How easy would it be to cover up alien life?

The surface of TRAPPIST-1f

It’s a godawful small affair

It wasn’t aliens, despite what The Telegraph claimed, but it was cool. TRAPPIST-1 has a whole clutch of planets orbiting, including several rocky Earth sized planets in its habitable zone.

“Well,” the conspiracy theorists are already saying, “of course they wouldn’t announce the discovery of alien life. They’d cover it up.”

But could they? How easy would it be to actually cover up the existence of aliens? Here’s a little follow up to Tuesday’s post. If scientists did discover aliens, how could the government keep it under wraps?

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German Reading Project – Die Tribute Von Panem by Suzanne Collins, Chapter 4

(Translated by Sylke Hachmeister and Peter Klöss.)

Should hopefully have everything typed up and ready to post by the end of the weekend, but let’s not make promises here.

Another double entry!

Favourite Hunger Games-themed word:

das Pfeilkraut: katniss. I have to wonder why German changed her name here! Who wouldn’t want to read the story of brave Pfeilkraut and her adorable sister Primel? For that matter, Collins missed a trick not calling Katniss Duck Potato or Wapatoo, amirite?

Favourite normal daily use word:

die Sauferei: boozing. Looking up the definition of this also introduced me to the amazing (and real) English words “crapulousness” and “crapulence“, which I’m going to have to fit into my daily vocabulary as much as I can from now on.

Well, just be glad I didn’t give you all the vomit words from the beginning of Haymitch’s Sauferei in this chapter.

Thoughts: Kitty and the Silver Bullet by Carrie Vaughn

Wow, I am still behind in these.

Don’t worry though, because some time relatively soon I’m going to hit Ken Follett’s World Without End and then I’ll have plenty of time to catch up. I’ve seen that book. You could build houses out of that book.

Anyway, let us begin. (Spoiler warning.)

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How would scientists announce the discovery of aliens?

Planets around a red star

An artist’s impression of planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 (image CC ESA/Hubble)

On Monday 20th January, Nasa announced a sudden press conference on a “discovery beyond our solar system“. Admittedly, Nasa has become a bit notorious for calling press conferences at the drop of a space helmet, but this one has people quite excited.

Included on the panel are Michaël Gillon, who heads the exoplanet detecting project TRAPPIST in Belgium, and at least two experts on exoplanet atmospheres, Nikole Lewis and Sara Seager. Last year TRAPPIST discovered a star called, with all the imagination you’d expect, TRAPPIST-1, orbited by three small planets that it just so happens are perfectly aligned so that we can see them eclipse the central star – and this means that we can watch how the starlight is absorbed by the planet’s atmospheres and calculate what gases they contain.

And the rumours (to repeat, rumours) are that they might have found oxygen which, it’s argued, would be an almost certain sign of life. Oxygen is ridiculously reactive – good news for life, since the reaction between oxygen and sugar is our main source of fuel, but not so good for the metal that tarnishes and wood that burns – and if left on its own, pure oxygen will rapidly disappear as it becomes water, rust, or gases like carbon dioxide. If the atmosphere contains a lot of pure oxygen, something must be putting it there, and that something might be some form of life.

It’s tenuous, I admit. But it’s possible. And it raises an interesting question. What happens if scientists do discover life on other planets? Not intelligent beings, but the sort of life you see in David Attenborough documentaries – things resembling bacteria, plants, animals, or blobs of matter completely alien to our understanding. Surprisingly, it’s not clear.

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German Reading Project – Die Tribute Von Panem by Suzanne Collins, Chapter 3

It looks like I’m getting through these fast but actually I’m just ploughing through because I owed like three chapters after getting back from Amsterdam…

Favourite word: Der Spotttölpel: Mockingjay.

Bonus trivia! OK, this isn’t a real word, but whatever! I like birds. It looks like, rather than an amalgam of “mockingbird” and “jay”, the German version of mockingjays are “mockingbird” “boobies“! Jays, both the Eurasian jay and blue jays, are “häher”. In the English language version, it makes sense that the Capitol would use jaylike birds to genetically engineer, as blue jays seem to be pretty common throughout huge chunks of the US and are known for their varied songs and can learn to mimic human speech. I’m not sure why the German decided to deviate here. “Spotthäher”, the logical translation, doesn’t seem to be a real bird anywhere, so that’s not the reason, and no booby of any species lives around Europe (once a red-footed booby washed up in Sussex and it was a Big Deal) so it’s not for reasons of familiarity either – anyone got any ideas why the change?

Favourite non-invented word: die Pappschachtel: cardboard box.

Thoughts: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by J.K. Rowling

And now for something completely different!

This was not on my list – I nicked it from my sister while we were in Amsterdam because I didn’t want to finish the book I was reading too quickly (failure, but oh well, more books!) – and I not only don’t read screenplays (are they even usually published?) but haven’t seen the film. So this is going to be a short one.

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German Reading Project – Die Tribute Von Panem by Suzanne Collins, Chapter 2

(Translated by Sylke Hachmeister and Peter Klöss.)

I’m going to try really hard not to make every one of these into little political rants, OK? Unfortunately, the German language is tied up in politics for me right now.

Let me just say that I’m 100% sick of people talking about ~remoaners~ and ~the liberal metropolitan elite~, and that goes double for all the handwringing thinkpieces by self-hating remain voters blaming people who voted remain for being too patronising and scaring away the working class, or whatever it is we’re beating ourselves up for this week. I find the assumption that remain voters just don’t understand the poor downtrodden North of England absolutely insulting. What about us, the Northern remain voters? Do we just not exist?

I am getting over the result, by turning all my efforts towards being able to get German citizenship as soon I can. I’m not going to apologise for having voted remain – I’ve never been on the “winning” side of a vote that counted in my entire voting life – and I’m not going to pretend that a majority vote can suddenly make something magically turn into a good idea. I’m not going to be considerate of the feelings of the people who voted to curtail my rights and throw my future in limbo – and who won, by the way. I’m just not.

OK, done.

So, my favourite word of chapter 2! It was hard this time. There were runners up, but they might get their chance to shine later.

Plumpsen: to plop (or flop, or slump, but plop is just a good word in every language).

Thoughts: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Just settled back in at home after a lovely long weekend in Amsterdam with my mam and sister, and I’ve brought back a bit of a backlog with me… I forgot how lovely it is to just read, without always thinking, Should be editing/writing. When I finish this final editing pass of my current work in progress, I’m going to just take a month off and read (while querying argh).

Anyway. I’m sure someone recommended that I read North and South, which is why it ended up on the list, but none of the people who I thought might have recommended it remember doing so. Of course, I’m over a year behind on my reading list, so that could account for it.

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Secrets of the Private Eye crossword

There’s something odd about cryptic crosswords. They appear in every newspaper as if they’re self-explanatory, yet they have extremely intricate rules and customs. As the many hours I wasted in the school library, staring at the back pages of the broadsheets, if you don’t know what they’re about, you can’t even get started (I think the only cryptic clue I ever got in school was a Times clue along the lines of “A shock on a clear day (1,4,4,3,4)”). At least Sudokus always come with an explanation.

It was Cyclops that got me into crosswords – when my student digs were full of old tattered copies of Private Eye, the crossword (and its generous £100 prize) tempted me to pick up the organ. By then, the wonderful blog Fifteen Squared had started, with its explanations of each puzzle, and so I could gradually pick up the tricks of the trade. Compared to the broadsheets, Cyclops – real name Eddie James, or Brummie from the Guardian – is usually a bit easier. The wordplay is a bit more straightforward, and the answers are mostly drawn from current events and slang, which makes it a good place for beginners to start.

But solving the Eye crossword has its own challenges. Alongside the usual abbreviations (you know, L for “left”, C for “cold”) and handy letter combinations (“promises” are usually IOUS, a “revolutionary” can be a RED like CHE), there are some that are unique to the Eye‘s puzzle and its political, risque tone. Since I haven’t found a list of them anywhere, I thought I’d list them here.

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German reading project – Die Tribute Von Panem by Suzanne Collins, Chapter 1

Because I want to go for German citizenship to retain my European Union citizenship, and because I want to do that while the UK is still an EU member so I can have dual citizenship (guess what, people who think everyone who believes the referendum result is suboptimal for the UK/their own personal lives should just leave: we can’t just up sticks and leave on a whim! Countries have rules about citizenship! I know, isn’t it crazy?), I’m trying to learn German. Because there is a German test.

And though I generally enjoy learning languages and am interested in the nuts and bolts of language, it’s stressful to do so with a short deadline and a giant question mark over my future. I can’t even go for citizenship until the end of August at the absolute earliest, because I need to have been here for six years (or I could wait until I’ve been here eight years if I want to coast by on slightly worse German but then I’d more than likely have to give up British citizenship, and now is not a time to feel like a foreigner back home, to be quite honest). I have shed tears, I have lost sleep, I have been frustrated with myself and worried myself into a frenzy because the fact of the matter is, I don’t know what my life is going to be like two years from now, but I know it will almost certainly be a little bit worse without EU citizenship. Am I being dramatic? I don’t think it matters. I hate not knowing. I hate not having any control. I hate not being in a position where I could be OK right now if I had to.

So, because my English-speaking workplace is at best ambivalent towards my ability to speak German, I’ve decided I’ll keep up my skills (haha, skills…) between lessons by reading, which is something I enjoy doing anyway. I read Wildhexe: Die Feuerprobe by Lene Kaaberbøl (English translated by Charlotte Barslund, German translated by Friederike Buchinger) at the end of last year to see how I found it, and with lots of dictionary-consulting and writing definitions in pencil all over the pages, I managed it, and it made me feel a lot better about things. So I want to keep on going.

Die Tribute Von Panem: Tödliche Spiele (translated into German by Sylke Hachmeister and Peter Klöss) is, of course, the German version of The Hunger Games, and I’m going to read a chapter between English-language books. I won’t be blogging each one, because my German is barely at a level where I can understand the sentences, let alone deconstruct the craft behind the writing, but what I will do instead, to make sure I keep checking in, is give my favourite new word learned in every chapter.

So, my favourite new word from chapter 1 was easy.

Nachplappern: to parrot.