Tuesday Link Rundown

Today, we explore actual advances in the field of science.

 

I’m a little late to the party, but this is still fascinating. Nasa has discovered 7 exoplanets orbiting a dwarf star. They’re calling the system TRAPPIST-1. I don’t support Neil deGrasse Tyson’s proposal to name them after the 7 dwarfs. Imagine: planet Grumpy.

 

NASA’s Explanation

 

Here’s something else I’ve seen popping up here and there- a new theorized quasiparticle.

Eurekalert

 

And this is pretty cool- a new primate has been discovered.

 

Primate Teeth

Dear Readers

Instead of part XXIV of The Coven, I am writing to tell you that I’m working on a special project, as well as editing the existing posts in this serial. The project will enhance your enjoyment of the serial, I hope, and clarify everything that has happened so far. I will still update The Coven, but until my project is complete, the updates will not be as frequent. Thank you for your patience and support.

Rules for the Effective Hero

While reading the Evil Overlord List, I was inspired to create its counterpart- a list of rules for any aspiring hero to avoid the most common, cliche’ mistakes. My resolve to write this list was strengthened while watching a certain terrible anime.

This list is dedicated to anyone who is the hero in their dreams- may you make your dreams real. Please read, and if you think of any rules- add them in the comments!

 

  1. Do not play a game the villain has stacked against you, even if he calls you a chicken or uses a mean voice.

2.If the key that you’re protecting will destroy the world if it falls in the wrong hands, just go ahead and throw it in the nearest volcano.

3. Don’t turn down rewards to appear noble. Saving the world is a worthy cause that needs funding.

4. Give weapons and combat training to the beautiful damsel as soon as possible. Give the same training to the cute kid.

5. Don’t leave the ailing king in his obvious, poorly-guarded palace. Don’t wait until the palace is under attack to spirit him away through a hidden passage.

6. Don’t pin all of your hopes on the power of love. Superior technology, strength, and political power are pretty cool, too.

7. Don’t leave your friends in a misguided attempt to protect them.

8. If a villager mentions a legendary item, you will have to find it. If all of the villagers warn you not to go into the mysterious forest or cave, you will have to go.

9. The old adage is true- never split the party.

10. Don’t trust the beautiful, mysterious princess that you just happened to rescue from the dungeon.

11. Give alms to every old woman you come across. If you sneer at her appearance, don’t be surprised if she curses you.

12. Listen to the mysterious old hermit- especially if he sounds crazy.

13. When everything seems to be going well, you are unwittingly working for the bad guy. When everything goes wrong, assume the same.

14. When you face the bad guy, don’t just sit and listen as he gloats about his evil scheme. Use the distraction to attack or escape.

15. Don’t waste your time with the bumbling minions. They mostly exist to give the boss a chance to escape.

16. Don’t assume the villain is gone for good. Double tap.

17.When you enter the villain’s lair, look for the quickest escape route first. Look for the self-destruct button second.

18. If you find yourself spending an unexpectedly happy, peaceful day with your long-lost loved ones, you are really in a dungeon under a spell.

19. Work out a reliable code with your true love ahead of time, so you can shoot the real doppelganger.

20. Collateral damage is bad PR.

21.Don’t throw away the guard’s uniforms as soon as you infiltrate the castle. Keep your mask on.

22. Asking the villain, “why did you do it?” is usually pointless.

23. Maybe, deep down, you and the villain aren’t so different, but least you aren’t trying to destroy the world. That still counts for something.

24. If there is a very good reason to disregard any of these rules, do so- especially this one.

The Coven- Part XXVIII

Hope led me into the adjacent dressing room, and behind the wardrobe where his trunks were stowed. He dragged the bottom trunk forward and undid the latches. When Hope opened the trunk, it appeared empty, but he removed the trunk’s satin lining, and then lifted a false bottom, revealing a hidden compartment.

He took out a large silver locket, embossed with an eagle, and held it out to me by its ornate chain.

“Have you ever seen Prudence’s likeness?”

“No- I have not.”

Hope nodded encouragingly, and I pressed the latch to open the locket. Inside was a miniature of a woman with blue eyes and a wild tumble of red hair crowned with bluebells. She did not sit in the proper posture of a young lady, but leaned forward, seeming almost to laugh.

“She’s beautiful,” I said.

“She was beautiful then,” Hope said, taking the locket back. “When this likeness was taken she was just a girl, and she was still happy. She loved me as I loved her, and that was enough.”

Hope closed the locket and placed it back into the trunk.

“A year after that likeness was drawn, our fathers went to the bishop and sought permission for Prudence and I to marry. The bishop denied our petition. At the same time, my brother came to me with his monsignor to offer me a place in the coven. Prudence and I wished to fight the corrupt forces that had damned our families, and were now keeping us apart, so we both agreed to join. We both believed that we had nothing to lose, but we were wrong. There is always a price for power.”

“The curses,” I said.

Hope put a finder on his chin and looked up in thought. “The curse is one price, but there is another. The costliest price of power is the obligation to wield it.”

Hope sat down heavily beside the trunk and placed his chin in his hands, as though is exhaustion. I knelt beside him, my skirts billowing around me like a cushion.

“Prudence found the price too dear?” I prompted him.

Hope nodded, his chin still in his hands. “When Prudence left me, she was no longer the girl in that picture. The curse stole her beauty, and the price- well, I believe that the burden of power stole her smile.”

           I wished I could have found words of comfort or wisdom, but I had none. I didn’t understand Hope at all when he spoke about power’s price, and I didn’t know how to ask.

“We didn’t quarrel before Prudence left,” Hope said. “She withdrew from the world after she gained her powers, even avoiding her fellows in the coven. I brought her to Rowan Heights and promised to marry her, no matter what.  I told her that she would always be beautiful in my eyes, and that I wished to protect her. She seemed content. We made love, and the next day she was gone.

“I don’t know why she left. Perhaps she wanted to hide her face from the world, or perhaps she didn’t believe she could escape her own powers while she remained by my side. I suppose I will never know.”

“I’m sorry-” I began.

“No- Grace, I’m telling you this so that you might understand. This occurred 11 years ago, and even though I still love her- I will always love her- our story has ended. I offered my love to her, but she chose to leave. Of course I wish that we’d been able to marry, and that we could have raised our child together, but I’ve come to terms with what is. Prudence is gone, and I have mourned her.”

Hope leaned forward and took my face in his hands. He kissed me slowly, lips touching lips- wet and soft and real. He broke the kiss and looked into my eyes.

“I’m ready to love again, Grace, if you will allow me.”

I looked down, unable to meet his earnest gaze.

“You once compared me to her. You said I was ugly and spiritless…”

Hope sighed. “Don’t remind me of what I said that day. It was the anniversary of her death. I was grieving and hopelessly drunk. Since that day, I’ve grown to understand who you are. The more I see of you, the more I like.”

Hope was sincere; I could not longer doubt his feelings. There was no artful flattery and no flirtation. He’d laid his heart at my feet. Even so, my habit of flinching away from his honeyed words would not stop.  

“Grace? Please look at me. How do you feel?”

I looked up into Hope’s face, again. His beauty was striking, and I was suddenly very aware that I was just an awkward girl in clownish makeup.

“I don’t know how I feel,” I said. “I must have time to think.”

“You don’t think about love, Grace. You either feel it, or you don’t.”

“But I must- I know nothing of love. I don’t understand how I feel at all.”

Hope didn’t say anything. He took me into his arms, resting his cheek on my head, and we sat together in silence until morning.

 

#

The next morning, I sat alone in prayer.

I didn’t know to whom I prayed. I was in the still-empty chapel, kneeling in front of the ornate, high-backed pew. My eyes were focused on the massive symbol of Order, which dominated the wall before the altar, but Order was not the god I needed. Temperance seemed more appropriate, but still was not right. Chastity was precisely the god I did not need.

I needed a human god- one who could see into my heart and see where it was malformed.

“Why can’t I let myself love him?” I prayed.

I closed my eyes and, as I could think of no god to petition, sought the answer myself.

When I’d first met Hope, I’d feared him. Later, I condemned him as a sinner and a witch. Now, morally, I was no better than he was. I was damned- I had entered into contract with a witch, promising to keep his secrets. Still, some part of myself- a part I wanted to label a hypocrite- could not respect him, even though I desired him.

Hope and I both wished to liberate our world, but I could not ignore the difference in our methods. Hope manipulated people’s minds against their will, he killed, and these were not things I could condone. I wondered if I could continue to go along with his intrigues and still gain the virtues that would make me worthy to join the Oculist Guild.

Courage, curiosity, and equality- were these virtues I saw in Hope? He was not an evil man. I knew that he committed his evil acts to protect those he loved, and to fight a corrupt power.

            I was wise enough to know that if I held out for perfection, I would live a lonely life. The problem was, my happiest moments had all been lonely ones. I realized, with chilling clarity, that I could live alone and be happy in my own way.

I was brought out of my reverie by a creaking door, followed by the sound of footsteps. I sighed, disappointed that my reverie had been interrupted.

“Please,” Miss Taris said in a small, plaintive voice from far behind my pew. “Have you no words of guidance? I depend on you for council.”

The footsteps stopped, and Brother Lux’s warm voice replied.

“Miss Taris, you have no reason for such despair. Sir Montag is a kind-hearted man who can provide you with ample financial support. With your father’s  title and Sir Montag’s wealth, you will be secure for the rest of your life.”

“But-” Miss Taris’s voice faltered, and then she seemed to rally. “Isn’t love more important than security?”

“If love provides you comfort, then yes. Are you distressed because you love another?”

“No- there is no one,” Miss Taris said.

“Then you have every reason for joy. Marry Sir Montag now, and love will come later. If you obey your father, the Gods will bless you.”

“I- I think I understand,” Miss Taris said.

“Good girl.  Now, dry your eyes, and smile for me.”

“Yes, Brother Lux. Thank you for your council.”

I sat, trapped behind the pew. My cheeks were burning from the embarrassment of having heard such a private conversation, and I dare not stand and expose myself. I held my breath as footsteps retreated, and the door creaked open and shut.

“Thank you for your council,” Miss Taris, still in the cathedral, said in a stronger voice. “But I will never marry Sir Montag.”

Part XXIX

Link Rundown: Positive Change

Saving the world doesn’t always involve inspiring acts of bravery; the project needs funding, as well.

If you are interested in giving, and would like your dollars to do as much good as possible, here are some resources that may help.

GiveWell

Centre for Effective Altruism

Animal Charity Evaluators

Cool Earth

Also, here are some links for those who want to give a little extra to help some worthy institutions.

PBS

NPR

NEA

National Parks

Better is Enough

The world will probably never be perfect, but it can always be better.

 

There is a certain attitude pervasive in social discourse, which seems counter to the concept of optimizing the world. In social discourse, politics, and the media, any new proposal or solution must meet a standard no lower than perfection. There doesn’t seem to be an official name for this attitude; system justification doesn’t seem to encompass the issue.

Many are understandably reluctant to update what seems to be a perfectly good system, but the problem is that people easily become complacent with flawed but familiar systems. Any flaw in a new system is pointed out as evidence that the new system does not work, and that it was hubris to mess with the old. The problem is that, even if there are flaws with the new system, it may be more effective overall than the old.

It may not be worth it, in the long run, to implement a new system whose benefits are so small that the time and expense it costs to put it in place is not worth the gains. However, politicians, pundits, and the newspapers hardly seem interested in sitting down and running a cost-benefit analysis. The public, I’m sure, is even less interested in reading a cost-benefit analysis. Newspaper sales rise when two sides are pitted against each other, and policy disputes are great for ratings. Politicians gain office by making the other side look bad. Sales of old technology is protected when new technology is attacked.

Take, for example, automobile technology. No matter how safe a Tesla might be overall, problems with the new technology can linger in public discourse.

In such cases, it’s important to remember that better is ok. In fact, better is great. Any lives saved by implementing new systems still carry great moral weight. It’s still good to scrutinize new technology. It’s important to roll out new systems slowly and carefully, to rule out unforeseen consequences in a complex system. We must not, however, hold back significant improvement in the name of impossible standards of perfection.

As long as it’s possible, let’s try to do better.

Monday Link Rundown: Attention Citizen Scientists

If you are a layperson, there are still opportunities for you to contribute to scientific progress. Below are some links to interesting research projects where amateur scientists can contribute.

 

The 4*P Coma Morphology Campaign is asking for amateur and professional images of comet 45P/HMP and comet 41P/TGK.

 

4*P Coma Morphology Campaign

 

You can do comet hunting with the SOHO mission- instructions are found here.

 

Guide to SOHO Comet Hunting

 

Also for amateur astronomers, the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). By timing and observing lunar and asteroid occultations, scientists hope to discover double stars and understand the lunar terrain better, among other benefits.

Citizen Science Alliance

IOTA

 

This project also caught my eye, as the last time I went down to a local park for some stargazing, I was assaulted with a cacophony of frogs.

 

FrogWatch USA
These are just a few projects, but there are many more available here.