Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Where do you get your (crazy) ideas?

(A post especially for aspiring spec-fic writers.)

"Where do you get your (crazy) ideas?" It's the question that authors -- especially SF authors -- all dread. There is simply no short but useful answer. Our first course of action is to (try to) deflect the questioner with humor.

In 2011, I took a look at the topic in Inspiration. But after a serendipitous sighting (image nearby), the time seemed ripe for a revisit ...

This isn't my photo -- I spotted this road sign (on Virginia Route 28, just north of Dulles airport) while zipping past at about shh!/no-comment mph. But I felt confident that the web would provide. And sure enough ...

(An SF story practically writes itself.)

I probably don't want to know how SPNW85 did take this photo. Regardless, I'm glad s/he did. What SF author wouldn't?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cyber grief

!@%$##! Heartbleed bug! If -- somehow -- that term doesn't ring a bell, see "How to Protect Yourself From the Heartbleed Bug." Right now. Really, I'm not kidding. But do come back. 

(For a more technical look at the problem, see The Heartbleed Bug.)

Sigh ...
The Heartbleed-centric hit to productivity -- certainly to mine -- is staggering. On how many websites does each of us have an account that suddenly needs a new password? While you tally those up, don't forget every long dormant etail account in which you ever paid with a credit card, or with which you may have used a password you're still using elsewhere. Sigh.

It's the kind of thing that makes one wonder about using a virtual currency -- if the recent travails of bitcoin haven't already convinced you.

Unfamiliar with virtual currencies like bitcoin? Very briefly, a virtual currency is a digital asset class (a) created, maintained, exchanged, and stored by private parties outside the normal banking system (b) independent of government monetary authorities. 

A unit of virtual currency can be exchanged for conventional currency. Virtual currency can also be used directly (at only a few businesses, so far) to acquire goods and services. The most popular virtual currency is bitcoin, units of which are created by solving math problems. Virtual currencies exist only on computers, and so are subject to a variety of security risks -- as in, "Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies compromised by Pony botnet."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Going postal. Or: The stats, stat.

About three years ago 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.

And so, an annual tradition was born. 

Serious posts :-)
From a stats snapshot I captured a few days ago (thanks, Blogger!), here's the complete all-time top-ten list.

Of moons, clouds, and the state of the art(s), a general science-and-tech news post from August 2013, shot straight to the top of the list. I found these items interesting -- but no more so than news I've highlighted in many other posts. I offer no theories why this specific post is so popular.

(If any readers care to offer an opinion, that'd be keen.)

Number two, slipped from the lead position last year, is Betrayer of Worlds, the October 2010 announcement of a novel's original release. This novel being fourth in a five-part series, the persistent popularity of its post is also something of a puzzler.

Number three, as already noted, is Postscript (or is that post post?), the original posting stats.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Wild and crazy (not always in a good way) stuff

It will surprise no one who often stops by this blog that I follow science news -- but that doesn't mean I get excited about every supposed finding. Perhaps that's because some reported results are made up. See, from Scientific American, "Publishers Withdraw More than 120 Gibberish Science and Engineering Papers." Because said papers were shown to be computer-generated nonsense!

Bigger than worlds
It should likewise be no surprise that I follow reports about hacking -- but this headline (from the IEEE) blew me away: "Hacking the Van Allen Belts: Could we save satellites and astronauts by wiping out the Van Allen belts?" I'd be loath to tinker with a system as little understood as interactions between Earth and its nearby space, but the possibility is fascinating. And I can see the case for restoring the Belts to their natural state before above-ground nuclear testing.

Because there are a lot of satellites. Don't take my word for it when you can see "Every single satellite orbiting Earth, in a single image."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A mission of (anti-)gravity

More than sixty years after its first publication, Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement (the pen name of Henry Clement Stubbs) remains one of SF's premier examples of world-building. Clement, a chemist, gave much thought to the physics, chemistry, climates, and biology of the fictional world Mesklin.

And a wondrous place Mesklin is, too. For valid -- if unusual -- reasons, its surface gravity varies from about three times Earth normal at the equator to hundreds of times Earth normal at the poles.

A classic
Mission of Gravity is also a great adventure yarn.

Last year's movie Gravity was very popular, widely praised, received ten Oscar nominations and just recently was awarded seven Oscar wins. It is, without doubt, an exciting tale. The cinematics are stunning. The crafting was meticulous.

The science, alas, is atrocious. You needn't take my word for it, since Entertainment Weekly has it covered. See, " 'Gravity': Panel of astro-experts on the science behind the film." I weep for the science adviser (whom, I suspect, is relieved to have gone unmentioned on the screen credits).
The ISS: it's BIG