Sunday, March 29, 2015

Batman Astronomy

I've been a fan of the 1960s Batman TV show since it first appeared when I was a wee, wee lad. I can't remember much about watching it back then other than the tremendous amount of excitement that I felt for the show.
Except for seeing the 1966 Batman movie, I've pretty much avoided the show as an adult, but now that the whole series is out on disc I'm watching it again.
With no superpowers, science and engineering were certainly important to Batman. Yes, the science and inventions were campy, but they were central to the story lines and Batman's ability to solve crimes. Even though science and engineering important to Gotham City's supervillains too, it was portrayed in a very positive way. I wonder how much of an influence the show had on me as a child in making science so important to me. Certainly, there were other influences too -- the space program, my supportive parents, Star Trek.
In my re-watch I was pleasantly surprised to find some astronomy in the show. Season One's Zelda the Great had Dick Grason and Bruce Wayne observing Saturn, giving us this exchange:
Dick: "Wow, the rings of Saturn. This is sure some fun, Bruce."

Bruce: "Astronomy is more than mere fun, Dick. . . It helps give us a sense of proportion. Reminds us how little we are really. People tend to forget that sometimes."
Indeed. Nicely said, Bruce.
Moments later they see the Batsignal shining up on the clouds, which should make the audience wonder how Bruce and Dick were able to see Saturn at all, but I digress.
In Season Two's Hot Off The Griddle Dick and Bruce are again at the telescope, this time to observe the Sun in preparation for a total solar eclipse that will occur the next day.
It is an interesting array of telescopes. At right is a tube for what looks like an unfiltered refractor. In the middle is another refractor telescope -- this one clearly has some something that looks like a solar filter on it. Take a look at the one at left, the telescope that Dick is looking through. That's a Newtonian reflecting telescope. Alas, it is currently pointed at Dick's left hand. Yeah, it is pointed the wrong way. Oh, well. They can't get them all right.

Interestingly enough, the total solar eclipse was a major plot point for this episode. At its conclusion Catwoman has captured Batman and Robin and put them in this, the most awesome device to kill the Dynamic Duo ever:
As the episode ends, Batman and Robin are about to be cooked (Catwoman even had them coated in butter!) by sunlight concentrated by two giant magnifying glasses. She was apparently unaware of the total solar eclipse, which reached totality just after she left. During that temporary blockage of sunlight, Batman and Robin were able to use their feet to carefully re-position the magnifying glasses so that when the sunlight returned it would burn through one of straps holding down their wrists.

Well done, Caped Crusaders! It's fun stuff.

So far, I'm only halfway through watching the series and can't wait to see what other fun it brings.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Moon & Venus: Together Again

The moon and Venus certainly made for a lovely pair this afternoon & evening.
Can you spot Venus in the daytime shot above? It's the dot over in the clear area on the right.
Once it started to get dark, the two put on a nice show, even through the cirrus clouds.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Kilauea - The Fire Within

Check out this amazing time-lapse movie of Hawai'i's Kilauea Volcano. It makes me want to return to the Big Island to see it in person again.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Star Trek: A Private Little War

It's somewhat ironic that just after the passing of Leonard Nimoy I am getting around to posting my next look at a Star Trek episode and it is the one where Nimoy's character Spock has the least to do. Yup, it's the strange episode known as:
I've gotta say, this one ranks pretty low for me. It's certainly my least favorite of the Season Two episodes that I've covered so far (though there are some turkeys on the horizon).

The story is supposed to be a Cold War analog that teaches us about the balance of power, but it really doesn't make sense. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are on a planetary survey mission. Kirk is surprised to see that some of the inhabitants have flintlock rifles, as they had only advanced to the level of the bow and arrow when he led the first survey there 13 years ago.
Before the opening credits roll, the landing party is spotted and Spock is shot, pretty much ending his role in the episode. Before the landing party was discovered, the bad guys (wearing black wigs) were intending to shoot the good guys (wearing gray wigs). In the gray wig group is Kirk's friend, Tyree.

We never see their starship, but the Klingons are in orbit and Kirk suspects that they're the ones responsible for arming the black-wig-wearing natives.

How does arming some natives help the Klingons? Kirk says that by breaking the treaty the Klingons are risking interstellar war. Why would they do this? There's no reason that makes any sense. I mean none, other than maybe they got the thought, "Let's f*ck with some humaniods by giving some of them weapons and see what happens."

For anyone that doesn't get the parable they are spinning, Kirk later asks Bones if he remembers "the twentieth century brush wars on the Asian continent?" Explaining, "Two giant powers involved, much like the Klingons and ourselves. Neither side felt they could pull out..... The only solution is what happened back then. Balance of power." Kirk is just as crazy as the Klingons and feels that the Graywigs need guns too to balance out what the Klingons are giving to the Blackwigs and Kirk's the one to give them what they need.

Anyway, the Enterprise has to go runoff and hide from the Klingons (like they did in Friday's Child). Kirk and McCoy darn native clothing and beam back down only to be attacked by the most ridiculous monster in all of Star Trek, the Mugato.
When I was a kid I thought that the Mugato was pretty cool. Now? Not so much. 
The surprised Mugato is zapped by the phaser-weilding McCoy, but not before the beast manages to land a poisonous bite on Kirk.
We soon meet Kirk's friend Tyree, of the Graywig people, and his saucy and ambitious wife, the witch doctor Nona. Theirs is a mixed marriage as she comes from the Blackwig tribe. They take Kirk and McCoy to their village, a collection of tents next to a cave.
Kirk (under the pile of furs) is taken into the cave, while McCoy phasers some rocks to heat up the place, not realizing that Nona is looking on.
Back aboard the Enterprise, Spock is being treated by the awesome Dr. M'Benga. The dude interned on Vulcan and obviously learned much during his time there. As he explained, "If he's going to live, his Vulcan physiology will have to do it for him." Yeah, so he's no help at all, is he?

But he does explain to Nurse Christine Chapel that Spock is in "a form of self-induced hypnosis." She asks him, "You mean he's conscious?" and M'Benga replies, "Well, in a sense. He knows we're here and what we're saying, but he can't afford to take his mind from the tissue he's fighting to heal."
This is all very interesting, because a short while later Spock asks Christine to hit him, saying that "The pain will help me to consciousness." When she refuses he says, "Blast you, strike me! If I don't regain consciousness soon, it may be too late. Hit me. Harder!.... Again. Continue. The pain will help me to consciousness." Yeah, that's Nimoy's "big scene" for the episode. It's okay folks, they can't all be good.

I still don't understand the Spock consciousness thing though. M'Benga said Spock was conscious (but focused inward) then Spock talks, replies, makes requests and interacts with Christine, and then says that he's not conscious. I thought that having a conversation and asking for things was pretty much a sign that you were conscious. Whatever.
Back on the planet Nona is doing her witch doctor thing in healing Kirk. Afterwards she says, "Our souls have been together. He is mine now." That could be trouble.
Speaking of trouble, the Kingons (well, one of them anyway) are here and are giving firearms to the Blackwigs.
Kirk's response is to arm and train the Graywigs. Even Tyree, their pacifistic leader, gets into the act, though his heart isn't into it.
Nona puts the moves on Kirk when another Muguto shows up. Kirk dispatches it with a phaser, giving Nona another glimpse of the power she desires and, since she can't get Tyree interested in being much of a man, she decides to take action for herself. Nona conks Kirk on the head with a rock,  steals his phaser and takes it to the Blackwigs.
This doesn't exactly go as she planned though. They jump her, the Graywigs catch wind of this and a scuffle ensues. Alas, Nona is killed and Tyree is now ready to be armed and make war with the Blackwigs--giving us the opposite of a happy ending. Bah.

There was no new music written for this episode and that's okay as it probably wasn't worth the effort.

Next up, is The Gamesters of Triskelion. I can hardly wait. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Encounters With Greatness

Another cast member of the original Star Trek series has passed into the great beyond. News of Leonard Nimoy's death hit me pretty hard, for someone that I didn't actually know. I'm sure I can't add much to the Internet's many tributes to the man who brought Spock to life, other than to say the obvious. Nimoy's portrayal of Mr. Spock has made, and continues to make, my life fuller. The misfit character who wasn't quite Vulcan nor Human taught us much about ourselves. Star Trek wouldn't have been Star Trek without his thoughtful performances.

I never had the chance to meet Mr. Nimoy, but I did have one close encounter with him. I was one of the guests present at the 2006 re-dedication of Griffith Observatory. I was there because I had given some help to their California Astronomy exhibit. Nimoy was there because he had given them piles of money. If you go, be sure to check out the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. That's two shots I took of Nimoy (along with his wife) being interviewed the evening of the dedication.

Aside from Nimoy, I've only seen one other member of the original Star Trek cast in person. The other happened years earlier when I attended the amazing 1977 Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy World Exposition.
James Doohan, Trek's Mr. Scott, was one of the guests. That's a scan of the pic I took of him at the event. I don't remember much about his presentation other than he was very warm and entertaining.

By the way, the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy World Exposition was seriously awesome. In addition to Doohan, I saw Robert Heinlein, astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad and Carl Sagan. That was a pretty impressive line up for my then 14-year old self. Now that I think of it, that's an impressive and inspirational group of people to encounter at any age.

Of course, they're all gone now. The world was a better place for the real life explorations of Conrad and Sagan and for the fictional ones of Heinlein, Doohan and Nimoy too. They are all missed.