Monthly Archives: August 2007

Summer Camp

Written by Eike Pierstorff

Riding my motorbike on a nice day through a nice landscape often sets my mind into a contemplative mood – after I while I start to contemplate questions like “from thousands of possible hobbies, why did I choose the one that makes my lower backside hurt like hell?”. But it has been fun of course.

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Over the weekend I was away for the 30th summer camp of the motorbike club Kuhle Wampe – an association of bike clubs from all over Germany and like the name suggests a somewhat left-leaning outfit (apart from lobbying for motorbike related interets like safer streets or better fuel effiency for bikes they do for example anti-racist work). But I heard little talk about politics – instead we were discussing motobikes, riding out, drinking beer and generally doing what a (female) friend of mine insists on refering to as “doing boys stuff”. (more…)

    Forty Signs of Rain

    Written by Eike Pierstorff

    Instead of dutifully working on Joomla module programming I spent the evening finishing Kim Stanley Robinsons Forty Signs of Rain, the first book in a trilogy on the consequences of (man-made) global warming.

    I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about “the politics” in the book, which I found a bit odd – if you buy a book from a socialist writer on anthropogenic climate change you would expect it to be rife with politics, wouldn’t you, and it didn’t bother me in the least. But I found the book rather verbose (for example I learned a lot more about breastfeeding than I ever cared to know) and yet, while the life of the characters is described in much and often unneccessary detail I had trouble to tell some of the male main characters apart – they are all so remarkably unremarkable and similar.

    But perhaps this is due to an artistic concept – I take it that Forty Signs of Rain is building the scenery and that things will get more lively in the sequels. The book introduces a number of characters who in some way are concerned with global warnings and what has been called the “war on science” – Charlie is a staff worker for an american senator, his wife Anna works for the National Science Foundation where she befriends the delegation from a small island nation that suffers from rising sea levels, and we learn about their private and professional lives, dinner partys, baby nursing, work conferences, grant comittees and lobbying work, until climate change ceases to be an academical question or the problem of tiny faraway nations when the coastal cities of Northern America are hit by a sudden flood.

    Forty Signs, which could have lost a hundred of its 400 pages without much damage to the story, is still a good read, but in the end not really satisfying. It doesn’t stand very well on its own, and final judgement will depend on the quality of the sequels – Fifty Degrees Below is already waiting on the bedside table while Sixty Days and Counting is not yet available here in Germany. I doubt that KSR will make any proselytes with the series – those who deny anthropogenic global warming will simply dismiss the books as “too political” – but everybody who has accepted the scientific consensus will probably to some extent enjoy the book, which has the main fault that it’s outlook on a troubled future is perhaps to close to reality to be entertaining.

      Shuttle Endeavour launched safely

      Written by Eike Pierstorff

      As a child – a space junkie even back then – I used to watch space shuttle launches with religious zeal. Compared to non-reusable capsules like Apollo or Soyuz the Orbiter looked like the first real spacecraft (like, you know, one from those science fiction books) which very well may be one of the reasons it was built the way it was built (because engineers read science fiction, too).

      I broke the habit when Challenger exploded in 1986. I loved the Shuttle (still do) , but watching astronauts die in real time was a bit too unnerving for my taste, and with every new launch I was afraid that fatal accidents would happen again – as alas one did in 2003.

      Luckily NASA was less afraid. After a major overhaul (a.k.a Orbiter Major Modification period) Endeavour was launched yesterday at 6:36 p.m. (about 0.30 this morning here in Berlin), and this time I was watching again live on NASA TV. This was, after all, one of the very few remaining opportunities to see a Shuttle launch.

      One member of the Endeavour crew is Barbara Radding Morgan, who used to teach in elementary school and was the backup candidate for the NASA Teacher in Space Program during the Challenger Mission when her colleaugue Christa McAuliffe perished in the explosion.

      If anybody ever deserved to go to space it’s certainly her – Barbara Morgan absolutely rocks. She completed the necessary training to become a ‘real’ astronaut and has been assigned as a full-fledged mission specialist to the ST-118 Mission (go read the Interviews at the STS-118 Mission Pages). If the world absolutely needs heroes I think astronaut teachers are the best kind we can get.

        First !

        Written by Eike Pierstorff

        I really didn’t mean to do this. There are so many blogs already, there seemed to be no point in adding another one.

        It’s not that I don’t like to write – I’m as vain as the next man, and seeing your thoughts in writing makes them look more important (which undoubtly is the reason why blogs are so popular). It’s just that the stuff I write is usually tailored to specific audiences – speeches at science fiction cons, manuals for software I wrote or adapted, occasional ghostwriting, stuff like that. I’m used to do things for a purpose, and writing for an undefined audience seemed purposeless.

        Only I’m a web programmer, and occasionally I have to build sites in wordpress. And by now I have to adapt or write software for wordpress, and I need a place to test the stuff I wrote. So this is the purpose of the blog: testing facility, code bloat ground zero, room for improvement, whatever. And since I have to maintain the software anyway I just as well may write the occasional blog post.

        English is not my mother tongue, and I guess it shows. However bad english is a sort of lingua franca among people people who do web stuff (programmers, would-be programmers, users, designers, you name it), and I expect that most people who’ll drop by will do so in search of some web stuff, namely for some code I wrote for the Joomla CMS. To add a further purpose to this blog I’ll add a FAQ for that module (you’ll find the beginning of it in the side bar).

        I really didn’t mean to do this, there are so many blogs already. Yet here I am, and already I’m fighting the temptation to go all verbose on you. Count yourself lucky that I can’t wait to get my first post published.

        End of first message 😉