The best sort of science fiction novel? A fix up of course

Wednesday, 25 March, 2015

A “fix-up” is a science fiction book, or novel, written by an author who has created the work by stitching together a number of their earlier shorter stories. Some of these fix-up titles are in fact quite well known:

The “fix-up” is a novel that’s constructed out of short stories that were previously published on their own. And a lot of classic science fiction novels were “fix-ups.” Asimov’s I, Robot and Foundation were both published as groups of short stories before becoming books. There’s Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, too. There’s also Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, and Leigh Brackett’s Alpha Centauri or Die!.

I dare say fix-ups are not limited to sci-fi writing though.

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Why on Earth do clocks move in a clockwise direction?

Thursday, 5 March, 2015

How did it come to be that the direction of clockwise movement came to be from left to right? Now that’s a good question. Why indeed? Why not right to left? Donn Haven Lathrop, who is an expert on American clock towers, among, I’m pretty sure, other things, offers some suggestions:

Clockwise and counter-clockwise as we now know them seem to have derived from an accident of – as the real estate dealer said – location, location, location. In the Northern Hemisphere (in what is now Iraq), where the cradle of our civilization was rocked and the first written records were kept some 4,000 years ago, the early thinkers and teachers noted that their own shadows moved from left to right, as does the shadow of a stick or a sundial gnomon move from left to right during the course of the sun across the heavens.

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Why I do look the fairest of them all in the bathroom mirror?

Wednesday, 28 January, 2015

Ever wondered why you seem to look different, that is to say, better, when looking at your reflection in a bathroom mirror, as opposed to other reflective surfaces, and even photographs? It could be that hand basins, or vanity counters, have rather a lot to do with it.

This may go someway to explaining why many selfies are taken in bathrooms.

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What’s in your name, an indication of your profession?

Friday, 23 January, 2015

If your given name determined one’s career or job, then I would be a golfer or a race car driver… sort of, that would likely be the case if I went by the name Johnny. How about you? Does your name match with your occupation?

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Champagne has external use as well it seems

Friday, 16 January, 2015

Did you end up with a magnum or three of champagne, as gifts perhaps, over the holiday break, but worst of luck, aren’t a fan of the bubbly brew? Not to worry, champagne seemingly has a number of other applications, such as a being a cooking aid, or helping to bring out the shine in freshly polished leather shoes…

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Putting out the Sun with water is like putting it out with gasoline

Monday, 12 January, 2015

If you had a bucket as large as the Sun, full of water, could you extinguish the Sun with it? No. It will probably flare up and fry you.

It is a really good question. Maybe too hard to answer for anybody but an astronomer with some very special software, as nothing like this happens in nature. In nature, a star makes a lot of carbon before it makes any oxygen, and here the oxygen is supplied first. But the probable answer is “no.” The Sun involves a special type of fire that is able to “burn” water, and so it will just get hotter, and six times brighter.

So what then to do with a body of water that cannot in fact dowse the Sun? Float Saturn in it instead? Ever heard the one about the ringed planet being able to float in water, were there a vessel big enough to hold it? Yet that doesn’t appear to hold much water either.

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What does the near future hold? Let’s gaze into the crystal ball

Friday, 7 November, 2014

Where has twenty-fourteen gone? It seems like February was five minutes ago, and now here we are on the threshold of the silly season. Given then time has a perturbing tendency to… dematerialise, looking ahead just one year may not then be the best way to perceive time.

Thinking ahead three to four years might be better, it opens up a bigger time frame, one that shouldn’t pass as quickly as a twelve month period. This timeline of the near future, albeit hypothetical, most definitely hypothetical, could then be useful.

Twenty-nineteen looks like it might be interesting. Hypothetically.

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A star symbol means that the horse prefers not to wear a coat today

Thursday, 6 November, 2014

We’ve all seen at one time or another, horses wearing what appear to be protective, or warm, coats. But how do we know whether or not they’ve been saddled with said coat? What if it’s making them too warm for instance? Problem solved by the sounds of things, it now looks like it is possible to train horses to indicate their preference in this regard.

Using a simple series of easily distinguishable printed symbols, Mejdell’s group taught 23 horses to associate symbols with certain actions. The horses learned that one symbol meant “blanket on,” another meant “blanket off,” and a third meant “no change.” Once the horses had learned the meanings (which took an average of 11 days), the researchers gave them free rein to choose symbols and rewarded them with food for their selection, regardless of which symbol they chose. The team tested the horses under a variety of weather conditions, including sun, wind, rain, and snow, in Norwegian temperatures ranging from -15°C to 20°C (5°F to 68°F).

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How long is a chess piece likely to last in a game?

Friday, 31 October, 2014

When it comes to the longevity of chess pieces kings, unsurprisingly, survive the longest, followed, possibly surprisingly, by certain pawns.

This survival rate however is dependent upon them reaching the opposite end of the playing board, and being promoted, or exchanged for another more powerful piece, such as a queen.

The situation with the c-d-e pawns is very interesting. The most survivable central pawn is the White c-pawn (42%), while White’s d-pawn is the most doomed of all the chessmen (24%) – more so even than the knights (~26%). There’s a pleasing symmetry in the survival rates of the White and Black c- and e-pawns that suggests they’re frequently exchanged on the d-file. Bishops survive around 35% of the time, with the kingside bishops slightly more likely to survive than queenside ones.

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Listen to the crickets, they’ll tell you what the temperature is

Tuesday, 28 October, 2014

Crickets are synonymous with summer, that goes without saying, but did you know that it is possible to gauge the temperature from the rate at which they chirp?

Listening to the crickets in a meadow outside his home, Dolbear made a series of three observations: At 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the crickets chirped at a rate of 80 per minute, at 70 degrees, they chirped at 120 per minute, and at temperatures below 50 degrees, “the crickets had no energy to waste in music,” and retained a rate of 40 chirps per minute.

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