Time is a mysterious thing. It’s hard to believe that only a year ago, The Virtue of Heresy hit the shelves. It seems to have gone so quickly, yet on the other hand, so much has happened in consequence of the book’s publication that it’s equally hard to convince myself that the last year hasn’t actually been ten! The first paragraph of the August 2007 Breaking News broke the news:

What a momentous day was Monday, 2nd July 2007! Without fanfare or ceremony, my book The Virtue of Heresy—Confessions of a Dissident Astronomer slipped quietly onto the Internet and sold 20 copies on the first day. Within the first week, I heard from the BBC programme Sky at Night (the long-running creation of Sir Patrick Moore) and the science journal 21st Century Science & Technology—both wanted review copies and interviews. The reception given to the book has been, well… (dare I say it?) astronomical! To all those of you who have been gently pressuring me for news on the book for the last couple of years I say a great big “Thank you!”

Many of you have taken the plunge and actually read the book—more than can be said of the purchasers of 80% of copies sold of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time—and I find that enormously gratifying. I repeat my great big Thank You to you all! I’m awaiting with trepidation the publication in Ndaba of the first reader’s review—that will be by Peta Cramb, as I recall…

The second edition will be listed with Internet vendors in about 2 weeks’ time, and I’m hoping that my new publisher (Amazon subsidiary BookSurge) will succeed in distributing it to South African bookstores, something that failed to materialise for the first edition. I have been through an unbelievable learning curve with this book, not least that of finding out that the publishing world works to its own rules completely. Just as I was preparing for the fanfare of the 2nd edition launch, I received the not entirely unexpected news that due to rampant theft within the SA postal services, Amazon.com could no longer afford to send books to SA by normal post—now we will have to cough up an extra R400 for courier services! That is a big blow. Most of the world’s book sales are done through Amazon, and it is where many of you bought copies. The good news is that the South African equivalent of Amazon, a Cape Town based Internet vendor called Loot.co.za, is a really good option for our market. Not only are they offering my book at the most reasonable price (way cheaper than Kalahari.net), but they are totally secure and really efficient. To top it all, because it is a proudly South African company, buying from Loot means that there is nothing further to pay over and above the list price and delivery—no VAT and no import duties to worry about. Way to go!

Last week, quite unexpectedly, I received a call from Martin Clements with a wonderful invitation. Listen up! This will be your only opportunity (I hope) to actually see, with your own eyes, someone being burnt at the stake! First I had a speed wobble as a member of ASSA national; then I was delighted to be asked to contribute tales of my adventures in MNASSA; astonishingly, I was thereafter invited to present a paper on a heresy of my choice at the National Symposium; and on top of all that, I have been invited, out of the blue, to feature in a 1-hour documentary on South Africans in astronomy and space science for SABC television. All this is quite incredible for a person as reviled in science and academia as your humble Skywalker. Perhaps Wits University will now relent and allow me to defile the hallowed portals of the Johannesburg Planetarium!

But wait! There’s more…

With downcast eyes and hat in hand, I have this very evening gratefully accepted the unexpected invitation to be keynote speaker at the Star Party to be held at the Durban Botanical Gardens to coincide with the ASSA symposium. Can’t believe it! Thanks so much Martin! So I expect ALL of you to be there! I will be doing a PowerPoint presentation called The Sky’s the Limit – a personal journey, with music track by William Herschel. You don’t want to miss this one. Bring your friends.

  • Venue: Durban Botanical Gardens.
  • Date: Friday 8th August 2008.
  • Time: 17h30
  • Dress: Optional but nudity discouraged, trousers preferred.

In September, I set out on another great adventure in my whirlwind life. The Second Crisis in Cosmology Conference (CCC2), which I helped to organise, will take place in Port Angeles, Washington, on September 7 – 11. Port Angeles is located in that magnificent North-Western corner of the USA, just across the straits from British Columbia. It is a maze of fjords and waterways, and to my great surprise and wonderment, I will be making my linking flight from Seattle to Port Angeles by seaplane—the airport is actually in the sea!

The conference itself will be amazing, building on the great success of CCC1, which, I am sure you remember, was held in Portugal in 2005. The influx of abstracts was twice oversubscribed, and we had a hard job of it whittling them down to the required 45 papers. For this conference, we have focussed on empirical results, with less emphasis on philosophy. Some of the papers being presented are right at the cutting edge of astrophysical research, and haven’t been published anywhere else yet. We have contributions from Halton Arp, Jayant Narlikar, Richard Lieu, Gerrit Verschuur, Geoff Burbidge, Jack Sulentic, Louis Marmet (son of the late Prof Paul Marmet), to name a few. I will be presenting a version of my ASSA symposium paper on anomalous redshift measurements, which now stands at 37 pages! I hope I can squeeze it into half an hour. The conference has been organised into 8 panels by theme, each with a chairman, and there will be a group discussion at the end of each panel session. The aim is to compile a set of multi-author papers from the panel presentations, which we will try to get published in major journals. The proceedings volume of CCC1 is still one the best reference sets on my bookshelf, and I foresee CCC2’s proceedings surpassing that benchmark. Certainly, with big players like Saul Perlmutter now backing off on the claims they had made about cosmology and the evidence that supposedly supported them, CCC2 papers on supernova light curves, surface brightness tests, intrinsic redshifts, galaxy rotation, CMBR analysis, quasar ejection, and plasma scatter will be increasingly relevant to scientists trying to establish what’s really happening out there. I think CCC2 is going to make waves, and you guys will be right there with me to surf them. Enjoy!

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