Nerd Alert: Astronomy Stuff!

EB8689A0-C6DC-4EFC-B0A4-5EFD204B5DC9Okay…it’s time to really get my nerd on. For those of you frightened by forays into the darker, scarier reaches of nerd-dom, now might be a good time to look away…

What’s got me all geeked-up, you ask? Direct imaging of planetary systems.

And, no, I don’t mean our damned system. Don’t get me wrong, I love the cool-as-hell pictures of Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto to which we have been treated lately, but they don’t get me well-and-truly going. Not the way “pictures” of other star systems do.

Think about it: should I get all hot and bothered about an uber-detailed picture of Jupiter’s storms…or by one that shows a gas giant orbiting another star? That’s like arguing about which is better, The Phantom Menace or Empire Strikes Back. I mean, c’mon now…let’s be real here.

2EC55F4B-A197-4162-850E-ACE87FB8A55CWith all that said, imaging of what the professional astrogeeks call “extrasolar” systems is hard. I mean, REALLY hard. We can’t truly do it in visible light because, well, stars are kinda bright. There have been some cool successes, however, including one of a planet roughly twice the mass of Jupiter orbiting a brown dwarf (which I’m adding here).  Take a look at this picture before you check out the ones below to…well…get yourself used to what this kind of stuff looks like.

Visible light is a problem, but other wavelengths…other wavelengths are a different story. We still have trouble picking out planets, but very smart people are working very hard to do this. And even the “crappy” pictures are pretty damned cool.

This is more of a photo post than a normal one, but…crap…the pictures are freaking awesome…

1) A bunch of baby pictures of newly forming planetary systems…more specifically, the dust clouds around young stars where planet formation is taking place.  The cleared “lanes” and spaces you can see are where planets have already come together:

SPHERE images a zoo of dusty discs around young stars

2) And some “adult” pictures…well, at least as close as we can come:

3) And, lest you criticize the “bad” pictures above, just remember that we are talking about hundreds of light-years for most of them.  Heck, just getting good pictures in our own damned backyard is tough: below is what Pluto and Charon look like to Hubble, versus what we finally saw when we got a “close-up” from the New Horizons probe.  Not to repeat myself, but this stuff is hard:

A61913E4-6C5E-4A71-A793-447316A3A83C

I Wanted This To Be Funny, But…

I’ve been reading some recent stories about the NFL’s settlement of the “concussion suit” billionagainst it.  Let’s start with the basics: there is over a billion dollars involved

A BILLION.

That’s…err…a lot.

im-shocked-shockedAnd yet people are shocked — SHOCKED — that there is fraud and gaming-the-system going on.

Look…humans are humans.  The naive, wishful thinking of both the left and right aside, human nature hasn’t changed one single bit in the 10,000 years of written history.  Let me make clear something I’ve implied before: drop Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great, or Ghenghis Khan, or pick-your-own-ancient-figure, into the modern world and, after some language lessons, they would fit right in.

Shit, Ivan the Terrible and Vlad the Impaler would probably share a reality show on basic cable: ”Real Executions of Eastern Europe”…

At any rate, back to the topic at hand.  The single best story about the NFL last week was the one describing the advice one prominent ex-player received from his (very expensive) lawyer: show up to the medical test hung-over and doped on Valium.

Dammit!  Why don’t I get instructions like that?!  A bad morning-after, and a couple of mommy’s little helpers, to help “win” a million bucks?  Sign me up!

Okay, so all joking aside…

I’ve had more than my share of concussions.  I started playing tackle football when I was nine…I still play full-contact hockey at a high level…hell, I actually used to — shh! Don’t tell my mom! — take part in the very early days of the UFC…you know, the days when it was a weekend tournament, and you fought over and over until you lost…

Nowadays, I get a concussion if I shake my head too vigorously.

I also happen to receive all of the medical and practical data from the hockey players’ unions (some I “earned”, some I have been gifted by friends).  Honestly, that data scares the hell out of me.  No one can know for sure if they have CTE until a doctor cuts their skull open and takes a brain sample.  In other words: no one really knows until it’s too damned late.

But…but, there are symptoms.  Let’s look at the symptoms, shall we?

Depression.  Isolation & emotional instability.  Tendency to anger and self-loathing.  Suicidal impulses.  All of life’s little demons in one shitty package.

Now, look…this wouldn’t be anywhere near my radar if I didn’t have a number of friends for whom it is a DAILY issue.  Friends for whom this is very much reality.  Hell, let’s be honest: if I didn’t have a friend who killed himself over it…

It wasn’t until high-level hockey and martial arts were added to the “foundation” of football* that my brain got knocked silly, but I’m still nowhere near where some of my friends are…

*I was fourteen years old…got the shit knocked out of me on a kick-off.  I got helped to the sideline and the coach put up some fingers.  “How many?” he asked.  I got it wrong, according to my friends/fellow-players on the sidelines…but I was back on the field for the next play, anyway.

Chronic_Traumatic_EncephalopathyI admit it: I make fun of a lot of shit.  I have to make fun of the world and the universe, or it just might make me scream in rage and fear.  But as much as I wanted and intended this post to be funny, to be a “joke-post”…well…the damage that repeated concussions cause, and the reality of CTE, that I can’t make fun of.

I’ve lost one friend already to CTE (sadly, confirmed), and I have a number of others — tough men all, looked at as “fearless heroes” for their play on the ice and the field — who are utterly terrified that they are next.  So, the next time you condemn a football player for going out of bounds a step too soon, or a hockey player for declining a fight, or any other player for committing some athletic “faux pas”, just remember what really is at stake for them: everything.

The Revenge of Micro-Fiction Friday

No contest or challenge, this time…just “navigating small” and writing the words that come…

1) “Dreams of Smoke”

I tried so hard to hold it, the memory of the dream.

Even after everything, the dreams were still there…the dreams we had shared.

But so was work, and family, and all the trappings of life the way it was supposed to be. But supposed to be doesn’t include dreams. Supposed to be doesn’t leave room for could be.

I stood in that room, surrounded by white and green, surrounded by all the little lights and the beeping machines. Surrounded by fear, and by loss. I tried to hold on to her, tried to hold on to the dream.

A touch on my shoulder, and a gentle voice. One last squeeze of her hand, then. One last chance for the dream to come true…but the harder I held, the more the dream turned to smoke, drifted away.

I turned and left, broken. Like what could be, she was gone…and so was the dream.

 

2) “If Only You’d Known Me Then”

The endless summer of my younger days. Nights under the stars, sharing dollar-booze and thoughts that cost the world. Trysts under the overpass, tearing at each others’ clothes. Days under the sun, before the coming of autumn and winter. When I was invincible and immortal…when I was young.

“If only you’d known me then…” I whispered.

Before life took its toll. Before reality and consequences. Before regrets.

She reached a hand — her touch was light, barely there. I hesitated, stopped, trapped by what I was at that moment. Broken and frail, weak in ways my younger self would never understand. Could never understand.

I couldn’t help her, couldn’t help myself. If only she’d known me then…

There were no tears: I remembered enough of the strength I once possessed to be strong one last time. There were no tears…but no words, either.  I wasn’t that strong.

Her frail hand was shaking almost as much as mine. “I know you now,” she said gently, lovingly.

 

3) “The News”

“I have money — you don’t have to worry about that,” he stammered, his mind several steps behind reality.

Her hand on his arm, a smile that was no smile. “It’s not that, and you know it.”

Laughing screams from the nearby playground brought a flinch. A look over, a glimpse of those kids, and it all came crashing home.

“But…what can I do?”

A shake of her head, then. “I just wanted to give you the news myself, before you heard it from someone else. I’ve already been to the clinic.”

The news changed everything.

 

Behind-the-scenes notes:

1) “Dreams of Smoke” started as a very different story. What I had originally envisioned, however, just didn’t come together, so I put it aside. When I came back to it, a few days later, I had 125 words and a broken story. I put on an album and got working to “fix” it. The only part of the original I truly stuck with was the limit of 200 words, and the “vision” of dreams disappearing like smoke. I’m still not sure if it worked.

2) “If Only You’d Known Me Then” is a story about age…about getting old, and everything that goes with that. It is, to be honest, intended to be the opposite sentiment to Springsteen’s “Glory Days”, but drawn from the same well. Trying to do all of that in 150 words may have been over-ambitious…

3) “The News” is autobiography. The moment that changed the universe for me…and that’s all I’m going to say about it.

Random Squirreling: Politics By Other Means

most-interesting-squirrelHey, I went on a politics kick a little while back, so why wouldn’t I go off on some other tangent?  Even better, a tangent that’s almost as divisive and vitriolic as politics itself: professional sports.

What’s funny about this (at least to me) is what it is that actually gets my nerd up and going when it comes to sports: the off-season.

Yeah, yeah, I know…that’s just crazy talk.  No one gets excited about the off-season.  And, sure as hell, no sane human actually likes the off-season.

I never claimed to be all that sane.

Anyway, the off-season.

Now, with the exception of the NHL, I don’t particularly follow any sport in detail.  I don’t sit there on Sundays and watch NFL game after NFL game.  I can’t spout stats like ERA and OBP off the top of my head.  I barely know the difference between a striker and a midfielder.  And God forbid we so much as touch on golf — what the fuck is the difference between a “brassie” and a “mid-mashie” anyway?!*

*For my part, the only way to play “golf” is with a couple of frisbees and a six-pack.

link_CRUqKZKKFRGAlAFTlfPdN5TEw3cvwdL4,w1200h627But the stuff that goes on behind the scenes…the stuff of deals and trades and negotiations…even more, the stuff of hope and dreams (in the form the draft)…

Yeah, for all that announcers and fans like to talk about the tension and drama and storylines of the season, the off-season just has so much more.  Not even our own “beloved” Mordor-on-the-Potomac can match the level of back-stabbing, power-gaming ruthlessness that goes on in the off-season for the NFL…or the Premier League, or even the damned PGA.  And — God forbid! — we get into the sheer, matchless corruption of FIFA or Formula One.

I study and follow and enjoy the off-season of the major sports in the same way I study and follow and enjoy the politics and conflict that led to the transition of Rome from Republic to Principate, and then to Empire.  And, yes, you are right: I’m a politics junkie, even if I can’t stand the bullshit of the last 15(ish) years in the US.

Right now, I’m completely nerding out on the NFL…and especially on the storylines of ac079b69982d288ffaa217c0987f6a1cfree agency and draft. When a player can go, with a flick of his pen, from being “the greatest ever” to an evil son-of-a-bitch who obviously abuses old ladies and kids…well, hell, that there is the roots of a story!  Cruella Deville and her dalmation coat ain’t got nothing (apparently) on Richard Sherman if you’re a Seahawks fan…

Or take a reasonably “normal”  college kid — you know: naive, narcissistic, and completely ignorant of consequences and the wider world…just like all of us at that age — and make him a first round prospect.  All of a sudden that very normal kid is either (a) the great hope of salvation for an entire state, or (b) a complete freak who should be sterilized and exiled to a speck of rock in the South Atlantic.

I once talked about how entertaining are the folks who get themselves worked up (on both sides) about the flat-Earth thing, but they’re nothing compared to the columnists and commenters who write about the NFL draft.

Look, I could go on for hours (and pages) about sports as a microcosm for politics, and for life itself.  Could go on about the lessons and examples and warnings that come out of that concentration of wealth, privilege and complete OCD-ness, but that means I wouldn’t have time to get read one more column about a 21-year-old kid saving — or destroying — our entire society and the fabric of the universe…