Science is difficult

Recently, the famous little Philae comet lander re-made contact with satellite Rosetta.  After Philae landed and lost power, likely due to being in shade, it was hoped that Philae would regain power at some point.  So this is great news!

Unfortunately, Rosetta had to move further away from the comet due to interference from the comet’s increasing dust-particle trail.  So now it’s apparently more difficult for Philae to communicate its incredibly valuable scientific data to Rosetta — and then to Earth.

This is the kind of scientific tension and struggle of science fiction.  Whether on Earth or exploring the solar system, new technology sometimes achieves success for its inventors, but it is often accompanied by some kind of failure(s) along the way.   After a number of space launch successes, SpaceX recently lost a Dragon spacecraft in an explosion shortly after a launch for a space station resupply mission.

In my “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs” anthology, little robot Floccin has to deal with the inherent danger of new technology when he gets a software upgrade.

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Is it possible that the future affects the past?

Second Nexus reports that recent physics experiments would seem to indicate that the future affects the past.  If so, that would be a form of time travel.

I love to write about time travel and ponder the implications.  Whether the form of time travel is through messaging into the past or future, suspended animation, wormholes, time machines, or some other quirks of physics, the paradoxes created are mind boggling as well as entertaining.  If you think so too, you might enjoy my “Science Fiction: Time Travel” anthology.

Time Travel E-book Cover

The Future is Short – Volume 2

My microstory “Winners Take All” is in print!

The Future is Short – Volume 2” is printed through Amazon’s Createspace service.  There are many other very short stories in this anthology “based on the best from the second year of the Science Fiction Microstory Contest on LinkedIn’s Sci-Fi group.”  The e-book version will be available in the near future, probably on Smashwords.com.

“Winners Take All” is my second story to make use of anti-gravity technology.  The other was “Above the Mississippi”, which you can find in my “Science Fiction: The Arts” anthology.

The Future is Short – Volume 2

LightSail Test Success

Image: The Planetary Society; LightSail unfurled June 9, 2015

The Planetary Society blog declared the LightSail test mission a success as of today, June 9, 2015.  Above you can see an image of the unfurled light sail, though it won’t be until next year’s mission that another LightSail is used to actually attempt to sail into space.  Below you can see LightSail crossing the night sky on June 8, 2015.

Our ancestors sailed the seas and discovered new lands.  Perhaps today is a step towards future vehicles sailing on sunlight — and possibly laser light, running supply missions, and making new discoveries.  The stuff of science fiction made into reality.

LightSail deployed!

The Planetary Society’s Mission Control website exudes excitement as the LightSail test flight successfully deployed the sail.  It’s only a matter of time before the test sail falls, but until then you might be able to spot it in space if you check on sighting instructions at the mission control site.  I imagine this raises expectations for next year’s launch when LightSail will be expected to achieve real space flight.  The Planetary Society already well exceeded their goal on Kickstarter.

Whether portending sailing on light or taking an elevator to space, science fiction is fuel for the imagination.  If you want to dream of the possibilities, or just take a ride in a time shuttle, check out my short science fiction anthologies available in several e-book formats.

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Telesurgery

Computerworld recently reported on simulated robotic surgery over the internet.  I think it’s only a matter of time before doctors are able to operate on a patient across the country.  But, as the Computerworld headline hints at, how about across space?

As long as the space station is within the orbit of the moon, we’re probably only talking about a 1 second or less display — assuming the station is within reach of a ground station.  That’s not ideal, but it might be acceptable for some emergency remote operations that are supervised.  But Mars communications, when everything is aligned to allow it, is a matter of minutes, not seconds.  That might be okay for communicating a set of operating instructions to a doctor on Mars — or surgical subtasks to a robot on Mars, which would have to be more robust than the research shows in the video below — but it would likely be dangerous for not-close-enough-to-real-time operation of a robotic surgical device.

But once you get further out to other solar systems, the communication times are in years.  Surgery from Earth would not be possible without some kind of FTL (faster than light) communications.  One can see in the movie “Prometheus” a — rather disturbing — example of a robotic surgeon capable of many different kinds of operating procedures on its own.  On Star Trek “Voyager” we’re introduced to an Emergency Medical Hologram capable of serving as the ship’s doctor when needed.

My story “RemoteDoc” — about a woman in the future who performs remote surgeries on Mars and on Earth — was published in 2004 in “The Martian Wave”.  It’s not in print, but I will put this in my second “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs” anthology.

Extremely slow Wi-Fi transporter?

CNet recently wrote about a Wi-Fi router tricked out to look like the “Star Trek” Enterprise. That’s pretty neat to have, if you can get one or make one. As the article says, you might feel the need to say “Beam me onto the internet, Scotty”. But don’t expect to be transporting yourself from one place to another anytime soon. I figure it would take about 3 billion centuries to transport once using a Wi-Fi router. Here’s my rough calculations.

Figure quantum processing time on a quantum computer is unbelievably fast, but the Wi-Fi transfer rate is limited (1 gigabit per second, maybe) and recording quantum atom states likely takes more than 1 bit, so maybe 100,000,000=10^8 atoms recorded per second. The human body has approximately 10^27 atoms, so 10^27/10^8 = 10^19 seconds. There are about 60*60*24*365*100=3*10^9 seconds in a century, so 10^19/(3*10^9) is about 10^10/3 = 3 billion centuries.

Below is a video showing several transporter glitches in “Star Trek” movies and television episodes. Notice they don’t include any where the crew’s Wi-Fi signal is suddenly lost because their badges lost contact with the router, but they’ve had worse things happen.

While I haven’t written any stories that discuss transporters, I did have one published about a young man who has a device that attempts to predict the near future based on the current state of the atoms in his vicinity. This, like the transporter, would require technology far more advanced than Wi-Fi speeds. But it was fun to write about. The story is called “Surfing the Wave” and can be found in my anthology of science fiction short stories: “Science Fiction: Future Youth”.

Earth Impact Database

Speaking of Earth impacts — see my previous blog entry — The Planetary and Space Science Centre (PASSC) in Canada has a nice website on the subject of Earth impacts sorted by diameter.  If you have an interest in the subject, or you just enjoy seeing geologic features while on vacation, it’s handy to study the impact locations before your trip.

Many large impacts are now covered by lakes, rivers, grass, etc., and cannot easily be discerned when visiting the site.  However, if you’ve already explored the PASSC website and gotten an idea of what the impact was really like millions of years ago, it is easier to visualize in person what happened back then.  In my experience, it makes the view more impressive!

Impacts are mentioned often in science fiction, and I’ve written a couple of short stories that mentioned an impact of some kind.  “Myron’s Debarkation” is one of them.  Another of my stories, “A Comic on Phobos”, is about an effort by a team of robots to avert an impact.

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UTM and Geographic Coordinates

Whether you are encountering UTM mapping coordinates because of genealogy or some other kind of research, it helps to know how to convert between UTM and geographic coordinates.  I recently ran into this issue when attempting to locate the exact spot where a meteor impact-related image was taken.  Although the photographer and researcher listed the UTM coordinates for the spot, I wanted to know the geographic coordinates so I could visit the location during vacation.

I’m sure there are many conversion tools on the internet, but here are a couple I encountered.  I used a site at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay to convert from UTM coordinates to longitude and latitude.  I was then able to use the lat-long data to map it in Google maps.  To verify I got the right place, I used Google street maps and was able to see that the spot matched the photo location very nicely.

There are also tools for doing the conversion to Google Earth that you can find on the web with just a search on “UTM coordinates and Google Earth”.

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Lightsail

The Planetary Society’s Lightsail-A test launched successfully today from Cape Canaveral.  As of this afternoon, it appears that they have heard back from the craft.  If all continues to go well, the sails will eventually deploy.  This first launch is to test the capabilities of the craft, hoping to find and solve any issues before the launch of Lightsail-1 in 2016.

This was the stuff of science fiction, especially since the project was citizen-funded.  Now, along with the other solar sails that have been deployed in the recent past, it may be the beginning of a new generation of spacecraft that sail on sunlight.

Self-driving 18-Wheelers still need drivers

The Huffington Post blogs about the new self-driving 18 Wheeler trucks being tested by German manufacturer Daimler in Nevada.  But they will still require a driver, especially for lane changes, small roads, and emergencies.

A commenter adds that security is another issue.  If the trucks were to eventually go with no human driver, who would handle the security of the shipped goods?  As a science fiction writer and thinker, I immediately pictured a robot accompanying the self-driving truck.  But even then, are we ever really going to legally allow robots or other artificial intelligence to provide security on a truck with the possibility of injuring other humans?

So, at least for years to come, human truck drivers will continue to operate and/or sit in part-time self-driving 18-Wheelers.  If you like the idea of sitting in a big truck, either old-style or self-driving, you might enjoy my class video game “Truckin'” for Intellivision — pretty nice comments on that YouTube page!  Or if you like the smaller variety of vans and trucks, you might also like my short story “Time Enough for Sarah” in my time travel anthology, about a time travel shuttle driver and his daughter.

Time Travel E-book Cover

 

 

How much is a Myr?

If you ever run across the term Myr, it may be because you are reading an article about astronomy.  One Myr is one million years.

Michael Rampino of NYU proposes that there may be cycles of extraterrestrial impacts on Earth, with each cycle averaging around 30 Myr.  He goes further, suggesting that it’s possible that dark matter in the Galaxy may be responsible for comets hitting Earth.  The paper does say, however, that “…It should be noted, however, that a number of other researchers find no evidence of significant periods of ∼30 Myr in either extinctions..or large body impacts…”

The full text of the article can be found in html format here.

Though this may just turn out to be speculative science, it is at the least the stuff of science fiction.  It kind of reminds me of Asimov’s “Nightfall” or the movie “Pitch Black”.  Unknown astronomic cycles are part of the plot of both stories.

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Did Kirk and Scott travel to 1841?

Did James T. Kirk and Montgomery Scott from “Star Trek” travel back in time from to 1841? Did they know each other in 2263, a couple of years prior to their first television episode’s timeline? Well, you won’t be able to prove it using an April Fool’s 2015 document humorously faked by Scotland’s People.

James T. Kirk was reportedly born in 2233 in Iowa, meaning he’d be 30 in 2263. Montgomery Scott (“Scotty”) was born 2222, but in 2263 he would have been 41 — not 35. So I guess even fake census records sometimes get the birth year wrong.

The first “Star Trek” television episode (“Where No Man Has Gone Before” — the second pilot) starring William Shatner as the character James T. Kirk took place in 2265, but this fake document would seem to imply that Kirk and Scott worked together and had the ability to travel in time (probably with a starship) 2 year’s earlier.

Oh, but wait a minute! We have an alternate timeline to consider, since the 2009 “Star Trek” movie created a new path for the crew’s lives in 2255. So if the document had been real, it could have been Chris Pine’s character, not Shatner, and Karl Urban’s character, not DeForest Kelley, who appeared in 1841 from the year 2263. That would imply that a timeline change in 2255 created ripples in the past as well as the future. Have you seen the last two episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (“All Good Things”)?

Good thing this document is a fake, because otherwise I’d have a headache figuring this all out. Like the study of genealogy, time travel research can be difficult and complicated. Fake documents can make it even tougher.

Isn’t it interesting that Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843 — but did he possibly start writing it in 1841? — is considered by some to be one of the first stories about time travel.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell coming to BBC America

I read the book, “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell“.  While I really liked the idea, and the plot as written has merit, I generally agree with the reviewer at Amazon who wrote, “the literary equivalent of ‘are we there yet?‘”

As an author myself, my preference is to write short stories, usually 10 to 20 pages long.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to read novels.  I thoroughly enjoyed “A Tale of Two Cities” at about 300 pages, and “Moby Dick” at around 400 pages.  But I mean 700 pages?!   “Jonathan Strange…” better be darn near perfect to get me to read that.  I don’t think it was.

So it isn’t my favorite book, but I still love the idea of the story.  Now it’s going to be a series on BBC America sometime in 2015.  I’m pretty interested, hoping that the screenplay writers will figure out what to use and what to cut, and that it will work much better in this format.  Of course, part of that will depend on the actors, and you can see in the credits that there are some good ones listed.

I’m hoping the television series will be magical!  I don’t know if the video below is an actual BBC trailer, but it gives one a sense of what’s coming.

I was a video game developer, a real job

A story appeared recently in TechCrunch entitled: “Dear Teacher, A Video Game Developer Is A Real Job And Should Be Celebrated“.  I couldn’t agree more!

If the story is completely accurate, it is hard to believe that a teacher would deny a child their place at career day because that child chose to come to school as their favorite video game developer.  Sure, it’s possible that there is more to the story, but what if there isn’t?  What’s wrong with a student saying that they want to be like the developer of Minecraft when they grow up?

I don’t remember having a career day when I was in school, but here’s who I would have chosen to be like if there had been.  I may have wanted to be like Martin Gardner, the Scientific American “Mathematical Games” columnist and science writer — as well as a prolific puzzle book author.  Or I could have found a robot or “Foundation” t-shirt and gone as Isaac Asimov.  Sure he was a professor of biochemistry, but he was best known for his science fiction writing.

What would this teacher have done if a child dressed up as a professional juggler?  What would they have thought of me if I’d decided to come with a t-shirt that read “Oddly Perfect”?  Would they have known that I wanted to become a mathematician and study primes and perfect numbers?

An IGN video below provides industry advice (on how to get a job) from the top 100 game developers.  It takes hard and dedicated work to become a game designer, producer, programmer, writer.  It’s a real job!

NASA smiley faces

The Hubble Space Telescope found a smiley face in space.  I think that’s wonderful.

Too often nowadays, space movies or stories depict space as a dangerous place.  Some of the most popular video games involve war in space.  So it’s really nice to see that our universe can sometimes be a happy place as well — or at least put on a happy face!

But as a science fiction writer, I have to wonder whether this face is accidental or planned.  Imagine if there was an alien race capable of highly advanced technology compared to us.  Sure, it’s possible that they could be menacing and aggressive, as some writers, directors, and even scientists have pointed out in film and writing.  But couldn’t some aliens also be so advanced that they have a keen sense of humor?  What if those aliens decided to send a message to everyone else in the universe that they are a happy race?  Maybe the joke is on those who are so sure that aliens are out to wipe us out.

Chron.com notes another smiley face found on Mars, and some video game companies are making artistic games that fall decidedly in the happier camp.

Though I’ve written my share of sad stories, some even dark, this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope photo serves as a notice that maybe I should write more happy space stories.  I’ve written some.  I think I’ll write some more.

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Image credit: NASA/ESA