Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Science in science fiction…

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

I loved those original Star Trek episodes because the best were based on sci-fi stories written by seasoned sci-fi writers, ones like Theodore Sturgeon and Harlan Ellison. They were often morality plays too, that is, good stories with some important themes mixed in. (Who could forget the message that racial prejudice is just plain stupid in the classic episode about the two black-and-white guys fighting on and on, one black on the left and white on the right, the other just the opposite?) These episodes often contained some sound scientific extrapolation too—your smart phone is a version of the Starfleet’s communicator, for example.

Episodes in the spinoff series, often written by screenwriters who had little training in science and often promoted pseudo-science, were much less entertaining if not downright distasteful. They were also just bad writers of sci-fi, starting a tradition that continues today. Generally speaking, of course, Hollywood fails at putting believable science into sci-fi and often creates pseudo-science in its screenplays. While maybe everyone knows Wiley Coyote can’t go over the cliff in an inverse-L-shaped path and finds it hilarious when he does so, is that any different than the Enterprise coming to a full-stop, thus violating Newton’s First Law? (What maybe that ether drag, created in theory by Maxwell and disproven by Einstein, suddenly reappears?) And Next Generation’s Counselor Cleavage reading minds is pretty farfetched and bordering on fantasy too. Of course, the Star Wars tales are also just fantasy episodes—they even have princes, princesses, and knights who fight with sabers (making them neon-colored with sizzles doesn’t make them more sci-fi-like—it just makes them silly).

So let’s forget about Hollywood and move on to literature.  As a continuation of a previous article, “Does Fiction Have to Seem Real?” let me ask, “Does the science in sci-fi have to seem real?” I’m talking about hard sci-fi. That’s still a broad sub-genre. But consider the sub-sub-genres of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic. While I enjoyed Christopher’s No Blade of Grass, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and Howey’s Wool, my kneejerk reaction to these books was that there was no real explanation of cause, only the effect. I’ve changed my mind a bit, though. The story in these books is found in the effect—hence the post in post-apocalyptic. My own post-apocalyptic efforts—Survivors of the Chaos and Full Medical are examples—discussed the causes much more than the three books named, but that was a personal choice because I put as much emphasis on the causes as the effects. In my upcoming The Last Humans (see the last pre-publication excerpt in my blog archive), I also focus on the effect, although the cause is mentioned, and I’m satisfied with the result.

Other hard sci-fi genres need a more detailed extrapolation of current science. Of course, the farther the extrapolation goes into the future, the more chance for error. Any scientist knows that extrapolation beyond real data is a dangerous game. Some things like interstellar drives and faster-than-light (FTL) starships or communication systems are far in the future, if they’re even possible. When that happens, the best solution is to get beyond the science and go on with the story. But human variants like the clones and mutants in my “Clones and Mutants Series,” the MECHs in the “Mary Jo Melendez Mysteries,” or Humans 2.0 produced by an ET virus in More than Human: The Mensa Contagion, have to be more plausible if only because they’re easier extrapolations of current science to events in the near future.

That’s why a scientist might feel more comfortable reading speculative fiction that doesn’t go far beyond current science and technology. For example, s/he might prefer Hogan’s Code of the Lifemaker to his Giants series, although the first book in that series sticks pretty close to current science and technology. Your opinion on how believable the futuristic science is might depend on your background too. When I read Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, I felt insulted that a sci-fi writer violated current physics (his solution to FTL was a varying speed of light, slower the farther away you are from galactic center, as if those central black holes did a lot more than expected). Obviously not enough sci-fi readers cared about that—he received a Hugo—but I think there’s a warning there: some readers will not tolerate a violation of known laws of physics, chemistry, or biology. But they might not have a problem with the unknown.

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More likely an ET attack?

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

I always had my doubts when it was announced that our U.S. diplomatic corps in Cuba had suffered a sonic attack that made them sick and even brain-damaged (never mind that politicians suffer brain damage to begin with). But I didn’t have any data to back up my doubts. While high intensity sound can lead to hearing losses—baby boomers like me who’ve done a few rock concerts are beginning to experience them—it seemed to be a stretch that sound waves were the culprits. I thought it was more likely that there were nests of ETs hiding in Cuba, and the renewal of diplomatic relations with that Communist paradise had interrupted their plans for world domination.

I know a bit about acoustic and electromagnetic radiation. I had a previous life in academia as a physicist, mostly in Colombia. Although I was more theoretical than experimental—that’s common in South America where fancy research labs are a luxury—we used sound and electromagnetic waves in our classroom demos to keep the students awake. And, of course, I understood the theory (past tense because now I’m a bit rusty).

Sound waves and electromagnetic waves are different. You can more easily beam the former upon transmission. While PIs and the FBI can use those listening devices, they rely more on sensitivity in the direction they’re pointing around. To go the other way is not easy, as any stereo addict knows. And they were talking about low frequency waves. Your stereo speaker probably has directional tweeters but omnidirectional woofers—it’s hard to aim low frequency waves, and harder for humans to detect any directionality for them, so manufacturers of stereo speakers just don’t bother.

Moreover, sound waves need a medium; electromagnetic waves don’t (that plagued physicists from a century ago, more or less, but that’s another story). Air is a fickle medium for both, but especially sound waves, which depend on that medium (“In space, now one hears you scream”). No, the “official diagnosis” of Trump’s state department seemed to be a red herring (or emanations from digesting black beans because we’re talking about Cuba).

While Russia might have a secret lab making James Bond-like sonic cannons for its assassins, I thought that wasn’t likely, so I latche onto the idea that some ET group’s technology was behind this, not nasty little Cubans doing the bidding of Mr. Putin. Of course, Mr. Putin could be an ET shapeshifter who delights in seeding discourse in free elections—you just never know. I mean, after all, he seems proud of that human body, so he might just be admiring his shapeshifting skills.

Carl Zimmer’s article in the October 6 NY Times confirms my doubts about sonic death rays, though. “Experts on Acoustics are Doubtful,” to quote part of the title. Those experts don’t know what the source of the malady is, but they’re also doubtful that it’s commie-directed sound waves.

I guess my ET theory is still a possibility. Maybe the Castro brothers are the ET shapeshifters who took a liking to fascism—in other words, Communism with a capital C. Maybe Putin isn’t guilty in this case, just guilty of narcissism. That would tie everything together for a conspiracy story, wouldn’t it? Who says that I don’t hand out ideas for sci-fi thrillers? I can’t write everything, you know. Get to work!

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Sci-fi book sale: More than Human: The Mensa Contagion and Rogue Planet are now on sale at Smashwords from October 1 through October 31. Their prices are reduced to $1.99—that’s one-third off. In the first novel, an ET virus changes the world, but in a good way, and leads to the colonization of Mars. In the second, there’s a wee bit of “Game of Thrones” fantasy mixed into the hard sci-fi as Prince Kaushal leads his Second Tribe in their fight against the First Tribe’s brutal theocracy. Both books are stand-alone, not part of a series. Use the Smashwords coupon numbers when you check out. Note that the second book is also available in paper format at Amazon. Lots of exciting fall entertainment for a reasonable price!

In libris libertas!

The anti-GMO movement…

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

It’s surprising how many people are anti-GMO, playing into the hands of unscrupulous marketers who have made a lot of money attending to their whims. The whole idea is absurd, of course. Humans have been making GMOs since prehistoric times. Their creations weren’t called such a nasty, degrading name as GMO, to be sure, because the usual name until hysteria took hold was “domesticated variety” or something similar. New technologies just speed up the process, but they just continue this process.

A recent article in Science News should be read by every anti-GMO activist on this planet, many of them in the U.S. (These probably overlap considerably with the anti-immunization crowd, PETA members, vegetarians, and vegans.) OK, I’m being a bit snarky here—I don’t really care about what your belief and behavioral choices are as long as you don’t proselytize about them by shouting in my face.

Back to the Science News article; it’s titled “The Road to Tameness” (SN, p. 21, July 8, 2017). I’ll extract from that articale a short list of ancient GMOs: golden hamsters, horses, silkworms, dogs, cats, chickens, honeybees, rice, foxes, watermelons, wheat, llamas, alpacas, turkeys, camels, ducks, sheep, corn, tulips, and roses. There are many more. Human beings have been genetically tinkering for ages. One really impressive sight is to drive through Holland when all those tulips are in bloom. Guess how many varieties in those fields of color are wild.

The article’s title is politically correct; SN always tries to stand above the cultural and political wars. They talk about “tameness” and “domestication” in the article. I talk about ancient GMOs and genetic engineering. Po-tah-toe v. po-tay-toe. No matter what you call it, human beings have been genetically tinkering for a long time.

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Information overload…

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Maybe I’m just getting old, but every day it seems to be more difficult to process the information I look for and find. I seem to be drowning in it. I try to be selective, but the selection takes time too. Some days the selection process takes more time than processing the information I’ve received.

Information is now mined by corporations who sell what they’ve mined to other corporations. The latter are probably in the same boat I’m in. Will Corporate America come to a grinding halt when it has so much information that it can’t process it? Will I?

Some computer gurus discuss a tipping point when computer networks become sentient and human beings become superfluous. (The Terminator movies are built on this premise.) I don’t think that will happen. When information overload maxes out, computers will be turned off, AIs, robots, and androids will crazy, and civilization will end. We’ll probably return to a hunter-gather society. The only information we’ll need then is what to hunt and what to gather.

We’re already networking computers to solve problems of great complexity. But will we reach the point that the solutions to these problems are just as complex and human beings can’t begin to understand them? I can imagine a worldwide network going crazy because it has solved a complex and important problem but the solution is so complex that only another worldwide network can understand it!

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Waging war against Gaia…

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

I’m expecting a bloodbath in the EPA, NASA, NOAA and possibly other agencies as Mr. Trump wages war on the environment. Many employees there are civil service, but that might not stop Il Duce AKA Narcissus le Grand—he’ll just close down the agencies if he wants to get rid of them. The EPA, NASA, and NOAA are where many of those “bad scientists” can be found who disagree with the GOP claim that climate control and taking care of the environment have low priority. Narcissus le Grand even believes global warming is a hoax.

What’s driving all this is Trump’s desire to end all environmental regulations so that companies, his included, can pollute and destroy the environment as much as they want, a particularly virulent and dangerous example of capitalism without controls. Even now, they ship high-tech toxic waste and other crap to places like Bangladesh. Il Duce and his minions probably think it would be cheaper just to dump it somewhere in the U.S. How ‘bout not doing it at all?!

Disasters like that BP oil well in the Gulf, destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, poisoning wells and water supplies—those kinds of things are just part of doing business, according to Trump and his cronies. He names Pruitt to head the EPA and one of the gnome’s first public acts is to deny the role of CO2 in global warming. C’mon!

Many scientists are worried. A week before Il Duce’s inauguration, more than 250 volunteers met at UPenn for a two-day binge of downloading climate data and storing it on independent servers. “If you don’t want to do anything about climate change,” said Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler, “you are in a stronger position if you get rid of the data.” Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center of Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “With a president who doesn’t respect scientific information, one abuse could be data mysteriously disappearing from websites, or government scientific websites may suddenly have misinformation.” Most of the data that was saved was from NOAA, EPA, DoE, and NASA.

One of those infamous executive orders from Narcissus le Grand could restrict data access from outside the U.S. Trump’s evil minions are already talking about clamping down on the internet and allowing service providers to have multi-tier systems—that’s been on the GOP hit list for some time. And shortly after the inauguration, Trump ordered the EPA to delete climate change pages from the EPA’s website, but he then backtracked on that order when the roars of protest became deafening. The order for EPA scientists and other agencies’ scientists not to post on social media or communicate with reporters still stands, though. Inside the agencies that do climate-related research, Goldman says “morale is low. People are scared.” Scared for their jobs, because Il Duce likes to fire people who disagree with him!

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Post-mortem of a speech to Congress…

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

In some dilating time machine or Mr. Trump’s parallel universe, ages have passed since he gave that speech to Congress. In real life, it was only a week ago—can you believe it? Everything he said is meaningless now, so dissecting that rambling rhetoric of a delusional man is anti-climactic. But let’s do it anyway because the president left the Twitter-sphere long enough to sound presidential and hide his narcissistic psychosis.

It’s curious that the media, after the president declared them to be the “enemy of the American people,” fell all over themselves to state that his “state of the union” (read: state of Trump’s parellel universe, that one that circulates among the dark energy and matter of his mind) set a new tone. Il Duce was even called presidential because he sounded presidential. But not for me—he’s not my president! He never will be my president, and isn’t the president of a majority of the American people.

What I heard was empty rhetoric reminiscent of Goebbels’s 1930’s propaganda in Germany—in other words, fascistic spin and appeal to populism playing on the fears of good Americans. His handlers, Bannon, Conway, and Miller, who take turns at the puppet strings—yes, he’s a marionette, even stringing himself along—carefully planned this atrocious display. If it was some crazy attempt to reach across the aisle, Dems won’t buy the snake oil from this charlatan, and didn’t—the thumbs-down from the Dem women in white were refreshing and evidence for their general mood—Trump the misogynist is women’s rights worst enemy. Narcissus the Wonderful shows no concern about women’s issues—we know he sees them only as objects—and on abortion, he’s as much a right-wing bigot as they come.

Let’s consider a few points. On trade, Trump might have sounded a wee bit like Sanders. There’s a huuuuge difference, though. Both men were born in Brooklyn, but the two are light years apart—Trump might actually live in one of those other multiverses where his marionette strings are tangled with those of general string theory. In particular, where Bernie was an earnest and honest champion for the working class, Il Duce doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about their plight—it’s all just show. He follows the time-tested fascist strategy of pretending to do so, of course—that’s how Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini came to power in the 1930s! U.S. workers should be wary about buying anything from this snake-oil salesman. Pay attention to his false promises at your own risk!

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Apocalypse redux…

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Redux = brought back, revived. We’re talking about the apocalypse again. Apocalypse is the event. While a dystopian society can cause it or be its aftermath, post-apocalyptic is reserved for the aftermath. There is a resurgence in these themes now. Everyone knows the reason: what’s happening in the U.S. right now as well as across the world has frightening parallels with 1930’s Germany, Italy, and Spain as well as with the darkest days of the Cold War. There’s nothing religious about this apocalypse.

Most dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic tales in the past were associated with the two world wars or the Communist threat. Brave New World was dystopian; Ape and Essence was post-apocalyptic. Even The Time Machine was post-apocalyptic. 1984 and Animal Farm were dystopian. Later sci-fi novels like Not This August were post-apocalyptic. Many classics can be found in these subgenres. Many soon-to-be classics like Wool are too. They all are warnings about what could happen. It’s common that interest in books and movies in these subgenres reflect troubled times in the world.

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed the world. As that hand on the Doomsday Clock inches toward midnight, these sci-fi subgenres become more popular. Some readers ignore them, burying their heads in the sand by reading schmaltzy romances and fluffy adventures that avoid most serious themes of any type. Which group is right? Beats me. I just tell stories. If one of them comes out apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, so be it. Almost all my stories have serious themes, though, but not all of them are in the aforementioned subgenres.

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Fake news and misleading stats…

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Hmm…LinkedIn? Now that Microsoft owns them, you have to wonder what they’re using that website for beyond ads. They’re certainly discouraging discussion groups, my favorite feature, but for what reason? Maybe they realize they can’t compete with Google or Facebook—the former makes a major portion of its profit from ads, although Google+ is weak compared to both in discussions, and the latter is trying to catch up with the ads but lights up with discussions.

They all have fake news. Should we also call misleading stats that appear on all of these fake news? Stats are rarely “clean.” First, authors of articles using them often leave out the hypotheses and description of how the dataset was collected and processed. Second, they often jump to conclusions based on biased sampling techniques. Third, the author of the article can choose, and often does, only those stats that support her or his opinion. It’s all a bit like the Bible: you can find stuff there that will support any position if you look for it.

Yep, many articles quoting stats are fake news if not downright lies. Here’s a recent example that occurred on LinkedIn. The author of a post was probably an innocent victim, but she provided a link to an article about a Nielsen report that gives stats showing ebooks are in decline. Do you follow links like this? It can be dangerous because the link might allow a virus or other malware to invade your laptop or smart phone. Your best bet is to go to the original site if it looks OK and read the article. That said, I read the entire Nielsen report.

But more on Microsoft’s LinkedIn for a moment. I’ve never found much use for it. I have a lot of connections. A lot of them are good people who seem to think I’m someone useful to connect with. Me, the introverted fiction writer? The shy fellow who will never do blog radio and is uncomfortable at any event where I have to appear in person and participate in one-on-one conversations? (I taught large lecture classes at one time, but there is a certain anonymity in that situation that made them easier for me. First days were scary in any class, though—and I was the professor!)

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Is nuclear power off the table?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

In my forthcoming novel, Gaia and the Goliaths, #7 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” Detective Castilblanco considers some of the pros and cons about nuclear power. The novel’s main theme involves climate and environmental issues, pro-environmental activism, and attacks on the environment waged by corporations and their political sycophants.  Russia, known for its lack of concern about the environment and the Chernobyl disaster, plays an important role too. These issues are current ones now, considering the new U.S. administration that will invade Washington D.C.

Mr. Trump and his cabinet choices will probably set back any progress we’ve made on environmental issues, except for states like California that are far more progressive than Washington, and there are plenty of willing accomplices for Trump’s team in the GOP-dominated Congress. The new president thinks global warming is a hoax and climate control isn’t necessary. But questionable actions have been taken by Dems too. There is a general consensus among politicians that nuclear power is bad, so let’s get rid of it.

For example, Governor Cuomo of New York has championed the closing of the Indian Head power plant on the Hudson, mentioned in my novel, without having any viable alternative for replacing the power the plant generates. Many European countries depend on nuclear power, as does Japan. Is it dirty energy? Are nuclear power plants accidents waiting to happen? Have politicians created a Frankenstein monster in order to win votes from environmental activists?

First, let’s state for the record what affects global warming and is bad for the climate, namely fossil fuels. Presumably Cuomo, who has no technical background and is apparently channeling Van Helsing in his pursuit of nuclear energy as an evil vampire, will replace Indian Head’s power output with coal-burning or natural gas power plants. Those are worse for the environment. We need to reduce the carbon footprint, not augment it. Any environmental campaign must be anti-fossil fuels because there is no way to use them that won’t damage the environment. Period.

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Irish Stew #59…

Monday, January 9th, 2017

International

Classic Putin? His refusal to expel U.S. diplomats in response to Obama’s retaliation for Russian hacking and inviting the diplomats’ kids to a Christmas party made me wonder if a bare-chested Putin would ride in to the party on a reindeer sporting the rest of Santa’s costume. Even without the latter, Putin’s response makes Putin look like a PR genius (can I hire his PR people for my books?) and Obama look like a chump. McCain rightly states that Putin is a murdering thug, though, and certainly not on Santa’s “nice list,” so maybe Trump’s chump for SecState won’t be approved by the Senate. Trump is swimming in dangerous waters! No one likes Putin except Trump and the narcissistic despot himself.

I’ve been very careful to separate the sleazy practices at the DNC exposed by the Russian hackers from the criminal actions of the hackers and the man who commands them, Vladimir Putin. Obama is right to say that we should be on the same page about Putin’s nefarious attempts to undermine the American election, now established by U.S. intelligence leaders—Putin is the enemy here. But I’m not alone in wondering if Obama and other Dems would give a rat’s ass about this if it had been the RNC that was hacked, or if HRC had won. Those who would say HRC lost because of the hack in spite of the findings from the intelligence community, and the continue to blame the FBI director, should just move on. Trump won, figure out why, and never let it happen again. Moreover, let’s work our butts off to keep this psycho Il Duce from destroying the world!

The art of the deal? To many one-percenters, war is a business. Either Trump wants to pander to these ghouls, or he wants a piece of the action. The U.S. sells more arms to the rest of the world than any other country and, of course, the Pentagon still wants their new and improved toys too. People get rich off war. Il Duce Trump, not content with the endowment Nature gave him, wants to extend it by forging new swords to brandish internationally. “Let’s have another arms race,” he says, “because we’ll have bigger and better bombs.” (OK, I couldn’t find the direct quote, but that’s the idea!). We have a recipe for disaster on an international scale. At the very least, I can see international conflagrations occurring as more bodies, Americans and others, are poured into the maws of Mars. Insane!

National

What’s with deifying Elizabeth Warren? This faux-progressive is becoming Mother Teresa and Joan of Arc for all HRC’s liberal faux-progressives licking their wounds after the presidential election. I can imagine “liberal Catholics” (now there’s an oxymoron!) proposing her for sainthood. Just remember, ye true progressives across the land, she campaigned for HRC in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the primaries instead of Bernie Sanders. Remember that guy, the one who could have beaten Il Duce Trump? Warren and the rest of HRC’s sleaze-team got what they deserved. And Warren is part of that crowd! She just announced she will run in 2018. I’m hoping there’s a true Massachusetts progressive candidate who will run against this faux-progressive in the primary.

Healthcare. Mitch McConnell says the first item on the agenda for the new Congress is to end the Affordable Care Act AKA Obamacare. McConnell, Ryan, and others in the GOP are already talking about slashing Medicare and Social Security, and Medicaid is on the way out. Do the American people really want to turn back the clock to when health insurance meant insurance that you would die young? When insurance companies dropped you as soon as you contracted something serious? When millions of people’s insurance reduced to emergency visits to ERs?

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