April 30th, 2007

Gully Foyle

in deep ocean with no fins or gills

Despite having a lovely day teaching amjhawk how to do tune-ups and oil changes, birds chirping and the sun shining and all that as we worked under my carport, having a three-hour lunch at Yello Sub while playing games, I later found myself getting all blue. Why? It seems silly.

I used to think that optimism and empathy were good things, but I'm not so sure any more. I am both strongly empathetic and optimistic, and I realized this means that eventually I will feel pain about everyone I know because everyone suffers and that makes me sad; everyone makes stupid decisions once in a while and I feel bad about that. Worse, I frequently disappoint myself by not being all I want to be, by doing - or not doing - things that I later regret, and so on.

Being optimistic means that you expect a lot from people and situations, especially yourself and the things you do. Everything will work out right if we take the right steps toward the good things in life, right? But we all make mistakes all the time. Things don't always work out the way we had hoped, even if we did everything right, even if the stars line up for us. Shit happens. Sometimes people even work against us. This makes optimistic people feel especially disappointed and hurt, as if we're alien species, unable to communicate.

Being empathetic means that when someone suffers, you feel some of what they feel; if they're someone you're close to, you feel a lot of pain. The world roils with an ocean of suffering that threatens to drown us all the time, flailing with our puny human arms to stay above the waves that get more turbulent as we listen to the news (what I usually call "the bad news"), read tales of sadness on LJ and, well, just live. We humans can't breathe under water, and we get so tired by constantly flailing. If only we had gills; if only we had fins. But people who are so empathetic don't seem well suited to living in this ocean. We are small and naked and fragile.

However, these traits also have a positive side: Empathy means one gets to smile and laugh a lot at other people's happiness and success. Optimism means one gets to live life as if everything will work out, and that means you're more likely to take the necessary steps to make things work out.

Why have these traits survived the red-in-tooth-and-claw evolution of the human species? What real good do these things do for us? Eventually we all inhale water while flaining to stay afloat; we are the wrong species for our environment, and these repeated drownings threaten to erode our optimism. I fear for losing that trait, even though it seems to have caused me more grief than good. And empathy: Can we lose that over time? It only seems to grow deeper for me the more pain it causes.

Sheesh, being a human is hard work. No grand conclusions here.

Mars rover

life is short, often shorter than we expect

I read this tonight on curieuse's LJ:

I want to make a sign for our wall in huge letters, a sign I'll see every day, saying it can happen to you, to me, to anyone, anytime, that we all hear sirens every day and the person who made each of those phone calls didn't plan for their day to go that way today, that we aren't guaranteed a thing, not really, and please, please live like you know this.

I think living a successful life of optimism requires that one tries to get as much out of life as possible. That old saying, "Live each day as if it were your last" is only meaningful if you add "and live your life as if you will live forever."


tonight's astro-viewing

I should have been grading, but how long has it been since I spent some quality time with the sky? So I went out to the garage and brought out the 100mm binoculars. These are mounted on a vintage German equatorial mount, and after much fiddling with the leg-height (geez is it uncomfortable to use binocs unless you get just the right angle; luckily, the legs extend to six feet) and fiddling with the RA and DEC controls, I was finally able to view the waxing-gibbous Moon:

With binoculars, your brain does an interesting thing and processes each eye's separate view of high-contrast images like the Moon against a black sky as 3-D. Pretty neat! But the challenge of monkeying around with the mount and craning my neck to peer through the eyepieces finally got me to put away the binoculars and fetch the XT10. Funny how I had grabbed the binocs first, thinking they would be the simpler observing tool but they ended up being much more trouble. There is nothing as pleasant as spending the evening with a Dobsonian-mounted reflector telescope: It's just point and use, and tracking an object across the sky is as simple as nudging the little knob at the end of the tube.

So I started off with the Moon, but first installed my adjustable polarizing filter to reduce the overwhelming brightness. Even with it dialed down to pretty dim, the Moon blazes like the sun in such a big telescope! I wear an eye-patch over the eye that isn't actively observing to reduce strain, so when I moved away from the eyepiece to look up unaided, the eye-patch-protected eye could see stars that the observing eye simply couldn't. I wonder how my pupils look at such moments!

I spent some time wandering across the Moon, varying magnification with other eyepieces, zooming in on the shadowy mountains between lit surface and the blackness beyond: No atmosphere on the Moon means it's either bright or black with no twilight. When the Moon is in the gibbous phase, you can see so many fresh craters pocking the surface, white-rimmed against the dark maria and ancient gray craters. The Moon is still one of my favorite places to visit, no matter how many times I return.

Next I spent some time just roaming the sky, picking out bright gold stars and orange stars and double stars. Lovely and calming. I wanted to put off my visit to Jupiter for a while, because that is still my favorite object in the night sky.

Jupiter looks about like this through a 10" telescope like mine:

The sky was a bit too unstable and Jupiter rode just above the neighbor's roof, so I could not see much detail in the clouds. But oh so lovely! The four Galilean moons were arrayed as bright disks, two to each side.

I moved off for some more random viewing, then returned to Jupiter for a few more mintues, and ended with a final voyage to the Moon.

Now to bed.


tonight: Astrokitty Comics Pre-release Party

from Joel:

So, as many of you know...Astrokitty is releasing its' first comic book...under the Astrokitty Comics Imprint and it's an anthology called "Larrytown Laffs!" which features artwork by:

Chris Dickinson ("Parentheses")
Thayer Bray
Tom Avery ("Cheating @ Solitaire")
Dale Martin ("Watusi: The Talking Dog")
Jacob Rhodes
David Daneman
Andrew Hadle ("Fancy Comix")
David Butterfield

and has a kickass cover by KU grad Wes Wedman ("Paper Museum")
that was colored by yours truly (Joel Pfannenstiel...), and I did the layout and logo design, too!

We're all very pumped about this, our first comic release and though we'll be doing an in-store release of the ACTUAL comic, we thought we'd drum up excitement about the impending publication (which we should have available at the Planet Comicon on the 5th & 6th) of Larrytown Laffs! To that end, we have several of the creators involved with the book on-hand to sign free "ashcan editions" that show a bit of the upcoming comic and have sections for signatures and sketches by the artists on-hand!

This show is a Monday night, but we'll be rocking right and proper with local acts CLUTCH OF UNDEATH and BAIOWOLF! It's only $2 to get in (18 and up, yo) and you'll have a chance to meet the people behind this awesome collection and get a signed/sketched ashcan edition before these people skyrocket and they become big-time comic book players! Also, it's a great way to get out and support local art and the burgeoning scene of cartoonists/comic book creators we're developing!

Virgin Galactic

image-size question

Dear friends:

Please let me know if the astro-images I regularly post are too wide for your screen. I usually make them 500px wide, never wider than 600px. Is that too much?

I'll resize so they don't mess up your friends pages!

psychedelic beast

string theory fiction anthology

This looks cool:
Scriblerus Press is organizing an anthology of creative writing inspired by string theory. I’d like to remind you that the submission deadline is approaching—May 31, 2007. Complete submission guidelines, along with information on string theory itself, are Editor, Scriblerus Pressavailable online.

The anthology is shaping up well. So far, we’ve received over two hundred quality submissions, including pieces from Nobel Laureate Sheldon Glashow, Peter Woit, Michio Kaku, and renowned sci-fi novelist Adam Roberts. We whole-heartedly encourage you, as well as program faculty and students, to take part. Please feel free to forward this reminder along to them.

Best regards,
Sean Miller
Editor, Scriblerus Press