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.