Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday 30 June 2015

Happy Asteroid Day!

Here at the Tavern we like to think that every day is Asteroid Day, but today it's official; the word 'bandwaggon' springs irresistibly to mind as the mass media weigh in with exclusives on every side, aiming to outdo each other with tales of near misses and earth-skimming behemoths.

As  it happens, we've had one of these in our sights for a while; July 7th brings us the whopping 65m+ 2015 HM10 a mere 442,000km away - rather less than ten times the length of the Pan--American Highway - which probably justifies some serious carousing.

The Metro, striking out at something of a tangent, has chosen to gratify readers of an apocaholic disposition by outlining an assortment of other interesting ways in which our species could be wiped out and concluding that an asteroid strike might not be such a bad way to go, considering. While sadly lacking in detail, it does, at least, provide a refreshing change to the general hysterical hyperbole over space-rocks passing safely by at nearly 20 lunar distances.

Asteroid Day, meanwhile, largely amounts to a massive public awareness campaign (for those who are not regular readers of this blog) and an invitation to sign a declaration calling for:
  • Employ available technology to detect and track Near-Earth Asteroids that threaten human populations via governments and private and philanthropic organisations.
  • A rapid hundred-fold acceleration of the discovery and tracking of Near-Earth Asteroids to 100,000 per year within the next ten years.
  • Global adoption of Asteroid Day, heightening awareness of the asteroid hazard and our efforts to prevent impacts, on June 30, 2015.
While deploring their slightly iffy grammar and wondering what happens to resolution 2 if there are insufficient asteroids out there to meet the target of 100,000 discoveries a year, I can say that the third of these is an aim I support wholeheartedly - not least because it's an excellent excuse for a party.

Meanwhile, matters astronomical are to the fore today in the form of the leap second to be added tonight to keep atomic clocks in line with the earth's rotation. My favourite coverage of the story is this 'down wid da kidz' version from Radio 1's 'Newsbeat' page:
[Last time it happened]  In 2012 a number of big websites including Mozilla, Reddit, Gawker, LinkedIn, FourSquare and Yelp were caught out and went a bit wrong.
Newsbeat got in touch with Robert Edwards, head of science at the Royal Observatory Greenwich - the place were [sic] time in the UK is kept. 
As a bonus, they helpfully include a picture of  'a clock at Newsbeat HQ' so their readers can be sure what they are talking about.

And, as if that were not enough, Jupiter and Venus are joining forces, at least from our perspective, this evening to put on what out distant ancestors would have seen as a spectacular lightshow - though it's likely to be less of a novelty to our jaded 21st-century visual palates.

All in all, then, I think this calls for a celebration; I invite you to join me in the Tavern (though  you may need to dust off the bar-stools) and raise a glass to Asteroid Day - many happy returns!

Sunday 14 June 2015

Soundtrack Sunday: "Cut, you buggers, cut!"

I've been meaning for some time to start a series of posts on a theme; other people have done poems, music, books and films, so I thought I'd combine two of those and do film music.

Every now and then, a film achieves that perfect combination of soundtrack and story that enhances both. There are plenty to choose from, so I make no apology for selecting according to my own idiosyncratic criteria.

Obviously some of this will make no sense if you haven't seen the film but, at the least, it should provide some interesting listening for a Sunday evening.

I'm starting with one of my all-time favourite films. With a dramatic story by Kipling, a cast headed by Sean Connery and Michael Caine (with an unforgettable supporting performance by Saeed Jaffrey) and imposing scenery shot in grand style under John Huston's direction, 'The Man Who Would Be King' would have been excellent even without Maurice Jarre's accompanying score; add in the music, with its fitting blend of militarism, Victorian bombast and poignancy, and it becomes something great.

(Link to video here)