Monday, December 19, 2016

Biological bits

My academic background, first/pre-writing career, and typical surfing all involve(d) physics and computer science -- but I nonetheless sometimes run across interesting biological topics. And so, herewith, one in an occasional series of looks at news from the biological, including the exo-biological, frontier...

Johnny Bee Goode?
I read a lot of alarmist mentions of "colony collapse disorder" affecting bees. Here's a more upbeat look: "Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine." The takeaway:
You've probably heard the bad news by now that bees were recently added to the endangered species list for the first time. But if you're part of the 60 percent of people who share stories without actually reading them, you might have missed an important detail: namely, that the newly endangered bees are a handful of relatively obscure species who live only in Hawaii.
The bees you're more familiar with — the ones that buzz around your yard dipping into flowers, making honey, pollinating crops and generally keeping the world's food supply from collapsing? Those bees are doing just fine, according to data released by the USDA this year.

Mechanical and biological approaches to design seem disjoint. True, such approaches often differ -- but disjoint is a higher standard, disprovable by a single counterexample. As in this one: "Functioning 'mechanical gears' seen in nature for the first time." Said gears are found in the jumping mechanism of an insect. (Cool, no?)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Must ... finish ... novella

I would hate to go a week without posting, because skipping once makes it easier to do so again. Good habits are to be reinforced, after all. But I also have a story in process, about which I'll say no more than it's a secret history and it demands(!) to be finished.

Put this all together, and it's a good time to share some of the more eclectic items that have recently caught my eye -- such aggregation posts come together quickly. You might not find every item herein to be noteworthy, but you'll surely find something interesting in what follows :-)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

By the numbers

If you took part in the recent SF and Nonsense reader survey (Touch this poll with a ten-foot pole?) -- thanks! I found the responses helpful, and I expect to use the feedback to keep this blog of value to you. If you as much as considered participating -- thanks for that, too. If you had no interest in the poll -- well, I appreciate your patience and hope you'll come back.

Many of you did take a minute to respond, and I suspect that you (and perhaps others) will be curious about the results. And so (drum roll) ...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Short fiction. Shorter updates.

On 8/30, I shared a few short-fiction announcements, as parts of Con-fusion / Writing updates. Happily, more short-fiction news has accumulated and, well, there's no time like the -- holiday pun unavoidable -- present.

Science Fiction by Scientists, an anthology by astronomer, SF author, and good buddy Michael Brotherton, is hot off the presses (and in other editions, fresh from the electron mines). It contains, among many interesting things, my short story "Turing de Force." Like every tale in the antho, mine has an afterword about the underlying science -- in this case, computer science.

(If the phrase "Turing de Force" evokes a sense of déjà vu, I suspect you're channeling my "Tour de Force." The latter short story, on an entirely different topic, is part of a fun antho, Impossible Futures, with an entirely different premise.)

Springer, the big textbook publisher, published SFbS. Alas, they priced this anthology more like a textbook than your typical SF antho. If you're curious but the pricing is rich for your taste, suggest the title to your local library. (As I type, the Kindle edition is marked down ... this is the time to check it out.)

But wait! There's more!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Buy-a-Book Saturday (heck, buy books all weekend)

Regularly since 2010, at about this time of year, I've posted about Buy-a-Book Saturday. That's my personal variation on Small Business Saturday: a day (specifically, the second day after Thanksgiving, and one day after retail's infamous Black Friday) on which holiday shoppers are especially encouraged to patronize small businesses. The big-box stores and Internet giants will do fine this holiday season. But will your neighborhood, non-chain shops and boutiques?

Why a buy-a-book variant? Because what business is smaller than the author toiling away by him- or herself? Because, as I (and many others) post from time to time, the publishing business is becoming tougher and tougher -- especially for authors. Because more than likely you're a reader, else you wouldn't have stopped by this blog.

So: I'm here to suggest you give serious consideration to books -- whether print or electronic  or audio -- for some of your holiday gifting. Friends, relatives, coworkers, your kids' teachers, the local library you support ... surely there's a book that's right for each of them. And for yourself, of course :-)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

2016 best reads

I read a lot: as research, to stay knowledgeable about the genre in which I write, and simply for enjoyment -- overlapping categories, to be sure. Continuing an annual tradition, I'm posting pre-holiday shopping season about the most notable books so far from this year's reading. (And, occasionally, the year's rereading. That a book not only elicits a reread, but still impresses on the second time around, is certainly a recommendation.) When I mention a book, I really enjoyed it and/or found it very useful. Life's too short to carp about what I didn't find notable (much less anything I didn't finish).


Presuming that you visit SF and Nonsense because you appreciate my take on science or technology or fiction, you might find, in the post that follows, books you (and like-minded friends, relatives, etc.) will also enjoy. Unless otherwise indicated, the dates shown are for original publication. Every cover is an Amazon link, often to newer editions than the original publication (and to Kindle editions, where available).

What made the cut? Read on ...

Friday, November 4, 2016

Back to the future (and futures past)

I try to blog weekly, most often on Monday or Tuesday. Next Tuesday is, of course, the long-anticipated presidential election, and not the ideal time for posting one of my wholly non-political posts. (They're all non-political, if you hadn't noticed.)

So: today it is. And yet, this post -- while entirely non-political -- has its electoral echoes ...

And some quite personal remembrances, too.

Yesterday I attended an IEEE meeting (IEEE being the the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional society of which I've been a member for 40+ years). That itself isn't especially newsworthy, but the session's topic -- basically the past, present, and future of computer memory -- sure spoke to me. Especially the first talk: "Memories of memories."

An Intel 1103 chip
In 1972, during my master's program in computer science, I chose to do independent study in computer memory. Semiconductor memories existed then --  just barely -- as in the Intel 1103 chip. It held an entire kilobit. Large-scale systems and any application requiring high reliability relied on magnetic memory, most often magnetic-core memory. That semiconductor memories would supplant magnetic technologies was then far from certain.

In 1973, my MS newly completed, I began working at Bell Labs. Telephone switches are both large scale and high reliability, and magnetic memory was the standard. (Our system used magnetic wire memory, rather than magnetic core -- the distinctions not being important to this narrative). Not coincidentally, I was assigned to the team working to introduce semiconductor memory to the telephone switch. Another part of the company handled the memory chip itself, but I designed some of the supporting/surrounding circuitry, analyzed possible failures and their system-level effects, and wrote much of the related software for fault recognition, system reconfiguration, and subsystem-level fault isolation.

So, definitely, that "Memories of memories" presentation spoke to me. As for an election tie-in, my independent study overlapped the consequential 1972 election. The summer of 1973, just before I started at Bell Labs, was in large part spent (in competition with finishing my thesis) glued to a TV watching the Watergate hearings.

Another presidential-election connection: The field trial of a switch with the new memory was in 1974 or '75 (I forget which), at an AT&T office in Macon, GA. I was onsite one night when a hardware fault -- not in anything I'd had any part of, I'm happy to say -- crashed the switch. That outage disrupted long-distance service for, among other locations, a nearby little town called Plains. If that name doesn't ring a bell (telephone pun of course intended), Plains was the home town of -- and campaign headquarters for -- a certain aspiring Georgia governor: Jimmy Carter.

Memory fab (file photo)
I was, however, interested in more than "Memories of memories" from yesterday's session. The specific agenda item that had assured my participation was the group tour of the Micron Technology factory. (Micron is one of the biggest memory-chip manufacturers in the world, and the largest in the US.) I think any engineer gets a kick out of touring any large engineering project, whether factory, power generation, or construction. But to see a semiconductor factory had a particular resonance for me. So off we go for another visit to the past ...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Touch this poll with a ten-foot pole?

Everyone seems to want input and feedback these days -- and yes, I find that annoying, too -- but FWIW I solicit feedback less than once a year. If you're game, feedback does make for a more useful blog. A minute or two of your time should suffice.

Because it'd be helpful to know: What brings you? How do you come here? Are occasional updates re my books, stories, and articles a feature or a turn-off?

You'll find the anonymous, short (five questions, all multiple choice) survey here.

The survey will run through November. If surveys aren't your thing, input via comments is also welcome.

Whether or not you opt to give feedback, thanks for visiting and for hearing me out.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Of food (sorta, kinda) and bargains

Last post, in A day (well, a week) in the life, I mentioned a few of the many things that "writing" entails besides, well, writing. Among my activities during the previous week had been prepping a guest post for Eating Authors. It's where psychologist -- and fellow SF author -- Lawrence M. Schoen asks writers about their most memorable meal.

That post is now up, and you can click through to read about my most memorable meal (and see a few kind words from Lawrence).

New topic. We're approaching the end of October, and with it the bargains hinted at in the subject line. Those of you yet to look might want to check out Psst! Dark Secret is book of the month (and for this month, a steal!). I'm just sayin' ...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A day (well, a week) in the life

What do writers do all day? You might suppose, write. Enter text into the computer. It even happens that way ... sometimes.

15 May 1989 Dilbert, by Scott Adams


In the past week, I've managed to produce a few thousand new words toward the novel in progress. (No, I'm not ready to talk about that.) Mostly my time went to:
  •  Recovering from the realization that a character in the novel had available a cleverer ploy than what I'd already written; rewriting to take that factor into account; reworking my outline for the ripple effects.
  • Researching an unrelated story (likely to be a novelette) that also demands to be born.
  • Wrestling inconclusively with details of that story, all requiring resolution before I can commit Word One to actual text.
  • Preparing a guest post for another blog, supporting a colleague. 
  • Promoting my last novel out the door.
  • Chasing an intermittent computer problem(s). It's not easy to write a novel when the mouse driver spontaneously uninstalls, and when the mouse cursor randomly vanishes.
  • Chasing a completely different intermittent problem on my wife's computer.
  • Fretting about the spate of attacks (from Ukraine and France, mostly) upon my authorial website. If eyeballs and the firewall app can be believed, the site remains secure. (I hafta wonder: Why me?)
  •  Doing administrivia for that website and an offsite/cloud backup service.
  • Surfing altogether too much, in horror, for the latest news from the campaign trail. (I won't as much as hint at any intention, preference, or leaning. My fiction and blog are wholly apolitical.) I just can't look away ...
  • Surfing, somewhat more productively, to stay current with science news.
  • Staring at a night sky in which, due to overcast conditions, last night's spectacular, viewable all up and down the East Coast, Antares launch turned out not to be visible.
  • Other diversions, digressions, distractions, and detours that doubtless, at this moment, slip my mind.
  • And most recently ... knocking out this post.
It's time to see if I can knock out a few pages for the new novel this afternoon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Strange doings, from atoms to galaxies to homicidal grandchildren

Still playing catch-up here after last weekend's Capclave. So: for this week's post, I'm sharing -- with the most minimal of introduction -- a potpourri of physical-sciences news that I expect will appeal to regular SF and Nonsense visitors. (And if none of these links/headlines grabs you, well, I'll just have to live with that.)

From Phys.org, about the quantum-mechanical underpinnings of superconductivity: For first time, researchers see individual atoms keep away from each other or bunch up as pairs.

Again from Phys.org, about the ever-growing enigma that is Tabby's Star: Our galaxy's most-mysterious star is even stranger than astronomers thought.

From physicsworld.com, about whether inferred-but-undetected dark matter or a Modification Of Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) best explains observed gravitational anomalies, such as the rotation of galaxies: Correlation between galaxy rotation and visible matter puzzles astronomers.

Again, from physicsworld.com, about the finale to a very successful journey to a comet: Rosetta mission ends with comet crash.

And finally, from Cosmos.com, about paradoxes and time-travel theory: Computer solves a major time travel problem.

Now tell me something in that compilation didn't pique your interest ;-)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Madala bosons. Cosmic space blobs. And sundry objects between

For today's post, let's visit a few thought- (and wow-) inducing news items of physics/astrophysics import ...

We'll begin at the (really) small end of the scale, pondering, from Cosmos, "Glimpses of the Madala boson: have we detected the dark Higgs?"

How the Higgs was found
And what, you may wonder, is a Madala boson? If it exists (and that's a [metaphorically] big if), the Madala boson would be the dark-matter counterpart to the property-of-mass-causing (in normal matter) Higgs boson first discovered in 2012. (As for madala itself, that's "a word of Zulu origin meaning 'old man', or 'old one.'") If this doesn't seem esoteric enough, consider that the discovery of a dark boson still wouldn't reveal what dark matter itself is, only why it has the property of mass.

But are we really, truly, sure such a thing exists as dark matter? To date, we can only infer its (presumed) existence by the gravitational effects of its (presumed) unseen mass. Everywhere physicists have searched for dark matter, they have come up with ... nada. A recent essay in Scientific American challenges, "Physics Confronts Its Heart of Darkness" Cracks are showing in the dominant explanation for dark matter. Is there anything more plausible to replace it?" Thought-provoking, too be sure.

Gotten strange enough yet for you? If not, there's more ...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Psst! Dark Secret is book of the month (and for this month, a steal!)

Phoenix Pick is promoting my newly published novel, Dark Secret, as its October book of the month. BOTM status means that, in ebook formats, you can name your price. Even zero.

They're also offering a deeply discounted bundle of three of my novels: Dark Secret (the end of the world, and what comes next), Small Miracles (medical nanotech), and Fools' Experiments (AI and artificial life).

(For more about on any book, click the thumbnail cover at right.)

You'll want to check this out while the promotion lasts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My 2016 Capclave schedule


The fine folks of WSFA (trying saying that quickly five times) have published the programming schedule for this year's Capclave: "Where reading is not extinct." The 2016 version of this annual DC-area regional con runs from mid-afternoon Friday October 7 into Sunday afternoon October 9.

Capclave mascot
I'll be attending only Saturday, October 8th -- but pretty much all that day. Here's my (hectic!) schedule for Saturday:

11:00 - 11:55 am: Alternate & Secret History 
-- Salon A
Panelists: Neil Clarke, Walter H. Hunt, Edward M. Lerner, James Morrow, Tim Powers.

Although alternate and secret history seem related, they are quite different. What are the differences? How do you tell them apart? What factors must you keep in mind when writing in either area? 

12:30 - 12:55 pm: Reading -- from my hot-off-the-presses (published last month) novel, Dark Secret.
-- Seneca Room

1:00 pm: Author table (For autographs, or just to chat)
-- Hallway
(Sorry, that's as specific a location as we're given -- but I know the venue, and finding me won't be too taxing ;-)  )

2:00 - 2:55 pm: Writing Gadgets Well
-- Rockville/Potomac Room(s)
Panelists: Barbara Krasnoff, Edward M. Lerner, Lawrence M. Schoen, Darcy Wold

How do you work technology into your story without boring the reader? You want to make your "inventions" believable, but how much is too much?

Saturday 5:00 - 5:55 pm: Ask the Authors
-- Salon A
Panelists: Sarah Beth Durst, Edward M. Lerner, Sarah Pinsker, Tim Powers, Bud Sparhawk

Panelists answer whatever questions the audience has on writing, editing, character development, agents, and others. Includes non-writer-parts-of-being-a-writer, such as being your own boss, setting schedules, and many more. 

Mass autographing session 7:30 - 8:25 p.m. 
-- Salon A

And those scattered times during which I've not been scheduled? I'll still be around!

You'll find much more about the con, including bios of all the panelists, on the main Capclave website

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Star- (and Moon-) Struck

Today, a few astronomy topics of note ...

To begin, it's been discovered that the Sun has a slew of unobtrusive, heretofore unsuspected neighbors: "Astronomers Find 165 Brown Dwarfs in Solar Neighborhood." How near? All within 160 light-years.

(For those not familiar with the term, a brown dwarf is a not-quite star. It's a gas ball far larger even than Jupiter, and yet not quite massive enough to fuse ordinary hydrogen into helium. Some brown dwarfs, it is believed, are sufficiently massive to trigger fusion using deuterium -- of which there isn't much, so any such fusion soon dies out. Brown dwarfs can be hot, even sans fusion, from the gravitational collapse of so much mass.)

Boom!
Remote on the size spectrum from brown dwarfs are stars so massive -- ten times or more the Sun's mass -- that as one (at life's end) runs out of fusion fuel its collapse ends in a supernova. Talk about going out with a bang ;-)

As one more bit of evidence as to the prevalence of supernova events, consider the traces they've left behind in Earth's biological record: "Ancient bacteria store signs of supernova smattering." Some key snippets from that article:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Things aren't always what they seem

I know, I know ... things usually are what they seem, else the universe would be in chaos. "Things are often what they seem" is among the eponymous rules of my 2003 short story, "By the Rules." But accepting first reports of, well, anything at face value is risky. A few cases in point ...

Suppose the Zika virus endangered "only" pregnant women and the unborn, as we were, for a long while, assured. That would be horrible enough. The situation may be worse than that. Per a more recent study, "Zika infection may affect adult brain cells, suggesting risk may not be limited to pregnant women."

Does it (can it) work?
Perhaps because it feels good to see stuffy adherents of dusty facts and institutions proven wrong, there's a cottage industry of uncritical reporting as to the supposed reactionless (read: contrary to long-established laws of physics) "em drive." Among recent plaudits doled out to the em drive is that an article on the subject -- as yet, unseen -- has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal. Sorry, that's not enough to write off Newton's laws of motion. See "NASA's Impossible Space Engine, The EMdrive, Passes Peer Review (But That Doesn't Mean It Works)."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dark Secret ... disclosed :-)

I'm delighted to announce the publication of Dark Secret. This is my latest novel (number fourteen, if anyone is counting)and an epic adventure with the very survival of humanity at stake.
When the experimental ship Clermont is urgently recalled from a long-range test flight, neither Dana McElwain nor Blake Westford, its captain and crew, imagines that they are about to embark on a much more urgent voyageor that this new mission will determine the fate of the human race.

A gamma-ray burst
the deadly beam of radiation spawned seven thousand years earlier in the death throes of doomed neutron starsis about to wipe the Solar System clean of all life. Only the Clermont’s prototype long-range drive might carry anyone, and any of humanity’s legacy, to safety before that extinction.

And then what? Where beyond the Solar System
is safe? What if the price of survival is to become less ... human?
Certainly I'm pleased with the early feedback:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The final frontier

Stamp out mediocrity ;-)
2016 being the 50th anniversary year for Star Trek, you can guess what inspired today's subject line. But this post is about the actual frontier, about astronomy news, not fiction.

Based upon data collected by the Dawn space probe, NASA scientists have a new understanding of the dwarf planet, aka the largest asteroid, Ceres: "Ceres interior structure gives hints of early life." (That's "life" as in active geological processes, not as in protoplasm wiggling about.) Ceres is a slushy world, not rocky like Vesta, Dawn's previous observational target. Which makes all the more intriguing that "NASA just found an ice volcano on Ceres that's half the size of Everest."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Con-fusion / Writing updates

Last updated November 22, 2016

A few days ago, after taking a circuitous but scenic route, I finally made it home from MidAmeriCon II (aka Worldcon 2016) in Kansas City, Missouri. I had a great time there visiting with friends old and new. I took part in four panels and attended others, gave a reading, and held an autograph session. I had wonderful conversations around the convention center, and in the dealers room, the green room, the SFWA suite, the hotel lobby, and at many a meal.

Getting goonie at the con
I'm exhausted.

Happily, today I have an easy topic about which to post: writing news.

The short story "Paradise Regained," whose sale to Analog I had previously announced, is now tentatively scheduled for the January/February 2017 issue.

Analog has since accepted, but not yet scheduled, another story, the flash-fiction piece "The Pilgrimage." (For you Analog aficionados, that'll likely be a Probability Zero feature.)

And currently running in Analog, in the September and October issues, is the two-part "Science Behind the Fiction" article about AI, "A Mind of Its Own."

As for life beyond Analog ...

Monday, August 22, 2016

Eight years! Yowza!

The first post here at SF and Nonsense appeared on August 25, 2008. That's basically eight years -- and almost five hundred posts -- ago. That first post was "So why am I here?" Looking back -- and somewhat to my surprise -- I've pretty much stuck with my topic.

Today, rather than post anything new, I invite you to explore some of (the quite a lot of) what's already here.
  • Check out the most popular posts (scroll way to the bottom for those).
  • Find a topic of interest within the tag cloud (right-hand side near the bottom), and zoom in on related posts. 
  • See what I've had to say about my books (find them in the tag cloud, or click on any of the right-hand thumbnails).
  • Look in the archives (right-hand column past the book thumbnails).
If you find something that (for good or ill) speaks to you? Comment away ;-)

In any event, have fun! I know I did.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A physics extravaganza

For today's post: exciting goings-on from the wide world of physics. We'll begin with "Latest search for dark matter draws a blank."

If only the hunt were this simple
Dark matter, you'll recall, is hypothesized stuff that (a) exhibits its presence through its gravitational effects on familiar/normal matter, for example on the rotational characteristics of galaxies and (b) doesn't interact with electromagnetic radiation, of which ordinary light is an example (hence the "dark" part of the name). Dark matter is most often expected to take the form of (many) tiny particles of a type(s) yet to be observed.

Alas, after several searches, no such particle(s) has been discovered. The experiments -- including the latest, per the above link -- do not disprove that such particles exist, but they do narrow down the mass range such particles might inhabit. Likewise interesting on this topic, "Why dark matter still proves difficult to detect."

Speaking of particles not found, a much ballyhooed "bump" in the data at the Large Hadron Collider -- possible harbinger of some "new" physics beyond the Standard Model -- has been discounted as mere statistical fluke. See "New particle hopes fade as LHC data 'bump' disappears." It pays to be cautious about exciting or provocative results. (A study reporting "We didn't find anything new," on the other hand, is apt to be true.)

Likewise not found: another dark-matter particle candidate, so-called sterile neutrinos that interact only with gravity. See "Search for fourth type of neutrino turns up none." The Standard Model continues to hang in there ...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Dark Secret inches closer ...

Things are cooking!

Learning from experience I won't hazard a specific date, but I'm confident Dark Secret will be released soon. Till then, here -- and much classier than my PULP-O-MIZER design -- is the publisher's cover.


More news as it happens :-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Schrödinger's frog goes ...

qubit ... qubit.

(Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week.)

ANYway, I'm newly home from attending the Schrödinger Sessions, an intensive two-and-a-half-day program on quantum mechanics and its applications/implications aimed specifically at SF authors. For the 2016 version of the program, about twenty authors participated.

Probability distributions of an electron in an atom
The Schrödinger Sessions is orchestrated by the Joint Quantum Institute (joint referring to a partnership between the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology), with support from the American Physical Society. That's an impressive pedigree, I think you'll agree.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Wazzup in SF

Exciting news from the wide world(s) of SF ...

The Museum of Science Fiction recently staged a successful Escape Velocity event, featuring folks from NASA, academia, Hollywood, and -- not exclusive of the foregoing -- many fans. Check out "Scenes from Escape Velocity 2016."


A few evenings ago, I rewatched the James Cameron flick Aliens (1986). Great movie! I also loved the original, Ridley Scott franchise starter: Alien (1979). As it happens, Aliens just had its 30th anniversary, a milestone widely covered in the entertainment media. My favorite article on the subject is " 'Aliens' turns 30: Why It's the Best Sci-Fi Sequel Ever."

IMO, the subsequent sequels, Aliens 3 (David Fincher, 1992) and Alien: Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997), weren't nearly as good as Aliens. I'm looking forward -- amid experience-born trepidation -- to the 2017 release of Alien: Covenant. Ridley Scott is in the director's chair again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

That does not compute (or does it?)

A brief round-up culled from recent computer-centric items ...

Tesla Model S
Of late, self-driving vehicles are all over the net (not yet, so much, actual roads). Even before a fatal crash in a Tesla car using the spectacularly misnamed "Autopilot" feature (it's more like advanced cruise control), "U.S. consumers buck investors' rush to self-driving cars." A key quote:

The latest University of Michigan survey found 46 percent of respondents preferred no self-driving, followed by partial self-driving (39 percent) and complete self-driving (15 percent).

Nearly 95 percent of respondents said they wanted to have a steering wheel plus gas and brake pedals so they could take control of a self-driving vehicle when desired, the study found.

The Google approach
For a look at the broader implications of that accident, consider, "Tesla Autopilot Crash Exposes Industry Divide." And what is that divide? On the one hand are those, like Tesla, favoring an incremental approach to developing and deploying features that will ultimately aggregate to self-driving capability. On the other side are those, like Google, favoring a direct jump to fully autonomous vehicles.

Many concepts for fully autonomous vehicles anticipate intervehicular and vehicle/roadway communications and coordination. Such concepts immediately bring to mind (or should, anyway), the need for robust anti-malware provisions. And so, while not a vehicle-specific article, this is nonetheless cautionary: "Symantec – the popular computer protector – may actually help hackers, feds warn." (Tooting my own horn [heh] for a moment, malware commandeering a computerized car was a minor but critical plot point in my first/1991 novel, Probe.)

And in yet more computer-related items ...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Recursive ... foiled again!

Two months back, in "Committing SF with my peeps," I announced the forthcoming anthology: Science Fiction by Scientists. Beyond those bare facts and my participation therein -- and my own (dare I say) amusing mock cover -- there was little I could say. 

(Well, I could say my contribution is called "Turing de Force." You're welcome to speculate about that story's underpinning science.)

Today, I'm happy to have an update. Amazon now shows the anthology as scheduled for release on November 7. That's getting close :-) As I type, Amazon remains light on information, but that will doubtless change as release day approaches. The product page already reveals this much:

This anthology contains fourteen intriguing short stories by active research scientists and other writers trained in science. 

Science is at the heart of real science fiction, which is more than just westerns with ray guns or fantasy with spaceships. The people who do science and love science best are scientists. Scientists like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Fred Hoyle wrote some of the legendary tales of golden age science fiction.  Today there is a new generation of scientists writing science fiction informed with the expertise of their fields, from astrophysics to computer science, biochemistry to rocket science, quantum physics to genetics, speculating about what is possible in our universe. Here lies the sense of wonder only science can deliver. All the stories in this volume are supplemented by afterwords commenting on the science underlying each story.

Meanwhile, courtesy of friend, astronomer, author, and editor Michael Brotherton, I can preview the official cover. Woohoo!

Mike, it turns out, isn't the first editor to come up with this idea. Way back in 1962, legendary non-scientist anthologist Groff Conklin put together a similar antho (long out of print, but here's a Goodreads link): Great Science Fiction by Scientists. That book had a tremendous cast of scientist/author contributors, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Willy Ley, Leo Silzard, and Norbert Weiner. In a word: wow.

Here's hoping that, a few decades hence, Mike's collection elicits the same reaction. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Food for thought, or empty mental calories?

In the quest for eyeballs -- aka, monetizing one's website -- journalistic integrity often suffers. Too often, even legitimate/serious reports online have click-bait titles.

Consider the following recent articles. Which of these quoted headlines are fair? Which are inappropriately sensationalized? (Inquiring minds, as they say, want to know.)

From The Washington Post, we have "This scientist nearly went to jail for making up data." The issue: how egregious and/or self-serving can the fudging of grant applications and research data be before such behavior becomes garden-variety fraud? 

Data, data everywhere (but how much can we trust?)

Next, Yahoo News offers us "Wireless mice leave billions at risk of computer hack: cyber security firm." The cited study claims an ability to inexpensively hack into unencrypted mouse/computer links (some mice use encrypted links) from a distance of up to 180 meters.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Savoring the moment

Twenty-five years ago, on a shelf in a B. Dalton Bookseller -- remember those? -- I first happened upon copies of Probe for sale. This technothriller was both my first novel and my first pro sale. (My second sale, a short story, ended up being my first pro appearance, having run a few months earlier in Analog.) This sighting came a few days ahead of the book's official publication date of July 1, 1991.

You always remember the first time
Twenty-five years ... a quarter century ... yowza. That's the silver anniversary. I don't suppose Warner Book's artist had this day in mind when incorporating that right-hand silver stripe into the rather abstract cover design.

(Aside to those of you who have read Probe ... who among you finds any resemblance between the cover nearby and the tale told within?)

No way could I have guessed where writing -- in those days, merely a hobby -- would lead: the books and shorter works, both fiction and non-, I would go on to write. The five-novel collaboration with future colleague Larry Niven. The gamut of plots, themes, eras, and science & technologies that my writing would lead me to explore. The friendships I would forge with authors, editors, and agents around the country -- and sometimes farther afield. So many wonderful interactions with readers: at cons and book signings, through email and social media. The cons, tech venues, speaking and teaching gigs, and even, now and again, a nomination or award. This blog. A second career and whole new lifestyle.

Twenty-five years later
But back to Probe ... I like to believe it's held up pretty well over the years. Sure, the novel included what has become the occasional anachronism -- but it also anticipated the commercial mining of asteroids, computerized cars, a networked world, and plenty more au courant ideas. If you're curious, check out this post (Alien probe (no, not that kind)) from when Probe was reissued a bit over five years back.

Am I savoring the moment? Absolutely! But that's insufficient, methinks. I shall savor the day :-)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Of matters strange and (some of them, anyway) wondrous

It's the things you don't anticipate that get you -- as the folks at the LHC learned yet again. See "Weasel Apparently Shuts Down World's Most Powerful Particle Collider." You can consider this an instance of not being dis-CERN-ing. (The weasel couldn't have been too happy about it either.)

Optical meta-material
It's long been a basic tenet of optics that the resolution limit of a lens or mirror stems from its size relative to the wavelength of incident light. Well, that tenet arose in an era before meta-materials. See "Meta-lens works in the visible spectrum, sees smaller than a wavelength of light." Among other implications, the lenses in future smart phones won't need to be as bulky as today. And, those new lenses may be flat. All in all, cool stuff.

But wait! There's more!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A dark turn to events = a turn to Dark events

Several weeks back, I was pleased to announce (Dark Secret ... now less of a dark secret) June 29 as the publication date for my next novel. For unimportant reasons, the pub date for Dark Secret has slipped to the right. Best guess, late summer rather than early.

Dark Secret -- the retro look
Until the publishing process offers up a cover, I've turned to Pulp-O-Mizer and had a bit of fun creating my own concept :-)

More news as it happens.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A change of pace

Frequent visitors will have noticed that science/tech posts here tend toward physics, astronomy, space exploration, and network (in)security. Those are certainly among my interests -- but they're not my only interests. Not by a long shot. Today, I'll get into a few of the exceptions ...

Let's start with self-driving cars (not to deny that before this tech is widely deployed, computer security must be a huge consideration). As the WaPo would have it, "The future of driverless cars isn’t going to look like you think." The analytical factor they've added is market segmentation, and with it how varying consumer classes and preferences will impact the roll-out (heh) of such vehicles. However imprecise and immature, economics is a science ....

Speaking of consumer items, WaPo went to the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 and considered, "Are we in an innovation lull?" Their take:

In some ways, the answer is yes. For years, smartphones, televisions, tablets, laptops and desktops have made up a huge part of the market and driven innovation. But now these segments are looking at slower growth curves -- or shrinking markets in some cases -- as consumers aren't as eager to spend money on new gadgets.

Meanwhile, emerging technologies -- the drones, 3D printers and smart-home devices of the world -- now seem a bit too old to be called "the next big thing."

Basically the tech industry seems to be in an awkward period now.

But if this finding disappointed you, don't exclusively blame the tech companies. The case can be made that consumers are experiencing something of an enthusiasm gap re new toys.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

As for the silence

I typically post on Monday or, most often, Tuesday. Many of you long ago spotted the pattern (the weekly visit spikes within Blogger stats are pronounced). Well, it's now Thursday evening, and this week -- till this moment -- I have yet to post. This quick note is for any of you wondering why.

Fish gotta swim / authors gotta write
There was Memorial Day weekend. And Life has intruded, from a leaky sprinkler system to a balky doorknob to, well, matters perhaps (if you can imagine it) less interesting. Uninteresting and deferrable are, most definitely, different concepts. And then there was the novelette that insisted upon my attention -- to all hours.

Happily, some of Life's administrivia has begun (by paying attention thereto) to sort itself out. And -- of far more relevance to visitors here -- as of earlier this evening, I finished a first draft of that novelette. In a word: Yay! In a few: there's a fighting chance I'll sleep better tonight.

Next week, I hope to do better blog-wise :-)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Genre-ally speaking


For years, one of my favorite genre news-and-reviews sites has been SF Signal. The latest news posted there is quite sad: they are ceasing operations (All Good Things…). To operate and sustain even a small blog -- and theirs is no small blog! -- is a commitment, so I understand their decision. I wish the principals, Messrs. DeNardo and Franz, well in their future endeavors. Gentlemen: you did our community a great service over the years.

So long, and thanks for all the fish ...

But as an old adage goes, when a door closes, a window opens. Must be an air-pressure thing ;-)

ANYway, on the upbeat side, it's great to see progress by the Museum of Science Fiction on their Escape Velocity project. (From the MOSF website: "Escape Velocity is a micro futuristic world’s fair to promote STEAM education within the context of science fiction using the fun of comic cons and fascination of science and engineering festivals. Escape Velocity seeks to make a measurable positive impact to boost informal learning on the more conceptually challenging academic areas.") Escape Velocity will be held July 1-3 at the Gaylord Resort in National Harbor (Maryland, just outside DC.) For the latest on the museum in general, and on Escape Velocity in particular, see MOSF's latest newsletter.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Committing SF with my peeps

I'm pleased to announce that I'll be participating in the upcoming anthology, Science Fiction By Scientists. The editor is astronomer, SF author, Launchpad impresario, and my good friend Mike Brotherton.

My contribution is the AI story "Turing de Force," which draws upon my background in computer science. Each story in the antho, mine included, comes with a related essay about the science behind the fiction.

Until Mike can preview a cover, here (courtesy of Pulp-O-Mizer) is my concept:


So far, the book has no firm publication date -- but sometime before year's end seems likely. Updates as I know more ... 

July 12, 2016 update: Recursive ... foiled again! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Looking WAY up

The most recent post here (Looking up) reviewed some astronomy news within the Solar System. I deferred until this post a look at astronomy news from farther -- often much farther -- afield.

When the Large Hadron Collider was first about to be turned on, some people fretted (needlessly, as I pointed out in "LHC and FUD") that its operation might produce black holes, or stranglets, or whatever, to devour the Earth. The gist of my counterargument (and that of others) was that there exist cosmic rays with higher energy than anything the LHC can produce. (The LHC collides particles with combined energies of a paltry few trillion electron volts, tera-eV. Cosmic rays sometimes have energies up to a quadrillion electron volts, peta-eV.) If billions of years of cosmic rays smacking into Earth's atmosphere hasn't done in the planet, nothing the LHC can do is going to hurt us.

Cosmic rays and cascading showers
While it's long been known that very-high-energy cosmic rays exist, what scientists haven't known is: how? What could accelerate a particle to such enormous energies? But we're now a little closer to understanding ...

From the recent determination of the source of these ultra-high-powered charged particles -- the galactic core -- it seems likely that the super-massive black hole in that vicinity is involved. Without yet knowing the exact mechanism of cosmic-ray acceleration, it makes intuitive sense that something as powerful as a super-massive black hole is involved. See "Astronomers find source of most powerful cosmic rays."

Meanwhile, at the galactic outskirts ...

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Looking up

Recent posts here have focused upon my own writing (including one post about this blog itself). It's time to look up from my keyboard! Way up. Hence this news-in-astronomy post ...

 You know how "when lightning strikes" is a metaphor for the highly unlikely? It turns out that the odds aren't that long. According to National Geographic:

The odds of becoming a lightning victim in the U.S. in any one year is 1 in 700,000. The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000.

Lightning strikes aren't a lottery, of course. During thunderstorms you can influence the odds by (for example) standing next to -- or better, not -- tall conductive objects.

Heads up!
Meteorite strikes are something else. You can't avoid them (though maybe someone ought to be working on that) and they are far less likely than lightning strikes. Do meteorite deaths even happen (to anyone but dinosaurs)? Maybe. National Geographic reports your risk of being killed by a space rock at 1 in 75,000 or, in another study 1 in 700,000. See "Scientists investigate suspected meteorite death in southern India."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Dark Secret ... now less of a dark secret


"Gripping. Impossible to put down."
-- Jack McDevitt, Nebula Award-winning author

    of The Devil's Eye (on Dark Secret)

In January I was happy to report that Arc Manor, through their Phoenix Pick imprint, had picked up my novel Dark Secret. (The Analog readers among you may remember that epic interstellar adventure in its 2013 serialized appearance.)

A dark super-Earth ... but is it Dark?
Today's update: the novel has been scheduled for release. Soon, even. Set your calendars for June 29th (and your phasers on stun?).

June 14, 2016 update: the release date has slipped. See A dark turn to events = a turn to Dark events . The short version: now predicting release by late summer.)

Before then, I hope, we'll get a preview of the cover.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Keeping the pipeline filled

I'm pleased to report two upcoming publications.

Cogito ergo sum
First, in my ongoing "The Science Behind the Fiction" essay series in Analog about SF tropes: a two-issue look at artificial intelligence. That's "A Mind of Its Own." Part I, tentatively scheduled for the September issue (which in publisher-speak, means released in July) covers all the basics of AI up to and including human-level intelligence. Part II, to run one month later, explores the opportunities and dangers inherent in a cascade of ever-more intelligent AIs possibly culminating in a Singularity. As always in the SBtF series, I illustrate the concepts with a plethora of examples from written and video SF.

(And if you've missed it, Analog is currently running -- that is, in the May and June issues -- another SBtF two-parter. This one is "Here We Go Loopedy Loop: A Brief History of Time Travel.")

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Post haste

Time flies! It's five years to the day since I first compiled a list/overview of what were then the most visited posts here at SF and Nonsense. To my surprise, Postscript (or is that post post?) was itself instantly popular. It remains third on the all-time list.

Let the annual tradition continue.

Some rough posts :-)
Here's another year's all-time top-ten list, which I've assembled from data captured a few days ago. The format is: title/link; posting date; last year's rank in parens (if it was in the top ten); and a few words about the post content.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Can't make this stuff up

In any event, I shouldn't (and didn't) make this stuff up. Why? Because the "stuff" at issue is a guest editorial and a science article.

I contributed both of these nonfiction pieces to Analog's current/May issue. The editorial is "The Dread Question" and the article is Part I of "Here We Go Loopedy Loop: A Brief History of Time Travel. ("Loopedy Loop" will conclude in the June issue.)

Over the years, I've had the occasional Analog two-fer -- including, as it happens, the immediately preceding issue (as I posted in "Double Jeopardy") -- but till now at least one such overlapping appearance was a work of fiction.

None of which is to imply that I've given up on fiction. I learned a few days ago that my short story "Paradise Regained" has been accepted into the zine's queue.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tiny slices of life

My science-centric posts tend toward astronomy and physics, but those aren't my only interests. Today we'll look at some exciting news from biology. Call it a walk on the wild side.

In round numbers, Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Life has existed on Earth for at least 3.5 billion years. But complex multi-cellular life -- complex as in sponges and jellyfish, not people -- goes back a mere 0.6 billion years or so. Why did complex life finally appear? Perhaps the answer is in this "Startling new finding: 600 million years ago, a biological mishap changed everything." A key quote:

Incredibly, in the world of evolutionary biology, all it took was one tiny tweak, one gene, and complex life as we know it was born.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Freebie Tuesday

Updated March 27, 2016

 The promo is over -- but the ebook remains a bargain at (at Amazon for a mere $2.99). 

Free ebook -- today only! -- of A Stranger in Paradise, collecting five of my short stories and novelettes.

Check it out at Wildside Press freebies (for mobi/Kindle, ePub/Nook, and pdf formats). But this promotion is only today. Why are you still here ;-)   ?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hacked off: a manifesto

I haven't blogged about computer (in)security for awhile -- but not for any lack of material. Certainly the confrontation between the FBI and Apple about unlocking the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters has been all over the news. And because that story is all over, there's little point in me adding my two cents worth. I'll wait to comment at least until there's a court decision on the matter to comment upon.

If only it were this simple ...
I take it back. I will comment upfront on one aspect of the situation. Apple is to be commended for building a product that's actually secure -- a praiseworthy technical and managerial achievement no matter which side of the legal controversy you happen to be on. Keep reading to get an inkling how rare such achievement is.

Remember how (apparently) the US and Israel once impeded the Iranian uranium-enrichment program with the Stuxnet worm? Remember how the attack on the Iranian centrifuges was deemed so sophisticated that technologically advanced nation-states had to be involved? This next item may not count as progress, but it is news: "An Easy Way for Hackers to Remotely Burn Industrial Motors." To wit:

... Now a researcher has found an easy way for low-skilled hackers to cause physical damage remotely with a single action—and some of the devices his hack targets are readily accessible over the Internet.

and also:

... At least four makers of variable-frequency drives all have the same vulnerability: they have both read and write capability and don’t require authentication to prevent unauthorized parties from easily writing to the devices to re-set the speed of a motor. What’s more, the variable drives announce the top speed at which motors connected to them should safely operate, allowing hackers to determine the necessary frequency to send the device into a danger zone.

 Not good design. Flat out, not good.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cosmic!

Last year I participated in a funding-raising event for the Arlington (Virginia) Planetarium (see the latter part of Of philosophy and planetaria). I had a great time, and am delighted to report the planetarium has a repeat event (with a different topic) this year, and that I'm again able to take part.

So: Sunday, March 20, I'll be one of the panelists at "Predicting the Future: How Well Does Speculative Fiction Anticipate Future Technology?" (Afterward, authors will be available briefly to sign and sell books.) See the event poster below.


For those of you with a bit more free time, the planetarium has a a whole bunch of stuff to do this coming weekend:


If you're in the DC area, I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Lies, all lies!

 Can nothing be trusted anymore? "Astronaut Ice Cream was never eaten by astronauts in space."

About as creamy as it looks :-(
(Mind you, it's vile stuff: like chemically flavored dust that's been compacted by some tremendous force. No one not seriously taste-impaired would voluntarily eat this stuff more than once. But it's the principle of the thing.)