Happy birthday Marco van Basten!

Marco van Basten in 2008

Marco van Basten in 2008

Marcel “Marco” van Basten (photo ©Jacoplane) was born on October 31, 1964 in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Marco van Basten started playing football when he was six, following in his father’s footsteps. In 1982 he made his debut with the Dutch national under-18 and the first team of Ajax Amsterdam, with which he won the Eredivisie title two years in a row and the Dutch Cup in the 1982-1983 season.

Quickly, Marco van Basten emerged as a scorer and in the season 1983-1984 he was the top scorer in the Dutch league. Ajax won the Dutch league title in the 1984-1985 season and also the Dutch Cup in the 1985-1986 and 1986-1987 seasons. In the last season he also won the UEFA Cup Winners Cup. In 1986, however, his physical problems to his right ankle started, with the first injury and the first surgery.

In 1987, Marco van Basten moved to Italy, to Milan, along with his coutryman Ruud Gullit. His first season was difficult because of an ankle injury that allowed him to play just a few games but the team managed to win the league title.

In 1988, Marco van Basten won the European Championship with the Dutch national team scoring the winning goal in the semifinal and a spectacular goal in the final against USSR.

In the 1988-1989 season, in which his other coutryman Frank Rijkaard arrived to Milan, Marco van Basten won the Ballon d’Or but and above all the Italian title and the European Cup. In the 1989-1990 season he was top scorer in the Italian league and won the Ballon d’Or and the European Cup again. In the 1990-1991 season he won the Intercontinental Cup.

In the 1991-1992 season Milan had the new manager Fabio Capello and Marco van Basten got back to being the top scorer in Serie A and won the third Ballon d’Or and the Italian title again, this time for three seasons in a row. Not everything went well during those years because in 1992 he had another ankle surgery because he was having problems again, getting forced to another four months stop.

In June 1993, Marco van Basten had ankle surgery again, still tried to get back to playing but after two years he had to surrender. At just 30, one of the most extraordinary players in football history was forced to retire.

Marco van Basten’s elegance and extraordinary technique exalted his fans and gained the respect of his opponents. Despite his considerable height, 1.88 meters (6’2″), his ball control was great and in the course of his career he scored decisive goals in several occasions showing that he was a true champion.

In 2003, Marco van Basten started a new career as a manager with Jong Ajax. Subsequently, he became the manager of the Dutch national team, until 2008. He became manager of Ajax but after one season he resigned because he couldn’t lead the team to the Champions League.

In 2012, Marco van Basten was appointed manager of Heerenveen, where he remained for two seasons. In April 2014 he reached a deal to become manager of AZ Alkmaar but in September he left that position to become an assistant manager citing the excessive stress of the full-time job.

It’s not clear what Marco van Basten will do in the future. He’s married and has three children so he has a family that makes him happy. Even if he leaves football he has already made ​​the history of this sport as a player.

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The Doctor Trap by Simon Messingham

The Doctor Trap by Simon Messingham

The Doctor Trap by Simon Messingham

The novel “The Doctor Trap” by Simon Messingham was published for the first time in 2008.

The Tardis receives a distress call coming from the Earth’s South Pole. There, the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble find an expedition attacked by an alien found in the Antarctic ice. While the Doctor is trying to save the members of the expedition, someone somehow manages to steal the Tardis.

On the legendary Planet 1, Sebastiene has absolute power. His passion is hunting and he already has many trophies of creatures from many planets. Now his goal is to hunt down a very unique and hard to catch prey and that’s why he summoned the best hunters in the universe. His new trophy will be the last of the Time Lords.

“The Doctor Trap” is part of a series of novels connected to the new “Doctor Who” series. They’re targeted to a wide audience by being linear enough to be appreciated even by very young readers but sophisticated enough to interest more mature readers.

In “The Doctor Trap”, Simon Messingham puts together some ideas that make a story very plot-oriented definitely going against the character-oriented trend of Russell T Davies’s management of the new “Doctor Who” series. This is one of the first novels featuring Donna Noble, published a few months after the broadcast of the episode “Partners in Crime” in which she became the Doctor’s companion.

Donna is a character who evolves a lot in the course of the TV show and perhaps for this reason Simon Messingham chose to focus on the Doctor ending up leaving her a role that’s a bit marginal. The result is that Donna appears only in a limited part of the novel, which may not appeal to her fans.

In “Doctor Who” characters who were more or less egomaniac appeared a number of times, in “The Doctor Trap” there’s Sebastiene, who maybe used to be human but over time became just a ruthless hunter. He managed to conquer the rarest and hardest trophies and has now decided to add the Doctor to his collection.

One element that instead was just mentioned in the show is the existence of fans of the Doctor but an important character in this novel is Baris, a fan who thanks to Sebastiene becomes absolutely identical to the Doctor. This is related to the theme of the doppelganger, another “Doctor Who” classic as it’s been part of various adventures.

Sebastiene uses Baris as part of a plan to lure the Doctor into a trap but the situation quickly becomes complicated. In a plot that requires some attention in order to avoid getting lost among the many twists and turns, the Doctor has to use his cunning to turn the use of a doppelganger against his enemy.

A good part of the story is a mirror dance in which the tension is always kept high because for Sebastiene that’s a great game but can be deadly at any time and not just for the Doctor. Sometimes Simon Messingham leaves ambiguities in the narrative so after a while the reader doesn’t always know exactly where the author is describing the the Doctor’s or Baris’s actions.

In the end, the story is perhaps too complex and Simon Messingham wanted to put too many twists in it, especially in its ending, which in my opinion would’ve been stronger if it had been a bit more linear. Of the characters, Sebastiene is developed quite well but doesn’t go much beyond the cliché of the egomaniac villain. Baris is perhaps the best developed while the others are extras.

I liked “The Doctor Trap” because it’s a kind of story with a sophisticated plot which is great for my taste. I consider it a very good novel but at the same time I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone because of its characteristics. Specifically, I wouldn’t recommend to the readers who prefer character-oriented stories and Donna fans would be disappointed with it, for the others I think it’s worth reading it.

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The Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded after lift off destroying the Cygnus spacecraft at the beginning of its Orb-3 mission

Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft destroyed by the explosion of the Antares rocket after lift off (Image NASA TV)

Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft destroyed by the explosion of the Antares rocket after lift off (Image NASA TV)

It was late afternoon in the USA when the Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus spacecraft blasted off on an Antares rocket but a few seconds later an explosion caused their destruction. The disaster occurred at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), part of the Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) NASA’s Wallops Island, Virginia. There are no injuries but damage to the launch pad was reported.

This was supposed to be the third official mission, called Orbital-3, Orbital CRS-3 (Commercial Resupply Service 3) or just Orb-3, of supply transport to the International Space Station for NASA. The security measures were started immediately after the explosion to begin the collection of the debris scattered in the area.

Launches may be delayed for many reasons, on Monday the launch of the Cygnus spacecraft was scrubbed for a curious reason: a boat entered in the path of the Antares rocket. The safety of all the people aboard the boat could’ve been at risk and, although yesterday the explosion occurred shortly after the launch, these measures proved right.

There were already delays due to boats in the area in the past. Often they just wait for the boat to move away but the launch window to the International Space Station is very limited and precisely 10 minutes for this new version of the Antares rocket.

Orbital Sciences called this Cygnus spacecraft Deke Slayton after Donald Kent “Deke” Slayton (1924 – 1993), an aircraft pilot during World War II and a pioneer of the American space program with the Mercury missions, of which he was one of seven original astronauts.

For the CRS-3 mission Orbital, Orbital Sciences used a new version of the second stage of the rocket Antares called Castor 30XL. It’s larger and can develop a propulsion for a longer time due to its greater amount of propellant. This will allow to carry a bigger cargo, in fact this time the Cygnus spacecraft was carrying just over 2,200 kilograms (about 5,000 pounds) of supplies, science experiments and more. The explosion originated in the first stage so it wasn’t possible to evaluate the performance of the new second stage.

Among the instruments that were supposed to be transported to the International Space Station there was Meteor, formally Meteor Composition Determination, which was designed to study the meteors entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Its video equipment was supposed to capture high-resolution images of the atmosphere that were supposed to be processed to identify bright spots left by a meteor that is burning because of friction. The subsequent spectroscopic analysis was to help identify the composition of the meteor, a job can’t be done from the ground because of the interference caused mainly by ozone.

After the success of the nanosatellites constellation called Flock 1 launched from the International Space Station at the beginning of 2014, more of the same type were added to it. Some problems to the launch system had prevented to launch all those scheduled for this summer, another 26 were supposed to be sent on Cygnus hoping for better luck but things went wrong.

The crew of the International Space Station still has food, water and enough oxygen and a Russian spacecraft Progress has just successfully blasted off with other supplies. NASA has a contract with two companies for the cargo transportation to the Station for just such contingencies. At this time it’s not possible to say how long it will take for Orbital Sciences to resume its launches but in the meantime SpaceX can proceed with those of its Dragon spacecraft.

These launches seemed to have become a routine, instead yesterday’s disaster reminds us that rocket launces are always a delicate business and when something goes wrong they can explode. It’s a shame especially for all the scientific instruments and the experiments that were lost.

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67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet that stinks

Image of emissions of water vapor and other compounds from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by one of the cameras of the Rosetta space probe's OSIRIS set (Image ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/ INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

Image of emissions of water vapor and other compounds from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by one of the cameras of the Rosetta space probe’s OSIRIS set (Image ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/ INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

While the Rosetta space probe’s Philae lander prepares to land on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, the analyzes at a distance go on. The comet is about 450 million kilometers (about 280 million miles) from the Sun and its activity is increasing due to the sublimation of the ice, which becomes steam. The ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) instrument has already analyzed some emissions finding that the comet really stinks.

The two ROSINA’s mass spectrometers can determine the composition of the atmosphere and the ionosphere of the comet formed due to its activities, measure the temperature and speed of the gas and the ions and investigate the reactions in which they’re involved. ROSINA’s pressure sensor allows to determine the density of the gas and to evaluate its flow.

Because of the distance of the comet from the Sun, ESA’s scientists expected that only the most volatile molecules would be released together with water, meaning carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Based on the history of observations of other comets, scientists expect an increased activity with the release of other molecules at a greater proximity, around 300 million kilometers (about 186 million miles), in early spring 2015.

Instead, once again 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko reserved a surprise and during the course of September ROSINA detected several other compounds. They’re not only simple molecules such as water but also other a bit more complex and not exactly good perfumes. There’s formaldehyde but also hydrogen sulfide, the substance that creates the smell of rotten eggs. The unpleasant odors continue with ammonia and sulfur dioxide. By comparison, hydrocyanic acid and methanol are pleasant.

From the scientific point of view, this mixture of substances is really interesting. One of the most important goals of the Rosetta mission is to study the origin of the materials that make up the solar system to better understand the formation of planets. In particular, there’s an interest in the formation of the Earth and the origin of life on the planet.

Comets are fossils from the early age of the solar system. Part of them have changed very little for some billion years, allowing us to somehow look back in time. An analysis of the differences with comets from the Oort cloud such as C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will be useful in this research



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Fire Pattern by Bob Shaw

Fire Pattern by Bob Shaw (Italian edition)

Fire Pattern by Bob Shaw (Italian edition)

The novel “Fire Pattern” by Bob Shaw was published for the first time in 1984.

Ray Jerome is a journalist with a background as an engineer so he has a very practical and down-to-earth attitude. When he’s assigned the task to write an article about a case of spontaneous human combustion, he’s far from happy. Jerome thinks that it may be a hoax and has no desire to deal with that kind of story.

After getting some information about the subject, finding that in the past there have been documented cases of spontaneous human combustion never really explained, Jerome  can only go to investigate the latest case. A track leads him to look for a doctor, instead he comes across another case of spontaneous human combustion that takes place in front of his eyes. Something is really happening but it turns out quite different from what he could have imagined.

The phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion refers to cases in which the remains of human bodies were found that appear to be burned spontaneously, without external causes. In these cases, the heat developed is so high as to reduce the victim’s body almost completely to ashes but it remains very contained.

There are various hypotheses to explain this phenomenon but it was possible to perform forensic analyzes only in very few cases. The consequence is that there are no sure  explanations and that’s why some theories border into the paranormal.

Bob Shaw sometimes took inspiration from pseudoscience and in “Fire Pattern” probably the idea came about after reading some source of that type rather than from the news. His interpretation of this phenomenon, however, is very scientific and rational and not surprisingly was discovered by a character who’s indeed skeptical.

The protagonist of the novel Ray Jerome works for the Whiteford Examiner, a small town newspaper. When asked to write an article about a case of spontaneous human combustion, his reaction is negative on the subject. Soon, however, he’s forced to change his mind when he eyewitnesses a new case.

Spontaneous human combustion is the basis of this novel but Bob Shaw develops it going far beyond it. This phenomenon allows the protagonist to discover that behind it there’s a much bigger picture hiding. The explanation that is given is far from paranormal and is connected to other events in which Ray Jerome is involved.

As almost always, Bob Shaw does a great job in developing the protagonist of “Fire Pattern”. From the beginning of the novel, he gives him depth by inserting various details about his past and his personality at the same time advancing the plot.

From the beginning, the tension is kept high by several twists and turns, initially connected directly to spontaneous human combustion and then usually to dangers of other types for Ray Jerome. That’s also connected to the problem that on several occasions he doesn’t know who he can trust.

In my opinion, the main problem of “Fire Pattern” is that the plot tends to become more and more convoluted. The fact that the story goes beyond spontaneous human combustion makes it complicated but because of this it’s difficult to manage the various elements that are added after the start focused on that phenomenon.

This isn’t the first time a novel by Bob Shaw would’ve needed to be longer to better develop its plot. His standard novels were much shorter than those we are used to today so some of his plots may seem developed in haste.

In my opinion, “Fire Pattern” is a novel that has an intriguing beginning, sometimes the story is at risk of getting lost in the second half and has an ambiguous ending. Not the best of Bob Shaw but I still found it enjoyable so if you have the time to read it I think it’s worth it.

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Serena Williams is the Mistress of tennis 2014

Serena Williams at the Australian Open 2010

Serena Williams at the Australian Open 2010

Serena Williams (photo ©Emmett Anderson) reached the final going through the round robin stage defeating Ana Ivanovic and Eugenie Bouchard and losing to Simona Halep then defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals. This is her seventh WTA Championship finals and won four of the six ones she played.

Simona Halep reached the final going through the round robin stage defeating Eugenie Bouchard and Serena Williams and losing to Ana Ivanovic then defeating Agnieszka Radwanska. This is her first WTA Championship final.

Simona Halep starts the match well and has two break points in the first game but Serena Williams wins her service game. The Romanian plays really well and in the third game breaks the American. Williams reacts, take advantage of some second serves by her opponent in the fourth game and breaks Halep at the third break point. The match becomes very intense but also nervous, with errors on both sides. The American tries to be more aggressive and in the sixth game breaks the Romanian: it’s the first of three consecutive breaks that brings the situation to 5-3. In the ninth game Williams serves for the first set and also thanks to her first two aces of the match she wins it 6-3.

Serena Williams begins the second set well breaking Simona Halep. The American now seems to have found her game again and the Romanian is no longer able to keep her pace. Williams dominates her opponent breaking her in the third and in the fifth game and then closes the second set 6-0 winning the match and her fifth WTA Championships title.

Simona Halep has made new steps forward this year and reached the WTA Championships final in her debut in this tournament. It’s a shame that in the second set she was overwhelmed by Serena Williams but she proved she’s really a great player so next year we can expect to see her at the highest level.

In a tournament full of surprises, including one of the worst defeats of her career to Simona Halep, in the end Serena Williams confirmed the title she won in the last years. She wasn’t as brilliant and dominant as on other occasions but she’s still the best.

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