I had storyboarded a line of speech here from Mother sort of narrating things, but just before uploading it I realized that it really *was* just narration, which I try to avoid so as to leave it to you to draw your own conclusions; it can also be kind of a tempting crutch when I'm not certain I'll be able to depict a particular action clearly enough. Hopefully though you can kind of tell what all that stuff appearing in the hallway might be.
And now to Science! A recent BBC article describes the discovery of six new exoplanets (that's the kind of silly term that's supposed to mean any planet outside our own solar system) in a single star system by NASA's Kepler space telescope. Kepler is very sensitive to minute changes in light from distant stars, and is designed to find distant planets by looking for the slight dimming of a star as a planet crosses in front of it; it can even detect the wobble of those planets caused by other neighboring planets! Pretty neat. Here's an old NASA painting sort of showing the scale of Kepler's search within our galaxy (hey there's A* in the background--well inside that big glowing galactic nucleus, anyway):
Anyway loads and loads of planets have been found around other stars in the past few years by this method, almost all of them most likely "hot Jupiters," ie Jupiter-size or larger gas giants orbiting close to their star: those are just the kind that cast the biggest shadows and are thus easiest to detect by Kepler's transit method. So finding more of those isn't really newsworthy anymore, but this case was slightly more interesting, because the six big gassy planets, around the star cleverly named Kepler-11, 2000 light years from Earth, are all really really close to their sun: five orbit closer to the star than Mercury does to our Sun, and the sixth is just a little farther out than that. Here's a swinky NASA artist's impression of what the inner part of the Kepler-11 system might look like:
So Kepler-11 sort of rewrites the rules in terms of how much planetary mass can form close to a star; existing theories of solar system formation had tended to assume that planets that big, that close to each other, would tear each other apart, and leave only maybe one or two surviving.
This is pretty exciting from a fiction writing point of view, since it opens up all kinds of possibilities for really crazy star systems! Hmmmm... :)
I was delayed slightly in getting these pages done today because I broke my keyboard! I've had this thing for about ten years now I think, so somehow dropping it and breaking off the right mouse button (it's got mouse buttons around a central touchpad) made me sad ;_;, buuuut so far a little disassembly and a little superglue seem to have done the trick. Whew! Although in taking it apart and removing the touchpad button housing for the first time ever, I realized that I could just swap in the same housing part from my other keyboard of this type that I *think* I still have in storage somewhere (got that one about thirteen years ago, I think, and it still works except that a drinking water spill a decade or so ago rendered the ESC key inoperable ;_;). And then I realized that I don't use the button right next to the one that broke off (it's for "middle button"), and could remap that one to the right mouse button function if I needed to--so between that and the older keyboard, I could bust off two more mouse buttons and still be right as rain! Although hopefully it won't come to that for another few decades.
If you're wondering why all this bother when I could go get a modern keyboard, well, I think it's safe to say they don't make them quite like this anymore. I present you with the wonder of ergonomics that is the Acer "Future" keyboard (the name did not prove to be prescient, as the "Future" was quickly discontinued; in fact this second one was a refurbished one the Seattle-area Acer distributor somehow happened to still have in their warehouse after the model had already been cut):
So yeah it does look like what you're thinking it looks like. And that hole in the center with the rim of buttons around it is the touchpad! (The right-most of the two buttons below it (past the down-arrow button, I mean) was the one I busted off.) The numeric keypad is detachable, thankfully. So basically I just rest the main unit of this thing on my lap and type and twiddle on the touchpad and don't need a mouse (or a desk, for that matter). Pretty sweet. So if I continue to be clumsy and put my remaining keyboard and a half out of commission, my computing lifestyle is probably hosed. :o Must be careful!
The other (not so) cool feature of the "Future" (man I probably could have drawn this thing in the comic somewhere and you guys would have been like "WHOA look at the crazy keyboards they have in the future at the center of the galaxy," right? =pp) is that it connects by PS/2 AND serial ports; I managed to get a new computer with a serial port a few years back, but...they don't still make those now, do they? Anyway I just suspect that will be a problem. Fortunately my current computer runs Photoshop (4) just great, and the Internet, so heck I'll never need to upgrade to a new one ever, right? Right?? I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU FUTURE KEYBOARD!!!
Yep, I used to use those all the time at work with various other keyboards and mice. So I think the PS/2 part is fine, it's the serial one that could be problematic. Wait that is an idea, though--lemme see if there are serial/USB converters...
Aha, there are. But it somehow seems unlikely to me that they'd work with the touchpad's drivers. Maybe there'd be some generic touchpad driver it could use... Well, I suspect I'll have to try it out one of these days!
Dang it, I draw too slow. Well, here are some other sci-fi comics I came across recently that seemed interesting, so you can use these to cover all this unexpected free comic reading time you just got! (:|)
Mannie Marine An animated webcomic! And a highly stylized black and white one at that! Don't see many of those about (at least, not since I stopped animating A* with episode 7--you can catch those from the A* site's top menu "episodes" link, incidentally (plug plug)). Each Mannie Marine episode is several minutes long, and tends to feature something to do with futuristic marines fighting zombies or something, with hints of a government cover-up and that sort of good stuff. The animation is limited but quite effective, and they even do their own really nice moody background music. Pretty violent.
Blue Milk Special A Star Wars parody, and I'm not really enough of a Star Wars fan to spend much time following that part of it, but I find the art surprisingly pleasing. It's done in a sort of half cartoonish style, but sparingly, so for instance noses usually aren't drawn, and I particularly like the use of borderless patches of flat color to compose the backgrounds.
The Accidental Space Spy A new story, still in progress, by Thorsby, who has created some of the most convoluted, crazy, and amusing tales you will ever read, all drawn in a deceptively crude, brightly colored "MS Paint with mouse" style. Often featuring bizarre cases of missing identity or plans gone awry (as well as some swearing and cartoonish gore), Thorsby's characters have to get themselves out of the craziest situations that just keep getting crazier and crazier--and the frantic action is contrasted brilliantly by the color-coded deadpan dialogue. I'm still reading his first story, "Hitmen for Destiny," which is 600+ *long* pages. Whew! That one's gonna keep me busy for a while.
Another sci-fi comic series you probably haven't read--and neither have I! Anyway I just came across the short-lived 1950-51 Youthful series, Captain Science, and thought it was worth mentioning for the sheer cheesy chutzpah of the covers.
See all 7 of them in their full super-saturated glory here.
I think it's safe to say that Captain Science was not at all related to Captain Hard Science! But he probably zapped more Space Pirates and got more Space Girls. Then again he only lasted seven issues, so... :o
Thu Feb 17, 2011 5:39 am
Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2009 4:18 pm Posts: 2861
Update on the keyboard saga: the glue did not hold! So I dug up my alternate Future keyboard, the one I used to use in my old office job. I would have stuck with the broken one, but I realized that I *did* use the other button below the touchpad--Middle Click is nice for opening links in tabs with one click in Firefox. These keyboards are pretty darn tough except for those mouse buttons, which are only held on by flimsy little bits of plastic, which have to flex to provide the clicky motion. Bah. Oh well if I break one off on this other keyboard, I'll just have to learn to use CTRL+Right Click to open links in new tabs instead. :P
Oh, one sort of interesting thing about the photos Stardust sent back was that while NASA was expecting the photos to come in chronological order, showing a dramatic approach to the comet, for some reason they came in reverse order! Last I'd read, NASA still didn't have any idea how that had happened. But nobody was killed that we know of, so yay for rocket science!
Slightly more impressive are recent photos from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, an Earth-orbiting satellite designed to study energy coming to Earth from the Sun. The SDO has only been up there for a year, and I already linked to some cool video it took of the Sun, but it scored a bit of a coup four days ago when it caught footage of the largest solar flare seen in four years; this "X2"-class flare (solar flares are measured on a scale going A, B, C, M, and X, each successive stage being an order of magnitude higher than the previous one, and in each stage, they're given a numeric value, so "X2" means it was twice as powerful as a baseline X flare, 20 times as powerful as an M flare, etc) was of the type powerful enough to cause radio blackouts and radiation storms here on Earth, but as it turns out, apparently all we got was maybe some enhanced auroral activity earlier today. Which is probably for the best.
Anyway the SDO's footage of the flare is here, and it's actually...not overwhelming, and it's also hashed together from a few sources, one getting the larger coronal burst around the Sun. Ehh. Well anyway I can at least show this still image from the SDO of the flare, which was so powerful that it overloaded the satellite's sensor, and the poor thing could only render it as pure white:
Sooo yeah that was a lot of slightly underwhelming news. Hm there was also some composite view of a distant nebula that they were excited about just the other day, which was pretty but also so boring I lost the URL. Still, NASA's at least got a lot of space stuff on the boil lately.
EDIT: Oh! I forgot that they do have a huge animated GIF of the solar flare (5.5 MB download), which is actually a much better view than the embedded video. Is this the comeback of animated GIFs, in large part the medium that inspired A* in the first place??? :o Anyway it's kind of neat, you can actually see the flaming tongue of the flare coming toward us; given that the Sun is nearly 1.4 million kilometers (865,000 miles) in diameter, and the tongue of flame seems to be large enough to go halfway across it--at least!--then if the perspective isn't fooling me...gosh that was a big lick of flame it shot in our direction!
When I was storyboarding this episode, I decided that the name for the conveyance pictured here (seen a little more clearly in the previous episode) must be "polevator." Although now somehow that name sounds a little...off. >_< Let us never speak it again!
A friend of mine sent me the link to this video, 'cause see it's for a song called "Supermassive Gravity" (from the German group called "Massiv in Mensch"), and the visuals of this I think fan-made video are from Disney's "The Black Hole." Woo!
Speaking of "The Black Hole," it's actually kind of a fun movie, partly because sections of it are so darn cheesy now, including pretty much every scene with the robots, most of the scenes with the requisite mad scientist, and maybe half the scenes with Ernest Borgnine's hapless character. Many of the visuals from 1979 have held up surprisingly well, though, particularly the ones of the black hole (even if the hole itself is handled very unrealistically indeed!). And Anthony Perkins and Yvette Mimieux are in it, if sadly under-utilized. So I can't say it's quite worth watching on the whole, but the ending is something else altogether--one of the craziest, trippiest movie sequences I've ever seen. It was Disney's first non-G-rated movie, and man, they saved up a lot of their punches for that ending.
Only one page for you from this President's Day, but my excuse is slightly better than usual, and I've got an image-filled post! Which still doesn't make up for it but ah well.
If you look closely at today's page you may notice that the lines are somewhat smoother and more intricate than usual, and it's because a friend of mine gave me a 1080p monitor! Man! So now I can have the whole comic blown up at double size while I'm working on it, which really helps when drawing tiny stuff. It took me a lot of fiddling around with it today to get comfortable--I'm awfully finicky and fear change, you know--but I think this is gonna be really good for A*. :D And since I'm twice as zoomed in when working now, I've doubled my working resolution to 7648x3800 (8 times the size you see it here), and that'll mean prints and stuff are sharper, and also it makes the art more flexible, as I can re-use it at more sizes for banners and so forth.
For instance, here's Selenis strutting along from today's page, when seen at the zoom level I'd have been working at on my old 1280x1024 monitor:
and here's my screen (shrunk down from 1920x1080) while working on the page: