In his Known Space short story "The Handicapped", Larry Niven wrote of a species known as the Grog – a population of small and immobile beings that gain subsistence by attracting nearby animals through telepathic control before eating them. They resided on a planet called "Down", a modest world located in orbit around Luyten's Star. When Niven and his science fiction contemporaries in the mid-20th century wrote stories about exotic creatures roaming equally exotic worlds beyond the Solar System, exoplanets were merely a thing of imagination. Until Polish astronomer Aleksander Wolszczan discovered Poltergeist and Phobetor in 1992, definitive proof of the existence of exoplanets simply did not exist; for the longest time it was just the nine planets of our Solar System, including Pluto. This did not impede the imagination of many science fiction writers, however. In the 1965 novel Dune, Frank Herbert wrote of a mystical desert planet that geologically produced a spice capable of replenishing life. In the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas wrote of an icy, blizzard-ravaged world, a planet covered by dense swamps, and a gas giant with floating cities, respectively. In the Cold War-era television series Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry wrote of a civilized, united federation of multiple planets and civilizations across the galaxy, and the starship Enterprise's mission to "explore strange new worlds" and "boldly go where no man has gone before." In the two decades since Wolszczan made his trailblazing discovery, there have been almost four thousand exoplanets discovered lurking in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Originally published on Tumblr on 6 February 2018 (Archived 29 July 2019)
The Philadelphia Eagles made their third attempt at winning a Super Bowl this year when they faced old rivals, the New England Patriots, in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having already witnessed a ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ the month before during the playoffs, the stadium played host to yet another incredible game of football, as a titanic struggle between the Patriots and the Eagles resulted in a thrilling conclusion from which Philadelphia benefited. They pocketed their very first Super Bowl championship, at the cost of New England’s hopes for a sixth crown this side of the millennium. U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in July 2016 ahead of the Minnesota Vikings’ season that year, replaced the former Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which was serviced by a public transport light rail stop right on its doorstep. The new venue inherits this same light rail stop and, as a result, was granted a strong public transport link to regions of the greater Minneapolis–Saint Paul metropolitan area from its opening day. Mass Transit in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area, while not as developed and extensive as most of the major cities in the United States, is satisfactory for the area’s 3.1 million residents, and was almost certainly more than satisfactory for the more than 67,000 people that arrived in Minneapolis for the big game this weekend! In addition to a modest bus network, the so-called “Twin Cities” are serviced by two light rail routes, two bus rapid transit routes, one commuter rail route, and an intercity railway connection courtesy of Amtrak. On average, around 370,000 commuters travel in, out, and around Minneapolis and Saint Paul using mass transit every day. These are the major public transport options available to these commuters, as residents of this year’s Super Bowl city!
Originally published on Tumblr on 12 May 2017 (Archived 9 December 2018)
The 1st of May, 2002 would produce a scene in Paris pictured on the right – the city’s branch of the international AIDS advocacy group ACT UP, holding a sign that reminded people of National Front presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen’s thoughts about people with AIDS. In the late 80s, the National Front, a far-right political party in France that has been branding themselves as the new third way for decades, adopted a policy of segregating people living with AIDS from everyday society and placing them in prison-like institutions; “sidatoriums”, as coined by then-assembly member François Bachelot and popularised by Le Pen and his supporters; SIDS is the acronym for AIDS in French language. It was for this and many other far-right social and economic policies, such as reintroducing the death penalty, mass deregulation and strict protectionism, and a stance against the European Union, the Euro currency, the Schengen area, and the treaties that bind them, that the majority of the French people reserved distaste for the party and its powerful leader, whom, through a low-key campaign, the fracturing and division among the left in France, and an unreliable electoral system, made it to the second round of the French presidential election in 2002.
Jean-Marie Le Pen is the father of current National Front candidate for President, Marine Le Pen, and for a time in the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s, a giant in French politics. 2002 was his fourth crack at becoming President of France, having failed to win the first round of elections, designed to nominate two candidates for the French public to vote on head-to-head in a second round, three times previously in 1974, 1988, and 1995. His influence and popularity among the right-wing populous in France steadily grew over the course of two decades, a timespan in which the National Front also grew to adopt more right-wing policies to appeal to the constituents they had attracted. They originated as a moderate conservative party focused on neoliberalist policies. Now, they’re nationalist as one could possibly be, with a focus on fighting globalism and the “eradication” of the welfare state. The former seven-year terms for presidents between 1974 and 2002 played as an advantage for the National Front whom, like most non-traditional left or right wing parties that deviate from the center, played a low-key political battle to the top. While Le Pen himself occasionally upset his opponents and drew the very bright media spotlight with his colourful remarks on issues such as immigration and, in particular, his infamously controversial opinion that Nazi Germany’s concentration camps were nothing more than just a “detail” of the Second World War, the party bet their hopes and dreams on the public’s short attention span. Seven years is an awfully long time for a nation of 50 million people to keep focused, after all. So, the question is, how did France, a republic founded on liberal ideals and carried into the 21st century with progressivism and globalism at the forefront of its politics, allow a man like Le Pen get so close to becoming its head of state? Was there a wave of populist apathy in the country similar to what’s happening in the world today? Well, no, not at all. Le Pen’s remarkable feat was attributable to other things entirely. But to understand how the National Front could possibly reach such a high political milestone, we first have to look at the context of, and climate surrounding, the 2002 election.
Originally published on Tumblr on 7 October 2016 (Archived 10 December 2018)
So it’s come to this - a race to the White House between two of the most hated presidential candidates history of the United States, and no, that isn’t an exaggeration. So what becomes of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the respective Democratic and Republican nominees for president? What are either of their chances of winning the presidency? As most Americans know by now, the presidency is decided state-by-state; the winner of the popular vote within a state winning all of that state’s electoral votes, with exceptions in Nebraska and Maine, which we’ll address later in this article. Each state has a different number of allocated electoral votes according to population, and the winner of the most electoral votes nationwide wins the presidency. So, who’s most likely to win in which state? Probably the most important question one can ask in finding out who will become the next President of the United States. There are many factors in determining which states are more likely to favor either Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump - history, demographics, popularity, geopolitical issues and campaign decisions just to name a few. It’s incredibly hard to predict the outcome of the election, but it’s somewhat easy to present a number of potential likely outcomes, and that’s what I’ll be doing here. From the most favorable Clinton victory to the most favorable Trump victory, here are the most realistic outcomes of the 2016 United States presidential election.
Before we begin, we should take note of the states under the spotlight in this election; the states that will determine the outcome of the election, and subsequently, the next President of the United States. There are 5 immensely important states that can easily fall either in the Clinton or Trump column. These states are the midwestern states of Iowa and Ohio, the mid-atlantic states of Virginia and North Carolina, and the southern state of Florida, all highlighted in the darker shade of grey on the map above. Of these five, four are unequivocally important - Ohio, which boasts 18 electoral votes, Virginia with 13, North Carolina with 15, and Florida, with a pool of 29 electoral votes. These make up 75 electoral votes - over a quarter of the 270 needed to win the presidency. Also included in this column of states is one electoral vote in Maine, represented by a circle. I shall explain - in Nebraska and Maine, two electoral votes are awarded to the state popular vote winner and one for each of the popular vote winners in the congressional districts of the state, of which Nebraska has 3 and Maine has 2. While Nebraska is not a competitive state this time around, Maine is. If opinion polling is to be believed, Maine’s second congressional district can throw up a really close contest between Clinton and Trump, and thus one electoral vote in Maine is in the balance. Apart from that, there are six distinguished states in the country that could play host to close contests between Trump and Clinton, but would probably take some extra effort by either the Clinton or Trump campaign to do so. These are the states of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, all highlighted in silver and yielding 66 electoral votes in total - over a fifth of the way to 270.
Originally published on Tumblr on 31 May 2016 (Archived 9 December 2018)
4 years and 300 days – at the time of writing, that’s the number of years and days that have elapsed since the Juno spacecraft launched in August 2011. Since then, it has been sailing across many billions of kilometers of open and empty space, using the Sun’s gravity and various strategic burns to place itself in the path of the almighty Jupiter. As of writing, Juno is 36 days out from orbital insertion, en route to become only the second spacecraft in history to orbit Jupiter. It’s been just under 5 years in anticipation, but with the spacecraft finally reaching its destination of study, what exactly will the Juno team be hoping to achieve during the spacecraft’s year-long tenure at the gas giant? Compared to Galileo, NASA’s last Jovian expedition, it’s a rather small spacecraft, with limited instrumentation. So what could it accomplish? Don’t be fooled by the small package, for even with it’s small array of instruments and lightweight amount of available power, the Juno mission is rightfully ambitious in its direction and objectives.
The first thing you need to get out of the way before starting to understand the mission and its objectives is that Juno, in the most strict sense, is not a successor mission to Galileo. The Galileo mission, which was an 8-year reconnaissance of the Jupiter system, differs immensely from the Juno mission, which is a close-up, in-situ study of exclusively Jupiter itself, over the period of only a year. With Jupiter being the sole focus of the mission, the planet’s diverse and biologically intriguing moons will not be subjects of study in this particular mission; astrobiologists will have to wait until the Europa Multiple-Flyby Mission launches in the next decade for some new scientific data from Jupiter’s moons. Making use of swift polar orbits, Juno will make extremely close dives at perijove, coming within 4,600km of the planet’s cloud tops – the closest a surviving spacecraft will ever come to the gas giant’s atmosphere. This perilous trajectory design allows the Juno team to study Jupiter through the kind of close-up study never achieved before in the history of Outer Solar System planetary science, while also allowing the spacecraft to traverse the entire length and breadth of Jupiter’s inner magnetosphere. This also, unfortunately, severely limits the operating life of the spacecraft; Juno will be constantly exposed to the intense radiation of Jupiter each time it makes the dive in, deteriorating ability and performance as time passes. In the minds of the team behind Juno, however, if they manage to turn data collected by the spacecraft into good scientific results, the rewards will outweigh the mission’s limited time at Jupiter.
Originally published on Tumblr on 23 September 2015
There’s no doubt about it: Super Mario Maker is an undeniably fun game that has eaten a lot of time out of most of us for the past week. It’s the Wii U title that most Nintendo fans have been waiting the better part of a year and a half for. With a vast array of Mario assets, along with brand new features, readily available for players to experiment and create levels with, it’s probably the best thing Nintendo’s done with the Wii U. After all, this is fan service done right. They’ve gone out and gave the Mario fans exactly what they’ve been wanting for a long time, an official Mario level creator, and with it, the ability to create any kind of Mario level. Whether it be a traditional stage faithful to the level design philosophies of the Mario series, a challenging Kazio Mario World-esque trial-and-error deathfest, or a jaw-dropping, visually spectacular Automatic Mario show, the tools to create such things are now in our hands. Along with this, though, there’s something else more beautiful than the concept of the game alone that makes Super Mario Maker a great game. As the ability to create Mario levels becomes readily accessible to more and more players, so too does the core concepts of crafting and creating become readily accessible for players to learn.
Super Mario Maker is really one of those games that truly brings out the creator in all who play it, not just because simply it’s a level designer, but also because it challenges the player to take and carry an approach to creating levels. Take for example, my approach to making levels, which is pictured as this post's lead image. This is a drawing I made, after many, many rough sketches and three pieces of paper spent, which detailed the final design of “Bowser Jr’s Great Grinder Castle”, a Super Mario World Castle level I made. (Course ID E8DC-0000-005D-7611) This is the kind of effort that I put into level design. Whether it be a novel, album or Tumblr post, I always have a system of drafting up what I want to do and revising it multiple times until I am happy with a final overall design. I take the same approach with creating Super Mario Maker levels. Here, you can see the stage drawn out, evidently without a ruler, in a design that is almost identical to what the final stage looks like. Labelled are the power-ups, important points and secrets scattered across the level.