There! Are! NINE! Planets!

Nine Planets Thumb


See, for the longest time, I’ve been fascinated by space, and the stars, and astronomy. When I was a kid in the 1950s I’d go from New York City where I lived to visit one of my uncles in the country, and he had an interesting and eclectic library, which things like CS Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet or The World of Å by A.E. van Vogt. He also had this book:

zim stars

which I would spend hours and hours perusing, right around the same time Alfred Bester was publishing the exploits of Gully Foyle. In my own mind, the stars were my destination.

And of course, there were Nine Planets. Nine.

Solar System

This was cemented into my mind when, during the same epoch, I read Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel. Beyond being a delightful space opera, it was full of hard science, too. Kip Russell was a genius who thought higher math was as addictive as peanuts, and had all sorts of astronomical data tucked away in his mind which helped him figure out where his evil worm-faced kidnappers were taking him and his little companion, Peewee.

“Mother very thoughtfully made a jelly sandwich under no protest.” Could you forget that after saying it a few times? Okay, lay it out so:

Mother Mercury $.39
Very Venus $.72
Thoughtfully Terra $1.00
Made Mars $1.50
A Asteroids Assorted prices,
Jelly Jupiter $5.20
Sandwich Saturn $9.50
Under Uranus $19.00
No Neptune $30.00
Protest Pluto $39.50

The “prices” are distances from the sun in astronomical units. An A.U. is the mean distance of Earth from Sun, 93,000,000 miles. It is easier to remember one figure that everyone knows and a lot of little figures than it is to remember figures in millions or billions. I use dollar signs because a figure has more flavor if I think of it as money – which Dad considers deplorable. Some way you must remember them, or you don’t know your own neighborhood. (Heinlein, Robert A., Have Space Suit, Will Travel).

And no, I could never forget it either. There were nine planets. Nine. And the mnemonic was seared into my consciousness forever. When Pluto was demoted from planetary status to “dwarf planet,” I was devastated. I refused to give in. No. Still a planet, always a planet. Apparently, others felt the same way I did, and for similar reasons:

I really wasn’t too concerned about Pluto’s demotion from being a planet. It was a non scientific discussion about a silly serious definition.

Well, at least that was until they decided to TAKE AWAY PLUTO’S NAME. WTF? So, please Mr It’s-Not-A-Planet-Just-A-No-Name-Dwarf Astronomer, what am I supposed to use for my mnemonic now? Huh?

I learned “Mother very thoughtfully made a jelly sandwich under no protest” as a teenager reading Robert Heinlein. And now? “Mother very thoughtfully made a jelly sandwich under no 134340” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

[Update: Thanks Dan]
Pluto may have lost it’s planetary status, but it GOT A NEW NUMBER! It went from merely 9 to a rocking 134340! Wow, what a raise. I am however bummed that my favorite memonic, “Mother very thoughtfully made a jelly sandwich under no protest” learned as a teenager reading Robert Heinlein, no longer works.

Perhaps “Mother very thoughtfully made a cherry jelly sandwich under no protest. Excellent!”  (Hmmm, still doesn’t ring well.) Anyway I still stand to-

Sure tell me Pluto it isn’t a planet, but stop MESSING AROUND WITH MY CHILDHOOD! (From Eclectics Anonymous)

And that’s the crux of my objection: don’t screw around with what I learned as a child. If nothing else, Pluto should have been grandfathered in, because despite its true status as a captured Kuiper Belt object (as clearly shown by its off-kilter orbit and the identification of countless other trans-Neptunian objects), it was treated as a planet since it was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh.

Sadly, science moves on. As Neil de Grasse Tyson has said, the universe is under no obligation to make sense to us – it’s just out there, waiting to be discovered. In much the same way as they took away my beloved Brontosaurus, we learn new things every day. Now, as New Horizons approaches Pluto for a scheduled 2015 rendezvous, my excitement to see our last little solar system outlier (at least, that’s the way it was in the 50s) knows no bounds.


“The [above] animation of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was created using a series of images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft as it continues its long journey to the distant planetoid. Taken from a distance of 422-429 million km, the images are not for scientific study, but for optical navigation between worlds. (From i09)

Those pictures are going to get a lot clearer and more wonderful as New Horizons approaches, if the results from Cassini and other planetary probes are any indiation. But based on what I’m seeing there, it may turn out that Pluto and Charon are not really planets at all, but nothing more than space junk, garbage that looks more like comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. And if that ends up being the case, I’ll have to throw my visceral but irrational defense of Pluto’s planetary status onto the trash heap of disproven theories, as sad as it may be.

Our Solar System is a lot bigger now than it used to be. No one ever made mention of the Kuiper Belt or the Oort cloud. It was just us, although some scientists even back then were looking for the mysterious “Planet X” [1] which would help to explain certain orbital anomalies.


Image: NASA’s Solar System Exploration. Click through for the full interactive graphic, along with a lot of other wonderful information.

Some other really good stuff about space and stars and especially planets is found at Starts with a Bang!

In the end, better minds than mine have come to terms with advancing knowledge. A quote at Wikipedia’s article about Clyde Tombaugh is particularly comforting:

Tombaugh’s widow Patricia stated after the IAU’s decision that while Clyde may have been disappointed with the change since he had resisted attempts to remove Pluto’s planetary status in his lifetime, he would have accepted the decision now if he were alive. She noted that he “was a scientist. He would understand they had a real problem when they start finding several of these things flying around the place.”Hal Levison offered this perspective on Tombaugh’s place in history: “Clyde Tombaugh discovered the Kuiper Belt. That’s a helluva lot more interesting than the ninth planet.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] They’re still looking.

Give me solid cedar, or give me death.

Just a random musing: When I was around 8 or so, my beloved centenarian aunt gifted me with a cedar box full of hard raspberry candies for Christmas. The candies evaporated quickly, but the cedar box continued to delight for years. There is nothing like the smell of solid cedarwood. Coming back from her last trip to Maine, my beloved brought me back a little kiss of cedarwood from Bailey Island (points for the reference). It smells heavenly.


Nowadays you go to a furniture store and they trumpet “Cedarwood Drawers!” or similar things. What they mean is that human technology has managed to slice cedar into a veneer about three molecules thick, whose smell will have evaporated before they even get it off the truck


Case in point: Espresso Cedar Chest, for sale at RC Willey in  Orem, Utah for $229.00.

Crafted for functionality as well as elegance, this cedar chest makes a charming and sensible addition to your home. Solid wood construction and a plush seat cushion provide sturdy usability. Classic styling ensures it will be a family heirloom for years to come.

Solid wood… but what they don’t say is that at that price it’s going to be solid pine, with one of those vanishingly-thin cedar veneers inside. The odor will be like lipstick: one kiss and its’ gone.

It’s an abomination. Give me solid cedar, or give me death.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Search Engine Registration – Do Not Fall For This Scam

I’ve seen an uptick in spam in my inboxes lately, much of it in the same format – there must be a new spammer active in Russia or somewhere similar. However, I’ve also gotten a rash of solicitations to “register my domain” with various search engines, like the following website that I was led to.



A video asssociated with this or a similar site claims that if I don’t use their services, it could take months or even years for my domain to be recognized by the major search engines.


This, of course, is nonsense. The crawlers are very efficient, usually picking up new websites in a matter of hours. You don’t need to pay the $99.00 or the $299.00 to scum-sucking scammers like this to get your website  noticed. Of course, there are things you can do to increase your visibility, but paying lots of money for a worthless service is not one of them.

Another scummy scam is run by some necrotic filth-bag named Colin Walker (probably a phony name), who is the registered owner of Here’s their putrid email to me:



This email is not just misleading, it’s full of outright lies; there’s a hot rock in Hell waiting for the asshats who run this kind of fraud.

Click through for some additional information over at Hoax-Slayer.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Rosetta: Captivated again.

I grew up in the space age.



I worried along with my parents about what it meant now that the “russkies” had launched Sputnik.


I sat glued to the television as the most momentous events in history took place, and as we equaled and surpassed the Russian space effort.


Apollo 8: Earthrise. ©Nasa


Apollos 15. ©Nasa

The space shuttle era brought triumph and tragedy and a sense of the mundane to space travel. NASA’s budget was cut, and cut, and cut again. America lost its fascination with space travel. There were no more Russians to beat, and people forgot about the amazing science and benefits that accrued to us as a result of the space effort.

Every now and then, however, there was a glimmer of excitement.

converted PNM file

The Cassini probe and others sent back breathtaking images of our outer planets, adding immensely to our knowledge of the nature of our solar system. Saturn was not the only ringed system: Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune had them too.


Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012. V’ger continues to provide the information.

On July 14 of next year, New Horizons will encounter Pluto[1], an event for which I wait with extreme anticipation.


And yesterday, the Rosetta space probe made its approach and inserted itself into orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. I had insomnia anyway, so I watched some of the live feeds.


The comet imaged from 177 miles away. ©Nasa


A closeup of a smooth area on the main segment of the comet, taken from 80 miles away. Resolution: 8 feet per pixel. (The boulder in the middle is about 160 feet across). ©Nasa

What an astonishing accomplishment. The mathematics and engineering required to achieve this are exquisite and beyond my ken, but I admire and applaud all those who had a hand in bringing this miracle to pass (along with all the other milestones along the way.) I know someone personally who is intimately involved with the JPL, and she’s smart. So smart. My admiration for scientists knows no bounds.

Next month, if all goes well, a lander will anchor itself to the surface of the comet, and do amazing science as it rounds the sun. If it doesn’t get blown off. I’m on tenterhooks.


Mockup of the Philæ lander.

I go on record as saying that money expended on the science of space exploration is money well spent. The benefits are real and tangible as well as potential.


©Nasa. Click through for a copy of the full report.

Just a few of the many, many things that have developed out of our space exploration effort over the years:

  • Cell Phone Camera
  • Clean Energy Technology
  • Scratch-Resistant Lenses
  • Water Filtration and Purification
  • CAT Scans

And of course, Velcro™.

I’m not sure if technology will ever get us as a species to a new home. Terraforming Mars is still a dream, and escaping the Solar System to find another habitable planet among the stars is still the stuff of science fiction. But I’m open to surprises, for the benefit of generations yet unseen. In the meantime, I will rejoice in each new step toward the unknown that science can grace us with.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] Still a planet. Always a planet.

Nine Planets Thumb

They, the builders of our nation.

The builders

Found at the Facebook page of The Old Map Gallery in Denver, Colorado.

An inspiring work from a daughter of a calligrapher for the United States Treasury Department. Louise E. Jefferson is a fascinating figure that was a key part of the Harlem Artist Guild, author and mapmaker. Here her map for the many peoples that made the nation in the 1940’s

Our nation was built on the back of so many people, I find it surprising that a very small group of people are claiming this country as “theirs” and doing all they can to keep others out. This map is intriguing and historically revealing.

Kevin Richardson’s “Miracle Cure,” an Infuriating Scam

Oxygen Diet Scam

So here’s the email that showed up in my inbox today:

From: Ultimate.Cure.17690762 <>
Subject: Doctor Jailed for CURING Cancer (see why),  Article No. 10754166
To: <redacted>

Today, you have a 95% chance of eventually dying from a disease or condition for which there is already a known cure right at your fingertips.

Well-respected doctors have been attacked, threatened with losing their licenses and even JAILED for sharing the information you are about to discover…
If you or a your loved one is suffering from ANY, and we mean ANY illness, chronic or acute, especially if you’ve been told it is incurable, then this is the most important message you will hear today.
View This SHOCKING Health Alert in your Browser:
(they don’t want you to know about this)

Article No. 10754166

We see this kind of thing all the time, but this particular scam infuriates me because it doesn’t just say you’re going to lose weight (açaí berries or garcinia cambogia) – it claims to cure any and all diseases, including cancer and HIV. This is cruel and dangerous – weak-minded or uneducated people will fall for this rubbish and spend their valuable money on a worthless system instead of seeking competent medical assistance. This fraud will kill people.

Have a look at some of the garbage this maddening presentation says:

  • Learn how to oxygenate your cells in a way that makes it IMPOSSIBLE for bacteria, cancer, or any virus to live, and create a miraculous recovery and immunity to any disease – much less the diseases that are killing us in record numbers today.
  • Disease and oxygen cannot be in the same space in your body.
  • Oxygen needs to get inside your cells in order to get rid of disease. (Solution: take a deep breath.)
  • Remember the oxygen therapies you will have access to have been PROVEN to CURE the most incurable illnesses to date like the HIV virus and practically all forms of cancer.
  • Documentation and proof of oxygen therapy curing virtually every disease we know of goes back to the late 1800s.
  • When you use these techniques properly, you’ll be shocked as you see physical reactions that prove the virus, bacteria or toxin is leaving the body – even if you’ve tried every therapy out there.
  • Use your “maintenance routine” once your illness has vaporized out of your body.
  • Many people the world over have been helped and yes even “cured” by these simple therapies. (Note the use of scare quotes.)

The lies and false claims continue unabated for around half an hour – cure eczema, psoriasis, regain youthful skin, whatever, you name it. As I mentioned in a previous post, with thanks to the creators of Lucky Luke:


Buzzwords, vague and oblique references to un-cited scientific studies, dropping names like Atkins, I have never seen a more evil conglomeration of mumbo-jumbo in my life.


Search Google for “Kevin Richardson Miracle Cure Scam,” and most of what you get is shill pages and affiliate recommendations. Yes, they pay people to become affiliates using another multi-level fraud:


… and I’m sure the email that started all of this is from one of their suckers. Notice that they promise up to $118.00 and change commission per sale, but they’re selling their product for less than $40.00. I’d like to see the math on that one.


Original price $97.00, but for YOU, because YOU”RE SPECIAL, and because you’re going to ACT NOW, only $37.00.

Order 2

One other thing to be aware of is that if you do order, you’re giving your credit card number to extremely unethical people, and you stand a good chance of having unauthorized and/or recurring charges applied to your card, with little or no hope of getting a refund if you complain.

Attorney General offices are constantly trying to bring down such fraudsters – click through for an Iowa report on one action against a company promoting the miracle benefits of “marine phytoplankton.” The problem with scams like this is that they are like a hydra – cut off one head, and two more spring up in its place.

I write this post largely to combat all of the fraudulent information out there, in the hopes that a few people might encounter it and save their money. Please, be smart. Stay away from all such snake oil.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Comments are closed for this post.

“We have been selected” (A come-on from Save On Resorts)

Last week we got a postcard in the mail (I should have thought to scan it, but didn’t realize I’d be writing about it until after the fact.) It had a big picture on the front of a Southwest Airlines jet, and the name “Southwest Airlines” emblazoned across it.


The back indicated that we had “been selected” to receive two round-trip airfare tickets to anywhere in the continental USA and two nights’ accomodation at the selected destination. A number to call was provided. In tiny print on the back was the disclaimer that all promotions were offered and redeemed by a third-party and were not endorsed by Southwest.

I’ve done this before, so we said “what the heck.” I called the number, and was a few qualifying questions:

  • Was I married?
  • Was I between the ages of 28 and 72?
  • Was our combined annual income over $60,000 per year?

Obviously, they’re pitching to stable, wealthy individuals. The last one of these I got I told them that my income was not quite high enough, just to see what happened, and they told me that they were so sorry, I didn’t qualify for this promotion, but sent me off on a wild goose chase to claim another booby prize which – in the end – was worth precisely squat.

So we set up an appointment, and yesterday my wife and I spent three hours listening to the pitch. We had both experienced timeshare presentations before (the telephone receptionist swore up and down that “this is in no way a timeshare presentation”) and were used to high-pressure tactics, so we thought it might be entertaining. We had lunch at a great Thai restaurant before going down, so the day would not be a total loss whatever the outcome.

The room was set up for four couples. Everyone was friendly and courteous. The slideshow lasted about an hour. The essence of the pitch was as follows:

  • Platinum Unlimited Membership
    • Resorts, houses, Condo’s (sic)
    • Hotels, B&B’s
    • All-inclusive (whatever that means)
    • Packages/Cruises
    • All Inclusive’ (sic)
    • Tours/Excursions, Tickets
    • Reward credits (Something about bonuses being refunded to us)
    • Restaurant Discounts
    • Airfare/Car Rental
    • Family Plan (other family members can use our plan, like at Costco)
    • Guest policy
  • 20 year product $2,999
  • Lifetime product $4,999
  • $149.00 “processing fee”
  • $199.00/year annual dues (payable only during years one uses the product)
  • Special bonus for “retired people”: $1,999 for the 20 year Platinum plan, but valid only now, Now, NOW! If you want to think about it, the price will be $4,999.00.
  • “You’re going to be traveling “anyway,” so you might as well be saving money with this plan.”  The concept of “anyway money” is a big part of timeshare pitches, based on the ones I’ve attended. The trouble is, the numbers never add up. What they’re selling you a timeshare for will usually be significantly more than the average family will spend over twenty years  “anyway.”

So, assuming you’re not retired and spring for the 20 year plan, which comes close to $7,000 including the annual dues, and assuming Save On Resorts doesn’t fold during that time (they proudly trumpet an A+ rating with the BBB), what do you get for your seven grand?

Basically the services of a wholesale travel aggregator. During the pitch they dragged out four or five hypothetical destinations and showed the difference between a single scenario of pricing and their own website’s results. Usually the pitched savings were at about the 50% level. Nothing was ever said about ancillary fees or taxes or all the myriad costs that crop up during the average pleasure trip.

The pitchmen stressed the fact that when you visit multiple sites to compare airline fares, your IP address is being tracked and fares tend to jump up the more often you visit a website. This is true, but there are ways to avoid this particular scummy trick used by places like Priceline, Orbitz, Travelocity, and the airlines themselves.

They admitted that they could not save any real money on airfares, other than to “guarantee” you the lowest possible available fare “without the hassle” by using their private website. Most of the savings would come through buying their aggregated wholesale property packages. But as everyone knows, they are not the only game in town.

After the pitch, I came home and did a little research. Click through for a blog post from a reporter who attended a similar pitch from a company called “Endless Access,” also a front for Save On Resorts. It doesn’t sound too savory. What’s more, if you have to make a decision on the spot to get the best price, there’s no way to go out there and find the myriad complaints about these firms on places like Ripoff Report or And there are many.

I’m curious to see what my “reward” for attending the presentation amounts to. I have a certificate to fill out and send in within 30 days (or the offer is void,) purportedly fulfilled by Travel Select Rewards and/or IIG Promotions (looking for complaints about this company is a horror show.) One consumer posted this after a similar experience with Save On:

You get a card in the mail that looks like it is from Southwest Airlines offering free flights. You find out it’s really not. but an offer of free airline tickets + hotel if you listen to a 90 minute presentation from SAVEON RESORTS. They aren’t too hard sell. You go home, submit paperwork for your freebie… a month later get the info on the freebie. Turns out you have to depart only Monday or Tuesday. Your “free” coach fare cannot exceed $200 and taxes and fees you have to pay are about $120 – $220.

The full Terms and Conditions on my redemption offer can be found below in a footnote.[1]

Others have reported that you have to pay all taxes and fees before you even find out what your travel choices are; so I will duly submit my information and return and report. It is interesting to note that IIG requires you to send them a SASE in order to get your certificate (this translates as cheap bastard company.)

The bottom line is that presentations like this are almost always a bad deal for the consumer and a good deal for the company running the pitch. The presentation by Save On was not overly high-pressure, but they employed a good number of sales tactics including cherry-picking data, scarcity (offer valid only today), reciprocity (we’re offering you this great vacation, so you should sign up for our program), and others.

No one needs to pay retail prices if they are willing to do a bit of footwork. When traveling, aggregators can save you money; but there are many available on the web, and you don’t have to pay between $2K and $5K plus a recurring annual fee to use their services.

Continued in Part II.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Your Travel Select Rewards© (TSR) is redeemable for (1) reward certificate (Offer) outlined herein. Pictures of products on site and certificates are for illustrative purposes only and may be subject to change. Offers are booked/fulfilled in accordance with the terms and conditions of actual certificate selected. Offers are subject to providing alternate travel dates, a valid governmental 10, credit card, advance notice, double occupancy, expiration dates, no group travel, one per household per year, changes without notice, shipping and handling, deposits, governmental taxes and fees, if applicable. Requests for changes to the original travel Offer will result in Offer becoming a discounted trip. See actual certificate selected for complete details. Offer is non transferable and has no cash value. Failure to follow certificate’s terms and conditions, provide payment, deposits, make selection from list and/or correspondence not returned in the designated time frames renders offer void. A voided certificate/offer will not be acknowledged or returned. Fulfilling Agency is not responsible for mail or certificates that are lost, mutilated, or delayed or failure to book offer online. If product or offer becomes unavailable to Fulfilling Agency they have the option to substitute another product or promotional travel offer of equal or greater value.
The information on the TSR Brochure is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any of the products or certificates mentioned. Fulfilling Agency agents, assignees, and or delegates act independently of the sponsoring company who issued you the TSR as a thank you. The General Information Provisions and Terms and Conditions of Offer received cannot be changed or amended by any person or company without the written consent of an authorized officer of Fulfilling Agency. No recipient should rely upon representations other than those included in the actual terms and conditions of the certificate selected.
This offer is void where prohibited by law and if not paid for by the primary issuing merchant or distributor who purchased from TSR and issued to recipient. By participating in this trayel reward offer the signatory agrees that TSR will not be held liable for any actual or potential losses, including without limitation, compensation or consequential damages, either in contract or in tort, by either persons or property, arising out of this offer or in connection therewith.

In other words, make a single mistake and you’re screwed. And we don’t care.