comment registration

One thing I value about this blog is that I still have loyal readers despite my long hiatuses and delays in posting. I can always count at least one or two comments on a post at minimum, and often from people who have never commented before. This is possible because of the open commenting policy here, but that’s also a weakness in that it allows spammers a toehold. The spam filter has been doing its job but lately more and more are sneaking past the defenses, and I am worried that it will get worse form here.

The question is the usual one facing a blog with a nascent community. Do I limit comments to registered users only, thus slamming the door on the casual readers who will probably never comment again? Or do i leave the door open in the hope that signal stays higher than noise?

I guess I could also install a plugin to auto-close old comment threads to see if that mitigates the problem. And there are math captcha plugins like I used before. But these are just symptomatic solutions.

So, lets see what you all have to say about it. What would you prefer? Whats your advice?

Star Trek Online – temptation

UPDATE – the sale is over. Star Trek Online is now priced at $39 (still $10 off retail).

Excalibur class starship - looks familiar
It’s bad enough that I got hooked on World of Warcraft. Now I see Amazon is selling the new Star Trek: Online MMO for a ridiculous 45% off – $28instead of $50.

Man, though, it looks cool. I haven’t seen a decent space combat sim since the X-Wing days. And they are integrating it into the timeline of the original series/movies and the reboot. The Klingons are at war with the Feds again, the Romulans are creeping around, there’s the Borg and even Species 8472. No mention of Section 31, though, unfortunately…

star-trekkin’ across the universe

Sometimes there’s a visible gulf between geekdom and academia, despite the stereotype of these two realms being congruent. I am reminded of this gulf by this odd story about a paper by William Edelstein, a senior and distinguished physicist (in my own field of MRI research), who has calculated the lethality of interstellar travel:

Interstellar space is an empty place. For every cubic centimetre, there are fewer than two hydrogen atoms, on average, compared with 30 billion billion atoms of air here on Earth. But according to William Edelstein of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, that sparse interstellar gas should worry the crew of a spaceship travelling close to the speed of light even more than the Borg decloaking off the starboard bow.

Special relativity describes how space and time are distorted for observers travelling at different speeds. For the crew of a spacecraft ramping up to light speed, interstellar space would appear highly compressed, thereby increasing the number of hydrogen atoms hitting the craft.

Worse is that the atoms’ kinetic energy also increases. For a crew to make the 50,000-light-year journey to the centre of the Milky Way within 10 years, they would have to travel at 99.999998 per cent the speed of light. At these speeds, hydrogen atoms would seem to reach a staggering 7 teraelectron volts – the same energy that protons will eventually reach in the Large Hadron Collider when it runs at full throttle. “For the crew, it would be like standing in front of the LHC beam,” says Edelstein.

The spacecraft’s hull would provide little protection. Edelstein calculates that a 10-centimetre-thick layer of aluminium would absorb less than 1 per cent of the energy. Because hydrogen atoms have a proton for a nucleus, this leaves the crew exposed to dangerous ionising radiation that breaks chemical bonds and damages DNA. “Hydrogen atoms are unavoidable space mines,” says Edelstein.

The fatal dose of radiation for a human is 6 sieverts. Edelstein’s calculations show that the crew would receive a radiation dose of more than 10,000 sieverts within a second. Intense radiation would also weaken the structure of the spacecraft and damage its electronic instruments.

All well and good and I have no reason to doubt Dr. Edelstein’s calculations (we medical physics types do have a professional interest in radiation dose and shielding, after all). But clearly Dr. Edelstein is not a fan of Star Trek, because even the most newbie of Trekkies knows about the Navigational Deflector Array. In addition, Starfleet vessels also have Bussard Collectors on the warp nacelles, which are the sci-fi-ified version of the Bussard ramjet.

My point is, physics geeks and sci fi geeks clearly aren’t as overlapping sets as I had assumed. But where a medical physicist might see errant hydrogen atoms as dose, a different kind of physicist might see them as fuel. In a way we scientists do bring our own biases to the table…

Take me out, to the black

This is just really, really cool – the crew of Endeavour STS-130 awoke this morning to the Ballad of Serenity.

And NASA announced it on Twitter – and is even hosting the mp3 for download. Though you can also get it from the Firefly Wiki.

funny comment from the thread at Whedon’s site: “and then the Space Shuttle program was cancelled. Coincidence?”

here’s the lyrics:

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care, I’m still free
You can’t take the sky from me
Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain’t comin’ back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can’t take the sky from me
There’s no place I can be
Since I found Serenity
But you can’t take the sky from me…

NASA Serenity

Riddick is coming

I am really looking forward to this!

David Twohy — who wrote and directed the first two films in the series, “Pitch Black” and “The Chronicles of Riddick” — will helm from a screenplay he penned.

Plot details are being kept under wraps. But insiders say the third outing will hew closer in tone to the cult hit “Pitch Black” and will focus on the character of Riddick as opposed to the universe he inhabits, which was the case with the critically panned “Chronicles of Riddick.”

(via AICN)

I really loved Pitch Black (and this was before I became a fan of Claudia Black from her SG-1 days) and for some reason it’s been heavily rotated on late night cable TV the past few weeks, and I just never tire of it.

See, J – a trilogy after all 🙂

Interview with Bill Watterson

This is really rare – C&H creator Bill Watterson has given an interview for the first time in over 20 years. In it, he firmly puts Calvin and Hobbes in his past – and intriguingly doesn’t see any role for himself in how the strip has affected people.

What are your thoughts about the legacy of your strip?

Well, it’s not a subject that keeps me up at night. Readers will always decide if the work is meaningful and relevant to them, and I can live with whatever conclusion they come to. Again, my part in all this largely ended as the ink dried.

Because your work touched so many people, fans feel a connection to you, like they know you. They want more of your work, more Calvin, another strip, anything. It really is a sort of rock star/fan relationship. Because of your aversion to attention, how do you deal with that even today? And how do you deal with knowing that it’s going to follow you for the rest of your days?

Ah, the life of a newspaper cartoonist — how I miss the groupies, drugs and trashed hotel rooms!

But since my “rock star” days, the public attention has faded a lot. In Pop Culture Time, the 1990s were eons ago. There are occasional flare-ups of weirdness, but mostly I just go about my quiet life and do my best to ignore the rest. I’m proud of the strip, enormously grateful for its success, and truly flattered that people still read it, but I wrote “Calvin and Hobbes” in my 30s, and I’m many miles from there.

An artwork can stay frozen in time, but I stumble through the years like everyone else. I think the deeper fans understand that, and are willing to give me some room to go on with my life.

There’s a bit more worth reading – I find it interesting that he essentially saw C&H as an outlet for him to express himself, and then retired it when there was no more left to say. He didn’t see it as a comic strip, in essence, but a novel. It’s a same that he never really regarded his characters as anything but characters; there’s a lot of narative left in them that others could pick up where he left off.

UPDATE – Shamus gives props to the man. Agreed, especially about how much he looks like Uncle Max.

Brian calls the interview a missed opportunity, providing examples of much better questions the interviewer could have asked. He also links the archive I mentioned earlier of Watterson’s old political cartooning work and an inscrutable fan-driven Q&A he did a long time ago. Does anyone know what Watterson is doing now? He seems to be JD Salingeresque.