GalacticMu

Press your spaceface close to mine

When Abu Malfunctions, Hardly Anyone Dies

Posted by Sunday on Oct 31, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Last week I read an article about an experimental psychological tool for astronauts: a computer.

The concept is very, very basic: write a program that walks the user through self-treatment. As I was reading, my first reaction was to dismiss the entire thing – yes, that’s what I’d need if I were depressed, an emotionless checklist presented to me in the form of a computer program (the article is also hilariously quick to insist it would be “nothing like science fiction’s infamous HAL,” because, you know, it’s important to clarify that it won’t kill the crew off).

Human psychology is something I make no claims in understanding. When I’m feeling depressed I occasionally think, “Maybe I need help?” since TV tells me I do, but then I realize, “Wait, it’s legitimately depressing to understand that human beings suffer needlessly.” If I’m totally honest with myself, than I have to admit I’d love to ask my computer what I should do about feeling blue.

Abulafia¹: What seems to be the problem?

me: I feel sad. Well, maybe more like hopeless.

Abu: Okay. Can you be more specific?

me: I’m tired of being poor and worried about money all the time.

Abu: Have you tried getting a job?

me: There is no precedence that shows my getting a job will alleviate the problem.

Abu: Well… have you tried Googling any news on the Diablo III release? Also, I broke your Photoshop.  Sorry.

“Depressed astronauts might get computerized solace” at USA Today. 

 ¹I name my computers, yes, and this one is named Abulafia.

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2 Posted in Techie, The Future

Snapshot: October, 2008

Posted by Sunday on Oct 30, 2008 at 8:30 pm

I’m headed into my second month of Los Angeles living (I’m subtracting a month I was in Washington visiting family), and indeed, the blessed return to the West-most Coast of these United States.  For posterity, and because my Photoshop is still borked and I can’t seem to conceive of a post that doesn’t require photography,  here is a 2-month review of The City of Angels.

PROS

  • Food.  Oh my god, food.  I had sadly and honestly forgotten what it felt like to be able to find just about any cuisine you wanted, and to have to choose between a dozen places once you’d decided on which cuisine.  Taco trucks, sushi, proper Jewish delis, Ethiopian, Korean, decent espresso, you name it.
  • Weather.  Everyone always mentions the weather, and they are always right.  I was initially put off because its nearly November now and we’re still having 90° days (it was nearly 100° early last week), but from what I understand October can be the hottest month of the year here.  Apparently I have a “chilly” winter to look forward to.  I’m guessing they didn’t just move here from somewhere that occasionally got sub-zero, like I just did.
  • Art.  I’m frustrated because we haven’t had much opportunity to do, well, anything.  But there are always advertisements for art shows that have me scrambling for my datebook.  Right now a Vanity Fair portrait retrospective has me determined to museum-hop.
  • Grocery stores actually have stuff.  If you don’t cook much, you can skip this part, but if you do: look, there were both Jonagolds and Macintosh apples at the local Ralphs today, in addition to all the usual suspects.  Do you know how long its been since I had a neighborhood grocery store that stocked more than Red Delicious and Granny Smiths?  Or a selection of bread flours?  Or the fact that there’s a Trader Joe’s literally two blocks from my apartment?  Full of angry, pushy hipsters, yes but… I’ll save that for the next section.
  • Dogs!  Everyone has dogs! Honestly, every time I take a walk I pass at least half a dozen people out walking their dogs.  This last weekend we had a rental dog and – aside from the fact that he’s a visually striking animal – everyone would let their dogs stop and say hi. Surprisingly, they are all pretty quiet.  I’ve never had to listen to a dog barking all fucking goddamn long day like I did at my last place.  Maybe people are just less tolerant here.  (As this was written a neighbor’s dog has gone batshit insane barking for the last 10 minutes.  Of course.)
  • Walking distance.  I’m within walking distance of everything I need on a normal basis: grocery, drug store, post office, gas station, bakery, cafe, movie theater, bank, Sur la Table (what?), 24-hour donut shop, etc. etc. etc.  This goes for all cities, (condense a million people into a few dozen square miles and shazam – walking distance to everything!) but it is still always nice.
  • Possibilities.  This is the most vague and most important aspect of the last few months.  Los Angeles feels – and unique to any place I’ve ever been – like there are options, for anything.  Anything at all.  It’s hard to explain, but I don’t feel naive thinking I could get a screenplay sold.  A friend of a friend is actually an actor, or works at a studio.  And I use the entertainment industry merely as an example – want to design action figures?  Video games?  Youth literature?  The city is seething with productive, discretely artistic people and while the cliche of coming to Los Angeles to “make it big” is still a cliche, the realistic desire to be merely successful in an interesting career isn’t.  I haven’t felt this energized in years.

CONS

 

  • Parking.  Oh my god, parking.  It wasn’t until after we’d signed the lease that I read our neighborhood, which is called “Miracle Mile,” is not-really-jokingly called that because “It’s a miracle if you can find parking within a mile.”   Suddenly, everything we do is weighed against the trauma of having to find parking; do we really need to go to Target?  No?  Do we really want to go to that restaurant?  No? And not just because we can’t find parking when we come back home, also because we probably won’t be able to find parking at our destination.  It’s one thing to bitch about traffic (yes, it’s horrible), but for me, parking is the difference between a pleasant errand and deciding to stay home to work on unpacking.  The super-downer is that this will not change.  This is our neighborhood, and there is no getting around it – it is I that must change.  Next place we live, we aren’t signing any leases until we’ve got dedicated parking spots for both cars.
  • Prices.  We’re paying too much for our apartment, it’s true, but since we were running out of time and our apartment is pretty cool, I don’t regret it.  Yet.  But the local grocery store is also slightly overpriced, possibly because of our proximity to Hollywood – I don’t even fantasize about shopping at the Whole Foods down the road, that place is so retardedly, humorously, scandalously overpriced.  Utilities seem high to me, but they always do (wait, I have to pay to use my stove???) Now that gas is dropping again (under $3!  holy jesus!) the pressure is slackening a little, but the burn of moving across country is still smouldering, particularly since we need to invest in some furniture.  Yes, this is a first world “problem” and yes, this is partly due to the current economy, but I don’t recommend anyone move across country unless you bail on most of your stuff (we didn’t and regret it) and have a friend who can help at the other end.
  • People can be mean.  It’s not super common to have a chatty, friendly encounter with a stranger, which I don’t really mind.  In Cincinnati, every goddamn person was like, “Hi, stranger!  What’s your life story?” As an introvert, this was hell.  Here, people are pretty into letting you not even speaking when paying for groceries.  I’ve had some super-friendly random encounters, as well as some super-unfriendly ones (dear girl who intentionally pushed me in Trader Joe’s: no really, fuck you – you’re a cunt and you’re going to get prematurely wrinkly).  Instead of a medium middle ground, Los Angeles is a exercise in extremes – even inside Canter’s Deli, where the waiter might be a peach and the woman working the bakery counter is trying to kill you with her mind.  As a contrast, people in Seattle are frosty bitches, so L.A. is still one up on The Emerald City.  Also, we live next to a huge neighborhood/mini-town of orthodox Jews who don’t make eye-contact with me or answer my friendly greetings (they do when I’m with a man).  I don’t know if its because I’m a woman or have tattoos, but either way it makes me feel sad sometimes.
  • Cockroaches.  Yep.
  • Crazy people.  I kind of like crazy people, but this is the first city I’ve been in where I’ve been really freaked out by someone.  Here it was an old woman wearing expensive, garish clothing and lots of real jewelry who had a gaping, red, angry hole where one of her eyes used to be.  It’s a metaphor for Los Angeles: fifteen pounds of gold hanging on a zombie-movie specter.  At first it seemed like a funny story, but two seconds later, as she wetly gasped for air while lifting grocery bags, I had a deep and real chill.  There has to be an explanation, I thought: maybe her doctor highly recommended her bloody socket get plenty of air?  I don’t know, man, and that’s the point: everyone is reduced to a freaked-out 7-year-old when that happens.  Literally 10 minutes after a dude on a bicycle rode be me and made kissing sounds at me while looking at my boobs.  Still fragile from the socket-lady, I couldn’t process the harmlessness of it and instead felt self-conscious and weak.  It’s embarrassing to admit.
  • Our apartment is cool, but the sound quality is POOR.  I can hear the guy upstairs pick his nose, the floors are so thin, and I hear the girl down the hall talk on her phone – when I’m standing in my own living-room.  Not a murmur, an actual “Hey, Scott!  Yeah, Friday would be awesome!” conversation.  Luckily we live in a building of adults who all go to bed at a reasonable hour, but that doesn’t mean I want to clearly hear the neighbor watching Jeopardy.  I think the last brick-encased apartment spoiled me.
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5 Posted in Daily Space

Our own Leesa Leva has a painting in the Domy Books “Monster Show 3″, a fairly elite line-up of some seriously fantastic artists. I’d insert an image in this post but I BROKE MY PHOTOSHOP and now I am pacing, dead-eyed, unable to shower even.

If you’re in Texas, head to Houston immediately. Or, on Halloween, when the show actually opens.

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8 Posted in Daily Space, Visual

I Vote Empress Xelaxtron

Posted by Sunday on Oct 27, 2008 at 4:10 pm

We don’t really discuss politics much here, mostly because we’re all busy squirreling away canned goods and machetes for the coming apocalypse. For the record though, Halcyon would have voted Edwards, Leesa spills a cup of blood to her Obama shrine every sundown and I will probably forget to vote. That doesn’t stop this from making me shoot iced tea out my nose.

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Mmm, Is That Radiation You’re Cooking?

Posted by Sunday on Oct 25, 2008 at 11:29 pm

When I was 10 years old I read a book titled Missile Envy, by Dr. Helen Caldicott.  It is a sensationalist account of what a nuclear attack on a city would be like, including the preceding events and the aftermath.  Then, as in now, Dr. Caldicott is scolded for her emotional, maternalistic feminism, a fact that was entirely lost on this pre-teen.  As far as I knew it was as untainted an account as any – and after all, is there any other way to present the details of what is essentially a planet-buster? Anyway, it started a lifelong preoccupation with all things nuclear (and lightly related: chemical warfare).  It was my Nightmare on Elm Street – it terrified me and I couldn’t get enough of it.

  • I saw Silkwood on television and became convinced that bologna and/or cheese slices were tainted with radiation.  Luckily no one in my family ate bologna.
  • I believe it was Dr. Caldicott’s book that stated (erroneously?) that some common radioactive element smelled like garlic, a fact that haunted me for years.  Combined with Silkwood, I thereafter had nervous fantasies that my showers were tainted with radiation, to the point where I powerfully hallucinated smelling garlic.  Oddly, I can’t eat enough garlic.
  • Shortly thereafter I read a magazine article about improperly discarded nuclear waste, a story in which a foreign child finds a small chunk of pasty, glittery blue material.  The child then smears some of the blue glitter on his/her body and pockets the rest.  Within the week the child is dead, the regions where the blue paste had been smeared are rotting away and a orange-sized pit in the thigh near where the remainder of the chunk had rested for several hours.  A local doctor is at a loss.  I became hyperaware of suspicious items in the trash and assumed them to have a half-life of 1,000 years.

    pictureofchernobyllavaflow.jpg

Fuel containing mass emerging from ducts (image has been altered with black lines to enhance visibility of slag)

  • Chernobyl,  unsurprisingly, had occurred around this time.  I can and do spend hours reading about it.  Among the aspects I find most fascinating is the phenomenon of radioactive lava that formed during the explosion.  Some 95% of the uranium became what is referred to as “fuel containing mass,” or molten fuel slag.  The lava splooged in waves through the facility, down four levels by running through pipes and channels and sometimes melting clean through walls.  The slag cooled and hardened into a super-ceramic that scientists later had trouble chipping a sample from (they ended up firing at it with a rifle to get a chunk off; there goes that old adage about not shooting molten fuel slag). One slag outcrop is referred to as “The Elephant Foot” and is so radioactive it cannot be approached by living things, even in protective suits.
  • A moment of silence for Spock.
  • Another aspect about Chernobyl that still gets me going is the rumored mutations that have since evolved in the surrounding countryside.  As expected there are a plethora of strange tales, including glowing trees, over-sized and overconfident wolves, “Chernobyl Snowmen” and colonies of vicious squirrels.
  • Some movie from my childhood that really stuck with me: a kind of biography about the men of the early atom bomb tests who may or may not have been used as guinea pigs by being exposed to fallout.  There was a scene where the men almost immediately begin to vomit a kind of white, creamy bad-movie vomit, the little spitted mouthfuls kind (I don’t know about you, but when I puke there had better be a bucket ready)(okay, except for that time in Seattle when I threw up all over the sidewalk and a waitress accused me of being drunk but I was having some kind of allergic reaction to surf clam).  It was the first time that I understood that radiation sickness wasn’t like getting a cold: it is instantaneous, irreversible and horrid.
  • On November 1st of 2006, Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by a lethal dose of polonium-210 slipped into his tea cup.  While the entire story is intense and worth looking up (a teaser: the most likely suspect for the actual act is “Igor the Assasin“, an ex-KGB judo master who walks with a limp), it’s worth noting that polonium-210 is not a typical gamma-type radioactive element (think: Chernobyl/Hulk) – it emits alpha particles, the kind that can be blocked by a piece of notebook paper.  Alpha particles don’t set off airport detectors or even geiger counters under certain conditions.  Polonium-210 must be ingested or inhaled, and the victim will die a slow, painful and terrible death.
  • Just in case radiation doesn’t impress you enough, here’s a little treat from Wikipedia:

It is interesting to note that, under some conditions, shielding can increase the dose rate. For instance, if the electrons from a high energy beta source … strike a lead surface, X-ray photons will be generated (radiation produced in this way is known as bremsstrahlung). It is best for this reason to cover any high Z materials (such as lead or tungsten) with a low Z material such as aluminum, wood, plastic. This effect can be significant if a person wearing lead-containing gloves picks up a strong beta source. Also, gamma photons can induce the emission of electrons from very dense materials by the photoelectric effect; again, by covering the high Z material with a low Z material, this potential additional source of exposure to humans can be avoided. Furthermore, gamma rays can scatter off a dense object; this enables gamma rays to “go around corners” to a small degree. Hence, to obtain a very high protection factor, the path in/out of the shielded enclosure should have several 90 degree turns rather than just one.

Have a great week, everyone!

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How Was Your Day?

Posted by Sunday on Oct 15, 2008 at 12:54 am

Things that happened to me today:

  • I got up at 6:30 – in the morning – to meet movers scheduled to arrive at 7:00.
  • Movers did not arrive.
  • Called movers, was told they’d call me back when they could locate the driver.
  • Did not call me back.
  • Heard outrageous smashing noises outside, discovered that neighboring building is having roof replaced.
  • Called movers, was told driver would be along shortly.  4 hours later.
  • Or rather, three days later since they were supposed to come last Friday.
  • Got phone call from dispatcher asking me where the hell I was because the driver was having trouble at my address.
  • Went outside, could see no driver or moving equipment.
  • Called movers, told them driver must be at wrong address and was put on hold.
  • Saw delivery driver come walking around a corner, waved at him.
  • Driver was mean.
  • I yelled at driver.
  • Driver tried to walk away from me.
  • I yelled at driver again.
  • Driver refused to place our delivery cubes in our own parking area and gave no reason – see “driver was mean”.
  • Driver then refused to place cubes in a red curb zone, even though the zone was not a fire zone.
  • Driver made me stand in a parking spot across the street while he got the moving cubes.
  • Driver was then AWOL for 20 minutes while I stood in parking spot.
  • BMW lady attempted to back into spot where I was standing despite my yelling and waving my hands.
  • BMW lady then flipped me off.
  • Cried.
  • Driver reappeared with moving cubes and was mysteriously nice, though still wouldn’t place cubes in parking area.
  • I went to start unloading our belongings and discovered that roofers next door had totally blocked side entrance.
  • Went to rear entrance and discovered that workers on own building were sealing hallway floors.
  • Walked to bank instead.
  • Walked to Starbucks, was treated like shit.
  • Was unsurprised.
  • Went home, tried to hire some Mexicans to carry my stuff.
  • Mexicans pretended to not understand what I was talking about.
  • Called moving companies to hire labor on short notice.
  • Was literally laughed at.
  • Cried.
  • Went to “Yogurt Bucket” as we now call the neighborhood froyo joint.
  • Went home deciding a shower was in order.
  • Discovered shower knob was no longer functioning and spun uselessly.
  • Cried.
  • Watched internet television.
  • Tried writing about science fiction to feel better.

I think I left out a few things.

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0 Posted in Apocalypse

No, I Will Not Surrender My Nerd Membership Badge

Posted by Sunday on Oct 13, 2008 at 1:18 pm

I keep my dislike of Stephen Hawking under wraps, most of the time, much like an otherwise kind mother keeps her dislike of Jews a secret¹.

Years ago while reading A Brief History of Time, I grew to dislike Hawking.  I didn’t like his pedantic style, his use of absolutes.   While the media gushed about how he made science accessible, I grumbled; it wasn’t accessible.  It was muddled and often contradictory.  These were subjects I already knew about, already understood, and after reading Hawking’s description of them I often emerged doubting my own understanding.  Had he really just sucked knowledge out of my head?

It was years later that I read about his being a bit of a twat in his private life as well.  He divorced the mother of his three children and wife of many years (publicly siting the pressures of fame and his illness as a reason) and promptly married his nurse, much to the then-estrangement of his three children.

On the occasion that I first groused about Hawking to Leesa – I believe I said, “He’s an ass” – she gasped and looked around and hissed, “He’s disabled!”  to which I said, “So?”  And I stand by my position.   Like many geniuses I applaud his luck at having so many brain folds while I still openly acknowledge that geniuses are often jerks.

Regardless, an article in The Telegraph had me laughing.  Young man gets tattoo of Stephen Hawking, and to top it off, “didn’t undestand a word” of A Brief History of Time.  AND got the Monty Python quote “He’s not the messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.” written beneath.  It’s like a joke crafted just for me!

Science fan has Stephen Hawking tattooed on leg, from The Telegraph.  Via Neatorama.

¹This is a long-running joke for me: for years my sister and I slowly convinced my mother that she was a bigot by taking  her truly innocent statements and telling her that she was being bigoted.  For example, she might say, “Let’s not eat Thai today, it gives me heartburn,” and we’d say, “Jesus, mom!  Keep it down!  I can’t believe how racist you are!”  And then she’s tisk and say, “Stop it!” and then look worried for a while.  While she’s a smart woman, she’s also very sweet which universally trumps the smartness.

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A Moon Landing, Every Day

Posted by Sunday on Oct 2, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Sometimes, in the midst of the terror of bureaucracy and Los Angeles parking permit fiascos, a minuscule glimmer of hope shoots by, nearly undetected.  You have to be alert.  A Hope Neutrino, if you will.

You see, I’m afraid you either get it or you don’t.  Some of us are chosen, and we know we are chosen.  If you are reading this, you’re probably one of us.

It usually happens with youth.  We all have the story.  Just, one night, you heard your name being whispered.  Mine was in the Mojave desert, next to Edwards Air Force Base where my grandparents lived.  Late one night, far away from light pollution and close to the actual breathing spirit of jetflight itself, Old Muroc, I looked up one night and saw the Milky Way and – I think I must have been about 6 years old – suddenly realized that the sky wasn’t a solid ceiling, but a falling away of infinity.  I remember physically losing my balance.  It was no longer “up,” it was out.  New neurological links fused into permanent brain patterns.  The stars did not move across the Earth, the Earth was moving amongst the stars. Each new piece of information was like punching my brain in the stomach: each star was a sun, each sun could have planets circling it, the universe had no known boundary, and suddenly, amongst the static download of data, the understanding of what it meant that we had been out there.  We had been out there!

Sunday ... it said.  … Sunday

Yes?

Come home

I want to.  I’m trying.

It’s hard for me to admit, but I understand faith.  I know what it feels like to have that one thing you don’t need to question, that one thing that doesn’t waver in front of being tired, being sick, being bored and frustrated.  It’s just that, instead of believing in a magical, bearded cloud-man, I believe that mankind isn’t as terrestrial as we think we are.  Oh, I don’t know that the specific species came from space or anything, but I do know that each atom of our DNA is literally stardust.  That everything we are, everything we touch and eat and breathe is stardust, particles travelling billions of lightyears from where they started, particles that saw the beginning of time itself.  We are each space.  Some of us know we should go back.  Earth is a fun diversion, but you can only stay at Disneyland so long.

Yesterday it was brought to my attention that SpaceX, the privately held company that put the first civilian-designed and launched rocket into orbit on September 28th (without a damn hitch, I should add), is headquartered in Hawthorne, California.  Which is literally within walking distance of where I am typing this right now.   As I excitedly perused their site to see if they offered tours of the facility, I absentmindedly clicked on the “careers” page, where I happened to notice they were hiring for a position I am qualified for.

merlin.jpg

The SpaceX Merlin rocket engine (no relation, I assume, to the other famous Merlin engine).  Photo ©Space Exploration Technologies.

It feels dramatic, but it is true: it was like being back in the desert again, the gossamer rip of the Milky Way forever obliterating my view of the universe.  I could work for a company that puts rockets into space?  Oh.  Oh my.  All this moving horror, the complex series of phone calls it takes to get one’s gas service turned on (it’s a long story, but suffice to say that even customer service was confused), all that flotsam was slammed back into place.

All of these companies, and there are more every day it seems, are staffed by people, private, educated, passionate people – regular people – who want nothing more than to get us home.  It is their job.  SpaceX has no government coffer (hell, our government doesn’t have a government coffer), no politcal agenda.  It’s pure science, every day.  It is a moon landing, every day.  And I intend to participate.

I just hope they’re okay with me having a tattoo of SpaceShipOne in my left armpit.

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4 Posted in Techie, The Future

Happy Birthday, NASA

Posted by Sunday on Oct 1, 2008 at 6:03 am

nasa4.jpg

50 years old, and not looking so fresh.  Remember when they unveiled this “updated” logo?  It’s like New Coke.  Looking at the old one is a lesson in jumping the shark.

nasa-worm.jpg

See, look at that.  Simple.  Unique.  Timeless, if you don’t count times where human beings ruin everything.  Here’s sincerely hoping that you’ll somehow pull it all back together again, from all of us here at GalacticMu.

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5 Posted in Daily Space