Why do we need leap years? | EarthSky.org

It’s actually kind of pathetic that the Mayans had a better calendar that we do.  The ego of various Roman emperors certainly didn’t help.

We need leap years to help synchronize our calendar with Earth’s orbit around the sun and the actual passing of the seasons.

Source: Why do we need leap years? | EarthSky.org

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Zodiacal light glowing pyramid after dark | EarthSky.org

The Austin Astronomical Society held a star party last night, not far from my home, and this zodiacal light was very visible.  It was a great night for stargazing, but the zodiacal light washed out any stars in that region.

Moonless February and March evenings are the best time to see zodiacal light, that glowing pyramid of light in the west after dusk.

Source: Zodiacal light glowing pyramid after dark | EarthSky.org

Moons might hold key to finding E.T. life | EarthSky.org

Moons aren’t always just a chunk of rock!

As the list of known planets beyond our solar system grows, the search for their moons is intensifying. Why exomoons might be key to E.T. life.

Source: Moons might hold key to finding E.T. life | EarthSky.org

Full moon plus Jupiter on February 22 | EarthSky.org

The skies have been beautiful lately here in Central Texas.  If they’re clear where you live be sure to check out this amazing lunation with Jupiter as an escort!

The full moon and the dazzling planet Jupiter – now nearly at its best for this year – will be together all night. Think photo opportunity!

Source: Full moon plus Jupiter on February 22 | EarthSky.org

Teleportation: Science fiction or science fact?

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The first time I read Lawrence M. Krauss’ masterpiece, “The Physics of Star Trek”, was in January 1996, which is hard to believe. Time, among other things, definitely does fly, but doesn’t diminish my memory of how much I enjoyed that book. Being a physicist and a life-long science fiction fan, I absolutely devoured it, even though some of his conclusions were disappointing. For example, he virtually discounted the possibility of teleportation. He recounted the basic steps as defined in the Star Trek Next Generation Technical Manual as follows:startrekbeam1

  1. Transporter locks on the target.
  2. Scans the image to be transported.
  3. Dematerializes the item (or person).
  4. Retains the information in a “pattern buffer”
  5. Transmits the “matter stream” in an “annular confinement beam”.
  6. Reassembles it based on data retained in the “pattern buffer.”

Krauss then proceeded to explain in meticulous, often amusing detail, what the requirements would be to create both a matter stream of the atoms comprising the teleportee’s body coupled with an information stream of how to put it back together.

startrekbeam2To wit, considering that a person consists of approximately 10^28 atoms (ten followed by 28 zeros, for those of you who don’t recognize that notation), turning a 50 kilogram person into pure energy according to Einstein’s E=mc^2 would release more energy than that of a thousand 1-megaton hydrogen bombs. To do so would require heating him/her to a temperature a million times the temperature at the center of the Sun. Accelerating the resulting plasma soup to near the speed of light is another feat, to say nothing of also transferring around 10^28 kilobytes of data to the “pattern buffer” to reassemble it. On top of that, there’s Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and various other quantum mechanical difficulties.

heisenbergprincRemember, however, that this was written back in the 90s and science has made vast advances since then as has our computational capacity. Personally, I would bet it could be done using the principles of quantum entanglement, but Krauss’ points are nonetheless well-taken. After all, he’s a professor of physics in his own right, at Case Western University when he wrote that particular book.

However, in Stephen Hawking’s foreword to said book, this phenomenally brilliant physicist stated, “Today’s science fiction is often tomorrow’s science fact. The physics that underlies Star Trek is surely worth investigating. To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.”

And apparently someone has done exactly that. At government expense. And much to my delight, quantum entanglement was indeed mentioned.  See?  I’m not as dumb as I look.

I never know what I’ll turn up when I go on a cleaning frenzy, more often than not, a desperate search for something in that proverbial “safe place” which I suspect lies in some other dimension. This last quest didn’t produce what I was hoping for, but instead I stumbled upon something even better, a paper from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Document AFRL-PR-ED-TR-2003-0034 entitled “Teleportation Physics Study.” This report is 88 pages long and is in front of me as I write.

USAFTeleportSeriously. I swear I’m not making this up.

When I worked at NASA, I came across all sorts of similar goodies and usually kept a copy, either electronic or hardcopy, provided it wasn’t classified, of course. In truth, I never saw anything of that nature, but plenty of stuff that was borderline and certainly not publicized.

This study was conducted by an organization known as Warp Drive Metrics located in Las Vegas for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but notice that they’re both conveniently located not far from the infamous Area 51.

In the Introduction to this study the author states: “Beginning in the 1980s developments in quantum theory and general relativity physics have succeeded in pushing the envelope in exploring the reality of teleportation. . . . It has been recognized that extending the present research in quantum teleportation and developing alternative forms of teleportation physics would have a high payoff impact on communications and transportation technologies in the civilian and military sectors.”

He names five types of teleportation of which the science fiction version is one, but discounted as not included in the study, or so he says. Sad but true, you never know what jewel one of us sci-fi authors might come up with via our respective muses.

Of the five mentioned, my personal favorite is, as you would expect, the method using quantum entanglement, dubbed q-Teleportation, which he defines as the “disembodied transport of the quantum state of a system and its correlations across space to another system.”

I was particularly amused by Section 3.0, which addresses this particular category. The steps he summarized were as follows:

  1. Object placed inside the teleporter and scanned by a computer-generated and controlled beam.
  2. Scan beam encodes entire quantum information contained within the object into organized bits of information, forming a digital pattern of the object.
  3. The information is stored in a pattern buffer.
  4. The scan beam dematerializes the object into a matter stream.
  5. Teleporter transmits matter/energy stream and quantum information signal in the form of an annular confinement beam to its destination.
  6. The receiving teleporter reconstitutes the matter based on quantum information stored in the pattern buffer.

Hmmmmm. Am I the only one who thinks that sounds an awful lot like what Krauss described from the Star Trek Next Generation Technical Manual?

Section 3.0 goes on to describe many of the same calculations Krauss did.

Bah! Sci-fi discounted, indeed!

In Section 3.2.3 entitled “Recent Developments in Entanglement and q-Teleportation Physics”, he states, “Technical applications of entanglement and q-Teleportation are just becoming conceptualized for the first time, while a small number of basic physics breakthroughs and their related applications are in experimental progress at present.” (Emphasis added.)

You can’t make this stuff up.

Note that this study was conducted between January 2001 and July 2003. No telling what advancements have been made in the past 15 years.

My second favorite, p-Teleportation, is the “conveyance of persons or inanimate objects by psychic means” which he describes in Section 5.0. He goes on to mention psychics Uri Geller and Ray Stanford, who “claimed to have been teleported on several occasions. Most (emphasis added) claimed instances of human teleportation of the body from one place to another have been unwitnessed.”

Really? Ya think?

15385125_mlHe goes on to say, “There are also a small number of credible reports of individuals who reported being teleported to/from UFOs during a UFO close encounter, which were scientifically investigated….”   Plus: “There is a wealth of factual scientific research data from around the world attesting to the physical reality of p-Teleportation and related anomalous psi phenomena. The skeptical reader should not be so quick to dismiss the subject matter in this chapter, because one must remain open-minded about this subject and consider p-Teleportation as worthy of further scientific exploration.” He even mentions my favorite psi researcher, Dean Radin, PhD, of whom I’m a tremendous fan.

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Dean Radin PhD has done highly respected research on psi phenomena such as telepathy.

e-Teleportation, defined as “exotic”, comprises “the conveyance of persons or inanimate objects by transport through extra space dimensions or parallel universes”. This involves superstring theories, electromagnetic – gravity unification theories, and brane theory.  Don’t mind me, but just because they can do the math doesn’t mean it’s possible, if you know what I mean.

Last but not least, vm-Teleportation involves wormholes and “engineering the spacetime metric” which was supported by numerous pages of mind-bending math including linear algebra, trigonometry and multi-variable calculus equations loaded with enough Greek letters to be its own fraternity.

I don’t know how much money the author received for this study, which took two and a half years, but it could probably be found in the public record using the contract number. I must say that it would be just about any physicist’s dream job. In no way do I mean to dismiss the knowledge and expertise required to put this together. This is a comprehensive, thoroughly investigated study which includes 253 references, most of which were to prestigious journals such as Physics Review Letters, Physics Today, Military Intelligence, Nature, Science, numerous books published by Cambridge and Oxford University presses and various others by esteemed physicist authors. The original document’s distribution list included 54 individuals, 36 of whom were PhDs.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with my tax dollars going for such research, even though it’s undoubtedly hidden in all those “black projects” such as those conducted at Area 51, Dulce Base, Wright-Patterson AFB and probably Dugway Proving Grounds. Better spent there than numerous others I can think of but won’t name so as to remain politically correct in today’s volatile environment.

Nonetheless, the truth is out there.  Possibly more than we could begin to imagine.  Including me, as a science fiction writer.

You can pick up a copy of Krauss’ book on Amazon here. For a copy of the “Teleportation Physics Study” contact the Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Materiel Command, Edwards Air Force Base, CA 93524-7048 and ask for Report AFRL-PR-ED-TR-2003-0034. By now it might even be available online since it was released for “unlimited distribution.”

6 More Tips for Serial Writers

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Most of the tips in my previous post for serial writers were picked up from reading and beta reading the works of others. Afterwards, I realized that I’d learned quite a few things that were also worth passing along from writing my own tetralogy. These comprise either things I did that helped the process or I wish I’d known as opposed to figuring out the hard way. So, without further ado, here are a few more tips for those of you working on a story that refuses to end.

1. Read any previous volume(s) to assure consistency. Some details such as the color of a minor character’s hair or eyes can easily be missed, yet picked up by an astute reader. Trying to explain that Edith’s eyes are blue in certain light and green in others is somewhat lame, so it’s best to avoid it by being accurate. If you keep a file on your characters that includes such details it will simplify things later. Quite frankly, I don’t, but believe me, I will next time because it can be time-consuming and a real pain to hunt down later. Of course, while you’re reading, you can note these things, too, which is part of the point.

The best part of rereading the stories that precede you current work is you can usually find some seemingly small details that you can tie in. This is especially true when you’re wrapping everything up at the end. Fans in particular love this sort of thing and it may even drive them to go back and reread the earlier stories as well. Some of them may actually function like an inside joke. If you know anything about fandom you know how dedicated fans thrive on such things.

Assuming you have print copies of your book(s), using sticky notes or page markers works best. If you want to get fancy, you can even color-code them for different types of information. I was amazed and delighted at how some of the seemingly simple details in previous episodes related to the grand finale.

Also note how your style may have changed as your story unfolded, especially if the first one was your debut novel. (See the section in my first “Tips for Serial Writers” blog entitled “First the Worst, Second the Same…” for more on that.)

2. Use flashbacks, albeit brief, to tie in past events from previous books. Important events that ripple over into subsequent volumes should be recapped to refresh the memory of those who read previous works but did so long enough in the past to need reminders. It also puts things in context for new readers who may be reading the episodes out of sequence. These don’t have to be long and drawn out, which will bore your fans, but enough to get them back on track. Prologues can sometimes be used in this way as well.

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Flashbacks add depth as well as context.

In some cases, if your serial is complete, readers may start with volume one and blow straight through, especially if it’s a box set, but there’s a good chance that other books may have intervened or perhaps time, dimming their memory. If it’s not yet complete, it’s even more important. If a reader feels lost, it pulls them out of the story and they’re likely to be frustrated, which is one of the last things you want to do. If they wind up scratching their head or digging through previous books to find the event in question, unless they’re madly in love with your story they may toss it aside and pick up something else. Once they stop reading there’s always the chance they won’t be back. Confuse ’em, you lose ’em. Not good.

3. Timing is Everything. Serials are usually sufficiently complex to involve numerous characters who grab the spotlight from time to time and thus the point of view (POV). Keeping the timing correct can be a challenge, especially if coincident scenes are not written in sequence and have to be integrated later. I tend to write a scene when the idea arrives so I have all sorts of things to pull together as I attempt to wrap up a single volume, much less the entire serial. If you maintain a detailed outline, it helps, since you can insert POV excursions accordingly.

Mapping out key events visually is helpful, using project management software the ideal, but often unfamiliar or unavailable. The last thing any author needs is a stiff learning curve on a software package when they’re writing a novel. Using Excel is the next best option, the timeline broken down to suitable increments, whether hours, days, months or years. These go across the top with each column representing a unit of time. Events are listed in the rows below with the proper time element highlighted. You can do this by hand if you prefer; graph paper makes it a little easier.

typewriter

My first two novels were written on a typewriter that looked a lot like this one.

This can be done out of sequence if that’s how you write, either by inserting a row if everything is in order or organized later based on event timing, which is shown where time marks overlap. Including a column that contains the chapter number right after the first one with the scene description can be used to sort them as well, which also reveals any that need to be adjusted.

I remember seeing a comment from an author one time regarding how difficult it was to keep track of plot action occurring in different time zones. I laughed. My tetralogy involved coordinating events on different planets, spacecraft affected by Einstein’s theory of special and general relativity, and even time travel itself as my story shifted amongst the various characters. Keeping everything in the proper sequence to maintain story continuity was definitely a challenge. Again, Confuse ’em, you lose ’em. Remember that. Not all readers have the patience to read on with literally millions of other books begging to join their TBR list.

4. Insights regarding how your characters have evolved. How a character changes in a story is important, a key element, in fact, to good fiction. In a serial this may be a gradual process, perhaps so much so that the reader doesn’t notice. It doesn’t hurt to remind them using internal dialog on the part of the character(s), as an observation by another character in thought or dialog, or even in the narrative. For example, something as simple as “Before arriving in New York, Patsy was afraid of crowds, but now she navigated 5th Avenue with confidence” does the job.

5. Include the fate of all characters, not just your protagonist. You never know who’ll be a reader’s favorite character. I was surprised how many of my readers favored Thryon, my telepathic walking plant. Thus, you need to make sure everyone’s exit, whenever or however it occurs, provides closure. Don’t simply leave them behind. Characters who ride off into the sunset can also provide fodder for spinoffs.

6. Expect to miss your characters, who by now have become old friends. You may want to consider leaving things open enough at the conclusion to allow for spin-offs. Fully developed characters are just begging for another appearance. You know them as well, maybe even better than your own children or best friend, so if they’ve earned fans along the way, consider using them again. On the other hand, if you’re bored with them, readers may be, too, so this is not something that’s required or should be forced. Back stories are often at least partially written and can be put together for a quick short story that you can use as a giveaway enticement in your marketing efforts. Back stories are also great for holding readers’ interest until the next episode is released if it’s taking you a while to get the next one together.

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It was fun writing this back story to my tetralogy which kept fans engaged and also served as a hook for new ones.

I’ve found that my short stories evolve into novels and my novels apparently evolve into a serial. Go figure. I simply get bombarded by ideas too good to leave out, especially once my characters come to life and take over the story. Other writers can crank out a single novel or novella in a few weeks or less whereas mine, for various life-related reasons, took years.

Fortunately, readers have a variety of preferences as well, whether it’s a quick “beach read” or something they can get their teeth into. Note that back stories can provide fans with both! My next one will be a spin-off from one of my Star Trails characters, which will hopefully prevent it from likewise expanding. But only time will tell.

Sci-Fa Epic Adventure: Review of “Thunder Moon” by Jeanne Foguth

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The second volume in Jeanne Foguth’s Chatterre Trilogy, “Thunder Moon”, picks up where “Star Bridge” ends. As someone who’s read all three volumes, but not in order, I highly recommend that they be read in sequence so that the complex plots and character relationships are easier to follow. Each builds upon the other, weaving a fascinating and intricate Sci-fa saga.

In this episode, Nimri’s brother, Thunder Cartwright, is worried the madrox will invade his world unless the star bridge is closed. He borrows his brother-in-law, Larwin’s, environmental suit, and sets out to do so with the assistance of GEA-4, Larwin’s androtic assistant. Meanwhile, Larwin’s sister, Tem-Aki, is looking for her brother, who’s been missing from his world long enough that she’s concerned that he’s dead. (Background on Larwin’s arrival on Chatterre can be found in volume I, “Star Bridge”.)

As you’d expect from any misbehaving and unstable Star Bridge/wormhole, Thunder winds up on yet another world, Kalamar, which is covered with what he fears most–water. Furthermore, he’s severely injured, but fortunately, rescued by Raine, a dragon shepherd, who’s on patrol in her ship, Nambaba, trying to recover a rogue dragon calf.

And thus the fun begins.

As always, the science fiction/fantasy elements of these stories are masterfully integrated as simple matters of planetary diversity. Dragons, a.k.a. madrox, are Chatterre’s mortal enemy, threatening to reduce it to ashes. However, on Raine’s planet, Kalamar, they’re carefully managed, a seeming paradox that further drives the story’s plot and suspense.

Mistaken identities, culture clashes, alien creatures, and a variety of interpersonal conflicts, including sibling rivalry and political intrigue, ultimately explode in this fast-moving, complex tale. The world building is exceptional, particularly with regard to how a human culture would operate on a world comprised mostly of water. Not only are the mundane details addressed, but other intelligent species introduced as well as a convincing and convoluted political structure.

If you like an intricate plot, lots of action and continual suspense with all sorts of surprises you can get your teeth into, then this trilogy is for you. But don’t forget to read “Star Bridge” first and then this one before move on to the satisfying conclusion in “Fire Island.” (Note that all three volumes are “clean reads” suitable for all ages.)

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

Review of “An Extended Journey” by Paul Sherman

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This exceptionally well-written and flawlessly edited story has everything a good time travel story demands. Note, however, that it’s more fantasy than science fiction since the means of delivery to the past is in the realms of the paranormal. Thus, don’t expect some exotic high tech means to remove the characters from the present time. This detail, indeed, is but a moot point given the tremendous message of this meticulously researched historical novel, but I wanted to throw it out there just in case you’re expecting sci-fi.

More often than not, time travel stories have more of a philosophical theme as they tread the line between fantasy, history and “what if” speculations. I recommend this story to those interested in American History, particularly the period around the Revolutionary War. The author’s research is apparent in the convincing details that take the reader back to another but not necessarily simpler time.

This story features David Dearns and his family which comprises his wife, Monica, and two young daughters, Jane and Katelyn, who are unexpectedly transported from modern times back to Colonial Williamsburg in 1781. The transition is great, given they’re visiting that location in modern times and thus surrounded by numerous individuals dressed in period costumes and buildings that date back to the time of the American Revolution, which is in progress. You can sense their confusion, particularly when they suddenly realize not only where but when they are.

This event was not simply coincidence, however, but clearly a matter of being chosen to accomplish a specific mission at the behest of a mysterious black woman they know only as Aunt Harriet. Their task is to intervene with Thomas Jefferson in a manner that convinces him to end slavery as part of the yet-to-be-written American Constitution. Since I want to avoid spoilers, that’s all I’ll say about plot details so future readers can fully enjoy the story as it unfolds.

There were some areas where the story seemed to drag, but it was so well-written that the slow pace was forgivable. It also served a purpose in establishing the time, place and mood of the times as this 21st Century family gradually acclimates to life in the late 1700s. If you’re a history buff, you’re likely to thoroughly enjoy it. A bit more culture shock would have added to the realism and perhaps picked up the pace in those pages capturing the details of life at that time. The plot action definitely accelerated toward the middle and took off from there with well-sustained suspense.

Historical details were plentiful and expertly integrated. The matter of changing history and the various paradoxes introduced by the family’s presence were addressed in a clever and sometimes unexpected manner, such as the premature albeit inadvertent introduction of modern technology. There were numerous places where I laughed out loud at some of the main character’s witticisms and sarcastic thoughts though his propensity for profanity was a bit troubling and could turn off certain potential readers. Many religious folks have a keen interest in American History and are often more forgiving of an expletive here and there, which is all too common today, than profanity. It wasn’t excessive by any means, and was mainly in the first part of the book, but would have earned a few cringes from various folks I know who would otherwise love the story.

Matters of free choice were suitably addressed and demonstrated the “butterfly effect”, i.e., where one small event institutes major change. On a personal as well as collective level, I’m sure all of us could point to various decisions that could have been made in a more constructive manner given 20:20 hindsight. The decisions of those who run countries certainly affect thousands and even millions and the consequences of bad ones splash on all concerned, many of whom suffer far more than the perpetrator.

As physicist Michio Kaku and various others have noted, parallel dimensions are a possibility included in quantum theory. Some have even speculated that every possible outcome of every decision ever made is represented somewhere, which I frankly don’t buy into. Nonetheless, starting a new track as a solution to time travel stories, e.g., Spielberg’s “Back to the Future” trilogy, works here for the sake of reader satisfaction. I’m not a big fan of historical novels, but the author’s strong writing skills kept me immersed in the story. More often than not, I find my inner editor slipping out while reading which, to his credit, did not occur. Such exceptional writing alone makes this book worth reading.

You can pick up your copy at Amazon here.

Chelyabinsk meteor mystery 3 years later | EarthSky.org

Who knows how many more of these meteors are out there?

It’s been 3 years since the dazzling fireball over Chelyabinsk, Russia, and its aftereffects in 6 Russian cities. Yet scientists still don’t know its origin.

Source: Chelyabinsk meteor mystery 3 years later | EarthSky.org

This date in science: Galileo’s birthday | EarthSky.org

And did he ever stir up a few things or not with his discoveries?  Do you know why he got in so much trouble with the Roman church?

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Happy 452nd birthday to one of the first modern scientists, Galileo. With the aid of an early telescope, he helped remove Earth from the center of the universe.

Source: This date in science: Galileo’s birthday | EarthSky.org