Hot Needle of Inquiry

By Phil Plait | February 17, 2009 2:24 pm

If you’re a podcast-listening-skeptic, you already know about D.J. Grothe’s fantastic Point of Inquiry, where he interviews skeptics and other folks. It’s a very listenable and approachable podcast, and D.J. is a very smooth interviewer.

I did an interview with him back in April 2007 for PoI. What I just discovered is that someone going by the name "skepticasts" on YouTube has created a four-part video using still images overlaying the audio track of the interview. You might get a kick out of them, and the images he chose.

The other three parts are linked there as well. And you should also head over to PoI and subscribe. You’ll get a brianfull there.

Bonus points to BABloggees who get the title reference. No Googling!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Astronomy

Comments (41)

  1. Daniel M

    whee! I scream and leap at the comments section! (yes, that will make sense when you get the title of the article)

  2. Doc

    Ooh! A Niven reference – cool.

    The Hot Needle of Inquiry was a spaceship in the “Known Space” universe. Ringworld?

  3. BradB

    I think so, it was named by the Kzin that was with the main group. Glad to see I wasn’t the only one at least that thought of that series of books :P

  4. BradB

    Wish there was an edit function, but right after I posted I realized it was hot needle of inquisition not inquiry..

  5. hhEb09'1

    brianfull? is that a monty python reference?

  6. @BradB – I think it IS “inquiry”, if memory serves. And yes, it was a joke on the puppeteer as I remember. I think it was Ringworld Engineers, where the Hindmost kidnaps Louis and Chmee, though it’s been a while since I read it…

    To get back on topic, I have listened to PoI a lot: I like Groethe’s style and he has interesting guests.

  7. dwardio

    The Hot Needle of Inquiry was the spaceship in Niven’s novel The Ringworld Engineers. The ship in Ringworld was the Lying Bastard.

  8. Ben

    Yep, it was Ringworld Engineers.

    When I saw the title, I was hoping it was a post about how astronomers found a Ringworld. No sale. Damn you for getting my hopes up, Plait!

  9. Jim

    And the ship in turn was named after an Kzinti interrogation device. ;)

  10. Doc

    Ringworld Engineers – that’s right.

    So what was the name of the first shio (w/Louis, Teela, Nessus, and Speaker to Animals)? Was that one Lying B*st*rd? I’ve got to re-read those books. My memory is going.

  11. LOL, I made a Niven reference in the birds and jet engines blog! How coincidental!

    Behold Dr. Plat in all his glory. And you people wonder how I could possibly have a mancrush on such a fince specimen of scientist? Heretics! :D

  12. moopet

    Scanning through titles and headlines, this one stood out a mile. I was hoping someone had just named their new satellite or spacecraft.

    We should have more cool-named ships.

    I haven’t even read this post, I’ve jumped straight to the comment, and next I’m going to go re-read all the Ringworlds.

  13. scotth

    I’ve been a Niven fan for ages. I got the “Hot Needle of Inquiry” reference immediately.

  14. TS

    Still waiting for someone to pick up “Ringworld” or anything from “Known Space” for a movie.
    (Yes I know “The Soft Weapon” was adapted into an animated episode of Star Trek).

  15. Larry Niven, Phil! My fave author!

  16. “Still waiting for someone to pick up “Ringworld” or anything from “Known Space” for a movie.”

    The fact that a book by L.Ron Hubbard was made into a movie instead of anything by Larry Niven tells you everything you need to know about Hollywood.

  17. jrpowell

    In the original Ringworld Louis Wu named the party’s exploratory spaceship Lying Bastard. The Kzin, Chmee (formerly Speaker-To-Animals) named Hot Needle of Inquiry in the sequel Ringworld Engineers.

  18. TS

    “The fact that a book by L.Ron Hubbard was made into a movie instead of anything by Larry Niven tells you everything you need to know about Hollywood.”

    True, I kind of hoped that kind of ignorance would have prompted some fat cigar smoking Hollywood executive to pick up “Ringworld” after the success of “Lord of the Rings”. :-)

  19. For those who like the Known Space stories, Niven is back with “Fleet of Worlds” and “Juggler of Worlds”, both of which are outstanding. Far better than the 2nd and 3rd Ringworld sequels.

  20. TS

    I found “Fleet of Worlds” so so, but Niven “so so” is better than most other peoples best-sellers.

  21. BradB

    @Mike Torr- you are right its been forever since I have read the books.

  22. TS

    I read through my Known Space collection every two or three years and The Man-Kzin series is one of the best spin-off’s in SF.

  23. Utakata
  24. Kyle

    Hey nice tool err…telescope there Phil. Now I know it was a black and white photo but which was whiter you or the scope?

    Sorry I just couldn’t resist, my bad. I’ll go sit in the corner.

  25. Martin Johnson

    While “Hot Needle of Inquiry” was indeed the name of a ship in the Ringworld saga, the inspiration for the name comes from a Kzinti torture technique. The subject is placed on a wooden surface and held in a contorted position, the interrogator then inserts heated needles through the skin of the extremeties, pinning the subject to the surface. Being that the position is very difficult and painful to hold, what results is constant, agonizing yet non-lethal pain.

  26. Hi Phil, I surfed in through the Time.com piece but since I’m here, I have some pressing astronomy questions that need answering. I don’t know if you’re qualified to answer (because I didn’t bother to check your credentials before posting my comment) and perhaps my questions are too stupid for you to even WANT to answer, but here goes:

    1.) How fast is the Earth moving? We know we’re moving around the Milky Way and moving around the Sun while we’re rotating around the galaxy, but is there any point in time when spaceship Earth is moving at near the speed of light? If not, are we ever moving at half the speed of light? If we’re moving (at any point) at half the speed of light, and something else in the Universe is moving AWAY from us at half the speed of light, would our measurements get screwed up and lead us to “dark energy” type conclusions?

    2.) Relativity says that the fast you move through the space-time continuum, the less you age (or time passes slower or something). If we’re moving super-fast through the cosmos, how much time has really passed and are these “slowed down time” calculations factored into physicists estimates of the age of our universe.

    3.) Following up on that, do people who live at the equator age less than people who live closer to the slower-moving poles?

    4.) Finally, going back to Question 1: Dark Energy and Dark Matter seem to be completely at odds with each other as far as theories go. How can this be? Something invisible (dark energy) is ripping the Universe apart but something else (dark matter) is holding it together at the same time? Seems like that’s completely at odds… please explain.

    Thanks!

  27. TS

    @ Martin Johnson: According to the Bush administration, it’s not torture. It’s just a conversation starter.

  28. bill

    Yay!

    More Niven!

    Running to the bookstore.

  29. is there any point in time when spaceship Earth is moving at near the speed of light? If not, are we ever moving at half the speed of light?

    Nowhere near either. Earth’s orbital velocity around the sun is roughly 0.01% the speed of light and (if I recall correctly) the Sun’s orbital velocity around the center of the galaxy is only 1/100 of *that*.

    do people who live at the equator age less than people who live closer to the slower-moving poles?

    Any difference would be negligible and would probably be at least somewhat canceled out by people at the equator being slightly further away from the Earth’s center than people at the equator.

    Something invisible (dark energy) is ripping the Universe apart but something else (dark matter) is holding it together at the same time?

    The dark energy is weak and only works over the vast distances between galaxies just because there’s so darned much space there. It’s the same way the universe can expand at all despite galaxies and galactic clusters being bound by gravity.

  30. Hrdina

    And *I* was going to give *you* bonus points for the title until I read the last line of your post.

  31. … people at the equator being slightly further away from the Earth’s center than people at the *poles*

  32. Gary Ansorge

    This is what happens when you do something really useful, honest and true. People will pick up on that and respond positively(OK, except perhaps for the obfuscators among our species, who survive by keeping herds of sheep ignorant of their ultimate destination,,,).

    Good work, Phil. Oh, and just to irritate the small minded, in the mythologies of God as Love, you are well loved by the One, ’cause you bring enlightenment to those lost in darkness,,,(Well, how could a hypothetical One love what you do, any less than do I?).

    Gary 7

  33. NalosLayor

    Man, I actually Googled “Hot Needle Of Inquiry” just to make sure that Phil wasn’t referencing something ELSE, because I couldn’t believe he was making that Known Space reference….

  34. Interesting soundtrack but boring visuals (no offense intended, Phil). The vj could have made it much more interesting if he/she had visited e.g. Wikimedia Commons first and added some more pictures to the mix. Like the face on Mars and the same mountain from another angle, or Fomalhaut, Venus, satellites, you name it. Five minutes of work! (Ok, I know, those who can, do, those who can’t, complain.)

  35. Rift

    Phil, do you mean that they are better then the 3rd (Throne of Ringworld) and 4th (Children of Ringworld)? The 2nd book (Ringworld Engineers) is pretty damn good and where “Hot needle of Inquiry” came from. I usually re-read Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers together, and think of them as one book, I can’t remember which happens in which book). I have Children of Ringworld but haven’t read it, Throne of Ringworld kinda ruined Ringworld for me. I haven’t heard of “Juggler” or “Fleet”, it appears they are prequels. I’d miss Louis Wu and his motley crew…

    And guys, yeesh, give it away on the second post, I got the reference when i just read the headline. Ringworld and Ringworld Enginners are probably my favorite sci fi books after ‘War of the World’. If you give it away in the comments, you’re taking away our smug geekdomness.

  36. Rift

    NalosLayor- You must not know Phil well, why does it surprise you that he made a Larry Niven reference???? He references things like that all the dang time… I find it hard to believe you find it hard to believe…

  37. Redstar

    Very interesting talk; enjoyed it thoroughly.

    One matter I take issue with is the point made by the host that (and I’m paraphrasing) other professionals don’t expect people to learn about their fields the way scientists do.

    I would argue that the issue is more that developing an understanding of most fields is almost automatic in every field but science.

    I don’t know nearly as much about the law as a lawyer does, but I need to know enough to be able to discern if my actions are legal or not. I’m not a doctor, but I need to know enough medicine to treat most minor injuries and illnesses. I’m not an accountant, but I need know how to manage my personal finances. I’m not an athlete (or a sports fan), but I know the basic rules for most sports games and can follow them if I choose.

    With the sciences becoming an ever-more integral part of our everyday lives, it’s crucial that people at least know a bit about them. Knowing that the Earth orbits the Sun, that the Galaxy contains billions of stars, that the universe contains hundreds of billions of galaxies… that’s not asking for that much. Thanks for the work you do.

  38. bob

    Redstar, that’s a very good way to look at it. Hope you don’t mind if I steal it. :)

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