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


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.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Greetings, Known Space fans!

Tor Books has just (re-)released, as a two-novel combination, Larry Niven's Ringworld's Children and (by the both of us) Fleet of Worlds. That's quite the volume!

(I use "volume" loosely -- the combo is available as an ebook, too, of course. We're not cavemen.)

A two-fer
Click for the two-fer
Ringworld's Children is the last of four Niven-only Ringworld novels. Fleet of Worlds, which opens 200 years before Ringworld, begins our acclaimed companion series -- while revealing more about the famed Puppeteers than the four Ringworld novels combined. And about Nessus, too :-)

"Action and clever world building should captivate newcomers to Ringworld, while returners will appreciate picking up loose ends from previous Ringworld volumes."
-- Booklist (on Ringworld's Children)

" ... Needs recommending within the science fiction community about as much as a new Harry Potter novel does – well, anywhere."
-- Locus Magazine (on Fleet of Worlds)

New to Known Space? Just been away for awhile? Here's a great opportunity to (re)visit the grandest future history of them all. As the copy writer proclaimed on the cover: "Two masterpieces of science fiction. One price."