Category Archives: Science!

2067: First Major Metro Goes Off National Electric Grid

I’ve taken up tweeting from the future, example above, in addition to my usual political-writing-SciFi-whatevs antics @Tao23.

It keeps me thinking to turn out those tweets on a semi-regular basis. And the tweets can make a great nucleus for future SciFi News Network posts here, AKA my futurist “predictions.” Older posts are formatted to look kind of like actual articles from the future. I’m seeing more posts like this, where I let the Tweetmorrow tweet stand for the future story and then get to speculate and explain like I’m doing now. This is fun.

Predictions in quotes because who knows what monkeywrenches the future could throw into the works? Our pet Trumphole could yet start a nuclear war and derail everything…

Donald J. Trump on Twitter https   t.co P4vAanXvgm.png

Nothing like trying to provoke a nuclear war in a lame attempt to prove how macho you are, s–t for brains.

…but gee, we’d save his personal pet illusion of his machismo so win-win post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellhole, right?

rick-and-morty-gets-the-mad-max-treatment.png

50 years seems like a reasonable horizon for a major metro going off-grid and relying on locally generated renewables. Solar, wind, biogas, hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal, and more — there are a lot of options for a city to generate its own local power, and for residences and businesses to take themselves off even the local grid. Batteries like Tesla’s PowerPack (and the residential version, PowerWall) make 24/7 power availability practical even with variables like solar, and small local cooperative grids can increase that support — imagine a neighborhood grid with all the batteries and different forms of power generation contributing. Or a college campus grid. Lots of possibilities.

In the lead story of my Closer Than You Think collection, One More For The Road, the protagonist drives into an isolated, long-off-grid town on its own local grid, with nearly every home and business sending up one or more combo wind turbine and solar collector on a long mast, evoking a field of glittering flowers in her imagination. The masts are even retractable to avoid damage in strong winds and storms. They stand tall and slender in light breezes, short and stout in heavy blows, and fold themselves into protective housings during storms, dormant while the town runs on battery power.

Not too bad a vision, eh? Certainly, there will be advantages and disadvantages, ups and downs. A spell of very strange weather might leave residents rationing their power and sending out battery trucks to pick up spare power from the neighbors. But that seems not so much more trouble than the current system that leaves us in the dark if something damages the wires, transformers, or power stations, and releases more and more carbon dioxide into the air to further warp the already wobbly climate.

Advertisements

Eclipse Of The Son

Found this one going through my pics from the solar eclipse. In Norfolk, VA we didn’t get totality, but we got these crescents through the pinholes formed by the leaves of the sweetgum tree in our yard, themselves eclipsed by my agog 4 year old son. 

Eclipse, With Children 


Eclipse viewing with the kiddos. We also had a pair of viewing glasses but the natural pinholes between leaves stole the. show. 

The direct pictures are the product of me putting my cellphone camera in manual settings mode & fiddling around until something weird happened. Not sure why the secondary crescent sun image appeared, but I’m super happy it did. 

We’re in Norfolk, VA so we didn’t see totality. But the sun got down to a skinny crescent and the kids got their minds blown by science and nature. And so did I! 

If The Nukes Start Flying…

Torus_Cutaway_AC75-1086-1_5725-NASA-Ames-Research-Center-publicdomain.jpg

Public domain orbital colony concept, NASA Ames Research Center. Go look at all the images, they’re wonderful.

…a goodly number of us dreamers are going to ruefully reflect that it was entirely possible for humanity to establish off-planet settlements following the Apollo program. Settlements that likely could have been self-sustaining by now because in the alternate reality where humankind put as much effort and resources and brains as possible behind establishing populations outside this fragile egg basket we call Earth, the early ones could have been in orbit and on the moon in the 1980s.

There could have been nearly 40 years to chase the kinks out of the recycling loops and life support and hydroponics. To build solar power plants all over the darn place up there and drag a water-ice comet into Earth orbit if we couldn’t find enough to fling up to orbital colonies from Luna with mass drivers.

40 years to send more and more people up and for people to start being born up there.

40 years to establish a reservoir of human beings and our technological knowledge out of range of Kim Jong-Un and Kim Jong-Trump (brothers of another ego-rage-spiritual mother) and their shoe-on-podium nuclear chest-beating.

Sigh.

Lightsail Probes: Not Just For Seeking Out New Life

So, yesterday on Twitter I got to thinking about laser-launched lightsail nanoprobes:

Currently, the big idea is to launch teeny-tiny lightsail probes at neighboring stars to get a look around — current thought is that technology as it is now could handle boosting some 1 gram probes attached to 20 meter lightsails up to 20% of lightspeed.

(I’ve cued the video to a bit about how teeny the working part of the probe would be — if you’re so inclined the whole video is a long, academic discussion of the whole idea that’s pretty decent if that’s your cup of tea.)

With only a few — but even better with a huge cloud, as I briefly fantasize about elsewhere — we could get a fine look at a stellar neighbor and see if there are any planets there that would be practical targets for a generation ship to settle. Think big, I say. Best to get humanity out of this fragile little egg basket we call Earth. Not just into the rest of the Solar System, but into others if we can manage it.

But nanoprobes, good for peeking at the neighbors, could be great for raw astronomy and investigation of the nature of the universe.

The Quanta link in my lead tweet above is about theories regarding the behavior of dark matter. Imagine how useful for that and other questions we itty-bitty humans have about our gigantic universe it would be to launch a gigantic lens of nanoprobes sailing off in a couple of different directions. To fire them out of the plane of the ecliptic and out of the cloud of particles and matter the Sun drags with it through space. To shoot them toward things we want to observe at 20% of lightspeed and compare the observations with what we see when that light and radiation reaches Earth. To fire them off the other way and let them crawl back in time (effectively) to compare to past observations.

To build expanding lenses light-minutes across in interstellar space, peering deeper and more clearly into the universe than humans have ever managed before.

Take some time to really think about it. It’s a breathtaking opportunity for pure science. And pure science, practical-minded friends, pays off in the long run.

Dear Trumpite Politicians: Yesterday Is Not Tomorrow

Follow the Leaders Isaac Cordal

Follow the Leaders: one piece in a series by artist Isaac Cordal.

You may have seen the piece of art above already. It has been bouncing around the internet for some years now, often billed as “politicians debating sea level rise” or “…climate change.” Well, it kind of isn’t, and it kind of is, and following the link in the caption might shed some light on it.

However.

It is a FANTASTIC representation, inadvertent or otherwise, specifically of the current US GOP/Trumpite approach to climate change and rising sea levels.

And that approach…

…yeah. That’s going to be SUPER EFFECTIVE.

But our Fearless Glorious Leader and his Band of Thugs Merry Men (they’d surely call it sexist to acknowledge the women who choose to support him rather than lump them together under a masculine collective) aren’t restricting themselves to climate change. If you’ve been following current political events, he/they is/are not just ignoring climate change science, but rolling back environmental protections that have cleaned up industry-polluted land, water, and air over the last 40 years, acting to revive coal use and hobble the increasing use of solar and wind power generation, which I might add, is rising because it is now cost effective due to technological advances perpetrated by that terrible villain, science.

In other words, the 21st century is SCARY and THINGS ARE CHANGING and LET’S HIDE IN THE 20TH CENTURY. Unless you’re a public school student, in which case they’re shooting for the 19th century. No, really. The target there is getting rid of all those troublesome public schools and leaving education to corporations and churches, which I’m sure will work out great in an alternate timeline where suddenly technology stops working.

The only problem is that hiding in the past is a gigantic mistake, and it will always be. Yes, there’s such a thing as tradition. But traditions only make sense as long as they help people. If things change and they become harmful, or you realize they’ve been harmful all along and we don’t have a need to accept that harm — I’M LOOKING AT YOU COAL WITH YOUR BLACK LUNG AND OPEN PITS AND TOXIC RUNOFF AND OH WHAT A SHOCK BURNING THOUSANDS OF ANCIENT FORESTS IN CONCENTRATED FORM EVERY DAY MIGHT RELEASE GASES THAT CHANGE THE CLIMATE A TAD GEE WHIZ WHO WOULDA THUNK IT — then you say “yay, positive change!” and start using wind turbines to charge your iThingiee. And we all breathe a little easier, and people who live near the ocean like me start thinking that maybe, just maybe, our descendants won’t have to flee farther inland in the 22nd century.

Today’s Conspiracy Theory: NASA To Flee Earth

 

…to which I replied…

It makes sense to me. If I was working for NASA and secretly invented FTL travel, I’d be sorely tempted to pack up and leave given the events of the last couple of years and the direction things seem to be headed in. Nothing personal.

God Won’t Let The Climate Change: 13 Word Story

 

God-Climate-Change-SABarton-hallway-1245845_1920-pixabay-cc0-pubdom.jpg

So, I haven’t done one of these in a while. In the last months of the presidential campaign and the aftermath, well, the distraction of watching this all unfold was distracting. I had trouble writing anything but deep dystopia. I managed to create some wordage, but it was a bit of a slow stretch  for three or four months.

But here I am, production ramping up again. Maybe next time something distracting befalls the world, I’ll be a little better at keeping the creative juices flowing. This little episode did a pretty good job reminding me that I’m still learning the ropes and will be until I die — which is what all the more successful people who do stuff do, I hear.

But anyhow.

This one, of course, is inspired by the ideology-driven denial of either the human role in climate change, the actual fact the climate is changing, or both.

And of course the title is dedicated to the people around the world who take their faith as incompatible with climate change, or a round Earth, or a heliocentric solar system, or whatever other observed data they choose to disregard, thinking it opposed to their beliefs.

Of course, there are plenty of people who have some sort of faith — one of the established ones, Deism, Pandeism, animism, whatever else — who have no trouble at all accepting that what we observe about the universe is actually what we observe about the universe. And of course there are the various flavors of atheist (myself included) who just go with the data as best as we can interpret it, but can also appreciate how awesome, beautiful, and sometimes scary things like flowers, babies, galaxies, changing climates, and all kinds of other stuff are.

Paying attention to politics, I have heard (read) some of our lawmakers say things like the title of this story. Or that the oil or coal we’re mining cannot run out because a deity will restore it at our need.

Well, even if you do believe that Earth is a creation and a deity appointed humans the stewards of it, that seems pretty silly to me. Not to mention a bad way to raise a worldful of humans.

Would any of us raise a kid like that? “Hey, kiddo — this is your room. It’s yours. Go ahead and rip up the floorboards, pee in the corners, punch holes in the walls. I’ll pop by and fix everything up perfect for you again, leaving you to learn nothing but how to be a spoiled rotten brat with total contempt for the good things you have.”

That seems like an awful idea. So not only do I, as an atheist, not believe that a deity will come and save us from the consequences of our actions, I, as a father, think that would be a very poorly thought out path for a deity of any intelligence whatsoever.

So maybe more of us humans, regardless of belief system, should be worrying a bit more than we do about this planet of ours? Just a thought…

 

[This appeared on my Patreon page on the 22nd, a week before it appeared here. So, you know, becoming a patron is a great way to see a lot of posts early, plus you can receive free ebook copies and even signed paperbacks of stories and collections I publish!]

I, Robot Is Old-School Apolitical And Socially Neutral Science Fiction — Um, Right?

asimov-i-robot

I and some fellow writers (and reviewers, some may pick nits, but isn’t reviewing also creative writing? Yes, it is.) are getting together at The Scary Reviews comment section on Wednesday the 16th at 7 pm to discuss I, Robot. The idea is we’re to review the book on our own sites to kick things off. If you’d like to read a proper review, Lilyn G. over at SciFi and Scary wrote one.

I, however, rarely review anything in the traditional sense. In fact, I have avoided reviewing anything by a living author for years after seeing some of the one-star brigading of indie and self-published authors over personal conflicts and butthurt over receiving critical reviews (I’m going to avoid linking to any accounts of these incidents, as I don’t want to wake up any ill-tempered sleeping dogs).

I’m still thinking the above over — should I say “screw it” and jump in anyhow? Am I being a wimp? Lilyn isn’t afraid to throw a one-star review along with a reasoned explanation of why it wasn’t more. Feel free to chime in with a comment on my possible cowardice. But, onward:

When I do review these days, it’s a dead author.

Well, Asimov is dead, you say. So what’s the problem?

There’s no problem. I enjoyed reading I, Robot in high school 25+ years ago oh crap I’m getting old who could have predicted this indignity and I enjoyed reading it short story by short story over the course of the end of last month and the beginning of this. Good stuff, if you’ve ever only seen the movie you should read the stories because the movie, as usual, missed and skewed A TON. In fact, more than usual. The stories were really just inspiration for the movie, not much more.

But reviews, as I suggested just a bit earlier, aren’t really my thing.

So I’m going to talk about old-school science fiction, what it isn’t, and what it is, using I, Robot as context.

Asimov wrote this collection in the spirit of Gernsback, a bedrock figure in the US science fiction scene. A scene that some of the right-wing Sad Rabid Puppies movement in current US science fiction hold up as a halcyon age where the genre was all about fun adventure reading that maintained neutrality in contemporary political and social movements.

But as I wrote in an earlier post about Gernsback and his work, that’s bullshit. Gernsback wrote about technocracy and world government — which, if you think about it, continue to be political and social movements across both political wings and anywhere between or beyond the wings today.

Gernsback was a pretty clumsy writer. He wrote the kind of stories that are rejected from slush piles today, because they were all about worldbuilding — describing potential technological advances and their potential ramifications — and had very little actual story in the story.

Asimov writes in much the same way, except he does it much better. He gives you a bit more humanity, and his writing, while equally lean and unflourished, is just plain better at drawing you into what is going on. He’s not very descriptive, but the little he describes sticks in your mind. His characters are sort of cardboard, but the drawing on the cardboard, at least, is interesting. The human story isn’t deep, but the technological story he tells is deep and engaging. The technology-driven story doesn’t hook on to the characters’ humanity — it hooks on to the reader’s humanity by speaking to elemental philosophical and social questions.

Asimov, in I, Robot and elsewhere, writes the epitome of old-school science fiction: technological, revolving around puzzles to solve and difficulties to overcome, basically hopeful of humanity, and inescapably linked to the social and political questions of the day.

A few examples from the collection:

Robbie speaks to the 1940s fear that advertising and television — technology — will warp and subvert the minds of our children as they are raised immersed in it. But Robbie the robot shows the reader that such needn’t be the case. Robbie risks his robotic life to save his young charge’s life and inspires the little girl to value love and loyalty — humanistic values encouraged  by using technology in constructive and mindful fashion.

Reason grasps the irrationality and logic-rejection of religion and the easy handle it presents for manipulating the faithful through the presentation of a robot prophet who organizes a robots-only cult (the profession of robot faith, uncomfortably, mirrors the Islamic profession of faith, giving the Christian reader an out to avoid applying the story personally — but the principles apply equally to any zealous subset within any religion who reject sound science and observation on the theory it must automatically be incompatible with faith). The story’s resolution leaves faith unconquered — but unquestionably wrong, wrong, WRONG.

The Evitable Conflict is utterly, totally politically charged. Place it in its proper context, the United States at the close of the 1940s, and the global political situation. The story revolves around the tendency for technology to rule humanity, in the familiar trope of artificial intelligence attempting to control human events — or dare I say, take over the world? But the story itself is critical of nationalism and Western powers dominating and controlling world affairs, suggesting what is practically political heresy now and was definitely heresy then, that the wheel of history may yet turn and political dominance may pass into hands that are not Western at all. The story suggests that the reader consider that deliberately managed peaceful globalism may be the solution to humanity’s most destructive problem, war, and that humans have never been so in control of affiars as politicians like to imagine, but instead at the mercy of economic and sociological forces.

How’s that for “good old fashioned apolitical science fiction”?

 

Hurricanes And Tornadoes And Floods, Oh My, Will It Be Easy To Flee…

NASA-hurricane-iss045e037243a.jpg

…or at least that may be an upside of an ever-more-connected world. The “Internet of Things” future will have to ponder if that and other pluses offset living in a world where any of your belongings might rob you.

In a WiFi saturated world, it may be more than your phone or local news weather report that warns you of imminent weather threats like hurricane, tornado, flood, blizzard, and so forth.

Your refrigerator and thermostat and eyeglasses and bathroom mirror and shoes and – who knows by 30 years from now – the earbuds that semi-permanently reside in your earlobe piercings will keep you updated.

Linked to the hyperlocal weather reports aggregated not just from satellites and airports and weather stations, but from sensors integral to the solar and wind power arrays that feed electricity into every building’s batteries, your belongings will keep you appraised of the weather and what it means to you.

“Close the windows,” your windows will say, possibly via your microwave, showerhead, or belt buckle. If your house is posh enough, they’ll say, “shall we close?” and they’ll do it themselves without orders if rain starts coming in to threaten the carpeting.

“Dude! We need to get out of Dodge right now!” your car (set to “casual” mode, obviously) will exclaim as deadly weather ramps up nearby. Your shoes will wail at you to head for the car, or for the curb where a self-driving Unter can collect you – if only you acknowledge you’ll be there to be picked up for evacuation.

But what if you don’t?

“Acknowledge,” the hall light prompts as you stagger by to find a place to collapse. “Acknowledge,” your thrift store sneaks beg, hearing you, from their home tucked in under the front of your second hand couch. “Acknowledge?” your front door asks querulously, but there’s no answer.

Your snores rise from the couch where you slump, utterly zonked. Maybe you’ve hit the sauce too hard, or been at the recreational drugs, or whatever you’ve been prescribed was just too much for you today. After all, you’ve been preparing for a storm and worrying all day.

And maybe your shirt notices that you’re not waking up and the state of emergency created by the weather allows the Unter car to send in a helper bot to bypass your door lock and carry you out to safety. The Unter takes you smoothly away from the danger despite widespread service outages – it’s not dependent on a centrally coordinated net by able to function as cleanly as a fish in a school…

…to take you to a designated shelter through a flood of traffic far more dense and swift than any human driver could navigate.

And you wake in a high school gymnasium shelter thirty miles away, confused.

But your wristband wearable can tell you what happened. And you’re alive.

#

My God, what a nanny state hell! you say to yourself as you finish reading the above, horrified that the humans of the future might be so helpless and coddled. Hopefully not because you’re a goddamn eugenicist, but surely some of you are. Regardless…

…let me tell you how helpless you really are, roughly from near past to distant. You may be able to contradict a couple statements below. Maybe. But how many? And as a way of life, not a hobby? Are you sure? Read on.

You save your children and yourself from death, pain, infliction of disability, and long-term malaise with medicines and vaccines, most of which were unknown a mere century ago. There’s a fair chance that you, reading this right now, would not be alive without them. I wouldn’t.

You don’t know how to ride, feed, or otherwise care for horses and their harness, because you ride around in automobiles.

You can’t organize a household based on the relatively difficult and time consuming weekly or monthly or seasonal (depending on your distance from civilization) grocery runs. Nor do you know how to keep the things people used to buy from spoilage. Could you buy one cheese wheel per season and keep it good so you could enjoy the last bite three months later? No. You buy a brick of cheese from the store and devour it two days later. Or if you forget it, you find it with a bit of mold and past the expiration date and chuck it straight in the trash.

You buy your food in supermarkets. You don’t know how to dry, salt, pickle, ferment, or can your own food to sustain you through the year. Nor do you know how to store those foods correctly.

You don’t know how to set a bone, stitch shut a wound, or birth a baby.

You can’t make your own clothes from bolts of cloth, needle, and thread.

You don’t know how to spin thread and yarn from cotton and wool or hemp or whatever fiber is local to you.

You don’t know how to winnow chaff, parch grain, grind it by hand, and bake it into bread in your own wood or dung fired hearth.

You don’t know how to bring ten children into the world and bury five of them before their fifth birthday without going mad.

You can’t accept life as a serf, slave, or even vassal – which, historically speaking, the vast majority of people were. You, like everyone else today, assume you’d be some sort of noble because you’re so damned smart. Well, smart wasn’t worth anything if you were born to raise beets. Except maybe getting your smart, restless ass killed.

You don’t know how to build a hut from scratch, or make and keep clean a packed earth floor.

You can’t form a phalanx or ply a sling.

You can’t ride a chariot nor craft a balanced wheel from pieces of wood.

You don’t know the best way to dig edible roots with a pointed stick.

You can’t till and plant a field with a wooden plow, or a hoe, or an adze.

You don’t even know how to save seed for next season’s planting, nor how to figure out how much seed you need to plant your acre.

You don’t know how to rotate crops. You don’t know how long to leave a field fallow. You may not even know what the hell “fallow” means or why it’s a concept.

You don’t know how to slay aurochs and bears with a spear.

You can’t cure hides with brains and piss, nor chew them soft, nor scrape them properly, nor stitch the finished product into decently-fitting boots and cloaks.

You don’t know how to layer for the weather without space-age insulation, processed wools, and garments involving stretchy artificial materials.

You don’t know how to carry embers all day so you can make a fire without having to fool with a bow and drill or flint and pyrite or something.

You can’t tell what kind of animal you’re stalking by looking at its poop.

You don’t know how to stalk an animal, so that last point wouldn’t do you much good if you did know.

You can’t catch a fish with just a length of gut, a bone, and a worm.

You don’t know how to make iron from scratch. Or bronze. Or how to pound native copper into a usable tool. Or knap a knife or spearpoint from stone. You don’t even know how to pick a good stone to knap, the right stone for a striker, and knock off flakes without cutting your fingers open or smashing them.

You don’t know how to cut down a tree with a rock.

Once you’ve cut it down, you don’t know how to make it into a canoe.

You don’t know how to live your entire life on foot, outdoors, in the weather, as a nomad, without even the knowledge of letters or numbers greater than you can count on your fingers.

Maybe you think you do, and it would be an adventure. Well, you don’t. And adventures are awful things that happen to other people that you enjoy listening to when you’re warm and safe.

The “the people have grown soft” of yesterday is today’s “we can get along just fine as we are, thanks.”

Unless we get all obsessive about how great the past was. In which case we may get what we wish for, warts and all.

END

This was posted to my Patreon a week before it appeared here. If you like what I do, help me do it more by contributing!