Friday, December 22, 2006


I just had to blog about this. A friend of mine at a Networking group I belong to actually went to this company, Steorn, to see if they are for real. Only time will tell because they have put out a challenge.

They claim to have built a magnetic generator that produces a net energy gain and does not degrade in any way. Short meaning. Free energy, no cost. In the First Law of Thermodynamics, which is one of the most important fundamental principles of physics, in any process the total energy of the universe remains constant. Energy is never created or destroyed, it just changes form. Matter, is frozen energy. When you blow up a Nuclear bomb, you are simply releasing the energy of matter. Since E=MC2 then Matter contains a large amount of energy.

The basic point is that energy goes somewhere, it does not disappear or get created from no where. In fact even on the quantum level (where virtual particles pop in and out of existence in the quantum foam, as it is called) in the vacuum of space, there is a conservation of the law in the fact that the "borrowed energy" to create the virtual particles is paid back when they once again meet and extinguish themselves back to nothing.

This concept makes its way into Steven Hawkins' theory about back holes. He says the quantum foam produces virtual particles even close to the event horizon of the black hole. Theoretically then one of these virtual particles can be inside and one outside the back hole's event horizon. that means one gets sucked into the black hole and the new one gets to exist for no cost with its "borrowed energy" from the universe thereby increasing the energy level of the universe slightly. Since this defies the first law of thermodynamics, Hawkins proposed that the virtual particle that gets gravitationally trapped into the black hole, meets another anti-particle and wham, they dissapear and so then there is still no net gain of energy (in the form of particle matter) in the universe. Problem solved. Except that this means that black holes loose a tiny bit of mass every time that happens. The timescale and loss of mass is so small that it would take longer than the universe has to exist for a black hole to degrade this way, but in theory, black holes lose mass, they shrink.

The Steorn company claims that they have created a system in which there is a net energy gain. No heat is lost or mass degraded in the process. The system produces a net energy gain. If true, throw out the first law of thermodynamics or put a disclaimer in there, like sometimes energy is equal or mostly, energy is not lost or created or in the natural universe energy is not lost or created.

In this case, what about the second and third laws. Basically together they say that since the big bang, entropy is increasing an eventually it will even out to equalibrium. When that happens, as the temperature approaches absolute zero (but thoretically can never be absolute zero) all entropy slows and all processes cease. Basically, it's like your coffee in the morning. When you get it, someone heated it up using energy. The energy tranfered heat from the coils to the water to the coffee. As time goes by, entropy cools your coffee down. the heat energy in the coffee is released into the universe until it reaches equalibrium with it's envoronment.

We can never see that complete absolute zero value on earth because the sun is working really hard to warm us up with all kinds of radiation. Even the sun, though long lasting to be sure, is degrading by fusing Hydrogen and Helium to produce energy. That heat and light (and other radiation) is lost. Slowly the sun looses energy. Luckily the sun is extremely massive and since matter converts to a lot energy, the sun will be around for a long time to come. (Eventully the nuclear process that drives the sun will deplete enough matter that the energetic process will no longer be able to "push" out against the gravitational force of the matter and the sun will collapse to a small dwarf sun. Poor sun.)

So they create energy for the universe and do not burn, consume or transfer energy from any other source. This is all new energy. Sounds to good to be true? Probably but they have some interesting stuff to say. The following is a direct quote from their website:

Our Technology and the Laws of Physics

Steorn’s technology produces free, clean and constant energy. This provides a significant range of benefits, from the convenience of never having to refuel your car or recharge your mobile phone, to a genuine solution to the need for zero emission energy production. It also provides a secure supply of energy, since the components of the technology are readily available.

The technology is in a constant state of development. The company has focused for the past three years on increasing power output and the development of test systems that allow detailed analysis to be performed.

Steorn’s technology appears to violate the ‘Principle of the Conservation of Energy’, considered by many to be the most fundamental principle in our current understanding of the universe. This principle is stated simply as ‘energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only change form’.

Steorn is making three claims for its technology:

  1. The technology has a coefficient of performance greater than 100%.
  2. The operation of the technology (i.e. the creation of energy) is not derived from the degradation of its component parts.
  3. There is no identifiable environmental source of the energy (as might be witnessed by a cooling of ambient air temperature).

The sum of these claims is that our technology creates free energy.

This represents a significant challenge to our current understanding of the universe and clearly such claims require independent validation from credible third parties. During 2005 Steorn embarked on a process of independent validation and approached a wide selection of academic institutions. The vast majority of these institutions refused to even look at the technology, however several did. Those who were prepared to complete testing have all confirmed our claims; however none will publicly go on record.

In early 2006 Steorn decided to seek validation from the scientific community in a more public forum, and as a result have published the challenge in The Economist. The company is seeking a jury of twelve qualified experimental physicists to define the tests required, the test centres to be used, monitor the analysis and then publish the results.

Steorn has decided to publish its challenge in The Economist because of the breadth of its readership. "We chose it over a purely scientific magazine simply because we want to make the general public aware that this process is about to commence and to generate public support, awareness, interest etc for what we are doing."

Check Steorn out, here.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

OK. So they aren't really coming, but I went to them and guess what? They like me in jolly ole England. So much so that I write regularly for the British Science Fiction Writer's Association. They have a few magazines.

Check out my latest article here.

Subscribe to the magazine here.

See a picture of a Claudia Christian.

See a picture of me.

See me and Claudia Christian. (You have to do that yourself, I do.)


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Black Hole Eats Big Star. Sounds Dirty But It's Not.

Before the story remember to Click here to take my survey. Thanks!

NASA telescope sees Black Hole gulping remote star.

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A giant Black Hole displaying horrifying table manners has been caught in the act of guzzling a star in a galaxy 4 billion light-years away, scientists using an orbiting NASA telescope said on Tuesday.

To read the rest click here.

This is too cool. The amount of energy and power it takes for a Black Hole to rip apart and swallow a star is unimaginable. Think of an elephant being ripped apart and sucked down into a tiny pinprick and you get the idea. That is probably not really even a close analogy but I like it all the same.

For the uninitiated, a Black Hole is the remnant of a collapsed star of a certain, large, size. After the star swells it then collapses on itself. A few things can happen.

One, it can grow to a Red Giant and then puff off its outer layer leaving a charred cinder called a Brown Dwarf. It may glow for a while as a White Dwarf but eventually it dies a slow death, like the campfire burning out but not of fire but of nuclear energy fading. The ejected gas is a mixture of elements called a Nebula. Eventually the Nebula will feed a new star's material. This is how the universe was built when Hydrogen stars coalesced and then exploded over billions of years, each time the Gravity caused Hydrogen atoms to fuse into ever more complex molecules. Eventually the stuff of life was the result. (Or God make the whole shebang in seven days, whatever.) The Brown Dwarf is like a very, very large Jupiter that barley emits energy or light. Many think that Brown Dwarf stars may be part of the dark matter we can't find in the universe, along with Black Holes and other Baryonic stuff.

Another possibility is that in a larger star, the star explodes in a Supernova and then what's left collapses back on itself and compresses so tight that the electron-proton pairs become pushed together to form Neutrons. The Neutrons are strong enough to resist further condensing so the result is called a Neutron Star. This is the heaviest mass object in the universe. From the NASA website: According to astronomer and author Frank Shu, "A sugar cube of Neutron Star stuff on Earth would weigh as much as all of humanity!" The reason the star goes Supernova is that in the Neutron state the outer layer "bounces" off the hard surface and shoots back outward. The only thing that stops the star from continuing to collapse is that the Neutron material is strong enough to resist it's own Gravity. The resulting object is a mere few miles wide but incredibly dense! Neutron Stars are sometimes called Pulsars when they spin because they emit an Electromagnetic emission in a regular pulse.

The final result is a Black Hole. Really massive stars collapse and because the core is so heavy it can't resist it's own Gravity. (No will power I guess.) The result is that the matter continues to fall in on itself until everything is sucked into what's called a Singularity. A Singularity is a point in space where Gravity is infinite and the point has zero volume. And weird crap happens. Like the Gravity is so strong that light can't even go fast enough to escape so it is trapped in to an endless revolution around the Black Hole. Pretty much breaking the established laws of physics that light is the speed limit of the universe. The Black Hole is the end point of a star's life but also can be seen as an endpoint to reality as we know it to exist in our "normal" functioning universe. That's why the Black Hole is a wired object. It is something that is so small and dense it can't exist in our universe, yet, there it is! Contrary to popular belief, a Black Hole doesn't suck thinks into it. You can safely revolve around a Black Hole forever if you are far enough away. The point of no return is the Event Horizon or the radius from the center (if we could find the damn center since it is of zero volume!) called the Schwartzschild Radius. At this point the escape velocity is the speed of light and since nothing goes faster than light, well...

OK, so that's weird, right. Here’s the weirdest thing. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity predicted Black Holes and by God there they are. But since Time and Space are all dimensions affected by Gravity, a Black Hole will also cause time to slow down to a stop. In fact, any Gravity field will cause time to slow by a small amount but it takes a super-massive one to make time slow down significantly. Go live in the orbit of a Black Hole and you can watch the universe speed up around you. Since Einstein said we can't distinguish between a Gravity field and an accelerating object, the faster you go, time also will slow down until you get to the impossible-to-attain, speed of light. So in essence, photons, the carriers of the EM force (which light is a part of) have no sense of time since they are always flying around at the speed of themselves. Photons are not affected by time. Since they are massless, they can do that. To speed even a pebble of sand to the speed of light the mass would increase (to make up for time and space dilation) and the pebble would become infinitely massive and require infinite energy to push. Not happening anytime soon.

As related to this story above, a star that finds itself on a trajectory towards a Black Hole will eventually become trapped by the Black Hole's Gravity. It will become ripped apart literally from one end to the other and then if on an angular path, the resulting gas will accrete in a disk and become "swallowed" by the Black Hole. We can see this happening because as the "stuff" of the star breaks apart and speeds up in the gravitational pull it gets heated and emits energy in the X-Ray and Gamma-Ray spectrum of the EM scale. This is obviously before it crosses the event horizon where nothing can escape. Just like in a good detective story or piece of abstract art, it is what is not there that defines a Black Hole rather than what is there. But we know it is there from its effect on matter or how things act within its gravitational pull around it.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cohenside Survey

I have generated a survey to collect some information on my readers. I appreciate the time you all take to read my blog and comment to me. I will be giving away a free copy of my book, Erosion, to one random survey taker so good luck and thanks.

Click here to take survey.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

HD-DVD versus Blu Ray

I am referring to the article that I blogged below about HD-DVD versus Blu Ray.

Personally, I will not be switching to either format any time soon. I will be one of those who waits until I can download the movie and then archive it on a Hard Drive. But I think Sean Cooper is missing one piece of the puzzle. I would want a format that I could save a movie on portable media (HD-DVD probably) and archive it or take it with me so I can watch it on my TV.

I do not think that "On-Demand" or Movie Rental Downloading to a set top box (like what Netflix is proposing to do) are anywhere near ready. I guess I will have a long time to wait. Maybe it's a generational thing but I like the feeling of actually owning the physical movie rather than the "file" on a hard drive only. Or worse yet, the ability to watch a movie anytime from my TV just because I bought the viewing rights. Perhaps a backlog of older movies can be sold on a subscription basis like where you can buy the right to view any movie from Paramount or MGM's library of movies from before 10 years ago for a fee per month, I might try that. Or If Netflix can make it so that I can have the movie and access it anytime until I choose another movie similar to the current DVD service if their library is as extensive as it is now, I might buy into that. But download times for HD movies have to become faster or it will not be worth it.

Basically if I buy the latest Star Wars movie, I want to watch it anytime I want unrestricted like I do now. I don't want network logjams, server outages or corrupted files to get in the way. When my popcorn is ready my movie better be ready.


4 Reasons why HD-DVD and Blu-ray are dead on arrival

A good analysis of why both HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats will ultimately fail.

read more | digg story

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly: iPods Are Endangering America

O'Reilly proclaims, "I would never wear an iPod," and says, "I really fear for the United States" because "jihadists aren't playing video games." O'Reilly doesn't mention that his own show offers a whole series of podcasts.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How to write for Slate Magazine

Warning: This essay is meant to be sarcastic and funny. Which didn’t make it in the top ten but is a close #11.

Slate is the online political and cultural magazine begun about ten years ago as a magazine that would only be produced for the web. In those ten years all but a few have been for free. I found Slate when I began my podcast listening over a year ago. I love the short podcast essays and the weekly political gabfest where three Slate editors discuss current events. I am a big fan. So big, in fact that I decided that I had to write for them. I dreamed of hearing Andy Bowers read my piece on the podcast as I listened in my car or on the john at work.

I went off and submitted articles to Slate and got every one rejected. Now what was I doing wrong? I thought. What is the secret to getting a byline on Slate? In retrospect I see that my writing just wasn’t Slate-worthy. It did not fit the guidelines. No, I didn’t find a secret web page with the secret handshake. No style guide telling me how exactly to dot my I’s and cross my T’s in such a way as to make the editors look at me as a “real Slate writer.”

All I did was listen.

After a few months of daily essays and news from Slate on my iPod I think I know a thing or two about what Slate looks for in a writer. Sorry, I know that you don’t need an iPod to listen to a podcast but I prefer one. And that leads me into my first of ten requirements to write for Slate:

#1. You must be cool.

Slate likes cool people. Not Fonzi cool, but just cool. People who are in the know or who get the joke. Sure Slate doesn’t necessarily make you listen to their podcasts on a slick new colorful iPod. But they prefer it. Just like they prefer you not drive a Hummer or live in a Mc Mansion. Even if you do drive a Hummer, live in a Mc Mansion and listen on some other portable MP3 device, they know that you know better. And it’s not even the cool where you can work in a 1970s or 1980s pop culture reference. It’s more obscure than that. Cool is very hard to define and means different things to different people. Let’s just call it “Slate Cool.” If you got it, you got it. If you don’t, well…

#2. Snark is key.

Andy Bowers has a great voice for podcasting. He makes you feel comfortable with the material. He reads every essay and conducts every interview as if he has a personal stake in it. You would never know Andy himself did not craft the words. Andy has snark down pat. Whenever I hear a snarky comment from him about the current administration or people who pick apples I know that he is enjoying the hell out of it. He’s shaking his head behind the microphone commiserating with the writer. Yes, we hate those guys too.

#3. Blame Bush.

If there’s a hangnail epidemic sweeping Europe, the safe bet is to blame Bush. If you can’t pin Bush then put the onus on Rumsfeld or better yet Karl Rove. I agree with this requirement. I blame the current administration for everything from white washing the actual “war on terror” to my teenager’s obnoxious attitude during dinner conversations. Try it, it works.

#4. If it’s a popular movement, go against the grain.

I’ve heard essays deriding everything from marathon racers to birthday gift giving. One of the editors at the political gabfest eschews birthday gift giving for a sort of library-esque book exchange program at her child’s birthday parties. So pick a subject that a lot of people do (like say jogging) and then be extremely snarky about it. (See #2)

#5 Be Jewish, but not too Jewish.

For example, don’t be like my Aunt Phyllis. She’s a real, New York City, grew-up-in-the-Bronx-during-the-1950s, pinch-your-cheeks, spouts Yiddish and talks about how much jewelry her neighbor wears, Jew. And don’t be militant-Jewish. Or Seinfeld-Jewish. There’s nothing wrong with those types of Jewish but that’s not exactly what they want. Be irreverently Jewish. If you’re not Jewish then be like Alan Alda. He’s not Jewish, but he comes across like he is. I’m Jewish like that, so I’m good there. At least I’m on the radar.

#6 Don’t be a Republican.

Whatever you do. Don’t be a Republican. Be fair and balanced, but just not that kind of fair and balanced. You know, the Fox News kind where you’re not really fair and balanced. Sure, the occasional Republican idea gets its time on the podcast but really, see #4. It’s really just to set the center a little straighter. And it’s not all Republicans, really. It’s more like the real right wing guys. The ones who send dirty text messages to teenage congressional pages. Those guys need not apply. Again, I happen to agree with this one so I’ve got the right party and religious affiliations down.

#7 Pick on celebrities. Especially when they really deserve it.

I think more news organizations need to follow this rule. Pick a celebrity who has screwed up royally and then write about it. This is a surefire way to get to the top of the slush pile. Slate loves celebrity faux pas. I do not mean that you need to write a snarky essay on how Jennifer Lopez wore the wrong haute couture dress on the red carpet. Leave that stuff for Joan Rivers. Slate deals with Mel Gibson-type screw-ups. Major, upsetting, scandalous ones that stray into the political arena. Like Tom Cruise soiling Oprah’s furniture or claiming that he knows more about psychotherapy than Matt Lauer. That stuff is just made for Slate. You may even get a follow up essay assigned to see how that celebrity has dealt with his initial screw-up.

#8 Be pre-trend.

If you can spot a trend before it gets out into the popular media then you’re guaranteed the podcast feature. If you have knowledge of a local trend that has all the markings of a honest-to-goodness, soon-to-be national, craze, then by all means write it up and send it to them. Like, if Bull Frog Stir Fry is the latest thing in Bismarck, North Dakota and all the college kids say BSFS in their IM messages as a euphemism for getting plastered which in itself is a euphemism for getting drunk, let Slate know about it. They eat that insider stuff up.

#9 Be literary.

A good idea in life too. Be as literary as possible when writing your stories. You have to either be well read or try to come across as well read in every essay. Being snarky helps others think that you are well read, even if you are not.

#10 Make lists.

This one escapes me. A large percentage of the essays read on Slate follow a list format. Slate Heart Lists.

Saturday, October 21, 2006 Serves 1 Million Downloads

A free site that serves up podcasted novels hit a milestone the other day, it passed the 1 million download mark! Its good to see the worlds of audiobooks and podcasting starting to make some traction out there.

read more digg story

Friday, October 13, 2006


After more than thirty years as a punk rock venue that began the careers of legends like Blondie and the Ramones, CGBG is closing its doors on October 15th. A moment of silence for this New York City institution that will probably become a Starbucks or a Gap. It’s a shame. I think that those who made their fortunes starting out in this place should take on the new lease and at least convert it into a cool museum slash used record shop, if they must they can serve coffee in the front.

Started in 1977 by Hilly Kristal CBGB became the place to go for new, live music. In the early Seventies, believe it or not, there were few venues for new bands to go on stage and just do their thing. CBGC filled that gap. Now music proliferates the scene but it was a dark time in New York back then with Middle Class flight and the degradation of the inner cities. (Good time to buy Real Estate though if you could wait long enough.)

Through the years bands like the Agnostic Front to Talking Heads, Police and The Dead Boys to Urge Overkill and almost everyone in between have played at CBGB.

From the CBGB website:

“The question most often asked of me is, "What does CBGB stand for?" I reply, "It stands for the kind of music I intended to have, but not the kind that we became famous for: COUNTRY BLUEGRASS BLUES." The next question is always, "but what does OMFUG stand for?" and I say "That's more of what we do, It means OTHER MUSIC FOR UPLIFTING GORMANDIZERS." And what is a gormandizer? It's a voracious eater of, in this case, MUSIC.” – Hilly Kristal.

Hilly is moving everything from the walls to the urinals to a new location in Las Vegas. Anything he can’t move he expects to sell on eBay.

CBGB 1973-2006.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Billion. Nine Zeros, Many Heroes.

Look down at your computer after you read this sentence. What kind of computer are you using? Unless you are me, it’s most likely a PC of some brand or another. These days, it most likely to be a Dell. When you look back up, you are probably using a Windows Operating System. No matter what program you are running or website you are searching, in all likelihood, odds-on, in all probability, nine time out of ten, you are running some version of Windows.

Now if you go to the Forbes website and look at the new Forbes 400 list, take a gander at who’s number one. That’s right, William Henry Gates III, age 50. He has an estimated fortune of Fifty-Three Billion Dollars. That is a five and then a three and then put nine zeros after it. Then if you want to really cry, stick a decimal and two more zeros. BHG3, as I like to refer to him, is a Billionaire fifty-three times over. $53,000,000,000.

Let’s savor that number: $53,000,000,000.

I’m sure there are website out there that can tell you how much he makes per second, per hour, all that jazz. It’s most likely a little bit more than you do.

One of the reasons BHG3 is worth $53,000,000,000 (All those zeros!!!) is that when you look at your computer screen, you are looking at a program being run on Windows. That’s it. Most computers in the world run on Windows. That is why the guy is filthy rich.

Let’s compare that to your cable company or your cell phone service provider. Most homes in America do not use the same exact services for any utility or entertainment except their computer's OS. As a matter of fact, Ma Bell was broken up because it was too big. It was a monopoly. Most people used their service and that meant they had too much power for the government’s taste.

Microsoft controls about everything you do on your computer. The basic platform is based on its software. Millions upon Millions of people use Windows and therefore use Internet Explorer to surf the web. Face it, not everyone is as good as you. They do not know that Internet Explorer is like the Swiss cheese of software. It’s a hacker’s dream. They do not know to download Firefox or some other browser. (Oh yeah, there are those who use the AOL browser still. Forgot about those people.)

Despite bug, errors, holes, security risks and just about everything else that makes a program a dud, Windows and IE are chugging along, making BHG3 richer and richer. Despite a large monopoly and subclass software, the company still goes like the Energizer Bunny. And they are not stopping. Next Microsoft is planning to have software in Television set top boxes, cell phones, more games, toasters, catalytic converters and vibrators. (O.K. I made some up but the Television set top boxes, cell phones and more games are true.)

But with growth opportunity like that, BHG3 can give away money to half of Africa and still be on top of the list next year.

I say, good for ole BHG3. Good for him. People probably made fun of him in high school and he never even finished college. But he’s a billionaire. He’s a role model for teenagers everywhere who tell their parents that they don’t need to go to college because BHG3 didn’t and he’s a billionaire. Thanks BHG3.

What does any of this have to do with either entertainment or Science Fiction, you say. Well, Steve Jobs of course. I use a Mac. So my guy is Steve Jobs. But he is only ranked #49 with a paltry 4.9 Billion. Jeeze talk about betting on a bum. He had to have two companies, Apple and Pixar to make his little bitty stash.

Still not enough, well, Science Fiction Hall of Fame founder Paul Allen is #5 with 16 Billion, which is down slightly from last year. I bet he’s running out to get those florescent light bulbs to save a few bucks because of it too.

But in all honesty those guys are not the real heros of this list. The real hero is Mr. H Ty Warner. His company produces and sells Beanie Babies. He made 4.5 Billion dollars selling Beanie Babies. They are the ridiculous plush toys that people go crazy collecting and use to line car dashboards. Yes. That guy’s a billionaire. Yes. A billionaire. Beanie Babies. Yes.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New Planet: It Floats!

Some planets are light that they could float in a giant tub of water. A recent discovery by Smithsonian astronomers has resulted in a very unusual find. Known as HAT-P-1 a new planet that is about 1.38 the size of Jupiter has a mass that is less than half that of Jupiter.

Astronomers found the planet by using a process in which they observe a distant star and measure its light. At regular intervals, a large planet will obstruct the face of the star directed at earth and lower its brightness as it passes by in its orbit around the star. This particular planet (HAT-P-1) goes around its sun every four and one-half days. Amazingly the planet is only one-twentieth the distance to its star as earth is to our own sun. This planet is light and it’s fast.

According to scientists this planet has a density that is lighter than a giant ball of cork, about ¼ that of water. It is about 24 percent larger than theories expect a planet to be for its mass.

In our own solar system, Saturn has similar properties. Saturn is almost as large as Jupiter yet it has a much lower density. Saturn can also float in water. The ringed planet also spins very fast. Combine a fast rotation and a low density and you get an unusual property. Saturn is elongated in shape. It is flattened at the equator. That makes for a very interesting planet, what with its rings, its many moons, its density and its shape.

Because of the newly discovered, “lighter,” planets, scientists will have to rethink current theories of planet formation.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tolkien Rides Again

J.R.R. Tolkien's unfinished work "The Children of Hurin" that he began to write but abandoned in 1918 will be edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and published by Houghton Mifflin in the United States and HarperCollins in England.

As a child, Christopher would read his father’s stories and approve of them. "The Hobbit" was originally written as a story for J.R.R. Tolkien's children but when friend and associate C.S. Lewis insisted that Tolkien send the book to a publisher it became a best seller. This inspired the publisher to ask Tolkien for a sequel, which became "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy.

Christopher Tolkien has a long history of commenting on and editing his father’s work, starting from when he was very young. In the Seventies, he edited "The Silmarillion," a composite of his father’s works and published posthumously. "The Silmarillion" is a five-part book that was written as separate works but compiled by Christopher Tolkien. Missing parts were filled in by Tolkien's research into his father's notes and some parts were written from scratch.

Tolkien's prolific notes, half-finished works, maps and timelines are a testament to his attention to language and history in his writing. Fantasy writers are unanimous on the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien invented the fantasy genre and almost everything else is honorably derivative. The quest, the creatures, the dark wizard and the king! All of it started with Tolkien.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Disneyfication of ME!

Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Disney.

There is a consensus out there that Disney is Evil. Disney = Evil. Anthropomorphic Cartoon Animals in a made-up world called Walt Disney World = Eternity of torture by Anthropomorphic Animals in made-up world called Hell. Get the point? I have friends who would rather have their eyelashes pulled out one-by-one while bamboo chutes are shoved under their fingernails than go to Disneyland or watch a Disney film.

I used to be one of them.

Yes, I admit, I was a Disney hater too. Mostly because of my ignorance. See, I never went to see a Disney movie when I was a kid. I never saw Bambi in my youth. I never watched the Dwarves shack up with Snow White and I never got to see booty-calling Cinderella make it with her babe-a-licious beau, Prince Charming. I blame my parents. They were not very big fans of Disney. Also, the proliferation of VCR movies and more recently DVDs hadn’t come about when I was a lad.

Now if my mother will stop screaming at me I will tell you that once, when I was in third grade my family did make a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida. I had the time of my life. It was a great fun. All of it. I still remember how it felt to ride in the Haunted Castle or the Pirate’s of the Caribbean ride. I remember the Electric Light Parade and the butter pats shaped like Mickey Mouse. But alas, that was in the Seventies and I should not return to that enchanted land for almost 30 years.

In between I was rarely exposed to anything Disney-like. There was a dry spell in the eighties of animated Disney films. Or at least very good films. The kind that harkens back to the golden age when they produced Cinderella and Snow White and Bambi. Then in the early Nineties they came out with The Little Mermaid. A musical based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale. It was a great little movie. A friend of mine had a sister who watched it on a daily basis when she finally scored the VCR tape. By that time, thought, I was a jaded art student just discovering my inner Goth. Despite the fact that the bad guy in the movie was a dark, octopus like creature who wanted to steal the beautiful voices of the Mer-People, it still didn’t go far enough for my brash, young, self.

I raised the banner with the best of them as to how bad it was that Disney took stories and themes and simplified them, making happy endings out of them. “The original fairy tales were cautionary tales that rarely had happy endings,” I’d explain. It was a bad thing to take the world and candy coat it into something sweet and fluffy and good. The real world is full of darkness, evil and rarely do things work out. Besides, if the Walt Disney Company had its way we’ all be strolling down fake, cobbled stoned streets, hanging onto white picket fences, Zipadeedodaing all around town like a nation of Stepfords.

A relentless litany of animated films came out in the Nineties. The Little Mermaid followed up with Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1993), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998), Tarzan (1999). Along with 3-D animation company, Pixar, a former Lucasfilm Company bought by Steve Jobs of Apple fame, (and if you know me at all you know how giddy this makes me!) Disney distributed the Toy Story movies (19995 & 1999) and A Bug’s Life (1998). Then there was the Tim Burton classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

Since then the studio has produced or distributed many other animated films although they have not reached the renaissance of animated musicals that they achieved in the 1990s. Disney and Pixar produced a slew of new films together ushering in a new age of animation where 3-D ruled. With the success of Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, Disney announced that they were giving up on 2-D (traditional) animated movies and called the format dead. But after purchasing Pixar as a wholly owned subsidiary in 2005, Disney has rediscovered a commitment to 2-D cartoons and is producing them again.

When I had children of my own, they demanded that I put on Disney films. My wife sent me out at ungodly hours to buy Limited Edition DVDs that peeked out of the Disney Vault but might disappear for another fifty years if we didn’t hurry and buy them all up.

Through repeated viewings and osmosis, the fairy tales began to seep in and I admit to now having the soundtrack to Aladdin on my iPod. (Love that Robin Williams!) And for the first time in 30 years the gates of the magic kingdom opened and I strode the clean streets while men and women dressed like a Technicolorized version of the late nineteenth century descended on us.

If you’ve ever been, you know what I mean. At a moment’s notice a band of happy characters dressed like they stepped off a paddleboat on the sparkling Mississippi River will roll through the streets dancing and singing a happy tune. There’s a candy store on the corner and a bunch of places that will sell you everything that you ever wanted, with Mickey Mouse slapped on it. Any true ex-Industrial-Goth would just melt into a black puddle right there, the sticky sweetness shooting holes into my old black combat boots.

Truth is, I enjoyed it. A lot. And I traded combat boots for Docksiders years ago.

There is something innocent and nostalgic about the park. Perhaps because the last time I was there I was just an eight-year-old boy. Perhaps it’s just because Disney gets it right. You heard me. They get it right.

Kids will always be kids. They love cartoons, they love candy and they love music they can sing along to. If you combine them all together well, Jackpot! That’s what Disney World is in a nutshell. It is like actually stepping into one of Walt Disney’s animated films. Judging from all the historical information you can get on the man while touring the park, this is exactly what he intended.

Disney is not an enigma. It is not complicated or deceitful. No matter what happens behind the scenes in the corporate world, the face of Disney is a cartoon wonderland full of wonder and magic and history. History that might be its own, self-referential history, but by now, after all these years, it’s true history. It’s magical.

If you don’t dig too deep you can find a na├»ve, simplicity in Disney. The cartoons always have a happy ending, they always teach some lesson and they are usually so well done you can’t help but get sucked into the story, the music, the images or all of the above.

Even Tomorrowland still looks like the wide-eyed version of the future that Walt Disney himself tried to promote. I feel like I stepped into a realm created thirty, forty, fifty years ago and nothing has changed since.

But there’s more to it than just some silly old rides and cotton candy. The movies that Disney puts out for the children of America today are not your father’s Disney flick.

I should have known that all along.

Case in point: Nightmare Before Christmas. I loved this movie so much when it first came out I went and bought all the watches at Burger King. I saw it in the movie theater twice. This is not your typical Disney film yet Disney distributed it. Also, Tim Burton, one of my favorite directors, was employed at Disney as an artist for a time. Disney studio is where he first began thinking up the characters for Nightmare and he directed and wrote a short film called Vincent there, though the film was never released.

Burton originally pitched this film to Disney while working there but they turned him down because it was too dark. After meeting with success, he finally was able to create his masterpiece but Disney still thought it was too dark. They released it under their Touchtone studio releases. At the time the movie was released, I had no idea it had roots in the Disney studio.

Since then, after years of building momentum, Nightmare Before Christmas has become one of Disney’s greatest marketing movies, selling characters and merchandise inspired by the movie year after year. On October 20, 2006, Disney plans to release a 3-D version of the film in limited release.

So among the Mickey Mouse ears and Goofy hats are Jack Skelington snow globes.

Disney has even conquered Broadway. At the center of the Times Square redevelopment project was Disney’s purchase and restoration of the New Amsterdam Theater. Currently a very impressive performance of Disney’s The Lion King is playing there. If you go expecting a rehash of a cartoon with fuzzy costumed characters playing the central role, be prepared for disappointment. The Broadway version of this musical is impressive and beautiful in it’s own right. The production design and costuming are brilliant as is the casting. This is another good example of Disney getting it right.

Recently, Disney hit gold with a live action film done right, Pirates of the Caribbean. This movie had it all: Costumes, effects, beautiful sets, dialogue and superb performances by the four main stars, Johnny Depp (brilliantly playing Captain Jack Sparrow as one half-drunk, one half-mad, one half-Keith Richards), Geoffrey Rush (always a pleasure!), Orlando Bloom (playing the anti-Legolas) and beautiful and talented Keira Knightly (did I mention beautiful and talented?). This movie redefines the swashbuckling adventure like I only pray that Indiana Jones part four will come close to. Besides that, it single handedly brought back the Pirate craze. (When did the pirate craze end, I say!)

“It all started with a mouse.”

Continually throughout a visit to Disney World you are reminded by enormous graffiti and the voice of the man himself that Disney all started with a mouse. That’s only partly true. It started with a dream. The mouse came second.

Walt Disney and his brother Roy Disney started Disney Studios way back in the 1920s. Originally they began with short animated films staring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. (Who looked very much like Mickey Mouse with long ears.) When Walt lost the rights to Oswald to another production studio he had to come up with another character to star in his cartoons. Mickey Mouse was created and stared in one of the first popular cartoons that also featured a soundtrack called Steamboat Willie.

Not one to rest, after gaining popularity, fame and money with his Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons Walt decided he wanted to do a feature length cartoon. Other thought he was crazy but he pushed on and when Snow White came out, it was a smash.

From then on Walt expanded his empire from short cartoons to great big theme parks in California and then Orlando. These parks were going to be like stepping out of real life and into a fantasy. Just like most other things he dreamed up, Walt succeeded in this endeavor too.

At the core of it all is a basic premise: Tell a good story and tell it right. That has been the cornerstone of the Disney legacy. Walt Disney was a perfectionist. Snow White took longer and cost more money than originally planned because of his detailed personality. In the end it was all worth it. Meticulous detailing and an uplifting, well-told tale are what made Disney a great man and a great movie company. Over the years, Disney has had its ups and downs. It has fallen in and out of the public’s favor but all in all, we can’t imagine a world without Walt Disney’s fantasies. And we would not want to either.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Nine Eleven

This is a repeat of the same article I ran last year on Nine Eleven. I wrote this the night that the attacks on the Twin Towers happened. My wife went to work that night and I was alone after my son went to bed. I sat down at the kitchen table in our little condo and as the television continued to play the ongoing events I wrote this. It may be a little unpolished but it was written all at once so it captures a lot of the emotion I felt at that moment.

Nine Eleven
By Lon S. Cohen

A woman comes to the bus stop and calmly reports that a plane crashed into the Twin Towers. She must be mistaken, I think. She probably means one of those small prop jobs. I imagine the buildings, standing resolutely, the shining legs of a metal god, shrugging off the accident like a mosquito bite. It was annoying but not too tragic. Didn’t a plane crash into the Empire State Building in the forties? I ignore the report and mention my little fact to the mothers surrounding me. My bit of trivia fails to move them.

Inside my house, TV graphics blaze with the words AMERICA UNDER ATTACK or ATTACK ON AMERICA. My wife and I wonder what the hell is going on. A second plane, just moments before we flipped on the TV, crashed into the other tower.Then, a third crash. A plane slams into the Pentagon. My body shook. I want to puke. I don't know what to do with myself. I flip through the channels, absorbing as much of the information as possible. A fourth plane chrahes into a field in Pennsylvania!America really was under attack! It was real! Planes are dropping from the sky. What else is out there?

We were feeling what other countries had felt throughout modern history. Images of Beruit, with its bombed out buildings and war torn streets, came to mind. I’m afraid of the skies over my own country. I compare the feeling to that of Britain when Germany pounded her with bombs. I feel the same shock that the people of Japan must have felt when they learned of the bombing of Hiroshima.On thousands and thousands of postcards, magnets, ashtrays and chochkas in homes around the country--around the world--the Twin Towers boldly reach above every other building in New York. The towers were pillars of the financial world, not to mention the pride of our city. Now, somehow, someone has taken them away from us. Everyone housed inside and the emergency personal who risked their lives for others went down with them.

America has some scars. Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City and the Kennedy assassination crease our nation’s soul with sadness. This tragedy burns the heart of America. How can we heal from this wound? Will we heal? Those questions we cannot answer except by waiting out the days.My son comes home from school at 3:30. I am numb to the events. I saw the crash from every angle. I heard all the commentary. I passed through all the classic phases one deals with during tragedies such as this. He announces that he knew all about it already. We explain the seriousness of the situation but I fear that he may be too young to understand.We watch the news for him while he plays with his friends, exchanging playground rumors. Hours later, after my wife, a nurse, goes to work her midnight shift, I sit in my kitchen wondering what to do next.I worry most about bedtime. Not mine, but my son’s. How do I put my child to bed tonight and pretend that he’s safe? I feel vulnerable, more than ever before in my life. What do I tell my son about this great American tragedy?

I look at the skyline of Manhattan on my television now darkened by night. A red cloud billows from the space between buildings where the World Trade Center should be. A pit has opened and swallowed the Twin Towers. I imagine the great groan of some demon as the building plunges further down into the maw. With the help of the media we are all huddled around that pit looking down, consoling each other, getting angry, crying over the loss, warming ourselves by the fire of this tragedy.I tuck in my son to a clear, starry night. I don’t want to let go of him. I don’t want to walk out of his room and pretend that this is not a big deal. I pray as I finally leave him to sleep that he never knows the fear of the world that I do right now.


Saturday, September 09, 2006


It’s a miracle! A true sighting caught on tape in Germany!

Check it out!


Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Apparently not everyone is mourning Steve Irwin’s death. Germaine Greer, academic and writer known for her book, The Female Eunuch, published in the early 1970s, commented in UK’s The Guardian that, “The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn.”

Not sure why she has such a beef with him and sees fit to criticize the man so soon after his death but there you go.

Check out the entire article here.

The article has not gone by without a backlash from the Australian website Check out the reaction here.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Steve Irwin, Croc Hunter and self proclaimed Wildlife Warrior, dies at 44.

I heard the news almost immediately after it happened. My wife and my brother and I were out at a bar having a rare opportunity to get away from the house. We came home close to 1:40 am on Monday morning, New York time, and my brother jumped on the computer to check news and email while we wound down from the night. Curiously he said, “The Crocodile Hunter died?” It was a matter of fact way to say it. I don’t think he knew that he was getting the news almost in real time.

At first I didn’t believe him; I thought it was a mistake. But it was true. The lovable, khaki wearing, “Aussie,” who got way too close to danger while clowning around with deadly animals, promoting his sincere agenda of raising awareness for nature, had died. Ironically, the animal that caused his death was not known to be very dangerous. The stingray’s tail, a defensive mechanism, while containing a poison, generally does not cause death in humans. According to reports, it was the bleeding that led to his death because the barb pierced his heart.

As the news sunk in, I became upset. I watched his shows and really liked him as a television personality. My children all watched him as well. He even starred with the Wiggles in a Croc Hunter special! Perhaps it was my inner child that mourned him. He was a very real guy. Even if he wasn’t really like his exuberant T.V. personality in real life, you go the sense that what you saw was the person he was. I expected that if I ever met him, I’d really like him, a lot. Also, he was star to children and the saddest thing is the fact that my kids would soon learn that their beloved “Croc Hunter” was dead.

The next day, I was with a few friends and the talk was not only of how sad it was to loose such an amazing personality but the fact that no one wanted to tell their children. At a barbeque that following day, a friend whispered to his wife, “Don’t talk about what we heard this morning on T.V.” Of course I knew exactly what he was talking about and I commiserated with them about how regretful it was to loose a guy like Steve Irwin.

So far I’ve not heard anyone say that he knew the risks, it was always a danger working with those animals. I wondered about that, because although it will come up, the initial reaction is total shock and loss. He seemed indestructible, invisible because he had such a connection, such respect, for the animals he worked with. He loved them and you sort of felt in some strange, childish way, that they knew it too and would never let harm come to such an advocate and friend.

The world of nature is cruel and unforgiving. That is the lesson we must take from this tragic event. It’s a lesson I’d rather forget. I’d rather live in a world where a guy like Steve Irwin goes into the deep jungle, wrestles with terrible beasts and survives every time, as happy-go-lucky as ever. But it is not true. Perhaps that is the thing I failed to capture when I first heard the news. The reason I grieved for him was not just a loss to the world, but a personal loss as well. Not that I knew the man, but I knew what he represented, what he meant to me. He symbolized the imaginary, the fantastic aspect of the real world of nature. He brought things to my home, my children, myself that I’d never have seen if he’d not been there to do it. And in such a way that made it easy, casual, funny and true.

The kids I spoke with, the ones old enough to have grown up watching him on T.V. but not too young to hear the news, all said the same thing. They feel for his wife and kids. My son, a very typical thirteen year old, who generally doesn’t think of anything but what affects his person, was the first to bring up the fact that he had two very young children. He felt bad for them.

This is another thing that we learned from Steve Irwin. He taught us compassion for others. These kids could have said, they miss him, or they can’t believe they won’t see him on T.V. anymore. The one thing they always worried about was his family. He was a superhero to these kids and they wondered what it would be like for his children to grow up without him around. You have to admit, he was a pretty cool Dad.

His great advocacy and respect for animals, despite their brutal nature showed us to respect the world. It showed our kids that you must think of things other than yourself. He brought out the best of us.

The people of Australia lost a great hero. The people of the world lost a great entertainer. Nature lost a great advocate. The self-proclaimed “Wildlife Warrior” has passed and I hope that we all can learn as much from his death as we did his life.

For more information on the man and his accomplishments see the Wikipedia entry on Steve Irwin, the official homepage of the Crocodile Hunter, his IMDB page, or various articles about him on the web.

The Sydney Morning Herald has an article here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bob Bigelow, Space Gigalo

Robert Bigelow, millionaire, real estate magnet, hotel mogul, spaceman.

Yep, Mr. Bigelow, founder of the hotel chain, Budget Suites of America, and multi-millionaire has already launched a one-third-scale model of his inflatable space hotel. He’s one of the new visionary space entrepreneurs that include Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson looking to the final frontier to conquer and make oodles of cash. According to a report in the LA Times, he has many obstacles that include launch costs and safety issues. At present the price tag for a space tourist is $20,000,000. If only Visa offered that spending limit on my 0% card, I’d be there. But alas that will have to wait a few more years. Mr. Bigelow imagines that in ten years the price to soar into space will be a mere $9,000,000, still out of range for the average Joe’s salary.

The inflatable hotel is based on a design called TransHab that NASA discarded a few years ago when budget cuts forced them to pare down projects. When the design became available Mr. Bigelow snatched it up and formed a new company called Bigelow Aerospace. They hope to have a full sized model up in orbit in five years with guests arriving in ten. Those are grand dreams. Mr. Bigelow imagines the inflatable hubs to be used as conference centers, sports stadiums, and of course, hotels. While the amenities are sparse, you can’t beat the view.

The inflatable design, around since the 1960s, has advantages over a metal space station like the International Space Station currently in orbit. The main one being that it is much lighter. A downside is that if it pops, you’re dead. The current design has a shell strength of 3-inch thick aluminum. It’s a start.

Like other space entrepreneurs, Mr. Bigelow has been fascinated with exploring the outer limits since he was a child. It seems that a generation of Baby Boomers—fed a steady diet of Twilight Zone and Star Trek on television—are now indulging their childhood dreams of traveling to the stars and they have the funds to do it. Not only that, Mr. Bigelow has founded The National Institute for Discovery Science a center to investigate paranormal events including UFO abductions. He believes in the paranormal experiences that cannot be explained by science.

His clients will not necessarily be the space tourists lining up with millions in disposable income burning a hole in their Brooks Brother’s suit pockets. He envisions small nations without space programs of their own to be his first customers. They will be able to ride a launch and experiment with zero gravity all for less than $10,000,000 per trip. Mr. Bigelow claims that he already has a few countries lining up but he will not disclose their identities, yet.

You can read the LA Times story here.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Puto: Yer OUT!

The IAU has made its decision today, August 24, 2006, and demoted Pluto from planetary status to a dwarf planet. Officially, the solar system has eight planets according to the new definition of a planet. The new definition claims that a planet is "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit." Pluto is excluded because of its oblong orbit that brings it within the orbit of Neptune. No longer under consideration are Xena, Charon or a host of other smaller objects. They will become either dwarf planets or Kuiper Belt Objects or the even more general Small Solar System Objects.

The anagram that school children have used for years "My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas," to remember the planets will have to be changed. I propose "My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us NOTHING!"

Walt Disney is turning in his grave knowing that his beloved cartoon dog has become named for a dwarf object not a planet.

More information can be found here and all over the Internet. In a bizarre twist of fate, Pluto has been demoted on my birthday, which will surely overshadow this historic event.


Monday, August 21, 2006

They're doing what???

Public Laughs, Astronomers Debate, Nobody Cares

According to a report on, the debate over the status of Pluto as a planet and the possibility of adding three more planets to our solar system (and potentially more1) is met with emotions ranging from ambivalence to ridicule. The only thing that most people care about is that if Pluto looses planetary status they will not be happy. Are the astronomers listening?

Check out the article on


Friday, August 18, 2006


So Far, So MF Good.

Snakes On A Plane, the movie that has been getting a lot of buzz on the internet and the podcasting community has finally been released to fairly decent reviews given the hype.


Space Opera in Prague

Breaking news from the IAU.

What is going on in Prague?? Soon we’ll be getting reports of pocket protectors being thrown about in anger. This article was first posted on

Pluto May Get Demoted After All

Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

The effort to define the term "planet" took a fresh twist today as two competing proposals were put forth at a meeting of astronomers in Prague.

In one case, Pluto would be demoted to "dwarf planet" status, which would mean it would not be a real planet at all.

Astronomers are split down the middle on the issue.

Eight planets or hundreds?

On Wednesday, officials with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) proposed a planet definition that would make Pluto's moon Charon a planet. Several astronomers criticized the overall proposal as being vague and the Charon aspect specifically for going too far in essentially recasting too many small round objects as full-fledged planets. Eventually, with new discoveries, there would likely be hundreds.

They also were critical of the proposed term "pluton" to describe Pluto, Charon and other small round objects in the outer solar system that would be planets under the new definition.

Today, a subgroup of the IAU met to discuss the proposal. A straw vote was held in which only about 18 astronomers favored the proposal, according to Alan Boss, a planet-formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Another 20 or so said it should be reworked. And about 50 favored an alternate proposal.

Stay Tuned.


Planets or Plutons

Clarification on the Planet debate?

It seems to be a little confusing with the new definition of what is a planet raging on at the IAU. From what has been presented in the media here is what will happen if the IAU drafts this new definition:

Planets discovered before 1900 will continue to be called "planets."

A new sub-category of planets called "plutons" will be included.

Plutons will include, Pluto, Charon (Pluto’s Moon), Ceres, an asteroid once considered a planet in the 1800s, and object 2003 UB313, alternately called Xena.

In the future scientists will consider other objects to include in this sub category, thereby increasing the number of technical planets in out solar system but not necessarily in the traditional sense.

Another category will be adopted called, small solar system bodies. Tens of thousand of objects currently known will fall into this category.

Why is our moon or other moons around other planets not considered planets themselves if Charon, Pluto’s moon, becomes a planet (or more accurately, a pluton?) Well, the definition of a planet means it has a center of gravity that is not another object. Pluto and Charon are essential a double planet system revolving around each other and then revolving around the sun. The moon’s center of gravity is the earth.

This proposal seems very ambiguous. Is Pluto still a planet or are plutons not planets but a different class of planet? How many planets does our solar system have? 8 or 12?

This information came from a new article posted on Yahoo written by Sophie Pons.

More info as it comes in.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hi! Welcome to the neighborhood...

Images of what will potentially become the new Solar System:

iau0601a: The new Solar System? [artist’s impression]

The world’s astronomers, under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), have concluded two years of work defining the lower end of the planet scale – what defines the difference between “planets” and “solar system bodies”. If the definition is approved by the astronomers gathered 14-25 August 2006 at the IAU General Assembly in Prague, our Solar System will consist of 12 planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Charon and 2003 UB313. The three new proposed planets are Ceres, Charon (Pluto’s companion) and 2003 UB313. There is no change in the planetary status of Pluto.

In this artist’s impression the planets are drawn to scale, but without correct relative distances.

Credit: The International Astronomical Union/Martin Kornmesser

iau0601b: Three new planets? [artist’s impression

The world’s astronomers, under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), have concluded two years of work defining the lower end of the planet scale – what defines the difference between “planets” and “solar system bodies”. If the definition is approved by the astronomers gathered 14-25 August 2006 at the IAU General Assembly in Prague, three of the bodies in the Solar System will be assigned new status as planets: Ceres, Charon (Pluto’s companion) and 2003 UB313. There is no change in the planetary status of Pluto.

In this artist’s impression the planets are drawn to scale, but without correct relative distances.

Credit: The International Astronomical Union/Martin Kornmesser

Planets Defined...

What follows is a draft of the resolution that the IAU is proposing for the definition of a planet:

Draft Resolution 5 for GA-XXVI: Definition of a Planet

Contemporary observations are changing our understanding of the Solar System, and it is important that our nomenclature for objects reflect our current understanding. This applies, in particular, to the designation "planets". The word "planet" originally described "wanderers" that were known only as moving lights in the sky. Recent discoveries force us to create a new definition, which we can make using currently available scientific information. (Here we are not concerned with the upper boundary between "planet" and "star".)

The IAU therefore resolves that planets and other Solar System bodies be defined in the following way:

(1) A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape1, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet.2

(2) We distinguish between the eight classical planets discovered before 1900, which move in nearly circular orbits close to the ecliptic plane, and other planetary objects in orbit around the Sun. All of these other objects are smaller than Mercury. We recognize that Ceres is a planet by the above scientific definition. For historical reasons, one may choose to distinguish Ceres from the classical planets by referring to it as a "dwarf planet."3

(3) We recognize Pluto to be a planet by the above scientific definition, as are one or more recently discovered large Trans-Neptunian Objects. In contrast to the classical planets, these objects typically have highly inclined orbits with large eccentricities and orbital periods in excess of 200 years. We designate this category of planetary objects, of which Pluto is the prototype, as a new class that we call "plutons".

(4) All non-planet objects orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as "Small Solar System Bodies".4

1 This generally applies to objects with mass above 5 x 1020 kg and diameter greater than 800 km. An IAU process will be established to evaluate planet candidates near this boundary.
2 For two or more objects comprising a multiple object system, the primary object is designated a planet if it independently satisfies the conditions above. A secondary object satisfying these conditions is also designated a planet if the system barycentre resides outside the primary. Secondary objects not satisfying these criteria are "satellites". Under this definition, Pluto's companion Charon is a planet, making Pluto-Charon a double planet.
3 If Pallas, Vesta, and/or Hygeia are found to be in hydrostatic equilibrium, they are also planets, and may be referred to as "dwarf planets".
4 This class currently includes most of the Solar System asteroids, near-Earth objects (NEOs), Mars-, Jupiter- and Neptune-Trojan asteroids, most Centaurs, most Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs), and comets. In the new nomenclature the concept "minor planet" is not used.

Members of the Committee

Dr. Andre Brahic is Professor at Universite Denis Diderot (Paris VII) and is Director of the Laboratory Gamma-gravitation of the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique. He specializes in planetary rings, and has co-discovered the rings and arcs of Neptune. For the French-speaking public, Andre Brahic is one of the best known popularisers of science and astronomy, having authored a number of books.

Dr. Iwan Williams, Queen Mary University of Londo, is an expert on the dynamics and physical properties of Solar System objects. He is the current President of IAU Division III (Planetary Systems Sciences).

Dr. Junichi Watanabe is an Associate Professor and also Director of the Outreach Division of NAOJ. He is a solar system astronomer and highly appreciated in Japan as interpreter and writer of astronomy for the public and students. He has strong connections with amateur astronomers, science editors, school teachers and journalists.

Dr. Richard Binzel is Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science at MIT and a specialist in asteroids and outer solar system small bodies, and is also a well known and respected educator and science writer.

Dr. Catherine Cesarsky, Director General of ESO and President-Elect of the IAU, took part in the work of the committee, bringing in the perspective of the IAU Executive as well as that of an astronomer at large.

Dava Sobel is the author of the very successful books "Longitude," "The Planets," and "Galileo's Daughter." She has a solid background in, and knowledge of, the history of science, astronomy in particular.

Dr. Owen Gingerich, Professor of Astronomy and History of Science Emeritus at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is an esteemed historian of astronomy with a broad perspective, and a prize-winning educator.

Credit: The International Astronomical Union

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Roll Over Pluto...

Here is a preliminary follow up to the debate over Pluto as a planet. The final word has not been spoken about this but it looks like we may have a total of twelve official planets in our solar system by the time the IAU closes its meeting in Prague. That would be all of the well known nine planets plus Charon, which is Pluto’s moon, 2003 UB313, or as it is temporarily nicknames, Xena, and Ceres, which interestingly was once considered a planet back in the 1800s but was demoted to asteroid sometime later.

The proposal also calls for new classifications of celestial objects. One is “plutons” which are Pluto-like objects that reside in the Kuiper Belt and “small solar system bodies” which were formerly known as “minor planets” which includes asteroids and comets. Neither “small solar system bodies” or “minor planets” seem sexy enough for my taste. I’d prefer something like, “mass challenged objects” or perhaps, “sub-planet thingies.” There is also just plain old “bits and pieces.”

Check out the article here.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Pluto be or not Pluto be? That is the question!

In a few days the International Astronomical Union (the international community of scientists who decide on all things cosmic) will meet to decide whether or not Pluto will continue to be classified as a planet. Before we all raise our torches and pitchforks and storm the meeting taking place in Prague, let’s consider the possibilities.

The discovery of 2003 UB313, or Xena as it is known by its discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of technology, calls into question a simple phrase know to school children everywhere. It goes like this: My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. The first letter of ever word in the sentence equates to a planet in our solar system and its order relative to the distance from the sun. Mercury. Venus. Earth. Mars. Jupiter. Saturn. Uranus. Neptune. Pluto.

Traditionally we have been taught that our Solar System encompasses nine planets. There’s also a lot of other stuff out there floating within and beyond our nine planets. Between Mars and Jupiter, for example, is a belt of debris called the Asteroid Belt. Could this belt be a failed rocky planet? Who knows? All I know is that whenever a giant asteroid threatens to destroy all life on Earth, it usually hails from this convention of rocky material.

Beyond the Asteroid Belt are four large gaseous planets. They must be having fun out there because they are fat, happy and having ball. (Pun intended, thank you.) Go past the gigantic party animals and you find a belt of small icy stuff called the Kuiper Belt.

The Kuiper Belt consists of billions of floating pieces of prehistoric ice and rock. When I say prehistoric, I don’t mean like during the rein of the dinosaurs, I mean pristine examples of objects that exist in a form almost unchanged since the formation of the Solar System. The Kuiper Belt is said to be responsible for most short period comets, as well. One of those objects is Pluto. In fact, if Pluto were to drift close to the sun it would eject a tail just like a comet and currently solar wind is blowing off a small amount of matter from Pluto every day.

The Kuiper Belt officially extends from past Neptune to 50 AU (Astronomical Units or the distance from the Earth to the Sun.) That’s far and it’s a lot of stuff. When Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930 it was a happy accident. While looking for erroneous perturbations in the orbit of Neptune, astronomers searched for a planet that might be “tugging” gravitationally on Neptune. Tombaugh happened to find Pluto but it was later shown that the calculation of Neptune’s mass was in error and there was no such influence.

Side Note: This is the same way Neptune was theorized to exist. The tugging of its gravity on Uranus caused observational discrepancies with the proposed motion. This computation was correct and thus Neptune was found in 1846. Interestingly, Galileo’s drawings of his observations of Jupiter show that he first observed Neptune in the early 1600s, but because the planet was in retrograde (when the Earth overtakes another planet’s orbit as observed from Earth that planet seems to reverse its orbit) he did not notice its motion. Thus he was first to see Neptune but because he did not know he was looking at a planet (he thought it was a star) he was not credited as the first to discover it. This says much for Galileo’s observing and calculating skills. How many of us can go out with a very crude telescope and start observing Jupiter, its moons, and accidentally discover a planet, although light pollution was not a factor back then and he didn’t have The Sopranos to watch on Sunday nights.

It was a coincidence that Pluto just happened to be where Tombaugh thought he should look. After a long process figuring out what to call the new planet, Pluto was finally named for the mythological guardian of Hades. The astronomers thought that Pluto’s minor controversy was over with but the debate on Pluto would show up again seventy-five years later when Brown discovered 2003 UB313 or Xena.

Another Side Note: Which came first, Mickey Mouse’s dog or the ninth planet? In 1930 the planet Pluto was discovered and named and in the same year Disney introduced a new character. The cartoon pet of various characters who eventually became exclusively Mikey Mouses pal was named for the newly discovered planet and, in a roundabout way, for the Roman god of the underworld.

The problem is that Xena is a little larger than Pluto. So what is an astronomer or textbook writer to do? Is Xena the tenth planet? Even though it sounds like an easy question, it is not. Xena was not the first Kuiper Belt Object discovered. Hundreds have been spotted that seem to resemble planets, like Pluto.

The debate goes like this: Is Pluto a planet or just a Kuiper Belt Object we discovered early in the twentieth century before we really knew there was a Kuiper Belt? And what is the official definition of a planet anyway?

Well, that is what this conference is supposed to resolve. Certain characteristics have been bandied about for years such as: A planet must be a certain size (bigger than Pluto) or shape (round). But with those criteria, more objects discovered in recent years can be considered planets too. We run the risk of being overwhelmed with planets or having Pluto face the knife.

In my opinion (not that anyone at the International Astronomical Union will ask) is that, no matter what we decide going forward when we define what is or is not a planet, Pluto should be “grandfathered” into the clause. For one thing, thousands of school children have learned that Pluto is a planet and that our Solar System has nine of them. There is no harm in continuing that into the future.

Pluto was discovered during a golden age of astronomy when we were pushing the limits of what was defined as the universe at large. Einstein reformulated the physical world and Hubble was observing that what you saw out there was not as it seemed, but expanding at an astounding rate. Since 1930 we have discovered many other objects in the sky but none have (until Xena) threatened to unbalance the model of the solar system we all know and love. In fact, everything else has added to the wonder that is our little neighborhood within the Milky Way.

No matter what the outcome, Pluto needs to be preserved. Many of us grew up to become well-adjusted citizens without once worrying whether there are eight, nine or ten planets or if Pluto is officially a planet or a Kuiper Belt Object. It doesn’t make sense to proliferate the planetary model with hundreds of minor planetoids just to keep the logic of Pluto-as-planet in tact. For posterity’s sake, we should just say that Pluto is a planet in the traditional sense; one of nine objects that circle the sun. The nuances can be sorted out in advanced Astronomy classes in college with people who really care, or therapy if it comes to that.

Besides that, if we get rid of the planet Pluto, is Mickey Mouse’s dog the next to go?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Shameless Plug

My podiobook Erosion is a featured book on Podiobooks's blog and podcast. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Deconstructing Superman

"Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superman! Yes, it's Superman — strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman — who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a neverending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

“What a nice man! Of course, he’s Jewish.” – Superman II


Way back in 1932, Canadian artist, Joel Shuster, and American writer, Jerry Siegel, started to create a powerful comic book icon. The two friends, living in Cleveland, Ohio at the time, conceived of a super human character based on cultural icons and myths of their Jewish heritages to become the archetype superhero character: SUPERMAN. Over the years Superman developed and while working for Detective Comics they made the character the lead in a new title, Action Comics. History was born. Almost seventy years ago, at the end of the depression, America needed a hero to battle the growing threat from overseas and the economic low tide over most of the country.

From a planet many light-years away came a savior, a gift from a dying world.

In the generally accepted origin, Jor-El, a high ranking diplomat and scientist from the planet Krypton had been trying to convince his fellow leaders that the giant red sun at the center of their solar system was about to go supernova. Of course, like most diplomats and politicians, they ignored the sage advice of a respected individual and chose to do nothing, forbidding Jor-El from revealing what he found. Secretly, Jor-El was building an ark for his family to escape but when events came much quicker than he originally expected, Jor-El sent away his son, Kal-El, in a smaller pod so that he could fly at the speed of light to a distant planet, just forming its own civilization. Jor-El saw that the inhabitants of that new planet had great potential. He also knew that they would eventually need a great hero to help them find their way. Predicting that he’d gain super strength because of his alien genetic make-up and the mysterious effect the yellow sun had on Kryptonian biology, Jor-El sent his only son to Earth. Then, Krypton died in a supernova explosion. The only remnants of the great civilization were baby Kal-El, speeding toward Earth, and irradiated pieces of the planet spread out in all directions of space.

Thousands of our years later – but thanks to Einstienian Physics, it is only days or weeks to baby Kal-El – the pod, carrying the boy who would be Superman, crash lands on a roadside in Kansas. Luckily, Jonathan and Martha Kent, a farmer and his wife, find the baby and take him in as their own, naming him Clark, Martha’s maiden name. Throughout the years, as Clark learns his great power he also learns the morals and values of his adopted parents. While in most timelines, Superman starts out fighting crime in Smallville, Kansas, as Superboy, the comics industry likes to screw around with histories from time to time and it is currently unclear if a true Superboy existed, at least to this geek.

Still the basic premise is intact. Superman moves from Smallville to Metropolis (New York City in disguise) and becomes a reporter for the Daily Planet. Taking on the persona of a bumbling fool, in direct opposition to the confident and charismatic Superman, Clark tries to live among humans as a normal man. The relationship between Clark and Superman has taken many turns over the years as the comics, television and film versions differ in their treatment.

Sometimes Clark is seen as the “real” person and Superman the secret identity. Sometimes, Clark is simply a cover story for the great Superman so he can walk among normal men. And at times neither are the real person and the only real identity is the small-town, farm boy, Clark Kent, son of Jonathan and Martha. The dichotomy of personalities can be useful in certain storylines as a weakness to Clark/Superman/Kal-El as the invulnerable man can still be hurt emotionally. While there have been instances that this is used against the comic character, it is best used in the Smallville television series, especially by the young Lex Luthor. In the movies, Lex Luthor and the three Kryptionian convicts led by General Zod, also used Superman’s love of humankind against him. While Kryptonite can kill Superman, his compassion for humans is a huge emotional weakness.

Superman, the Prophet.

Many have criticized Superman’s godlike powers in limiting the ability to tell compelling stories. In the 1960s and early 1970s this led to a decline in readership. Comic lovers turned to Marvel comic’s more human characters like Spiderman. DC tried to remake Superman into a weaker character in the 1980s and 1990s to bring him down a notch but most people see the invulnerable character with super strength and abilities as the iconic Superman they love. Eventually the tide turns and reader fall in love with the original Superman again.

The mythos of Superman, created by two Jewish kids from the city streets of Cleveland, embodies some of the origins and strengths of their culture. Superman’s life spans not only the galaxy but America as well, from rural Kansas to urban Metropolis. Biblical characters like Moses also mirror Superman’s story. He is a powerful child send from danger by his parents to help the masses of weakened and troubled victims of oppression and evil. There is also the element of the Golem story in Superman’s own as he is the protector that all the world wished for. I’ve heard that Kal-El is the Hebrew translation of “Power of God,” “Voice of God” or “All of God.”

Calling Dr. Freud!

If you could get Superman on the couch you’d have a lot to talk about. Not only does he have either a split personality or identity issues, he also has a problem with his parents. First, his biological father is somewhat of an enigma to Kal-El. He understands why his father sent him away in the ultimate sacrifice but he is only a ghostly image, sometimes a computer embedded program giving sage advice across the millennia or sometimes a metal image implanted at birth with information about his natural home. Although his father was a brilliant scientists and leader of Krypton, his mother was no less a persona in his life. Instead of joining young Kal-El in his capsule to safety Lara decides to stay behind, dying by her husband’s side and also giving her baby a better chance of surviving the long journey. He truly never knew his parents because of their great sacrifice. They are spirits, imagined, yet real.

Then there is Jonathan and Martha Kent. In some storylines, both his parents die and in some only Jonathan dies. In any case he loses one or both of his adopted parents. As both Kal-El and Clark Kent, the man knows true loss. He is constantly seeing his parents leave him to the world on his own, trusting that the world will take care of him, as much as he’s entrusted to take care of the world. Perhaps fear of loss, fear of lost love is what motivates Superman. His parents sacrificed greatly for him, so he returns the favor with selfless service to the world, albeit at the cost of great personal pain.

As a grown man (one that wears tights) Superman becomes, once again, a new incarnation of himself. Madonna is good a reinventing herself, but Superman is the true champion of personal transformation. He is alien, orphan, small town boy, orphan again and then superhero and in one final incarnation he becomes a weak, pitiful character in Clark Kent. In this way he can see how the other half lives yet again putting himself in great personal pain. He knows that he is Superman but will someone love him as a regular guy? As Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter?

Think of the richest guy you know. Think of Bill Gates. He’s like Superman. He’s a geeky, mild mannered tech guy, but he has this huge corporation and more money than all the people you know, and all the people they know, combined and then some. He has astronomical wealth. This is his superpower personality, richest guy in the world. Now, take away all that wealth. Do you think that his supermodel wife sees him at the end of the bar, pocket protector, loose fitting clothes and all, thinks to herself, what a great personality and slides over to him? Not in this world! But he can’t know what people would think of him because everyone knows Bill Gates and everyone knows what he’s about. So what’s a billionaire to do? Adopt a secret identity and see how everyone treats him. Just like Clark Kent except Bill Gates takes off his glasses to be normal.

In a mock therapy session Superman goes to see Sigmund Freud:

“Tell me about your parents?” Sigmund says in a deep Austrian accent.

“Which ones, doc?”

“Your real parents.”

“Well, I really don’t know who they are. I mean I have the parents who gave birth to me on Krypton, Jor-El and Kara but besides that I really don’t know much about them. Then there are my Earth parents, Jon and Martha Kent. They raised me and taught me my values. Who are my ‘real’ parents? Jor-El and Kara or Jonathan and Martha?”

“Oy Vey, vat a pickle you’re in. No vunder your carry that blankey around with you.”

“Blankey? You mean my cape.”

“Cape, blankey… It’s all the same. You use it as security against the real world. So much confusion in your life.”

“Yeah, well you don’t know the half of it.”

“OK. Vell, tell me a little about how you feel about your Kryptonian parents abandoning you?”

“They didn’t abandon me, they send me away to safety.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s vat Moses said too.”

“Moses didn’t have X-Ray vision.”

“That’s true. Good point. So you have any guilt about your parents?”

“What do you mean?”

“Vell, your Kryptonian parents died and you survived. Survivor guilt perhaps.”

“Hmmm. That’s a good point, doc.”

“Then your Earth parents had to hide out on that farm because with your powers, the government might take you avay from them. They were stuck in small-ville. Literarily.”

“I don’t think that…”

“Then let’s talk about why you are here? Do you have bad dreams? Do you wet the bed? Are you having sexual dreams about your mothers?”


“Sorry, I must ask.”

“I don’t have those types of problems.”

“Everybody has those types of problems.”

“Well, there is this one girl at work. I can’t stop thinking about her.”

“Vat is her name?”

“Lois. She’s beautiful and smart and a real pip, you know what I mean.”

“She’s got moxy!”

“Right, moxy. She’s a tough city girl. She doesn’t let anything bother her.”

“How many parents does she have?”

“Two, I think. I never asked.”

“And why are you so attracted to her?”

“She knows who she is, you know what I mean? She’s her own woman.”

“And does she feel the same vay about you?”

“Well, she doesn’t really know me like this at work.”

“Explain, please.”

“At work I’m a different person.”

“Go on.”

“I wear glasses and kind of act dopey and clumsy. She doesn’t like me at work. She only likes me as Superman.”


“Yeah, and I’m afraid she’s only into me because I’m all big and strong and invulnerable.”

“You are afraid she is idolizing your outward traits. Like, hero vorship.”

“Exactly. And I never really get to talk to her because she doesn’t like to talk to Clark at work and whenever we get together when I’m Superman it’s usually because Lex Luthor has her tied to a chair in a sinking boat or with a bomb about to go off.”

“I see. So you are conveniently unapproachable.”

“I guess. I never thought of it that way.”

“I think I know vat is wrong with you.”

“What is it, doc? What’s the matter with me?”

“You have multiple personality disorder by the fact that you have different identities depending on vat situation you are in and who you are vith. And you have a god complex. You also have commitment issue stemming from the loss of your parents. You do not vant to get close to anyone because you are afraid of loosing them.”

“You think so?”

“Sure. I also suspect you have depersonalization disorder and social anxiety. That is why you adopt different personalities to hide your true self from the world. Your repressed conflict over your parents’ abandonment and deaths are expressed by your multiple identities in your relationships. You act like different people to confuse your friends so that they never get too close to you, never know your real self.”

“Great Scott! What should I do, doc?”

“I’m recommending Paxil.”

If it wasn’t for the superpowers, this guy could be Woody Allen, another great Jew. In other words, Superman is a Jewish Superhero, guilty and neurotic. That’s not too far off considering his beginnings. Even in the real world he was rejected many times before he found a home at Detective Comics.

Shame on DC.

In the real world things don’t always work out the way we’d like. For Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, things didn’t work out that well at all. Sure, they created the greatest superhero in the world. You’d think they were millionaires! They’re not. We’ll they weren’t because unfortunately they both passed away a few years ago.

We’ll work backwards. On July 30, 1992, Joe Shuster died at the age of 78. On January 28, 1996, Jerry Siegel passed away. Luckily these men narrowly avoided dying of abject poverty; of course this was not the case all along. Around 1975 Joe Shuster, suffering from a life-long eye problem was mostly blind and living with a relative was, for the most part, poor. At the same time, Joe Siegel, while slightly more successful than his partner, having written for various comics over the years including Marvel’s The Human Torch, brought a campaign to the public to make the world aware that he and his creative partner were receiving no royalties or payment for creating the Superman character. Warner Brothers, owners of DC Comics, eventually gave the pair a $35,000 pension for life and full medical benefits, a small pittance compared to the multiple millions the company made on the Superman enterprise over the years. One of the few compensations that was made in the case was that from then on, the Superman franchise would forever carry the “Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster” tag line. Apparently this made them happier than the money.

What got these two into this situation? Well, as common practice in the early comics era, the publisher retained all the rights to the characters their artists created. When Superman became a phenomenon, Joe and Jerry earned a modest salary for their employment at DC. In the Forties they won a sizable lawsuit for the time for their creation, still a small portion of the proceeds DC made off the character. Then they won rights to the Superboy character in court, which they then turned around and sold. After that they were no longer employed by DC. If you look back, a company with morals would have somehow shared profits with these two for creating the biggest icon of all time in the comics business. Perhaps a good stock plan or a nice royalty-sharing program. Even a half of a percent would have been enough to help these guys out. Granted the company did promote and continue the Superman line successfully without the contribution of these two but a little compensation out of heart would have been nice. Even to this day, despite the required moniker, DC makes little fanfare of their relationship to Jerry and Joe. I guess if my company treated employees that poorly in the past, I’d hide the fact as well.


Inspired by not only Superman the comic hero but also the two men who created him, Michael Chabon wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay. There is no doubt the story about two Jewish kids who create their own superhero, the Escapist, is based on the Superman creators.

There have been many others to follow but like the favored son, the ultimate athlete and the dashing, charismatic, leading man, Superman is the one all others who come after aspire to. Even if it’s only to be as different from Superman as possible, he pervades all of comic-dom. He is the one true American hero!