Seeing as how real life almost never throws up unexpected surprises, this one really was unexpected. A couple of months ago, on a whim, I decided to try and purchase a subscription to this magazine online. The billing page clearly mentioned that only credit cards would be accepted for payment, and I being of the noble ilk of financial pragmatists did not possess one. But I went ahead and entered my debit card’s details, fully expecting a big, red sign to pop up, politely asking me to stop wasting their carefully rationed time. And thereby ending my spot of whimsical summer pastime of course. Instead, to my utter horror, a pleasant green icon lit up the screen the moment I was done with the done button, informing me of the success of the transaction. My shock seeped away quickly, once my brain clicked into gear and I started on the fine print.
“They didn’t ask for my password/PIN, did they? Ha!”
“Your subscription will be activated once your credit card is verified, and the transaction completed.”
I promptly forgot all about my little dalliance. A couple of days later, I received an email telling me how sorry everyone at Kalmbach Publishing was that they had to cancel my subscription as my ‘credit card’ had failed verification. There was an attached offer to get myself an account with Kalmbach to track all my subscriptions (or it could have been about buying garden fresh pink roses for all I remember), but the sense of closure was so complete that I ignored it and promptly forgot about promptly forgetting all about my little dalliance.
... Until one fine rainy day in the heart of the Deccan, when I stepped out of the house on my way to work. There were two shiny tan envelopes lying there, unceremoniously dumped in Tommy’s half of the portico. If your heart just skipped an expectant beat, that’s just me playing with your mind, because the sight did nothing for mine then. My father had subscribed to every single finance magazine on the planet, and this was probably just one of them. Curiosity (there’s a reason they always wrap interesting stuff in the dullest of envelopes) made me open one of them, and then the other, quickly, because I was to find these inside.
I spent all of five minutes staring at wondrous pictures from the bottomless gallery of the cosmos, before my conscience caught up with me. (I know, I know. I tried the Chinese water torture on the pesky little thing. It didn’t work. It’s probably already barking mad.) I already knew that no money had been deducted from my account because I had checked already, parsimonious twerp that I am. So, it really was an issue of conscience, not enlightened self-interest. Shooting off that polite errata-kind-of-email (“Sir, there seems to have been a mistake...”) to the folks at Kalmbach was easy. I half hopefully wondered if the mail would go into someone’s junk folder and be not read at all, and if I’d get to keep the cake and eat it.
Actually, I still hope that happens, and I will continue to do so until Mr. Year decides to shuffle off into 2012. The many delightful hours I have spent with my two free copies of Astronomy magazine have reminded me that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about astronomy. I don’t want to write about sky watching again (this post’s already dragged on, I don’t want to make it a novella), so I’ll make do with a little dash of the something that makes astronomy endlessly fascinating for me.
For me, the most wondrous description that I’ve ever read can, fittingly, be found in a Stephen Baxter novel. I don’t recall which one exactly, but I know it was one of the Manifold trilogy (all of which I encourage you to read). I could wax lyrical on what it is, but I’ll leave that bit to yourselves, pointing you instead to a factual Wikipedia entry on the topic. One of the characters, a sentient squid if I remember correctly, actually gets to see what you’ve just read about, and I’ve been jealous ever since. If only, if only, if only, if only, if only. It would be wondrous, awe-inspiring, humbling and crippling, all at the same time.
Ever since I discovered this site – if you’re interested in the breadcrumbs it was through the description of a Topcoder development contest backed by NASA – I’ve spent many hours just looking at it, and obviously many more monkeying around inside. Again, I won’t bother describing it – check it out for yourselves. The media player takes an inordinate amount of time to load but I promise you it’s worth the frustration.
In the May edition of Astronomy, there was an article on detailed simulations of asteroid strikes. A bunch of astrogeeks at Purdue have made this site, and the article had distilled down two of the simulations into a descriptive piece. Here’s a sample: If you were to be about 30 kilometres from the impact site of a 2.4 kilometre wide comet, you’d see a fireball about 60 times the size of the sun. For context, that’s about a third of the sky from the horizon to the zenith. You’d be hit by a wind of speed 1,900 km/h about 4 minutes later. For context, that’s about