Thursday, January 10, 2019

Turn up the radio

In recent years, astronomers have discovered new faraway planets, gotten close looks at distant objects like asteroids and comets, and driven lots of robots around Mars.

All of this is in service of exploring the physical universe and learning more about why things are the way they are, basically. That's exciting! But there is also this sort of deeper human need to find out whether we're all there is in terms of intelligent life. Scientists and philosophers argue about the odds--on the one hand, they're infinitesimal because shouldn't we have seen something by now given how old the universe is? On the other hand, they're quite good because the universe is as vast as it is old... that's a lot of planets.

Anyhoo, there's not much evidence to go on in that regard. There's the WOW! signal, which no one ever really figured out. And lately there have been "fast radio bursts," which are also mostly unexplained. This week, more of those bursts were announced, including an unprecedented repeating burst.

“When these bursts happen once only, it’s really hard to figure out what created them,” Cherry Ng, a radio astronomer at the University of Toronto and lead author on the paper about the repeating FRB, tells The Verge. “Now we’re showing, no, at least one other repeats.”

I've always felt like this is the way we'd get evidence of "other life out there"--something pretty inscrutable and outwardly mundane, as opposed to in the movies where detailed messages or even space ships arrive.

what will the aliens' morning drive zoo crews sound like?

To be clear, these bursts are almost certainly caused by natural (if distant) phenomena. That doesn't make them any less fascinating... it's a new physical mystery to unravel.

But it's sure fun to think about the tiny chance they're more than that.

It's been a rough few years for this planet, and finding life on another one would somehow make that feel more bearable.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year

It hit me last week that the last two posts on this blog were tradition--Fourth of July Muppets and the Pogues on Christmas Eve. Not much in between. And by "not much," mean nothing.

Part of that is because I'm dealing with a lot more words at work than I ever have before. Part of that is that the world outside work is crazier than it has ever been. I don't think that's an exaggeration. I've been alive for [REDACTED] years, but I can safely say that even in the tense closing years of the Cold War I never felt like everything was teetering so close to the edge.

We also moved to a new city-state with a new imaginary mascot, the merlion:

RAaaarrgurgle

Singapore presents its own unique challenges, such as schools with Cordon Bleu-trained chefs and a price tag to match, and an equatorial sun that will burn the health right out of your skin.

But for all that, there is much to be thankful for in 2018. Health and happiness. Good food. Loving family. A Chiefs quarterback that can do this...


... and is only like 19 years old.

No one can say what 2019 will bring. I suspect there will be many moments of global instability and wackiness, and if the two years since November 2016 have taught us anything, it's that expecting things to return to normalcy and stability on their own is... not a great plan.

So here's to hope, and action, and for good things in the year ahead.

Monday, December 24, 2018

It’s Christmas Eve, babe

It’s been a weird year... who knows what the boys in the NYPD choir are singing. But I hope, earnestly, that it ends on a good note for you. Sometimes that’s all we can ask.

Here’s to 2019, dear reader.




Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy America Day!

Things might be a little... off... in America these days, but there will always be muppets:

Monday, March 26, 2018

Rock Chalk

It's been a while since I have written about basketball. This is mostly, I think, because game time (usually in the early morning hours in Singapore) is often *exactly* the same as toddler time (usually the early morning hours anywhere). Don't let anyone tell you I'm indoctrinating my kids; I could easily have set them down in front of the TV to watch some KU hoops, but I've been good.

This year's Kansas team has been... interesting. I've woken up to see some really bizarre scenarios: three home losses! A five-star recruit quitting to go play in Europe! A near-total absence of depth! But at the same time, they have beaten more top-quality teams than any other program this season. There's something about the team that, when it works, works really well. They won the Big 12 regular season championship and the conference tournament.

The first trophy of, one hopes, many.

And this morning, they went to the Final Four for the first time since 2012.

I watched most of the second half on my laptop, in the dark, while I ate my cereal. Then suddenly it was overtime, and I was late for work, and I "watched" the last five minutes by getting score updates on my phone.

And they won. They beat Duke in what may have been the best heavyweight showdown of the tournament.


Basketball is fun, and a nice distraction from all the other craziness in the world. It would be an even nicer distraction if the Jayhawks, just as they did the last time they were in San Antonio, won their last two games.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Highway to the Nostalgia Zone

When I was a kid, there was one weekend every summer I looked forward to more than any other.

It wasn't the Fourth of July. It wasn't a birthday. It wasn't even the last day of school.

It was Operation Handshake.

What was Operation Handshake? Glad you asked (and even if you hadn't, I would have explained anyway). It was, at the time, the largest airshow in the United States, attracting about 500,000 visitors over two days. And man, what a show.

I remember seeing one of the first F-15s, back when they were still painted light blue, do a max-performance takeoff into the vertical. I saw an F-117 there for the first time, and a B-2. The airbase where it was held, Richards-Gebaur, was home to a squadron of A-10s, and they never disappointed with an appropriately over-the-top ground attack demo featuring enough pyrotechnics to make Michael Bay blush. My dad was my wingman for most of these, and I have many fond memories of wandering through all the wings and kerosene fumes with him.

I was most definitely in the crowd for this one.

The base closed in the '90s and the airshows stopped around the same time. I haven't been to one since.

Until this week.

I was at the Singapore Airshow, which is more of a trade event than a public relations spectacle, as part of my job. I had a lot of fun and helped with some interesting stories. I even was asked to look directly into the sun and ad-lib an interview about Chinese drones. Yes, I know "Israeli" is not a country. I only got one take, OK?

It was, obviously, a much different experience than the airshows of my childhood. For one, there were weapons being sold everywhere, including this lovely dessert case of 40mm grenades.

Fun for the whole family!

For another, I was working, which meant I didn't get to gawk at the airplanes as much as I'd like. The most common backdrop for my airshow experience was the Media Room, Brought to You By Pratt and Whitney:

There was free food and coffee.

And for a third, Operation Handshake was, even in its later years, an American affair. There were certainly no aircraft from Cold War adversaries. But at the Singapore Airshow, you could watch a Su-30MKM do its thing:

Thrust vectoring makes for great flight demos.

... or a Saab Gripen:

Small, fast, maneuverable and Swedish.

There were also aircraft on display that simply didn't exist when I was younger, like:

The F-22 Raptor.

The F-35 Lightning II.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk.

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (although its smaller, older brother, the F/A-18 was around back then).

The WL-2 Wing Loong II, a Chinese strike drone.

The entire suite of Russia's United Aircraft Corporation fighter aircraft, in model form or otherwise.

... among many other things. I got to nerd out, I got to be professional, I got to see a lot of interesting hardware and drink some remarkably bad coffee. Most of the time I was in air conditioning, which is also a big change from the airshows of my youth.

My enjoyment of all things flight-related hasn't changed. The brief bits of the Singapore Airshow where I got to just stand and watch planes in the air brought back a lot of great memories. And maybe, just maybe, I can take my dad to the next one... or take my daughter (but I need to be sure to keep her away from the grenades).

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

I think for a lot of people, 2017 was a year that belongs in the rearview mirror. And it would be easy to spend this post listing the reasons why. In fact, I had written a couple of sentences doing just that before I caught myself.

Starting a new year isn't about looking at all the bad things from the previous you want to avoid in the next one. It's about hope. About a clean sheet and a brand new indelible marker to write with.

Definitely not visible from my window.

Sitting here in a serviced apartment in rainy Singapore, two kids fast asleep and a hectic December behind us, it's hard not to feel like we are poised for a big transition. Temporary housing will give way to a permanent home; we will get to know this city better (why are all the nearby playgrounds closed right now? Don't they know we have restless kids?) and forge ahead. I'll start a new job that will mean days of playtime with the kids and family lunches are back to being weekends-only treats.

All that is certain. I don't need to hope for it; it will happen.

So do I want out of the next year?

It's not hard. I want my family to be healthy, happy and safe. And I want 2018 to exceed 2017 in every way that it can. Is that boring? Maybe. But I won't be disappointed if those hopes are realized.

No matter how you feel about 2017, and no matter where you are or how you're celebrating (I will spare you the details of New Year's Eve: Corporate Housing Edition), I hope your hopes are realized too.

Here's to a bright, new year.

*edited to remove the artifacts of writing while recovering from 2017’s parting gift: a family-wide stomach bug.