That’s weird to me. I’m from the 1950s and can measure my life in scores of years (three-and-mumble). I was an avid science fiction reader by the 1960s, so recall an era where we wondered if the year 1984, let alone 2001, would be anything like the famous book.
As it turned out, in both cases: No. Respectively fortunate and unfortunate. The future turned out less extreme (but no less “interesting”). Both demonstrate the difficulty of prediction, a problem science fiction illustrates more often than not.
That said, the other face of Janus looks forward…
The look back in the previous post ran longer than I expected, so there was no room for a look forward. Same thing happened last year: one post to look back; one to look forward. Two faces, two posts, seems apt.
Speaking of running longer, that’s a bridge between the backward and forward views. My average word count per post has certainly increased over the years:
A significant jump after a year off, and something of an upward trend since. The posts per year numbers echo the words per post data with notable exceptions in 2018 and 2021:
Just wasn’t cranking them out last year, but I was more verbose than ever.
That does reflect a conscious loosening of the count leash. I used to see 1200–1500 as a negotiable ceiling, but lately I’ve been feeling very comfortable up to 1700. The lid floats around 1800–2000. Some run longer. Very rarely I’ll break 2500.
I may try for more brevity by not combining multiple TV or movies reviews into a single post. That makes sense if I don’t have much to say about any of them and they’re related by some theme (even as broad as “anime”), but I’ve had too many of those end up with high word counts. Doing shorter single posts would doubly reduce the average by increasing the number of posts while reducing the number of words in those posts.
That said, a lot of the other posts I’m thinking about are technical enough to end up with lots of words in them. Such posts account, in part, for the upward trend.
I’m not gonna give it a lot of thought. It is what it is.
Jumping into increasingly distant space, I read that, on Saturday the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) successfully deployed its sunshield. If you’re aware of the incredible effort it took to get to this point, this is awesome news. A gem to start the new year.
The telescope is optimized for seeing in the near- and mid-infrared, which allows it to search for highly red-shifted ancient galaxies. That’s exciting because observing large ancient galaxies might tip the dark matter question in favor of MOND theories.
Infrared is radiant heat, so telescopes must be as cold as possible. Otherwise the heat of the telescope obscures the image like a light leak in a camera. The JWST will orbit in Earth’s L2 Lagrange point — one-and-a-half million kilometers away from Earth on the opposite side from the Sun. (In comparison, the Moon orbits a bit over one-third of a million km away.)
The point is, the telescope is roughly as far from the Sun as the Earth is — hardly the chill of the outer Solar system, let alone deep space. That means the ‘scope needs a sunshield. A very large and effective sunshield. More to the point, a sunshield much too large to fit in a rocket.
As I mentioned above, 2001 was wrong, we’re still not to the point of serious construction in space, so the large sunshield had to be a 344-step origami trick performed after launch.
Twenty-five years of development and the efforts of tens of thousands of people and billions of tax-payer dollars down to 344 sequential steps, any one of which, should it fail, dooms the ‘scope.
And it went perfectly. Must have been one hell of a New Year’s party.
A huge thank you and congratulations to all involved!
Crossing space from science to science fiction, last year I finally got around to reading Octavia Butler. Long overdue and regrets for not doing it sooner. She more than deserves the acclaim I too long ignored.
This year, already, I finally got around to another author who has been on my radar for a while. Not for as long as with Butler, nor with the same degree of acclaim, but with a strong sense he might be my sort of hard SF author. I’m speaking of Alastair Reynolds.
Born in the mid-1960s, he’s a contemporary writer — one with a Ph.D. in astrophysics and former career as a research astronomer for the ESA. Attractive credentials for a hard SF author. That kind of background is what attracts me to authors such as Greg Egan, Robert L. Forward, Rudy Rucker, and, of course, Isaac Asimov.
As with Butler, I’m sure I’ve encountered his short stories in various collections, but few and far between enough that any sense of his was lost in the general clamor of short story authors. Now I’ve read two of his novels, and I liked them a lot. Definitely my sort of hard SF author.
Reynolds writes (at least in these) of the far future. In one case, the standalone novel House of Suns (2008), many millions of years from now. I also read the first book of his Revelation Space series, Revelation Space (2000), which is set in the 2500s — merely five-hundred years from now.
And while he is not without his indistinguishable-from-magic technology, both books take place in Einstein’s universe — no FTL, no magic warp drive. I have a major soft spot for science fiction that respects the speed of light.
Warp drive is a necessary gimme to tell the kind of story that makes the galaxy (or universe) more an analogue for Earth. But the same bent I have towards hard SF also inclines me towards an appreciation for a galaxy-sized story told in the framework of special relativity.
[Which I remind you says: (1) causality; (2) special relativity; (3) FTL. Pick two.]
So, I’m liking Reynolds a lot and looking forward to reading more. I’m currently waiting for my turn with the next book in the Revelation Space series. Free library books are great, but sometimes you wait.
Switching back to science, but from the vast to the tiny, at some point last year I got a little overloaded by how much more there is to learn about the mathematics of quantum mechanics. Looking back, I’ve learned a lot, but I’m still in the foothills in some regards. I needed a break from looking up at the mountain.
It’s not that the math is actually that hard, at least in the basics. There are things incredibly tedious to calculate (fortunately, computers are fast, accurate, and don’t get bored), and some things are intractable to normal computation (quantum computers will help). The math used, however, isn’t that tough. It’s mostly just calculus. My problem is that my calculus skills (such as they even are) fade out between derivatives and integrals.
The actual hard part is breaking away from physical intuition about how reality works and wrapping one’s head around what the mathematics says.
[A major puzzle in QM involves the ontology behind the math. Because it’s an abstraction and description of reality, all math is epistemic. But as a parabola abstracts and describes the arc of a physical baseball’s motion, the quantum mechanics math must be derived from something physical and real. If only we knew what it was.]
In any event, after a breather and letting things settle into shape, I’m ready to start climbing again. If I watch that MIT YouTube course again, my guess is I’ll get a lot more out of it.
I’ve long heard the complaint about older men wearing old clothes and resisting the efforts of family and friends to “throw that old shit away!” And rightfully so; holes and threadbare aren’t a great look no matter how comfortable and memory rich. My dad was certainly guilty — that old red flannel shirt — and guess who has his own red flannel shirt he really ought to just toss.
Hence the new forward looking rule about, after wearing the clean socks, underwear, tee-shirts, or sweaters, one last time, seriously consider, and lean strongly towards, just throwing that shit away. It’s not like I don’t have plenty and aren’t an Amazon Prime order away from more.
The purge has begun!
Now,… speaking of word count (which is under 1500), nuf sed.
Stay telescopic, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.