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?).

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.