Another Day, Another Blog

August 6, 2009

Random haikus

Filed under: when natures strikes back, writer's block — iamza @ 5:34 pm

Snow falls: travelling

through cold night skies unaided,

no need of a ship.

. _._.

The northern lights: a

magneto-charged romance

between earth and sun.


June 26, 2007

Excuse me, Sir, but your dark matter just ate my moon!

Filed under: curiosities, sci-fi, when natures strikes back — iamza @ 3:51 pm

Why is the science in made-for-TV movies often so laughably bad? Not that Hollywood blockbusters are all that much better, but at least the blockbusters have bigger budgets, giving them sparkly special effects and other assorted eye candy.

In Dark Storm, a bunch of scientists come up with a way to super-charge dark matter, and transform it so that it disintegrates matter. Of course, one of the scientists decides super-charged dark matter would make a really handy weapon of mass (literally!) destruction, and sets in motion an evil scheme which puts the fate of the world in jeopardy. Also, Stephen Baldwin gets infected with dark matter and becomes a lightning mage. Stephen Baldwin’s movie wife is less than enthusiastic about the new spark this introduces into their relationship. Oh, and the Smoking Man from X-Files makes an appearance — he’s now General Smoking Man.

I think my favourite moments in the movie were when the super-charged dark matter made tornadoes that ate famous landmarks. Lesson learned from disaster movies: Never buy a house near by a famous landmark. You’re just asking for trouble…

Someone in Sci-Fi UK’s  programming department has a wicked sense of humour. No sooner was Dark Storm complete than Stephen Baldwin returned to the screen in another disaster flick, titled Earthstorm. A massive asteroid impact knocks the moon from its orbit, and sends debris raining down on Earth. Tides and weather are affected by the changed lunar orbit, but, more critically, the asteroid impact has cracked the moon, and it is slowly coming apart. It is up to a demolitions expert (Stephen Baldwin) and crackpot scientist to save the planet…but first they must overcome the resistance of egomaniac and sceptic Dirk Benedict.

Biggest pet peeves: (1) The ease with which the shuttle became available for launch to the Moon — with turbo-boost nuclear pulse engines, to boot! (2) As far as I know, the crew aboard a shuttle in high Earth orbit is weightless. (3) Sealing the crack, if it’s even possible, would do nothing to stabilize the lunar orbit. “Too bad, so sad” for the Earth on that score.

I’m quite intrigued by the idea of using an electromagnetic bomb to collapse the chasm walls of the Moon in towards one another. I don’t know how the bomb would work — how does it impart a sufficiently large charge to one wall of the chasm without similarly charging the other wall? How magnetically susceptible are Moon rocks, anyway? 

I started off scoffing at the notion of a satellite-cracking asteroid impact. But the leading hypothesis for moon formation suggests that the Moon formed when a Mars sized body collided with Earth, knocking out a huge chunk of the planet. That debris later acreted to form the Moon.

Funnily enough, one of the strongest  arguments in favour of the impact origin for the Moon is the lack of a significant iron-rich core — results from the Lunar Propector experiment back in 1999 suggest that the lunar core makes up maybe 3% of the Moon’s mass. In contrast, the Earth’s core accounts for roughly 30% of the planet’s mass.   

Images of the Moon’s magnetic field are fascinating. Unlike the Earth, the Moon does not currently have a global dipolar magnetic field. This does not negate the possibility that, in the past, there was a functioning geodynamo on the Moon, but, given the small size of the lunar core, any such geodynamo was likely short-lived. The magnetic anomalies observed on the Moon are isolated and, on average, have an amplitude less than a hundredth of those observed on the Earth. Given their spatial correlation with significant craters (the strongest anomalies are located on the opposite side of the Moon from the youngest and largest impact craters), it is possible that the magnetic anomalies we observe today on the Moon were created by transient magnetic anomalies during impact

If nothing else, Earthstorm succeeded in one respect: it piqued my interest sufficiently that I found myself googling the Moon’s magnetic field. It’s a pity the same cannot be said for dark matter and Dark Storm.

June 5, 2007

Five lessons I learned from Desmond Bagley novels

Filed under: books, the joy of life, when natures strikes back — iamza @ 12:08 pm

1) Landslide left me with the indelible impression that earth scientists live exciting lives, full of adventure. They spend most of their lives outside in an ever-changing laboratory. Duties include such ardous chores as camping in the wilderness for days at a time, and consuming large amounts of beer.

Downsides to pursuing a career as an earth scientist: occasionally, their work makes them extremely unpopular, and they get shot at.

2) Wyatt’s Hurricane made me long to be a meteorologist, if only because then I’d have an excuse to move to the Caribbean, or Far East. It’s not like we get many hurricanes here in England.

This book was my first introduction to the cloud seeding experiments of the sixties. It finished on a surprisingly optimistic note, with Wyatt eventually devising a means of controlling hurricanes. Sadly, weather modification in reality has turned out to be a much trickier proposition than this novel suggests. That, or possibly thanks to an over-abundance of caution and paperwork, we modern scientists lack the boundless optimism and enthusiasm of our sixties predecessors.  We dare not attempt experiments that could potentially put thousands of lives at risk without first going through every health and safety check ever devised. All things considered, this is probably a good thing — especially for anyone living in Florida and along the Gulf Coast.

Other lessons from this novel: never trust an Ernest Hemingway wannabe, or a revolutionary.

3) I was a first year geology student when I read Night of Error, and learned of manganese nodules on the seafloor. In the seventies, all sorts of folks were throwing away money in an attempt to find an economically feasible way to mine the nodules. By the nineties, they’d pretty much given up.

I figure in about fifty years, someone is going to take the set from James Cameron’s The Abyss, and make a submarine mobile manganese nodule mining platform. Possibly, they’ll even find a giant squid, or three. 

Also, Electrolux and Dyson will fight it out, each trying to outdo the other when it comes to developing giant environmentally friendly vaccuum cleaners for the seafloor. Think about it: Spring cleaning for the Earth! Get rid of all that pesky seabed sedimentary gunk, and free up the seafloor basalts for proper scientific study. 

4) Running Blind introduced me to the joys of intelligence work and geyser avoidance. Really, don’t all spies spend their days dodging geysers and bullets in Iceland? And, hey, when they’re on vacation, the spies could potentially get together, and make up a volunteer volcano watch/fire service.

5) The Snow Tiger remains my favourite of all of Bagley’s books. An investigation into a disastrous avalanche in New Zealand reveals that the avalanche may have been deliberately triggered. From this, I learned that if you want to live in a house in mountains where snow falls in winter, make sure the hillside above has not been deforested. Better yet, buy a house in the Caribbean instead. Also, never date a girl with over-protective brothers who (a) are bigger and/or meaner than yours, and (b) outnumber you.

May 15, 2007

Bad weather

Filed under: when natures strikes back — iamza @ 5:00 pm

I find this BBC news story interesting because many recent books and news articles about climate change I’ve stumbled across seem to have the same “Omigod, the climate is going to explode and kill us all tomorrow!” message. Apparently, some climate scientists are now suggesting that the ‘Hollywood-isation’ of climate change is doing more harm than good. When sensational words like ‘irreversible’,  ‘runaway’, and ‘catastrophic’ are employed, the viewing/reading audience is led to believe that global climate change is inevitable, unstoppable — like a juggernaut — and so they are less likely to make necessary lifestyle changes. “Why bother, if the Earth is only going to go to pot in fifty years anyway?”

I admit that I, myself, have been generally apathetic when it comes to making lifestyle changes. And, in part, this is indeed because I don’t think that any changes I make will have a significant effect on the global climate. But, if every person on Earth thinks that there is nothing that they can do to change the inevitable outcome of global warming, then ultimately, we end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Just thinking about meteorological Hollywood-isation, funnily enough my own viewing in recent months has included a number of weather-related disaster stories…

Superstorm: Some mad scientists get it into their crazy heads to try and manipulate the weather by seeding storms and altering the path of potentially killer hurricanes. Things go wrong, people die, and it is, of course, all the fault of the American government. Politicians — man, you’d think they’d have realized by now that dead taxpayers mean less money in the trough…

Storm: A climate scientist (Luke Perry) learns that the secret American government think-tank that hired him wants to learn how to manipulate weather for less than altruistic reasons. Wow, shocker — especially given we, the audience, learn fairly quickly that the American military is involved. Are there any good military folks on TV outside of the Stargate programs?

Supernova: The sun goes crazy, and the world almost catches fire. Scientist Luke Perry is hidden away with other important people in a secure underground location so that when the world has finished ending, they can rebuild the Earth. Or something. I caught this one in a midst of a manic fit of channel-flipping, and didn’t stick around — probably just as well.

Lightning: Bolts of destruction: Intense sunspots cause killer positive lightning bolts that, left alone, will intensify to the point of flipping the Earth’s magnetic poles thus causing a global ice age. Happily, an experimental power station up in the Arctic leaps into action and saves the day because the leading characters in this film are more concerned with soap opera-style family infighting than in, you know, saving the planet.

The Day After Tomorrow: Global warming kills the Gulf Stream, resulting in a bout of supercooling. In Britain, it starts raining helicopters. Some kid and his girlfriend get stuck in the New York Public Library, where they vandalize and burn everything in sight — but this is okay, because otherwise they would have died of the cold. Too bad; I was kind of rooting for the cold…

Twister: An oldie but a goodie, starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. Based on a script by Jurassic Park author, Michael Crichton, and introducing a whole generation to the joys of stormchasing, in my opinion this is the weather movie by which all others must be judged. I love this movie too much to make fun of it (even if Westerly from The Princess Bride does go up, up, and away…)

Night of the Twisters: I know I watched this, but for the life of me I can’t remember any specifics. John Schneider starred — I know this because he was pretty much the only reason I tuned in. There were tornadoes. And there were screaming kids, I think. Otherwise, this was imminently forgettable.

Tornado Warning: Gerald McRaney plays a scientist who has developed a system for predicting tornadoes, but nobody, including his journalist daughter, believes him. For me, the best part of this film was the mayor/sheriff (of the town that McRaney is trying desperately to save in spite of themselves), who spends most of the film prancing about in a leopard skin-patterned bodysuit and huge cowboy hat, and driving a pink cadillac with antlers attached to the front grille. I mean, there’s a politician who isn’t afraid to make a statement! 

Category 7: This one was so bad that even I couldn’t be persuaded to stick around to watch how it all ended. And, as a general rule, I like Z-grade disaster flicks…

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