September 28, 2016

The Universe: Fine-Tuned, or Just Fine Without Us?

Probing the universe… or is it the other way around?

It’s a chicken and egg question that comes around every so often in cosmology.

Were we created to live in the Universe, or was the cosmos fine-tuned for us? That is, was everything we see arranged just so we had to arise?

We’re currently reading Beyond Biocentrism, a book posing this very idea, repackaged in a slightly new way. This is known as the anthropic principle, an idea that rears its ugly head every so often. [Read more...]

I’m Writing a Book – ‘I’m Writing a Book?’

My view for the next few months…

There. I said it.

One sure way to carry through with an intended goal,  is to announce it to the world. Tell no one, and you always have a viable way out. In a way, keeping something under wraps can doom a project to failure. Hey, I finally quit smoking this way, way back in 1995. tell the world, and they’ll immediately know if you didn’t carry through.

Haven’t we written several science fiction books already? Yup… but the forthcoming project is something much larger in scope: our very first adventure into non-fiction.

Long time readers might recall our yearly roundup of astronomical events to watch out for in the coming year. This started way back when in 2009 on this blog, and migrated over to Universe Today in 2014.

It has grown in size and scope, and now, we’re taking it to the next logical step. We’re expanding this into The Top 101 Astronomical Events for 2017. Each event will get a one to two page entry, and the guide will be interspersed with factoids, tidbits, and tales of astronomical lore. This will be released first as an e-guide from Universe Today, and then as a download available from Amazon.

This, of course, is an experiment. If the demand reaches a certain threshold, this may become a yearly thing. I actually started doing this sort of list for myself, as a sort of outline on upcoming astronomy events to write about in the coming year. We also noticed that, while there are some amazing guides to, and almanacs for the coming year out there, none of them have really made the transition to digital. All this info is indeed out there on ye ole web, it’s just in disparate places. Most online guides we’ve come across on blogs and websites tend to treat astronomy in the coming year very superficially, in a standard ‘Top 10′ listicle format.

We’re looking to tie all of the ‘best of the best’ in one deep-diving handbook. Expect astronomical weirdness, and facts galore. What we don’t want to write is a simple basic learners book, nor will this be a laundry list of Moon phases in a standard almanac style. We’re aiming to make this something special, something in between. We’re incorporating tips, comments and suggestions from previous years, and we have some ideas for expansion (especially in the graphics department) if there proves to be a demand for this guide.

In previous years, we’ve even manged to include the list in Ical/Google Calendar format, and we’re hoping to do so again this year. Hopefully, this will be a resource you can download to your Ipad, smartphone, or viewing device of choice for use in the field.

It’ll be an eye-crosser to construct, for sure, but we hope to chronicle the creation process here over the next few months. And hey… we’re putting this all together whilst on the road traveling, using our 13.5” screen laptop.

Onward towards 2017, and another great year in astronomy.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

The humans were here. (Photo by author)

Are we actually living in a new geological era?

Last month, the Anthropocene Working Group met in Oslo, Norway and made the tentative recommendation that we are now living in the Anthropocene Era, an age where humans are the predominant drivers of change on the planet. [Read more...]

Planes, Trains and Chicken Trucks

Waiting on the train…

How do you get from point A to B? This past weekend, we turned in our rental car and made the transition from dangerous foreign driver in a strange land, to being a wandering, car-dodging tourist on foot in urban London. [Read more...]

Meet the Neighbors- Probing Proxima Centauri B

An artist’s conception of the strange surface of Proxima Centauri B.

Image credit: ESO

By now, you’ve heard the news.

Yesterday, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory made the formal announcement that we expected was forthcoming: our nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, hosts an exoplanet.

And of course, the SEO-hungry media quickly morphed the announcement from ‘Planet Found Around Nearest Star,” to “Earth’s Twin Discovered Next Door!” [Read more...]

KIC Dreams: Thoughts on Tabby’s Star

Time to contemplate the cosmos…

All right. I know that, by now, much good ink (real and cyber) has been spilled over KIC 8462852. I also know that I’m probably not the very last science writer to turn our attention towards this strange star, drudged up in the Kepler Space Telescope data. And things have only gotten stranger, as search back through glass-plate archives has revealed that KIC 8462852 has gotten continuously fainter over the past century. [Read more...]

The Politics of Time Travel

Passing the time in Cardiff, Wales.

Seriously, can we just move on to 2017 already?

There’s a great scene in the British comedy series Misfits where a time traveler accidentally botches a plan to kill Hitler and drops his mobile phone during the attempt. You’d think the Fuhrer would’ve built a concentration camp just for all of the would-be time traveling assassins that kept showing up at his door. Anyhow, the Nazis back-engineer the future technology from the device, creating an alternate future timeline where the Reich won the war and occupies England.

But is time travel even possible? Certainly Einstein showed us one way to move forward faster than the normal 1:1 flow of time via Relativity and time dilation, though you have to get moving at pretty fast sustained speeds to really notice. Moving backwards in time, however, isn’t so clear, as everything in modern physics hints at a reality where the flow of time is, in fact a one way trip.

So much for a time traveling DeLorean, give us the ability to move backwards and forwards at will. A real study carried out in 2014 actually scoured social media, looking for time travelers who might have prescient knowledge about future events that had since come to pass.

Of course, this study was only tentative, and looked at two events that were very narrow in scope. We’re already saying ‘comet who?’ when it comes to the fizzle that was ISON, and the election of Pope Francis will soon fade into historical memory as well, unless maybe he wins an Academy award or something. How many popes from a century ago can YOU name? And would you be moved enough to go back in time and chat about them on the ye ‘ole equivalent version of social media with that newly invented time machine?

But perhaps, we’ll need to rerun that experiment again soon. The current U.S. political season is upon us, making us wonder just where the modern time travelers are, set on averting the reality of a President Trump.

Sure, it’s hard to be a dystopian science fiction writer these days. Between Brexit and the bizarre U.S. election cycle, truth really is stranger than fiction this year.

But would a President Trump prove or disprove the possibility of time travel? Here’s some of the possibilities:

  1. Trump will not become President, and time travelers already know this historical fact from their own era. Time travel is better spent going back and teasing Hitler, witnessing the Crucifixion, becoming your own grandparent, etc.

  2. Time travel backwards is impossible, or time is deterministic or continually branching off into multiple realities, which explains the strange universe we have before us today.

  3. Time travel is possible, but the election of a President Trump will, in fact end human civilization before it’s invented.

  4. The rise of President Trump is the result of the meddling of time travelers to prevent another unseen crisis, unknown to us. Perhaps Bill Cosby was meant to be President?

In any event, it seems that time travelers simply won’t save us from ourselves. But the good news is, YOU can be the hero of this dystopian future by getting out there and voting this November. With all of the complex issues of social injustice, poverty and racism confronting the world today, a President Trump at the head of the most powerful country in the world is the very last thing we need.

Out of Africa

Standing amid stones…

Well, we took the leap late last week, and jumped north into the (currently) United Kingdom. The post-Brexit jump for the U.S. dollar, and the accompanying fall of the price of rental cars and airline tickets fueled this decision, along with a desire to escape the August summer heat in Morocco. [Read more...]

The Five Stages of Writing

The Sun sets on another productive (?) day.

It’s a daily battle that every writer must struggle with.

There’s a great scene in the British TV sitcom Spaced, where Daisey sits down and prepares to engage in the act of writing. As she looks around her, she sees chaos. Dishes needing to be washed. Pots needing to be scrubbed. Anything suddenly looks more appealing than putting the first word on a page. As the situation devolves, a decision is finally reached: “Let’s have a party,” she declares, knowing that the panic instilled in herself by the imminent arrival of friends now gives her a very good reason to quit writing and instead clean house. [Read more...]

Running in Essaouira, Morocco

Goats… in Trees!

Headed to the beach in Morocco this summer? Our recent adventures along the country’s Atlantic coast brought us to the “Windy City of Africa” Essaouira. And, as is always the case, our thoughts rapidly turned to the eternal question of ‘where to run?’ without twisting an ankle.

[Read more...]

Update: Following the Known Unknowns

Exploring Azemmour.

Greetings from sunny Morocco. We fully planned this week on writing up a full runner’s guide to El Jadida, we really did. We did make a short stop there for five days earlier this week, en route from Casablanca to Essaouira. And we even did a few reconnaissance runs around our suburban neighborhood. We did not, however, find a place that we dared to open up to full throttle to do a five kilometer fast run. It happens sometimes, running for the first time in a strange place. You head for what’s usually a sure bet at finding a level, paved surface to run on, (parks or waterfronts are usually good bets) and end up watching your every step at what seems like a snail’s pace on crumbly pavement and rocky ground. [Read more...]

100 Words to Know in Any Language

Say what? (Photo by author).

Sometimes, we’re traveling so fast and passing through regions with several languages, that we never do learn them properly. Such is our current predicament in Morocco, a glorious mix of French, Arabic and a dash of indigenous Berber mixed in.

Now, we’ll admit that we’ve taken classes in both French and Arabic over the years… and forgotten nearly everything. Language is a perishable skill, and if you don’t use it, you tend to lose it. We’ve also taken Italian during our stint with NATO in the military back in our USAF days, and this helps a little bit in other Romance language countries. True story, we learned words like ‘broken,’ ‘scratched’ and ‘dirty’ in Italian before we learned the usual basics such as hello and goodbye. [Read more...]

Running in Casablanca

Scenic El Hank lighthouse at sunset.

Most tourists briefly transit the port city of Casablanca en route to further afield. And while the largest city in Morocco is more of the economic engine of the country than a touristic stop, it’s one of those towns that dot each region filling a vital role: it’s a place for trekkers and travelers to get things done.

And we did just that this week, as we got some key pieces of clothing replaced, after a through search of several malls in the town. I’ve been holding my old running shoes together with duct tape for the last few months, no lie. Not only are Bigfoot American size 12 shoes a rarity in Morocco, but apparently, duct tape is a luxury item as well.

Successfully finding a new pair of running shoes was an exercise in studying conversion tables online and guessing Euro vs UK vs US shoe sizes, an approximate but arcane art at best. I couldn’t really afford to be choosy, as we had to work from the subset of shoes that were at least a US size 11 ˝. Suffice to say, we have shiny new Asics… that are the very first running shoes that we’ve owned in highlighter yellow. Hey, at least they’ll never get lost in the shuffle… [Read more...]

Running in Morocco

Rocking the Kasbah along the Rabat waterfront…

It’s here. Remember a few weeks back when we wrote about keeping up a running regimen while traveling? Well, we forgot one of the most important moving parts of the whole shtick: where to run.

If you travel and stay at hostels and Air BnBs like we do, asking the doorman is typically not an option. Usually, our first run in a new town is strictly reconnaissance, a quick out and back look at the new environs. Sometimes, we’ll follow a local runner (without looking too stalker-ish, of course) to see if they know where to run. Parks and waterfronts are also often a good bet. And of course, we’re often Googling ‘where to run in (blank)’ the first morning in a new place. [Read more...]

Traveling Sick – Barfing Up Abroad

What’s in your travelling medical kit?

It’s a reality we plan for, nearly every excursion.

Sickness, injuries, and health issues are a fact of life, and an extra stress while traveling. It can also be extra stressful when you’re traveling solo, and there’s no one to run out to the local pharmacy and pantomime for you. We once spent the day sick in a tiny, barren hotel room in Darwin, Australia, with only our guide book for entertainment. We were barely able to make it around the corner for bottled water. [Read more...]

Travel and Skepticism: On a Ride Not Taken

Timeless wisdom…

Do you park your brain in neutral when you travel?

Indie travel really pulls you out of your element and plops you down wide-eyed in a new and strange place. More than ever, this is the time when you need to be alert to your new surroundings, not buried face-first in your smartphone… well, OK, in just about every country you visit these days, you’ll just look like about a 100 other people walking down the street starring at their phones. [Read more...]

Wandering Through the Medina

The alleyways of Assilah, Morocco.

This week, we’d like to talk about the importance of not having a plan.

Sure, we’ve talked about the virtues of careful planning during any impeding trek in the past, and how it can make or break a trip. What we want to address this week might be better termed as built in flexibility. [Read more...]

Crossing the Pillars of Hercules

Follow the arrow…

We’ve arrived.

As we mentioned in last week’s dispatch, our mission this past weekend was to exit Spain into Morocco, for a brand new 90 day reset on our visa… and of course, to explore brave new lands.

First off, everything went off with ‘nary a hitch. We ditched the rental in Gibraltar, pre-positioned ourselves in Algeciras, and caught the ferry across the straights of Gibraltar from Tarife to Tangier. Where invasion fleets and cannon balls used to fly, lies a now placid straight mainly plied by sun-seeking tourists. [Read more...]