suborbital_ascent.jpg

Jeering aside, the facts: last week XCOR Aerospace announced it had a suborbital rocket plane not yet in the testing phase. The Lynx will be designed to carry just one passenger sitting shotgun to the pilot. Several agencies have expressed interest in this idea (not just of XCOR, but the single-passenger concept in general) since it could feasibly be cheap enough for impulse purchases. I am almost certain that a few years after the single- or double-passenger spaceplane becomes reliable in the public’s eye, these things will be sitting in Las Vegas casinos, advertising themselves as the far awesomer alternative to skydiving.

From the fisticuffs standpoint, XCOR Aerospace places their launch date as 2010, aka the same year that Virgin Galactic expects to begin their regular launches. Remember: Virgin Galactic is asking nearly a quarter million dollars per flight – a flight you share with several other people. What if those people are douchebags? What if they “WHOO-HOOOO!” the entire time? Can you imagine? What if they make fun of me for crying? I mean, make fun of another passenger? Flying with XCOR means sitting up front going “What’s that? What’s this button do? Is this normal? You wanna get married?” to the pilot during the entire flight.

XCOR Aerospace Press Release via Popsci

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6 Posted in Daily Space

Mental mapping (Part 2)

Posted by halcyon on Mar 30, 2008 at 9:58 pm

As you may recall¹, Mental Mapping is the process of describing the shape of a mind (usually your own) by identifying recurring (and preferably unusual) thoughts.As with most sciencey ideas, questions abound regarding the process of Mental Mapping. Some of these will be answered in good time, to the best of my ability. Some of you might answer the remainder, to best of your ability.

Let’s start with this example: our beloved Captain’s Mental Map [discovered in the archive, recorded somewhere in the year '02]:

Grapes (or peanuts) the size of footballs²
I’m Homo sapiens / everyone else is Homo faber
Being first on the scene of an accident
Awareness of paranormal activity
Desire to commiserate with the Irish working class
The words “Half and Half” are pronounced “Hlaf n’ Hlaf”
Want to move to Chuuk

The above should give you a pretty good idea of what a basic mental map might be. I conferred with the Captain, and she claims that mostly, over the last six years, the entries have held up. Mostly.

Which brings us to an important point about mental mapping: these maps (like all maps) are subject to change. Given the nature of this invisible ganglionic territory, even the best efforts are bound to be full of guesswork and errors.

As with any map, you must start with the basics, and make some assumptions. Here be dragons, and so forth. Revisions are essential. Paradoxically, errors in mapping your thoughts increase the accuracy of your mental map (only if they are your errors). Mis-thinking is a form of thinking. Accuracy (I’m talking to you, Ensign Aargh) is not a prerequisite for success.

It is probable that conscientiously mapping your thoughts will change what thoughts you think. But unless you can un-think about it you’re humped, so you might as well start with what you got.

Don’t think of the points (or lines, or stars, or townships, or mountains, or whatever) on your map as being “right” or “wrong.” There is no right or wrong in mental mapping. There are only degrees of interestingness.

Here are the basic criteria I use when assembling a mental map:

Recurrence: when you have a thought, consider whether it is a thought you’ve had before.

Regularity: how often has this thought recurred? The thoughts that interest me most recur at a rate of less than once a day and more than once a year.

Interest: what is your reaction to this thought? Does it stimulate an chain of further thoughts? Does it (or has it) worked its way into conversation or action? If you cohabitate with someone, they might have a good idea of what some of the points on your map are.

Uniqueness: is this thought yours, or is it owned by many people? A common thought is often accurate, but not telling. For instance, let’s say you regularly think “puppies are cute.” It is certainly a part of your mental map, but it does not go far in distinguishing your mind from anyone else’s.³

One typical reaction to the idea of mental mapping is to be stumped. This leaves you to consider the possibility that perhaps you are deep down, a boring person (see footnote). Don’t panic – the process of assembling even a meager list can take weeks or months.

One patient swore that he had nothing of interest to map. Two months later, at three in the morning, he called us with a revelation: he had recognized a point on his mental map. Every time he went into an old house, he said, he would find himself thinking that maybe there was treasure secreted inside the walls.

Good for him.

Always here to help,
Halcyon
Psych Officer
GalacticMu

p.s. More to come, including an important message about the dangers of psychic robots.

¹ Mental Mapping (Part 1)

² As previously mentioned, although now the grapes are the size of watermelons. “I need to be able to carve off a large slice and eat it with two hands,” she says.

³ It is possible to have a mental map made entirely of common thoughts. But it is sad.

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2 Posted in Daily Space

Look, I’m not imagining it: they don’t make ‘em like they used to.

There will be spoilers in this post, but you’ll survive.

Case in point: Solarbabies. The year is 1986. Jami Gertz weighs 90 pounds. Jason Patric doesn’t yet have the white-fro of The Lost Boys. Most importantly, no one is afraid of making bad guys wear padded dusty blue Naugahyde uniforms.

solarbabies7.jpg

Madam, Mr. Nagel is on the line, shall I ask him to hold?

The movie itself has massive, buffoony flaws, but nothing that detracts from the adolescent charm of it. There awkward cuts, some embarrassing dialog, a scene of profoundly distracting hairsprayed bangs and questionable physics. But these are all secondary to the fact that there is torture, fascism, murder, bigotry against owls, and non-stop suggestions to defy authority. I hadn’t seen it in 20 years, but I suddenly think I might have a culprit for early encouragement to my apocalypse obsession. Solarbabies starts out a smidge on the ghetto side, as far as visuals go (“How are we going to decorate half a dozen rollerskating outfits with just this sack of spray paint?” “With half-heartedness, that’s how!”), but ramps up slowly until the climax of a tire-smelting bordertown followed by a battle where guards are knocked out by being struck lightly on their helmets with hockey sticks. Also: dogs with flashlights strapped to their heads.

(Curiously, I had just watched Top Gun for the first time in about 10 years only to realize that I recognized one of the actors from Solarbabies. And nagging memory and IMDB led me to recognize him as Nathan Petrelli from Heroes.)

Nevertheless! The movie is widely reviled, at least among the more vocal of the internets. But I ask you: would you rather be watching Hanna Montana and her merry band of microphone-fellating Lolitas? No amount of crucifix wearing will make up for rouge on a child, I tell you what. Meanwhile Solarbabies gets the boo and the hiss just because everyone is somehow able to rollerskate in the desert without hitting small pebbles and then breaking both their wrists? C’mon, it’s the future! I am just thankful the movie was made during a time when no one cared that the kids weren’t wearing helmets and kneepads. The director was all, “C’mon, jump that ramp! You’ll be fine! Have a cigarette break.”

Look, do you think a person could walk into Hollywood these days and say, “I want to make Mad Max – for kids!” and have studio execs respond, “Okay, but we can only give you seven and a half million dollars.” No. Case closed.

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0 Posted in Movies

Great Jerks of Science Fiction

Posted by Sunday on Mar 28, 2008 at 4:49 am

Hot on the heels of claiming to want a kinder, gentler science fiction fandom, I found myself thinking about the genre’s people I’d like to kick in the mcgillicutty.

I am fascinated by the jerks, largely because the genre doesn’t seem to allow for it. Scifi, it seems to me, draws the liberal and the democratic among us, being so heavily entrenched in the subjects of morality, freedom and tolerance. Classic scifi nearly always deals with the misunderstandings between man and alien, or the lessons we learn at the hand of great unfathomable holocausts. Because we certainly don’t learn anything from the fathomable ones. Loners and intellectuals flock to scifi, hoping to find in it some acceptance – or I did, anyway, and look! My naiveté is showing! Satiny, lacy naiveté.

Some folks get grievously worked up over entertainers being jerks in their private life, and just to twist back into an even further hypocritical pretzel, I am not one of those people. But, it’s 3:30 at night and I was awoken by a thunderstorm and a headache, so I’m going to write about them anyway. Believe it!

Carry on my wayward friend – to the jerks!

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2 Posted in Daily Space

Let’s Discuss The Technical Meaning of “3D”

Posted by Sunday on Mar 27, 2008 at 9:12 pm

182368182513505.jpg

This is a real product.  Well, the label is real.  Actual results may remain in the second dimension.

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1 Posted in Uncategorized, Visual

Money Has All But Disappeared.

Posted by on Mar 27, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Uh, that part is true.

Quagmire points us to a 1968 article, “What Will Life Be Like in the Year 2008?”  Some predictably chuckle-worthy gems interspersed with things less funny:

“No need to worry about failing memory or intelligence either. The intelligence pill is another 21st century commodity.”

Or a classic:

“The housewife simply determines in advance her menus for the week, then slips prepackaged meals into the freezer and lets the automatic food utility do the rest.”

He forgot the part where the housewife needs to remind her husband to take his prenatal vitamins.

Via Modern Mechanix.

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0 Posted in The Future

The Story of GalacticMu, Part 2

Posted by Sunday on Mar 26, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Part the First can be located here.

Here’s where things get hairy.

When we left off, we had four free-agents drifting without a ship, but those agents are not the important part. The important part is what ships already have full crews.

Or: what happened to fandom?

Let’s go back in time again, zipping past 2004 now at the speed of light until we reach the eons before mankind had discovered the internets. In these times, isolated nerds roamed the earth. It was a time of great feral darkness; nerds were found hiding in any number and variety of fluorescent-lit rooms, rarely interacting with each other and rarer still, with the outside world. There we might have stayed if it had not been for some grand idea to hook our nerd-communicators together so that we could secretly correspond without the prying eyes of jocks and step-mothers. duke2-2.jpg

In those early days, news that someone else watched Dark Shadows was met with a gasp of camaraderie. In dimly lit Denny’ses, bootleg copies of Duke Nukem were passed hand to hand on one or more 5¼ floppies. And though still a feeble time for nerd-kind, it was still an era of relative idyll. But the wormhole would soon open.

Forward to the year 2008. Nerds range freely, in daylight, amongst the citizens. The culture is saturated with nerdiness to the extent that they are no longer distinguishable as two individual concepts. Everything is nerdy, because being nerdy is now a synonym for enthusiasm. Certainly there are exceptions – you can still never be too thin or two spray-tanned or too the star of a fake MTV reality program – but it is safe to say that the world will never be the same.

And now, nerdiness has become that which it once reviled. It has become mean. It has become high-brow. It has become jock-y.

Subspace observed to BattleGate, one evening, that a blog called Jock Scifi* regularly confused being intelligent with being critical. Jock Scifi was home to some hardcore geeks and nerds, and yet, none of them seemed capable of simply enjoying anything without defensive commentary or disliking something without a deranged, bloody feeding frenzy – a thick mist of better-than-thou hung low over the fields. While I agreed that almost nothing should be safe from criticism, Jock Scifi took sport in criticism. The opposite also held true: loud names in scifi were treated like holy prophets. People who disagreed were set upon by wolves. Suddenly, it was a risky world to have an opinion in: there is at least one science fiction blog that if I talk smack about here, well, I might as well sign off on my nascent writing career. Where was once an amoeba of nerdiness now stands a complicated lifeform packed with organs of lesser and greater importance.

What if we tried to be nerdy without trying to be cool? It was a hypothetical question since none of us are cool, but we are a dramatic bunch.

And with a faint popping sound, GalacticMu was born.

*Names have been changed for wussing out purposes.

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3 Posted in Daily Space

Mental Mapping (Part 1)

Posted by halcyon on Mar 26, 2008 at 9:29 pm

Consider the human face. Most faces contain the same basic features. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth, etc. When describing your face, you use the shortcut of assuming all those features and only call attention to the ones that differentiate you.  In the same way, your mind can be described by the things that you think about regularly.

I call this “Mental Mapping.”*

Picture your mind as a planetoid. Your consciousness is like the view through a telescope from that planetoid. You observe your thoughts, passing by your consciousness, as stellar objects. Some pass by frequently, on a regular orbit, like moons. Others are irregular, their orbits eccentric, like comets. Some you only “see” if you direct your consciousness there; some are only visible at certain times of day or during certain seasons. And so on.

Most moon-thoughts are as common as noses. They are not really worth commenting on, or considering as a defining characteristic. For example, I regularly think “I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.” That’s a classic moon-thought.

What you are searching for, when Mental Mapping, is ideas or thoughts that are relatively unique or at least very unusual, and that occur to you with some regularity. Captain Subspace regularly finds herself thinking about “eating grapes the size of a watermelons.” That’s notable.

Collect these orbital eccentric thoughts on a list; try to estimate their frequency. Now you have a mental map, a little rough perhaps, but a fair likeness of your mind.

More later.

Always here to help,
Halcyon
Psych Officer
GalacticMu

*For several years, I credited Nicholson Baker with this concept; I swore that I had read it in “The Size of Thoughts.” Having re-read the source (the essay in particular was called “Changes of Mind”), it turns out that my theory was spored from the dingy and ill-kempt laboratory of my own mind, and had merely taken root in the fertile agar Mr. Baker had so kindly supplied. I highly recommend you read his essay; you can find it at any decent library.

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11 Posted in Daily Space

Jone Kvie

Posted by Leesa on Mar 25, 2008 at 9:48 am

Jone Kvie

From Norwegian sculptor Jone Kvie.
Left: Untitled (Carrier) 2006, car paint on bronze, partly polished
Right: Launch 2006, patinated bronze

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0 Posted in Visual

Picture You Gettin’ Down In a Picture Tube

Posted by Sunday on Mar 25, 2008 at 12:18 am

gorillaz_1600.jpg

In some seriously old news, Gorillaz is amazing.

Sometimes all it takes to backhand some sense into me is a little drivin’ around in the old car, listening to some tunes.  And it hits me: this is a fucking fake band!  I’m no rube – I don’t think cartoons are really playing the music – but luckily Halcyon was in the car and responded to my dumbfounded “This is a FAKE BAND!” with understanding.  His answer: “It’s like Idoru, I know.”

It helps to break things down to their base components: what we have is a massively successful (with multiple top 10 hits in the US, UK, Japan and Australia) band represented by cartoons.  Not just successful: uniquely excellent.  Not derivative.  With some of the best music videos made in the last decade.

And they’re cartoons.  They aren’t real.  They aren’t intended to be real.  It is rock, made rockstarless.  What in conversation seems a gimmick in reality gains a gravitational pull that defies grokking – people don’t care.  People aren’t listening to their radios going, “No, fuck this, who are the band members?  Who is playing the drums?”  My mother (truth) loves Gorillaz and when I told her there was only one known band member and they were all – whoever they were – represented as cartoon characters, she didn’t blink.  She wanted to know what Noodle looked like.  Admittedly this is the woman that cultivated me, so such a reaction has biological precedence, but still.

This doesn’t even venture into the delight of seeing Jamie Hewlett continue to make art.  As a girl half-raised on Tank Girl (comically speaking – the other half was raised by Elf Quest and Silver Sable – fuck you, let’s take it outside), Hewlett is solely responsible for my having crushes on kangaroos and now monkeys.

Don’t look at me like that.

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1 Posted in The Future