Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Coraline - Two Thumbs Up

We went on a family expedition down to the Beaches theatre on Saturday to see Coraline. It was a fine movie, and despite the fact that it is a true horror film, did not cause any squickiness.

It has been a while since I read Neil Gaiman's (children's) novel on which this movie is based. All of the important elements are present: Coraline's busy parents (whom I seem to remember were computer programmers in the book not gardeners as they are in the movie), the aging actress sisters, the mouse circus trainer. And of course, Coraline's Other Mother on the other side of the doorway. The horror is elegant and gradual, like a slowly tightening web.

Coraline is brave, determined, and intelligent -- exactly what every parent hopes their own child will be. She makes mistakes, but she works to overcome their consequences.

For most of the movies I watch, I generally have quibbles about the story they tell. Usually, writers or directors manage to do something to break my suspension of disbelief. I did not have any quibbles about this one.

This movie is definitely recommended.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Modest Art Installation Proposal

We drove by the Art Gallery of Ontario earlier on Sunday. The new renovation has been completed and is open. Seeing this got me to thinking about the neighbourhood. The Ontario College of Art and Design is immediately south of the Art Gallery and the Sharp Centre For Design, part of OCAD, is also a striking piece of architecture -- it is built to resemble a giant table, looming over the other buildings around it.

I first saw this OCAD building a few years back from a vantage point further south, when I was visiting my cousin at a place he was looking after for a friend.

Given that the OCAD building resembles a table, I propose the following art installation:

On the roof of the OCAD building, at each of the sides of this giant table, create a place setting at an appropriate scale, consisting of a plate, a cup, a bowl, a knife, a fork, and chopsticks.

These place settings would be visible from all around the OCAD building - basically, from any structure higher than its roof. Each place setting would represent a particular group - for example, politicians, the economic elite, homeowners, and the homeless. But I propose sufficient ambiguity in the design to allow viewers to create their own symbolic OCAD dinner party.

I can't possibly be the first one to have had this idea -- someone should do it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

2009 Hugo Nominations

The 2009 Hugo Award nominations list has been out for nearly a week. Among the Usual Suspects, it was not surprisingly (but disappointing nonetheless) Jill's and Michael's story didn't make the cut. Nor did Dave's story. However, what was very very surprising (and very very disappointing) was that Karl's novel Pirate Sun failed to make it onto the ballot.

The good news, however, is that Metatropolis, an audiobook that Karl co-authored, was nominated -- the first audiobook to be nominated for the Hugo.

Tesseracts Twelve contributor Gord Sellar is up for the John W. Campbell award.

And finally, local fan artist Taral Wayne whom I have known for nearly thirty years, was nominated for the Fan Artist Hugo.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Latest Star Trek trailer!

The last movie was a disaster. This movie, upcoming, is supposed to reboot the series. I am looking forward to it, although with some trepidation.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Chang'e Lunar Mission Ends, Kepler Launched

Earlier this week, the Chang'e 1 lunar reconnaissance mission came to an end when controllers crashed the spacecraft onto the lunar surface. Launched by the Chinese National Space Agency on October 24, 2007, the probe spent 16 months sending back high resolution surface images of the moon. The moon has been the focus of a number of recent Asian space probes -- in addition to Chang'e, Japan's SELENE and India's Chandraayan are both still in lunar orbit and operational.

Late yesterday, NASA launched the Kepler spacecraft. Eventually destined for an orbit trailing the Earth around the sun, Kepler's mission is to conduct a telescopic search for planets around other stars by measuring tiny brightness fluctuations in a large number of stars over a period of years.

The above photo shows the Delta 2 rocket (Image credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller) carrying the Kepler spacecraft just after liftoff from Cape Canaveral last night.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

That's no moon....

A new moon of Saturn is discovered.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

In the sequence of three images above, obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft over the course of about 10 minutes on October 27, 2008, you can see the path of a newly found moonlet in a bright arc of Saturn's faint G ring. The moonlet was initially seen in Cassini images from last August.

In each image, a small streak of light within the ring is visible. Unlike the streaks in the background, which are distant stars smeared by the camera's long exposure time of 46 seconds, this streak is aligned with the G ring and moves along the ring as expected for an object embedded in the ring.

Cassini scientists interpret the moving streak to be reflected light from a tiny moon half a kilometer wide that is likely a major source of material in the arc and the rest of the G ring. Debris knocked off this moon forms a relatively bright arc of material near the inner edge of the G ring, the most visible part of the ring in these images. That arc, in turn, leaks material to form the entire ring.

This view looks toward the un-illuminated side of the rings from about 5 degrees above the ringplane. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.2 million kilometers from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 23 degrees.

Image scale for the first image is 7 kilometers (4 miles) per pixel. The second and third images were taken at further reduced resolution. This is definitely nowhere near the level of detail required to show surface features.

The Cassini mission has been extended until 2010, and if the spacecraft continues to function correctly, may be extended again.

Hugo Nominations

I almost forgot to submit my nominations ballot for the Hugo Awards by the midnight February 28 deadline. But I did manage to get my ballot in with about a half hour to spare (gotta love online voting). Now to see whether the rest of the world agrees with me...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Force Projection

I went to the Ontario Science Centre with Corwin's class field trip on Friday. There is a special exhibit on currently called Sultans of Science, and one of the displays reminded me of something that I noted over Christmas and had been meaning to write about.

The display that got my attention was about Zhang He -- born to a Hui Muslim family in Yunnan Province but captured as a boy and delivered to the imperial capital in Beijing where he grew up to become one of the greatest mariners in history. Zhang He was the admiral who led 7 Chinese expeditions consisting of hundreds of ships and thousands of men into the Indian Ocean in the early 1400's, and possibly around the Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic. The last of these expeditions was in 1433. After Zhang He's time, the Ming dynasty gave up naval development, and Chinese sea power became a thing of the past.

In late December 2008 -- 575 yesrs after the last voyage of Zhang He -- the Chinese navy sent a flotilla consisting of two destroyers and a supply ship to join the international force currently patrolling the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia. This area has achieved some notoriety by the actions of Somali based pirates who have attacked shipping, and captured various merchant ships which have been held for ransom.

Canada had a naval presence here, in the form of Task Force Arabian Sea, consisting of (mid 2008) the frigates HMCS Ville de Qu├ębec and HMCS Calgary; the destroyer (and command ship) HMCS Iroquois; the supply ship HMCS Protecteur. Canada led Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 from the beginning of June 2008 until handing off to the Danes in the middle of September. CTF 150 was a multinational naval coalition that operated from the Red Sea to the Strait of Hormuz, through the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea as far south as the coast of Kenya. The Canadian part of this effort was called Operation Altair. In January 2009, CTF 150 was replaced by CTF 151, an American-led international initiative.

Chinese participation in the protection of merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden consists of the missile-armed destroyers DDG-171 Haikou (photo above) and DDG-169 Wuhan, and the supply ship Weishanhu. These are reported to be among China’s most sophisticated vessels, having all entered service this decade. They will operate alongside other international warships, including the Canadian frigate HMCS Charlottetown, patrolling the area near the Gulf of Aden, part of the Suez Canal route.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua has said that the fleet will mainly protect Chinese vessels, including those from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, but will also escort foreign ships passing through the area on request. After three months the ships will be replaced by another flotilla, depending on UN Security Council decisions and the situation at the time. China has said its warships will investigate any suspected pirate vessels, and approach them and demand that they show their relevant documents and certificates.

The three ships of the Chinese flotilla left Hainan Island on December 26, and within days passed through the Strait of Malacca, arriving in Somali waters by January 6. Upon arrival, they immediately began their escort duties. In the last two months, they have conducted over twenty escort runs each involving multiple ships, including protection of at least one Taiwanese ship and rescue of an Italian freighter.

These types of operations will give the Chinese navy an opportunity to develop and practice their blue water capability -- the ability to operate far from home for extended periods of time. The developing Chinese space program will make similar demands, requiring tracking ships to be deployed at long distances to support communications with orbital missions.