Operation: Benji! Day Two

As it turns out, dear readers, there is a Java equivalent to raw_input. But it’s really long and ugly and, judging from Eclipse’s reaction when I put that in there, has some sort of personal feud with the compiler. So it looks like my SETI dreams aren’t coming true any longer. :(

On a brighter note, I figured out what an array is. It’s… it’s… dangit, I forgot. Hang on.

(sound of rapid page-flipping)

Ah yes. An array is something you make after public static void main(String[] args) {, which I never get tired of typing. Basically, in an array (no I’m not going to stop bolding that), you create a bunch of new objects and give them some sort of number. I think. For example, you can create an array of seven Ducks:

Duck[0] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[1] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[2] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[3] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[4] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[5] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[6] = new rubberDuck();

Which would then leave you with a heck of a lot of Ducks in your program, which would then leave you with a mostly useless piece of code. (“Hey, Mr. Drake*, sir, I couldn’t figure out how to make that program you wanted me to, but I did make this swell one with ducks!” Yeah, that’d go down well.)

So, in conclusion, dear readers, I hope this short post has been both entertaining and uninformative, because we wouldn’t want you to start actually learning things from this blog, now, would we?

Of course not.


*Frank Drake, one of the main minds behind SETI. I don’t think Sir Francis Drake, sixteenth-century English buccaneer, would work very well in this context.

Operation: Benji! Day One

Operation: Benji!’s commencement.

(The title, dear readers, is a reference to the nerdy British computer programmer from Mission: Impossible 4. I love that movie.)

So I decided to learn Java. I already know a tiny bit of Python, by which I mean that I know how to hold increasingly awkward pre-programmed conversations with my computer, who seems to nurse an unnatural fondness for bananas. But in order for me to succeed in my Java class next year, I must first teach myself the basics. And that’s why Operation: Benji! has commenced.

I’ve learned quite a lot, actually. I’ve learned public static void main(String[] args). I don’t know exactly what that means, but it certainly looks official enough, except the last part reminds me of pirates with strings. I’ve also learned about classes – apparently Java codes are not exempt from the No Child Left Behind policy – and loops, which for some reason call to mind those places where you try to kill yourself on roller-skates.

I also wrote a nifty program that, when you run it, takes a value x, multiplies it by 4 until it reaches 10,000, then divides it by 2 until its value goes under 20. I can’t imagine an instance where I’d actually need to use it, but there’s a certain satisfaction present in just clicking the ‘Run’ button over and over and over and over and over and over until the number 796 is firmly imprinted in my head.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if there’s a Java equivalent to Python’s raw_input. You see, I want to make a program that calculates the Drake Equation, just in case any SETI scientists knock on my door and ask me for one. Most people would probably call this scenario ‘unlikely’, but then again, most people would also call the presence of flying whales on Jupiter ‘unlikely’. (It’s not. Read Terry Deary’s Extraterrestrials).

And that, dear readers, concludes Day One of Operation: Benji! Stay tuned for Day Two’s entry. Maybe I’ll write an even more exciting program, one that involves powers and square roots.

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WE FOUND THEM! WE FOUND LI- wait, no, it’s that dang pulsar again.

Head of the Bureau of Mars-Earth Relations

Head of the Bureau of Mars-Earth Relations – in your face, SETI, we found ’em first.

Dear readers, today marks a very special day. Today is the day I finally discovered the NASA Astrobiology website, which is essentially a haven for amateur exobiologists like myself. (Yes, exobiologist: while astrobiology focuses mostly on carbon-based life forms, exobiology takes into consideration the fact that there may be other types of creatures, such as lithovores – silicon-based life forms.)

Anyway, in honour of today, this blog post will be about the history of exobiology, starting from hundreds of years ago and moving up to the present time.

Many ancient beliefs held traces of exobiology in them. Most cultures around the globe had some belief in ‘worlds’ populated by different creatures – gods, demons, humans, etc. Of course, it is possible that these gods and demons are nothing more than figments of an overactive imagination – but then again, it is equally likely that they are actually what they are made out to be: otherworldly beings. There is even a PBS series on this, Ancient Aliens, that discusses the idea that perhaps humans are not the ones responsible for such ancient wonders as the pyramids of Egypt – highly advanced extraterrestrials with superior technology are.

Moving on a few centuries – as the Catholic Church gained more power in Europe, belief in such creatures was condemned as heresy and quashed. Many prominent astronomers, such as Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus, were forced to keep their radical ideas secret for fear of being persecuted by the Church. However, by the late nineteenth century, exobiology was rapidly picking up followers. Percival Lowell, an American astronomer, looked at Mars through his telescope in 1895 and observed what he believed to be a series of canals crisscrossing the planet’s surface. These ‘canals’ became fodder for much speculation concerning intelligent life on Mars, and it was only in 1965 – seventy years later – when NASA’s Mariner 4 took photos of Mars’s surface and determined that Mars was not in fact a wet planet, but a barren, dry, crater-filled world.

Just three years after Lowell’s canal-sightings, in 1898, British author H.G. Wells penned The War of the Worlds, a science-fiction novel about a Martian invasion of Earth. This sparked a new exobiological subculture; one that relied far more on fantastic flights of imagination than scientific evidence. Many comics and movies of that era – and this one, for that matter – had extraterrestrial characters and stories set light-years away from this planet.

In the latter half of the 20th century, scientific interest in exobiology picked up once again and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) was founded by Frank Drake, an American astronomer. In 1972 he, along with Carl Sagan, another famous astronomer, designed the Pioneer plaque – a giant pictorial representation of the history of life on Earth, to be carried on spacecraft in order to explain our origins to any extraterrestrial beings the astronauts happened to meet. (They didn’t meet any, but better safe than sorry.)

But Drake’s greatest contribution to exobiology was his creation of the Drake Equation, a multi-variable equation that yields the rough number of intelligent, communications-savvy extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy. Now, if only we knew the values of half the variables.

Today, more exobiological breakthroughs are happening even as I write. Recently, a study has been commenced wherein a 500-million-year-old bacterial gene has been injected into a sample population of E. coli bacteria, to see if evolution will proceed in the same way it did billions of years ago. More and more exoplanets are being discovered, and quite a few of them are Earth-like in nature. Signals are being constantly detected by SETI instruments, although all of them so far have turned out to be false alarms – Earthling radio signals or nearby pulsars. And, of course, there are hundreds of books, movies and TV series, both nonfiction and fiction, being churned out every year, helping to inform (and occasionally misinform) the general public about the fascinating world of extraterrestrial science.

In The Good Old Days, They Made Us Analyze A Shakespeare Sonnet Before Every Meal…

Dear readers, have you noticed that the standard of writing is going down? Seriously. I have read people who claim to be twenty and thirty-year-olds writing, and yet their pieces are jammed so full of typographies and general grammar mistakes that one has to wonder – Do they do this on purpose? Is it some sort of avant-garde way of expressing oneself? Or have grammar rules changed overnight, and is this the correct way of writing? Oh my God, please let this all be a nightmare… please…

Of course, this is not to say that all modern writing is bad. I have read many exceptional pieces, most of them authored by my friends, and I am even willing to overlook minor errors if the subject matter is intriguing enough.

Unfortunately, about 99% of the time, this isn’t the case. Most stories I find are plagued by not only rampant grammar errors, but a complete lack of a structure. Worse, they are often – in the case of first-person narratives – nothing more than the author’s thinly veiled fantasies transcribed onto paper. Now, there’s nothing especially wrong with writing down your fantasies – but in order to make those stories readable, you have to inject a healthy dose of believability into them as well. Add character development. Humour. Don’t make absolutely everything go your way. Conflict is essential to any type of story.

Why, dear reader, am I bringing up this issue? What impact does it have on you? The answer lies in the dark and mysterious world of publishing companies. Of late, I have noticed that more and more sub-par work is being churned out of their presses >cough Twilight cough<, and – what is even scarier – most people actually enjoy this sort of fluffy, undeveloped work. I have read truly awful pieces of writing, then looked through their comment pages, expecting constructive criticism and advice. Instead, I found hundreds of messages praising the high quality of the work and the author’s wonderful sense of humour.

Now, I may not be much of an authority on this – I’m no Classic Literature Ph.D. – but all the same, when I read a modern poem or story, then turn back to good ol’ Shakespeare, something in my mind tells me that the Bard would be very unhappy to see modern standards of work.

Of course, there’s always the chance that he’d enthusiastically adapt Breaking Dawn into a tragicomedy. (“Forsooth, Bella! There doth be the Vampire Mafia! Quick, we must use our skin, which doth glow like a thousand suns, to blind them!” “Oh Edward! Thou must keep thine senses about you, for Aro be a dankish fat kidneyed minnow! He hath… sunglasses!“)