Sunday, July 19, 2009

We Have a New Element!

Well, it seems I was confused about something, and that is the definition of an element.

People learn to talk by listening to people talk. Babies listen to their parents and others who happen to be nearby, and eventually add meaning to the sounds they hear so that they understand what is being said.

In school, when they tell you about a new word, they give you a written or spoken definition. But after using words for a while, they acquire nuances in our minds, subtle shadings of the original definition, until we'd be hard put to define the words without using the same word.

One of those words for me is element.

I know that at one point in time someone defined this word for me, but somehow along the way, my personal definition of this word went something like this: A substance that is a basic, pure chemical substance, such as helium, hydrogen, oxygen, iron, copper, silver, gold, etc. Pure silver is an element, sterling silver is a compound, an alloy made mainly of silver, but also containing other elements to make the silver harder, thus making it practical for jewelry.

But they are adding a new element to the periodic table, and the new element is made by combining other elements, which is where I begin to be confused. This new element is made by fusing zinc and lead. The fusing part is where I begin to lose it.

So far, they've made a whole atom of it on two different occasions, for a total of two atoms. I know when you get this high on the periodic table that atoms start to be unstable, and it stands to reason that you don't want to get too much of it together in one spot or you'll precipitate an explosion. But two? Two atoms who haven't even been introduced to each other? And one only lasted "an instant." It seems a little skimpy to me.

But I'm guessing that, being scientists, they know what they're doing. And they've finally proposed a name for this new element, Copernicium.


For you science fiction fen, you should be aware that the fabulous SF roller coaster ride is beginning today on BBC in America. At three this afternoon (here), they will be showing reruns of five Doctor Who episodes to get us in the mood for what's coming up this week.

There are two episodes from the first season of the new Who: the two-parter, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances. The Empty Child is one of the most frequently cited as scary in the list of new Who episodes. It's chief feature is that it's the first episode where we run into Captain Jack Harkness, and he's a lovable rogue and con man, traveling in time.

The next three are from the third season finale, and are Utopia, The Sound of Drums, and The Last Time Lord, which also involve Jack.

In my opinion, they should have just continued to the end of season one with Boom Town, Bad Wolf, and The Parting of the Ways. The last two explain how Jack came to be (for all intents and purposes) immortal. Rose also wears a scarf in Boom Town that I would love to copy. It's beautiful!

So, they're getting us in the mood for the new Doctor Who special, Planet of the Dead, which will be shown next Sunday, but they're also getting us ready for the big news this week, Children of Earth, which is a five-part story that will be shown every evening this week starting on Monday, preceded by an inside look at the hub. Each day's new episode will be shown after a recap of the previous day's show. In the spoiler-free reviews I've read, each one of the five parts has left their audience jumping up and down and screaming at the end, so expect this to be something you'll get involved with.

Not letting us up for a moment this week, the BBC is following Torchwood with Being Human. This is the premier of a new series about three "flatmates" who happen to be a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost. I haven't seen this one, but I have heard good things about it.

As if all this weren't enough, it will be followed on Sunday by the new Doctor Who special, Planet of the Dead. What can I say? It's Doctor Who! What's not to like?

There's another Merlin on NBC tonight. I'm beginning to think of this as something someone from another planet wrote after hearing the Arthur story, but couldn't remember it right and didn't know much about Arthur's era. Once you do that, and stop looking at all the things they got wrong, it's an OK series. The original story contains enough scope that they could have done this and made it historically accurate as well as true to the legend. I suppose that part of my problem is that shows like Doctor Who and Torchwood have lead me to expect intelligence from the BBC, and sometimes that expectation is misplaced.


Holly and I went to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince yesterday.

It was far better than I could have hoped for! With a few relatively minor quibbles, I loved it!

The quibbles involve the fact that it would be impossible to fit the whole book into a movie. I knew that going in, and I knew they were going to have to cut a lot of it. There is one quiddich game, and the rest got cut. But the teams do have some neat new uniforms. I want a quiddich robe like theirs!

As expected, a lot got cut, but what's left is far more of the book than I ever thought they could cram into a movie. And it's wonderful!

Order of the Phoenix had so much cut out of it that it wasn't even a coherent story anymore. If you hadn't read the movie, I'm sure it didn't even make sense. But I think Half Blood Prince stands alone. You can see it without having to have read the books first, and it will still be a coherent story.

There is one scene that was made up of whole cloth, and came out of left field. It also could have ramifications for the next movie, but I won't spoil it here.

The bottom line is: you should go and see it if you haven't already.

I hope you're having a great weekend!

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