Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Google Analytics

Just a quick update. I've hooked Google Analytics up on on all the main pages. If you see any bugs, slowdowns, or weirdness, let me know.

Also, I have not and will not hook up Addsense, so if you see ads on my website for anything that doesn't seem like one of my novels, please yell.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Assuming a technological advantage: FAIL

I've been predicting for some time that remotely operated drones won't be the wave of the future, because they can be co-opted. In this case, apparently, it's the result of stupidity rather than a technological defeat. But there will come a time when digital command and control are a liability. One hopes the military planners in the civilized world have planned for this. Given the above, I have my doubts.

[edit: link activated.]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Still lurking about

It's been a while since I've posted here.
I have a project I'm working on to try and export the playlists I listen to into some useful fashion onto this blog. So far, it's been unsuccessful. Itunes has a lot of useful information locked up in it, but it's irritatingly tight-fisted with letting anything else see that information.

Meantime, I gave up on National Novel Writing month this year. It was giving me too much stress and I was ten thousand words behind by the time I gave up. I'll try again next year.

I have been plugging along on /Einstein's Blues/ what was originally my 2006 Nano novel, in hopes of finishing it ready to sell some time this spring. I gave a short reading from it at Mile Hi Con, which was remarkably well received, which was a great boost.

Working on Chapter 4 today, and came up with this paragraph, brand new today, that gives you a bit of the tone of the novel:

Lander, like most colonial cities, grew like tree rings around the point where the colonists' boots first touched the ground. The first years after arrival at a new planet are tough, and the city developed in a thin, tenuous ring clinging to the brand new, prefabricated lowport end of the cable that led to the ship above. Over time, as more ships arrived with more people and materials, Lander grew around that first ring, more in good years, less in bad years, expanding into those first generation agricultural fields, into the Mordor plain, as D pointed out, and up over the Spender hills where the dragons once roamed. Inevitably, though, the growth slowed down. The colony ships were all gone, save the one they cannibalized as the highport on the orbital wire. Interstellar commerce hadn't really picked up. LowTown, as first few rings around the lowport became known, became a morass of run-down, empty warehouses, unlicensed brothels, titty bars, rough clubs, cheaper flop houses. Lander's very own honest-to-god nasty shithole of a slum. Naturally, this attracted musicians.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A review in Danish

/Looking Glass/ got a nice review today. That always makes my day. To actually read this review, though, I had to work a bit, since as you can see, it's not in English. My first thought, from the spelling, was German, but this didn't translate more than every fifth or sixth word. Then I caught the occasional slashed o character and realized I was looking at a Scandinavian language. Translating from Norwegian gave me bits and pieces, but a lot of the vocabulary wasn't being translated. When I studied Norwegian in college, one of the things I was told is that Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian are close relatives, and that Danes can read Norwegian, but it sounds different and Swedes can understand it, but it's written differently. Given that nearly twenty year old tidbit, I tried Danish, and got a pretty darn good translation. Why does Google Translate do so well with Scandinavian languages? Well, Modern English inherited its sentence structure from Scandinavian languages, so presumably all the translation software has to do is translate the words themselves, for which it does not have to understand the meaning. Surprisingly effective.

Getting back to the review, I sometimes wonder how a given reader stumbles across my work, but seldom moreso than today. Whoever you are, mange tak. :)

Click here for the translated version.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Followup to "It'd Be Faster by Carrier Pigeon

Turns out there's an RFC spec, RFC 1149 for A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers, and a second, RFC 2549 which adds Quality of Service info.

According to the Wikipedia article on the matter, both specs were April fools jokes, 9 years apart, and IPoAC was actually implemented on one occasion by the Bergin Linux user group in late April of 2001 for a brief test of 9 packets. The resulting ping data is included in the wikipedia article.

So the joke, it would seem, is on me. :)


My Schedule for Mile Hi Con 41

My Schedule for Mile Hi Con 41

So the schedule seems to be nailed down, and I have to say I'm in some awesome panels. Only two, but two I can really sink my teeth into. I'm also thrilled to be in the Mile Hi Con Meet Munch and Mingle/Autograph Alley. I will be keeping company with a /lot/ of really talented people at that. I also have a reading, at which I'll be reading from /Irreconcilable Differences/ and, time permitting, possibly a teaser from /Einstein's Blues/, which I'm working on now. Even my wife hasn't seen anything from Einstein's Blues yet. :)

So, the schedule as of now is:

Friday, Oct. 24, 3:00pm Grand Mesa B-C Stage: Sci-Fi High Finance.
Friday, Oct. 24, 8:00pm - 9:00pm Atrium: MileHiCon Meet, Munch, and Mingle/Autograph Alley

Saturday: nothing scheduled.

Sunday, October 25, Noon Mesa Verde C: Reading with CT Adams
Sunday, October 25, 1:00PM Wind River B: Being Human

Looking forward to being at the con. MHC is always a fun time.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mile Hi Con

Mile Hi Con 41 is coming - October 23d to the 25th. My wife and I will be there. I am on the schedule for several interesting panels, as well as a reading and time in autograph alley. But please don't be shy. If you run into me in the hallway and have something by me you want signed, please by all means let me know. This kind of thing makes my day.

Mile Hi Con is a great con. The lines are short, the content is good, the people are friendly, the art show first class, and then there's the critter crunch - a robot combat thing that predates all the robot wars games on tv in the 90s. Good fun, and at only 42 bucks a head at the door for the whole weekend,

Click here for their website.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nice double review

Some time ago, fellow author Robert Stikmanz and I began corresponding, shortly before the release of his most recent novel, Sleeper Awakes. And so, while it was not entirely a surprise when he wrote this really nice double review of both my novels, it's nonetheless an awesome review, and I'm very grateful. You may expect a review of Sleeper Awakes in the reviews section very soon, but the short short version is, it's good, it's funny, it's like a private little drug trip with no munchies afterwards. Highly recommended.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Islands of Stability in the Periodic Table

Filed under "Mike would have loved this." Way back, way /way/ back, talking high school or so, friend Mike first mentioned research he'd read about talking about islands of stability - super-heavy elements that, unlike most elements heavier than plutonium, were stable for more than a few fractions of a second.

Apparently researchers at Lawrence Berkeley are getting closer. They've apparently made element 114, which hung around for a tenth of a second.

Mike had a lot of ideas about the properties of elements from the island of stability, but I sha'ant put his high-school era science to the test posthumously, and I don't recall them clearly anyway. It's possible he was making them up for gaming purposes anyway.

Anyway, the full article is here, linked from Portal to the Universe


Saturday, September 12, 2009

It'd be faster by carrier pigeon....

There's an old saw in the networking industry that goes something like, "never underestimate the bandwidth of a VW Microbus loaded with magtape doing 60 down the highway." Apparently an IT firm in South Africa was frustrated with DSL speeds (if my calculations are correct, they're getting about 177kbps - which /is/ pretty pokey, even by Qwest standards - see my livejournal entry of Feb. 22, 2005). Apparently someone in the organization was heard to say "it'd be faster if we sent it by carrier pigeon." Thus, a publicity stunt was born.. Now, doing the math, and using decimal approximations for the binary numbers (because it's easier), we can work out the bandwidth of that carrier pigeon. With a four-gig packet (since the pigeon handles all routing and addressing information itself), we get a bandwidth over the 60 miles traveled of about 444kbps. Pigeon for the win. No information was given on whether the two hours included the time to put the data on the flash stick and to get it off. Let's assume it did.

However, let's push this a bit further. We can increase the packet size dramatically without increasing time to travel. Ain't physical media great? Let's take it to 128gB, which are the largest flash sticks I've seen. Let's assume we're using cheap sticks, too, and are only getting 120mb/sec transfer rates on and off the stick. So. Load the stick with 128gB of data. Load time, about 2.5 hours. Transit time, 2 hours, same as in the test. Pigeon returns with an empty stick or no stick, thus ACKing transmission of the packet in another two hours. Meantime, the packet is unloaded from the flash stick, taking another 2.5 hours. Total time for the packet: 7 hours. Total bandwidth, about 4.06mb/s. With 6.5 hour latencies (remember, the pigeon headed back while the stick was being unloaded). If you're not in a hurry but have large amounts of data to move, the bandwidth becomes the most significant number. Not so different from using a satellite. Assuming your satellite is orbiting Pluto. (about 5 light-hours away).

So given that we've established a packet header system that handles routing and addressing and is also the transport layer (the pigeon), and a quite-large packet size (128gB) and an ACK system (the pigeon again) we need only add a sequence number. Let's stick an RFID chip in the pigeon. They're light, and if we put one in that's reprogrammable we can change the number for each flight. Sending a packet would then amount to: set the sequence number on the pigeon. Load the flash key. Strap the flash key to the pigeon's leg. Send the pigeon on its way. On the receiving end, catch the pigeon. Read the sequence number from its RFID. Unload the flash key. We now have all the pieces we need to run IP, and thus TCP over this new hardware layer. I propose we should call this new hardware protocol CPPTP - Carrier Pigeon Point to Point protocol.

If I ever write Steampunk again, you may expect to see CPPTP /somewhere/. :)


*edited - I forgot to factor the load time in on the latency calculation*

Saturday, August 29, 2009

David Byrne on Kindle DX

Interesting review by David Byrne (frontman for the Talking Heads) of the Kindle DX. Especially interesting to see Byrne's perspective, since he's been part of the music industry through their whole DRM era.

I've been pretty busy of late, working on the new novel, visiting my mother over my birthday, having the kitchen counters redone, and we have adopted a kitten. Pictures soon. :)


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bamboo Bicycles and natural meta-resources

In my previous posting about metar-esources, I focused exclusively on manufactured goods. But taken another way, humans have been meta-resource users longer than we've been human - as long as we've been tool-using primates. Wood could, for example, be considered a meta-resource, since the tree has gone to the trouble of manufacturing a rigid, easily worked cellulose structure.

Okay, it's a stretch.

It's still interesting to see natural products taking their places beside the most modern. In the case of Bamboosero they're making bike frames out of bamboo, hemp, and (if I understand correctly) polyester resin. Apparently they compare favorably to carbon fiber. Consider that a moment. Bamboo, a fast growing grass (three years from seedling to harvest for bike frames), when heat treated and wrapped in hemp, a crop plant grown for its long, strong fibers for thousands of years (the discovery of and breeding for THC content is comparatively recent), and soaked in polyester resin stacks up to polyester resin soaked /carbon fiber/. Apparently the bike frames are a little more flexible than their carbon fiber counterparts, but this helps them absorb shock better. It boggles the mind, and makes one wonder how many other good materials for space-age material-science have been ignored because humans didn't invent them.

And yes, I understand the role the resin is playing here. Let us not underestimate it or its man-made nature. But I start to wonder if hybrid materials (to coin a phrase) - man-made with natural might not be a strong force as we look into the future.

The constraints are, probably, a lack of engineering data and engineering consistency with natural products. Consider that in the last 20 years or so, as the housing industry has moved to building with lumber exclusively from farmed, fast-growing trees, that the engineering specs on a 2x4 are rather different from 2x4s sawn from old growth pine forests. That kind of thing has to drive engineers (and architects) insane. I wonder if that, as much as techno-snobbery, is behind the lack of utilization of these natural materials, including the gradual replacement of wood with manufactured timbers in homes.

(As an aside: my current house has natural-timber floors. They /give/ a lot more than the old house's manufactured timbers did, and especially under the front loading washer, this is not a positive thing.)

Changing venues to a craftsman-driven, boutique technology realm, whether at the high end in industrialized nations, or the lower end in emerging nations, changes the need for material consistency. Instead of an engineer trying to model what the material will do mathematically, a craftsman knows the material and how it will react in what he/she is making, and presumably how to evaluate the stock. Watch Norm Abram pick out wood for his projects some time, if you want to see that practice at work. (Okay, Norm has degrees in mechanical engineering and business admin, so he might be doing the engineering in his head. But still.)

Meta-materials, naturally occurring or otherwise, because of their variations, might not lend themselves to mass production, but for cottage and craft industries, it's a whole different ballgame.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Amazon/1984, Endgame - Besos Apologizes

Okay.. I've never been a Jeff Bezos fan. Until now. This, sports fans, is a CEO owning up to his company's mistakes. Shrewd move? You bet. The blunt, unambiguous apology and admission of wrongdoing is the kind of thing that sets bloggers' hearts a-twitter. So to speak. I am astonished. Well done, Mr. Bezos.


Meta-resources and the future

(As promised some time ago, here's my big post from my personal blog on meta-resources and why they matter. I've updated it a bit from that original post, and as always, corrected egregious typos. This was originally written in 2006, and IMHO the situation has only accelerated.)

For some time now, I've been subscribing to quite a number of mailing lists and blogs that I refer to as ingenuity sites, such as Make: and Craft:, evilmadscientists, AfriGadget, and, of course, reading sites about home made machine tools, machine tools made from old car parts, home made scanning tunneling microscopes, micro CNC equipment and so on. A body'd think I don't have enough to do. :)

But seriously, I've been noticing some interesting commonalities among all these sites.

First, there seems to be a gradual democratization of the ability to manufacture advanced technology. People do surface mount technology in their basement, using a toaster oven for the solder flow machine. I've seen a dozen different ways to make circuit boards, but most of them start from laserprints. One recipe etches the boards in salt water. You can get pretty reasonable circuit design and layout software for free online. A friend of mine tells me that certain types of off-the-shelf Epson inkjet printers with certain off the shelf ink packs, special software, and lots of tinkering, can print crude (and not especially reliable) semiconductor integrated circuits on plain paper. Also interesting (to me, at least) is the book "Instruments of Amplification" wherein the author spells out how to make your own vacuum tubes.

On the mechanical side of things, there are Gingery's books on how to make a full (manual) machine shop from scrap aluminum, as mentioned in the link above. Backyard metal foundries seem to be far more common than one might expect, and the technology level is rising sharply for these hobbyists. Some of them are building computer controlled mills out of what amounts to the guts of a couple old printers and a dremel tool, and using them for some fairly precise, reproducible work. You can now buy such systems as kits, or turn-key for slightly less than a Laserjet 4 laser printer cost in 1996. (And you'd pay for it in dollars that aren't worth as much, too.) Hell, even American Chopper shows, without really meaning to - they make it to be a soap opera, basically - that a small(er) business can buy these sophisticated tools, guys with junior college educations can learn to use them, and produce amazing, professional things. (Okay, I'm leaving that paragraph in, because that's what I wrote in 2006. Since then, however, I've become a lot less of a four-year-college snob. President Obama's focus on junior colleges really put it in perspective for me. I think he's right.)

If I were a large manufacturing corporation, I'd be worried by this. This democratization of sophisticated technology seems like it's going to encourage cottage industry (again, like Orange County Choppers, from American Chopper). Economies of scale will still be in the favor of the big corporations, but where the quality of the product really matters, boutique industry has an advantage. Cottage industry is also not saddled with an ossified bureaucracy, so they can react to markets faster. (Since I originally wrote this in 2006, the best example of ossified bureaucracy stifling product engineering - the United States auto industry - has essentially collapsed. So who knows, this particular problem may be reaching the end of its road.)

Cottage industry also has the advantage of working where there isn't the capital to establish large corporations, in this case the poorest countries in the world.

As a side note, those poorest countries of the world, as cottage industry takes off, have the option of picking and choosing what technologies from the developed world they really want, and there are some interesting choices they can make, since they're starting from closer to scratch than we in the developed world can.

Anyway. The second point that has risen to me out of all this reading is the rise of meta-resources. AfriGadget, MultiMachine, and quite a few others from time to time, frequently use car parts as resources. For the Multimachine folks, engine blocks are a readily available (even in the underdeveloped parts of the world) source of precisely machined, flat, rigid structures, which are absolutely fundamental to building precision tools. Car alternators find themselves repurposed as wind generators fairly regularly. Tires, wheels, shafts, and wheel bearings get remade into carts, engines turn generators and pumps, and there are whole cottage industries built around taking the parts of a bunch of old cars and making a running car out of them.

It's not limited to cars, either. Another site had information on street vendors in India who will fix your cell phone, usually by cannibalizing parts from other phones of the same model. These electronics we in the developed world consider a menace in landfills (all that lead, etc), are repairable as your cost of labor goes down, despite being manufactured with no thought to repairability (or no thought *for* repairability, at least) being made.

Heck, even in the United States, the superabundance of shipping containers that pile up at our port cities are starting to be sold and repurposed as modules to build homes out of. Apparently they work quite well for this.

This rise of meta-resources is fascinating to me. We're always taught to think of resources as *natural* resources, that is, the raw materials we scrape out of the planet. But the things we make out of those raw materials are, themselves, resources, and not just in the sense of recycling them back into the raw materials (IE melting them down) but in their finished states, they can be reused and remade, and, in fact, that meta-resource may be more useful due to some factor of its original manufacture than the raw material. The original use of the resource added value to it which can, itself, be reused.

Why does all this matter? Well, it matters to me, because I write science fiction, and looking into the future and guessing what it might be like is part of my job. It's also interesting in that you can see how the world is changing. People in underdeveloped countries are aware of what they don't have, and they are learning the skills to make what they want, and they are leaping past whole decades of technology to pick and choose from the long chain of technology we in the developed world had to go through step by step, and they're making use of the products they've /already/ bought from the developed world to do it. In some cases, they're deliberately buying the West's garbage /as/ a resource. The ship-breaking yards in Bangladesh are a fine example. (Yes, I'm aware of the appalling environmental and human cost of that operation, but at the same time I respect their ingenuity and meta-resource use. The ship-breaking yards produce 80% of Bangladesh's steel. If Bangladesh had iron ore to mine, does anyone really believe the mining and smelting operations would be any better? And were they in 19th century England and America?)

Finally, it's reassuring to know that, not only is human ingenuity not dead, it is not limited to corporate environments, to engineers and specialists, and so forth. It's reassuring to know that, despite how complex modern technologies have become, individual contribution can, and I think will, make a difference. Perhaps make THE difference.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

More on Amazon and 1984

Amazon sent an email to the New York Times about the whole mess with 1984 and Animal Farm that explained things a bit. Apparently I'm right, that someone published versions of the books who didn't have rights to them, and when the rights holder informed them, they felt they could legitimately go take them back from the customers and give a refund.

Apparently the negative press has been enough to get their attention, as the same email says, as quoted by Brad Stone of the New York Times, "We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances[...]".

In the long run, that might be enough. I rather hope not. I'd love to see the whole DRM and 'business controlling what you own' thing go up in flames, but I think the Kindle is too small a market to generate the kind of political will to change it.

In any case, while I'm still a little uneasy about them having /any/ control of what I've purchased and downloaded already, and while I detest their DRM for a variety of reasons, hopefully they've learned something important here, and really won't do it again. That'll have to be enough for now.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Amazon goes 1984 on 1984


An interesting thing happened with some Kindle store versions of Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm. They disappeared. There's a lot of speculation whether the books were illegally pirated, or exactly what the situation is, and it's muddied by the fact that other editions of the books are still for sale in the Kindle store. They may, in fact, have had perfectly legitimate reasons for pulling that edition from the store. Amazon, of course, said nothing. They emailed owners that there were 'problems with the book(s).' That's all they said.

Then Amazon reached out and deleted the books from everyone's Kindle, with a full refund.

So to anyone who's listening, DON'T BUY A KINDLE OR KINDLE BOOKS UNTIL AMAZON RECOGNIZES THAT WHEN WE BUY A BOOK IT'S OURS. They don't have to archive it forever if it's not legit. They don't have to keep selling it. The terms of service on the Kindle publishing system already clearly state that those of us who put material up for the Kindle indemnify Amazon for any license infringements. That's all fine. But taking books back like this is NOT fine. As long as this mechanism exists, the potential for its misuse exists, and if e-books are ever to take their place beside real books as a source of literature and ideas, then we must be able to trust that when a book is bought, it stays bought. Revised editions can be sent, provided the original is not deleted. But touching the library in my kindle is the same as touching the library in my house, and I will object strenuously. And if they want to kick my blog off their site for objecting strenuously into their RSS feed, so be it.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Refurbed Kindles for $199

Looking for a Kindle? Want it cheap? If you don't mind getting the original Kindle (the same one I have and like), Amazon is selling refurbished ones.

These have some features the newer kindles lack. Most notable is the SD card slot. I've yet to fill my Kindle's relatively small wired memory, but the knowledge that I can use the SD card, and when it's full switch to another (theoretically - haven't tried this) seems like a positive thing. The downsides to the original Kindle are that the battery door comes off easily, and the leather folder it comes with /does not fit/.

(Me, in February of 2008) The best way to fix the otherwise worthless cover that comes with your Kindle seems to be to cut out the straps that it comes with to hold the Kindle in place, and to put self-stick velcro inside and on the Kindle itself. Once that's done, it's a pretty reasonable cover. It's just that the mounting straps inside don't actually *fit* the Kindle.

I would add to this that the velcro does not need to be the super-strong industrial stuff I use in combat robots. That tends to rip the battery door off the back of the Kindle. Oops. :)


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Forget Health Insurance. Get a support contract

One thing I've posited right along in the LookingGlass world is the end of healthcare as it's done today in the United States. (Today being July 7, 2009 - Congress is in session so there's some chance we might see meaningful healthcare reform here. Maybe. If the special interests don't wreck it.) I assert that it will be done more like support contracts for computers, in the fine old, late lamented tradition of DecSupport - Digital Equipment Corporation's support organization for their computer systems. This really never came out in either of the books that are published that much, although it's brushed past in Irreconcilable Differences when Kari mentions not having a support contract.

So I'm not sure if I'm pleased or appalled to discover that, in fact, support contracts for humans are starting to happen. Apparently for an /extremely/ reasonable fee, these doctors can provide unlimited primary care and forgo the massive expense, slow payment, and other high-bullshit-factor activities involved with insurance altogether. Or at least they can get venture capital on the idea. I suppose we'll see if it catches on.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

/Virtuality /TV show - recommended

On the strength of regular commenter John Foberg's recommendation, I spent the two hours watching Virtuality, the pilot for an (apparently) failed TV show that Fox tv was going to do.

Virtuality is the story of twelve men and women on the world's first interstellar flight. They've signed on for ten years, and as the pilot begins, they're approaching their go/no-go decision - do they slingshot around Neptune and fire main drive - a system derived from Project Orion, and go on their ten year mission, or do they abort and go back to Earth? They are also the stars of /the/ most popular reality tv series on tv, with two billion viewers, so mission control may not always be on their side so much as on the side of what makes good tv.

I'm still digesting it, but I have to say there are some things that stand out in my mind. First, kudos to Fox for having the stones to, yanno, take the chance on something other than reality tv. Second, razzies to Fox for not having the stones to actually make the series.

First thing. /Virtuality/ was supposed to be a tv show pilot. So let's look at it the way it was meant to be seen, instead of as a tv movie.

I've read other reviews of the tv series calling it formulaic. There's some truth to that. As the title might suggest, the virtual reality system on board - used for maintaining skills, recreation, and occasionally as a user interface for complex ship systems - is a fundamental plot device to the story, and probably would have been throughout the series. The problem with this is that it's all been done before, albeit badly, by the holodeck-centric episodes of /Star Trek the Next Generation/ and its descendants.

Virtuality also leans heavily on the formula of the ship's AI who may not have your best interests at heart. This, too, has been done before. /2001: A Space Odyssey/ is the canonical AI-goes-bad story; /Star Trek/ covered it repeatedly; /Alien/ had a dose, /Terminator 1 - n+1/ thrived on it, and of course it was the very bedrock of /The Matrix./ (One might also point out certain elements of this trope in my work, I suppose. ;)

There's also a healthy dose of claustrophobia reminiscent of pretty much any submarine movie you can think of, and a slight dose of /A Nightmare on Elm Street III/ and you pretty much have the plotlines we're dealing with. Except of course, the reality show angle that distorts all of them and makes you wonder which part of the truth you're being told.

At what point do these formulas become tropes, and at what point do tropes become archetypes? I think all of these elements are actually good elements of the story. They're tropes because they /work/ and they can be rethought and re-imagined and repurposed again and again.

It would have taken some discipline for the writers - something it's doubtful Fox TV could have maintained - to keep the virtuality plot device from getting stupid, overused, and campy (did I mention Next Generation's holodeck problems?) and still keep it a vital part of the story.


The final question is, would I have watched the TV show, had it been made (and had Mr. Forberg brought it to my attention, instead of an orphaned pilot?) I think I would have.

I would, at least, have bought the series on iTunes and thrown it on my iPod as I did with /Farscape/, for watching next time I'm sick in bed. It's an interesting story, and the characters are interesting human beings. Flawed (arguably a bit too flawed - although the lack of professional unity of the crew can be explained away by the reality show sponsorship of the mission), believable, weird around the edges. People who it's interesting to see what goes on in their heads, but at the same time a little uncomfortable. I'd have liked to see the mystery presented unwound and exposed, although if it took more than a season I'd probably have given up. But I would like to know what was going on. So. A mixed review from me. Easily a mini-series worth of plotlines to unravel in /Virtuality/, maybe not a whole series worth. In any case it's free to watch, and it's well done, so check it out and enjoy what might have been.


Odd Lots

A friend of mine, fellow author Jeff Duntemann keeps a well regarded blog (though it's presently having provider problems). One recurring feature of it are little amusing things found on the net or emailed to him by friends. He calls them Odd Lots entries. It's too good an idea not to steal. :)

So, Odd Lots for today:

An ant, as you've never seen it before, composited out of 400 images from a scanning electron microscope. Via Daring Fireball

The first ethernet cable A lot is made about the broadband revolution - cable modem, dsl, fiber to the home, etc, and all of them talk about the 'last mile' - between the phone company/cable company and your place. Ethernet, for most of us, is the last /foot/ technology, as it's become the de-facto network standard for desktop computers to talk to the world. Yeah yeah, I know, wifi. But 802.11b/g/m/etc encapsulates 802.3 ethernet packets. They're extremely closely related. So yeah. Unless you're using a phone modem, you're almost certainly using some form of ethernet to read this message. And this is the very first ethernet cable. Via BoingBoing Gadgets, via Make: Online".


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Free (as in GNU) Fonts

One of the things you tend not to think about when you read a book is that the font you're looking at? The actual shape of the letters? That's someone's art. And yes, oftentimes, they're copyrighted, and somewhere, someone has paid a license fee for that font. Sure, there are lots of free fonts out there, and a great many of them are wonderful for headlines, titles, etc.

Consider Hancock Park Laser, which was used on the cover of Looking Glass, and Beware that Flying Pen Press art director Laura Givens and I chose for the cover of Irreconcilable Differences. Nice fonts, truly. But you wouldn't want to read the novel set in them.

The interior font of a book has to look good, read easily, not strain your eyes, not readily reshape into other letters, and so forth. It really is a big deal. So it's always interesting to find good, readable fonts for large volumes of text. So I'm pleased to discover that there is a GNU font project out there, and that their fonts are /very/ readable.

See the GNU FreeFont project page. Note that the GNU FreeFont license GPL has an exception in it that allows you to use or embed the free font into your projects without GPL licensing your projects themselves. This is important, as otherwise the GPL license is, as I understand it, fairly toxic for work held under a traditional copyright.

Then you can download the fonts here.

Kudos to the Free UCS Outline Fonts project for these nice fonts. :)


btw: GPL is the GNU General Public License under which a great deal of open source software is licensed. You can read all about it here.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

then again...

My previous note was about technology that might obsolete rotary magnetic media.

This wended its way through my RSS feeds this afternoon while I was out: apparently we as a species are still discovering new properties about magnetite that may let magnetic media be magnetized and demagnetized at the nano-scale. Click here for the whole article from the Carnegie Institution for Science, thoughtfully aggregated by Portal to the Universe.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One terrabit per square inch for a billion years

How's this for interesting?

Scientists at Berkeley Lab have created a nanomechanical memory system capable of scaling, in theory to 1tb/square inch, and which will remain stable for a billion years. As I understand it, it consists of an iron particle inside a nanotube, and when you apply a voltage to it, it moves to the other end of the tube. You can probe the state of the particle without disturbing it.

This seems like a great thing, except that I have to wonder if you couldn't erase the data by shaking it, like an etch-a-sketch. Physical stability of the thing wasn't discussed. I'd also be concerned about the level of heat this will produce, especially in high densities. I suppose it wouldn't be any worse than transistors in the same space.

If these things work, scale, aren't as sensitive to motion as it seems like they should be, and are at least competitive on a cost-per-bit basis, (very very big IFs) it seems to me we might finally be looking at the technology that replaces that most ancient of data storage systems, the rotating magnetic media.


P.S. How old is magnetic digital data storage as a technology? According to the wikipedia article, drum memory, precursor to the hard disk we know and love, was invented in 1932. Computers in the 1950s and 1960s used it as RAM. Therein lies a tale.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Nice Review Makes the Author's Whole Morning

Looking Glass hasn't generated a lot of reviews lately. It's far from a new book. Interestingly, though, the free/low cost ebook program seems to be garnering it some attention. First came this one, from a blog called "Books on the Knob", in which the blogger mentions FPP's $.99 Kindle books, mine included. So I don't know if the new interest in Looking Glass this generated caused blogger BonnieBelle to do this nice review on her blog, "A Working Title" or not, but whatever the reason, I'm grateful for such a nice review.


Friday, May 22, 2009

State of the Author Address

For those of you not following the comments to "Stem cell targeting with magnets", regular commenter John Foberg was asking when my next book is coming out. I thought I'd address that with (what was supposed to be) a short posting.

Einstein's Blues,
I have two more novels in the pipeline right now. One, tentatively titled Einstein's Blues, is a completely new direction for me. It's space opera, basically, although I give more than a passing nod to real world physics in it. Consider if you will, the life of a band leader for a traveling show on permanent tour in interstellar space without the benefit of faster than light travel. Einstein's Blues. You can get there from here, but because of time dilation, you can never go home. This novel is about half finished. It needs a lot of work, but I'm happy with the characters and the general flow of the story. It's likely to wind up very different from my previous work, though. The level of action is much lower.

Truth be Told
The other, tentatively titled Truth be Told is the third novel in the LookingGlass world. It's set in the UCSA, and is shaping up to be a cyberpunk mystery story, told by Detective Harlan Lewis. This story is much more in flux, as the 2008 Nanowrimo draft doesn't really work for me. No guarantees that Harlan will survive into the final draft, or that he'll continue to be the main/narrating character. I have a cloud of ideas for this story, and the existing draft taps very few of them, so it will be changing, and drastically.

Vox Humana
I have yet another novel in mind. I'm going to tentatively title this one Vox Humana, although it will almost certainly get renamed before I'm done. If I go ahead and write it, it will be the fourth and almost certainly last book of the LookingGlass world, as current events are rapidly closing in on the history of the LookingGlass world, and certain trends that seemed plausible in 2004 when I wrote LookingGlass are losing steam rapidly now in 2009, and I really don't want to break continuity or go revisionist on you. Nevertheless, Vox Humana persists in my mind as an idea.

Set your wayback machine to 1991, while I was in Ft. Collins, Colorado, in grad school, and the United States was embroiled in the first Iraq war - Desert Shield/Desert Storm. (For those too young to remember, see this wikipedia article. :) There I was, sitting in my rented room, thinking about how very bad it could get if there was a protracted, possibly nuclear war in the oil fields of the Middle East. Recall that at the time, gasoline was about $1.15/gallon. Expensive - about $1.44/gallon in 2009 dollars. (Data from here, as heaven knows I don't remember.)

So I set out to write a cyberpunk story set in a world where petroleum was too expensive to burn, and also set in the West where I was. Let's just say there were horses in it. But there was also a nuclear powered transcontinental train. The United States was gone, having been broken into several smaller countries and Canadian provinces. The net was utterly pervasive in people's lives, and it rather than close proximity in cities, allowed humans to maintain the synergy of minds that makes civilization possible. Does any of this sound familiar? It should. It was this novel that the LookingGlass world really was born to host.

Unfortunately, I got sidetracked, as young men often do, by chasing girls, class work, and by the first Gulf War's rather startling brevity. (Amazing what a conventional military can accomplish against another conventional military with a few hundred-billion dollars, one of history's great generals, and clearly defined goals.) That story went by the wayside, and I ultimately move to California to pursue my career in high tech, and marry one of the aforementioned girls I'd been chasing. :)

I have about a dozen pages of that 1991 novel - a couple scenes, lots of ideas that I cannibalized later for other projects, including Looking Glass.

So what is Vox Humana about? Well, the pieces I have are about a private investigator named Kimble McGee. Remember him? (Irreconcilable Differences - he's a supporting character. He's named after a grad-school friend of mine's roommate's cat.) Kim is in his 30s (which seemed like middle age to me then), and contracting police work out in a small town in Wyoming. The first scene of the novel has him encountering a really, really messy corpse and claiming the case to work on. The other scene I have introduces the other main character, a molecular cyborg named gloves. An engineered person, Gloves doesn't speak, is enormously strong and fast, has internal weapons, and is called an LMX, which stood for something, I'm sure. When we first meet her, she's climbing the side of a building and breaking in. And that's all I have of the story. The pages and pages of notes that went with those two scenes are long since lost, but I remembered enough and had enough notes from a later project that when it came time to knock out the first draft of Looking Glass in a month, I knew I had a good world to tell the story in.

Ebooks and webcomics, oh my!
So that's where I am. One new universe and one, possibly two more installments in the Looking Glass world. Two novels in draft, and one still in the idea phase. And at the moment, I'm working as Flying Pen Press' ebook editor, so I'm busy turning their back catalog into ebooks, particularly for the Amazon Kindle, so I haven't been actively working on any of those projects. There is also a project afoot wherein I'll be turning one of my novels into the script for a webcomic, so watch this space. I'll certainly crow about it if that project comes to fruition :)


Monday, April 6, 2009

Stem cell targeting with magnets

I wish I'd thought of this. A team at Keele University, England, is experimenting with treating stem cells taken from a patient's bone marrow with magnetic nanoparticles. The advantage? They can guide the stem cells exactly where they want them without invasive surgery. Currently, according to this article on the BBC's website, they're using it to grow new bone and cartilage in mice. They're talking five years until they can use it in humans.

Prediction: If this works, it will revolutionize the treatment of brain damage, and there will be very real moral and legal questions about how much of your brain can be replaced with new neurons and leave the essential "you" intact.

Also, I need to check, but I'm pretty sure Masamune Shirow predicted this in the original Ghost in the Shell manga, although as a method to control the implantation of nanomachines, rather than of stem cells.

Friday, April 3, 2009

1980s high tech military - today's toy isle

I ran across these toy infrared goggles in the toy section in Walmart today. For those too young to remember, light amplification and infrared illumination were two of the most important technologies used in combat in Operation Desert Storm (August, 1990 - through Feb, 1991), as they made night fighting much more feasible. Today, basic infrared goggles can be had for $80 in the toy isle. We live in interesting times, certainly. :)

I'm terribly amused. Not amused enough to part with $80 for them. Yet.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Nanotech, brought to you by viral assembly...

Drexler predicted that as the nanotech revolution proceeded, it would be intertwined with biotech, as cells do a great deal of the very kinds of nanoassembly the technology depends on already. Given this article, I would say we've begun reaching into that era. It seems scientists at MIT have engineered a bacteriophage - a virus that attacks bacteria - that assembles the anodes and cathodes of lithium ion batteries. The technology is in its infancy, but technologies grow up fast these days. I wonder if we'll begin seeing devices like batteries with a living pocket of viri in them that rebuild the anode and cathode over time, as it is the deterioration of these structures that limits the lives of these batteries.

Looking forward, I have to wonder how long it will be before we begin making micro-cyborgs - naomachines implanted into individual cells? Another longstanding prediction in science fiction. To be honest, I have to wonder how you'd draw the distinction by the time that becomes feasible?


Monday, March 30, 2009

A moment of silence

Some of you regular readers may have noticed that Mike S is no longer responding to posts. Unfortunately, he was killed in a traffic accident on Thursday, March 19th. Mike was my best friend for 26 years, fellow technology enthusiast, nerd, gentleman and scholar. He is sorely missed. More details can be had here

In the weeks and months to come, as life begins whatever shape will become the new normal now that he's gone, I'm sure there are little bits of the future that will come along, and I'll think to myself, "Mike would have loved that." or even "Mike and I would definately have to argue about that." I find there's some curious comfort in that fact. It's already happened once so far. One of Mike's enduring passions was the advent of machines that can replicate themselves and make other machines. This machine leans that direction.

The wind be at your back, old friend.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Little bits of the future keep arriving

Walter Jon Williams posted recently about his book HardWired, and how the present has caught up with the things he predicted therein. I've had the same experience from time to time with the LookingGlass world. What's worse is that unlike WJW, I still have unpublished (and one more unwritten) work set in that world. Damned inconvenient, that. Anyway. For those who've read Looking Glass and/or Irreconcilable Differences and wondered what I was getting at with the whole Penguini thing, well... pretty much something like this PicoTux except with more network interfaces on it.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Kindle 2, two for Kindle

Today, announced the Kindle 2, the updated version of their well known e-book reader. I've mentioned the original Kindle before, and I received one for Christmas in 2007 from my lovely and generous wife, so I had to work with my publisher to make my work available on that platform.

So in light of today's Kindle 2 announcement, I have an announcement of my own. Both my novels, Looking Glass and Irreconcilable Differences are now in the Amazon Kindle Store, for 99 cents each, available for instant download over the Kindle's wireless network.

The way I see it, e-books are poised to replace the old mass-market paperback format as the way to try out new authors without investing a lot of money. Books are expensive these days, and money's tight, and I understand it's a tall order to ask you to take a chance on an author you don't know and spend fifteen bucks for the privilege. If you have a Kindle or, soon, if you get a Kindle 2, you can try my work out for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

For those of you without Kindles, or with other kinds of e-book readers, these same e-books are available on my website for an even more attractive price. Free. :)

Links: Looking Glass for Kindle Irreconcilable Differences for Kindle The Downloads Page on my Website.

(Some browsers seem to be gagging on my download files. Please try right-clicking on the e-book links and saving the files, to prevent your browser from doing the wrong thing to the e-books when you download.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Would anyone who is reading this blog please let me know (in the next two days) if you are my 18% of users still using IE 6, or my 11% of users using IE 5.01? I'm in the process of making a huge overhaul of the website, and initial testing of the new design with IE5 (for mac) and IE6 (for windows under WINE) have not been promising at all. Before I go to the trouble of putting together a stripped down style sheet and style sheet switching to accommodate Microsoft's non-standard old browsers, I'd like to know if it's really necessary.



Saturday, January 10, 2009

Big Pipe Comes Home

Some landmarks simply must be noted.

When I was in my early 20s, while I was a grad student at CSU, Fort Collins, I was working for the housing and food services department. When I approached them for a second phone line to run my modem over, they pointed out that it would be much easier to run an ethernet line up to my room, which is what we did.

You have to realize this was 1992, when most dorm rooms didn't have ethernet, and when I was used to a 9600 baud modem. Suddenly I had 10mb/s 802.3 ethernet right to the back of my pc.

Today, with one phone call and a cable modem reboot, I finally exceeded that bandwidth. Comcast is now selling me 16mb/s, faster than the wire speed of 802.3 ethernet.

It bears noting that CSU's link to the public internet in those days was probably a T1, running at 1.544mb/s, but still. The wire speed to my computer now exceeds the fastest link I ever had. Only 17 years later.

I'm sure it will feel slow eventually, but right now it's mind blowing.



Saturday, January 3, 2009

Smartpatch Technology, Revisited

One of the technologies that features prominently in both my novels thus far are smartpatches. These dispense a drug into the wearer's bloodstream at a specific dosage by measuring the concentration in the blood and dosing until a given concentration is reached. In Looking Glass, the smartpatch also listens to your vital signs for specific changes and only doses you at all when certain parameters are met, thus saving your life. Pretty neat? Well, I thought so. I did always imagine the smarts to be in the patch, not the drug molecules themselves.

So the nanoparticle smart drugs this article is talking about are, frankly, something altogether different than what I imagined, but they're doing some of the same things, and this kind of thing fascinates me. :)


Blog Archive