Sign up to Win an Autographed Copy of “The Terra Debacle”

lifechanging+ copySign up before October 30 for a chance to win one of three autographed copies of “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51” being given away through Goodreads. Details here.

 

 

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5 Stars for “Elon Musk: Tesla, Space-X, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance

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I’ve been fascinated by Musk for quite a while. I even entertained thoughts he might be some sort of space alien hybrid, helping us develop new technologies. I wondered where this guy came from and where he got all that money. I wondered why his new technologies, which are a threat to industries which have been known to resort to rather nasty tactics to suppress such competition, seemed to have no power to do so in his case. This book certainly answered all my questions and then some. I had no idea he was one of those dot-com millionaires, starting with his connection with PayPal. Explaining where his money came from certainly clarified quite a lot. His personality explained the rest.

As someone who worked as a NASA contractor for over twenty years, I can especially appreciate what he has done with Space-X. While some accuse him, and rightfully so, of being a obsessive workaholic and expecting the same from his employees, you have to admit that his system of finding the best and brightest and luring them to work for him works. Musk doesn’t suffer fools. You disagree with him or goof up and you’re gone. In today’s world of tolerance and dumbing down the general population via our pathetic education system, this certainly goes against the grain. But it gets things done.

I saw so much mediocrity at NASA it was pathetic. But it was only part of the problem as far as technological advances were concerned. I remember seeing an invoice one time for small a metal plate with a part number on it costing thousands of dollars. I mean, really. How ridiculous is that? But that’s how government contracting works. Musk, on the other hand, emphasized efficiency. It was his money, so he pushed for keeping costs down. Rather than buy from a manufacturer on the other side of the world, he would develop the needed facilities and make it himself. He demanded perfection and refused to give up.

One philosophy I always liked and employed as a manager myself was “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Clearly he had the same attitude. His employees knew better than to simply complain about something being an obstacle. They needed to contribute to a solution or get slam-dunked.

There was so much about his management style that I admired. In most cases in today’s world, his tactics will either get you sued for harassment and/or fired. Which explains a lot. But if you want something considered impossible done correctly, that’s what it takes. The results of Musk’s methods speak for themselves.  He does what he says he’ll do and is a force to be reckoned with. He’s not been suppressed by existing industries since he has the money to proceed on his own, unlike most inventors who depend on selling their patents. In that case, they’re typically bought up by competitors, their ideas left to rot somewhere in a file cabinet to assure the status quo.

Along those lines, Tesla is another awesome success story, a venture that was more than once on the brink of failure. But Musk persevered, his vision and intentions a testimony to those who promote such tactics for manifesting what you want. I loved the part where Tesla acquired a former GM plant in Fremont, California (not too far from where I lived many years ago) virtually for free. Tesla is driving conventional car makers crazy. The cars are kicking butt in all areas from safety to speed to virtually “free” fuel as he builds recharging stations.  He’s out to change the world and making steady progress doing so, specifically in previously troubled industries collapsing under their own weight.

His personal life was certainly interesting as well. Did you realize he has 5 boys, i.e. a set of twins and a set of triplets from his first wife, Justine? Or that as a child he was bullied, in some cases brutally enough to land him in the hospital. His photographic memory has served him well, his intelligence and scientific understanding off the scale. If someone tells him something can’t be done, he usually fires them and does it himself. I find that inspiring, not obnoxious.

The author did a great job of providing a glimpse of what this guy is like, not only as a slave-driving manager, but as a person. I admire much of what he stands for and stands up for.  I loved the author’s candid writing style, often imbued with humor that had me laughing out loud. I don’t doubt that I will eventually read this book again. It’s inspirational to see what one determined man can accomplish when he sets his mind to what needs to be done, then commandeers the help and talent he needs to get there, leaving naysayers in the dust. His self-imposed mission is to save the world from itself and so far it looks as if he might do just that. It won’t surprise me one bit if he’s the one who gets us to Mars. If you have any doubts, then you should read this book. It made a believer out of me and restored my faith in old-fashioned hard work and ingenuity, which has somehow gotten lost in our crazy world.

This book convinced me, more than ever, that it’s people like Musk who should be considered heroes in today’s world. Not obnoxious sports figures, crooked politicians, and those who want to be taken care of at others’ expense. It’s time that we return a strong work ethic and intelligence to the status it deserves for making this a better world.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here. I recommend it highly. I will warn you that it contains a multitude of f-bombs. If you want to share this awesome story with your kids, which I also recommend, there’s a cleaned up version you can get here.

Interview with Ted Weimann, Author of “Paradox: Fascinating Anomalies of Science”

webTedTed Weimann is obsessed with science and shares what he learns generously in his recent book, Paradox: Fascinating Anomalies of Science from Quest Publications. If you want a crash course on the hottest topics in science today, I highly recommend this book, as you can tell from my recent review. Ted’s enthusiasm and love of learning comes through in his writing, thanks to his ability to synthesize the information and then explain it in a way a person of average intelligence can understand.

Ted was gracious enough to grant me an interview, which gives us further insights into his brilliant mind and his ongoing quest for knowledge, fueled by his “Question Everything” attitude.


MF: What motivated you to compile Paradox’s rich collection of modern research?

TW: The thrill of learning about these fascinating topics.  I so thoroughly enjoyed the dark energy / center of the universe enigma over the years, that I began noticing other paradoxes.  They’re interesting.  For instance, who would have thought that France will experience a higher sea level rise than Iceland when the Greenland Ice cap melts?  But with the reduced gravitational attraction upon the North Atlantic Ocean because all Greenland’s ice mass is gone, and with the resulting glacial rebound, France actually will.

Something else I didn’t include in that section because I didn’t think about it at the time, is when that part of the North American Plate glacially rebounds, Iceland’s continental rift will likely increase.  As you know, Iceland is practically split in half because it straddles two tectonic plates that are moving apart from each other.  Its western half will experience some glacial rebounding when Greenland does.  Since its eastern half is on the Eurasian plate, that part of Iceland likely won’t, or if it does, will to a far lesser degree.  An increase in Iceland earthquakes may be in their future, perhaps even their volcanic activity will increase. We could talk all night about this one topic and all its implications.  Scientists could research it for years.  I find that pretty cool.


MF: Which part of Paradox is your favorite section?

TW: It’s changed over time.  First it was the section on dark energy.  And then it was black holes.  When I calculated the compression of a neutron star down to a black hole, I made mistakes.  Catching those mistakes was fun, and humbling.  And then I realized that the neutron star would start rotating faster than the speed of light.  Since I knew that this could never happen, I started researching the ways in which this violation of physics was avoided.  One of those ways is the decoupling of the magnetic field-lines when they cross the light cylinder.  I had never heard of a light cylinder.  That was another cool concept I got to research.

Plate tectonics made a run for the number one spot, but I’d have to say the chapters on the evolution and devolution of the human brain are my favorites.  So many questions remain unanswered.  Like how will our intelligence change in the future?


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MF: Tell us about the research/facts presented in your book that surprised you the most.

TW: Probably the agricultural paradox.  I knew farmers produced more calories, yet had poorer nutrition than hunter gatherers, but I didn’t realize how much poorer their diets were.  I had always been led to believe that hunter gatherers lead such difficult lives compared to farmers.  And that’s not necessarily the case.

I also didn’t know that farmers used to live with their livestock.  Living in these cramped, filthy conditions is how their diseases evolved and became our diseases.  That was interesting.


MF: Do you have a particular source you trust more than others?

TW: The source I use the most, not necessarily for writing books, but for medical research, is pubmed.org.  I’ve been researching medical studies on their site since practically day 1.  But, as discussed in my chapter on the obesity paradox, the reliability of medical studies is far lower than it should be.  So, they’re not my answer to your question.

I’m sorry but, I don’t have any one source to hold up for you.  My thanks go to the majority of the experts that take the time to answer questions from me and I’m sure many other people.  Sometimes it was research for this book, but often I simply read about their research and had a question about it or its implications.  And most of these experts took the time to help me.  So, thank you to them.


MF: What do you think the next major technological breakthrough will be (that’s revealed to the public)?

TW: I might have to go with batteries.  I’ll be surprised if we don’t have vastly superior batteries 10 or 15 years from now.  And that simple advance will have profound changes upon the planet.  Think transportation, renewable energy, climate, and the lives of people around the world currently without power.  We’ll all benefit with that one, seemingly simple advance.


MF: If you were the one controlling the purse strings to a big chunk of grant money, which branch of science would you reward it to? Why?

TW: Renewable energy.  We’re making good progress and I believe we’ll get to where we need to be, but the sooner we get the cost of renewable energy lower than fossil fuels, the better off our climate, and everything tied to it, will be.

Where my passion lies however, is the likely extinction many large mammals will face, regardless of climate change.  Because of greed, religion and superstitions, the mega fauna that we all love are in serious danger.  I’d like to get Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Jeff Bezos and others together with the purpose of talking them into purchasing a huge track of land in the US and turning it into an African savanna.  I believe that’s the only chance elephants, giraffes, rhinos, cheetahs, and others, will have in the long term.  It might even turn a profit someday.


MF:  What percentage of critical medical knowledge do you think is being withheld from the public?

TW: Nearly 50% of all medical studies go unpublished.  To answer your question though, we’d have to define critical.  To me, all well conducted studies are critical, because they contain knowledge we need.


MF: Do you have any particular method for recognizing “fake science?”

TW: For me, I’d say it’s a combination of intuition and reason.  For example, I just had lunch with a friend who’s an avid hunter.  He was showing me photos and telling stories of his wild hog hunting trip, when he said the local experts he was hunting with told him that he should dodge a charging pig to the right, because they can’t turn to the left very well.  I told him I didn’t believe that.  Rationally, it didn’t make sense to me on an evolutionary basis.

If your gut feelings send you signals, or if the media headline seems a little too dramatic, question it.  Do your research.


MF:  What do you like to read in your spare time? Strictly nonfiction or do you ever take a break with fiction? If so, which genre?

TW: I was in my 30s when I read my 3rd fiction book, Jurassic Park.  The first two were The Little Engine that Could, and Bugs Bunny adventures, or something like that.  My 4th was Jurassic Park in Spanish, Parque Jurasico.  I started reading The Destroyer, a comedy/ adventure series during my recoveries from my spinal surgeries.  I’ve now read about 100 of them.  I also enjoy some comedies like The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and A Dirty Job.  In that book, the author has a hilarious comparison of an alpha male versus a beta male.  When I’m healthy though, it’s pretty much non-fiction for me.  I like to learn about the world around me.


MF: Do you have any other books planned or in-work at this time?

TW: I did have one I would love to write, but I knew I’d never pull it off.  I wrote all the living presidents, requesting interviews with them and their spouses, as well as access to the medical records of the presidents.  Of course, none granted me such access. My idea was to conduct a small sample study on the effects of the extreme stress of the presidency on health and aging.

Imagine how much I would have learned in the process.  That, would have been fun.


Yes, learning should be fun. I know it is for me, but far too many find it an unpleasant chore. Just think what the world would be like if we could find a panacea for this crippling attitude. Thanks to people like Ted, however, who shares these delicious brain candy tidbits so generously, hopefully others will find the intellectual stimulation as fun and interesting as the next computer game. -MF

You can pick up a copy of Paradox: Fascinating Anomalies of Science from Amazon or the publisher.

 

 

Don’t miss “The Great American Eclipse” 21 August 2017

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Path of Totality for August 21, 2017 Eclipse

A special event is coming up August 21, the scope of which hasn’t occurred for 99 years! If you had grandparents at that time in Portland, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; or Orlando, Florida, to name a few, they would have most likely seen it, or at least heard about it.

As you’ve probably figured out, I’m talking about the Great American Eclipse, so called because it crosses the entire USA from Oregon to South Carolina, and is only visible in the Continental USA. Last time we had one that stretched from “sea to shining sea” was June 8, 1918. That one started in Washington State and struck a diagonal path across the US, clear down to Florida and slightly beyond.  When I gave this talk at my Toastmasters meeting recently, one of the members recalled her mother, who lived in Oklahoma, seeing it, and being amused when the chickens were confused and went to roost when it got dark.

Eclipse 101

Total solar eclipses are relatively rare. First of all, they only occur with a New Moon. Why? Because that’s when the Moon is between Earth and the Sun, allowing its shadow under the right conditions to reach the ground. But we have a New Moon every month! Why don’t we have a solar eclipse every month?

Easy–it’s a matter of alignment. Remember, both the Sun and Moon are moving! More correctly, the Earth is rotating, making the Sun appear to move across the sky in a path called the ecliptic, which changes as far as its elevation above the horizon is concerned, based on the seasons, which are caused by the Earth’s axial tilt. The ecliptic is highest for the summer solstice. This maximizes the Sun’s path and explains why the days are longer. The opposite is true in winter. So, the Sun is not only “moving” across the sky, but changing it’s elevation above the horizon. I knew someone once who loved to describe unpredictable people by saying that for them “The Sun always comes up in a different place.” Ironically, this is true. If you’ve never noticed, it’s never too late to start.

The Moon orbits the Earth, but where its orbit crosses the ecliptic is not static, but moves a few degrees each month. Thus, the Moon’s location is also constantly changing, though it does so in a predictable manner. For an eclipse to happen, both the Sun and Moon need to be in the location where their paths cross, placing the Moon exactly between Earth and the Sun, casting its shadow on the ground directly below. You can see how predicting when and where eclipses will occur is not a simple matter. Nonetheless, the antikythera device was able to predict eclipses and so were the Mayans, because as their precise calendar indicates, they understood solar and lunar cycles.

You may be surprised to find out that there are two solar eclipses every year, but they’ll be visible in different locations. With two-thirds of the Earth’s surface oceans, many occur there and go unnoticed, save for physicists dedicated to solar research, especially those trying to determine why the Sun’s corona is several millions of degrees, while its surface, known as the photosphere, is a mere 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. A total eclipse is the only time when the magnificent corona is visible. Researchers suspect the corona’s temperature is related to the Sun’s magnetic field, but they’re still trying to figure out why.

Types of Eclipses

Not all eclipses are total. There are also partial and annular. Partial is when the Sun and Moon don’t line up exactly, so only a portion of the Sun is obscured. In this case, a total eclipse is not seen anywhere. However, note that a partial eclipse is also what those located outside the narrow band of totality will see on August 21, again because the alignment is not perfect.

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Annular Eclipse

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is farther away from the Earth and therefore smaller, such that it doesn’t entirely cover the Sun. Then, instead of the magnificent corona visible during a Total Eclipse, you see a ring. In some of these less than ideal cases, the Moon’s shadow doesn’t even reach the Earth.

Eclipse Path of Totality

To see the upcoming event as a total eclipse, you’ll have to be somewhere along the red stripe shown on the map. The location where totality will be longest (2 minutes 41.6 seconds) is in the vicinity of Carbondale, Illinois. Oddly enough, another total eclipse in 2024 also crosses that location.  It’s very unusual for this to happen; often centuries pass before a total eclipse is visible again from the same place.

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Paths of 2017 and 2024 Eclipses. “X marks the spot” over Carbondale, Illinois.

Unfortunately, the eclipse will not be total where I live, here in Texas. Rather, it will be a partial eclipse that covers 65-70% of the Sun. It will start here around 11:35 am, be at its maximum around 1:10 pm, and end around 2:40 pm. However, space cadet that I am, I’ll be traveling somewhere that it’s total.

Safe Viewing Tips

To safely view the eclipse, you need to protect your eyes with special glasses or some other sort of filter. Ordinarily sunglasses are insufficient, so don’t even think about using them alone if you value your eyes. A pinhole camera will show it, too, or look at the shadows of leaves beneath a tree to see thousands of tiny Sun crescents.

You can get special ISO Certified glasses, but hurry since they’re selling out fast. Sources are listed below. Note that glasses suitable for you to watch the eclipse are NOT sufficient if you’re using a camera or telescope! In that case you need a solar filter for the lens!  Solar filters are available for most regular cameras. If you value your cell phone, don’t plan on taking pictures of the eclipse with it because it’ll burn it up. Remember starting a fire with a magnifying glass when you were a kid? Same idea. Another option to special eclipse glasses is #14 welder’s glass, which could also work to protect your cell phone.

The only time it’s safe to look at a solar eclipse without eye protection (for you or your camera) is during totality, i.e. when the Sun is entirely covered by the Moon. That is preceded by a final glint from the Sun they call the “Diamond Ring”, which also occurs as the eclipse ends, but that flare could be enough to zap your camera or cell phone, so bear that in mind. Totality doesn’t last long, usually between 1 – 2 minutes. Nonetheless, you should enjoy it with your natural eyes while it lasts to enjoy it’s full impact and beauty.

Many people go throughout their lives without ever witnessing a total eclipse. I’ve seen partials, but never a total, so I’m flying to Utah to visit my daughter and her family, then we’ll drive into Idaho to the band of totality. I’m sure it will be a get-together we’ll never forget. It’ll be worth watching, even from here in Texas. If nothing else, you can see firsthand why the ancients were frightened when it appeared something was consuming their life-giving Sun.

Another Eclipse is coming!

If you live somewhere outside the band of totality and can’t travel to see the total eclipse this time, then you can look forward to the one in 2024, when there will be another one.  (You can see the path as the second band that forms the “X” in the map above.) For me, here in Central Texas, it will be right on our doorstep! In fact, the center of the path of totality goes right over Lake Buchanan, northwest of Austin, meaning I’ll be able to watch it from my front yard! Come April 2024, there will be a lot of people around here praying for clear weather.

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RESOURCES

Eclipse Information

www.greatamericaneclipse.com

www.earthsky.org

http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html

http://www.valkyrieastrology.com/Makeover/Planets/Eclipses.htm (my astrology website)

Eye Protection

www.rainbowsymphonystore.com (bulk orders)

https://www.teachersource.com/product/1892/nyeglasses

https://www.space.com/36941-solar-eclipse-eye-protection-guide.html

https://www.eclipseglasses.com/products/

https://weldingsupply.com/

Photo Tips

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/photographing.HTM

http://www.whas11.com/news/experts-warn-not-to-use-cell-phone-camera-for-2017-solar-eclipse/457560482

 

“The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51” Release!

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I’m happy to report that my latest novel has finally been released! If you’re a fan of UFOs, Area 51, or have read Beyond the Hidden Sky and/or A Dark of Endless Days, volumes I and II, respectively, of the Star Trails Tetralogy, you’ll enjoy this one.

Writing this story, which is a spin-off from the Star Trails Tetralogy, was quite a trip. Every time I thought it was done, I’d realize there was something missing. Usually that entailed more research, which took more time than the actual writing.

Nonetheless, it was an adventure and fun, especially getting to know a new character, Gabe Greenley, after spending so much time with the Brightstar clan.

For those of you who don’t know the premise of the story, here’s the Book Blurb:

In May 1978 a UFO lands at Hill AFB in Ogden, Utah. NASA astrobiologist, Gabe Greenley, is called in to investigate a strange plant found onboard. Psi-sensitive, he quickly learns the specimen is highly intelligent and potentially dangerous. Taunted by a ground-breaking discovery he can never share, his security oaths eventually result in an ethical dilemma with treasonous and deadly implications.

More information, including the promotional video, are on the Star Trails Tetralogy website.

I’m grateful to the author/bloggers who have given me of their time and talents in both reading, offering feedback, and ultimately reviewing the story, particularly Stephen Geez of Fresh Ink Group, who did a tremendous job editing, both the book and the video. You can read the blogs as well as some excerpts and find buy links to several online retailers  below. A button to add the story to your Goodreads TBR list is there as well. Remember reviews are always welcome and the best way to thank an author if you enjoy their work.

Reviews and Blogs

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From Scott Skipper’s Blog

John Reinhard Dizon’s Blog

Elle Klass’s “Troubled Oyster” Blog

Scott Skipper’s Blog

Ceri London’s Blog

Excerpts on Bublish

“An Alien Lifeform”

“Mutual Scrutiny”

“Experiment Ethics Present a Dilemma”

Buy Links

The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51

“I don’t understand it. Nobody does.” A Review of “QED” by Richard P. Feynman

150px-feynman3This book is the edited transcription of a lecture series given by renowned physicist, Richard P. Feynman, at UCLA in 1983. These lectures were designed for an audience of intelligent individuals who are interested in physics but only the good stuff, not the dirty work of slogging through all the math. That said, unless you are a physicist, masochist or perhaps need something to put you to sleep at night this book is not for you.

Feynman in my opinion is one of the greatest physicists of all times, mostly because of his ability to explain just about anything at a level lay people, or at least those like myself with a lowly bachelor’s degree in physics, could understand. When I was in college pursuing such I relied heavily on my three volume set of “Feynman’s Lectures on Physics” to help me understand certain theories where my college texts failed to explain them sufficiently. Thus, when I obtained this book I expected it to provide a better understanding of quantum electrodynamics than I had previously, which of course was essentially null so it could only increase. That did, indeed, happen, but not to the level I’d hoped for.

Feynman warns his readers right up front in the Introduction on page 9 when he says, “It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don’t understand it. You see, my physics students don’t understand it either. That is because I don’t understand it. Nobody does.”

Bohr Atom Electron & Photon Interaction

QED is way beyond this diagram of a photon increasing the quantum level of an electron or reducing it when released.

Great. It was considerate to point out right up front that I would feel either lost or stupid throughout, which certainly proved to be the case. For me even the various diagrams he uses to explain these phenomena (which ultimately became known as Feynman diagrams) were more confusing than not. He did note that it took his graduate student three years to grasp them which was somewhat comforting. Nonetheless, toward the end they reminded me more of Abbott and Costello’s famous skit we know as “Who’s on first?” than the interaction of fundamental particles. However, Feynman’s humor and witty style kept me reading for such jewels as “I have delighted in showing you that the price of gaining such an accurate theory has been the erosion of our common sense.”

Nonetheless, as I lay this book to rest on my shelf I will admit that it does contain numerous dog-eared pages and lots of highlighting. I’m fascinated by the fact that some particles at the quantum level go backward in time. I mean, seriously, how cool is that? I now understand that QED is about the mysterious interaction between photons and electrons, which of course makes sense with a title of “quantum electrodynamics.” Duh. I now also understand more fully what a Feynman diagram comprises. Thus, even though he was correct in assuming that I wouldn’t understand it, I do know more than I did when I started reading so the experience was not a total loss.

One thing to bear in mind if you should decide to take on this book is that since 1983 when these lectures were delivered (and just happens to be the year I started college) much more has been discovered in the field of particle physics. This is explained beautifully by the proofreading notes at the end of this book, the first dated November 1984 which states, “Since these lectures were given, suspicious events observed in experiments made it appear possible that some other particle or phenomenon, new and unexpected (and therefore not mentioned in these lectures), may soon be discovered.” The second proofreading note dated April 1985 stated, “At this moment the “suspicious events” mentioned above appear to be a false alarm. The situation no doubt will have changed again by the time you read this book. Things change faster in physics than in the book publishing business.”

Probably the biggest news in this field to come in the past few years was the discovery of the “God particle” or Higgs boson. This book certainly prepares you for the existence of new particles and provides some understanding of what is involved in that process and why it’s not an easy matter. It you really want to get into this stuff this book is a good primer.

In conclusion, it’s worth noting that “Q.E.D.” is a term also used in mathematics at the end of a proof as an abbreviation for the Latin saying “quod erat demonstrandum,” i.e., “which was to be demonstrated.” If nothing else, Feynman truly demonstrated that this stuff really is beyond human understanding even for those who can do the math. In other words, they may be able to determine what is going on but certainly not the why, which lies in another realm. Thus, it is my sincerest hope that since this great man now resides in that very place that he can at last fully understand it. I sure don’t.

You can pick up your copy if you’re so inclined at the link below.

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Princeton Science Library)

Guilty as Charged: I Had an Ulterior Motive

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Okay, I admit it. I had an ulterior motive when I wrote the Star Trails Tetralogy. I don’t think it was a bad one, but it was there nonetheless. As I’ve mentioned before, perhaps ad nauseam, I was inspired to pursue a career in a technical field by the science fiction I read as a kid. And that is what I wanted to do with my stories, make science intriguing and interesting enough that my readers would love it as much as I do and want to know more. I mean, seriously. Why else would an otherwise normal person get a degree in physics? At least I thought I was normal. Then again, maybe not.

At any rate, my books have apparently succeeded to some degree. But don’t listen to me, I’m clearly biased and perhaps not to be trusted. Here’s what some of my reviewers have to say:

Marcha Fox has a gift for explaining the science in an interesting and original way. Sci-fi fans who love properly developed cultures backed up by hard and well understood science will devour these stories.

Science theory is a large part of this story and the writer uses many scenes and situations to explore warp drive, time bumps, worm holes, and warp gullies to name a few. When explanation is needed in a book, it usually slows progression of the plot, but the author uses the science as a “key” to unlock the puzzle of the many developing situations in which Creena finds herself. It’s a great book for anyone that wants to learn more about scientific concepts while being thoroughly entertained.

Anyone who loves hard science will lap this book up.

Having taught junior high science for a number of years I think this read would be a fabulous addition to classroom libraries as well as “the hungry for sci-fi lovers” personal bookshelf.

A great book for anyone that wants to learn more about scientific concepts while being thoroughly entertained.

The scientific details added greatly to the story without sounding like something out of a textbook.

I am in awe of the world author Marcha Fox has created. She has populated our galaxy with human colonies and aliens, enriching the story with intricate detail covering solar systems, seasons, geology, politics, anthropological, fauna, eco-commerce, technological, and spiritual beliefs that are unveiled layer upon layer as the story progresses.

[The author] integrates actual science into science fiction, creating worlds, customs, and life forms outside the world we live.

Needless to say I was deeply gratified and appreciative that these wonderful readers picked up on my ulterior motive and didn’t give me a one or two star review because it was too technical and therefore boring. Of course, nerds like myself LOVE the technical side, but that’s besides the point.

So what is the point? The point is that I didn’t stop there. I also put together “The Star Trails Compendium” which includes a glossary of terms, both fictitious and otherwise, as a companion volume to the stories. I include more details about the star system, Cyraria’s weird, lemniscate (figure-8 shaped) orbit, its effects on their horrific, extreme weather, political structure, and a bit more about the bnolar, the planet’s indigenous species. I hope no one is too disappointed that I refrained from including all the calculations I did while developing the star system, mostly because math is so tedious to express via the keyboard.

And here’s the best part: The ebook versions of the Compendium are FREE!  (At least everywhere but Amazon, who’s a bit uncooperative, but might come around eventually given enough complaints. Hint, hint..)

If you’re an educator or perhaps a homeschooler, there’s an even better bonus especially for you. I’ve included suggestions for lesson plans and discussion topics based on the chapters of each book. Thus, any science teachers who have students who need a little bit more could assign my books as extra credit backed up by assignments which are all but laid out for you in the Compendium. Science clubs could likewise utilize them. Knowing how overloaded today’s teachers are, this could provide the needed stimulation for the Advanced Placement students without a lot of extra work on their part.

If you’re wondering how this works, here’s an example using an excerpt from Chapter 3 of “Beyond the Hidden Sky.”

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The Escape Pod

Shortly after jettison the acceleration shell loosened its grip and shrunk back into the side of the seat but Creena remained in place, gripping the armrests with white-knuckled hands. She’d always been frustrated with the rapid heartbeat and breathing provoked by anger but that was nothing compared to what she was feeling now. She’d experienced a variety of emotions on Mira III, more than most that went through their ordered lives in a state of unquestioning, unreactive calm.

What she felt now, however, was stronger still, a deep, primal reaction from the core of her being. Seared by adrenaline every cell cried out with an unspeakable fear far deeper than any provoked merely by thought, terror firing her blood like a burning fuse.

Never in her entire life had she been so scared.

Her breathing rasped in her ears, mouth dry with her hands shaking and clammy against the armrests. Gradually her racing mind slowed and her heart stopped pounding though her breathing remained heavier than normal as she concentrated on her surroundings.

Funny, it didn’t even feel like she was moving anymore. But it hadn’t felt like the Aquarius was moving, either. She thought back to her Academy physics class and remembered that was the case when something was moving in a straight line at constant speed. The starfield on the holoscreen likewise seemed still but instinct told her that was simply a matter of scale.

She released the straps, their recoil sloppy and slow. The breathless, airy feeling swelled upward, the sensation similar to a soaring dive in an air cruiser. She gasped clutching her chest and the next thing she knew she was floating haplessly above the shell, like a sphere under electro-magnetic levitation.

She gasped in renewed horror.

Was she dead?

She pinched herself, hard, relieved only slightly when it hurt.

Across the pod lights blinked and flashed while the metal floor offered a dizzying design of concentric rings that still seemed to spring upward in pulsating waves. The illusion aggravated the growing nausea even as the facts fell into place.

The Aquarius hadn’t felt that much different from being confined in an ugly building. Certain areas like the galarium where wall-embedded holoscreens gave every impression that a real world lay beyond epoxy shields even added to the deception. But the pod was designed for survival and lacked the power hungry comforts of a starship.

And a mass generator’s gravity simulation was one of them.

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And here are two of the Compendium Discussion and Lesson Plan Suggestions for Chapter 3:

  1. It doesn’t feel as if the pod is moving. Why?

When something is moving in a straight line at constant speed you can’t tell it’s moving. This relates to Newton’s 1st Law of Motion or the principle of inertia which states than an object will remain in a state of rest or constant velocity unless acted upon by unbalanced forces. Newton’s 2nd Law is best described by the equation Force = mass x acceleration or F=ma.

In other words, the force exerted on an object depends on its mass and how fast it is changing speed or accelerating. Newton’s 3rd Law relates to opposing forces, that whenever a force is applied to something, an equal and opposite force is generated, such as the kickback on a rifle or pushing off the side of a swimming pool.

  1. Why is Creena weightless in the pod?

It doesn’t have a “gravity simulator.” Mass such as that of a planet creates gravity which is proportional to how big it is. Scientists will don’t understand exactly how or why gravity works, but they can predict its strength based on the mass of an object or planet.

* * *

So this should give you some idea of the possibilities. Did I have an ulterior motive for this blog? Of course I did. I want my books to reach the audience for which they were intended! But here’s the good news. You can get “Beyond the Hidden Sky” as an ebook for only $0.99 and the Compendium for FREE! Why don’t you check it out? If you’re a teacher or parent trying to encourage your child to not only enjoy science but perhaps actually pursue it, what do you have to lose? Oh, yeah, there’s one more thing. If your library has ebook lending capability, it can obtain all four volumes of the Star Trails Tetralogy for free through Smashwords.

“Beyond the Hidden Sky” Buy Links

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615658865/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0615658865&linkCode=as2&tag=valkyrastrol-20&linkId=DKGQSU3GYWZM6WH7

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/509500

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beyond-the-hidden-sky-marcha-a-fox/1112260474

Kobo Link: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/beyond-the-hidden-sky

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/beyond-the-hidden-sky/id957915250

Create Space (Print copy): https://www.createspace.com/3911767

“Star Trails Compendium” Links

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/537630

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/star-trails-compendium

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/star-trails-compendium-marcha-fox/1121807004

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/star-trails-compendium/id989027687

What’s Behind the Science in Science Fiction Part 5: The Matter – Consciousness Interface

Now we’re getting to the good stuff and I hope you can see why I gave you all that background information leading up to it. In order to fully appreciate something, whether it’s good music or literature, you need a foundation, no matter how rudimentary it may be. And believe me, it was, even though your eyes may have glazed over. My previous posts were a whirlwind tour of physics for dummies but you are now much better informed than most people out there, assuming you read it. Congratulate yourself! I will try to reward your efforts by building on that information so that anyone who skipped it will be entirely lost and need to go back and suffer through it like the rest of you.

Quantum theory was mind-blowing because it introduced the possibility that an observer could influence how light and even matter behaved. This, of course, was only proven on a very small scale, yet the influence was there. Suddenly the world of physics and metaphysics were starting to overlap.

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One of my heroes in the physics world is Richard Feinman because he demonstrated an interest in so many things besides physics. I believe he was as brilliant as he was to the point of winning a Nobel Prize was because he was so open-minded and had the courage to see things differently. That is how breakthroughs come about.  I’ll be forever grateful to him for his “Lectures on Physics” which helped tremendously when the textbooks fell short.

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Another great physicist who seemed to grok the concept that there was more to life than one’s own very specific discipline was Werner Heisenberg, also a Nobel Prize winning physicist with an actual phenomena named after him that relates to quantum theory, i.e. the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. He stated, “It is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet. These lines may have their roots in quite different parts of human cultures, in different times or different cultural environments or different religious traditions: hence if they actually meet, that is, if they are at least so much related to each other that a real interaction can take place, then one may hope that new and interesting developments may follow.”

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Hello? Ya think that maybe quantum theory would be a good one for collaboration with other disciplines? Scientists need to talk to one another! Here we have physicists scratching their heads over whether consciousness and matter interact while we have psychologists such as Dean Radin researching psi phenomena which may well be the mechanism that causes that interaction between consciousness and matter. Rather than treating these researchers with about the same respect at Dr. Venkman (played by Bill Murray) in Ghostbusters, maybe they should get together over a pitcher of margaritas and see what they come up with.

Quantum entanglement is the term used to describe two particles which become tied up with each other enough, kind of like atomic soulmates, that even when they are separated by long distances, if something happens to change the state of one, the other reacts also. This happens instantaneously, i.e. the communication occurs faster than the speed of light, a barrier that was never supposed to be breached. Psi is also instantaneous. Does this imply that we become entangled with others at the quantum level? This is especially enticing when you think of the stories of identical twins who originated with the same genetic material and are also connected at the psychic level.

Along similar lines is the concept known as NLP or neuro-linguistic programming. It has also been called “the power of positive thinking,” and described in a movie called “The Secret” and promoted by a plethora of motivational speakers who declare that you can create your future by visualizing what you want on an consistent basis such that you will eventually draw that situation to you from the Universe at large. If psi has the power to manipulate matter and create not only matter but circumstances, doesn’t that sound as if it has something to do with quantum theory?

Weird, you bet. But it works. We can, indeed, draw circumstances to us in this manner. Which bring me to favorite quote of mine from science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke: “Technology sufficiently far advanced is indistinguishable from magic.” What would Isaac Newton think of your smartphone?

However, there was one rather large problem that comes down to one, little three-letter word: EGO.

Scientists tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to their own field of study. I remember hearing once that as a person comes closer to a PhD that their IQ actually goes down. This does not mean that they are losing brain cells from overwork and losing intelligence. The typical IQ test assesses how much a person knows about a broad spectrum of knowledge and as a person narrows their interests down to the level required to pursue a PhD they get in the realm where they know a lot about a little which actually jeopardizes their IQ. This also means that they start blocking out anything that doesn’t relate to their chosen subject. They can become arrogant as they become experts and sabotage their colleagues who are seen as competitors for needed research funding. There is also the status issue. If you’re proven wrong you are probably through. After all that work getting to that pinnacle, the last thing you want is some upstart to push you off.

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Breaching this obstacle is likely to require what has been described as “progress by funerals.” In other words, as the old farts die off and those new upstarts take over, things will move along much faster.

At least until the upstarts scale that pinnacle and replicate the cycle.

(c) Copyright 2014 by Marcha Fox All Rights Reserved

What’s Behind the Science in Science Fiction? Part Two – Atomic Theory

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I know you’re anxious to get to the good stuff like other dimensions and time travel, but you need to be patient just a little longer. After all, this blog is about what’s behind the science in science fiction, not the final result. Think of it as similar to those documentaries you see on TV which explain how they do the special effects in your favorite movies. I don’t know about you, but knowing how they do that makes me appreciate the movie even more. If you couldn’t care less, then you’re probably reading the wrong blog and need to just go back to reading sci-fi novels. Those who are left need to just bear with me a little longer as I explain the basics of atomic theory which is more relevant than you may think. Ready? Okay, here we go.

As far back as 400 BC or so early Greek philosophers pondered what constituted matter and decided that it could only be divided down so far, from which atomic theory was born. The term “atom” even originated with their adjective atomos, which means indivisible. Back then the elements were believed to be water, air, earth and fire. Clearly they are all important, particularly to life, but not a one of them is an actual element in the chemical sense.

However, proving it was another story and it wasn’t until the 18th – 19th century that scientists gradually discovered that water was comprised of hydrogen and oxygen; air is mostly nitrogen with hydrogen, oxygen and various others in the mix; earth is made up of too many elements to count; and fire is a process that involves oxygen and thus called oxidation but isn’t an element in and of itself. As they confirmed that certain chemicals could only be broken down so far the Periodic Table of the Elements was born. Periodically more are added (pun intended) though in most cases they are manmade.

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By the early 20th century experiments involving electromagnetism and radioactivity revealed that, would the truth be known, the atom was not indivisible after all, but consisted of other particles which were identified as protons, neutrons and electrons. These were suitably dubbed subatomic or elementary particles and scientists conveniently ignored the fact that the etymology of the word “atom” no longer applied, figuring most people didn’t know Greek, anyway.

How these subatomic particles were arranged was a matter of debate that went through numerous speculations. J. J. Thomson’s idea was sometimes referred to the “plum pudding” model where protons and electrons were lumped together in a glob of positively charged fluid. After that, Ernest Rutherford decided that the positive charge as well as most of the mass were concentrated in the center with the electrons surrounding it in some unknown way.

In 1913 Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, proposed his version of the hydrogen atom which remains the mental image many retain today, i.e., a nucleus in the center with electrons revolving around it much as the planets orbit the Sun as shown at the beginning of this blog. Bohr still believed that electrons orbited the nucleus but he placed restrictions on them to certain discrete distances or allowed orbits so that it would agree with what experiments thus far had revealed. At this point they considered the electrons to be itty-bitty particles that orbited the nucleus according to the laws of classical mechanics, in other words like the planets orbit the Sun.

The electrons would change orbits based on either emitting or absorbing a photon, as shown in the animation. This was getting closer, but still had problems.

Nonetheless, the idea of specific orbits was a definite step toward quantum theory and the fact that only specific energy states were allowed. The real problem was thinking of electrons as tiny specks of matter which behaved according to Newton’s Laws pertaining to gravitation. WRONG!

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In 1924 a scientist named Louis de Broglie (pronounced de-broy) proposed that all moving particles could exhibit wave-like behavior. Erwin Schrodinger liked this idea and developed it further, into a probability wave. This theory helped explain behaviors that previous ones couldn’t but still didn’t cover everything. This was ultimately solved by Max Born (no relation to Jason Bourne) who theorized that Schrodinger’s equation represented all possible positions where the electron might possibly be. This conveniently reconciled the two ideas and the wave/particle duality of electrons was born (pun intended).

However, trying to figure out the atom was not taking place in the proverbial vacuum (though admittedly some experiments were). During this same time numerous other scientists were hard at work investigating what interested them most and ultimately led to so many different scientific disciplines. Things were getting too complicated for any one person to have a firm grip on everything anymore.

Light was also under scrutiny since it was apparent that atoms and electromagnetic radiation (a.k.a. light) were related. If you’re scratching your head on where that came from, it derived from having established that atoms emit a photon when they change states, like that cute little animation shows. And in case you’re wondering, yes, even the Sun, our greatest source of energy and light, is no more than a giant glob comprised mostly of hydrogen atoms which bond with each other under pressure to become helium at which time a photon is emitted. Lots of them, true, but that’s the process. Simple.

Most people think of light as what we can see which is conveniently broken down into its various colors by a prism or in some cases a rainstorm that occurs when the Sun is out and thus produces a rainbow. Visible light, however, is but one small portion of what is known as the “Electromagnetic Spectrum.” It also includes various other wavelengths that span a vast variety of wavelengths and energies ranging from radio waves and infrared (heat) on one side to ultraviolet, x-ray and gamma radiation on the other. In the picture you can see the rather small portion of visible light in the middle where it looks like a rainbow.

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Albert Einstein theorized that similar to matter, light could also only be broken down so far, the smallest unit of which was ultimately called a photon. He even proved it and received the Nobel Prize for his paper on the photoelectric effect, which stated that a photon could change an atom’s energy state and that principle is used widely today with all those automatic doors you encounter everywhere from the grocery store to Wal*Mart.

Physicists conducted numerous experiments with light which revealed that it, too, had both wave and particle characteristics. Since photons originate with atoms the fact that they share some of the same characteristics shouldn’t be any more surprising than the fact your have your father’s nose or your mother’s smile. True, photons are massless, but electrons aren’t. Nonetheless, they also show wave and particle traits.

This is a good place to ponder Einstein’s famous equation, E=MC2, which states energy is equal to mass times the square of the speed of light. If you rearrange it algebraically you have energy divided by the square of the speed of light is equal to mass, which essentially declares that mass and energy are the same thing.

Now we’re getting into the good stuff. So give that some thought until next time when I introduce you to the true beginnings of weird science which originated with something called the double-slit experiment.

See you then.

© Copyright 2014 by Marcha Fox

All Rights Reserved