The NBA season 2014/2015 is starting

Next Tuesday, October 28, the NBA championship 2014/2015 will start. This season sees the return of the Charlotte Hornets, who take the name of the first city’s team after New Orleans changed its nickname to Pelicans.

What are the favorite teams for the title? As always, there were many trades during the off season and now we’ll start seeing who made the right ones. Let’s see which teams might be the Conference semi-finalists.

Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers

It was a really busy summer in Cleveland. David Blatt was hired as head coach: he proved he’s a basketball genius, also with his recent Euroleague victory, but this is his first experience in the NBA. Andrew Wiggins was the first overall pick of the team. LeBron James returned to Cleveland. Wiggins was traded for Kevin Love. Somone think they’re already the favorite for the NBA title but there are some doubts. Who will be the center? If Brendan Haywood still has energy to give, especially in the playoffs, and the team finds a good chemistry the Cavaliers will be really hard to beat.

Indiana Pacers

The severe injury suffered by Paul George while playing with the USA national team could affect the whole season for the Pacers. In addition, there are the usual doubts about Roy Hibbert. More than ever, it’s a team that can beat everybody but also fail miserably. Their potential, however, can’t be ignored.

Miami Heat

They lost LeBron James but the rest of the team is really strong. I think the greatest question concerns Dwyane Wade’s health, which seems to be in decline. The team still has great potential and if Wade could return to levels close to his best years they may struggle to reach the Conference finals.

Brooklyn Nets

They lost Paul Pierce but the potential is still considerable. They have to find the consistency they lacked during the last season, also because it could be their last chance to move forward in the playoffs. Brooke Lopez’s health will be important as he could make the difference between a good season or be defeated by someone else, perhaps even their ex Paul Pierce and his Washington Wizards or the Chicago Bulls.

Western Conference

San Antonio Spurs

In past seasons, I had doubts about the Spurs because of their stars’ age. With the explosion of Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan decided to postpone his retirement. This is still the team that plays the best basketball in the NBA so I think it could fight again for the title. Everything will depend on the health of its extraordinary veterans.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant’s injury created new doubts about a team that already had some. However, if Durant could get in shape slowly and be at his best in spring, the Thunder could have an advantage in the playoffs. I think they still have the potential to fight for the title.

Los Angeles Clippers

This is a team that needs a major achievement to avoid doubts on its project. The new owner Steve Ballmer may have brought the necessary stability after last spring’s tough controversy. If they finally find some consistency, the Clippers could reach at least the Conference finals.

Houston Rockets

I think this is the pivotal year for the Rockets. They solved the Omer Asik issue after he went to the Pelicans, but who will be Dwight Howard’s backup? Trevor Ariza came back and that’s potentially excellent news for Houston. Now the team must pass the first round of the playoffs, otherwise there’s a serious risk that this project fails. Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors will be ready to take advantage of any weaknesses.

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A successful start of the Chinese Moon mission Chang’e 5-T1

The Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 mission at its beginning with a Long March 3C/E blasting off (Photo courtesy Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing. All rights reserved)

The Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 mission at its beginning with a Long March 3C/E blasting off (Photo courtesy Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing. All rights reserved)

It was night in China when the Chang’e-5 T1 started successfully. A Long March 3C/E rocket blasted off from the Xichang satellite launch center and successfully sent an experimental spacecraft on a trip around the Moon. The mission is expected to last just over eight days to test some technologies needed in 2017, when China will send a robotic spacecraft to the Moon to collect samples to be returned to Earth.

This test mission is unofficially called Chang’e 5 T1 because it’s the first test to reach the 2017 mission Chang’e 5. It’s part of the ambitious Chinese space program which includes missions with astronauts, or taikonauts to use the Chinese term, and building their own space station, but also other automated missions to the Moon.

Currently, the Chang’e 3 mission is ongoing, with a space probe landed on the Moon on December 14, 2013 together with the rover Yutu. The latter had problems that limited its use but from the few information revealed by the Chinese it seems to keep on operating.

In the Chang’e 5 T1 mission, the experimental spacecraft is en route to make a flight around the Moon before returning to Earth and test the return technologies. Guidance systems, navigation and control, together with the heat shield have been developed to allow for future spacecraft to go to the Moon, collect samples and bring them back to Earth.

The Chinese are providing limited information about their plans for the next phases of their program but the Chang’e 4 mission should include a new lander / rover pair with various modifications. The aim is to carry out further studies of the Moon, including those that impossible in the Chang’e 3 mission because of the rover Yutu’s problems, but also test other technologies for the Chang’e 5. The Chang’e 4 mission should take place in 2015 or 2016.

The Chang’e 5 T1 mission includes a collaboration with the German company OHB System. The spacecraft carries a cargo called 4M (Manfred Memorial Moon Mission) mission after the company’s founder Manfred Fuchs, who died recently. These are two scientific instruments: one is a radio beacon which aims to test a new way to locate the spacecraft and the other is a dosimeter to measure continuously the radiation levels in the course of the trip.

If this test mission is successful, it will be another step forward for the Chinese space program. Within a few years, China could have a permanent presence on the Moon, even if it consists of automatic probes. It will still be a first phase, which is expected to be followed in the next decade by new lunar missions with astronauts.

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Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

Book containing Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

Book containing Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

The novella “Turquoise Days” by Alastair Reynolds was published for the first time in 2002.

Turquoise is one of the worlds where the Pattern Jugglers live. They’re sea creatures with mental abilities still only partially understood. On the planet there’s also a human colony studying this species but someone someone become victim and their memories are recorded by them. Naqi and her sister Mina live on Turquoise one day Mina dies swimming with the Pattern Jugglers and is absorbed by them.

Two years later, an interstellar starship arrives in the Turquoise system, the first after many years. It also brings a group of scientists who want to study the Pattern Jugglers of the planet. Naqi becomes suspicious towards them when they ask to have access to an important research station and soon realizes that they’re hiding something.

“Turquoise Days” is part of the “Revelation Space” fictional universe of by Alastair Reynolds but is a standalone story and doesn’t need to have read other stories in this series. The Pattern Jugglers are also mentioned in some other works of this author but it’s in this that details about them are provided.

The Pattern Jugglers are sea creatures with which humans had several contacts over time but are still mysterious in many ways. They are known for their ability to record the mind patterns of sentient creatures and to modify them. Contacts with these creatures can be dangerous because of the risk of being absorbed by them.

If you’re willing to take a risk and pay a price, you can obtain by the Pattern Jugglers an augmentation of some mental skills. For example, a character in the novella “Diamond Dogs” has math skills enhanced as a result of a contact with these creatures.

The Pattern Jugglers live in the oceans of various planets and among those there’s Turquoise. Not surprisingly, the human colony on the planet includes scientists who are carrying out research on these creatures. Mina, the sister of the protagonist of “Turquoise Days”, dies following a contact with the Pattern Jugglers, like other inhabitants of this planet.

Naqi feels guilty for the death of her sister Mina and decided to devote herself to research on Pattern Jugglers. When an interstellar starship reaches Turquoise, the situation on the planet, generally isolated, changes dramatically. A group of scientists arrived to investigate the local Pattern Jugglers but Naqi is skeptical about their real intentions.

The plot is in many ways an excuse to develop a story very character-oriented, mainly focused on Naqi but also the Pattern Jugglers. Alastair Reynolds develops the protagonist exploring her desires and motivations and at the same time allows us to better understand the Pattern Jugglers.

Because of its limited length, the plot of “Turquoise Days” is simple and straightforward, maybe too much. The first chapter, which occupies about a quarter of this novella, tells the story of Mina’s death so the remaining part is fast-paced in the story of the arrival of the interstellar starship.

Personally, I prefer stories where the plot has a bit more importance. In the case of “Turquoise Days” I’m okay with Naqi’s characterization and even more with having more information about the Pattern Jugglers. My problem is that the plot seems too simple, almost like it’s a draft of a novel abandoned and published as it was. That impression was certainly helped by my reading of other works by Alastair Reynolds in which the plot is much more sophisticated.

In fact, I can’t say that “Turquoise Days” is bad because aside my doubts about its plot it contains interesting elements. Certainly readers who appreciate character-oriented stories will like it but I think it’s still useful to people who have already read other works by Alastair Reynolds in which the Pattern Jugglers appear to understand a little more about them.

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Drazen Petrovic was born 50 years ago

Drazen Petrovic with the New Jersey Nets

Drazen Petrovic with the New Jersey Nets

Drazen Petrovic (photo ©Lipofsky was born on October 22, 1964 in Sibenik, in the then Yugoslavia, now Croatia.

Following in the footsteps of his older brother Aleksandar, at 13 Drazen Petrovic started playing basketball in his hometown team. At 15 he was playing in the first team, which was promoted to the first division in the Yugoslav championship. Thanks to him, the team reached the final twice in the Korac Cup, one of the European Cup played at that time.

In 1983, Drazen Petrovic scored two free throws to get the decisive win against Bosna in the final of the Yugoslavian league, but the national federation canceled the game for irregularities in the refereeing. The team refused to replay the game and the title was given to the Bosna.

In 1983, Drazen Petrovic won the bronze medal with the Yugoslavian national team at the Universiade in Edmonton.

In 1984, Drazen Petrovic won the bronze medal with the Yugoslavian national team at the Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 1984, Drazen Petrovic joined his brother at Cibona Zagreb, where they formed a devastating backcourt. The Cibona won two consecutive titles in the Yugoslavian championship but mostly won the European Champions Cup twice, at that time the most important European club competition. In 1986, with the Yugoslavian national team he also won the bronze medal at the World Championships.

In 1987, Drazen Petrovic led Cibona to the victory in the European Cup Winners’ Cup. With the Yugoslavian national team he won the bronze medal at the European Championships and the gold medal at the Universiade in Zagreb.

In 1988, Drazen Petrovic won the silver medal with the Yugoslavian national team at the Olympics in Seoul.

The need for new challenges led Drazen Petrovic to sign a contract with Real Madrid in 1988. His transfer was controversial because according to sports laws in Yugoslavia athletes could move abroad only after turning 28 while at that point Petrovic hadn’t even turned 24. According to statements made ​​by persons involved in the transfer, it was a matter of bribes paid to the right people.

With Real Madrid, Drazen Petrovic won the Copa del Rey and especially the European Cup Winners’ Cup, scoring 62 point in the final against Snaidero Caserta. It was one of the most outstanding individual performances in the history of European basketball.

In 1989, Drazen Petrovic decided to go to the NBA, to the Portland Trail Blazers that had picked him in 1986. Today that’s a normal choice for high-level European players, at the time that was a real challenge. Not surprisingly, for him the beginnings were very difficult: the Blazers had Clyde Draxler and Terry Porter as backcourt starters so Petrovic played very little and often it was garbage time.

In 1990, Drazen Petrovic won the gold medal with the Yugoslavian national team at the World Championship.

In early 1991, Drazen Petrovic asked to be traded and was included in three-team trade that brought him to the New Jersey Nets. From the beginning, he played more minutes and started showing his skills in the NBA. In the two following seasons, Petrovic helped to bring the Nets to the playoffs after years of mediocrity.

In 1992, Drazen Petrovic played the Barcelona Olympics with the national team of Croatia after Yugoslavia’s fragmentation. He won the silver medal losing in the final to the one and only real immense American Dream Team.

In 1993, Drazen Petrovic wanted to go to an NBA team where he could fight for the title but there were also top European teams ready to offer him a lot of money. In the meantime, he played the qualification tournament of the European Championship in Poland with the Croatian national team. On June 7, 1993, after one of those games, he decided to return to Croatia with his girlfriend but on a German highway died in a car accident.

Considered a national hero in Croatia, where a museum dedicated to him was opened, Drazen Petrovic was included in the American Hall of Fame in 2002, a global recognition of his greatness. He’s one of the greatest players in the history of European basketball, with an extraordinary individual technique and exceptional mental strength that made him an absolute winner.

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Edmond Moore Hamilton was born 110 years ago

Edmond Moore Hamilton was born on October 21, 1904 in Youngstown, Ohio, USA.

The young Edmond Hamilton was so good at school that he earned his high school diploma when he was just 14. Subsequently, his parents enrolled him at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, where however after a good first year he started getting bored. In the third year, his attendance of the lessons became more and more rare until he was expelled.

Edmond Hamilton’s career as a writer began in 1926, when he published the short story “The Monster-God of Mamurth” in the magazine “Weird Tales”. Initially, he wrote fantasy stories but soon also started publishing science fiction stories on other pulp magazines. For this reason, he quickly became best known as one of the creators of the space opera subgenre.

At the end of the ’20s, Edmond Hamilton started writing the first of his series, that of the Interstellar Patrol, made ​​up of several stories of varying length. Among the many stories written in the ’30s, a highlight is “The Island of Unreason”, winner of the Jules Verne Prize, the first award in the science fiction field given by the fans votes.

In the years of the Great Depression, the need to earn some money pushed Edmond Hamilton to be very prolific, sometimes writing also detective stories. For the same reasons, in the early ’40’s he started writing the series of Captain Future publishing several stories until the early ’50s.

In 1946, Edmond Hamilton started writing for DC Comics, especially Superman and Batman comics. This type of activity continued until 1966.

On December 31, 1946, Edmond Hamilton married his fellow writer Leigh Brackett. His style had already evolved since beginning of his career, his marriage brought more improvements. Formally, both of them kept on developing their own works, in fact, they influenced each other. It’s possible that Hamilton contributed to the revision of two of his wife’s stories, which were expanded and republished as “The Secret of Sinharat” and “People of the Talisman“.

In 1949, Edmond Hamilton published the novel “The Star Kings”. In the following years, he published a sequel in four stories that in 1968 were fixex-up in the novel “Return to the Stars”. Hamilton also wrote other stories set in that fictional universe: “Stark and the Star Kings” is a crossover with that of Leigh Brackett with Eric John Stark among its protagonists.

In the ’50s, Edmond Hamilton also published several other stories, including novels such as “City at World’s End” in 1951, “The Star of Life” in 1959, “The Haunted Stars” in 1960 and “Battle for the Stars” in 1961.

In the ’60s, Edmond Hamilton published his last great series, the Starwolf with Morgan Chane as its protagonist, consisting of “The Weapon from Beyond” (1967), “The closed worlds” (1968) and “World of the Starwolves” (1968).

Edmond Hamilton died on February 1, 1977 in Lancaster, California, following complications from kidney surgery. His novel “The Lake of Life” was published posthumously the following year.

In the course of his career, Edmond Hamilton was loved very much by readers even if sometimes criticism negatively assessed him for his role in the space opera often naive of the Golden Age and for works aimed at kids such as Captain future. Overall, he was a very important writer in the development of science fiction and in some ways his stylistic improvements reflected the growth of the genre.

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The comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring passed close to Mars

The comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring observed by the WISE space telescope (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring observed by the WISE space telescope (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Yesterday the comet C/2013 A1, also known as Siding Spring, passed very close to Mars. The distance from the planet was as low as about 140,000 km (about 87,000 miles), one third of the distance of the Moon from Earth, very close in astronomical terms. The event was followed by several telescopes but nearby ther was was the Earth’s “star fleet” consisting of NASA’s probes and rovers, ESA’s Mars Express probe and the Indian MOM – aka Mangalyaan – probe.

Discovered on January 3, 2013, the comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring comes from the Oort cloud, the cloud of comets that according to astronomers could exist at the edge of the solar system. Its distance from the Sun is thousands of times greater than that of Pluto so it’s impossible to see the comets that make it up. This makes it difficult to confirm its existence, however, comets keep on coming in the inner solar system so there must be something!

The origin of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring makes it more interesting than ever. Comets are generally fossils of the first phase of the solar system’s history, the ones that come from the Oort cloud may have been unchanged or barely changed for a few billion years.

It wasn’t possible to see the comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring with the naked eye from Earth but many telescopes have already started observing it for some time. The various space probes in orbit around Mars have also tried to carry out analyzes of the dust and gas that fell into the atmosphere of the red planet.

It’s a truly unique opportunity to analyze a comet at close range, so much so that some of the Martian space probes have been moved to avoid the risk of being hit by part of its tail. Those are small particles but the comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring travels in a direction opposite to Mars therefore the speed relative to the planet is about 190,000 km/h (about 118,000 mph). Even dust can be dangerous due to the kinetic energy it would have in its impact with a spacecraft.

After the passage of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, NASA has confirmed that its space probes have suffered no damage. MAVEN started studying the possible effects of gas and dust from the comet’s tail on the atmosphere of Mars. Probably the first images and analyzes will start arriving in the coming days.

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