Dawn

So, I wrote this story as part of an assignment I used in the Geology of the Solar System class I taught Spring 2018. Hope you enjoy it.


Everything, it seemed, had gone flawlessly.

The small light sensor installed in the grand ice shield (or at least what was left of it) that was affixed to the front of the Copernicus collected just enough photons to send a message to the central computer. Time to wake up, it called. The AI, or as we called it, Rawiri, began to run through the procedure to bring the Copernicus out of its long hibernation. Banks of sub-computers sprang to life, sensors turned on and began self-diagnostics, the ion engines began to turn, slowly at first but accelerating with every minute.

The first question Rawiri asked was “how long has the ship been travelling?” Far in the rear of the ship, near the nuclear reactors that provide all the power to the vessel was an atomic clock that would keep precise timing for millennia, because, well, you never know. The Copernicus passed the Tezcatlipoca Station on the outskirts of the solar system on March 11, 2453. A quick calculation showed that, at least based on old Earth time, it was the morning of January 22, 2935.

After about an hour of testing and calibrating, Rawiri decided things were ready. So, after almost 500 years, I opened my eyes. Of course, I had to pause for a moment after I realized that no, these weren’t my eyes, not the same ones that I looked through when I travelled by Santiago for the last time. For one thing, these eyes didn’t blink. Yet, I could perceive all the same things I remembered from touring the Copernicus before launch.

No one really knew how long our mission was going to last, even if we were travelling at nearly 50% the speed of light. As much as our best scientists tried, perfecting long-term cryostorage of humans tended to end, well, in a sloppy mess. Instead, it was the computer scientists who figured out a way to store the contents of an entire mind in vast data banks. So, the decision was made to send not the bodies of explorers, but their minds, locked in the Copernicus’ crystal drives, to be downloaded into new, machine bodies when we arrived … wherever we were. I was Dr. Diego Montañez when I left Earth, age 63 (I had been terminally ill, so an ideal candidate for the download). Now, I think I’m still Diego, at least in mind, but now in a new body … well, 500-year-old body that’s new to me.

The choice was made to keep our minds locked in the crystal drives in stasis for the duration of the journey because no one, not even our best cyberpsychologists, could predict exactly how a human mind would handle hundreds of years of waiting as data. There was much debate about whether our minds would be able to handle the transfer into our new bodies or just fundamentally reject the notion that we were, for all intends and purposes, reborn as a new lifeform. However, at least for me, things didn’t seem that different.

I stepped out of the storage slot that my body was positioned and took a few steps. Yup, just like my old body … well, before it started to break down. These new bodies were designed as bipedal and symmetric, just like human bodies, partially to help with adjusting to our surrounding and partially as a tribute to their makers, if and when we contact whatever is out there. We all were allowed to choose the colors of our chassis so we could tell one another apart (I choose red, blue and white for the old Chilean Republic) but beyond that, the RT765 bodies we know inhabited were all identical.

“Diego”. Something echoed in my mind. “Diego, behind you”. I turned my head and there was Toshiko, body festooned in brilliant yellow. OK, that was going to take some getting used to. Rather than have vocal communications, we were all connected across the ship’s comm to talk, for lack of a better word, telepathically. We couldn’t read each other’s minds, not with the personal firewalls, but we could talk to each other even if we weren’t in the same room, heck, same planet.

“I’ve been asking Rawiri where we are. From the best calculations, we’re approaching HD 101364. I think that’s 208 light years from Earth. We’ll be slowing down and entering the system in about 2 days.”

“Yup, HD 101364 is about a billion years younger than our Sun, but I didn’t think it had any planets?” We both looked around to see where that voice was coming from, forgetting our newfound skills. “Sorry, it’s me, Freema. I’m still in astronavigation.”

“Why’d Rawiri steer us this way you suppose?”

“Beats me” Freema replied, “maybe we just ought to ask them.”

Although Rawiri was an AI rather than a human mind, they were actually about as close to human as you could be without being born of a human parent. Their job was to keep an eye on systems and stars that the Copernicus would pass and if anything promising appeared, then head that way, waking up the ship fully when it was close to the star.

Before any of us to could ask Rawiri, an alarmed Freema called us all down to astronavigation, “You all might want to see this.”

Although, with our new synthetic bodies, we could have all just viewed whatever was being shown in astronavigation, human instinct lead to us run down the hall to the dark bridge of the ship. What greeted us was unlike anything we could have expected.

“Wait, HD 101364 isn’t a double star, is it? Is Rawiri mistaken about where we are?”

Two suns blazed in front of the Copernicus, or any least what looked like two suns. From this distance, still at least 47 hours out, they were both brilliant yellow discs that happened roughly the same size.

“Yeah, that’s 101364. I’ve checked and doublechecked and then checked again because I couldn’t believe it.” Said Freema, continuing to read the complex datastream.

“Could Earth have missed that 101364 was double star?” asked Toshiko, “I mean, it is quite distant and the stars seem awfully…”

Before she could finish, we all fell silent. The star on the left started to, well, it looked like it was starting to fall apart. A cascade of brilliant shards fell away from the bottom of the star and then disappeared. Finally, I worked up the courage to ask the question that was on all of our minds.

“Rawiri, why did you wake us? What did you find at HD 101364?”

“Diego,” the AI replied, “I found nothing.”

“Then why are we headed to the star?” followed Freema, clearly frustrated.

“Freema, I found nothing at HD 101364,” said Rawiri, “However,” the AI paused, “I was invited to visit the system.”

Freema was already scanning through the logs and sure enough, six days ago the Copernicus received a message from the star in front of us that merely said “come.”

We all fell silent once again, finally realizing what had happened and what we saw as the star had released those splinters. 500 years ago, we set out to find if there was life in the rest of our galaxy and HD 101364 just sent out its greeting party.

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Tax Reform Takes Aim at American Education

The taxing of tuition waivers for graduate students is a full front assault on education, science and research in America. Make no doubt about it, there is not a single good reason why tuition waivers need to be taxed beyond someone in an office in Congress wanted to find money somewhere to help defray the cost of the big corporate tax cuts.

What is a tuition waiver, anyway? When many students decide to go to graduate school for a Masters or Ph.D., they take jobs as teaching or research assistants. These jobs don’t pay much — these days it might be between $15-$30,000 a year. If you are single (and not all graduate students are, many have families), then you can make due depending on where you live.

However, as part of this, the university will waive the tuition fees that come with being registered as a student in at the university. That could add up to tens of thousands of dollars of tuition you don’t have to pay. Yes, there are still fees that are in the hundreds of dollars and yes, you might have to pay some or all of your health insurance. But with that tuition waiver, most graduate students who can land an RA or TA position don’t need to take out loans to pursue their graduate education.

The tax reform bill that passed the U.S. House removes tax code that prevents tuition waivers from being seen as income. Remember, students never see that money, they just don’t have to pay it. The current tax bill makes that taxable income. Let that sink in. Suddenly, on paper, you might be “making” $80,000 a year when you really only get paid $25,000. Sure, you can deduct the cost of the maintenance of your private jet, but now you’ll be paying taxes on money you never, ever had.

Who does this hurt? Everyone. This is a tax plan that penalizes everyone who wants to get advanced degrees to become a doctor or a cancer researcher or a geologist or an botanist who studies food crops or a ecologist who studies cattle ranching practices or your child’s next history teacher or your pastor who goes to divinity school. Advanced degrees are not the realm for the rich, privloiedged few but are a training ground for so many vital pieces of our economy and research.

I would not have been able to go to graduate school for my Ph.D. in geology if this existed in the early 2000s. It would have been impossible. Today, I teach students at a liberal arts college and try to instill a sense of lifelong learning and curiosity, but the reality of this tax bill is that it eviscerates the ability for many, heck most, people from pursuing such endeavors. It will overwhelming impact lower and middle class students, many of which are students of color. It is the opposite of how America can become great.

If this passes the Senate and is signed into law by the president, it would devastate research across America. The number of students going to graduate school would plummet and the amount of talent that we have that could make the next breakthrough or found the next big company or find our next en energy resource would vanish. It is as simple as that.

At best, this is an oversight that needs to be corrected in whatever final version of this bill might exist. At worst, it is a full frontal attack on education and research in this country. For the sake of our country, I hope that Congress can realize how bad this would be and how little they gain from making this change.

Call or email your congressman or Senator today to make it clear that we cannot destroy American education for the sake of tax breaks for the few.

My Favorite Albums of 2016

So, yeah, 2016 is (almost) over, so we got that going for us, right?

This is my annual list of albums that I liked. Not the best albums. Not the most innovative albums that were shattering our conceptions of music. Just albums I found myself listening to repeatedly. You likely don’t agree on a number of levels, and likely on an equal number of levels I don’t care. No, that’s a little mean-spirited. What I mean is that I’m not trying to impress anyone with this list, so don’t be mad if I didn’t properly recognize the-most-brilliant-musicians-of-our-time-that-I-happened-to-not-care-that-much-for-anyway.

Also, there are likely some omissions thanks to the fact that I haven’t had a chance to listen to certain albums. Only so many minutes in the day, eh?

That didn’t excuse me from getting into some non-2016 acts/albums this year, including the Both (Ted Leo & Aimee Mann), the Blondie and Morphine back catalogs.

Without further ado, let’s take one last look at 2016 before embarking into 2017 with the hope that we all make it to 2018.

#20 Speedy Ortiz: Foiled Again EP: Appearance #1 of Sadie Dupuis on this list, this time with her full band. More or less my 2016 mantra came from the first line of this song.

#19 Touché Amoré: Stage Four: I actually found this album really hard to digest, mostly because of the subject matter … but got to mean something that I have, repeatedly. Probably the first post-hardcore band to make my top list … ever?

#18 The Men: Devil Music: This could possibly reflect the mood of the latter half of the year, but I predict a strong comeback of this style of giving-no-f&$ks music.

#17 Kristin Kontrol: X-Communicate: Synth pop! Excommunication has a recreational activity!

#16 Iggy Pop: Post Pop Depression: The most David Bowie album on 2016, including David Bowie’s last album.

#15 Future of the Left: The Peace and Truce of the Future of the Left: Again, my enjoyment of this album may reflect 2016 more than the album itself. Nothing wrong with that as we’re all creatures of our surroundings.

#14 David Bowie: Blackstar: I mean, if you know you’re going to go out, why not release an album in the same month that feels like you might have recorded it after you shuffled off this mortal coil?

#13 Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits & An Odd Entrances: I’m lazy, so I listed both Thee Oh Sees albums here. I’m guessing they release 3 albums next year to see how much they can push this exponential discography growth.

#12 Beyoncé: Lemonade: I liked it.

#11 Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had a Dream That You Were Mine: I probably haven’t given this album enough time to really understand it. I had that problem with the Walkmen, too. I think it will age well, though.

#10 Kendrick Lamar: Untitled Unmastered: This kind of a throwaway album is what finally allowed Kendrick Lamar to click with me. Ended up listening to To Pimp a Butterfly more after hearing this one, but at least he finally made sense to me.

#9 Savages: Adore: Brutal.

#8 Wolfmother: Victorious: You know, this is just kind of stupid garage rock, but we need more of that.

#7 The Kills: Ash & Ice: My favorite album cover of the year and continued a strong run by the Kills.

#6 Avalanches: Wildflower: I had just graduated from college with the Avalanches released their prior album … and that one took a long time for me to really get. This one had “Frankie Sinatra”, which might have been the song I listened to most this year (*I checked, it was #2. #1 is coming up)

#5 Run the Jewels: RTJ3: Late entry! Run the Jewels released this in a surprise move on Christmas Day. I maybe would be be happier if they dropped it on the original date right before DJT’s inauguration, but whatever, I hope El-P and Killer Mike release an album each year of the forthcoming mess.

#4 Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree: The most subdued and haunting Bad Seeds album, and that says something. “Rings of Saturn” could be the best Nick Cave song they have ever recorded. Then again, there is a lot of competition for that title.

#3 Sad13: Slugger: I spotified the heck out of this album right after the election and I think it helped me make it through that dark period. So, Sadie Dupuis, I thank you for that!

#2 Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool: Kind of like Nick Cave, Radiohead decided to go subdued and haunting with new album. “Decks Dark” is beautiful.

#1 Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid: It is all about tone this year, and Aesop Rock nailed it. I actually didn’t partiocualry care for the album the first time I listened. But then I listened again. And again. And again. Turns out “Mystery Fish” was my most-played song of the year.

MLB 2016 Predictions

I haven’t really written a prediction post in a few years, but being on sabbatical and all, I decided to take a whack. This is odd considering that I don’t have nearly as much time as before to pour over statistics and injury reports and all to make meaningful, baseball-rific predictions. This is not to say that I don’t have a pretty good grasp of teams that are good and bad for 2016, but the stuff in the middle is a little muddy. Anyway, enjoy! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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American League

East: I admit to being a Red Sox fan, but I think all this wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Boston media is overblown. This is a team that has won 3 World Series this century. They also rallied at the end of last season to not be 100% terrible. I have a good feeling. Additionally: the Yankees are due to collapse from old age. I also enjoy that the Orioles are using the ol’ “hit lots of homers” strategy to win. Before I read this, I thought it might be a good plan as I though home runs were down, but hey, I guess I’m wrong.

  1. Boston 90-72 (tiebreaker to Sox)
  2. Toronto 90-72
  3. Tampa Bay 84-78
  4. New York 80-82
  5. Baltimore 75-87

Central: The Indians pitching staff is too good for them not to make a big run and I think this year will be it. Or maybe I just like Mike Napoli. Much like the Yankees, the Tigers are due for an implosion as well.

  1. Cleveland 95-67
  2. Kansas City 87-75
  3. Chicago 81-81
  4. Detroit 79-83
  5. Minnesota 70-92

West: This division is a mess. Well, no. Houston knows where their towels are. The Rangers were surprising last season. That’s why I’m picking Seattle to win the division by a nose because “reasons”.

  1. Seattle 91-71
  2. Houston 90-72
  3. Texas 84-78
  4. Los Angeles 75-87
  5. Oakland 70-92

National League

East: I’m not sure why the Nationals never seem to work, but yeah, the Mets pitching is silly, so unless elbows explode, they will win the division. Also: the Braves and the Phillies are cannon fodder for the league.

  1. New York 94-78
  2. Washington 92-70
  3. Miami 79-83
  4. Atlanta 67-95
  5. Philadelphia 65-97

Central: With this division, you could conceivably have 2 100 game winners and 2 100 game losers. Which would be awesome.

  1. Chicago 100-62
  2. Pittsburgh 95-67
  3. St. Louis 90-72
  4. Milwaukee 61-101
  5. Cincinnati 60-102

West: When I think about it, I honestly don’t want any team to win this division. I do like Dave Roberts, so the Dodgers have it.

  1. Los Angeles 91-71
  2. San Francisco 88-74
  3. Arizona 82-80
  4. San Diego 72-90
  5. Colorado 69-93

Playoffs!

American League

  • Wild Card: HOU over TOR
  • ALDS1: CLE over HOU
  • ALDS2: SEA over BOS
  • ALCS: CLE over SEA

National League

  • Wild Card: PIT over WAS
  • NLDS1: CHC over PIT
  • NLDS2: NYM over LAD
  • NLCS: CHC over NYM

And in the saddest World Series ever:

Cleveland over Chicago

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers
Jun 14, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Francisco Lindor (12) reacts to tripping over first base after he hits a single in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

 

Favorite Albums of 2015

A funny thing happened in 2015. Looking at the Pitchfork year-end Top 150 albums, I’ve come to realize I have fully diverged from mainstream (well, music-nerd) tastes. Many of the albums on the list below not only missed the Pitchfork top 10, but don’t even get mentioned in the whole top 100. I went through and listened to some of the “best” albums and songs on their lists and yes, I’ve become old. I don’t like them, not one bit. I tried to be open-minded, but Drake is actually terrible. Kendrick Lamar just don’t click with me. I’ve liked plenty of hip-hop/rap albums in the past, but the current sound isn’t working. Maybe I’ve missed the boat and that boat is out to sea and isn’t coming back. I can live with that.

Anyway, with that uplifting introduction, here’s my favorite albums from the year that was.

Honorable Mention

Belle & Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
FFS: FFS
Telepathe: Destroyer
Björk: Vulnicura
Hot Chip: Why Make Sense?

10. Built to Spill: Untethered Moon

9. Matt & Kim: New Glow

8. Dan Deacon: Gliss Riffer

7. Chvrches: Every Open Eye

6. Faith No More: Sol Invictus

5. Father John Misty: I Love You Honeybear

4. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love

3. Desaparecidos: Payola

2. Metric: Pagans in Vegas

1. Grimes: Art Angels

Top Albums of 2014

Yes, it’s the time of the year where I actually post something in this space. So, without further ado, here’s my top 20 albums of 2014. Enjoy.

Honorable Mention. “Weird Al” Yankovic: Mandatory Fun
No explanation required, right?

#20 Timber Timbre: Hot Dreams
Probably helped along a lot by a single really great title song, but worthy of #20.

#19. Vulcano: Live Wild Die Free
The video for “Choir of Wolves” is pretty messed up, but if you can’t have the Knife, this is pretty close.

#18. TV on the Radio: Seeds
Clearly not their best album, but hard to go wrong with TV of the Radio.

#17. Girl Talk/Freeway: Broken Ankles
Girl Talk’s first non-mix album probably didn’t make the impact that he had hoped, but still a fun listen.

#16. Liars: Mess
Sometimes it takes many, many albums to finally get into a band. This was the album that finally did it for me with the Liars. Not sure why.

#15. Iceage: Plowing Into the Field of Love
Speaking of which, sometimes all a band has to do is almost completely change its sound for me to decide I like them. Iceage suddenly decided they were some sort of hybrid between Nick Cave and the Clash rather than a noise rock band and now we’re all good.

#14. Beck: Morning Phase
I’m a Beck-as-balladeer sort of fellow.

#13. Wolfmother: New Crown
I like guitars.

#12. St. Vincent: St. Vincent
See also: Liars.

#11. Rentals: Lost in Alphaville
The dozen of us who have missed the Rentals really had a banner year.

#10. Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots
I liked Damon’s first solo outing. I mean, I liked it, but didn’t love it. Sometimes I wondered if he was dozing off in the recording studio.

#9. Broods: Evergreen
Yes, we’re heard a lot of bands like this over the past few years. Too bad for you.

#8. New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers
It has been a bit since I really enjoyed a NP album, but this one was on the money (at least for a Pornographers’ record made in the last decade).

#7. Spoon: They Want My Soul
Britt Daniel and I are converging, musically. One day soon he’ll make an album that will top my annual list.

#6. Royskopp & Robyn: Do It Again
Synthpop. Glorious, glorious synthpop.

#5. Run the Jewels: 2
Here’s the thing that separates RTJ from other hip-hop albums these days. Listen to (the decidedly NSFW) “Blockbuster Night Part 1”. It starts off as a thunderous, dark and ominous track that then, without even a hint of warning, breaks out a flamenco beat, meshes the moods perfectly, then marches onward.

#4. Hamilton Leithauser: Black Hours
People who know me and my lists of favorite albums for the past decade could assume that if Hamilton recorded an album of spoken word diatribes on international tariffs, it would likely land in my top 5. You’re probably be right.

#3. Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast
If you had to pick my 1990s-00s version of Hamilton Leithauser, it would be Greg Dulli.

#2. Allo Darlin: We Come From the Same Place
So quietly did you sneak up on me that it took a glance at my most-played songs on iTunes to notice how much I listened to your album.

#1. Aphex Twin: Syro
OK, this list does feel like its populated by a lot of bands of yore that happened to release new material this year. Does this mean that I am no longer in touch with the pulse of new music or that back in the day, things were much better. I dunno, maybe both?

With apologizes, as always, to all the bands you like that I didn’t mention.

Here’s to 2015!

GeoRock!

I’ve been working on this for a while, a playlist of geology related/inspired/themed/named songs and artists for a little playlist. It surely isn’t the be all/end all of geoRock, but hey, no playlist ever is. If you do track down all the songs, they will fit nicely into a normal CD-R, but for our purposes, I’ve linked to YouTube for your listening enjoyment (sorry about any ads).

GeoRock

  1. Eruption – Van Halen
  2. Megalodon – Mastodon
  3. Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
  4. Lava – The B-52s
  5. If You Want to Rock, Go to the Quarry – Last Hard Men
  6. Earthquake – Labrinth featuring Tinie Tempah
  7. Will Do – TV on the Radio
  8. Volcano – Presidents of the United States of America
  9. Tidal Wave – Apples (In Stereo)
  10. Missing Link – Dinosaur Jr. and Del the Funky Homosapien
  11. Pompeii – Sleater-Kinney
  12. Volcanoes – Islands
  13. Radioactivity – Kraftwerk
  14. Mammoth – Interpol
  15. Dinosaur Act – Matthew Sweet
  16. Metal Guru – T Rex
  17. Mica – Mission of Burma
  18. RUT! – B for Brontosaurus
  19. Ice Age – Joy Division
  20. Mutual Core – Bjork
  21. Coal – Michael Penn
  22. Diamonds and Gold – Tom Waits

Feel free to add suggestions of other GeoRock songs in the comments.