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Apr 172014

kepler186f_artistconcept_1by Ralph Carr, contributing writer

So, the boys at NASA Ames in Mountain View, California, have found a planet, which is Earth-sized, and on the cool edge of the “Goldilocks” region of the system: the region at which liquid water, if it exists, can be found. The planet, Kepler-186f, as it is fondly known, orbits a class-M dwarf (Red Dwarf) star in the Cygnus (The Swan) constellation, about 500 light years from us.

The thing that has caught the attention of NASA is that it is the first Earth-sized planet to be found in the Goldilocks zone, and although nothing is known yet about the planet’s composition or mass, yet, if it proves to be of Earth-type mass, then it will be big enough to hold its own atmosphere. If Earth conditions were replicated then it would be rather chilly, with the sun at midday, only being equivalent to an hour before sunset here … so exactly the same as mid-summer in Wales! Joking aside, we don’t yet know if 186f has an atmosphere, or what its composition is, if it has one.

Though the planet is potentially habitable, at a distance of 500 light years, Kepler-186f, is out of reach of the human race, with its current technology. At present achievable speeds, (Voyager I reached velocity of 38,000 mph) and an unhindered passage, an Earth ship would take 886,000 years to get there.

When you look at how we behave in close quarters, it is doubtful whether present-day humans could get there sociologically, never mind technologically.

The SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) organization is involved with the Kepler adventure, and the search for ET at home goes on.

To be of real use to the human race, an exo-planet would have to be very close to Earth (less than ten light years), lower on the evolutionary scale (no intelligent life forms), capable of supporting or having vegetation (for renewable oxygen), and myriad other favorable conditions. In addition, Earth energy supplies would have to be a fraction of current prices, to even begin considering colonizing.

So, it seems that even if Kepler-186f were a mirror copy of Earth, our chances of getting there are, with current tech, vanishingly small, and we have no way of enjoying it, but from afar. Still, it stirs the imagination to think of the future possibilities.

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Apr 142014

Western Steampunk Fun at Calico Ghost Town

Calico Ghost Town

Calico Ghost Town

by Robert Seutter, Krypton Radio Columnist “The Voice of Legend”

The genre of Steampunk has many facets. One of the more prevalent ones is the Old West genre, which does pretty well out on the west coast. Europe may have its castles and halls, but we out west have some very interesting sites ourselves.

One of the best is the Calico Ghost Town. This weekend, April 12-13, 2014, saw the return of the Wild West Fest, a two-day Steampunk event at an old silver rush boom-and-bust town out in the high desert of California. If you want the old west atmosphere, you could hardly ask for better. In fact, if you look at the history of old west mining, the madcap technology of that time makes for a very good fit for our modern Steamers.

Calico is just north of Barstow, California, and was founded in 1881. At one time, there was a thriving mining and industry town, complete with a thousand or so miners and their families. During its heyday, they pulled over eighty-six million dollars worth of silver out of the mountains and another forty-five million dollars in borax. But when the silver ran thin, the town went bust and the desert began to reclaim it.

In 1951, the city was restored by Walter Knott (of Knott’s Berry farm fame), and in 1966, it was donated to the County of San Bernardino. It has been an old west tourist attraction ever since. It is the real deal, with many of the buildings restored to something approximating their original conditions from back in their booming silver days.

Noele Wayne, special events coordinator

Noele Wayne, special events coordinator

A few years ago, Noele Wayne, special events coordinator for the County parks, reached out to the Steampunk community. And so far, the event has been a great success. According to the personnel who run the event throughout the year, they love the youth and creativity of the Steampunk crowd, and find them charming and very well behaved.

I was surprised to find out that unlike many conventions where one fan-organization usually spear-heads and acts as an umbrella for themed events, Noele had reached out to many groups and helped to create the event out of whole cloth. She manages seven special events at Calico throughout the year (as well as elsewhere), and as she put it, “has been delighted with the camaraderie and support of the Steampunk community both with groups and merchants.”

With the lovely old-west ambience, the Steampunk crowd delighted many of the regular tourists, some who were visiting from Korea and Germany and who had no idea that the Wild West Fest was ongoing. Ladies in bustles with bright parasols strolled the dusty streets accompanied by dapper gents on a sunny and slightly windy day. Mind you, some of those strolling had sophisticated clockwork sidearms and ether-powered back-packs, and there may have been an automaton or two.

Steampunk aficionados representing a wide variety of classes and cultures had a great time exploring the displays and old shops. Scheduled gun-fights happened next to costuming classes, and old cowboys enjoyed chatting with Steam Powered Giraffe fans, some of them who were silver or gold mechanoids awaiting the concert that evening.

The site itself features tours, mines, and a small railway, as well as reconstructions of an old bath house, saloons, school houses, a jail, and a mystery shack. For the festival, there were some new attractions in town. Among them were the “Gypsy Time-Travelers Storytelling” where Christy Horne told traditional stories as her partner Michel Olson hammered out iron dragons in the background on anvil, all the while standing in Florence, their “incredible Recreational Castle Stage and Blacksmith Shop.”

Pop-Lock Holmes

Pop-Lock Holmes

Farther down the road, there was professional magician Dyno Staats doing “scientific demonstrations” of magical proportions, guaranteed to go horribly wrong, and Dr. Solar’s good time, Sunshine Traveling Medicine Show. Music was everywhere including the BillHilly band, Chap-Hop rapper Pop-Lock Holmes, and even a Steampunk parade band E-Steam De Corps. Gunfire erupted throughout the day as various double-dealing, owl-hoot varmints shot it out with the constabulary, to the great applause of the audience. And a large automaton named DAGON wandered about, shaking pincers in a friendly way.

I had a chance to speak with some folks from the San Diego Steampunk community, and asked them if there were any misconceptions about the Steampunk genre. They happily obliged with the following.

  1. They really wish there were another term besides Steam “Punk” because their genre is not all that “Punk” in the Sid Vicious-Sex Pistols frame of mind. It’s more about alternative histories and creativity, less about mosh-pits.
  2. It’s not all about English or Old West alternative histories. New styles like Asian- or Indian-influenced steam alternatives are just a few of the more recent innovations. There is also more to Steampunk events than just conventions. There are hosted picnics and tea-duels, and even just going out for a costumed carousel ride can be interesting.
  3. The Steampunk community is exceedingly glad to welcome new people who only have to exhibit an interest. People can come and play, even in T-shirts and jeans, and the Steampunk community can help folks find ways to put together costumes and personae, without costing a fortune. Everyone started somewhere, they are glad to help.

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I would have to say that, as a community, from the merchants to the players young and old, they all seemed remarkably fun-spirited and had a great sense of humor. I asked one young lady around seven or eight years old what she liked best about the event. She said, without missing a beat, “No ghosts.” In fact, the only complaint I heard about the event was that there was not enough advertising, and the people who said that just wanted more folks to come and join the fun.

As the day turned into evening, people headed to cafés and restaurants for cold sarsaparillas or a cup of decent tea, while others lined up for a concert in the Silver Bowl, featuring the much-loved Steam Powered Giraffe. The western sun was gleaming red gold over metallic automatons and jewel-toned Victorian dresses, and songs and laughter filled the air. Calico may be a bit of a drive but, for a Western Steampunk event like no other, this reporter heartily hopes that this event continues for many years.


Photos by: Robert Seutter and RJ Ryan-Seutter.

We’d love to see your photos from Wild West Fest! Tag us on Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr (#kryptonradio), or email us.

Apr 092014

CERN-logoby Nur Hussein, contributing writer

The Large Hadron Collider Beauty (LHCb) project at CERN today announced the discovery of an exotic hadron that was previously theorized but never confirmed until now. The LHCb project is a collaborative scientific effort in high energy physics that seeks to investigate how matter and energy were formed after the Big Bang fourteen billion years ago.

Hadrons are subatomic particles that form parts of atoms and are bound together by a fundamental force called the nuclear strong force. Hadrons are composed of smaller subatomic particles called quarks. Protons and neutrons are kinds of hadrons that consist of three quarks called baryons, whereas another type of hadron is the meson which consists of a quark and antiquark. Until now, those were the only kinds of hadrons we knew existed; others were theorized but never confirmed to exist until today.

An exotic hadron is a hadron that does not conform to the baryon and meson models. The quark content of exotic hadrons can be four quarks or more, and scientists have attempted to find evidence of the existence of these exotic hadrons for over 50 years. The closest they have come to the discovery was during a scientific collaboration in 2008 called the Belle experiment, where exotic hadron candidates were detected but not confirmed.

Today the LHCb has found evidence of an exotic hadron that doesn’t conform to the known hadron models; they have strong statistical confirmation that it is not a three quark or two quark configuration. This particle has been designated the Z(4430). They expect it is a tetraquark exotic hadron (one consisting of four quarks), and we expect to find out more soon.


Our thanks to W. Blaine Dowler for his assistance with this article.

Apr 092014


by Laura Davis, managing editor

It’s April once again, and book fans from all over are getting ready for their weekend of glory: the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (LATFOB), the nation’s largest consumer book festival. LATFOB is held on the beautiful campus of USC, in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, and attracts about 150,000 visitors each year. It’s little wonder, with more than 450 authors in attendance, over 100 discussion panels, and at least 300 exhibitors, ranging from artisans to indie authors, publishers big and small, and bookstores who bring a mini-store to the event for the weekend. Oh, and it’s not all books, either; there are musicians, filmmakers, and photographers, too!

If you’ve never been before, it all sounds like it might be a little dry, but honestly, it’s a fun and vibrant weekend for people of all ages and interests. The USC marching band is on hand to keep the atmosphere lively, and there are cooking demonstrations and two entire stage areas dedicated to activities for kids. There’s a poetry stage, a couple of music stages, a young adult stage, the Hoy stage which features mariachi music and Spanish-language programming for all ages, and, if you want to take a break in air-conditioned comfort, you can head over to the School of Cinematic Arts’ Broccoli Theater for a screening of Frankenweenie or Looper. Check out the full schedule of events here.

John Scalzi, LATFOB 2013

John Scalzi, LATFOB 2013

Of particular interest to our geeky following are John Scalzi’s Redshirts: From Page to Screen panel on Saturday; a young adult sci-fi panel featuring Leigh Bardugo, Cecil Castellucci, Sarah J. Maas, and Marissa Meyer on Sunday; and Veronica Roth discussing Divergent, also on Sunday.  There’s also the Dinosaur Encounters, presented by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and the DC Super Friends in a couple of different presentations, like “Skyscraper Showdown” and “Joker’s Joyride,” which repeat throughout the weekend on the children’s stage. We’ll be covering all of this for you, so if you can’t make it to the festival, stay tuned!

If you’re going to the festival, there are some things you’ll want to know! If you have a smartphone, be sure to download the festival’s app. It has maps for parking and the festival (and it lets you plant flags on the map … where you left your car or where you agreed to meet your friends for lunch, for example). Get the app before you go and you can actually use it to plan out the things you want to see, and it’ll send you reminders. It makes a nifty little personalized calendar of the festival for you, and it will also help you find food; it lists all the food at the festival, as well as nearby eateries.

Speaking of food, the festival features food trucks (including my beloved Grilled Cheese Truck), and has increased the number of trucks and space allotted to them each year, to accommodate the huge number of hungry festival goers. You can also buy food from the campus store or eat at one of the campus eateries (which are quite good, but finding a place to sit can be a challenge). Still, if you have an early afternoon event to get to, you’ll want to get in line for food by about 11:30, or you’ll probably be late. Lines are at their worst from around 11:30 to 1:30, so if you can eat early or late, you’ll spend a lot less time standing around, and more time having fun. Some food trucks only accept cash.

Getting there is another point worthy of mention. If you have access to the Metro, the Expo Line train will drop you off about 30 feet from one end of the festival, and showing your Metro ticket will get you a 10% discount on official festival merchandise. If you drive, be aware that parking costs $10, and depending upon when you arrive, you may have to walk some distance from the parking lot to the festival. The parking lots are supposed to take credit and debit cards, but sometimes they break (this happened to me last year), so it’s good to have cash on hand just in case. During the festival, some streets in the area are closed off, and there may be delays, so put your “patient hat” on before you go.

Children's Stage, LATFOB 2013

Children’s Stage, LATFOB 2013

And speaking of walking, it’s important to know that the event is mostly outdoors, partly on grass, and is fairly spread out. I attend a lot of panels when I go, and I walk 5-6 miles a day there (burns off the grilled cheese). If you are just wandering through enjoying the booths and stages, you’ll probably walk more like 2-3 miles. You will probably be glad to have comfy shoes and a hat. The campus has a lot of lovely shade trees, but you’re still going to spend a good deal of time in the sun if you’re walking through the booths. Water. Sunscreen. Yes, please.

How to see the panels (they are calling them “conversations” these days) you want? If the panel is held in one of the indoor venues, you will need a ticket. The tickets are free, but if you want to get yours in advance (some of the panels are already sold out), there is a $1 per ticket service charge. They also have a ticket booth on site, where you don’t have to pay the service fee, but if you want to go that route, get there early. They over “sell” the tickets (to compensate for likely no-shows), so even if you have a ticket, go to the venue early to be sure you actually get in. How early depends on the popularity of the panel. For Veronica Roth or John Scalzi, I’d go a minimum of an hour ahead (I waited in line for a bit more than two hours to see Ray Bradbury talk). For less-wildly-popular panels, 30-45 minutes ahead is probably plenty. The outdoor venues don’t require tickets, but you may want to arrive early to get a better seat and/or shade.

The Los Angeles Time Festival of Books runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday April 12, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 13, 2014. For additional information, and to learn about the Book Prize Awards Friday, April 11, and Festival After Dark event on Saturday night, please visit the event website.