Thinking about updating my curriculum vitae today, I was triggered to reminisce about my senior high-school experiences back in 1974-5. Amazing how sharply some memories came flooding back through the eyes of a 17-year-old. I remember about being part of the Science, Mathematics and Technology group of 4 that all shared dreams of becoming scientists, technologists or engineers: Wayne, Geoffery B,, Jon and myself. At the beginning of senior high, one of the Industrial Arts teachers had suggested that the 4 of us take a lower level of English so we could concentrate on Maths, Science and Industrial Arts. As you can imagine, the English Department was not at all impressed that some of their students were taking a level of English that demanded less than their full capabilities. What happened next is far from what you might expect (read the full story after the jump).
In my former life as an academic, I used to joke to my colleagues that Game of Thrones was essential reading as a standard operations manual for working in universities nowadays.
GOT as a manual for negotiating the world of research grants, where, figuratively, you either win the game or die and of navigating a path between the wheeling and dealing of the big-time professors, administrators, bean-counters, health and safety officers (hey, don’t underestimate their power). On many occasions, the internal and external politics between all of the players seemed to operate on a GOT-like scale. There were times I must admit that I felt no better than a denizen of the “Flea Bottom” in King’s Landing.
Given that internal politics in most organisations of more than a handful of people can feel a bit like GOT, from time-to-time, why not distract yourself with a little idle speculation about the upcoming Game of Thrones Season 8? I’m hoping to speculate on enough topics that I’ll be able to make a random hit and be able to say “I told you so!” The truth is that my speculation is unlikely to be any better than anyone else. But its fun isn’t it? [March 7: I’ve added new updates in notes at the end]
Charlie Gray (? – 1861 ) is the forgotten man of the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860-1. Burke and Wills are credited with the first crossing of Australia from south to north and then south to Cooper’s Creek  again. That they were accompanied by John King (1841 – 72) is commonly remembered because he was the only member of the crossing party to survive. Charlie Gray is often only remembered as a footnote: that he crossed the continent with Burke and Wills but died on the return from the Gulf of Carpentaria, the day that the crossing party spent burying his body, was instrumental in the tragedy that was to follow.
The death of Charlie Gray has attracted a good deal of controversy, as I’ll examine in this article.
It is my belief that this article is the first time that the events leading up to his death have been subjected to a detailed forensic scientific examination.
My conclusions show that the likely cause of Gray’s death was from a parasitic disease that compounded his generally poor health and malnutrition. Furthermore, this same parasitic disease affected the other members of the party, hastened their worsening malnutrition, leading indirectly to the deaths of Burke and Wills some months later. John King was also close to death but was fortunate in finding the native Yandruwandha people who showed him kindness and made him part of their tribe until the Victorian Relief Expedition was able to rescue him. Continue reading “Burke and Wills Expedition — Forensic Analysis of the Death of Charlie Gray”
Do I just sit back and allow a portrayal of events that, claim to be scientifically factual, to be made to be made into a feature movie, when I know, and can show by basic chemistry and toxicology, that the events portrayed are wrong?
If you’ve followed The Dossier you may have read the article: “Artemis” by Andy Weir — Blame it on the Moon. At the time I wrote this I was concerned that “Artemis” the movie might be in the pipeline. Andy has impeccable connections in this regard after having his earlier book The Martian made into a movie, directed by one of the most celebrated directors around in Ridley Scott.
For these reasons, I shouldn’t have been surprised that a feature film adaption has been in the works since even before the book itself was published according to Wikipedia. Since I wrote my article, I had been struggling with the thought: what is my responsibility? Do I just sit back and allow a portrayal of events that, claim to be scientifically factual, to be made into a feature movie, when I know, and can show by basic chemistry and toxicology, that the events portrayed are wrong? Furthermore, the depicted events could mislead the public if made into a feature-length movie. Being a former science academic (who still considers himself to be in the STEM education business) these things matter to me.
It is the very error of the moon; She comes more nearer earth than she was wont, And makes men mad.
William Shakespeare – Othello
This post is about the recent book Artemis (2017) by Andy Weir which is a novel set on the first permanent Moon station. called “Artemis”. I was looking forward to reading Artemis because I had enjoyed reading his book The Martian. I loved his unorthodox writing style in that book, which fitted in so well with the unfolding of the timeline of the story.
I loved the movie The Martian (2015), directed by Ridley Scott, made from that book. Matt Damon was brilliantly cast as the interplanetary castaway Mark Watney. I loved that it was sci-fi for the near-future. It was tantalising because, with the book and movie, I could easily visualise the colonisation of Mars unfolding along similar lines. It was just so scientifically grounded and believable.
When I started reading Artemis the thought that it was an inspired idea that an African country such as Kenya could take advantage of the technology of moon colonisation to boost their economy to the first-world standard. It was such an optimistic and hopeful view of a world that might be. I loved the idea that the protagonist was an anti-heroine, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara from Saudi Arabia. That also seemed, at least at first, to be inspired. But later, when she transforms from a small-time smuggler to a big-time crime-boss, still with her smart, way-too-cool sassiness, the characterisation of Jazz losses its credibility and her role just becomes plain silly. Indeed, the whole story, after being so promising, losses its way and degenerates to silliness as I’ll explain.
No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power. Jacob Bronowski
In Part 1 the question was asked about how the system of Science could become dystopian? We looked at one way that that could occur through capture by corporations and interest groups. In Part 2, we examine how a corrupt system can infect the scientists and science that they carry out.
Dr. Batholomew Reese was in charge of the small scientific and medical team for Hadley’s Hope, a “shake-and-bake” terraforming colony on the planetoid Acheron – formerly known as LV-426. As he was enjoying some evening alone time in his quarters, a soft but persistent chime from the door interrupted him. It was his associate, Dr Mori, who was grinning ear-to-ear, which caused Bartholomew to exclaim: “you look a giddy and lovestruck teen.” Dr Mori excitedly replied: “it may be the answer to the Nostromo mystery.” What had excited Mori so much was that an executive from Weyland-Yutani company had just sent to the Colony Administrator, and to Drs Reese and Mori, a communication that included the grid coordinates for a site that should be investigated “immediately.”
This is an example of a style of writing that I’ve been developing for communicating popular science at my blog,
Allan Decker had a secret. His father had told him to: “hold it tight inside you.” You see, Decker and his father were empaths that could feel the emotions of others around them. He had hidden his talent over his career with the Interstellar Commerce Commission (ICC), where he was a Deputy Commissioner. But on this day, in the latter part of 2496, on the newly terraformed planet New Galveston, formerly the desolate and barren LV-178, his anonymity would be uncovered and his secret revealed.
The paragraph above is my summary of how Alien: Sea of Sorrows begins. I’ll return to fill you in with rest once I’ve introduced the other novels in the trilogy. I will also attempt to answer the question of how it all relates to dystopian science.
The Alien Trilogy
Now that I’ve finished reading the Coyote trilogy, I’m eagerly awaiting the concluding novel in Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series (Queen of Air and Darkness) and I’m awaiting the final instalment of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series (Tiamat’s Wrath), originally due December, now due March 2019.
Back on Coyote
I blogged, previously, about reading the Scifi novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002). I’ve now finished reading the full trilogy: Coyote, Coyote Rising, and Coyote Frontier, of which I enjoyed Coyote Frontier the most, the characters came to life most in that volume, and it presents an intriguing dilemma which had me avidly reading to find out how it would be resolved. The spacecraft EASS Columbus arrives at Coyote with stargate technology that allows traveling through a wormhole to a similar stargate at a Lagrange-point in the Luna orbit of the Earth. The colonists of Coyote now have access to Earth in the several hours that it takes to travel to and from the stargates, rather than several decades, at sublight speeds through normal space. Of course, Earthers have the same rapid access to Coyote.
The dilemma can be framed this way: if Earth had access to another unspoiled planet, that could sustain humans and had plentiful natural resources, what would we do? Would we allow all those that who could afford to migrate to do so? Potentially millions of people. Would we consume all the natural resources from the new planet and export our polluting industries away from earth to there? This dilemma reminded me of the parable of the bacteria in the test-tube that appears to have originated with David Suzuki in his Canadian TV shows in the 1970’s. It has become embodied in much of his life and work ever since (see the YouTube video next).
Continue reading “Reading and Reflecting, Again”
Reading the sci-fi novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002), reflecting on the political turmoil in Australia, last week, and wishfully thinking about escaping it all to the Ursa Majoris star system.
I’ve recently started reading the interstellar colonization novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002). I found it a bit difficult to get into initially, given that my previous reading (also TV series watching) had been The Expanse series which is more action-packed from the very first pages of Leviathan Wakes (book 1). But I’m now appreciating that the Coyote series is written as fictional history, starting from a beginning point and moving forward in a linear fashion from that. Actually, now that I’ve spent the effort to get into the Coyote universe it’s becoming a most enjoyable experience.
Coyote is the destination for interstellar settlement of the Ursae Majoris system, some 46 light years from Earth. Coyote is a moon of the gas-giant planet Bear. The planets and moons of the Ursae Majoris system are named after native-American mythological icons. Coyote is smaller than Earth, but larger than Mars and has a slightly lower gravity and surface air pressure. Being a moon of a gas giant, the seasons on Coyote is more complex than on Earth, so much so as to require that the colonists invent an entirely new calendar system. Coyote and The Expanse novels both have a similar approach to the way that scientific realism is built into their respective fictional universes.
Many of the colonists to Coyote are escaping a highly-conservative and repressive regime on Earth, called the United States Republic (USR) after a second American revolution. I’m not suggesting that political revolution is likely in Australia (or America) anytime soon, But given the political events in Australia of the week starting 19th August, originating from conservative disquiet in the Australian Liberal party and leading to the downfall of a Prime Minister, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fictional events in Coyote and the actual events being played out in Canberra.
How could a modern liberal society, like Australia or the United States turn into a right-wing authoritarian regime, like that depicted in the Coyote novels, or like that seen in numerous other places on Earth, both currently and in the past?