Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I've been book bombed! (And that's a good thing)

Book bombing is, in a nutshell, a coordinated -- hopefully to go viral -- promotional blitz. See BOOK BOMB! Short Stories from the Sad Puppies Slate! Hat tip to the mad bombers, fellow authors Larry Correia and Brad Torgerson. book-bombed work is the time-travel novella "A Time Foreclosed." It comes bundled with a bonus short-short, "Grandpa?", basis of the hilarious, award-winning, short movie "The Grandfather Paradox." Here's the Kindle link for "A Time Foreclosed."

Funny thing ... this all came about because of another of my stories. "Championship B'tok," a 2014 novelette in Analog, ended up on this year's Sad Puppy slate for a Hugo Award. (Sad Puppies is a whole 'nother funny story.) "Championship B'tok" is the latest installment in my popular, long-running InterstellarNet series.

(B'tok? I'm glad you asked. It's a game of strategy played by the alien Snakes. B'tok is to chess as chess is to rock-paper-scissors. You do NOT want to get into a war with the Snakes ...)

Why, then, is "A Time Foreclosed" a book-bombed work? Because it is available online while "Championship B'tok" is not, and Larry and Brad are all about (fairly enough) authors being paid. If you're interested in "Championship B'tok," shoot me an email (eml (at) and I'll email back a copy. If you're a Hugo Award voter ... well, you'll connect the dots.

And you'll find plenty more good stories to consider via that Book Bomb link.

Final word: no one will complain if you share, tweet, blog, or otherwise pass this along. That's how book bombing works :-)

March 1, 2015 update. See B'tok (and ka-Boom).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Of not-so-tiny bubbles, infinities, and other news

Catching up with items of fascinating physics ...

Click here to enlarge
"Despite extensive analysis, Fermi bubbles defy explanation." Fermi bubbles (named for the Fermi gamma-ray observatory that first spotted them) are structures 30 thousand light-years across lying both above and below our galaxy. They emit incredible amounts of gamma-ray energy. (Gamma rays are extremely high-energy photons, more energetic even than hard X-ray photons.) Why are the bubbles there? How did they come to be? There are plenty of theories, none perfectly matched to observations. 

Now tip your head (or your perspective, anyway) by ninety degrees. Presto! Segue!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reader-survey summary

Five weeks ago I posted to announce a survey of SF and Nonsense readers. Briefly, I asked about subjects that bring visitors, their familiarity with aspects of my published writing, and their specific interests among science and tech topics.

Readers have spoken
That survey recently closed, and today I'm posting about the results. (There are results. We will get to them. First, though, let's get the caveats out of the way. If caveats don't interest you, that's what the scroll wheel is for.)

How many of you responded? Well, I know how many responses were reported by the polling service. But did every response get to me? Of course I don't know what I don't know -- like which responses ended up in a bit bucket.

I do know that website usage stats are notoriously unreliable. For this blog I get page-hit data from two independent services -- and they never agree. They're seldom even close. Even different views within the same service sometimes show different/inconsistent data. Plus, I know that not all readers actually hit my blog directly: SF and Nonsense is subscribeable through RSS and email, and it's syndicated through Goodreads, my Amazon Author page, and other sites. Maybe online polling data are more dependable -- but I'm skeptical.

Hence: I don't assume I got every reply. (You took part? Of course I got your input, and thanks for that. It's that other guy whose input went astray. You feel better now, right?) I likewise can't be sure I know how many people viewed the specific post that announced the survey. If I were to take the available data at face value, about one in four who viewed the invitation clicked through and completed the actual survey. That would be a decent response rate -- how many among us take every survey sent our way? -- and I appreciate it.

Having said all that, I believe I can draw valid inferences from the relative frequencies of responses. That is, it seems unlikely that any particular type of response is more likely to have gone astray than another type. (And having said that, I recognize that those who responded self-selected. They may not be representative visitors to the blog -- but a case can be made they are among the most interested visitors.)

So what what did people have to say? Read on ...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Knowing what we don't know -- then continuing to learn

While crummy winter weather across much of the country discourages us from leaving our warm, cozy homes, here's another form of physical exercise ...

I recently read (and I recommend) Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe, by physicist Ray Jayawardhana. Neutrinos are fascinating subatomic particles. They are so tiny and elusive that experimentalist physicists did not succeed in confirming their existence until decades after Wolfgang Pauli hypothesized them. Decades more passed until the Nobel committee recognized the discoverers (those still living, anyway, life being one requirement of the Nobel) for their discovery.

Inside a neutrino detector
Neutrinos interact so very weakly with matter that were you to direct a beam of neutrinos at a light-year of solid lead, half the particles would come out the other side! Precisely because neutrinos are so (as it were) slippery, they enable astronomers to "see" otherwise unreachable things. Even through vast dust clouds. Even deep within otherwise impenetrable massive objects like the Sun. 

Physicists have long thought they understood the nuclear processes that power our star, but proof of that understanding was, at best, circumstantial. Fusion occurs only within the solar core, the action beginning at about 525 thousand kilometers beneath the surface. That makes the coming of age of neutrino astronomy terrific. From a few months back, see "Neutrinos spotted from Sun's main nuclear reaction."

Elusive though neutrinos may be, they are also ubiquitous:

Looking deep inside ...
The standard solar model predicts that 60 billion neutrinos from the Sun's main nuclear reaction pass through a square centimetre on Earth each second. 

The Sun, of course, is but one star among myriads that's been cranking out neutrinos for billions of years. To stellar neutrinos, we must add the neutrinos produced in the early universe as matter emerged from the primordial energy of the Big Bang. And so, for a long time, some theorists hoped that neutrinos, (then) theoretically massless particles, would each have some tiny amount of mass -- enough, in aggregate, to explain dark matter.

It has since been shown that while neutrinos have some slight mass (and other interesting properties, beyond the scope of this post) -- it's not nearly enough to solve the enduring puzzle of dark matter. And so, for a while longer, "dark matter" remains a label for our ignorance.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Science (and "science") news

"On 20 December 2013, The United Nations (UN) General Assembly 68th Session proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015)." (That's from the IYL home page.)

What could be more appropriate than a moment of respectful reflection (no pun intended) on the recent passing of a major pioneer of light technology? See "Charles Townes, who helped invent now-ubiquitous laser, dies." Lasers are essential -- to name only a handful of their applications -- to precision scalpels, retail scanners, DVD drives, telecommunications, and (now in field test aboard the USS Ponce) directed-energy weapons. That's quite the legacy.

Less commented upon, but also recent and noteworthy, "Illinois LED pioneers receive Draper Prize." That's Illinois, as in the university of: my alma mater. The Draper Prize (if less publicized than the Nobel Prize, one of which Townes won) is a Big Deal: the annual award of the National Academy of Engineering. Many a laser is, of course, an LED laser.

The Draper announcement speaks to me because -- decades ago, back at the U of Illinois -- I took a class on semiconductor physics from Prof. Nick Holonyak, the senior member among the aforementioned pioneers. Holonyak was a terrific teacher and, it was clear to me even then, a researcher doing groundbreaking work. He's now widely recognized for developing the first practical light-emitting diode. I am delighted on his behalf.