Strong Leonid Meteor Shower for 2006… But Not on the West Coast

I love the Leonid Meteor shower.

Every year, at this time, if you are willing to stay up late and drive to an area that is relatively dark, you are rewarded with a great show. It’s always exciting to see a shooting star – it’s even better to see dozens of them in one viewing.
I got excited by this news on today:

Strong Leonid Meteor Shower Expected This Weekend

On the surface, this sounds like incredible news:

A brief surge of activity is expected begin around 11:45 p.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 18. In Europe, that corresponds to early Sunday morning, Nov. 19 at 4:45 GMT. The outburst could last up to two hours.

At the peak, people in these favorable locations could see up to 150 shooting stars per hour, or more than two per minute.

“We expect an outburst of more than 100 Leonids per hour,” said Bill Cooke, the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. Cooke notes that the shooting stars during this peak period are likely to be faint, however, created by very small meteoroid grains.

Now, here’s the problem:

Unfortunately for viewer’s on the U.S. West Coast, the peak occurs before Leo rises. Outside of the expected peak, the best time to watch for Leonids is in the pre-dawn hours, when the constellation Leo is high in the sky.

Drat. If you are interested, the article has great information about the cause of the annual Leonid meteor shower (it’s caused by the Earth rotating through the trail of the comet Tempel-Tuttle every year), and how to best view the shower wherever you are in the world.

Too bad. 2 shooting stars per minute sounds amazing.

Saving Energy: Installing New Windows & Doors

I have now received the first empirical evidence that replacing your old windows & doors can have an impact on your utility bill.

Our house is one of the standard, ranch-style houses that were popular in the SF Bay Area in the late 1960s. It had the original, single-pane aluminum windows, and hollow-core doors.

We replaced the exterior doors a couple of years ago, but we just completed last month the installation of new, double-pane windows throughout the house. We also replaced the large sliding glass doors in our living room.

It’s a large expense, and while you are comforted somewhat that the money will come back to you when you sell the house, that seems like it will be very hard to prove. As a result, I’m really glad to see that our heating bill (our kerosene heater is gas-driven) for the first cold month of the year is actually quite a bit lower than last year.

Of course, the low gas bill could also be the result of us doing less cooking at home around the birth of my second son on October 30th. I’ll keep monitoring, but hopefully, the energy savings promised around this type of improvement turn out to be accurate.

My Theory on How Battlestar Galactica Will End

A lot of pop-culture posts today, but time for just one more.

I’ve been a big fan of the new Battlestar Galactica series since it first launched a few years ago. It’s one of the television highlights for me these days for a lot of reasons, some of which have to do with the quality of the show, and some of which have to do with the propensity for the networks to cancel other shows I like.

I’ve read some coverage of the series in Entertainment Weekly, and it sounds like the show is written in an incredibly open style. Some fiction know the ending of their stories from the beginning, but not necessarily the path. Orson Scott Card writes like that, as does J. K. Rowling. From the press, it sounds like the Battlestar team is incredibly open about where the series will end up. They say they haven’t decided on an ending yet, and are taking the story season-to-season.

To me, however, the ending looks painfully obvious. So, I thought I’d share it here, and see if people agree. I’ve been searching online, and I’ve found just a few posts on the subject, but there are clearly a couple people who see the same thing I do.

Here’s what we know, from the new series:

  • 3,000 years ago, humanity split into 13 colonies to settle. 12 that were close together in one system, and one remote planet. This journey was captured in religious text that is part history, part prophecy.
  • The one remote planet is Earth
  • The 12 colonies have a polytheistic culture that matches Greek mythology exactly. Even the pilots have call signs like “Apollo”.
  • The 12 colony locations match the Greek names for common constellations, like Gemini.
  • 40 years ago, the Cylons (which are the robots built by the 12 colonies) revolted. There was a war, and they retreated. Now, they have come back and literally obliterated the 12 colonies, to the point where only 41K or so humans survived and are now searching for Earth.
  • The Cylons have made themselves in their creator’s image (human), and have developed a powerful monotheistic culture. They are also aspiring to breed the next step in their evolution – a human/cylon hybrid.

So, how does it end?

I see two possibilities:

  1. The series takes place in modern times, or the near future. It turns out that the original 13th colony ended up founding Atlantis, approximately 1000 BC, which they will posit was the basis for Greek culture, etc. The humans connect with modern humanity on Earth, and somehow the Cylon problem “goes away” – either through victory, or via the Cyclons deciding that humanity deserves their respite on Earth.
  2. The series actually takes place in the past. When Battlestar Galactica and fleet get to Earth, it is roughly 2000 BC. They discover that the previous colony lost its technology, and has regressed to primitive status. They fight off the Cylons in one final battle, and settle on an island in the Mediterranean called Atlantis. They reach out to their distant brethren in nearby Greece, and start re-educating them in math, philosophy, democracy, and of course, religion with the Olympian gods. Meanwhile, in a teaser/ending, one of the last Cylons lands in the desert across the sea, and speaks to a nomad named Abram, and convinces him that there really is only one true god. There is an implication that the Cyclons are somehow the progenitors of the Judeo-Christian faith, maybe even extending to some concept that they are still around somehow.

In case you think I’m off the deep end here, consider the original speech that Patrick Macnee used to give as part of the opening narration of the original series. I never watched the original series, but it stands to reason that this does integrate into the vision for the end of the new series.

“There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. They may have been the architects of the great pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive somewhere beyond the heavens…”

I love ancient mythology and history, so I’m clearly rooting for (2) as the potential ending. Would love to hear what other fans of the show think.

Update (11/14/2006): My blog traffic is up nearly 100% due to this post. It looks like people are discussing this post on the boards. I’m seeing a lot of links to this blog from this thread on the Sci Fi Channel Forums. Thanks for reading!

Update (1/8/2007): A new post is up on the potential spoilers for the fifth and final unknown cylon.  Season 4 is almost here.

South Park Episode on Nintendo Wii

With many thanks to Chad Alderson for finding this episode online.

This was the South Park episode from last week. Cartman is so obsessed with getting a Nintendo Wii, he can’t wait the two weeks, and has himself frozen. He accidentally ends up 500 years in the future, and, well, typical South Park things happen.

(Update: 12/2/2006 – Due to the original video being pulled, I’m linking to the South Park Zone, which maintains links to all of the episodes from Season 10. It’s a two-part episode called “Go God Go”)

I don’t know what is more disturbing:

  1. That South Park has now had two episodes this season so close to my heart (World of Warcraft, Nintendo Wii)
  2. That Chad is reading & responding to my blog within seconds of me posting

Chad, you might be my only dedicated reader, but thank you very very much for this link. If it’s OK, I’m not going to post all the video links from your blog, although this one did make me laugh.

Why I Want a Nintendo Wii

So, before I get cynical, let me be perfectly clear:

If you want to buy me a great holiday present, buy me a Nintendo Wii. I want it, I love it, I need it. Get it for me.

Now, as the buzz builds, and I see machines priced at $300 over retail due to the scarcity of the machines, I thought I’d comment on why I want one.

It’s not because of the name. Wii? Are you serious? Even the codename, “Revolution” was better. If Nintendo needs to trim the fat on their marketing expenses, I’m pretty sure we can find some of the people responsible for that name to top the list.

It’s not because of the new controller. Nintendo really seems to have gotten the press going after E3 this year. All I see now are articles highlighting this new controller that lets you “swing a bat” or “cast a rod”. It seems to have hit some sort of chord with journalists who for the most part don’t play video games, but see some sort of excitement in a video game system that has more interaction in it and is easier to learn. Forbes has even reminisced about the old codename for the machine, by saying Nintendo’s Wii is a Revolution.


But you are talking to a Nintendo fan from the mid-1980s. Someone who bought the Light Gun. Someone who bought the Power Glove. Someone who has been promised these type of innovations before, and eventually realized that they are, in fact, just a gimmick.

Some of the best games ever had a single joystick and a single button. Or used four keys on keyboard. There have been exceptions – games that became famous because of their input device. I’m thinking of Centipede with the trackball or Dance Dance Revolution. Sometimes they create an entire genre of games (how many shooters with pistols have you seen in the arcades over the past 10 years.) In most cases, however, the input device does not define the quality of the game.

I’m just not convinced that Nintendo is going to redefine the input device for all games, which means that most good games will be designed for a traditional controller. And that means that someone is going to make a lot of money selling a traditional game controller for the Nintendo Wii very soon.

It’s not because of the price, although who would have thought $249 would be the “low end” price in late 2006 for a modern game system. And that’s without HD!

No, I want a Wii for a very simple reason, and it is the reason I’ve wanted every game system that I’ve ever owned since the Atari 2600.

It’s the software, stupid.

Nintendo continues to make unique and great games. Games that you cannot find on the other platforms, games that are better designed for all ages. I want to play the next Zelda, I want to play the next Mario. I’m excited about the fact that in a year or two I’ll be able to play the next Mario Kart with my son. I’m even excited about the fact that I may be better than him at it… at least until he turns 6 in 2010.

Sony has tried this round to differentiate themselves with better graphics. It’s ironic, since this was the approach that Microsoft tried to take with the first Xbox, and failed. Why? Because in a world where most games are made by third parties, the games tend to be cross-platform. Cross-platform means lowest common denominator development, in most cases.
That’s why it was rare to see significant improvements in the Xbox version of a game over the Playstation 2. And that’s why it’ll be rare to see significant improvements in a PS3 version of a game over the Xbox 360.

Microsoft is smarter this time. They have unique software for their platform based on in-house game developers that they have built or acquired. Of course, Microsoft has it’s own strategic fault, which is that they are a dual-platform gaming company. They continue to build games both for the Xbox 360 and for Windows. As a result, since most people have a PC, they can buy a PS3 and know full well that they will be able to play any game from Microsoft on their Windows PC, and any others on the Sony PS3.

I’m sure I’ll end up with an Xbox 360 or PS3 at some point, when the prices come down, and when I actually have an HD television in the living room.

But for now, buy me a Nintendo Wii. I need to start practicing now if I’m going to maintain my video game edge over my son through 2010. After all, he’s already 2.