Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, his personal narrative twined with his intellectual accomplishments, was published in 1988. I read it midway through high school, probably in 1993. Shortly afterward, I read his book Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays when it was first released. Also during this time, I was reading books by other scientists, such as Albert Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and General Theory (1920), Richard Feynman’s The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964), Steven Weinberg’s The First Three Minutes (1977), John Gribbin’s In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat (1984), Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind (1989), and Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace (1994), Kip Thorne’s Black Holes & Time Warps (1994),  and many more. And, in parallel, I had gotten into reading science fiction from Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury. For me, Hawking’s cosmologies combined with science fictional imaginings were a tremendously powerful fuel feeding my incandescent wonder.

Probably in the 11th grade, my friend Marty Magda, who worked at the local Waldenbooks store, helped me track down Hawking and George Ellis’ The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time (1973). It would be dishonest of me to say that I understood this tome, but I made an attempt using what was available to me at that time to learn how to cross each cognitive hurdle–library encyclopedias; popular science books; borrowed math books; newfangled CD-ROM resources, such as Groliers, Encarta, databases; a subscription to Physics Today; the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics; and A Physicist’s Desk Reference.

These intellectual explorations led me to want to earn a degree in Physics after graduating from high school. While my life veered away from physics except as an intellectual hobby, I am very glad that Hawking’s ideas and writing were and continue to be a part of me. He will be dearly missed.

Posted in Personal, Science, Science Fiction

LEGO Playset MOC of Temple Island on Ahch-To in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Inspired by LEGO’s Death Star playset, which is both enormous and scene-focused, I built a 64 x 32 stud MOC of Temple Island on Ahch-To from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. First glimpsed at the end of The Force Awakens and explored in the latest installment, Temple Island is the home of the first Jedi Temple, and it is where Luke Skywalker has been hiding away during the rise of the First Order under the leadership of Snoke and supported by Luke’s former pupil, Ben Solo or Kylo Ren.

As a LEGO playset, it has to balance accuracy, playability, and scale. For accuracy, I based the island’s shoreline on Ireland’s Skellig Michael, which is the location where these scenes were shot for the film. Also, the island’s topography were adhered to as closely as possible by having the north peak slightly lower than the higher south peak, and designing a middle valley between the two peaks, known as Christ’s Saddle on Skellig Michael. Each major scene involving Temple Island has been placed approximately where it would be on the island according to The Art of The Last Jedi and my observations of the film. And, each scene is scaled for play with LEGO minifigures, except where the Millennium Falcon lands along the shoreline, which would otherwise dwarf the island or require building a much larger model! For this element of the MOC, I used the Falcon included in last year’s LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar (75184).

Including all prep time, this build took me about 40 hours. In addition to studying books and magazines that showed glimpses of Temple Island and its topography, I watched YouTube videos such as these: one, two, and three. I leveraged Gimp’s grid rendering to plan the overall design based on a Google Maps’ satellite image of Michael Skellig. Also, I purchased additional LEGO to supplement what I already had on-hand: two 32 x 32 stud blue base plates to construct the MOC on, one green Creative set (10708), and two LEGO Ahch-To Island Training sets (75200).

Below, I am including highlights from the construction process and the completed model. At the end, there are links to these albums with more photos of the MOC: Google Photos and Imgur.

Designing the Shoreline Using Google Maps, Gimp, and Generated Grid

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Top and Side Views of Temple Island

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Rey’s First Encounter with Master Skywalker

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Luke Skywalker’s Hut and Village

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Rey’s Lightsaber Practice (at the Wailing Woman Rock)

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The Sacred Jedi Texts Within the Uneti Tree

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The Jedi Temple and Meditation Rock

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Rey’s Visit to the Mirror Cave

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Portability of the Model 

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View more photos of the model and its development on Google Photos or Imgur.

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Posted in Lego, Science Fiction

New Science Fiction Collection from Marleen S. Barr

I first met Marleen in 2006 at my first Science Fiction Research Association Conference in White Plains, New York. She and I were on the same panel. As you might imagine, I, having just graduated with a B.S. from Georgia Tech, was a bit nervous presenting in front of an audience of professional scholars. Marleen gave me words of advice and encouraged me. Since then, she and I have worked together on different projects, such as The Postnational Fantasy, which includes an essay by her, and her two consecutive presentations at the first and second City Tech Science Fiction Symposia. In addition to these personal anecdotes, Marleen is, of course, a scholar and writer whose work has been instrumental to the on-going development of science fiction studies and deservedly earned her recognition and awards, including the SFRA’s prestigious Pilgrim Award for Lifetime Achievement. Now, she has a new work of science fiction–a collection of parodic short stories–featuring the United States’ current president. Read below for details about this new collection and how to order it from the publisher B Cubed Press.

Award winning feminist science fiction scholar and writer Marleen S. Barr brings you The Feminist Science Fiction Justice League Quashes the Orange Outrage Pussy Grabber: Political Power Fantasy Fiction (forthcoming from B Cubed Press). This book, the world’s first single-authored satirical Trump-focused short story collection, is a guide to the Trump revenge fantasy galaxy. Barr turns to fiction to move beyond wishing for Trump’s impeachment. She subjects our President to close encounters with feminist extraterrestrials, alternative Hillary winning history, Godzilla-esque male metamorphosis, lock up in the Phantom Zone—and that’s on a good day. In the end, Barr transports Trump to a galaxy far far away from us. Those who recoil at pussy grabbing need to grab this laugh out loud funny groundbreaking feminist power fantasy. Liberals will rate it a ten. Will Trump call science fiction a fake book? Will he expect feminist extraterrestrials to characterize him as a very stable genius? Parody is powerful! Books can be ordered at https://bcubedpress.com/contact/.

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Posted in Announcement, Science Fiction

The A-Team: Sky Dragons in Translation

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This afternoon, Y and I caught the beginning of The A-Team first season episode “Holiday in the Hills”–one of many episodes that reveal the horrors of the home front, in this case the backwoods of South Carolina.

While we were watching the episode, Y shared this very interesting bit of information with me: in Taiwan, The A-Team is called 天龍特攻隊 or Sky Dragon Special Attack Team.

I asked what is the significance of “sky dragon?” She reports that it is because “sky dragon” just sounds cool. Television shows and films often get Tradiational Chinese-translated titles in Taiwan that might not have much connection to the original English title, because the promoters/importers want an impressive title that will attract viewers.

In point of fact, “sky dragon” is the name of another of my favorite 80’s television shows: MacGyver, or 百戰天龍 (“One-hundred Battles Sky Dragon”). Also, Miami Vice was given the title 邁阿密天龍(Mi-a-mi Sky Dragon”).

I should add that these titles might vary in other Mandarin-speaking countries, including Hong Kong and mainland China.

 

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Posted in Television

John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs, Manchester Art Gallery, and Contextualizing Art

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As reported on the Manchester Evening NewsBBC, Guardian, and ABC, the Manchester Art Gallery removed John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs with the stated intent that its removal (a supposed artistic act itself) would encourage discussion about how to display such art in the future. Instead, the removal of Waterhouse’s painting seems at best ham-fisted and at worst censorship. While I wholeheartedly agree with artistic criticism and contextualization, the removal of artwork deemed in need of recontextualization is wrongheaded. While Hylas and the Nymphs is well known and available in print and online, the original work itself should remain in place while inviting feedback from its varied audiences and critics. The Manchester Art Gallery’s approach places the work of art in the dark and out of reach for any such debate.

Considering this drastic step by the Manchester Art Gallery, I feel extremely lucky to have seen Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs on a visit to the gallery in 2006 while I was a graduate student at the University of Liverpool. It was during that visit that I took the photo included above. A higher resolution image of the painting is available on the Wikimedia Commons here.

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Posted in Liverpool

New LEGO Millennium Falcon 75105 Customization with The Last Jedi Update

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Over the years, I’ve built several customized LEGO Millennium Falcons (including here and here). I like taking the stock models and making them more screen accurate combined with imaginative embellishment. With this customization of a stock 75105 Millennium Falcon, I initially tried working this model that I had built about a year ago. However, I got really frustrated trying to work out how to implement some of the customizations that I had in mind. So, I disassembled the model and rebuilt it. Doing this helped me remember the logic of its design and construction, and it enabled me to rebuild some of its foundational features more easily than the piecemeal way I first attempted to do. The way that I did this rebuild also jumped around the instruction booklet, because the LEGO process of building is generally height-by-height across the whole model. I needed to focus on the modular aspects of the model, which is helped by building each module (circumferential ring, cockpit, docking ports, etc.). Due to rebuilding it from the ground up, this project took several days. Scroll through this blog post to view detailed photos and descriptions of this customization.

Cockpit and Mandible Details

Taking inspiration from Flail’s Millennium Falcon mods on Brickshelf, I rebuilt the cockpit with chairs and control sticks. This looks really nice, especially with the windows affixed. However, the chairs don’t work with Chewbacca’s minifigure. 75105 includes a Brick 1X4 W. 4 Knobs on either side of the fore mandibles. The side studs invite customization, so I added extra detail to these.

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Gun Turrets, Dorsal Vents, and Ventral Covering

Inspired by Flail’s mods on Brickshelf again, I built these lower profile top and bottom guns. I beefed up the dorsal venting system by putting Plate Round 4X4 With Ø16Mm Hole with a Plate 2X2 Round in its center. The Disk Ø24 with vent sticker connects to the round plate in the center. The bottom of the falcon is buttoned up with plates covering the Technic support system–some of which I modified to remove the arm underneath the cockpit support system and added a staggered rounding to the four corners.

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Main Hold Entrance, Nav Computer, and Dejarik Table

Using 1×1 roof tiles and an upside-down technique that I developed for a diorama of the Falcon’s main hold, I built this entrance into the main hold leading from the passage way from the entry ramp. The Dejarik Table and seating is borrowed from 75192. The Nav Computer area is very tight in the size of this model, so I couldn’t fit as large tubes adjacent to it as in the diorama linked above. Instead, I used two short tubes and moved the Nav Computer one stud to the left to accommodate the Falcon’s machinery. The main hold’s med bay is raised to accommodate a drawer, which I detail further at the end of this post to avoid The Last Jedi spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

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Port and Starboard Docking Ports

One disappointing aspect of the 75105 model is the docking ports. It sandwiches 1×2 plates between two Plate 6X6 Round With Tube Snap and covers that with two Plate 2X4X18°. The trouble with this design is that it doesn’t really show the cone-like taper of the docking ports. Earlier Millennium Falcon sets 4504 and 7965 did a better job with the docking ports. I decided to keep 75105’s sandwich to give the ports height, and then built up a capped tube circled by 1×2 plates each topped with a Roof Tile 1 X 2 X 2/3, Abs.

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Wall Tile Extensions Around Circumference

The Millennium Falcon dorsal and ventral domed covering extends over the circumferential edge. The 75105 model comes with 1×6 flat plates to demarcate this edge overhang, but it doesn’t really look right. I picked up a lot of Wall Element 1X2X1 on Bricklink to replace these 1×6 flat plates. In addition to showing this circumferential trench around the edge of the Falcon, it gives the model an overall flatter look, which emphasizes the Falcon’s on-screen appearance.

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Engine Compartment

Instead of the Falcon having a monolithic motor, it seems more likely that it would have a segmented, modular aerospike engine. With this in mind, I designed the engine compartment to have a ring of engine modules with supporting hardware, cabling, and pipes. I created a larger, ringed passage way with an entrance way leading into the engine compartment.

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Entrance Ramp and Other Compartments

I stole the hydraulics from 75103: First Order Transporter and added to the Falcon’s entrance ramp (which makes the ramp look like the Kenner Millennium Falcon vehicle from the original Star Wars action figure line). Also, I shifted the entrance ramp one stud out from the central gunner turret assembly. There are two side compartments–one for storage with weapons in a crate, and one for another bunk (with a copy of the Death Star plans).

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New Engine Exhaust and a Little Joke

Instead of using the ribbed, transparent blue tube that comes with 75105, I opted for white tile backgrounds covered by transparent blue flat tiles (1×2 and 1×4). As a hidden joke, I included a trailer hitch under the engines (isn’t the Millennium Falcon is a big rig in the stars?).

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The Last Jedi Update

At the end of The Last Jedi, Finn puts Rose in the Millennium Falcon’s med bay in the main hold. The camera focuses on the drawer under the bed when Finn looks for a blanket. The audience realizes that the drawer also contains the Jedi books on Ahch-To. To represent this, I raised the med bay, added a drawer beneath, and included a book (from The Hobbit set #79003: An Unexpected Gathering).

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Posted in Lego, making, Personal, Science Fiction

Special Issue on Star Wars: The Force Awakens Published in NANO: New American Notes Online

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Special Issue Co-Editors Jason W. Ellis and Sean Scanlan are pleased to announce the publication of NANO: New American Notes Online issue 12 on Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Narrative, Characters, Media, and Event. Focusing on the transmedia aspects of the continuation of the Star Wars film saga following Lucasfilm’s acquisition by Disney, this issue’s contributors explore how transmedia storytelling is leveraged in different aspects of fanfiction, promoting ideologies of global capitalism, and reconfigures Joseph Campbell’s hero myth. Also, we are honored to present an interview with Cass R. Sunstein, author of The World According to Star Wars. Now that The Last Jedi is in theaters, there is much more to be said on the issues these contributors debate. Follow the link below to read the current issue.

https://nanocrit.com/issues/issue12

 

NANO Issue 12: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Narrative, Characters, Media, and Event

 

image4-IMG_2693 copyEditor’s Introduction for NANO Special Issue 12: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Narrative, Characters, Media, and Event by Jason W. Ellis and Sean Scanlan

 

kylo-hux-03Welcoming the Dark Side?: Exploring Whitelash and Actual Space Nazis in TFA Fanfiction by Cait Coker and Karen Viars

 

KeeImageOnePoe Dameron Hurts So Prettily: How Fandom Negotiates with Transmedia Characterization by Chera Kee

 

LR-orpana-8-StarkillerbaseInterpellation by the Force: Biopolitical Cultural Apparatuses in The Force Awakens by Simon Orpana

 

LR-Payal-2The Force Awakens: The Individualistic and Contemporary Heroine by Payal Doctor

 

cass-book-cover-letterboxAn Interview with Cass R. Sunstein: Author of The World According to Star Wars by Jason W. Ellis and Sean Scanlan

 

 

NANO: New American Notes Online is an interdisciplinary academic journal. Our goal is to invigorate humanities discourse by publishing brief peer-reviewed reports with a fast turnaround enabled by digital technologies.

 

 

Currently open NANO calls for papers include:

– Issue 13: Special Issue on The Anthropocene, Guest Editors: Kyle Wiggins and Brandon Krieg

Deadline: January 12, 2018

– Issue 14: Special Issue: Captivity Narratives Then and Now: Gender, Race, and the Captive in 20th and 21st American Literature and Culture, Guest Editors: Megan Behrent and Rebecca Devers

Deadline: May 15, 2018

Visit https://nanocrit.com/Submissions for details and instructions for submitting your writing.

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Posted in Announcement, City Tech, Personal, Science Fiction
Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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