About Me

Rob Pincombe is a prolific television writer, recovering comedian and sometime comic artist/storyboard artist who just wasn't satisfied with a single blog. He writes about sci-fi and fandom at rebelalert.com, Canadian comics at comicanuck.com, and shares thoughts and insights on writing at starkravingadventure.com

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gundam Control - "Mobile Suit Gundam" anime spawns real world applications

Welcome to the rebellion.

It's a Gundam world. Or at least, we're heading in that direction.

Thanks to rebel general Joe O'Brien's Hardcore Nerdity blog, we've received a tip that a new force is entering the fray for control of the galaxy.

After years of testing through intense animated adventures, Japan is at last ready to build their first, 18-metre tall, Mobile Suit Gundam to "guard" Odaiba's Shiokaze Park, an outdoor public park in Tokyo known for its creative art displays.

A cover story at The Mainichi Daily News insists this is merely a highly detailed statue built to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the "Mobile Suit Gundam" animated television series. But the detail on this thing is unbelievable. The report tips its hand when it reveals:

The lower half of Gundam's body, which measures about 11 meters high, has already been constructed. After other parts of the character's body are finished, including the head, arms and torso, they will all be assembled.

The completed Gundam statue is expected to weigh nearly 35 tons, move its head and emit light or mist from 50 points of its body.

We rebels have learned to read between the lines in transmissions like this. "Move its head"? That likely suggests tracking ability. "Emit light" is a euphemism for lasers if ever we heard one. And shooting "mist from 50 points of its body" screams deadly gas warfare or smoke-screen technology.

Gundam suits are heavily armored and extremely maneuverable. It's likely mere X-wing or Y-wing fighters would have difficulty winning a space dog fight with one. More of the Mainichi Daily News' photo reconnaissance of the Gundam suit can be found here.

After uncovering copies of the plans, a rebel force has been sent to destroy the suit before it becomes fully operational and on display at the park from July 11 to August 31. Luckily, the public display is free of charge so we were able to save some credits on this mission.

Sunrise's anime classic Mobile Suit Gundam, created by writer/director Yoshiyuki Tomino, premiered in 1979. Despite popularity, the sponsors backed away from a full 52 episode run but the production company, Sunrise, was able to negotiate 43 initial episodes. The ratings really took off once models of the various Gundam suits began to fly off the shelves.

Mobile Suit Gundam, along with Macross, is credited with moving anime away from the giant super robot (huge fantasy creations with an arsenal of fantastic weapons, imperiousness to damage, often transforming into different shapes and backed by a legendary or mystical origins). genre into the realm of so-called real robots (whose power sources and mechanics could be explained somewhat by real science).

Since then, Gundam (and Macross) have spawned a whack of sequels, movies, novels, manga and comic books. The influence of Gundam on pop culture is evident in the fact that Tokyo would put a life-size version of one on public display. The Japanese recognize that such "event: displays draw the public out and spawn dividends in terms of ancillary spending.

It's also a message to the world that Japan is ready to defend her borders with the latest in robot technology. Check the damage and ethical questions these powerful suits create in this preview of the newest Gundam incarnation from Sunrise and Bandai entertainment.

Gundam fighters like these may be closer to reality than you think. The various versions have spawned a number of real world initiatives driven toward creating the technology featured in the show and its various spin-offs.

The Times Online reports that the world's first academic institution based on a cartoon will debut this fall in the form of the Gundam Academy, staffed by a "virtual faculty". This is not to be confused with the Gundam Academy RPG. This is a real virtual institute created to promote “the most inventive possible thinking” and discuss how to turn the 66 year-old Tomino's series into reality.

The Times goes on to state that dozens of engineers, astrophysicists, doctors, anthropologists, linguists and city planners have been invited to contribute.
The agenda will be broad: the Gundam comic series has been running since the late 1970s and its storylines have constructed one of the most complete and complex future-scapes in science fiction.

Central to Gundam are the huge, occasionally dysfunctional, battle suits used by the characters to settle squabbles that arise as humanity fights over resources and power. The robotic engineering, the low-gravity control mechanisms and the life-support systems will all be subjects at the Gundam Academy.

One aeronautics expert involved in the project said that, as a serious scientist, he can see clearly which parts of Gundam are technically feasible and which are not.

Nuclear-powered thermal rockets and spherical helper robots should be pursued, he said.

Start digging those fallout shelters in the backyard. It's like the nineteen fifties race to nuclear supremacy all over again.... with cooler effects.

At a recent symposium held by the founders of the academy and academics, there were lively discussions about emulating the protective coating which prevents the fictional battle suits burning-up on atmospheric re-entry, and the airbags that protect the pilot from the violent lurches of battle.

The underlying storyline in the Gundam series is one of political strife, endless war and the challenges that arise when mankind begins to move away from Earth.

Shinya Hashizume, a professor of urban planning and architecture at Osaka Prefectural University, said: “Gundam presents the reader with many challenges that we will encounter. It is vital to begin conducting research into these. Scientific research in Japan desperately needs a flow of new ideas.”

Founders of the project told the Times they feel the project could inspire institutions and companies across Japan to look into new fields of research, perhaps including "the perfection of a universal translation device to moon settlements and the construction of a mega-particle cannon." Two out of three peaceful applications ain't bad, I suppose.

The people behind the project hope that by freeing the minds in attendance from the realities of everyday economics and political challenges and encouraging them to dream big, they will inspire new leaps of discovery and insight.
Shinichi Nakasuka, a professor of astronautics at the University of Tokyo and one of the founders of the academy, said: “Studying fiction is an excellent way to get ideas about the future. Scientists often restrict their way of thinking to what they factually know. The comic shows how ordinary people without much deep scientific knowledge can come up with very good ideas.”
It's not that big a leap, really. Star Trek inspired a great many real world, scientific applications. William Shatner profiled many in his book, "I'm Working on That", and the follow-up TV special, "How William Shatner Changed The World" (or "How Techies Changed The World With William Shatner" out side of Nortth America). Why do you think cellphones flip open like communicators? Computer voice recognition dialing, NASA deep space probe's ion propulsion and non-invasive medical imaging technology were all partly inspired by Star Trek.

Let's face it, most science geeks grew up as sci-fi geeks.

Dava Newman models her BioSuit flanked by the 40-year standard for
gas-pressurized spacewear and the designs seen in Mobile Suit Gundam.
Photo by Donna Coveney from MIT News' website slideshow.

Lauren Davis of io9.com, points out two possible areas where Gundam's influence may already have inspired innovation. MIT aeronautics professor Dava Newman has been working on a counter-pressurized BioSuit as sleek as those found in the anime series. And NASA has been working on nuclear thermal rocket research.

Newman shows off the suit's flexibility.
Photo by Donna Coveney from
MIT News' website slideshow.

Dr. Newman's suit is a marvel. She has responded to the serious limitations of mobility created by the bulky, heavy, gas-pressurized suits currently used in space. According to MIT's website, these suits suffice in zero-gravity but become quite a hindrance to even "partial gravity exploration missions". Dr. Newman has flown numerous experiments in space and done extensive, multidisciplinary research for the project.
Newman, her colleague Jeff Hoffman, her students and a local design firm, Trotti and Associates, have been working on the project for about seven years. Their prototypes are not yet ready for space travel, but demonstrate what they're trying to achieve--a lightweight, skintight suit that will allow astronauts to become truly mobile lunar and Mars explorers.

Over the past 40 years, spacesuits have gotten progressively heavier, and they now weigh in at about 300 pounds. That bulk -- much of which is due to multiple layers and the life support system coupled with the gas-pressurization -- severely constrains astronauts' movements. About 70 to 80 percent of the energy they exert while wearing the suit goes towards simply working against the suit to bend it.

The back of the BioSuit can accomodate an oxygen tank.
Photo by Donna Coveney from MIT News' website slideshow.
Newman's prototype suit is a revolutionary departure from the traditional model. Instead of using gas pressurization, which exerts a force on the astronaut's body to protect it from the vacuum of space, the suit relies on mechanical counter-pressure, which involves wrapping tight layers of material around the body. The trick is to make a suit that is skintight but stretches with the body, allowing freedom of movement.

...Another advantage to her BioSuit is safety: if a traditional spacesuit is punctured by a tiny meteorite or other object, the astronaut must return to the space station or home base immediately, before life-threatening decompression occurs. With the BioSuit, a small, isolated puncture can be wrapped much like a bandage, and the rest of the suit will be unaffected.

Newman says the finished BioSuit may be a hybrid that incorporates some elements of the traditional suits, including a gas-pressured torso section and helmet. An oxygen tank can be attached to the back.

...The new BioSuit builds on ideas developed in the 1960s and 1970s by Paul Webb, who first came up with the concept for a "space activity suit," and Saul Iberall, who postulated the lines of non-extension. However, neither the technology nor the materials were available then.

"Dr. Webb had a great idea, before its time. We're building on that work to try to make it feasible," says Newman.

MIT's TechTV also features a fascinating hour long address Dr. Newman gave on "Astronaut Performance: From Earth to Mars" and her BiosSuit to students from the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP). Aerospace engineering meets nueral engineering. She discusses human performance in space and shows off the BioSuit, which she hopes will help stave off the significant muscle atrophy and bone mineral density loss that astronauts suffer from in long-term missions.

The other Gundam-eque move forward pointed out by io9.com is the renewed call for research into nuclear propulsion for deep space missions. As this Space.com article by Greg Clark suggests, for all the sci-fi talk about anti-matter, improbability drives and solar or magnetic sails, such concepts are still confined to the realm of fiction and could take decades to harness, or longer.

And so engineers are currently stuck with making bigger, bulkier and extremely expensive versions of the chemical rockets we use today. But a cheaper and potentially more powerful option was all but abandoned 30 years ago in the call for a ban on anything nuclear. NASA's Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications (NERVA) program was apparently cut off in 1972 after extensive testing in the Nevada desert.
"It's continually talked about. Whenever you start seriously contemplating human missions back to the moon and Mars in an economical way with reuse potential, nuclear always comes to the foreground," said Stanley Borowski, a nuclear and aerospace engineer at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

In the past few months, several NASA notables, including associate administrators Joe Rothenberg and Gary Payton, have mentioned publicly that nuclear power in space transportation deserves a closer look.
The system currently being suggested is very similar to those suposedly used in Gundam robots: a Bimodel Nuclear Thermal Rocket. The system was developed by Borowski and his fellow GRC aerospace engineer Leonard Dudzinski to provide both "thrust and electricity for a human-crewed mission to Mars." The article goes on to discuss the ways in which nuclear rockets are more efficient, providing enough power to get a crew to Mars in Mars rather than years and still be able to supply all electrical needs, refrigeration, and the mechanics required to create artificial gravity.

The pro-nuclear scientists also suggest nuclear power is the safer proposition. The nuclear is not used to actually launch the vehicle, the nuclear engines only come online in the depths of space with extensive shielding. Borowski is even quoted as suggesting the small amounts of concentrated uranium used in the on-board reactors are "no more dangerous than a large pile of dirt"!

So the potential is there for the power sources we've seen in Gundam. It's obvious NASA has little interest in this particular project having military applications, but in a world fraught with nations jockeying for political and technological superiority, a military application is never far from worried anti-nuke minds.

I am reminded of a 10-year old documentary also narrated, coincidentally enough, by William Shatner, "Nukes in Space: The Rainbow Bombs". Written and directed by Peter Kuran, who won an Academy Award for "The Atomic Bomb Movie", the film makes extensive use of footage of ICBM tests on the lip of our stratosphere which accidentally led to the discovery of the Van Allen Belt, a "donut-shaped band of radiation trapped by the Earth's magnetic field" and a world gripped with fear of radiative death raining down from space.

It looks like we really are are heading toward a Gundam world. Whether it's a utopian world of peace inspired by man's exploration of our universe or the battle scarred society of world burned by nuclear destruction depends on what the artists within us all draw next.

Dava Newman explores space in her mechanical
counter-pressure BioSuit on the MIT Campus'
Henry Moore sculpture "Reclining Figure".

Photo by Donna Coveney from MIT News' website slideshow.


A New Hope: Death Star Repairmen and the Imperial News Relaunch

Welcome to the rebellion.

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy yada yada...

Darryl Gold, the mad mind behind the unique filmmaking challenge that is Darryl's Hard Liquor and Porn Film Festival (A short film comedy festival that challenges filmmakers the world over to make funny films on sex) and related event, The 69-Hour Challenge, made a fun little Star Wars fan film years ago called "Death Star Repairmen".

After many challenges with hosting and hackers, Darryl has moved the site and relaunched. So it's a good chance to share the film with all of you.

He's also relaunched a site I created to support his film. It's The Imperial News, the official newspaper of the Death Star and the Galactic Empire. I did articles, recipes, product reviews and fake comics etc. The site is back on the net here in its new home.

My work on The Imperial News eventually inspired this very blog, rebelalert.com. I still hope to find time to draw Star Wars based comics and gag stuff, in addition to writing about sci-fi and fandom.

But in the mean time, enjoy the dry humour and ridiculous bliss of Death Star Repairmen once again!, thanks to the fantastic folks at TheForce.net.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Star Wars Sunday Comic 013 - Leia

Welcome to the rebellion.

Our beloved rebel general seems to be distracted from her strategic planning lately. We hope she gets it together before the Death Star gets within firing range.

This smuggled Sunday Comic from the Imperial News may shed some light on the issue. Enjoy this week's Leia.

With thanks and apologies to Cathy creator, Cathy Guisewite.

For more Imperial News, click here.

Enjoy more Cathy here.  Learn more about Cathy Gusiewite here.

The Comics Curmudgeon sums up the comics you hate to read, so you won't have to read them at all. But the funny process will more likely make you read them anyway!


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus!! Who are you rooting for???

Welcome to the rebellion.

Finally... the ultra-stars you love. The
colossal talents you've been dying to see share the big screen. But can it ever be big enough for... ...Deborah Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas?

Feast your eyes on the wonder that is Asylum Film's MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS!!

Who are you rooting for? Take the poll at EW.com!

I love this crazy world.

Deborah Gibson always strikes as pretty down to Earth in her interviews. And very accepting of her place in Pop Culture history and her career. She's a pro through and through and more talented than people give her credit for. She says she had a ball on this over at her

I give her a big thumbs up here.
And she's even founded a charity to help kids who can't afford it attend arts camps. It named, appropriately enough, Deborah Gibson's Electric Youth.

Zappin it to ya
The pressures everywhere
Goin right through ya
The fevers in the air
Oh yeah, its there!
Dont underestimate the power
Of a lifetime ahead

Electric youth
Feel the power, you see the energy
Comin up
Coming on strong
The future only belongs
To the future itself/in the hands of itself
And the future is
Electric youth
Its true you cant fight it
Live by it
The next generation...

Its electric

Lorenzo Lamas? Tougher to call.

Debbie's ex-husband doesn't get a lot of respect from the public and I have a bit of a personal reason not to gravitate to the guy. But he does co-chair a number of charities and the dude is doing summer stock, for heaven's sake.

This time out the shark and octopus put Mr. Lamas over the top.

The sheer joy and sublime ridiculousness of the flick (and it's "You get what we promise you" trailer) has caught the public's fancy. It's one of the highest rated searches for the last week and already has over 800 thousand views on youtube. It's the kind of buzz filmmakers of any budget level dream of.

So leave logic at the door and just enjoy the trailer, again and again.

And oh, remember that dusty script in my drawer I thought no one would buy?

I was
sooooo wrong.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Wars Sunday Comic 012 - Dengar The Horrible

Welcome to the rebellion.

You can't trust bounty hunter scum. Especially ones on the Empire's payroll.  That's why we can't help giggling at the latest Star Wars Sunday Comic from the Imperial News: Dengar the Horrible.

Silly Dengar hates going to fancy stuff with his wife... Hee hee. 

With thanks and apologies to Hagar The Horrible creators, Dik and Chris Browne

For more Imperial News, click here. To see Death Star Repairmen, the fan film that inspired that site and this one, click here.

And check out Chris Browne's blog right here.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Universe A Trifle? Pt. 2 - Actually, the universe is a raspberry donut

The Simpsons explain the universe once and for all.

Welcome to the rebellion.

Last time out we discussed the discovery that the universe, or at least parts of it, tastes like raspberries and smells of rum. We then touched on a seemingly innocent Simpsons episode in which Homer posited to Stephen Hawking that the universe was a vast donut, intriguing the animated cosmologist enough to contemplate stealing credit for the supposition.

Is a mention on a universally beloved animated sitcom enough evidence to suggest that our galaxy is a giant, gourmet dessert? Perhaps not yet, but scientific theories based on less substantial food evidence have eventually proven themselves right. I’m taking to you, Isaac Newton’s apple tree. The truth is that despite starting as a throwaway joke, Homer’s Donut Theory would prove prescient.

Let’s take a larger bite out of this conundrum and see if there is more here to chew on.

And no, I will not apologize for all the foodie wordplay. How often are opportunities like this presented to you on such a gilded, silver platter?

I discovered the first evidence of the Expanding Donut Theory in a quirky little Taiwanese animated program I provided English adaptations for several years ago. Pandalian featured a group of cuddly, not-so-bright, panda heroes who were trying to protect their world from the evil King Audie, who wanted to turn the whole planet into a shopping mall. The entire series takes place on Pandalia, a world shaped like a giant donut in space, complete with icing and candy sprinkles.

To this day, the donut world with icing and sprinkles never fails to make my writing partner smile. Mmmm, sprinkles.

Whether astrophysicists, cosmologists, or mathematicians were inspired directly by Homer Simpson to consider a new shape for the universe is debatable. But one things is sure: as computer modeling, advances in deep space astronomy and sheer computing power have developed over the last decade, scientists have been given the opportunity to explore radical, alternate theories on how our universe came to exist and what shape, and taste, it takes.

On March 11, 2003 (my birthday), the New York Times printed a Dennis Overbye article with evidence that Homer’s theory may be a more than a cosmic joke and in fact, could answer certain questions astronomers have held for a long time (“Universe as Doughnut: New Data, New Debate”). NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anistrophy Probe had been recording the pattern of microwave radiation ‘heat’ that is believed to be the afterglow of the Big Bang. From the mountain of data retrieved, scientists were attempting to finally “test speculations about the shape, or topology, of the universe that until recently have been relegated to the abstract mathematical margins of cosmology.”

According to the article, the new evidence suggested the universe could be much smaller than previously thought. That played some havoc with the favoured theory of “an infinite universe with ordinary Euclidean geometry”. One shape that fit nicely with the new findings was a closed circle donut-shape, or in mathematical terms, a torus.

More Donuts! This picture of a donut-shaped celestial gas cloud with
a black hole filling was published by NASA on July 24, 2004. It
illustrates their findings that such clouds may ring many
of the more massive black holes.

Overbye helps explain the concept by comparing the findings to an early video game similar to Asteroids:

"The simplest of these compact universes is something called a 3-torus, a doughnut wrapped in three different dimensions... In two dimensions it works just like the Spacewar screen.

…(Spacewar) consisted of two rocket ships attempting to blast each other out of the sky with torpedoes while trying to avoid falling into a star at the center of the screen…

…Although cartoonish in appearance, the game was amazingly faithful to the laws of physics, complete with a gravitational field that affected both the torpedoes and the rockets. Only one feature seemed outlandish: a ship that drifted off the edge of the screen would reappear on the opposite side.

Real space couldn't work that way.

Or could it?

Imagine that the Spacewar screen is wrapped around to form a cylinder or a section of a doughnut so that the two edges meet.

Rather than being infinite in all directions, as the most fashionable theory suggests, the universe could be radically smaller in one direction than the others. As a result it may be even be shaped like a doughnut."
''There's a hint in the data that if you traveled far and fast in the direction of the constellation Virgo, you'd return to Earth from the opposite direction,'' said Dr. Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

The idea of a donut-shaped universe had been floated before but did an offhand comment by the Simpsons gave it more resonance in the public mind and perhaps in the mind of the scientific community? There are definitely Homer-ish elements to the scientific reasoning quoted by Overbye’s article.

Since cosmologists have had difficulty calculating how an infinite universe could have come to be out of the current model, they assume the universe may find math hard as well. A Homer approach if ever I heard one:

“Nature, they contend, might have had an easier time making a small ''compact'' universe than an infinite one, and they assume Nature would take the easy way out.”

"They assume nature would take the easy way out" is officially my new favourite quote. Dr. George Smoot, a University of California physicist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, had this to add:

''The basic idea is that God's on a budget.”

Oh man. THAT is my new favourite quote. So, for those paying attention, we now know the universe is essentially a galactic slacker and likely on the Pogee.

Dr. Glenn Starkman, an astronomer at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland suggest the universe might grown have this way to “avoid the difficulties of the infinite.”

“Besides being difficult to create, an infinite universe is philosophically unattractive.”

Hmmm... "Philisophically unattractive" may not be my new favourite quote, but it is my new official buzz slogan.

So we now add overwhelmed, ugly, ennui-ridden philosopher to the universe’s personality. The universe is Hamlet?

What Starkman really seems to be saying is that an infinite universe if both difficult for mankind to fully grasp and pretty much impossible to fully explore and prove. And that is frustrating and inspiring all at once.

The final words in the Times article are that of Cambridge University cosmologist Dr. Janna Levin, author of “How the Universe Got Its Spots, Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space”. In an e-mail message quoted by the article Levin confides, ''I suspect every last one of us would be flabbergasted if the universe was so small.” Upon first hearing about the new satellite data, she summed up that combination of fear and wonder thusly. ''I tried on the idea that we were really and truly seeing the finite extent of space and I was filled with dread. 'But I'm enjoying it too.''

As more data is gathered and more theories are debated, the closest we come to truly understanding our universe may be in the hands of the quantum physicists, who have combined mathematics and philosophy into a theory that everything is unified and linked in a myriad of ways. The evidence continues to support that simple supposition. It’s the specifics that keep changing.

There are imperfections with most any theory and the celestial donut is no exception (Just go to any random physics forum). And yet you can't keep a good idea down. The donut is back in the news with more new data, as you can see here, here, here and here. And if you really want to science geek on this story, you can find more details of the theory at www.donut-universe.info.

Paul Halpern, author of What's Science Ever Done For Us: What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Life, and the Universe, does a pretty good job of explaining the concepts at his Amazon blog here and in this Sept. 6, 2007 article for Cosmos Magazine online.

There's a more on the effort to create an accurate map of the universe here.

And just for kicks, check out this nifty, designer model of the donut universe created by design collective To22 by way of dvice.com.

Really, this article tells us more about astronomers, physicists and newspapers than space itself. Humanity is always looking for ways to understand our world and metaphors and comparisons are a great tool to get across the complex math behind many of these theories. When a surprising metaphor captures our attention and has a link to an insanely popular television show, well now a paper’s got a hook to lure readers in with.

Thus the donut universe gets more attention than the orang- shaped universe or the saddle-shaped universe. But those simply lacked that extra zing. If we had footage of Gene Autry or Toby Keith singing plaintive, cowboy tunes about their trusty saddle universe, we’d find it in the Times. Or at least a blurb in People.

Because all these comparisons are easy to imagine and so evocative, I now have a very personal picture of the universe. A giant hand-shaped nebula grasping a donut-shaped universe with a raspberry rum filling and a Milky Way icing.

Delicious. If someone get me the math on that concept I'll be in my office.

There’s a reason they’re called “theoretical physicists”. Much like philosophy, cosmology is an ever-flowing discussion of the nature of man and his world that can never truly reach a conclusion. No one can ever fully know the shape of the universe because we simply can’t see that far. The new ability to gather better evidence fuels the desire to find new explanations and indeed, new questions.

Questions like…

Would you like sprinkles on that?

Our final thought, and the universes final moments,
are courtesy of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XVI.


Monday, May 4, 2009

The Universe A Trifle? Pt. 1 - Space tastes like raspberries and smells of Rum.

Welcome to the rebellion.

To all you space-faring, would-be conquerors out there, it’s finally official; the way to the universe’s heart may through its stomach.

While I’ve been in orbit on the event horizon of the collapsed black hole my hard drive has become, attempting to coax my lost files from the ether, galactic foodies everywhere were treated to the news that portions of our beloved Milky Way galaxy taste like raspberries and smell faintly of rum. Said combination reminds me simultaneously of my mother’s pie and an old landlord who refused to do even the smallest of handyman jobs without a jigger of scotch or a rum and coke.

Last Tuesday, April 21st, an article announcing this discovery appeared on the Guardian’s science page. For years, astronomers and cosmologists have studied deep space for signs of amino acids, the building blocks of life. Finding such signs would raise the possibility that life could have emerged on other planets after being lightly sprinkled, er, seeded by such vital-to-life molecules.

An electromagnetic study of Sagittarius B2, a huge dust cloud at the centre of our galaxy failed to find amino acids but did uncover evidence of ethyl formate, the chemical chef responsible for the flavour of raspberries and smells just like rum. I shall translate the meaning: Our galaxy is a vast, delicious trifle.

Or as one member of the team put it:

"It does happen to give raspberries their flavour, but there are many other molecules that are needed to make space raspberries," Arnaud Belloche, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, told the Guardian.

That is officially my new favourite science quote.

The same team also found the “lethal chemical propyl cyanide in the same cloud”. I hope the Milky Way has clearly labeled the ingredients in its pantry.

The team has soaring hopes they will one day find Amino acids for several reasons: They have already found almost 50 molecules in their survey, two of which no one has seen before. Last year, they discovered the presence of amino acetonitrile, a molecule that can be used to make amino acids. And finally, ethyl formate and propyl cyanide molecules are the largest molecules found in deep space yet. They are as large as the simplest amino acid, glycine, prompting excitement that more complex molecules are out there to be uncovered.

Thanks to more powerful technology and impossibly powerful telescopes like the ones mentioned in my last post on this stuff, “The Cosmos Tips Its Hand”, astronomy may be the most fascinating arm of science going.

And it’s even more incredible how new discoveries seem to confirm so many pie-in-the-sky ideas from yesteryear. Oh yes… there will be many more food references.

Theoretical physicist, Stephen J. Hawking, though confined to a wheelchair and paralyzed by neuromuscular dystrophy, is more famous than most rock stars. Some of this fame can be attributed to the enormous popularity of his book, A Brief History of Time. But a greater impact may have come from the fact that his fame grew at the same time science fiction found a new renaissance in pop culture.

Hawking has been referenced in song, video games, books, comic books and newspaper strips, cartoons from the Fairly Odd parents to Dilbert, a Red Dwarf television special and the sixth season cliffhanger of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Descent, Pt. 1).

On one of his numerous appearances on the Simpsons animated series, They Saved Lisa’s Brain (Season 10, 1999), Hawking has a drink with Homer at Moe’s and muses, “Your theory of a donut-shaped universe is intriguing, Homer. I may have to steal it.”

Hah ha. The universe is like food.

Wait, could it be…?

More next time in Pt. 2!...


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Star Wars Sunday Comic 011 - Han and Chewie

Welcome to the rebellion.

Our trusted wookiee spy arrived with sensitive information stolen from the Emperor's private computer console, the Imperial News latest Sunday Comic: Chewie and Han.  

Our big, hairy pal also brought several limbs covered in blood and broken pieces of stormtrooper armor and truthfully, we were afraid to ask about them.  

With thanks and apologies to the amazing creator of Calvin and Hobbes, comics god Bill Watterson

For more Imperial News Comics, click here. For a peek at Bill's rarer material, click here.