my god, it’s full of stars

High-resolution original image here. Technical details about the EHT:

Creating the EHT was a formidable challenge which required upgrading and connecting a worldwide network of eight pre-existing telescopes deployed at a variety of challenging high-altitude sites. These locations included volcanoes in Hawai`i and Mexico, mountains in Arizona and the Spanish Sierra Nevada, the Chilean Atacama Desert, and Antarctica.

The EHT observations use a technique called very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) which synchronises telescope facilities around the world and exploits the rotation of our planet to form one huge, Earth-size telescope observing at a wavelength of 1.3 mm. VLBI allows the EHT to achieve an angular resolution of 20 micro-arcseconds — enough to read a newspaper in New York from a sidewalk café in Paris.

This image is fated to be as iconic as the Pale Blue Dot and Earthrise.

Of particular note is that the algorithm to combine the data from all the different sources was the product of research by Dr. Katie Bouman, who is the overnight face of women in STEM, deservedly so.

Here’s a wide angle shot of the area around the black hole, from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray telescsope:

Star Trek belongs on television

The Trek movie franchise is dead, again.

The last time I was really excited about a Star Trek movie, it was Generations. I had missed The Voyage Home in the theaters, being only 12 years old, So The Final Frontier was my first theatrical Trek, which completely underwhelmed. I dutifully trekked out to watch Undiscovered Country, but had no real interest because TNG had already been on TV for a few years and completely replaced and redirected my Trek fandom. (Worf’s grandfather was a nice cameo, but that was about it). Generations, though, was the Big Thing. It was going to be everything I ever wanted – old Trek, new Trek, Kirk and Picard. Even the absence of Nimoy and Kelley didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. While I was watching it, I kept trying to convince myself how awesome it was. But at the end, even the (admittedly, magnificently executed) set-piece sacrifice of the Enterprise-D just felt like a tired retread of what Trek had done before.

no theatrical Trek moment will ever match this one.

Afterwards, I watched the new movies just as dutifully, but more out of obligation than anticipation. First Contact just turned me off entirely, packing too much Borg retcon and comparing poorly to Deep Space Nine, which was doing exciting and insane things. Poor Worf just looked bored and eager to get back to the station. I didn’t even bother watching Nemesis, predicting (correctly) that it would be a retread of Khan; and they didn’t even give us a primal yell moment. I ended up watching Nemesis on a plane and didn’t feel like I missed anything.

Except maybe this one.

I keep using the word retread for a reason. The next batch of Trek movies set in the Abramsverse felt like they were trying too hard to make Star Trek into Star Wars. Couple that with the massive retcon underway with Enterprise, and it felt like there was just no real Trek left. And of course, they did a retread of a retread, with Kirk and Spock and Khan all over again, which just felt like an insult.

Beyond changed that. It was comfortable in its own skin, it was fun, it felt like Trek. But it was too late. And because Hollywood is expensive, and actors have contracts, and movies have to compete with other ones, the long march to finally getting a good Trek movie was just unsustainable. There will be no Trek 4:

As of now, Star Trek Discovery is apparently delivering action-packed Star Trek-worthy thrills on CBS All Access while Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville is going the topical sci-fi and talk > action interstellar adventure route over at Fox. Not only is the Bad Robot Star Trek franchise not the only (or biggest) Star Wars-type series in town, it’s not even the only major Star Trek option for fans and general consumers. And with Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth apparently refusing a pay cut (from contracts foolishly negotiated before Star Trek Beyond opened), Paramount had little choice but to walk away from a movie likely to cost as much as Transformers but earn about as much as Bumblebee.

And I am really, 100% positively, absolutely okay with this. Chris Pine has better things to do than to play Kirk, and that’s fine. Quinto’s Spock was cool, but Spock is like Superman – more of an archetype than tied to any one actor. And the “new” Enterprise could never really compare to the old one, especially when we get to see her again in all her modern television glory at last.

Nothing compares. Millennium what?

If not for Beyond, I’d be saying good riddance to the Star Trek movies. Instead, I am saying Rest in Peace. Star Trek is best when it has time to develop its characters, craft its message, and take its time. Star Trek is about exploring the human condition, with space as a proxy, in the best tradition of science fiction. It never wore the mantle of blockbuster thriller all that well.

Star Trek belongs on television. With Discovery, the upcoming Picard show, and even Orville out there – the ethos of Trek is alive and well, on the small screen. The next generation of Trek is back home.

Earthrise 50th anniversary

50 years ago on Christmas Eve (Dec 24, 1968), the astronauts aboard Apollo 8 took an amazing series of photos of the rising earth behind the limb of the moon, while in orbit. The first photo was black and white, and subsequent ones (with the earth having risen farther from the moon horizon) were color, and now with some digital magic, these are combined into one image. Glorious.

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth comin’ up. Wow, is that pretty!” — Astronaut Bill Anders, Apollo 8

Featured on APOD; Original image credit Apollo 8 / NASA; processing by Jim Weigang; CC license and google photo album.

Daredevil cancelled

This is tremendously sad, but inevitable, news:

Per Deadline Hollywood, Netflix announced this evening that it has canceled Daredevil, just weeks after the show concluded its critically acclaimed third season. This news shouldn’t be too surprising, but this one is a particularly tough blow for fans.

Clearly Netflix is cleaning house, since this follows surprise cancellations in October of Iron Fist and Luke Cage. That just leaves Jessica Jones and The Punisher on Netflex’s roster of Defenders. Both have new seasons in the pipeline that are currently slated to air on Netflix as planned, according to Deadline’s sources. But they will, in all likelihood, be on the chopping block eventually as well.

This is disappointing, because the realization of Daredevil and Punisher in particular has been absolutely sublime. In an era where we have actors signed up to play characters for a decade in the movies, only getting half as much time with these characters on television feels like being shortchanged, even though we have on balance many more hours of actual screen time with them.

I am hoping that Daredevil at least has a cameo in the upcoming Punisher season. Jessia Jones is an interesting character but doesn’t have the raw resonance of the duality between Frank and Matt, who are in a way the true reflection of Batman vs Superman (even though Daredevil’s philosophy is more Batman-esque, but there isn’t supposed to be a perfect mapping here). These two characters have enormous potential and they at least should be prioritized to survive. The Netflix heroes were never allowed to break into the cinematic universe, despite obvious hooks (Luke Cage at least mentioning Wakanda?).

The Disney streaming service is going to have a lot of Star Wars and MCU filler. It would be incredibly shortsighted of them to abandon Daredevil and Punisher and the rest of the heroes. They are far meatier than anything proposed thus far.

philosophy authors

My friend Keith offers an interesting list of authors who have influenced him, oriented towards his field of philosophy.

A similar list for me must include Douglas Adams, for his comments on the nature of faith, which were particularly insightful to me as a believer even though he came at it from atheism). Adams always comes up when I’m talking about philosophical questions, on this blog anyway.

Cognition is more complicated than IQ.
Cognition is more complicated than IQ.

Also, 20 years later, Douglas Hoftstader still makes my list, more so for Metamagical Themas than G.E.B. The fundamental idea I took from this was that there are fundamental limits to Reason. Thanks to his writing, I eschew binary thinking about cognition, I believe there is no such thing as being “super-rational,” and 15 years ago I even setup a group blog experiment dedicated to this idea. A good discussion ensured here at Haibane about it, too. I credit the Hoft with also introducing me to Godel in general, and thinking about the implications for faith, a topic i have explored several times since.

The third book I need to mention here is Rene Daumal’s Mount Analogue. He died before finishing it, but the incomplete story is published, thankfully. The entire idea of an asymptotic ideal is at the heart of my understanding of god (and the religious concept of jihad) and there is a strong component of Platonic thought embedded within. Alas, I no longer have a copy of this book, having lent both of mine away and forgotten to whom I lent them.

Let’s also give credit to Yoda – or rather, George Lucas, for the incredibly meaningful “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter” line. Such a simple message, but so powerful, and inheritor of a vast body of thought on its own.

More recently, I read (audiobooked) Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel; Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, and (heh) On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt. These count as philosophy for me because they try to answer the question of who we are and WHY we are. Next up on my list is On the Shortness of Life by Seneca, since generally compatible with the Stoicism worldview.

Ultimately though, philosophy is about the exploration of what it means to be human, what it means to be alive, what it means to BE. And as a genre, I have found more interesting explorations of these ideas in science fiction than I have in philosophy texts or authors. But that is a separate list entirely.