Category Archives: The final frontier

A cosmic “face” in the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849

Here’s an interesting image:

A cosmic "face" in the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849. Image: NASA

A cosmic “face” in the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849. Image: NASA

It’s a smiley face in space! This image was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, but spotted by a contestant in Nasa’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition, and shows an example of an Einstein Ring caused by gravitational lensing. This is a phenomenon that was theorised by Einstein, when he suggested that light can be affected by gravity. In this case, the light from the smaller, distant galaxy is bent by the gravity of the closer stars in front, and appears distorted in a ring around the stars, magnified to produce a ‘lensing’ effect and allowing us to see a galaxy that usually would not be visible to us. Fun science!

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One year on WordPress! Happy birthday Electric Puppet!

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Well- today is my 1st anniversary on WordPress, and to be honest I never thought that I’d stick with it for a few months, Let alone a whole year! I can’t say that my reach has been that far, but I’m happy, as this blog has been something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while, as it provides me with the opportunity to just share things I find of interest, and to get things off my chest at occasional intervals. Also, I no longer keep a diary, and so it’s nice to be able to look back over it to see my first thoughts on various texts and to keep a track of my intermittent ‘Life Updates’. I’ll come back to this point at the end of this post, but for now will steal a bit from my New Year post, where I referred you to the best of Electric Puppet in 2013, and add some of 2014:

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

Lastly, I’ve got quite a few more book reviews and posts to get up on here over the next few weeks, but am toying with the idea of doing slightly more regular random life-post blogs, a bit like a daily blog. Feel free to comment if you think that this would be a good idea or not.

Happy birthday Cassini!

I only came across this today, so it is a few days late, but it turns out that the Cassini probe went into orbit ten years ago on 1st July. This infographic presents some key facts about the mission to Saturn:

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

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New Books: April

As promised on my last book-purchases post, here are my new acquisitions from April (albeit a tad late):

 

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  • Geoffrey Berg- The Six Ways of Atheism: New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God     10p
  • Patrick Moore- The Guinness Book of Astronomy     10p
  • Lesley and Roy Adkins- The Keys to Egypt: The Race to Read the Hieroglyphics     20p
  • Suetonius- The Twelve Caesars    99p
  • Caesar- The Conquest of Gaul     99p
  • The Paston Letters     10p

 

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  • Charles Dickens- Great Expectations     20p
  • E. W. Hornung- Raffles     20p
  • Penelope Lively- Moon Tiger     20p
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin- We     £2
  • Ralph Ellison- Invisible Man     £2
  • Leo Tolstoy- War and Peace     50p
  • Mary Shelley- Frankenstein     10p
  • Philip K. Dick- The Man in the High Castle     50p
  • Jonathan Swift- Poems Selected by Derek Mahon     Bought for me
  • William Shakespeare- Henry IV Part 2, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night     50p each

 

Also, I had these bought for me (which I’d asked for):

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  • Timothy Taylor- The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture
  • Evelyn Waugh- Brideshead Revisited
  • Hermann Hesse- Strange News from Another Star and Other Stories
  • Dante- The Divine Comedy Volume I: Inferno, The Divine Comedy II: Purgatory, The Divine Comedy III: Paradise (I translated by Mark Musa; II translated by Dorothy L. Sayers; III translated by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds)

 

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New, reclaimed, libraries etc.

More books!

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  • Solomon Northup –  12 Years a Slave     £1.25
  • The Britannica Book of Genetics     50p
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels –  The Communist Manifesto     1 of 3 for £1
  • Michel Foucault –  Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison     2 of 3 for £1
  • Henrik Ibsen –  Four Major Plays     3 of 3 for £1
  • Patrick Moore –  On the Moon     £1.99

I also picked these books up from my parents’ house:

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  • Philip Pullman –  The Ruby in the Smoke, The Shadow in the North, The Tiger in the Well and The Tin Princess
  • Philip Reeve –  Mortal Engines
  • Eleanor Updale –  Montmorency

Yes, they are all childrens/teen fiction, but as with many of Pullman’s works, this quadrilogy of ‘Sally Lockhart’ books are as good as any adult novels in both style, plot, langauge and themes, and the Reeve book I haven’t actually read, but want to as it is a dystopian work in a similar vein to many sci-fi classics. Hell, why am I defending myself here for wanting to read or re-read children’s fiction? I feel as though this is an argument I am having with myself, and am sure that I am the only person who needs convincing that it is okay. When it comes to classic and decent fiction, the boundary between children’s and adults is decidedly and rightly blurred, and is one that is getting more and more irrelevant for me as time goes on. Blame Ted Hughes and his children’s poetry, which is also adult poetry; blame Lewis Carroll; blame Tolkein and J.K. Rowling.

…and on the theme of children’s works (and Ted Hughes) I also got this:

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I already own the tie-in version of this that was produced at the time of the film ‘The Iron Giant’, but that has certainly seen better days, and so when I saw this ‘Faber Classics’ edition with the 1980s cover restored, I thought that it was worth the £2.99 that I paid for it. You can’t tell here, but the title and the rivets around the border are all in shiny gold foil and are imbossed, which really adds to this edition and makes it a nice collectors piece. The book also looks far more substantial in this format, as the text is rather large and so the book has been padded out to over 100 pages. Also, this is the first brand new Faber & Faber book that I have bought since Seamus Heaney’s ‘Human Chain’ in paperback in 2011 (as opposed to second-hand), and so it is the first time I have seen the new Faber typeface in print:

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It looks a bit odd initially alongside the double-f logo, but I don’t think that it looks at all bad. it certainly has a nice 1920s/30s feel to it, harking back to the Faber of Eliot, and that is never a bad thing. Here is the font in greater detail, taken from their website:

 

Faber

Image: faber.co.uk

Hopefully, I may see that grace my poetry in the near future… Yeah, right. I can but dream…

Lastly, two of our local libraries have been having booksales, and so I got these few:

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  • Jon McGregor –  even the dogs     10p
  • Frank Herbert –  Hellstrom’s Hive     10p
  • Mohsin Hamid –  The Reluctant Fundamentalist     10p

…and these…

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  • Ian Fleming –  Goldfinger     25p
  • Irvine Welsh –  Trainspotting     25p
  • Thomas Hardy –  Jude the Obscure     25p
  • Philip Reeve –  Predator’s Gold     25p
  • Jenny Turner –  The Brainstorm     25p
  • Archie Brown –  The Rise & Fall of Communism     10p

 


 

I’m wondering with these new book posts whether I should start doing them monthly instead of as-and-when I buy. I just think that that would be a bit easier and make this blog a bit more tidy. Also, I hope to sort out all my arch & anth, poetry and other books soon so as we can buy some bookcases, and then I can actually start using them again and have easy access to them, rather than them being piled up and very impractical. I’ll let you know how I get on, and promise to post some pictures once the shelves are assembled and the books arranged. Watch this space!

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The Scale of the Universe — 100th post!

I’ve been wondering what I should do for my 100th post (I feel like this is a milestone I’ve reached, and an achievement that I’ve stuck with this blog for this long), and then remembered an animation that a physics teacher showed at work the other week to a class of Y10 students. I don’t know if they really appreciated it, but my mind boggled when I saw it. It really puts into perspective the position of the Earth within the wider universe, and genuinely surprised me just how incredibly small things are, as well as illustrating very well that size is only really relative. I’ve got very little else to say about it, as it speaks for itself really, but I urge you to click on this link and have a look:

The Scale of the Universe

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2013- Electric Puppet’s first 5 months in review

2014

Well- it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to reflect on what has gone on over the past year. For my family, this has been a big year, as we left the comfort and splendour of Oxford to return to our home city of Stoke-on-Trent; I graduated from university; I got my first job; we decided where we want to go with our life in the near and more distant future, thanks to an American man and his family on YouTube; I completed my first book of poetry, which had been languishing prior to this summer; I took the plunge and begun this blog, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while; and have got back in contact with several family members that I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade thanks to Facebook. It has been eventful, and had also been emotional and tiring for all of us. Also, with any luck, next year should be just as eventful- beginning work; trying to get my book published; endeavouring to write the novel and short story collection that I’ve been planning for a month or so; and getting married. Yes: my partner and I are getting married next year!

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In terms of this blog, I will be getting up several ‘Thoughts on…’ posts for the books I have read recently- the first two Adrian Mole books, Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’, Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’- in the new year, and hopefully will get the first few up on New Year’s Day. For now, though, I thought that I would highlight a selection of posts from this blog that have proved popular, may have been overlooked, or are of relative interest for me.

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

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Lastly, here are a few fellow bloggers that I’ve come across in the past few months that you may find of interest:

Don’t Bend, Ascend

These Bones of Mine

Bones Don’t Lie

A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe (written by one of my Anglo-Saxon lecturers from Oxford; he has since moved on to work at Birmingham University)

Museum Postcard

Prehistories

Interesting Literature

I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that 2014 will be good for you.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

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The best selfie out-of-this-world!

space selfie

 

I saw this photo yesterday, and thought that it was too good not to share on here. Following on from my posts on the Papal selfie and the Darth Vader selfie comes this new addition to a very occasional series, which was taken by (I think) a Japanese astronaut on a space-walk from the International Space Station. You can see the sun sitting on the left, but the best bit for me is seeing the reflection of the Earth in the astronaut’s helmet. Just wonderful. Nothing else to say really!

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z8_GND_5296: the Oldest Galaxy in the Universe

Furthest galaxy

 

That little fuzzy red splodge enlarged above is the memorably named z8_GND_5296, a galaxy that has recently been observed by the Hubble Telescope, and then been confirmed by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. As the title of this post says, it is believed to be the most distant galaxy ever observed, at a staggering 30 billion lightyears from Earth. The galaxy as we see it is as it was 13.1 billion years ago (the discrepancy between the distance and the age is due to the expansion of the universe), and shows the galaxy 700 million years after the Big Bang. In cosmological time, that is ridiculously close to the beginning of the universe, and so scientists hope that this can shed light n the earliest phases of the universe and the creation of galaxies. Indeed, so far we know that z8_GND_5296 is quite surprising and somewhat exceptional, as it is only about 1-2% the mass of the Milky Way, is rich in heavier elements, and yet it is turning gas and dust into new stars at a remarkable rate- hundreds of times faster than our own galaxy is. It is only the second distant galaxy discovered that has a high star production rate, showing that there were some very evolved galaxies in the early universe.

This galaxy has a redshift of 7.51, beating the 7.21 of the next furthest, and it is hoped that with better telescopes, even further galaxies still will be able to be observed. Perhaps it may even be possible to image the earliest stars in the universe from only a few million years after the Big Bang. Exciting stuff!

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Thoughts on Shakespeare… and ‘Star Wars’…

Shakespeares Star Wars

Yep. You did see that book cover image right. There is indeed a lost manuscript by Shakespeare that has recently been unearthed titled ‘Star Wars’, which seems to have been in the private collection of a one George Lucas (before he sold the work not to the Bodleian or the Library of Congress, but to Disney) and mercilessly plagiarised in order to make several moderately successful films… Okay, I jest. ‘Star Wars’ has been more than moderately successful…

I’m joking, obviously (…), but there is indeed a book out entitled ‘Shakespeare’s Star Wars’ by Ian Doescher, which reimagines Episode IV as if it were a play by The Bard. My wonderful partner bought me this when we were in Oxford for the Graduation last week, and I devoured it soon after due to the sheer brilliance of the concept, and my mutual love of ‘Star Wars’ and Shakespeare (although my love of the former is somewhat greater than that of the latter…). Indeed, the book is actually ridiculously good (and borders on the ridiculous), as the dialogue is highly convincing as Shakespeare whilst also being so ‘Star Wars’: for example, the famous line “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi; you are my only hope” is kept, becoming this:

“Oh help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, help. / Thou art mine only hope.” Act I Scene 6, Line 73-74

I was also interested to see that several famous Shakespearean lines had been preserved in slightly modified form:

  • “- that all the world’s a star.” Act I Scene 7, Line 98
  • “I do not like thy look. Indeed, young lad, / I bite my thumb at thee.” Act III Scene 1, Line 57-58
  • “What paradox! What fickle-natur’d power! / Aye: frailty, thy name – belike – is Force.” Act III Scene 6, Line 51-52
  • “…We enter swift unto the area / Where should there be great Alderaan in view. / But pray, what madness meets the Falcon’s flight? / Is this an ast’roid field I see before me?” Act III Scene 8, Line 2-5
  • “A plague on 3PO for action slow, / A plague upon my quest that led us here, / A plague on both our circuit boards, I say!” Act IV Scene 4, Line 120-122
  • “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not, / Yet have I ta’en both uniform and life / From thee. What manner of a man wert thou? / A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?” Act IV Scene 6, Line 1-4
  • “It hath defenses ‘gainst a large assault, / But like a king who fell for want of horse / This station may be crush’d by smaller might.” Act V Scene 4, Line 29-31
  • “Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears.” Act V Scene 4, Line 65
  • “Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more!” Act V Scene 5, Line 231
  • “So Biggs, stand with me now, and be my aide, / And Wedge, fly at my side to lead the charge- / We three, we happy three, we band of brothers, […]” Act V Scene 5, Line 248-250

There may be more, but those were the ones that I picked out. I also like the other Shakespearean devices that Doescher employs, such as the use of asides and soliloquy, the clever wordplay, and the way in which C-3PO and R2-D2 take on a role akin to that of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in ‘Hamlet’. It is also clever that within this version of ‘Star Wars’, R2-D2 actually uses English in his asides to show that he is far more intelligent that many of the other characters, and allows us to actually see the droid as a character with proper emotions, thoughts and views. Also, this adds comic value to many of the exchanges between R2 and C-3PO, as the latter is unaware of much that the former thinks, making him seem somewhat stupid.

I quoted above Doescher’s interpretation of the line originally spoken by Hamlet when he is confronted with the skull of the jester Yorick, and just wanted to point out that here, we have an element to the play that is missing in the original film. In this soliloquy, we have Luke musing upon the helmet he had procured from a dead Stormtrooper as a means of disguise, imagining the person that once wore it. In the films, there is no sense of the ‘troopers as people; rather they are faceless soldiers, and so it is nice to see this extra flash of humanity added to make us think for a moment upon the true nature of those who make up the enemy side. I don’t want to dwell on this point, but it would be nice occasionally if this sort of thing was done- not just in film and literature, but in the current news and in our teaching of history (I’m thinking of the killing of insurgents in Afghanistan and the dehumanization of German soldiers in the two World Wars as two examples).

All-in-all, this is a remarkably good book, that doesn’t require prior knowledge of either ‘Star Wars’ or any of Shakespeare’s works (although knowledge of both does improve the enjoyment and the understanding greatly), and it is definitely something that I will come back to again and again.

Image: Michael Sloan/Yale Alumni Magazine

Image: Michael Sloan/Yale Alumni Magazine

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Voyager-1

voyager1

You may have seen that a few days ago, scientists announced that they had confirmed the Voyager-1 probe finally left our Solar System on 25th August 2012, after having been launched on 5th September 1977. In this time, the probe photographed in spectacular detail the planets beyond the Asteroid Belt, and has simply kept on travelling away from the Sun towards deep space. It is thought now to be around 19 billion km (19000000000km) from Earth, and any radio signals sent by the craft take 17 hours to reach us due to this insane distance. The power source onboard is believed to still have enough energy to keep Voyager going until 2025, after which it will stop transmitting and simply drift further and further out, carrying its cargo of one gold LP until it is picked up by aliens, absorbed by a star or smacked by a rock. However, for now it can still provide us with information, despite its cameras having been disabled and several of its instruments turned off. It detected a change in the flow and temperature of particles in order to signal its passage through the heliopause at the edge of our Solar System, and with any luck will continue to send us back information about the composition of an area of the universe that we can never otherwise reach and which until now we knew nothing (or next to nothing) about. It’s just a shame that the cameras weren’t still working, as it would be amazing to see our sun from such a distance and to get a glimpse of our galaxy from such a different vantage point.

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A new theory on why civilisation dawned

That’s an interesting image to be at the top of a post about the dawn of civilisation. It would be assumed that it would be more apt for a post about the end of civilisation, but no. The idea that all life on Earth came from outer space via an asteroid has recently gained credence, with scientists expressive the belief that said asteroid could have come from Mars and brought primitive life from there, and I for one find the arguments in favour highly compelling. However, I came across an article earlier today on ‘The Times’ website that suggests a meteor may also have had something to do with man’s (and woman’s) move to sedentary living and life within urban centres (I won’t call them ‘cities’, as I don’t want to get onto that debate…).

The idea is that a meteor struck in Quebec, Canada, around 12,900 years ago, and caused the onset of the colder, drier period known as the Younger Dryas. Previously, it was thought that this change in climate came about due to the rupturing of an ice dam that let a vast quantity of fresh water into the Atlantic and subsequently stopped currents carrying warm tropical waters towards Europe. Small droplets of molten rock known as spherules have been discovered in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that match chemical fingerprints of rocks in Quebec, and which suggest that they were formed under the high pressures and heat of a meteor impact in Canada. No crater has been found yet, but it suggests that the shift to agriculture as a more reliable source of food and thus eventually sedentary living that came about due to the change in climate may have been a fluke brought about by events that begun many millions of miles away from Earth. Also, this is one of the more rare occasions where two of my loves- namely archaeology and space- can come together in the same article! I am very intrigued to see whether this is definitively proved (or at least proved as much as is possible).

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