Since I’m talking a lot about web comics lately, let me join Eric Burns and Neil Gaiman in recommending Gunnerkrigg Court. I’ve been reading it since Mr Burns’s mention last January, and it’s now gotten to the point where I get to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays and think, “Yay! New Gunnerkrigg today!”
For some reason, it’s hard for me to express what I like about this series. It has magic and robots and mysterious ticking birds, yet it treats them with matter-of-factness that makes them seem mundane. The main character, Antimony, is the sort of girl who, upon discovering that she is being followed by a shadow creature who is unable to return to its home because of a well lit bridge, constructs a walking robot to escort it across. There’s mystery and whimsy and ominous, ticking birds. Go check it out.
Continuing on the theme of web comics, my friend Jim Cleveland has begun reposting his comic, The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, which ran in the Penn State Science Fiction Society’s newsletter when he was a student. Watch as an otherwise normal guy deals with aliens, dragons, mutants, monsters, and an unending stream of things crashing into his roof.
Finally, let me recommend A Miracle of Science, another web comic put out by PSSFS alumni. The fools at the institute laughed at me when I recommended this comic, but I’ll show them. I’ll show them all!
Regarding the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretaps, some good news wrapped in bad news. From the New York Times:
Last month, the New Jersey attorney general quietly issued subpoenas to five telephone companies to determine whether they violated state consumer protection laws by providing records to the National Security Agency.
Apparently, several states have promised to investigate, but New Jersey is so far the only one to issue supoenas. Go us!
Unfortunately, I learned about this because the federal government is suing to block the supoenas on national security grounds. We’ll have to see how this works out.
Another distressing trend in America is our inadvertant war on chemistry sets. According to Wired:
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission is determined to eliminate home-made fireworks, going so far as to arrest people selling sulfur and potassium perchlorate.
- The 2002 Homeland Security Act mandates background checks for buying model rocket engines—the Justice Department apparently claims that model rockets could be used to shoot down planes.
- Laws designed to fight crystal meth labs make it difficult to obtain scientific equipment. In Texas, for example, you need to register before you can purchase an Erlenmeyer flask or three-necked beaker.
- Fear of lawsuits has led many schools to phase out hands-on chemistry labs.
- An attempt to re-create Mr Wizard’s chemistry set for sale to modern children was stymied when half the chemicals were illegal to sell to children. The new version ended up containing balloons, superballs, and five chemicals, including a bottle of laundry starch complete with warning label.
All of this makes it harder for students to get into chemistry and science. The message for young people is that science is dangerous and best left to professionals. As Bill Nye says, “People who want to make meth will find ways to do it that don’t require an Erlenmeyer flask. But raising a generation of people who are technically incompetent is a recipe for disaster.”