Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy / Merry / Enjoy


Hourglass Nebula (because time flies)
I'll be back next week.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

They *are* watching you

In recent months I've posted less often than previously about privacy concerns. That's not because threats to our privacy have abated -- far from it. Rather, I grew weary of there being so many encroachments.

The privacy-centric news -- and not just Internet regulation ITU-style (see my days-ago post, "Big Brother redux") -- continues to be discouraging ...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Big Brother redux

I posted last week (The UN? Seriously?) about efforts afoot to put the Internet under the jurisdiction of International Telecommunication Union rules. The ITU at its just concluded meeting voted out a treaty to do just that. See "89 ITU members sign controversial UN telecom treaty."

"It won't regulate the Internet," the treaty's advocates say. Right.

When was the last time the US Congress was unanimous about anything? Last week! See "Congress declares opposition to UN takeover of the Internet."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The UN? Seriously?

With far less visibility or press interest than was afforded the recently concluded Doha round of climate talks ("Kyoto Protocol extended in contentious U.N. climate talks"), moves are afoot to transfer governance of the Internet from volunteer and not-for-profit organizations to the UN's own International Telecommunication Union

When? Right now! It's a main topic of conversation at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai (through December 14th).


Why? Because some governments aren't big fans of the democratizing aspect of the present-day, free-wheeling Internet. (As in, from Russia Today, this article about "Russia calls for internet revolution." And we all know how well Russian revolutions have turned out ...)

Is anyone else interested in controlling the Internet? For one, there's Syria. There, amid the ongoing civil war / massacres, the government has already taken down (their part of) the Internet. (See "Syria’s Internet Blackout: How The Government Could Have Done It.")

Am I being alarmist? If so, I have company.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A note to my UK readers ... kindling

(Last updated January 10, 2013)

For the longest time, my Fleet of Worlds series novels (with Larry Niven) have been unavailable in the UK for download to the Kindle. I won't bore you with why, but -- as of today -- the fifth and final volume is here (or, from my perspective, there).

Now available for the Kindle at amazon.co.uk:

(If this was all Greek to you, click any series cover thumbnail on the right-hand side.)

It's a Festivus miracle!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The listing list o' lists

Ah, year's end ... the season of retrospection. Who am I to fight tradition? (Well, a non-traditionalist, that's who. Nevertheless, I shall indulge :-)  )

Happier if you don't know?
Let's begin with "The Most Disappointing Movies of 2012," many of them SF or fantasy. From those that I've seen, I have to agree with the "disappointing" characterization. (Still, John Carter wasn't nearly as bad as some make it out to be. What a shame that this movie was considered derivative when so many of the supposedly tired tropes in the story originated with Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stars for the holidays

This being an SFnal blog and Christmas being almost upon us, what could be apter than a plug for Arthur C. Clarke's excellent short story "The Star"? If you haven't encountered it ... check it out. (Read the story before looking it up on the Wikipedia. The summary has a spoiler.)

Alpha Centauri
And that sorta, kinda begs the question: what's new in astronomy? I'm glad you asked!

For one, next-door neighbor Alpha Centauri is now known to have a planet! See "Earth-Size Planet Closest to Our Solar System: By The Numbers."

Closer to home (but not exactly homey), astronomers got their first good look at Makemake.  No, that's not a type of sushi. It's one of five (so far) recognized "dwarf planets" in the Solar system.  Makemake is about two-thirds the size of Pluto -- and (on average) even more remote. No atmosphere, either. For more, see "Dwarf planet Makemake examined for the first time."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

That's entertainment! / Books for the holidays

Many posts here at SF and Nonsense deal with science fiction. Some of the most viewed and commented-upon posts are about specific SF books. The odds are therefore good that you, Esteemed Visitor, are an SF reader.

I write SF for a living. Good friends do, too. Other good friends write in the evenings and on weekends, eagerly anticipating the day when they can also write full-time. All of which is to say, we and our colleagues produce the entertainment I have reason to believe that you enjoy.

So ...

In the upcoming season of gift-giving -- whether your observation of choice is Christmas or Festivus, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day or Boxing Day, Eid-al-Adha or Lohri, the winter solstice or the New Year ... or just holiday/post-holiday sales -- consider books. Print, e-, or audio ... they're all good.

Books aren't within your budget? Ask your library to acquire titles by your favorite authors. And let it be known what books you'd appreciate receiving as gifts.

My books? Genre books? Or any books? Your long-time favorite authors? Or experimenting with new authors? I (almost) don't care. I do care whether readers help to keep books (and publishing, and authoring) a going concern. Hopefully you want that, too.

And Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Move along, folks ...

Nothing to see here. Not this week. Nothing new, in any case. (But don't be shy. Check out the vintage stuff.)

Why this non-post? Life and deadlines intrude. Nothing bad, just stuff -- and stuffing -- that needs my attention. Yesterday, most of it.

Next week, after I'm recovered from the tryptophan coma (cue Ah-nold) ... I'll be back.

Happy Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Time out(s)

I've opined on this blog that time travel is a science-fictional trope -- but that doesn't mean I disapprove. Tropes endure in literature (and not only in SF) because they support great storytelling. And so, on occasion, I indulge ...

If you visit here from an interest in my SF writing -- or if you're curious about it -- I thought I'd mention my new time-travel novella. (A few years ago I did a time-travel novel: Countdown to Armageddon.  Before that, my time-travel short story "Grandpa?" became the award-winning short film "The Grandfather Paradox.")

Anyway ... "Time Out" will appear in the January/February issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

(Or is appearing. Apropos of time travel, we Analog subscribers already have this issue in hand or e-reader. The cover date is the latest you might expect to encounter the print edition at a bookstore. To further muddle the timeline, in e-book outlets the issue will linger for months after the cover date.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

While we wait ...

A very consequential election. The ongoing Superstorm Sandy mess/clean-up in the Northeast (with a nor'easter en route). Though today is my weekly day to post, my mind isn't on blogging -- and I believe that's understandable.

Sharing thought-provoking (or offbeat) science, technology, and SF items from my grab bag won't demand much concentration on my part (kinda essential today) and they may divert you.

Remember last year's tsunami in Japan? It caused shutdowns at, and radiation releases (but, to date, no radiation-related deaths) from, the four Fukushima nuclear power plants. It led several countries to move toward the complete elimination of nuclear power from their national grids. Remember the hyperventilating concern about US nukes in the event of natural disaster?

Almost lost in the coverage of Sandy's impacts is this: "Problems at Five Nuke Plants." What sort of problems? Amid countless storm-related grid disturbances, these nuclear plants responded as designed. One of the five "problems" was a plant dialing down its output to 91 percent of capacity. That seems (IMO) pretty tame compared to "ConEd Explosion During Hurricane Sandy Rocks Manhattan's Lower East Side" and "Outages, floods hit two New Jersey refineries; others restart." Nukes are a robust part of the national energy system. I'd like to see more of them.

Monday, October 29, 2012

As I was saying ...


Several weeks ago I recorded two interviews, one on radio and a second on TV. Both interviews are now streamable.

On the radio program Cover to Cover Book Beat, Larry Niven and I discuss Fate of Worlds (and, to some degree, the entire Fleet of Worlds series).

On cable TV, Fast Forward: Contemporary Science Fiction interviewed me about both Energized and Fate of Worlds.



Although I usually post on Tuesdays, I'm posting this today lest I have a Frankenstorm blackout or comm outage. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Of cyber stalking and cyberwar

Let's begin with the snitch in our pockets. Consider that:
There was an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times ... that argued that we should begin calling our cell phones by a more accurate descriptive name, e.g., our personal “tracker.” The piece argues that the purpose of cell phones is increasingly less about servicing the communication needs of their owners, and increasing more about gathering data about their users’ activities to be analyzed by third parties, commercial and government alike.
Did you find the NYT article linked to in that snippet a tad discouraging? Me, too. For more of the IEEE Spectrum opinion piece from which that paragraph was excerpted see "Is Your Cell Phone Snitching on You?".

Stuxnet, per DOE
On a more global scale, consider the Stuxnet and Flame worms set loose to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program (and mind you, I think the goal is beyond admirable).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Taking the long view

Security lapses long predate computers. Your list of favorite breaches may differ, but DeVry University nonetheless came up with an interesting set (seemingly in the belief history began around 1600). See "Top Information Security Breaches in History."

Meanwhile, the slow, painful, embarrassing celebration of America's retreat from manned spaceflight continues with one shuttle's hours-per mile crawl through urban streets. Maneuvering past the pine trees ... how's that for space-age ambition? See "Endeavour takes 12-mile trek through the streets of Los Angeles."

But wait! There's more ...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Food, fuel, and funds for thought

Asteroids can be valuable, even when you're smacked by one. See (from Yahoo News): "Russian asteroid crater revealed to be filled with over $1 quadrillion of diamonds." That's a lot, even by Washington standards :-)

These are "impact diamonds," forged in the shock and pressure of the asteroid striking. Not every form of carbon is as valued as diamond. Here's a thoughtful piece asking whether the US trend away from the use of coal matters as China uses more and more. See (from the WSJ) "Coal Comfort."

Coal produces a lot of electricity -- and a lot of electricity goes to computing. Do you (or does your employer) use a rented computer? Then consider (from the LA Times) that, "Software let rent-to-own companies spy on customers." With: keystroke logging. Screenshot capture. Peeking through webcams.

How could that happen? Some rental companies use add-on software called Detective Mode, ostensibly to keep track of the location of their computers. But that's not all the software has been used for ...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Oddities of the day

My file of assorted science-and-tech news is once again bulging. A smattering:

1585 map
Archeology isn't a science that I often touch upon in this blog, but that's not for any lack of personal interest. I'll start today with a mystery that has fascinated me since I was a boy (in not quite Colonial times): the Lost Colony. Maybe it's no longer quite so lost. See "New clue to mystery of lost Roanoke colony."

The short version: "A patch on White's 425-year-old "Virginea Pars" map may indicate where the colony went."

Next up: a contrarian view of Google (host, as it happens, of this blog). "Peter Thiel Says Google’s Not Really a Tech Company." No stranger to technology companies, Thiel (a cofounder of Paypal) argues that:  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Capclave 2012

(Last updated September 26, 2012.)

It's become something of a tradition for me to participate in the annual DC-area con, Capclave. It's a user-friendly-sized gathering of fans and area authors. The con's motto (see the associated logo, nearby): "Where reading is not extinct."

Capclave 2012 is being held the weekend of October 12-14, in the DC suburb of Gaithersburg, MD. 

Capclave icon
The author Guest of Honor is John Scalzi -- a very droll guy, as he demonstrated yet again emceeing at the recent Worldcon Hugo Award ceremonies. And a great author. And, for a little while longer, also the president of SFWA.

This year I'll be attending the con only on the middle/main day: Saturday, 10/13. My updated (but not yet definitive) schedule is:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Looking every which way

Herewith, something of a catch-up/catch-all post -- but (I like to think) interesting stuff ...

Jodrell Bank was one of the first great radio observatories. For me, at least, just to encounter the name evokes a sense of wonder. And so, I was sad to learn that the man behind Jodrell Bank, "British astronomer Bernard Lovell dies at 98."

Above Valles Marineris
But there's more wonder to be had, as "Scientists Discover Tectonic Plates on Mars." Plate tectonics are crucial to keeping Earth a living planet. We need the crust stirred up so that critical substances don't get locked away from, well, life.

(Consider how, on Earth, plate tectonics are integrally tied into the carbon cycle (and keep in mind that organic chemistry is the chemistry of carbon). "Follow the water" has become a NASA mantra for locating signs of past or present extraterrestrial life; the availability of carbon is, IMO, just as important. At least for as long as the life for which we're looking is presumed to match terrestrial patterns ...)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Of the Ringworld, the Fleet of Worlds, and the Worldcon panel that wasn't

Many visitors to this blog are familiar with the sprawling, enduring future history that is Known Space. They know about Larry Niven's Ringworld novels and Larry's and my Fleet of Worlds novels. They know that Fate of Worlds: Return from the Ringworld, newly published, is the finale to both series.

In the beginning
And so, regular visitors to SF and Nonsense may not be surprised to read that Larry and I envisioned a panel at the just concluded Worldcon at which we would field moderator and fan questions about the two interrelated series.

(Which isn't to suggest that you can't read these books standalone. You can -- and more on that later. But the more Known Space books you read, the more connections you'll see.)

Alas, circumstances kept Larry from attending the con, and the panel didn't happen. And I'd hate to see my in-advance musing about likely questions go to waste ...

In the following Q-and-A with myself, I've tried to keep spoilers to a minimum. That said, read on at your own peril.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The end of several eras

I apologize for have missed my usual Tuesday morning posting. Chalk it up to post-Worldcon exhaustion ...

Neil Armstrong
A somber prelude to each Worldcon's Hugo Awards ceremony is a remembrance of those in the science-fiction community who passed away in the previous year. This con, most sadly, the roll included a non-SF individual who remains an inspiration to us all: Neil Armstrong. The applause for this great American hero was long and loud.

Alas, since his "one small step," the U.S. not only forgot how to send people to the moon, we forgot how to put a person into low Earth orbit. And as reticent as Armstrong was to criticize, when the present administration canceled the Constellation program -- meant to replace the retiring space shuttle, return astronauts to the moon, and eventually carry humans to Mars -- he had reached the limits of forbearance. He said of this "plan":
We will have wasted our current $10-billion-plus investment in Constellation, and equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded. For the United States... to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit...destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.
Sad to say, his words changed nothing. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Death to keyboards ... for a few days, anyway

This year's Worldcon (aka, Chicon 7) begins Thursday August 30th and runs through Labor Day. I'm delighted to say that I'll be there. So if you, too, will be at the con in Chicago, stop me and say "Hi!"

For an SF author, of course, any Worldcon is a working holiday. Dates, times, and places are subject to change (by the Programming Committee), but here's my tentative schedule (also listing my fellow partners in crime, and with panel moderators on a gray background).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

There is no fate (of worlds) but what we make ourselves

With apologies to John Connor :-)

Epic end of an epoch
And with apologies, as well, to Douglas Adams, I'll mention that Fate of Worlds was forty-two years in the making. How so? Because (as some of the fine print on the cover points out), Fate of Worlds: Return from the Ringworld is the finale to the Fleet of Worlds series and the Ringworld series. And Larry Niven's endlessly popular Ringworld first appeared way back in 1970.

But enough of apologies and perhaps obscure references! On to the breaking news ... Fate of Worlds: Return from the Ringworld was released today.

Where it all began
At the end of Ringworld's Children (Ringworld series, book #4) adventurer Louis Wu and the mad Puppeteer known only as Hindmost escaped the millions-of-times-the-size-of-Earth artifact known as the Ringworld just before it ... vanished. Have you ever wondered what Louis and Hindmost did next? Where they went next?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Curiosity ... an endangered commodity

First things first: kudos to the NASA/JPL team -- including Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and other contributing contractors -- for pulling off the recent successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory, aka the Curiosity rover. The flawless flight and landing mark a great technological achievement. The MSL seems poised to discover many interesting things about Mars.

Curiosity about to land
But Curiosity arose from a NASA solicitation in 2004: during the George W. Bush era. Where does curiosity, lower case, fit in the current administration's agenda? Nowhere, as far as I can see. Even as NASA takes its victory lap, the US has recently pulled out of the ExoMars program. So much for the Mars Exploration Joint Initiative signed between NASA and ESA in July 2009. During this administration.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

News about news

I was recently interviewed about Energized for Tor Book's monthly newsletter. If the newsletter didn't show up yesterday in your email (i.e., if you don't subscribe), the piece also appeared in the Tor blog. See: "Scarily Timely: A Q&A with Edward M. Lerner."

And two days ago, I drove into Arlington, VA, to tape a TV interview on Fast Forward: Contemporary Science Fiction. We talked about both Energized and (not yet released -- though it will be before the show airs) Fate of Worlds. I'll post when that interview is available for streaming -- best guess, in a month or so. Till then, I highly recommend the Fast Forward interview now showing with Connie Willis.

I think the taping was the first occasion in two years I've worn a tie. Can't say that I missed them ...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wild and wacky, redux

Technology is a fascinating thing, as some recent articles remind me.

DNA does the splits
Case in point: "Bioengineers Make DNA Into a Living Flash Drive." That's handy when you want to provide on-board storage to your biotech products. More than compact memory stands between us and nanobots -- but memory is one of the challenges. Alas, there's a bit of scaling up to be done ... as the prototype encodes only a single bit.

Still in a medical-nanotech vein (yes, pun intended), "Nanoparticle Completely Eradicates Hepatitis C Virus." If a nanoparticle can be designed for that virus, why not others? I'm game for a cure for the common cold.

Still thinking small, "Transistor Made Using a Single Atom May Help Beat Moore’s Law." Like the living flash memory, this was only a proof of concept, alas.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Clearing the decks

While (quasi-dyslexically) clearing my desk. That is to say, I have a new PC arriving in a day or so. Seems like a good time to clear out my backlog of astro-centric news items.

Titan
In "The *big* picture (part 2)," I noted the recent find of a lake on Titan. Had I waited a bit, I could have reported an entire ocean. See "Saturn moon Titan may harbor ocean below surface." A most interesting world, Titan.

Wonder when an asteroid might rain down on your head? You're not alone. See "The B612 Foundation Announces The First Privately Funded Deep Space Mission." 

And if you think B612 is an obscure vitamin ... add The Little Prince to your to-read list. From Wikipedia:
The novella is both the most read and most translated book in the French language, and was voted the best book of the 20th century in France. Translated into more than 250 languages and dialects, selling over a million copies per year with sales totaling over 200 million copies worldwide, it has become one of the best-selling books ever published.
Meanwhile, it turns out Pluto has yet another companion. See "It's not lunacy: Not-a-planet Pluto boasts 5 moons." The newly discovered body's exact size remains uncertain, but it's no more than fifteen miles across. I find it inspiring that such a tiny rock can be spotted from billions of miles away.

And on the topic of small things far away, see "New Planet Found, Smaller Than Earth, Orbiting Distant Star." (That said, I have a quibble about the headline. Although all stars -- including our sun -- are distant by earthly standards, as stars go this one is a neighbor at a mere thirty-three light-years.) And to be clear, this newfound world wasn't seen per se; it was merely detectable as a slight stellar dimming as the exoplanet passed between star and Earth.

And moving from astronomy to astrobiology ...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Energized


Undertaking to write a novel is a major commitment -- of time, effort, and self. It's no wonder that to first see one's novel in print (or publicly available electrons) is a rush. I believe that's true no matter how often one has gone through the process.

As is the case today, with Energized. This is my dozenth novel -- and to see it released is as satisfying as my first time.

Maybe that's because, at least in hindsight, this novel was inevitable. The cover alone tells you this is a book involving near-Earth space. I'm a physicist and computer scientist. Before I graduated to full-time writing, I spent thirty years at high tech companies, seven of those as a NASA contractor. I've flown the space-shuttle simulator (and respect the heck out of anyone who could fly the real thing -- it had the aerodynamic properties of a brick). I've toured the space-station simulator and a comsat factory, and watched a space-shuttle launch. I just wish that, like the hero of Energized, I had had the opportunity to visit -- again, reference the nearby cover -- a solar power satellite on location.

So what is this novel about? I’m glad you asked.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Higgs (of course)

The week's hot news (beyond the literal heat in this part of the world) is the discovery of a "Higgs Boson-like particle" by two research teams at CERN. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was built for Higgs hunting more than for any other purpose.

A Higgs (in theory) falls apart
I've mentioned the hunt for the Higgs Boson on many occasions (IIRC, back to "Thanksgiving appetizers" where I put a Higgs discovery on my 2009 holiday wish list).

Most regular readers of this blog will already have read and seen many of the reports. (If you've been at the beach, sans iPad, beating the heat, here are a couple. From Slate, via physicist Lawrence Krauss, "A Quantum Leap: The discovery of the Higgs boson particle puts our understanding of nature on a new firm footing." And from The Wall Street Journal, "How to Be Sure You've Found a Higgs Boson.")

These are two of the more careful, thoughtful pieces I've seen. Krauss is in the minority even to hint at the sad fact this discovery could have come much sooner -- and been a triumph of American science -- if Congress hadn't killed off the Superconducting Super Collider in 1993.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Solar power: come rain or come night

With the Rio+20 eco/enviro summit newly ended, this seems like an appropriate time to post about solar power.

A solar garden
Some would have it that solar energy can meet a large fraction of the world's energy requirements. The International Energy Agency, in fact, would have it that "Solar power could produce 25% of global electricity by 2050." (Not to be outdone, Greenpeace claims "Wind Power Can Produce One Third of World's Electricity by 2050." Wind power is, of course, merely another way to leverage solar energy.)

Of course the wind doesn't always blow, or the sun shine. The more we come to depend on intermittent power sources like these, the more we will also need to store power for later use (if part of the time we can generate a surplus). Logical sites for solar farms (deserts) and wind farms (on open plains and high hills; off the coasts) may be remote from where power is needed -- say, Minneapolis in the winter. Read the preceding as: lots of new infrastructure (with attendant costs) for power generation, power storage, and long-range power distribution. A more subtle point is that a power grid reliant upon many intermittent supplies will also need improvements to maintain stability while generators and storage sites ramp up and down, come on and offline.

And land ... lots of land. Energy sprawl, some call it. Wind and sunlight are diffuse sources of energy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The *big* picture (part 2)

In "The *big* picture (part 1)" we reviewed astronomical news of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and (some) asteroids. Today we'll start with Mars and head on out ...

Beginning with the possibility that maybe Mars isn't as dry as it has seemed. Indeed, perhaps "Parts of Mars's interior are as wet as Earth's." Studies of meteors of Martian origin indicate that:
... the mantle from which the meteorites derived contained between 70 and 300 parts per million (ppm) of water. Earth's mantle,  for comparison, holds roughly 50-300 ppm water, researchers said. 
Mars
Does (or has) Martian life made use of that water? I'm skeptical of models that get ahead of experiment, but it's nonetheless interesting to read the argument -- reliant on comparative mathematical complexities -- that "Mars Viking Robots 'Found Life.'" Here's an overview of the approach:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The *big* picture (part 1)

A long overdue, news of astronomy post.

Mercury
Let's begin with reports from MESSENGER -- MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging. (How long did someone labor to come up with that acronym -- still to cheat, repeatedly?) This mission learned a lot about our solar system's innermost planet. Recursively, perhaps, I consider findings about that world's innermost parts the most fascinating:
Mercury's core is huge for the planet's size, about 85% of the planetary radius, even larger than previous estimates. The planet is sufficiently small that at one time many scientists thought the interior should have cooled to the point that the core would be solid. However, subtle dynamical motions measured from Earth-based radar combined with parameters of the gravity field, as well as observations of the magnetic field that signify an active core dynamo, indicate that Mercury's core is at least partially liquid. 
Moving out ...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Of strangenesses great, small, and virtual

There's lots of news this post from the realms of physics, technology, and SF.

(But first ... a few days ago this blog added a syndication outlet, through my authorial page at the massively popular book-review site Goodreads. If you're a newcomer to SF and Nonsense: welcome! [And an FYI: for unknown reasons, formatting and layout suffer a bit in the syndication. Posts are easier to read if you click through the link "View more on Edward M. Lerner's website."])

A Higgs going to pieces?
Is the Higgs boson coming out of hiding? If yes -- which would mean particle physics is finally going to have a basis for believing it understands the notion of mass -- will the long-reigning Standard Model of particle physics be collateral damage? From Ars Technica a few weeks ago, see: "Hiding in the Higgs data: hints of physics beyond the standard model."

Proof that the Higgs exists would be hugeEven a hint that it had been found was a major story. But the biggest physics news in 2011 was the evidence for faster-than-light neutrinos. Hardly anyone believed the FTL measurement -- least of all the researchers reporting it -- but that's what the preliminary data seemed to say.

And so, there were crosschecks, retests, and independent experiments. That's how science is (or should be) done -- even when  the results aren't surprising. And the outcome? In March, "2nd neutrino team refutes faster-than-light find." In April, the "Leader of Controversial 'Faster-Than-Light' Physics Experiments Resigns" amid growing controversy over the flawed experiments. And just days ago, from "Final Nail? Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos Aren't, Scientists Conclude"): 
The same lab that first reported the shocking results last September, which could have upended much of modern physics, has now reported that the subatomic particles called neutrinos "respect the cosmic speed limit. 
Bottom-lining it, Einstein once again has his laurels intact. That's a big part of what makes the is-it-or-isn't-it status of the Higgs boson so interesting. The Standard Model is part and parcel of quantum mechanics, and the quantum-mechanical view of the universe is inherently discontinuous. (Hence those quirky quanta. Say that quickly ten times.) Relativity has an inherently continuous view of the universe. For more than a century, physicists have tried to reconcile these two great -- and very different -- models of The Way Nature Works.

As physicist John Wheeler brilliantly summarized Einsteinian general relativity, "Matter tells space-time how to curve, and space-time tells matter how to move." Imagine that the Higgs boson shows up tomorrow to validate the particle physicist's understanding of matter's attribute of mass. We'll still need an explanation for how space-time gets curved.

But that's enough (heh heh) heavy stuff for one post. Let's lighten things up. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Crudetastrophe cometh ...

An oil-well explosion and blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

Deepwater Horizon disaster
Chaos, revolution, and oil-supply disruptions across the Middle East. 

Post-tsunami meltdowns of four Japanese nuclear power reactors, leading to the total shutdown of all fifty reactors across the country.

Sanctions and a looming oil embargo to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program, countered by Iranian threats to blockade others' oil exports through the Gulf of Hormuz.

Those are just recent energy-related crises -- and they don't hold a candle to the Crudetastrophe.

Monday, May 28, 2012

(In)security

Without intention, I've been on hiatus from a topic of personal interest. To wit: computer-centric security, privacy, and hacking. Diverted by other topics of note -- among which: yea, Dragon! -- I see I haven't written a post dedicated to (in)security since January ("Viruses: not just for PCs anymore").

Let's get caught up ...

Bad fortune ...
Google has been caught with their hand in the, ahem, cookie jar. As in, slipping in cookies despite users' do-not-track settings. From Computerworld last February, see "Google's tracking of Safari users could lead to FTC investigation."

Apple has long had the reputation of offering secure platforms -- if only because until Apple products began to get a decent market share, malware writers couldn't be bother to attack Apple products. Enter the Flashback Trojan, which quickly infected 600K Macs. As Cnet noted last April, "Apple's security code of silence: A big problem."
Apple has cultivated a myth about security on the Mac platform. The myth goes like this: Apple users don't need antivirus software. We're more secure than anything out there. Security worries are overblown.
In reality, Apple practiced security by obscurity with the Mac.
 But wait! Sadly, there's much more!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dinosaurs in the news

Yup ... they are in the news.  Some truly saurian.  Some metaphorical. And in a fancifully look-alike category, also dragons.

We'll cover dragons first.  Last week (in "Beyond this point (hopefully) be Dragons") I posted about the then imminent launch of the private Dragon space capsule to the ISS. After yet another postponement, the Dragon has launched ("SpaceX Launches Private Capsule on Historic Trip to Space Station.") We now await several days of precision maneuvers to convince the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS that Dragon is safe to dock. Stay tuned.

Artist's conception, methinks
A line of descent from dinosaurs to birds has become well established. But how and when, exactly, did that come about? That's still up in the air (heh) but at least we now know that "T. rex relative is biggest ever feathered animal."

And speaking of which, "Nebraska man changes name to Tyrannosaurus Rex." It sounds rather birdbrained to me. Of course, as some say, birds of feather flock together.

If climate change keeps you up at night, be glad the dinos are gone. According to a recent calculation/simulation, "It's a gas: dinosaur flatulence may have warmed Earth." What gas? Methane, which is many times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the customary media villain, carbon dioxide (see Greenhouse gases).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Beyond this point (hopefully) be Dragons

In the post-Shuttle era, as you will recall, the US has no way to deliver cargo or astronauts to the International Space Station (which, despite its name, was mostly designed and paid for by NASA). I've vented in this blog more than once (as in "Move 'em on. Head 'em out. Rawhide!" and "Crocodile cheers") about retiring the Shuttle before a replacement spacecraft was at hand.

How does stuff get to the ISS? Some cargo arrives on the soon-to-be-discontinued EU automated transfer vehicle. The remaining cargo and all crew reaches the ISS by writing large checks to the Russians.  More than a half century after America first put a man in orbit. It's just sad.

In a museum near you.
(Not that the shuttle was perfect. See "5 Horrifying Facts You Didn't Know About the Space Shuttle."

At long last -- with, to be fair, encouragement and seed money from NASA -- partial US capability may be restored. After several delays, "NASA Greenlights SpaceX ISS Visit for May 19" (SpaceX's cargo capsule being the Dragon of today's subject line). By week's end (if all goes well), Dragon will have made an uneventful delivery and returned to Earth.

Even before the first attempt at a private cargo delivery to the ISS, Congress is second-guessing the competition to develop a crew-rated capability. See "House bill directs NASA to scrap commercial crew competition." As in pick the winner now, before any company has flown a crew-rated spacecraft.

Even as more companies move forward into space ...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tech dispatches from the Department of "D'oh"

As Japan slowly recovers from last year's natural disaster ("It's the tsunami, stupid"), that country -- by popular demand -- is about to inflict more hardship on itself.

Nothing but a bit of steam ...
How so? Via the shutdown of all nuclear power in the country. That's fifty reactors, which not long ago provided almost thirty percent of the nation's electrical power. IMO, that's quite the overreaction to the (unprecedented) earthquake-plus-tsunami damage to a cluster of four reactors.

Oddly enough, it happens that choices have consequences. And so "Nuclear-free Japan braces for severe power shortages" (a Reuters report) and "As Japan shuts down nuclear power, emissions rise" (from Yahoo News).

Speaking of Yahoo ...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eclectomania

Dunno that that's a real word, but it should be. If enough of you pass it on, it will be.

Buy a Kindle (Beauty not included)
All of today's eclectic topics are writing-centric. We'll start with "Sci-fi publisher announces Tor and Forge will go DRM-free with all e-book titles." Tor has published the majority of my titles, so if DRM is an issue for you ... hang in there.

And in other breaking news: "Microsoft buys stake in Barnes and Noble’s Nook e-reader." Maybe there will be longterm competition in ereaders despite the DoJ's best efforts.

Last October, I posted (see "Inspiration") on the question most often directed at authors. Colleague Michael Flynn recently interviewed a host of SF authors -- including Yr. Humble Blogger -- on that very question. For Mike's take, see "Where Do You Get Your Ideas?"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Move 'em on. Head 'em out. Rawhide!

You got it: a round-up post. Three newsworthy (not to mention, eclectic) observations on matters of science and technology ...

Circuses (we're out of bread)
Last May I ranted about the slow, lingering death of any American space program (see "Crocodile cheers"). In particular, I admitted, "I've progressed from bemused to troubled to angry at the spate of breathless headlines heralding some 'final' activity of a space shuttle." Last week saw new breathless coverage about the Washington DC flyover bringing the shuttle Discovery to its final resting place at the Smithsonian.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer gets it. From his essay last week, "Farewell, the New Frontier," here is the opening passage:
As the space shuttle Discovery flew three times around Washington, a final salute before landing at Dulles airport for retirement in a museum, thousands on the ground gazed upward with marvel and pride. Yet what they were witnessing, for all its elegance, was a funeral march.
The shuttle was being carried — its pallbearer, a 747 — because it cannot fly, nor will it ever again. It was being sent for interment. Above ground, to be sure. But just as surely embalmed as Lenin in Red Square.
Is there a better symbol of willed American decline? The pity is not Discovery’s retirement — beautiful as it was, the shuttle proved too expensive and risky to operate — but that it died without a successor ....
The full essay is spot-on, eloquent, and well worth the read. 

And now on to a completely different topic ...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Contrariwise

From Through the Looking Glass:
Alice meets the twins
"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledum; "but it isn't so, nohow."

"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."
And so to publishing, economics (aka, "the dismal science"), public policy, and Through the Looking Glass (aka, world-class) examples of  (il)logic.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Post postscript

About a year ago (April 12, 2011, to be precise), I commented here on Google's first full year of statistics  regarding post popularity on SF and Nonsense.

Effectively a year later, Betrayer of Worlds (October 12, 2010) remains -- by better than three to one! -- my most visited post.  It's also, and by a similar margin, the post most often commented upon. (My Fate of Worlds post -- you know, surely, that one is coming -- has its work cut out for it.)

Number two in cumulative popularity remains Trope-ing the light fantastic (life-sign detectors) (February 25, 2009). Number 3, however, is new to the tabulation -- the self-referential Postscript (or is that post post?) in which I announced last year's SF and Nonsense post-popularity statistics. The way things are trending, in a few months Postscript will move up to second place.

With that much interest, I thought: this should be an annual feature. And so here we are.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Frontiers of Space, Time, and Thought -- an odyssey

Practically the first thing I did after declaring an end to day jobs -- apart from the occasional shout of joy -- was write "The Day of the RFIDs." That was in 2004.

An RFID chip
The next year, when I sold my first short-fiction collection, TDotR was its opening story. Most stories in Creative Destruction -- though not TDotR -- had first appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, so I asked Stanley Schmidt, the editor, if he'd consider writing a guest introduction. He graciously agreed -- and then, to my surprise (and delight), also based an editorial on TDotR. Story and editorial alike addressed the threat to privacy implicit in the radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips more and more often finding their way into garments, shoes, and tires. (You did know -- didn't you? -- that your Nikes could be ratting you out.)

That editorial brought in readers' letters, on some of which Stan invited me to comment. I did, but a letters-to-the-editor column can hardly accommodate in-depth discussion. And so I offered Stan a science fact article. My first. "Beyond this Point Be RFIDs" ran in Analog in 2007.

(I'd researched RFIDs for TDotR, of course, but writing the article led me to do more digging. As a bonus, the musings stirred up by that the second round of research led to a second story, "The Night of the RFIDs.")

And by such circuitous means, I took my first step down the slippery slope of also writing science and technology nonfiction. Bringing me at last -- while segueing to a commercial announcement -- to this post's subject ... 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Physics: nothing to sneeze at

For me, the early spring is definitely something to sneeze at. Pollen count is through the roof. (It must be, because it's getting to me indoors.)

Pollen. I'm not a fan.
But today's musings are neither a paean to pollen (say that quickly five times) nor a jeremiad. It's a collection of physics news -- all Really Neat Things -- well within the ambit of this blog. While my head does its best to explode (my free advice: don't watch ... especially if you've ever seen Scanners), here's some fare of likely interest:

Beginning with a second result from CERN -- independent of last September's startling report -- measuring neutrino speed. This time the elusive neutrinos were clocked at light speed (as expected), not a hair above. See "The Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos Debate Rages On" and "Adagio, OPERA."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Grand opening!

It turns out out that my authorial website (as opposed to this blog) dates back to 2001. Very Arthur C. Clarkeian, to be sure, but in Internet years that's very old. I recently decided it was time -- okay, well past time -- for a change.

Beginning with a new domain name: edwardmlerner.com. Catchy, if I do say so myself. And certainly easy for me to remember :-)

This first phase of the project mostly involved transferring old content into new software, shifting to a new hosting service, and updating page layouts to a more modern look. But that new software (and me owning the domain) will make it easier -- for some purposes, make it possible for the first time -- to add new sorts of content. There will be more phases.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Space-y program

Post-shuttle, the US manned space program requires NASA to buy seats on Russian flights to the International Space Station (ISS), until crew-rated US commercial launchers and capsules come along. (I carefully don't call this NASA's manned spaceflight program, because I doubt anyone in NASA truly wants things to be this way. Congress and two successive administrations have been mucking up the works.)

The ISS
Let's see how that plan is going ...