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A: The Clone Ranger February 9, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, death, ideas, sci-fi, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, serial fiction, writing.
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Q: What goes hi ho, Silver, Silver, Silver?

My dreams tend to be pretty worthless for thinking up plots or characters. A while back when I had trouble sleeping, I tried melatonin. This worked wonderfully well getting me to sleep but it gave me the most vivid–and boring–dreams ever. The vibrant colors came through unmatched by any other dream, but the sequence itself tended to be unthrilling, boring stuff like waiting in line at the supermarket. That was it. Just standing in line.

Recently I had a bout of dreams about clones. Who knows why? Something about the dream theme set my conscious brain to thinking in terms of sf stories (none of this was in the dream itself–that all came later). The variants on Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” are obvious but the moral considerations (and legal ramifications) are what boiled up in my head.

If you have sex with your own clone, is this masturbation? If you kill your own clone, is that suicide? (The truly scary ending on The Prestige is a take on this) If clones are considered separate entities, what does this do to DNA solutions for crimes? How do you prove it wasn’t you but your clone that did the crime? Could a clever criminal use his clone as an alibi for actually committing a crime? If you create your own clone for the express purpose of a sex crime (on the clone), who is the victim and who is the perpetrator? Is this even a crime? Could therapy for a serial killer be killing his own clones rather than other people? What are the ethics involved of trying risky medical treatments on clones to find the proper one for the “original?”

Cloning certainly eliminates the need for estate planning. Just will your clone your fortune. Skip a few hundred years into the future. Would all the wealth be consolidated in the hands of a few clones?

I need to get to work on a science fiction book. Not dealing with clones, not exactly (could a clone be used as a surrogate to serve a prison sentence?)

The Black Hole Passes September 8, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, death, hobby, movies & TV, New Mexico, nostalgia, science, sense of wonder.
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No, that’s not a typo. I’m not referring to Campbell’s The Black Star Passes but to the Black Hole surplus store in Los Alamos. The Black Hole was a compendium of junk and history, useable tech equipment and stuff I’m not sure anyone knew what it did.

The owner, Ed Grothus, died some time ago and was mostly anti-nuke, pro who knows what, who bought lots of surplus equipment at the Los Alamos lab and sold them. On one trip there, Gordon Garb laughingly asked for a 50kw oil bath capacitor–they had 3 on the shelf. I had less luck hunting for keyboards with the function keys down the left side–all their IBM keyboards predated fn keys. Stacks of Beta tapes (including the entire Prisoner series!). Dual trace oscilloscopes, miles of wire and coax, gadgets nobody knew what they were good for other than asking, “What’s that thing? It looks awesome, but…”

Entropy sets in, even in such backwaters of New Mexico. Alas, Hawking was right and black holes do evaporate.

A bit of irony is the closing coincides with a mini-Maker Fair here in Abq. Gordon is maybe going to come for that, which is A Good Thing since he missed Bubonicon this year.

I have been busy tidying up a lot of writing chores. More on them later. Got a short story to do ASAP, then…lots more stuff. But some of it is actually seeing the light of day this year. (And there are still prizes for the trivia contest available…hurry hurry hurry, time’s almost up!)

I leave you with the establishing shot for The Black Hole.

The Black Hole

Looking Into the Future From the Past April 21, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in conventions, history, inventions, nostalgia, science, space.
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It’s hard for me to believe the Seattle World’s Fair opened on this day in 1962. My dad was a big fan of such fairs, for some reason, and one of the few family vacations that didn’t also touch on visiting relatives got us moving northward from El Paso.

For my part, I was in hog heaven. LBJ opened the NASA exhibit but who cared about petty politicians? Wernher von Braun was there, too. A real superstar in my eyes, but we couldn’t get in to see the talks. Doubt my dad would have been all that interested, since he didn’t share my enthusiasm for things outer spacial.

According to this article, JFK wasn’t at the closing ceremony because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Who knew?

The article also goes on at great length about how the fair theme was overpopulation and how we were going to nuke ourselves into oblivion. I don’t remember a bit of that, though considering that JFK was trying to keep the Russkies from doing that very thing, perhaps I should have paid more attention.

I remember the weird vending machines that kicked out hamburgers in cellophane wrappers (gee, just like the ones I buy at Costco, only they come in big boxes and not from vending machines). Never a big one of trinkets, I still got a glass sculpture of the Space Needle. Alas, I have no idea where the 6″ glass structure is. Too many moves since then doomed it, I fear.

This is the first time I ever saw color TV. KOMO had a live broadcast, their afternoon guy and a basset hound. Comparing the TV picture with the real thing was a revelation. The basset hound really wasn’t purple. That was a little disappointing. Riding the monorail was fun but not the transportation system of the future they made it out to be. Last time I was in Seattle was 1989 and rode the monorail for old time’s sake. Wasn’t the future of transportation then, either.

I remember the cube buildings and, of course, the Space Needle. In ’62 didn’t eat there because of the cost, though we did ride to the observation deck and look around. In ’89 did eat there and the view was great and the food mediocre (unlike the Calgary Tower where both view and food were superb). And nowhere was there a hint of Jessica Alba sitting on the outside.

The AT&T/Bell Labs display. I got shunted aside when I was chosen to show how much faster touchtone phone dialing was compared to rotary. And yes, I was the perfect choice and was *much* faster on the buttons. But the guy pushing this innovation didn’t appreciate my comment that the central switching system still took the same length of time to put the call through since it was mechanical, especially since he shoved a microphone in my face when he asked what I thought and hundreds of people heard.

An excursion around town to the Archway Bookstore was a revelation. El Paso didn’t have bookstores, per se. Newsstands and department stores, but an entire store of nothing but books? In the basement of the Archway was about every Ace Double ever. Or so I thought. I must have spent close to $3 on books! (A princely sum for me then) Apparently this store is long gone.

The fairgrounds is undoubtedly far different from 1989 and vastly so from 1962, but memory of seeing von Braun, the bold architecture (which style burned itself by 1970) and the idea of the future all appealed. (Another World’s Fair I went to, this one in New Orleans, had the most depressing exhibits of massive water valves and pictures of hydro plants ever–their theme was “water.” That trip was fun for reasons other than the fair.)

Move Over, Dick Tracy April 16, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, iPad, iPhone, science, web & computers.
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The Dick Tracy comic strip was never a favorite of mine but I was always amused by the weird villains and my stfnal soul yearned for that wristwatch of his. A video telephone. Wow. Heady stuff (and this was before I ever found a copy of Tom Swift and his Phototelephone–that book alone is worth a lot of verbiage, but I’ll save that for a later time).

The smartphone is about everything that wrist video/radio was–almost. Now Sony has gone that extra diminished inch and created a true wrist smartwatch.

Android, of course, and sorta clunky looking like the first digital watches. The difference lies in the touch screen, I suspect. And the Bluetooth connection. It doesn’t appear to have an annoying ringtone but rather vibrates. Or pings in your earpiece. It’s creepy now seeing people wandering around, glassy eyed and talking to themselves. This might carry the creepiness to a new level since they don’t have to have a cell phone in their hand or hooked to their belt.

Apps seem limited but how hard can it be to port these over from Android smartphones? The chips are small enough and how much storage do you really need if you can use your wristwatch to float into the iCloud?

Wristwatches have become something of an ornamentation device rather than useful. Ask someone now what time it is and they look at their cell phone. A kid asked me what time it was yesterday while I was elegantly dining at McD’s and I checked the display at the top of my iPad, in spite of wearing my nifty atomic watch. Even I succumb to the zeitgeist.

The Sony Smartwatch is hardly a fashion statement but let Rolex get hold of this and…Katie, bar the door!

The Unseen World Around Us April 12, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in dinosaurs, geocaching, history, ideas, New Mexico, outlaws, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, UFOs, writing.
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As you probably know by now, I am fascinated with the idea we go through life and see only a tiny fraction of it. This drew me to geocaching where most people go right by a cache and never know. This is a simple thing. The world–nature–is vastly more intriguing with its diversity and how new things pop up all the time, things we simply have not been attentive enough to see before.

In NM there are cemeteries all over the place, but who is buried int hem? Some terrible outlaw who never achieved the status of Billy the Kid or Blackjack Ketchum? Or just plain folks, putting in their time, working sunrise to sunset and then…dying. Unnoticed, or perhaps noticed only for a very short while by a very few people?

New discoveries in NM caverns possibly give us more powerful antibiotics. Who woulda thunk it? Back in 1986 the Lechuguilla Cave was discovered. It’s the 7th longest cave in the world and the deepest in the continental US. And antibiotic resistant bacteria have been found in it.

Which brings up the point, what antibiotics? Turns out these may be brand new ones. What else may be found here? It is near Roswell. Could those crafty UFOnauts be hiding down there, knowing it is the deepest point they could reach without digging? Are those antibiotics potentially from Out There, brought to Earth by the 1947 saucer crash? Or perhaps your ideas run more to thriller. If there is a bacterium, can it be used as a terror weapon? Only the antibiotic from the cave can save us?

More than 1200 new species of plants and animals have been found in the Amazon since 2000. What might James Cameron find diving into the Marianas Trench? That’s a long way down and hitherto unexplored.

Panspermia might be a way of repopulating lost species on earth. Comets and asteroid impacts can blast away huge chunks of earth (imagine finding those dinosaurs from ’40s and ’50s pulp stories on other planets!) And then return it.

So much of nature out there, unseen.

Frack and Frelk April 5, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in history, science, science fiction, westerns, writing.
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A student asked a few weeks back about using slang in his fiction. As with everything dealing with writing, the answer is yes and no. For westerns, the slang is pretty well detailed in writing of the era. Diaries are a good source for common usage (though uncommon in the sense that not many people then could read or write). But the usage is established, so only embellishments need to be made to lend an air of authenticity.

Noir detective stories set in the ’30s and ’40s fall into this category, too. It’s there in contemporaneous writing. Hunt for it. The idea isn’t to use slang exclusively but rather to give the flavor of the era. We are, after all, writing for a modern audience.

The harder question to answer deals with slang in sf. Science fiction futures ought to sound different–but should they? Tossing in tech stuff can be deadly. Who would believe a story where transistor radios were cutting edge tech? Slang changes rapidly and can make edgy, hip stuff sound outdated before it sees print. I never knew anyone who used the words groovy or grok in dialog, but grok especially is worth examining.

SF can create slang–a little bit like a spice–and it ought to be used consistently. Using current slang is likely to be a nonstarter, but a few good words tossed in can seem ordinary if your characters just use them and don’t make a big point out of it, as if saying “see? This is what we’ll all be saying in the future.” I’m fond of a couple words I coined. Foptic=fiber optic and gengineering=genetic engineering (and in a similar use genhanced=genetically enhanced).

Grok is a similar term. It defines the culture internally in Stranger in a Strange Land, is catchy and used often enough to be well understood and accepted by the reader. Curse words tend to be a little more slippery. Samuel R. Delaney invented frelk in Dahlgren for a specific sexual perversion, but it came out nicely as a swear word. Frack showed up in Battlestar Galactica, but has been superceded by reality. Ask the man in the street about fracking and you’re more likely to get a jeremiad about natural gas than Cylons.

Keep it natural, keep it simple and never forget your audience lives in the frelking 21st Century.

February 23, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, New Mexico, science, science fiction, space.
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Water Worlds and Space Elevators

Lou passed along this about a water world around a red dwarf. Twenty times as massive as earth, the atmosphere has water, but in “super fluid” phase. Not sure what this means so will check it out to see. Maybe an entire planet of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Ice 9″?

But another item caught my eye. It looks as if Japan is committing to a space elevator by 2050. Alas, I will never see it work, but I have doubts about this technology and if I lived to be 200 might not live to see it work. Still, go for it! No idea where the earth base would be. One of the Pacific Islands, probably. Iwo Jima is a bit north since nearer the equator would work, but it would be good seeing something rising from Mt Suribachi in addition to an American flag. (This date, 1945)

As an exotic technology for cheap launches, I’d prefer something like a laser launch vehicle. (For both this and the space elevator, a tip of the space helmet to Jordin Kare.)

Tonight I’m likely going to a talk by Loretta Hall on the NM Spaceport and a NM perspective on the history of rocketry. (7-8:30, Natural History Museum, for you locals)

Today, 1962 February 20, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in history, science, space.
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Fifty years ago, America sneaked into space. John Glenn actually orbited the Earth. Hard to believe space tourism will duplicate what the prior two Americans did, at least as far as “going into space” altitudes. (I am discounting Ham’s flight, too. Ham is buried at the west end of the parking lot at the Alamogordo Space Museum. At least he didn’t die in orbit as did Laika back in ’57) We are lucky to still have an original Mercury astronaut around. The first man in orbit died in a Mig15 crash back in ’68, while we elected ours to the Senate to insure his mummification.

One of the major head scatchers of the 20th Century has to be the sudden decline of our space program. We reached the Moon, that was it (I can blame Nixon but Vietnam was also a big part of it). I find it hard to believe vision is missing, but it seems to be so. If I remember the story, one of the dogs the Russians sent into space was recovered, had pups and one was given to JFK. Wonder if there are offspring? And why does Eric Frank Russell’s story “Into Your Tent I’ll Creep” come to mind?

Congratulations to all who have gone into space. May another, albeit far future, generation join you in this achievement.

Blast Off For High Adventure… February 19, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, New Mexico, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, Texas.
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But probably not from New Mexico’s Spaceport America. The legislature mostly failed to do anything this year in its 30 day session, but what else is new? A lot of egregious oversights but getting bought off by lobbyists and not passing limited liability for the spaceport is going to cost us dearly.

There are six in the works, with Colorado getting into the foray.

I suspect the Texas spaceport might be financed by Jeff Bezos (go buy more of my stuff on Amazon so he can afford to build his own rocket–and I can afford to launch!) Check out the link to see what Texas did to provide launcher protection–which is what NM failed to do.

With Virgin Galactic only on the hook for a few offices rented in Las Cruces and not paying a dime so far to the state, chances look mighty good to me they will shift their attention to either Texas or Colorado. Rutan is building the White Knight out in California but going to the Mojave Desert for a launch lacks…class. It’s hot out there and miles from civilization. Space tourists (it said in the paper this morning that Victoria Principal is on the roster for the first Spaceport America launch–hope she can get a ticket elsewhere) are in it for a little adventure and a lot of bragging rights. Roughing it in real desert is nowhere near as brag-worthy as staying in a posh hotel and then launching. Sort of like comparing Magellan’s Trinidad to the Queen Mary (the trial lawyers would likely make the comparison to the Titanic…) Exploration, no, elegance and adventure, yes. The difference between naming the Magellanic Clouds and “merely” seeing them from space.

With the death of all space missions and NASA still sucking up the same amount of money for a lot fewer programs, private space is our salvation. Mine, at least, for seeing space travel. (The sf I read as a kid still burns brightly in my imagination).

A Simple Change In History February 15, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, history, ideas, science.
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It’s great to have friends who come up with nifty ideas. Scott & Pat have actually done research on this and it sounds plausible. Pat goes to garage sales and managed to get a lead crystal decanter worth several hundred bucks for only a few, but should she use it since it is lead crystal (from the turn of the last century)?

Turns out it might be pretty bad if she did. The lead leaches out of the glass fairly rapidly when the decanter is filled with something mildly acidic. Like wine. Which is what you would likely put in a wine decanter. But how much? Scott found that concentrations would be 50,000 micrograms in a few weeks (and the edge of oops for lead in drink is around 50 micrograms). So you could get quite an overdose…from just one glass of wine from that decanter.

As Scott pointed out, the aristocracy most likely to use such a fine piece of artwork would fill it, possibly close the house for a few months, then return. And drink highly contaminated wine.

Worse, the Romans used lead to “sweeten” sour wine, a practice later vintners followed.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning? When you think about British aristocracy, well, it’s like a checklist.
High blood pressure
Declines in mental functioning
Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities
Muscular weakness
Headache
Abdominal pain
Memory loss
Mood disorders
Reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm
Miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women

In addition, it can cause a condition very similar to gout.

The aristocracy methodically poisoned itself over the years, likely drinking more wine to cure their hangover symptoms which could well have been due to lead poisoning.

If the aristocracy had not been susceptible to lead poisoning, they might still be top dogs. How’s that for an alt history idea?

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