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November 15 (Wendy section)
When something becomes a chore it is time to consider
stopping the doing of it. When Ian and I got together and started up FTL it was
fun. Now we have agreed that it is no longer fun. And thankless, literally,
since no-one has said thank you for our voluntary task the the whole three
That being so we have decided to take a sabattical to see if the fun comes back. The website will still be alive on the net, but apart from perhaps a few book reviews there will be no new material posted, from this diary entry until further notice. ta-ra.
Quiet - reading. Not only the Robert Rankin this week, but also not one but two Terry Pratchetts. Count them, Two. The day job is unwelcome! Too busy reading to write more. Watch this space. Initial thoughts though. Not overwhelmed by The Last Hero, loving Maurice.
Take a few moments today to applaud DS1, the technology
flying test bed probe which at the weekend achieved a remarkable success in a
fly-by of a comet, returning pictures of the solid core - a task for which it
was never designed. It is all too easy and fashionable to decry scientific,
engineering and technical achievement but in this case the NASA people involved
can be justifiably proud of themselves and their craft. They are the stuff of
And for first details and pictures on the fly-by see databank.
Wossno? Not a lot really. First whispers from the States say
that the new Trek series Enterprise is good - very good. I'll be looking
forward to seeing that, when it comes out over here - Why do we have to wait,
like poor relatives, for crumbs from the table. Please to let me know - you
have a great opportunity for gloating thereby.
Space is pretty quiet in reality at present. No new planets, nothing of that sort. Even Nasa, which usually writes to me (and many other journalists around the world) several times a day, is quiet. It is autumn here. Leaves fall, as leaves do.
It seems ages since I last opened the diary to make an
entry. It probably is. But then I have been immersed in the mundanities of
life, the universe and re-doing my back garden. I think I mentioned the Russian
vine which I was battling - well, I finally won a couple of days ago, taking
the last six bags of remnants of said rampant climber to the council's
recycling yesterday. It has been a ferocious battle - the last throes of which
were witnessed by a friendly green frog which appeared and observed me closely
as I embagged the twiggy remains. I never knew I had frogs!
The only vaguely-FTL activity of the last few days has been the booking of the hotel for a convention in the autumn - which focuses the mind on darker evenings and colder temperatures - not that the summer I have had should be dignified by the name for any but a few days. It has generally been cool and wet here. Slugs and snails have flourished. But enough of gardening.
Thanks for reading. Normal service will be resumed!
I had not realised that I had been so long away. I have been
doing the garden thing - in battle against a russian vine climbing plant which
I inadvisedly planted some years ago and by last year it had submerged my
garage so that I could not find the doors (eventually I trimmed all round the
roof and pulled a sort of blanket of vine off in one go) Now I am still cutting
the darn thing back, but am winning, since I am slashing faster than it can
grow. But sympathy for me today as I have a blister on my finger.
You may have noticed that prolific reader and reviewer Ian H has been silent for a few weeks - he sojourns in America betimes, the books congregate unread and he unreads (suffering withdrawal somewhat, he reports). I remind you all of the forum, our new feature as constructed by Ian J (webmaster) (I seem to be hip deep in Ians these days!) please visit the section and have your say. I can master the computing involved so anyone can.
I popped in to see Ian J today and was amused when he discovered that one pic on a features page was not downloading. Like a terrier he worried at it till it was fixed. Fastidious, is our Ian. But you cannot fault his html.
Today a new contributor joins us - Russell Chambers will be
catching the latest films as and when and throwing his viewpoint at us all.
This is a good thing as I am not a particularly active cinema person, so from
my own point of view clear and unpretentious reviews - with an SF bias - will
Other than that the other news is to check out http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/doctorwho, for the latest update of the Dr genre, this time new medium, the net. Mind I had a brief look at the site, and while very pretty, as you might expect of Aunty, some of it didn't work ..hey ho.
Shameless plug time: Flatterland by Ian Stewart - just out and poised to cause your brain to expand in strange dimensional ways, while simultaneously bombarding you with some really bad puns. One thought which just occurred to me is that this science/maths and fiction book has a heroine and not a hero - usual choice of male sf writers as did Wheelers, Ian's and Jack Cohen's collaborative big space novel of last year. (where does Ian get the time - now there is a thought which just oozed lazily across my consciousness - perhaps he really has sorted the fourth dimension and pops in from time to time (as it were) to throw a book or two together, before popping back to do the mundane everyday stuff). The book has bees as its first paragraph too so it has to be good! (see read out for the formal - although admittedly biased - review)
Long ago, in a magazine far away, one of the regular
contributors was a University lecturer called Dr John K Davies. I, as editor of
Space Voyager, had to be very careful that that Dr and the central K were
always in the by-line, else his mum would be upset.
When I started FTL -more than two years ago now (phew!) I tried to track down all the old contributors. One eluded me - John. Not one to give up I sporadically mooched the net and finally found him, not in Birmingham, UK, any more but in Hawaii now!
In fact he is now UKIRT Scheduler and Support Scientist. (Also Astronomy Technology Centre OPTICON Project Scientist) Joint Astronomy Centre, Hilo, Hawaii. So there. But I did find him (pause for smugness) - and I did also hear from a former reader this week too - one whose letter I had published all those years ago. So you never can tell.
He seems to have lost the K in everyday life, but I am, by habit going to put it back in the pages of FTL - as we now carry an extract from his latest book - Beyond Pluto, by John Davies, is published by Cambridge University Press. So, check out the features section for 'Is Pluto a Planet'
Welcome back, John K!
Ooooooops writ large. Another electronic snafu has meant that while Ian and I have been updating and uploading, we have been updating and uploading to FTL's new host, while simultaneously trying to convince the old host to release us (shades of Englebert Humperdinck for those of you aged enough to remember 'Please Release me, Let Me Go ') I send a fax with the info on the new host they want, they email back that they want another bit of info. So now Ian will upload to both until it is sorted- hopefully you will not even notice the difference once the change finally happens.
With sadness FTL reports today the death of Hitchhikers
Guide author Douglas Adams, after a heart attack at his home gym, at the age of
Adams was a major populiser of SF, first in bringing his gift for the creation of eccentricity to his BBC job as script editor of Dr Who, when he was one of the main players in a team which is widely credited with the most successful few years in the long running series's history. With Tom Baker playing the Doctor the role became the benchmark for all who followed- and who probably never measured up.
Adams then created the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To the Galaxy, first as a radio series for the BBC (broadcast from 1978). That became just one TV series - reputedly a second was about to be made but Adams, already notorious with his publisher for not delivering on time, was unable to complete the scripts and the series, with studio time booked, had to be scrapped.
For many years there were sporadic rumours of a film, and Adams had just finished the latest script version, for Disney, a few days after he died. After HHG he diversified into the Dick Gently series of detective novels but these never achieved the same success. Indeed Adams never achieved the success of HHG with any of his more recent projects - his dotcom H2G2 went the way of so many.
But he was loved by many within SF for HHG and outside SF, HHG seemed to be the acceptable face of SF, and he was one of very very few SF authors who was admitted to literary circles- one piece in a Sunday paper says that he was the first to put humour into SF, a comment with which Isaac Asimov or Harry Harrison to name but two, might argue. His gift to SF was that he crossed the divide and became acceptible.
So..Dennis Tito, the 60-year-old space tourist has returned
safely, albeit a bit wobbly to land. Huzzah! He, and John Glen before him have
done what no others could do -they have shown that space is not the preserve
only of the super-fit, super-trained test pilots who are the lucky few who so
far have been first choice to leave our planet and boldly go.
There was no point in being jealous of these semi-gods. They were the honed elite of the elite. You and I could no more emulate them than we could do complex brain surgery while building the rocket ourselves from cardboard and string.
Space was dangerous, you had to be trained, trained, trained, and then trained some more.
But now a former astronaut from way back when, who had gone into politics (there's sedentary) has gone into space courtesy of NASA (who took a lot of flak for a publicity stunt) and surprise, his legs did not fall off at the knees nor his brain fall out of his ears.
Dennis Tito is 60. He is a self-made man, a multi-millionaire, not trained in any way as any thing except a businessman. He was a bit more unsteady than some when he came back to land but nothing serious. His trip means that any of us could do it.
NASA's response. His presence, at least 100 metres away from the Americans at all times except on arriving and departing the ISS caused great stress to mission controllers and the crew and the head of NASA Daniel Goldin himself said that Russia should pay compensation.
NASA, unless it has compelling evidence to the contrary should wake up and smell the space daisies. A self made multimillionaire is not so stupid as to push any buttons that he might not. How woosie is NASA that it wants $millions in compensation? Fie I say!
Just loved the figures from UK phone company BT which shows
that the number of households making phone calls correlates to the phases of
the moon - there is apparently a clear 29-day cycle with the peak just before
Would it not be really weird if the astrologers really were on to something - but you can't argue with phone use hard numbers and the calendar, can you. Anyone got another explanation?
(Yes, says your sexist webmaster, its 50% of the population phoning their friends to say they don't feel too well.)
Mir's dramatic re-entry is a viking funeral for a craft
which has exceeded all design specs and done more than all that was asked of
it. We should acknowledge that, and, at least for the next few days, avoid any
jokes about the technical problems which did beset the aging craft towards the
end - an end which was years on from its due date, however.
Son of Mir, the ISS, would not be up there, and would not be as it is, without its parent, nor would we know anything like as much as we do about long-term living in space.
March 9, 2001
Okay, so once again I have been neglecting you all, but I
have a couple of really good excuses: I just had a birthday, a new part-time
post and a virus and consequently
I am feeling so decrepit and
and also I just got review copies of the next Terry Pratchett and
Robert Rankin books. Respectively Thief of Time and Web Side Story, which one
would you pick first to read and how could you not read them both, to the
exclusion of all else bar breathing (occasionally).
I have to confess that Pratchett won, simply because I needed much laughing (albeit more wrinkles) after the shock of the age thing. And the temptation to carry it around, cover prominently displayed, is overwhelming. The envy, the envy on people's faces as they catch sight of it. Makes it all worthwhile really. That is the big advantage of TP - he is hugely known outside the genre and much loved, so the cachet of a proof is massive and more than a weak and aged Editor could be expected to withstand!
Needless to say it is yet another brilliant read.
Also a brilliant read - and more fought over in our house since my son is a huge fan of his, is the latest RR weirdness - from that well-known technophobe - Web Side Story. Or: how Brentford dealt with the millenium bug. It had to happen. Or not happen. Or perhaps it did, but maybe it didn't after all. As with TP, RR makes sure of reader comfort and loyalty by placing his fancy in a familiar landscape and peppering it with familiar characters, plus the judicious inclusion of plenty of new stuff, so that neither descents to rote or formula writing. I managed to read it first, but with my very tall son looming at me the whole time, I read it quickly and he now has it. I realised we were in trouble RR -wise when we spent about half an hour trying to work out how to pronounce the name of one character. Sad, perhaps?
News today exclusively in FTL of a breakthrough in accurate
measurement, developed by BAe Systems and the National Physical Laboratories in
London, UK. Using the internet, and once the system is developed, it will be
possible for experimenters anywhere in the world to calibrate their
instrumentation much more accurately by comparison with the Standard for what
ever they are examining.
At present most measurement, apart from time (passed over the telephone system and radio) has been at several steps distant, resulting, if fine accuracy is required, in some drift as a result of that distance.
The new system, using internet links between experimenter and Standard will provide much greater accuracy and, beside bringing the internet back to its scientific roots, demonstrates that after recent bad publicity (unnamed so that search engines do not pick up the reference) there is still much that is good about the net.
That one of the people involved is a friend of the editor is just a bonus!
Congratulations to Nasa for landing on Eros, a remarkable achievement, especially as the Near probe was never designed for such a bolt-on to its long mission of circling the asteroid for the last year. Launched in 1996 and costing £150m, Near Shoemaker (named after the scientist Gene Shoemaker) had to travel millions of miles before reaching the potato shaped rock. It has since sent back over 160,000 images, visible, x-ray, infrared and gamma ray spectra.
Continuing this diary's newly developed fixation with the
date - tomorrow morning those nerds who are co-fixated will be able to feast
their eyes on digital clocks reading 5 and 4 (at five past four of the early
AM), on the third day of the second month of the first year of the new
millenium - omitting the sundry 0s that makes it 5-4-3-2-1.
Sad, innit? Your editor will go put her head in a bucket!
While there is little in the way of new news, so to speak, for FTL there is new new writings by Dr Ian Stewart. Ian has sent us two new pieces, once previously unpublished anywhere, entitled Do Dice Play God and the other on The Dynamics of Impossible Devices. In addition, we have the text of his oration on the occasion of the conferring of an honorary doctorate at Warwick University on Terry Pratchett, preceded by his (and Jack Cohens) investiture as honorary doctors of the Unseen University by its deputy Vice-Chancellor (Roundworld) Terry Pratchett. It is 15 years since the Challenger crash. A good moment to remember all who have died on the road to the stars.
January 10, 2001 (10.1.01)
(Would you believe I only just spotted the binary
symmetricality of the digital dateline)
Caught much of the lunar eclipse last night. The sky was remarkably clear and bright and the seeing spectacular.
Other than that, all chugs on with normality and a remarkable banality!
January 1, 2001 (or: 01/01/01)
Well, happy New Year, New Century and New Millenium to you
all. The papers have been full of references to and interviews with Sir Arthur
Contract Clarke the last couple of days
I don't wonder why. Just to throw
in my own small name-drop, I have met Sir Arthur, very briefly, when he was in
the UK some years ago for an SF festival in his home town in Somerset. The
meeting was not remotely momentous for him but for me, well
It ranks very
highly as an important five minutes in my life. Thanks Mat for the
introduction. While much of the stuff of 2001 has not come to pass, the story
itself must rank as one of the best known of SF - one can tell that by it being
spoofed in The Simpsons.
Diary entries have been a bit sparse these last two or three weeks for which excuse me - family illness claimed my attention, and then I went and fell down my stairs at home from the top step. Miraculously I only cut one finger, in a luge-like descent which would have been worthy of that staircase in Dynasty - you know, the one in the Carrington mansion down which everyone fell in one episode or another.
Strange events department (aka starting as you mean to go on) This morning, while setting off in my car to go visiting, an aged crone threw open the passenger door and creaked in (she was an aged and creaky crone of the one-toothed variety) 'Take me to the High street' she requested. Pausing only to make sure she was not a heavily disguised and homicidal man, we set off, she giving my directions. 'Okay, I thought, I'll go along with this, good deed to start the Millenium, and she might be an angel in disguise, you never know..' Anyway, we got where she wanted (it was shut) and without a word she exited my car and hobbled off. I could only sit there, jaw dropping, for moments, shaking my head wryly.
Then I realised the need to open the windows (do angels usually smell bad?) If this is the way the new Millenium is going to go, I think I like it. This was very silly! Have fun!
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