Zodiac by Richard Cruickshank.

I find it hard, having lived alone in a large house for so long, to imagine what it must be like to have constant noise all around you, to be unable to find a moment of peace and quiet, to be surrounded by other people day and night. In my early military years, when I had to share a barrack room with other soldiers, it was ordered and calm, but still noisy. Later, as I moved on and up, was stationed in different places around the world and lived under various strange and interesting conditions – both in war and peace – noise and the presence of people seemed to change. There is, as an example, a great difference between a small troop of soldiers preparing to move forward and into battle a situation in Saudi Arabia to that of a single person working alone in Belfast. Even so, the memories fade and we all, in our own way, settle down to accept, to a certain extent, that which is about us and can, usually, simply block out the noises of others. I am able to completely shut out playing children as they run along the corridors of a train I am on and concentrate on the book I am reading but, for some reason, not the sound of my cat sneaking into the room having stuffed itself with all the food I could fit into its bowl. I cannot imagine any desire ever arising in me to relive those days of noise and bustle, of soldiers moving their kit, or simply stirring in their bunks. I can also not imagine any circumstances whereby I would wish to be in such a situation that peace and quiet did not reign all about me, where my reading or writing were constantly being disturbed, or where concentration became difficult thanks to the unthinking actions of others.

You know the old story, I am sure, of the people who created a new product, far improved, much better and decidedly idiot proof? It is said that someone else simply created a far improved and much better idiot. Not that I am making any comparisons, but it is a fact of life that when something is done for the better, when a security system to prevent the import of drugs or other illicit materials is brought into place, someone will see a small loophole, a slight failing in the system, and work their way through and around even the best systems. I have seen it in several other institutions which now ban mail: not that the people living there cannot receive letters from their families, friends and loved ones, just that they are no longer allowed to receive the original letters, cards and photographs. At least two States now have systems in pace, to prevent the import of drugs, whereby incoming mail is photocopied and the original destroyed. The inmate receives a copy of the original, including any photographs which might have been there, birthday cards, children’s sketches. And still there is some means available whereby those in desperate need manage to get their fix, manage to be supplied somehow. It is like damming a stream: the water will simply find another way through, it will not be held back.

I find it very sad for those who have family out there, who have friends and relations putting time and effort into writing letters, into sketching, into making the time a person has to sit inside somewhat bearable with live connections and updates of the latest news, that a few people ruin their opportunities for connection and pleasure with the outside world through their personal desires and addictions, but I also doubt that there will ever be a system invented which cannot be circumvented, which someone, somewhere will not be able to beat, and so the restrictions will continue, will grow, until there is nothing left from the original, the connection, the thin line to this coveted outside world.

As to your question on this thirteenth (of fourteen, now) astrological sign, this is what Wikipedia has to say at the moment:

Ophiuchus (astrology) – Ophiuchus (/ɒfiˈjuːkəs/) has sometimes been used in sidereal astrology as a thirteenth sign in addition to the twelve signs of the tropical Zodiac, because the eponymous constellation Ophiuchus (Greek: Ὀφιοῦχος “Serpent-bearer”) as defined by the 1930 International Astronomical Union’s constellation boundaries is situated behind the sun from November 30 to December 18.

The idea appears to have originated in 1970 with Stephen Schmidt’s suggestion of a 14-sign zodiac (also including Cetus as a sign). A 13-sign zodiac has been suggested by Walter Berg and by Mark Yazaki in 1995, a suggestion that achieved some popularity in Japan, where Ophiuchus is known as Hebitsukai-Za (蛇遣座 (へびつかいざ), “The Serpent Bearer”).

In sidereal and tropical astrology (including sun sign astrology), a 12-sign zodiac is used based on dividing the ecliptic into 12 equal parts rather than the IAU constellation boundaries. That is, astrological signs do not correspond to the constellations which are their namesakes, particularly not in the case of the tropical system where the divisions are fixed relative to the equinox, moving relative to the constellations.

History – Ophiuchus and some of the fixed stars in it were sometimes used by some astrologers in antiquity as extra-zodiacal indicators (i.e. astrologically significant celestial phenomena lying outside of the 12-sign zodiac proper). The constellation is described in the astrological poem of Marcus Manilius: the Astronomica, which is dated to around 10 AD. The poem describes how:

Ophiuchus holds apart the serpent which with its mighty spirals and twisted body encircles his own, so that he may untie its knots and back that winds in loops. But, bending its supple neck, the serpent looks back and returns: and the other’s hands slide over the loosened coils. The struggle will last forever, since they wage it on level terms with equal powers”.

Later in his poem, Manilius describes the astrological influence of Ophiuchus, when the constellation is in its rising phase, as one which offers affinity with snakes and protection from poisons, saying “he renders the forms of snakes innocuous to those born under him. They will receive snakes into the folds of their flowing robes, and will exchange kisses with these poisonous monsters and suffer no harm”. A later 4th century astrologer, known as Anonymous of 379, associated “the bright star of Ophiuchus”, Ras Alhague (α Ophiuchi), with doctors, healers or physicians (ἰατρῶν), which may have been because of the association between poisons and medicines.

Based on the 1930 IAU constellation boundaries, suggestions that “there are really 13 astrological signs” because “the Sun is in the sign of Ophiuchus” between November 29 and December 17 have been published since at least the 1970s.

In 1970, Stephen Schmidt in his Astrology 14 advocated a 14-sign zodiac, introducing Ophiuchus (December 6 to December 31) and Cetus (May 12 to June 6) as new signs. Within 20th-century sidereal astrology, the idea was taken up by Walter Berg in his The 13 Signs of the Zodiac (1995). Berg’s The 13 Signs of the Zodiac was published in Japan in 1996 and became a bestseller, and Berg’s system has since been comparatively widespread in Japanese pop culture, appearing for example in the Final Fantasy video game series and the manga and anime series Fairy Tail , Saint Seiya, and Starry Sky.

In January 2011, a statement by Parke Kunkle of the Minnesota Planetarium Society repeating the idea of “the 13th zodiac sign Ophiuchus” made some headlines in the popular press. However, Kunkle is an astronomer, not an astrologer.

The quotation which Wikipedia gives from Manilius is not complete and reads in full:

When Ophiuchus, encircled by the serpent’s great coils, rises beside the figure of Capricorn, he renders the forms of snakes innocuous to those born under him. They will receive snakes into the folds of their flowing robes, and will exchange kisses with these poisonous monsters and suffer no harm.

There is also an illustration, which I cannot reproduce here, placing Ophiuchus in the southern hemisphere, top right outer circle, between Sagittarius and Libra which is somewhat at odds, perhaps, with the illustrations given out by the astrology club, but they are dead set against this ‘new’ sign anyway.

Moving on to other matters contained in your message, and before I begin packing my bags for a long weekend of conference and discussion in Bavaria: books are a thing with me. The Manilius I quoted from is one of many Greek and Latin works that I have within my reach for quick references and quotations at opportune moments. Then I also have a large selection of modern classic on the same shelves – to the right of my writing desk – as well as such authors as Simone de Beauvoir and Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the lower shelves, and collections of modern, but not necessarily classic, authors up out of reach. These are books I will never quote from, in all likelihood, but I have the complete sets, so keep them together. Behind me, in the next room and in two other rooms in my house I have books on history, philosophy, biography, poetry and more modern and classical literature. The languages range from English and German, through Latin and Greek, to a small selection of French, Chinese, Italian, Spanish and Japanese where authors have sent me their latest works as a present for work I have completed, or reviews I have written. I often surprise people when they comment on a book and say it is probably one that I have no interest in – a recent case was a Dutch author who I am very keen on – and are then surprised when I say I have not only read the one book they are talking about, but also several others by the same person.

As to what I do all day, that is a little bit more complicated as it often depends on what comes with the post in the morning mail, or through electronic mails, or even the occasional telephone call. Often I have appointments for talks, discussions, meals in different cities around the country according to my various interests so, for example, tomorrow I am being driven down to Bavaria for a semi-annual membership meeting in one association, and on Tuesday I was in Hamburg for a more personal meeting. I often spend the weekends and other free days in Bremen, Verden or another small or major city within easy reach, drinking coffee, wandering around and looking at the sights, visiting museums and art galleries and reading.

I can’t say that I have any particular favourite when it comes to books, there are simply so many goods authors, so many worthy titles it is impossible to choose. I have slowed down a good deal with my reading of late, having other things to do, and manage about three books a week at the most. Then I have one or two magazines I receive regularly, on philosophy which could be termed favourites, although not always. There are times when an article comes across as being unworthy, or headed in completely the wrong direction, and then a certain magazine, although I still receive it on subscription, might no longer be my favourite for a month or two! Which links in to one of your questions: does NASA have a magazine? Yes, but I suspect it is a very technical one and not really the sort of general reading, even though it is available to the public, and on the internet. It is called Spaceport Magazine, and covers the Kennedy Space Center. They also have several other publications from their other branches or sub-units, such as the Stennis Space Center and The Dryden Research Center. Again, I suspect these are more technical than anything else.

It is not that I dislike technology, I simply do not agree with it replacing social interaction. My own office has three working computers in it, as well as all the trappings of a person who is not just online but also very active online. When it comes to conversing with people, though, I much prefer writing letters although, as you already know, I do not tell people writing to me what they must do and how they should communicate with me. I am quite happy to receive an electronic mail when there is no other easy way to stay in touch, as I am to receive a letter through the post. As to what should be written about, I am not one to dictate: everyone has their own interests, their own preferred direction through life, and every communication with something new is an enrichment. There are often things which I have not thought about before which then bring out a form of interest in me and which I follow up, given the chance. I try to direct my letters in a direction which is approachable for those I am writing too, although that doesn’t always work, but believe that each should write according to their own interests, their own abilities.

I will certainly take a look at your books’ page, your wish list, and see what is possible. Do not be too disappointed if you hear nothing on the literature front until next year, I am busy clearing all the annual invoices and demands at the moment – which always seem to come before the Christmas period – and paying off smaller loans and obligations which have arisen during the last twelve months or so, so funds are slightly short at the moment. However, I promise to take a look in the new year, and will then definitely pick something out from your list so that NPR or whichever channel it is you spend your time watching is not the only distraction you have!