Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Genre-ally speaking

So, what's new in SF?

First off, what's old is new again. By most rankings of such things, 2001: A Space Odyssey is among the greatest SF films ever. Its trailer? Not so much -- but that's being fixed. Over at Entertainment Weekly, check out "See the new trailer for '2001: A Space Odyssey,' 46 years after its release."

What rankings, you ask? Here's one. Forbes (of all unlikely venues), in response to the recent big-screen release of Interstellar, offers, "Top 10 Best Space Travel Films Of All Time."

I've yet to see Interstellar and -- especially after the scientific travesty that was Gravity (see my April post "A mission of (anti-)gravity" -- I'm conflicted about trying another Hollywood SF blockbuster. Certainly I'll wait till Interstellar is available through Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. And if I hadn't already had my doubts, this, from io9 would have decided the matter: "Stop Putting New Age Pseudoscience in Our Science Fiction." As in, duh, love is not a force of nature like, well, gravity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

This wild universe

The universe is a strange and fascinating place, about which we continue -- in fits and starts, two steps forward and (hopefully only) one step back -- to learn. Consider a few recent items:

Remember Toon Town?
"Much like characters on a television show would not know that their seemingly 3-D world exists only on a 2-D screen, we could be clueless that our 3-D space is just an illusion. The information about everything in our universe could actually be encoded in tiny packets in two dimensions."

A newly begun experiment will, just maybe, ascertain that we're all toons. See (from the University of Chicago, one of my alma maters), "Do we live in a 2-D hologram? New Fermilab experiment will test the nature of the universe."

A knotty bit of string theory
String theory is a discipline within physics that set out (among its modest aspirations) to unify the nuclear strong force, the nuclear weak force, and the electromagnetic force with gravity. For decades, having failed to come up with any testable hypotheses, string theorists have struggled to show their subject is anything more than fun with numbers. They're trying yet again. See "M-Theory Repositions: Now You Can Thank Us For Quantum Mechanics Too."

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chocolate overdose?

The theme that came to mind for this week's post was clearing out miscellaneous and sundry. Sorta kinda like finishing up the Halloween leftovers. They (the  candy, not the eclectic post topics) can't lead me astray after they're all gone, right?

Let's begin with a seriously cool new computer design. As in, "HP’s New PC Can Project a Touchscreen Onto Your Desk." With this configuration, maybe Windows 8 does make a smidgeon (say, one M&M's worth) of sense for a desktop computer.

In addition to acting as a second screen projected onto the surface where your keyboard would normally be, Sprout’s camera/projector mount—dubbed the “HP Illuminator”—also acts as a scanner. The touch mat also has a special coating that renders it invisible to its cameras during scans. You can place documents or objects in front of the computer, scan them with the Sprout’s 14.6-megapixel and depth-sensing Intel RealSense cameras, and then use the multitouch mat to move those scanned objects around and resize them. That work is done in HP’s own Workspace software on the machine, but the company has released an SDK for app developers to tap into those scanning and input features.

You gotta magnify
As Douglas Adams expressed it (like everything else) so well, "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." And if you doubt, consider that "This is what North America would look like on Jupiter."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Progress comes of looking in the dusty corners

Climate-change assertions notwithstanding, there is no such thing as "settled science."

No, this isn't a post about climate change, neither for or against, convinced or skeptical. But I'm not above -- before I move on to today's main topic -- a crack against those (not typically scientists) who believe anything in science is ever proven. What science can do is:

(a) propose theories (read: models, aka simplified representations) of reality useful for solving problems and making predictions in particular circumstances and

(b) refine -- or refute -- theories as their shortcomings and limitations become clear, or as conflicting data show up.

(A favorite Einstein quote, after which I promise to come to the point: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”)

A brief history of time and space
Thus Newton's simple and elegant seventeenth-century theory of gravity sufficed until astronomers and physicists began theorizing about extreme conditions (e.g., in the vicinity of black holes) and were able to make increasingly precise observations (e.g., to discern in nineteenth-century observations the deviations between Mercury's actual orbital motion and the predictions of same from Newtonian theory).

These and other difficulties were resolved a century ago with Einsteinian gravity theory -- aka General Relativity. A century later, after many tests have been performed to poke and prod GR theory for limits to its accuracy and applicability, theorists look for alternative models (see Alternatives to General Relativity) and experimentalists continue to test GR's predictions and implications (see "Tests of general relativity").

And with all that by way of stage setting, let's have a look at some recent peering into the dusty corners of our physical understanding of the universe ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Two worthy SFnal causes

I continue to be enthused that the Museum of Science Fiction is (with a bit of luck) coming to DC, to take its place alongside -- though not as a part of -- one of my favorite institutions, the museums of the Smithsonian. I've blogged before about MOSF, but it's been awhile. To remedy that lapse, here are a few recent highlights:

... the Museum has signed a partnership agreement with DC Public Schools and was approved by Reagan National Airport (DCA) to install the "Future of Travel" exhibit in mid 2015.

One of the coolest things happening w.r.t. MOSF is architectural, as in (reported by the Washington Post, "Contest seeks entries in science fiction museum design."

Seriously cool.
My architectural skills are exceeded even by my drawing skills, which are at the stick-figure level. (I paint pictures with words for a living, but somehow I can't see that technique extending to architectural renderings.) Hence I didn't enter MOSF's contest -- and it was just as well. I could hardly have competed with (at left) this winning vision.

Would you like to see MOSF open in Our Nation's Capital? Of course you would! Then consider the museum's ongoing fund-raising effort.

In any event, for more recent/complete museum news, check out MOSF's 3Q2014 progress report.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nanotech and starships and fusion, oh my!

Over a recent twelve-day period I:
  • gave a talk at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of many of their projects involved with nanotech.
  • took part in a 100 Year Starship Symposium and, in the process, was a panelist for Science Fiction Stories Night.
  • attended a lecture on the state of fusion energy research, cosponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the National Electronics Museum.
Six days out of twelve immersed in cutting-edge science. Some days, I just love my job :-)

So what was all that about?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Slightly larger Small Miracles

I'm pleased to report that my medical nanotech thriller, Small Miracles, briefly out of print (and also electrons), was just re-released in a classy, trade paperback edition. And that new edition comes graced with an eye-catching new cover.

Back in print
What's Small Miracles about? Well, I blogged about that in 2009 when the original HB came out ("Small Miracles") and again in 2010 when the mass market paperback hit the streets ("Real nanotech. Real medicine. And zombies."). But in a buckyball (a nano nutshell, if you prefer) Small Miracles is a near-future, post-human thriller based upon the amazing potential of nanotechnology.

Or, as SFRevu put it:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


That is to say, my energy-crisis, the-Russians-are-up-to-no-good, all-too-timely novel Energized was re-released today in its mass-market paperback edition.

In HB, PB, ebook, audio formats
A miscalculation has tainted the world's major oil fields with radioactivity and plunged the Middle East into chaos. The few countries still able to export oil and natural gas—Russia chief among them—have a stranglehold on the global economy.

Then, from the darkness of space, comes Phoebe. Rather than divert the massive asteroid, America captures it into Earth orbit to mine it for materials with which to build enormous solar-power satellites. Cheaply produced in orbit and able to beam vast amounts of power to the ground, these powersats offer America its last, best hope of avoiding servitude and economic ruin.

But special interests, from technophobes to eco-extremists to radio astronomers, want to stop the project. And the remaining petro powers will do anything to protect their dominance of world affairs. 

NASA engineer Marcus Judson is determined to make the powersat demonstration project a success—even though nothing in his job description mentions combating an international cabal…or going into space to do it.