Comm Check

13 March 2009

Michael Cabbage and William Harwood. Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia.

February 1, 2003. It’s a little before 9 AM and in 20 minutes the Space Shuttle Columbia is scheduled to land in Florida. In Mission Control, mechanical systems officer Jeff Kling notices two sensors on Columbia’s left wing have cut out. A few moments later, two more cut out. He discusses it with flight director LeRoy Cain, but neither can explain the event. How could four independent sensors just suddenly stop working?

But then Cain remembers back to Columbia’s launch and the large chunk of foam that hit the shuttle as it was rocketing up at supersonic speeds. The debris had hit Columbia’s left wing. Could the loss of the sensors be related? It couldn’t be, thinks Cain. It has to be a coincidence.


Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition

16 June 2008

Dungeons & Dragons 4th EditionStrength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, charisma. If you don't know what's special about those six virtuous attribute then you never spent the Saturdays of your youth playing Dungeons & Dragons. At its height in the 80s D&D was deemed so subversive that it was banned by some schools and many parents forbade the kids from ever playing it. Despite this, its reliance on player imagination and thick rule books (not to mention math) consigned Dungeons & Dragons to the nerd section of the uncool aisle. By the 90s, the geeks and nerds of the world had moved on to other obsessions, such as Doom and Gillian Anderson, but D&D left a lasting impression. Without D&D for inspiration, the world might never have seen Blizzard's World of Warcraft or the Simpson's Comic Book Guy.


The Sparrow

5 February 2006

The SparrowIn the first chapter of this wonderful novel, the reader learns the whole story: After humans detect the radio signals of an alien civilization from a planet called Rakhat, the Jesuit Order (which, one must admit, has had more historical experience with First Contact than, say, the UN) sends a mission to the planet “for the greater glory of God.” Many years later, all but one of the crewmembers are dead and the sole survivor, Father Emilio Sandoz, returns to Earth physically mutilated and spiritually broken. Instead of spreading the Word to the aliens, it is Father Emilio who loses his faith.


Castles of Steel

21 January 2006

Castles of SteelThere is a scene in Robert Massie’s Castles of Steel that is right out of a movie: The German High Seas Fleet is chasing British Admiral John Beatty’s Battle Cruiser Squadron across the North Sea. Beatty has already lost the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary (each with over 1,000 men) and now his four remaining battle cruisers are desperately heading north, away from the German ships and towards Britain and home. The German Fleet pursues Beatty’s battle cruisers into a large patch of thick mist, confident of victory. But as the Germans emerge from the fog, they “behold a terrible sight: the [British] Grand Fleet spread before them across the northern horizon. Twenty-four British dreadnought and a host of cruisers and destroyers…” Too late, the Germans realize: It’s a trap!