Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Keeping track of progress

Golden Age SF promised us a future that still eludes us.

Cheap and limitless power from fusion? Hah! True AIs, the kind that can be your Internet avatar or operate a multi-purpose home robot? Hah! Hah! Space colonization? Yeah, right. Space tourism, only if you're a millionaire. Commercial air travel is no faster than in the Sixties (and actually much slower end to end, when adjusted for TSA delays and ATC congestion). People have built flying cars, but they're (IMO) silly curiosities, poor choices as either a plane or a car.

Of course SF mostly missed computing and computers. We do have a wondrous Internet, smartphones, and personal computers that run rings around the mainframes on which I learned to program.

Still: even the Internet/smartphones/PCs sometimes disappoint. How much Internet capacity supports pointless drivel? (I'm thinking: 500 *million* people on Facebook. Umm, why? Plenty o' porn. 99% of what's on YouTube. And don't get me started on Twitter.) And how many smartphone apps are totally trivial?

Although I buy a new PC every few years, always vastly more powerful than the last, it's hardly because of progress. Invariably the old computer can still process words, calculate spreadsheets, browse the web, and email to my satisfaction. No, the reasons to buy a new computer are (a) because the old bloated, unreliable, nonsecure OS will no longer be supported, so that Microsoft can make me buy a new bloated, unreliable, nonsecure OS and (b) to run a new generation of security software against the @#$%! who write malware.

And yet there *is* progress. Witness: the Global Positioning System. For not much over a hundred bucks (although you can certainly spend more, for more features), you can own a GPS receiver to locate yourself precisely anywhere in the world and plan your route to most anywhere else. For sure, the Golden Age prognosticators entirely missed that possibility.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Curiouser and curiouser

Like many SF aficionados, I enjoy time-travel stories. I've written them myself, most recently in Countdown to Armageddon.  So I enjoyed a recent article (although I was disappointed by its lack of detail) claiming that Physicists Tame Time Travel by Forbidding You to Kill Your Grandfather. As for the notion that time protects itself -- and grandparents -- by diddling with  probabilities -- I used that in "Grandpa?" in 2001.

You gotta love a particle so elusive that it passes through the Earth with effectively a zero probability of interacting with ... anything. A particle that may represent a fraction of the universe's mysterious dark matter -- and if it does, will raise questions about the long-lived, heretofore very successful Standard Model of particle physics. A particle that spontaneously cycles between various forms. That particle (more precisely, a class of particles), is, of course, the neutrino

Neutrino astronomers have studied solar neutrinos for years -- and now they're starting to look at Earth's own neutrinos. Since neutrinos are produced in nuclear decays, radioactive elements in the Earth's core are neutrino sources -- and a way to study Earth's deep interior. Details at Physicists hunt for a trace of the elusive, invisible geoneutrino.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sounding off

Last updated January 20, 2014

I'm asked almost as often about the availability of my books in audio formats as about ebooks. So: I've decided to maintain a running list of my titles to which you can listen.

(Because what the heck -- high-tech mayhem, exotic aliens, and monomaniacal AIs are sure to enhance any road trip.)

Availability in any audio format often implies a variety of listening options: CDs, tapes (I'm not making this stuff up!), MP3, and other downloads. The links that follow give more information about a particular title. If you click through from my descriptive page to the corresponding Amazon page (or get to a title by way of Ed's Bookstore), the "formats" box, generally just below and to the right of the book cover, will list your audio (and other) format options. 

Lerner solos in audio format

Probe (1991 [2011 reissue])
Moonstruck (2005 [2011 reissue])
Creative Destruction (2006)
Fools' Experiments (2008)  (For the moment, unavailable in audio format. Stay tuned.)
Small Miracles (2009)
InterstellarNet: Origins (2010)
InterstellarNet: New Order (2010)
Countdown to Armageddon (2010) (*)
A Stranger in Paradise (2010) (*)
Energized (2012)

(*) Sold separately in audio and e-book formats, but combined in print. (You'll have to ask the publisher why.)




Lerner collaborations in audio format

Fleet of Worlds (2007)
Juggler of Worlds (2008)
Destroyer of Worlds (2009)
Betrayer of Worlds (2010)
Fate of Worlds (2012)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A ray of sunshine

In practice, finally, as well as in theory, every ray counts.

JAXA (the Japanese aerospace agency) has successfully demonstrated solar sailing with IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun). IKAROS does more than ride the sunlight; it also has thin-film solar cells to generate electricity from the light.

The nearby image was taken with a tiny camera jettisoned by IKAROS itself. Beautiful, isn't it? More here.

There's nothing in the image to provide a sense of scale, but IKAROS is twenty meters across. For the follow-on mission, JAXA envisions a fifty-meter sail.

How much pressure does sunlight exert? Very little: the measured force exerted on IKAROS is 1.12 millinewtons. By tacking toward the sun -- IKAROS is headed for Venus -- the mission will reach regions with more intense sunlight. The thing about sunlight in space ... it just keeps coming. Over time, that bit of a push will produce serious acceleration.

(A millinewton, you ask? That's the force on a Fig Newton crumb falling at standard gravity. Or maybe it's a many-legged critter eating a Fig Newton. Or Mrs. Isaac Newton. Or 0.001 kg meter squared / second squared. You decide  :-)  

Solar sailing is the type of project NASA might try (or retry -- AFAIK, the last NASA solar-sail attempt failed in 2008) if NASA's priority -- according to the Administrator! -- wasn't raising self-esteem in the third world.

Don't believe me about NASA's current priorities? Check this syndicated op-ed piece from the Washington Post (among many papers).

And try not to cry.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Space -- the good, the bad, and the oblivious

Lots of interesting news about space  -- you know we SF authors love the stuff. But interesting and credible can be different ...

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has completed a year on station. And an exciting year it's been. I'm especially impressed by the quantity of data: 40 terabytes! Read all about it, here.

But you don't need an expensive spacecraft to make space news. An expensive telescope will suffice, as we see with this report of an asteroid(?) strike on Jupiter.

It's seriously keen that the Hayabusa probe made it home with samples from an asteroid.

Not news -- except in the way any person making wild claims is news -- is this assertion of a Watergate-scale cover-up of UFOs.

Meanwhile, astronomer and SF author Mike Brotherton, bringing us the sociological perspective, suggests that overly sensitive people be eaten by black holes. I wonder what the people who have drawn Mike's ire would make of the Winnie the Pooh lyric, "Sing Ho! for the life of a bear."

Friday, July 2, 2010

The great read spot

Nope, not a typo.  An atrocious pun, I'll grant you.  It all has to do with my recent silence -- due, in turn to a lot of reading.

Possibly the most overused cliche of recent years, (the Mother of All Cliches, if you will), is "the perfect storm." And the mother of all storms, in our solar system, at least, is the way-larger-than-Earth-itself Great Red Spot on Jupiter.

There's no way I can write four books in a year.  Two is pushing it.  But not all books make it through the publisher's pipeline on the same time line. And so, in 2010, I'll have four books come out: