Story Dice

One gift I received was story dice. You roll the dice and weave together a story doing your best to use all the elements that are rolled. I thought this would make a fun addition to the blog while also forcing me to write odd little stories and keep skills sharp. For the times being I think I will challenge myself to use the dice in the order they were rolled. Today’s rolls were:

Story Dice
Dice Rolls: Cyborg, eclipse, mad scientist, supper power of super speed, monster, lightsaber, moon, launching platform.

Okay, so here we go.

With all the added advantages of their cybernetic enhanced eyes, Myer longed for the time that they saw the world as they did when they were a child – unenhanced. Even if they had turned off all the information, alerts and processes, the image was still one that was filtered through cybernetic enhancements. Myer got their enhancements later in life and so clearly remembers the world without cybernetic eyes. It was a world that held mystery, curiosity and beauty.

As they gazed up at the Sun in anticipation of the coming solar eclipse, solar filters automatically flipped into place protecting the sensitive electronics that wove their way through their retina. To have seen such a beautiful site with their own eyes, what would it look like, would they have to squint and shield their eyes, would people still yell at you for looking at the Sun before totality? Questions without answers now that the mad progress of science saw all people enhanced. Even those that fought to live without enhancements were forced into it against their wills. People who wished to simply enjoy a gentle stroll along a lake now walked faster than they used to run. Although Myer had never denounced or turned over those who resisted enhancements, they were never against it either. In their heart of hearts, however, they had supported the enhancement for all movement and thanked the technicians every time a non-enhancer was found and brought into a world of better living.

As they gazed up and wondered at what this marvellous sight would look like without mechanical sight, the little monster in their mind came crawling out again. This monster was thoughts of regret, sympathy and shame. Beneath the cold hard support of the actions of the technicians, Myer knew there was doubt. Everyone knew there was doubt.

Part of the rehabilitation after getting enhancements was time with a coach who taught you that even though the bodies physiological drive to push out enhancements had been overcome, the human mind was still a place where enhancement rejection could occur. This was not physical rejection, but emotional rejection. It started, just like that little monster of thoughts that they fought against now and again.

The coaching was personal and taught each person a way to fight off the prospects of mental rejection. If not kept at bay it could lead to insanity or worse. Myer had pulled from their youth and from one of their favourite tales, Star Wars: A New Hope. Just as Darth Vader had struck down Obi-Wan so effortlessly with his lightsaber, so did they now strike out at the monstrous thoughts creeping into their mind.

With a though, Myer turned back on the alerts, data streams and other ocular enhancements. As they did this, an alert showed that the edge of the Moon had just touched the edge of the Sun. It would not have been visible to the unenhanced eye for a number of seconds and had they not turned on their enhancements they would have missed this beautiful moment during an eclipse. How fortunate they were to keep faith in the technicians.

Myer leaned back against the metal framework of the abandoned rocket launching pad and watched as the Moon slowly ate away at the Sun as their enhancements pointed out features on the Moon’s surface that were shrouded in shadows.

-KMSB

EPSON Software Fail

When I started shooting film again, I invested in a good scanner for my negatives. Some research led me to the EPSON V6000 Photo scanner.

As a whole, the scanner has been great, but the software, EPSON Scan, left a lot to be desired. Not only was the user interface dated in its looks, but the software was troublesome when generating previews and scanning.

To generate a preview it opened a second window, which leads to a lot of annoying double-clicking to get things done. To scan you clicked on the scan button, but one click brought you back from the preview window into the control window and then a second click on your scan button would register and scan.

Then there was the trouble when I set it to scan multiple pictures from a series of negatives, I would have to babysit my computer and move the mouse every so often to make the software feel like it was loved and then it would move onto scanning the next image.

Curious I went back to the EPSON support site to see if there was a new release.

https://epson.ca/Support/Scanners/Perfection-Series/Epson-Perfection-V600-Photo/s/SPT_B11B198011

Regrettably, the only release was still from 1,2014. On a whim, I looked under the Drivers and Utilities to see if there were at least some updates there. Turns out there was a driver update, but nothing in Utilities – or at least that’s what I thought at first.

After updating the driver, I looked one last time under Utilities and saw EPSON Software Updater that was last updated in 1,2019. I downloaded the program, run an update and was elated to be met with a screen at the end saying that I now had EPSON Scan 2!

Sure enough, in the EPSON folder in my Applications Folder, I had the new program. I have yet to try out all its functions, but so far it has been working much better. The only questions are, why is EPSON pointing people to an old software when there is a new and better version? Also, who in this day and age doesn’t program a way to update a program from within the program? Really EPSON, a completely separate program to run updates?

Life Sucks: A Positively Negative View of the Day to Day

With Facebook and other social media platforms mostly showing the glitz and glam of our lives, now and again it helps to see the annoying, frustrating, unpleasant or embarrassing moments in our lives that don’t make the cut. With that, here is the first of what I hope will become a regular and laugh-worthy look at the cutting room floor of life.

Last winter my girlfriend and I were struck by the brazenness of people. Someone went out of their way to steal the electrical cord from the front of her car and left her with a cold, unhappy engine before having to go to work.

We laughed it off and hoped whoever took the cord really needed to … well for something really important. We went to Canadian Tire, bought two cords hoping to stay a step ahead of the enterprising thief. For the rest of the winter, the new electrical cord went untouched.

This winter, after coming back from holidays celebrating Christmas with my girlfriend’s family, we were happy to see that the cord didn’t take a walk. The watchful eye of friends and family coming to check in on the house prevailed.

That was until two days later. The opportunistic vandal struck again! This time they even took care to “cover their tracks” by walking back across the same path they took to take the cord. Clearly this was a thought-through enterprise and not just a case of grab and go.

Now using our second cord, and not really wanting to have to keep replacing them each winter, another trip to the hardware store was in order. A few dollars and twenty minutes, gloveless, in the cold resulted in a lovely lockable plug cover – secured, of course, with your state of the art keyring! Too small for bulky gloves, too cold for numb fingers.

A shiza-da dzonioche – vengence will be mine!

-KMSB

Getting Back to Film and Away From Digital

I picked up a Zeiss Contessa a year ago and started shooting film again. I did it because I was always taking pictures with my digital camera and just storing the images on the computer and not really looking at them again. I thought that if I was shooting film, I would have to get the pictures developed and would then have pictures to put on the wall or in albums.

I got my first rolls of film developed and have learned that it is rather expensive now to get prints made. I’ve since gotten the supplies to develop my own film and while talking about how excited I was to try it out, they asked if I wanted to use their old cameras.

I figured why not, it couldn’t hurt to play around with some other cameras. My dad had an SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) and a TLR (Twin-Lens Reflex). I wanted to get away from SLRs and so took my dad’s Supper Ricohflex. My mum had her dad’s Voigtländer Brilliant which looked in rougher shape, but I took it as well.

The lens on the Voigtländer needed a good clean and the picture counter wasn’t counting. I was able to get the lenses off the front and clean them with some cleaner and lens paper. Getting to the back lenses was a little trickier. I had to borrow a pair of surgical clamps so I could loosen the ring holding the lenses on. In a stroke of luck, it was also the ring holding the whole front mechanism to the body. I was able to give everything a once-over, it looked like the timing mechanism on the shutter was working fine.

The viewfinder lens was held in with a couple of screws and although the spring flaps don’t come off, I was able to clean the mirror and the inside of the lens.

For the picture counter, I was able to take out the false wall on the inside. It was pop-riveted on, regrettably, I thought it was friction fit on and ended up pulling the rivet through the camera body.

I wasn’t sure if I could save the counter at that point but managed to drill out the rivet and saw that an M3 screw would fit nicely in the old rivet hole and I could use a washer to go over the now larger rivet hole on the body.

The spring on the counter needed an extra wind in its coil and the numbers needed a little glue to reattach to the front of the gear. I’m just waiting on a screw of the right length and hopefully, it will be taking pictures as good as new.

When a Theory is not a Theory

I was reading an article online from the Express when I read the following: “Black holes are often found at the hearts of galaxies and up until April this year have been purely theoretical.“ The statement threw me for a bit of a loop, mostly because black holes have been an active part of astrophysics since the discovery of Cygnus X-1 in 1971. Using the day to day word theoretical misleads the general public into thinking that black holes were not confirmed in science until this past April with the discovery of M87*’s shadow. This is a dangerous statement to make.

In day to day language, theory is used to mean a hunch or an educated guess. However, in the sphere of science, a theory is an explanation of what something is or how it works. Theories are often large bodies of work and research and are quite detailed.

Take gravity for example. Newton’s law of universal gravitation does not explain what gravity is, it only shows mathematically how two bodies affect each other through gravitational attraction. It is the theory of general relativity that explains how gravity works and what it is (a result of mass curving space-time). Black holes are part of the general theory of relativity. To start they were a mathematical quirk of Einstein’s field equations, but the discovery of Cygnus X-1 showed that black holes were not a mathematical quirk.

Further observations about black holes have been made over time adding to the theory and supporting the existence of these massive objects. Accretion disks, relativistic jets, active galactic nuclei, gravitational waves and other observations were all documented well before the Event Horizon Telescope document M87*’s shadow.

None of these observations, including the observation of a shadow, have moved black holes out of the realm of scientific theory. Instead, they help keep black holes as active parts of the general theory of relativity.

Science writers and communicators need to take extra caution when using terms like theory, theoretical, law, fact, hypothesis or conjecture. They have different meanings inside and outside of the sphere of science and using them inappropriately can build a false impression of what science does; that in turn can cause misunderstandings and mistrust of science as a whole.

I am not without fault and am often rereading and refamiliarizing myself with the different terms. It is part and parcel of the job as a science communicator. One of my go-to’s is this article from liveScience.com. Writer or reader, it is probably worth a second look and remember to give critical consideration when you see those terms in an article.

– KMSB

We’re Currently Fighting World War Three and The Enemy is Complacency.

When I get the chance to visit my friend and his father on their family property, I always find myself whisked away to a different place or time. I’m not sure what it is about this former farmstead tucked away in the urban parts of Winnipeg, if it’s the Guffleworfs that stand watch along the driveway, the ability to feel like I’m in nature far outside of the city with an intrusive development of cookie cutter homes just behind the tree lines, or perhaps it is the tea and conversation that comes up with my friend’s father.

At 97 he is ever eager to listen and talk, to verbally parry and repost with his son in the same playful teasing way I grew up with in my family and he is always willing to talk about the war. He feels he must talk about it to make sure the sacrifices made are not forgotten and lost.

At the age of twenty and an only child, he left his widowed mother and the family farm to go to war. He could have stayed home, as the only child on a farm we would not have been obligated to go but go he did. He was part of the D-day landings, spent the war with his tank crew mostly ahead of the line, reporting back from their various observation posts. Then, he came back home, if only because, as he says, he dug more slip trenches than anyone else in the war.

The World Wars demanded great sacrifice and affected entire generations, but those individuals fought willingly for the freedoms, liberties and lifestyle we have today in hopes that we would never have to go to war again to preserve them. Yet, when we are faced with a climate crisis, as we knowingly continue to consume and put our livelihoods, liberties and freedoms at risk, we sit back and lose ourselves to the media-rich world we are a part of.

In the 1980s a small group of scientists came forward and warned us about a growing hole the ozone of Earth’s atmosphere. This small band was able to inspire, mobilize and change not only habits but laws. The world came together, and the growth of that hole stopped and has even reserved.

How is it then that when 97% of scientists agree on the human nature of climate change and that we need to act on it, we sit immobile – worse still we deny and refute. Are we that much farther in time from the Great Wars that their meaning, their importance, their sacrifice has been lost to us?

How can this be? I am only a generation removed from the war! My grandmother, God rest her soul, would be furious to see how we take all our liberties for granted, how we consume without forethought, how we squander and deny. As a spy for the resistance in Poland, she did not risk her life, suffer torture, and flee her homeland leaving family and all her possessions behind so that we should sit back and forget.

Although I know the real threats of climate change and know all too well it is happening right now, I am also guilty of my own complacencies. However, it is the memory of my grandmother, the look in the eye of my friend’s father, the Gretas, the Malalas, the students behind the Never Again movement that push me to step up and prepare myself to make sacrifices of my own, because we are already fighting World War Three for the future of our children’s lives, rights and liberties.

The enemy may not be a clear and present danger that we can name like in the past two Great Wars because it is sly, silent and ingrained. It is our own complacency, our own blurred views of what is a right and what is a privilege, our lapses in memory that privileges have responsibilities.

Freedom of movement is a right. Owning a car (or three) is a privilege.

Access to food and water is a right. Having tropical fruits and water in plastic bottles is a privilege.

We have to make changes and we are past the point of asking for them, we must take a stand and demand them! Demand reconciliation for our Indigenous populations so they can be heard!

Demand that public transit is accessible to help the impoverished and get the redundant use of personal cars off the road.

Demand for better active transportation so we can use healthy alternative means of getting around.

Demand that companies move to profit sharing so that the people who actually do the work can afford to live.

Demand that our packaging be 100% recyclable.

Demand that our governments enforce that producers and consumers take responsibility for the end use of their products.

Demand green energy sectors.

Demand, demand, demand and demand again!

How? Simple, like those who went to war before us, stand up and make sacrifices. Unlike during the Great Wars, these sacrifices are merely inconvenient at worst – they won’t kill you or those you love.

Are your vegetables wrapped in plastic? Don’t buy them and speak to the manager on the way out saying you won’t buy until they stop importing food items in plastic.

Do you drive to work alone in a car that can fit five? Carpool, take transit, walk, bike, commute!

Tempted to buy that new phone? Don’t. Use yours until it stops working and make sure it is recycled at the end.

Grow a garden, mow your lawn by hand, write to your politicians, have friends over for dinner, talk, discuss …

We have sat in our trenches of complacency too long and guess what? The sergeant is coming, and we all know what they will say, “Move soldier! Over the top! This climate war won’t win itself!”

-KMSB

A Black Hole’s Shadow and your Cloak of Invisibility

The buzz around the lunch table and my group’s D&D table is about the image of the black hole shadow in the galaxy M87 (M87*). People are talking, discussing, conjecturing and even imagining the future of space or time travel. Moments like this are great for both the scientific community and the public as it creates intrigue, wonder, and gets both communities talking with each other.

The shadow is really quite amazing, though it should not be confused with the event horizon as some lunchtime conversations have. The shadow of M87* is something separate from the event horizon and perhaps the best way to describe the shadow is to chat D&D, or Harry Potter if you prefer. Either way, we need to talk cloaks of invisibility.

Black holes are already invisible by their own right. They pull in light that comes towards them and trap it forever. This makes photographing them directly a pipe dream because there is never any light leaving them for us to see. The only way to see the presence of black holes is either when they have an accretion disk or strong jets, like M87*, or through their gravitational influence, like Sagittarius A* at the centre of our galaxy zipping stars around it at breakneck speeds.

A perfect cloak of invisibility might not absorb light like a black hole but instead works by bending the light around the person and focusing it on the other side again, giving the appearance of no one being in the way of the light. This type of cloak will also prevent you from ever being photographed because you too are not sending out any light to be captured by a camera. Unfortunately, not every treasure chest in your dungeon will have one, nor do most average witches and wizards have access to a personal Dumbledore. Us regular dungeon crawlers and novice wizards and witches are more likely to get a cloak of partial invisibility (or a cloak of un-invisibility, which is mostly good for a half decent ghost costume at your next themed party).

A perfect cloak of invisibility (left) and a black hole (right).

If we are lucky enough to get a partial cloak of invisibility it will bend light around you, but it may have some tells. The fringes might shimmer, objects might be blurry, or your feet are clearly visible because it is too short and there goes that lovely bonus on your sneak attack rolls (and forget that practical joke of levitating your friend’s lunch with wingardium leviosa unseen).

Black holes can act as a partial cloak of invisibility when lensing distant objects behind them. We still cannot see the black hole directly, but we see the multiple images of the object behind it being projected in a ring around the black hole. In this way, it gives itself away without revealing any interesting details about itself.

A cloak of partial invisibility (left) and a black hole lensing a distant object (right).


Like a lensing black hole, your cloak of partial invisibility is not working out very well and you’ve been spotted. If you can’t stay out of sight, maybe try being seen but not recognized. For this trick, you’ll need a hula hoop of light, available in lower level dungeons or your local Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.

By keeping the hula hoop of light spinning around you, you might give yourself away, but people will probably be too distracted by the really neat shadow you’re creating between you and the hula hoop.

Most of the light from the part of the hoop that is behind you is absorbed by your faulty cloak of invisibility. Some of the light, however, is bent around you and focussed in front of you ahead of where the absorbed light should have been focused. The region where the absorbed light should have appeared is dark because it has no light being bent into it – in effect a shadow.

Ah, but what of the light from the ring in front of you that is cast backwards you say? Sharp eye young adventurer (wizard or witch), but just like the light from behind, the light going from the ring towards you gets absorbed by the faulty cloak or bent around behind you – no reflected light reaches an observer. With this disguise, you might not go unnoticed, but you could try for the Guinness Book of World Records as the first shadow to ever hula hoop.

Cloak and hula hoop of light (left) compared with a black hole and photon ring (right).

In the case of M87* its hula hoop of light is the photon ring that surrounds it. Just like our hoop, most of the light from behind the black hole is pulled in, while some of it is bent around and refocused in front ahead of where the missing light would appear under perfect conditions – just like with our cloak.

This leaves a dark region in front of the black hole between it and the distorted image of the photon ring (The ring is larger on the bottom because it is rotating towards us at that point. The Doppler shift makes it brighter – that’s another article.). The shadow exists in front of the event horizon but behind the ring and this is why it is interesting. The shadow’s presence is sort of a rough outline of the event horizon, but unlike the event horizon, the light that goes into the shadow has a chance of escaping – albeit slim. This is also what makes the image so amazing, by seeing the shadow we are effectively looking at a black hole. We have finally taken a picture of the one thing we’ve not been able to take a picture of directly. By seeing a shadow we have an outline of the event horizon! I would call that rolling a natural 20 or a performing a perfect Patronus as far as photos go.

-KSMogk

A Clever use of Binary Celebrates 175 Years

At 8:45 am on Friday May 24th, 1844 an individual repeatedly pressed two strips of metal together so they ever so briefly made contact before springing back apart. Each click sent an electrical impulse on a journey from its starting point in the old Supreme Court Chamber in Washington. The impulses travelled along a 16-gauge wire insulated with cotton thread mixed with shellac, beeswax, resin, linseed oil and asphalt.

As the impulses travelled along the wire, they crossed above the some five-hundred chestnut poles standing seven meters tall and almost six-hundred meters apart ignoring the world and people below them. Almost instantaneously the electrical impulses arrived at their destination at the Mount Clare railroad station in Baltimore.

Here, the impulses engaged an electromagnet forcing down a stylus into a ribbon of paper slowly moving by the steading rhythms of mechanical clockwork. The impulse gone, the spring hauled the stylus back up out of site until the next impulse hit, then the next and again and again until the impulses stopped.

Alfred Vail picked up the paper tape and began to decipher the code his counterpart back in Washington had sent:

.~~   ….   .~   ~      ….   .~   ~   ….      ~~.   . .   ~..      .~~   . ..   . .   ..~   ~~.   ….   ~

WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT

The celebration that day must have been incredible. Sure, it was not the first message via commercial telegraph, no Vail and his partner were some seven years late for that international title, which goes to William Cook and Charles Wheatstone of England. It was however the first transmission in the United States and certainly worth celebrating. What was really at play was the ingenious code that Samuel F. B. Morse used to send the message to Vail.

The binary use of Morse’s dots and dashes took into account letter frequency in English. Letters that are used more often have shorter codes and letters that are used less frequently have longer codes. This made transmission and deciphering messages much easier.

With time operators were able to pick up on the clicks of the code receiver and started writing out the code by hand. First, the mechanical code receivers disappeared, then here and there in the world small adjustments were made to Morse’s code to make the letter frequency more internationally friendly. In 1865 Morse’s code became a standard – International Morse Code.

In the new International Morse Code, Morse’s original message would be:

.~~ …. .~ ~ / …. .~ ~ …. / ~~. ~~~ ~.. / .~~ .~. ~~~ ..~ ~~. …. ~

And if you wanted to practice saying it out loud you can discover the rhythm and beauty found in it:

Di dah dah   di di di dit   di dah   dah       di di di dit   di dah   dah   di di di dit       dah dah dit   dah dah dah   dah di dit       di dah dah   di dah dit   dah dah dah   di di dah   dah dah dit   di di di dit   dah

By 1895 Guglielmo Marconi had invented the first practical radio transmitters and receivers and Morse Code went wireless, texting was born!

Today, Morse Code is still used by some amateur HAM radio operators (as you are no longer required to know Morse Code to get a licence). It may even appear that Morse is not as popular as it was 175 years ago, but it is finding a niche outside the enthusiasts. Individuals with speech and mobility difficulties have been able to use Morse Code to communicate and smartphones now often come with Morse Code keyboards to make input easier.

I personally started learning Morse Code when I hit with a big dip in my depression. Learning the rhythmic dits (dots) and dahs (dashes) was a way to pull my brain out of negative loops. Now well back on my feet, I use it to send coded texts to my older brother just for fun and keep up practice by using writing in my journal (For journaling I’ve traded – (dashes) for | (lines) making it more compact and easier to tell a dot from a dash with hurried writing.).

Morse Code has come a long way and Morse would surely see the great influence of his code beyond the telegraph, after all, we live in a world that runs on binary.

-KMSB

Bumble Charges Up to Assist Astronauts on ISS

Just a quick update about the Astrobees. The first of them, Bumble, is charging up and has under gone its first hardware check. Honey, who launched with Bumble on the Northrop Grumman’s commercial resupply mission on April 17th, hopefully will be up and running soon as well.

Astronaut Anne McClain performs the first series of tests on Bumble.
Credit: NASA

Bumble at its charging station.
Credit: NASA