I completely missed the celebration of tau yesterday as well as being completely ignorant of a movement among mathematicians to replace my favorite constant, pi. I have spoken previously (once) here about pi and even use the first few digits of it as part of my username here at WordPress. At least once a year, on Pi Day, which corresponds to March 14th (or as close to 3.14 as you can get on our calendars), I celebrate the never-repeating, endlessly enlightening expression of the ratio between a circle’s circumference and it’s diameter … or wait, is that it’s radius.
I received a Tweet that intrigued me, entitled ‘Mathematicians Want to Say Goodbye to Pi‘ with an accompanying link. I read the article, but what really held my attention was an inserted YouTube video from someone named Kevin Houston (with a British, not Texan, accent). If you enjoy math, take a few minutes to watch his video.
So, since Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th, and 2π is roughly 6.28, it follows that celebrating tau should occur on June 28th. Or so the tau enthusiasts hope.
I’m still on the fence, preferring pi for the moment; although, I agree the use of tau has its merits in simplicity and beauty.
My first exposure to Kage Baker’s writing and to her Company series. In our future (about two centuries ahead of us), both time travel and immortality are discovered. As with most time travel scenarios in science fiction, history can’t be rewritten, so said travel is of limited use to the plot and the science is foggy at best. Time travel then becomes a means to transport the reader to a different point in our past. Equally useless to the entrepreneurs of the 24th century is immortality, which can only be applied to very young children and requires extensive cybernetic enhancement.
The Company (aka Dr. Suess) still finds a way to make a buck, sending scientists back to the distant past, recruiting young children from the native population, installing immortality, and putting them to work by scavenging and salvaging priceless art, books, plants, etc. for re-discovery and re-sale (by the Company of course) in the 24th century.
Mendoza is an orphan from the Spanish Inquisition rescued and then recruited by the Company at the very edge of the Pit. After several years of operations and education, she receives her first field assignment, not in the New World (as she desired to be as far as possible away from ‘the monkeys’), but in dreary damp England. While collecting rare specimens from the Garden of Iden, she falls in love with one of the manor’s servants, a fiercely fanatical Protestant young man adrift in a resurgence of Catholicism courtesy of Queen Mary and Prince Phillip of Spain.
I enjoyed the historical aspects of the novel, especially England during the Counter-Reformation. Kage Baker did a good job of immersing me in both Spain and England. I still prefer Connie Willis’ writing style as evidenced in The Doomsday Book and her other Oxford time travel novels and stories.
I’m not a fan of romance, especially teenage romance (and Mendoza is in her late teens while on this first assignment), so I struggled through about half of this book. I also missed some of the humor (or failed to register it as such) exhibited by her fellow agents and their reactions to the ‘monkeys’ (the cyborg agents’ derogatory term for mere mortal men). The predictably tragic ending arrived to my great relief and the novel finally moved back to the original mission – preserving plants.
Perhaps I took the fear and loathing of the immortal agents towards human beings too much to heart. It concerned me that these agents of the Company felt such disdain and dread towards their former brothers and sisters. Commerce and computers seized the day, while the monkeys scampered about and threw bananas at each other. I got the distinct impression that the Company and civilization of the 24th century felt humans were irredeemably inclined to violence and destruction, in a constantly repeating cycle.
I checked this dense compact field guide out from my local library in the hopes of using it in the field with my telescope. Due to its size and weight, I found it nearly useless to use in the dark with my red flashlight at my telescope. The atlases were too small, requiring my reading glasses, and the binding too stiff and tight to allow the field guide to be laid flat and free up a hand to adjust the telescope.
The information provided in the guide appears current as of a dozen years ago (circa 1998). I’ll run through the table of contents with some observations below:
1. A First Look at the Sky – How to differentiate between a star and a planet. Includes a pair of sky maps showing the brightest stars with arrows showing the pathways that help observers find them.
2. A Tour of the Sky – Highlights of the seasonal skies for both hemispheres and a bit on solar observing.
3. The Monthly Sky Maps – Maps are drawn to minimize distortions in regions of the sky most studied, using 45 degrees altitude (halway up the sky to the zenith).
4. The Constellations – History and origins of the constellations and where they can be found in the night sky.
5. Stars, Nebulae and Galaxies – Descriptions of stars, star clusters, nebulae, galaxies (including our own) and quasars. Includes color photographs of the most familiar objects.
6. Double and Variable Stars – Includes graphs and charts.
7. Atlas of the Sky – Fifty-two charts, each accompanied by a half-page (three or four paragraphs) detailing the best tourist destinations for the observer (like a travelogue for your vacation to the stars). This was the main reason I checked out this field guide but, as I mentioned above, the binding prevented me from effectively using this guide while out on my star safari.
8. The Moon – I read this chapter several times and used the excellent maps of the moon during an extended observing period (over several days) in April 2011.
9. Finding the Planets – Tips and timetables for tracking the planets (mostly the easily observed planets like Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn).
10. Observing the Planets – A tour of all the planets (including the recently demoted Pluto), with lots of color photos.
11. Comets – Description, observing and photographing tips.
12. Asteroids – Only two pages long, includes a table of the brightest asteroids.
13. Meteors and Meteor Showers – Table of major meteor showers and how to observe them.
14. Observing the Sun – Concise breakdown of the sun’s composition, but the majority of the chapter deals with solar eclipses and how to observe them.
15. Coordinates, Time and Calendars – Definitions of right ascension and declination and an analemma graph and photograph.
After reading this field guide, and being disappointed in its field usefulness, I decided upon the Sky & Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas for use on my observing nights. While the Pocket Sky Atlas lacks the travelogue features of this Field Guide, it makes up for that in ease-of-use and weightlessness.
The initial installment of the Stormlight Archives epic fantasy series stormed through my early September. Filled with the whispering wind of world building, the clatter and clamour of conflicted and conniving characters, the fermenting furor and flustering foreshadowing all building to a thundering tumultuous tempest that is yet the calm before the impending Everstorm.
Sanderson built a world far removed from our own, a rocky seemingly barren continent repeatedly ravaged by highstorms that routinely pummel the landscape and settlements with boulders and anything else it can find to hurl westward (or leeward, as highstorms always originate from the east). Plant and animal life adapted to this harsh environment by developing tough skins (exoskeletons are the norm here) and defensive mechanisms (prehensile plants that retract into their shells when approached or threatened). Humans build in caves, crevasses or very sturdy stone buildings, always facing leeward, with slanting roofs and sides to channel the wind from the highstorms over and around the structures.
Stormlight forms the foundation for the magic systems introduced and ironically is renewed or originates from the highstorms. Gems, like diamonds, garnets, topazes and emeralds, are infused with stormlight if left outside during a highstorm. The currency of the monetary system includes tiny chips of gems imbedded in spheres of glass and double as lamps, torches and other light sources. For those lucky enough to be magic wielders, the spheres also provide a ready reserve of energy for Lashing or Soulcasting. Having previously read Sanderson’s Mistborn series, I can’t say I wasn’t a little disappointed in the Lashing magic system, for it’s similarity to Allomancy (at least from a physics point-of-view).
Through several characters, who just happen to be scholars, we learn some of the history, philosophy, mythology, anthropology and religion of Roshar. Vorinism is the dominant religion of the times, but we see glimpses of how different it may have been in the distant past, especially when most history is written by the conquerors or the last man standing. Prejudice and some persecution persist, based on people’s eye color (current elite of society have light colored eyes, as opposed to the lowly darkeyes) and slavery is common, although slaves receive reduced wages in most cases. The most perplexing unanswered question stemmed from women covering their left hands (referred to as their safehands) for modesty’s sake. Not being genitalia, I wasn’t sure why a left hand (as opposed to a right hand) would evoke lust or some other unseemly immodest emotion in men. But, I’m not judging, just curious, as there are many examples from our own world of strange gender customs and modesty mores.
I related to and enjoyed many of the characters, especially Kaladin (heroic surgeon/spearman/slave/savior – this book focuses most on this character), Szeth (reluctant assassin), Dalinar (noble war leader tortured by visions during highstorms) and Wit (lives up to his name). Strangely, for the first time while reading a novel by Sanderson, I didn’t connect well with the female characters: Josnah (a heretic and devoted researcher/scholar) and Shallan (Josnah’s ward/student with a secret scarred past and a secret ulterior motive).
Sanderson excels at action sequences, vividly portraying amazing feats of magic, thrilling fight scenes and stunning battle sequences. At times, I forgot I was reading, becoming completely absorbed in what looked and felt like a spectacular cinematic experience. Hollywood screenwriters and directors could definitely learn something from Brandon Sanderson.
The ending left enough unanswered questions and new revelations to make me cringe at the two to three year wait for the second novel. I can’t say I was ‘happy’ with some of the discoveries, especially Dalinar’s final vision (actually a repeat of his first vision but our first glimpse of it). I would love to expound on this and rant a bit about the religious or philosophical repercussions, but I fear spoiling a key element and don’t want to scare prospective readers away from a magnificent epic fantasy.
I appreciated Kalladin’s struggles and triumphs, yet he has much to learn and finally has the resources and encouragement to achieve Life before Death, Strength before Weakness and the Journey before the Destination.
September 16th Addition: Brandon commissioned (and personally paid for) beautiful interior illustrations, color endplates of glyphs and maps, natural history sketchbook excerpts, various military maps all presented as character created to complement his excellent textual world building.
Here are some photos I took of the end plates from my first edition:
I could never see myself becoming a Mara, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading of her struggles and setbacks, her uncanny ability to turn even the most desperate tragedy into a resounding triumph. Daughter of Empire occurs on Kelewan, the home world of the Tsuranuanni, the flip-side of the coin that embodies the Riftwar Saga (as told mostly from Midkemia through Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon).
Despite a near complete lack of traditional fantasy elements, this novel delivers an astonishing number of surprises, twists, intrigues and gambles. The rich world of Kelewan and the culture and heritage that is the Tsuranuanni Empire infuse all aspects of the reading experience. Mara’s journey from virginal novitiate to one of the twenty gods of the Tsuranuanni to ruthless Ruling Lady of one of the oldest Houses in the Empire steeped us in her gut-wrenching grief, unflinching resolve through spousal abuse and sweet relief through each successful gambit in the Game of the Council.
I plan to continue reading the rest of the Empire Trilogy and highly recommend this first installment in that series.
I listened to this novel while commuting in May 2011. I found few characters to relate to or care for. I rolled my eyes multiple times at the antics of the adolescents, chalking their behavior down to young adult fiction norms. However, when the adults behaved with even less maturity or even common sense than the youths in their care, I cringed and about gave up reading further. It became a chore to finish. Too much melodrama.
Shana seems to be the only one with any inkling of where her moral compass points and overflows with her need to pursue what she perceives as doing the right thing. Laudable, but not always the wisest course. She came across as a bit over the top.
I thought young adult fantasy would be similar to a fable, or a similar story type that teaches a moral or other shows an example of a character trait to strive after. Perhaps this subgenre has changed beyond recognition in the three (almost four) decades since I read similar stories.
Aasne Vigesaa read this Brilliance Audio production and did a fine job, only using a couple of strange pronunciations of words a couple of times (most notably ‘ubiquitous’ which only appeared once in the novel).
My husband and I watched th3 much anticipated (translated: hyped) summer science fiction series premiere of Falling Skies last night via TNT. I must have missed something the first time around, because I did not pick up from the story (what was actually aired, not what was hyped in the pre-premiere ads) what happened to the Earth. Yes, some information was revealed through observation, like the lack of any electronics as a result of the alien EMP bombardment.
I learned this morning, when I read the discussion thread mentioned above that the alien invasion occurred six months prior to what I watched in the first two episodes. That the aliens wiped out 90 percent of the human population and for some unknown reason needs to enslave the younger members of the remaining humans (but nukes or otherwise disposes of older ones). Basically, what’s left of humanity is in survival mode, on the run and severely out-gunned.
Most of the writing was predictable and the acting mediocre (and I expected a better performance from Noah Wyle). The special effects adequately portrayed the aliens and their technology, but failed to wow me. I enjoyed seeing Dale Dye in a cameo-like appearance in the first few minutes of the first episode and I loved Colin Cunningham‘s portrayal of a post apocalyptic leader of rogue criminal gang (although with a complete breakdown of civilization, what defines a ‘criminal’ except the memory of peace and freedom held by the survivors). Quite a change in roles for Colin, from his days as an Air Force officer in the Stargate program.
I’d rate these two episodes three stars and I do plan to continue watching the series. I will hold out hope for better acting and writing, since the prospects for either in the science fiction genre is slim at best. I’ll take what I can get to wile away the summer.
Once or twice a month, my employer allows employees to wear jeans on a Friday, with the caveat (or a strongly made recommendation) that a minimum donation of $5 is made to a local charity, selected by committee and announced a few days in advance. A couple of weeks ago, we supported the America Red Cross in response to the Joplin tornado disaster.
Yesterday started off normal enough. Snoozed through a couple of alarms. Woke up feeling a bit woozy, so I took it slow. I fed the dogs and let them rummage around in the back yard. I descended three flights of stairs (well, half flights anyway in my strangely split four-level house) and found something to wear to work. I made sure Terry was awake and ready by six so we could take the Bonneville to the repair shop for an alignment and rotate and balance of its tires. Then I sat on the front porch waiting to be picked up by my vanpool, having asked the backup driver to pick me up at home so Terry would have a vehicle.
The commute to work was uneventful and I began my workday with a green tea, toasted wheat bagel and banana from the Baristas in the library’s lobby. Ninety minutes later, the wierdness began with a text from the backup vanpool driver (our regular driver took the rest of the week off to close on her new house and start moving in). Receiving a text from him is not unusual, but one that asks me to call him at my first opportunity is. So I called him.
He needed to return to Leavenworth to deal with a family emergency and was trying to find a way to 1) get the van to me so the other two people in the vanpool had a ride home from work (I’m the second backup vanpool driver) and 2) get back to Leavenworth. I told him I’d call him back after I found my boss to ask if I could help him return to Leavenworth. My boss, being the awesome guy he is, had no problem with me helping out so I called Jim back and gave him the go ahead.
Another ninety minutes wound by, as Jim wrapped up a project at his work, and we were off on the return trip to Leavenworth. You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. A light north wind, crystal clear skies of a vivid blue, no haze or humidity (I could clearly see the horizons, meaning visibility exceeded ten miles or more). Jim elaborated on the situation at home (which I won’t go into here but rest assured it was not life threatening, just a logistics nightmare for him), when my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. I answered it tentatively and was relieved to hear my uncle’s voice. The weirdness wrench ratcheted up another spoke.
Ron and his wife Treva were traveling from Iowa to Kansas, about to pass through Kansas City. Ron was calling for some traffic avoidance tips and a flood update (because he knew I-29 was closed north of the metro area and didn’t know if any of the other area interstates were also affected). He thought about taking I-635 to avoid downtown, but for some reason I thought I-435 would be better. Not being a cyborg with a built-in GPS nor owning a smart enough phone to check while riding in a van, I soon remembered that I-35 doesn’t really connect with I-435 on the northeast side of Kansas City (i.e. the Liberty area) so I-635 was his best bet (with a short dogleg on I-29 to get from I-35 to I-635). Soon after we agreed on this route, my uncle’s cell phone lost service and we were disconnected. I didn’t attempt to call back, since there didn’t seem to be any point and I didn’t want to bore Jim with more inane family logistics.
I called Terry, who was asleep (nothing unusual about that) and asked if he wanted to pick me up this afternoon from the parking lot. He said no, groggily. I asked Terry to unlock the front door so I could retrieve the Firebird keys without digging through the bottom of my purse for my seldom used house key. Jim dropped me off and I soon followed in the Firebird. I jumped back in the van, after wishing Jim safe travels for all of his family, and headed back to Kansas City. My phone rang again on the way back but this time I did recognize the number … it was my mother. Weirdness strikes again.
I had just seen her the evening before. She went to Cushing after work on Tuesday to have blood drawn prior to her surgery scheduled for Thursday morning. She started feeling light-headed to the point of passing out and couldn’t drive herself home. I was still at work Tuesday afternoon when she called me to take her home. It takes me an hour to get home and when I did arrive, another roofing contractor was on-site measuring the house for a roofing estimate. I needed Terry to follow me out to Easton, so I had to wait until the roofer finished his measurements and queried us on our requirements.
So when I received the call from my mother late Wednesday morning while driving away from Leavenworth, I worried that I would now have a huge dilemma if I needed to help her again, since there is no other backup driver for the vanpool. Imagine my relief when my mom called me from her work to tell me the surgery was canceled because her doctor fell and hurt his back (no, I wasn’t happy the doctor hurt himself, just that my mom was all right). Surgery would be rescheduled in two to three weeks. This was a relief to me, since I had several projects I was juggling at work.
I got back to work and parked the van in my building’s parking garage, clear down on the third level (because it was the middle of the day by now and all the best parking spots were taken). I missed the health enhancement lunch seminar I had registered for because I didn’t get back until 12:30 p.m. Back at my desk, I continued working on my projects.
My cubemate of nearly fifteen years has a major project percolating this week, with a major software upgrade and rollout scheduled to start after work on Friday. Adding to her already high stress level, her sister called her Tuesday to tell her their 90+ year old mother’s kidneys were failing and that this ‘was the end.’ So Marge is hoping her mother lasts at least until next week so she can get this upgrade behind her. Marge’s backup plan for the upgrade? She asked me if I had an hour or so on Friday to go over her upgrade checklist in case she had to hop a plane to New York for a funeral. Sure, I said (wincing internally). Firm-wide software upgrades are my specialty.
The rest of the afternoon proceeded without further weirdness. I sent an e-mail to the other vanpool riders, telling them I would leave the Plaza at 4:00 pm and arrive at Hallmark headquarters by 4:15 pm. Just as I was cruising down Grand through Crown Center, my phone rings again. I saw it was my hubby calling me so I answered it. He’s calling to ask me when I will be home as the Bonneville is ready to be picked up. I explained that I still had to drop off one rider in Kansas City, Kansas, but hoped to be back in Lansing by 5:00 pm (when the repair shop closes). I told him I’d call him after dropping her off with an update on my time.
Dodging traffic on I-70 as best I could in the top-heavy sluggish van, I managed to make it to the Legends (via Parallel) by 4:45 pm. I called Terry and told him while I might make it to our house by 5:00 pm, he might want to call them and see if he could pay the balance over the phone and then we could just pickup the car after I finish driving the van back to Hallmark in Leavenworth. Terry said he’d call the repair shop. I called him again as I was passing Wallula church, the highest point on K-7 that overlooks Lansing and Leavenworth from the south. He was waiting out by the mailbox and the repair shop said they usually hang around until 5:15 pm or so.
I pulled into our court at 5:01 pm and got Terry in the van and introduced him to the other rider. I proceed to the repair shop (less than a mile north on Main Street aka K-7/US-73) and dropped Terry off. Then, finally, I could head to Hallmark and park the van. I said goodbye to Chuck and hopped in the Firebird to return home. Terry left the garage door open so I wouldn’t have to mess with the front door.
Since Wednesdays are band practice nights for WolfGuard, I volunteered to cook supper. We had a couple of minute steaks already breaded, so I quickly fried them and made some instant mashed potatoes. We had left-over gravy from two nights ago, so I heated that up as well. We ate a salad and then started in on the regular meal. Then Terry’s phone rang. The drummer was calling. Weirdness ratcheting higher yet again.
The drummer informed Terry he was probably moving to New Mexico in July to pursue a job. Not great news for the band, but not much you can do about it in this economy. Practice proceeded as best it could, since the lead guitarist was out-of-town for work this week and next. Songs sounded good, tight and relaxed. I always enjoy being serenaded with classic rock and metal.
Another roofer showed up just before band practice (second one today and probably the fifth this week) and the Rotts went nuts. Over their obnoxious barking, I gave the roofers permission to climb all over my house and measure. Terry spoke to them a couple of times, but wasn’t impressed with their professionalism (or lack there of). They later called back with their estimate, which was low but didn’t meet our requirements, and will probably not be considered in our final decision.
The band began arriving and I changed into work clothes to mow the back yard. For the last couple of weeks, a teenage girl has been mowing my front and side yards, leaving only the back yard for me to mess with. Since rain was forecast for the rest of the week, I needed to get the back mowed. Besides, I didn’t want to waste time this weekend mowing, when I could be enjoying Father’s Day with my hubby and my dad.
Band practice wound down during the nine o’clock hour. I read chapters from a couple of books and retired upstairs to sleep. Terry came up to cuddle for a few minutes and we discussed the roof, other remodel projects, including a call he had with a local interior designer (between roofers) and the band. Eventually, he went back downstairs and I drifted off to sleep, praying that Thursday dawned quietly. Less weirdness would be welcome.
Addendum (after lunch Thursday): I forgot another call I received last night. Receiving calls is a bit unusual for my cell phone (outside of the ones from Terry of course). I can go days without my dumbphone ringing. Oh, actually I forgot another call from the morning. My dad called me shortly after eight o’clock in response to a Facebook status update I posted Tuesday night. My status updates can be a bit obscure, but meaningful if you have a couple of key pieces of information.
After I finished mowing the back yard, I attempted to call my daughter, Rachelle, who has been in Boston all week. The UNT Collegium singers (and the Baroque Orchestra) performed at a music festival there on Tuesday and Wednesday was the sightseeing day. I wanted to get her impressions of Boston. She returned my call after I’d gone to bed, just after ten o’clock Central (or eleven o’clock in Boston). I could barely hear her over what sounded like a riot. Not being much of a sports fan, I had no idea the pandemonium that had descended upon Boston after the Bruins beat Vancouver 4-0 and won the Stanley cup. Hockey hooligans aside, Rachelle related the highlights of her walk along the Freedom Trail (all six miles of it), including the old North Church, Paul Revere’s house and the USS Constitution. She hoped to catch some of the old homes on Beacon Hill before flying home to Texas Thursday morning.
I saw the waxing moon last night near Spica and Saturn. Twenty-two years ago, the moon was full while I labored to bring Rachelle into the world. Compared to her brother three years and four months earlier, childbirth the second time around was quick (but not painless). Terry and I got to the hospital room sometime between midnight and two o’clock, and by 6:24 a.m., we were the proud parents of a six pound twelve ounce baby girl. Later in the morning, I weighed her down with the longest name in our Mossy microcosm: Rachelle Gwendolynne. The first feature I remember from that day were the fingers on her hands … long and beautiful.
In 1990, just before (or after … ah the memory fades as I age) Rachelle’s birthday, we traveled from Wichita to Easton to see my mom and dad’s almost finished new home. My paternal grandparents were also visiting and wherever the Andreas gather, there you will find a multitude of cameras and the obligatory (and in some case less refined) posing for family snapshots:
Once Rachelle was old enough to walk, she participated in my brother’s wedding as flower girl (Derek was the ring boy):
I knew Rachelle would be a musical phenom from an early age (she was singing before she talked I swear), but she also excelled as an artist (both 2D and 3D). Here is her self-portrait for 2007, done as an art project her senior year in high school:
One of these June twelfths I hope to spend this most happy day with my daughter. One of these Junes she will actually be here, near me, rather than hiking the mountains of Colorado (June 2007, 2008, 2009) or half a world away in Germany (June 2010) or on a jet plane to Boston (June 2011). Perhaps twenty twelve will be the year I hug my daughter on June twelve and wish her a very Happy Birthday in person.