Launch Pad Sunday Starlinks

July 13th, 2014

Short list for today — got a lot to do with the workshop commencing! Let’s get started…

First, a taste of science in my subfield: NASA’s WISE findings poke hole in black hole doughnut theory. As with most contradictory ideas, false dichotomy is false and we probably just need a more nuanced understanding.

Common science myths most people believe. With Lucy coming out and the stupid “humans only use 10% of their brains” nonsense, this is timely.

BBC instructs staff to stop staging “debates” with the anti-science fringe. Sometimes there aren’t two equal sides that both deserve equal time. The balance point of a seesaw is not necessarily in the middle.

16 Weird Toys for Kids. Quite a few are SF/F/H themed, at least the way I see them. Certainly the zombie monster car is cool! Tooth monster is also awesome. (Slideshow, sorry.)

Stan Lee’s Legacy. A fair look at Marvel’s Stan Lee.

The problem isn’t America’s colleges, it’s America’s students. I tend to agree — read the article and the demographics issues before disagreeing.


Sunday Starlinks

July 6th, 2014

Ukrainian astronomers named a star, roughly translated, “Putin is a dickhead.”

New class of stars are entirely metal? Note that “metal” means not hydrogen of helium to an astronomer. Note also that this is an expectation from theory, and not actually a known empirical reality.

A previously announced exoplanet in its system’s “Goldilocks zone” debunked. Science giveth, and science taketh away.

What does alien life look like?

Top 20 Sci-Fi Films of the 21st Century. You know, there have been some good ones. I kind of feel like the average quality/quantity has gone up, even if most are bad. Most were always bad. Gravity makes the list, which leaves me conflicted — it’s an incredible movie, but the speculative elements are essentially non-existent, so much so that it shouldn’t be called “science fiction.”

Gothic bake queen awesomeness! Wish we could have gotten her to cater our wedding.

Cryptozoology news. DNA testing of some bigfoot hairs show more mundane origins (note that such tests are good and important, but not capable of disproving anything except claims about those specific samples) but more interesting is another line of evidence pointing to yeti as a kind of rare bear. Could be. A better article about cryptid DNA studies.

Geoengineering the only realistic solution to climate change? In this case, “sucking CO2 from the skies.”

On-off switch for consciousness found. Interesting. I think this is a really tough problem, and any clue is potentially important.

Quite a number of people prefer pain via electrical jolts to time thinking by themselves. Shocking, I know! Such people are not writers or scientists, I expect — wish I took more time just to think rather than feeling like I’m too busy to do so. Creative thinkers exploit time in bed and in the shower to think, but should make more time for it daily.

I’m Featured at Eating Authors!

July 3rd, 2014

Lawrence Schoen’s regular feature “Eating Authors” features me this week. Check it out if you’re interested in learning what was my most interesting meal. Hint: pork related.

Sunday Starlinks

June 29th, 2014

Astrology is bad for you, mmm’kay?

Do we have the speed of light wrong? I doubt it, and I’m very skeptical of the argument put forward in the link. Basically we expect neutrinos to get out of exploding supernovas faster than the light. Neutrinos fly through matter. Light is scattered. It takes time for the light to emerge. It is expected to lag the neutrinos so it becomes an issue of how much, not that it happens. What’s more likely — we have an uncertain lag time or have a very huge fundamental mistake concerning something that’s been closely considered.

Astronomers making progress on dark matter by studying galaxy clusters in the X-ray.

Physicists simulate time travel. Science fiction writers have been doing that for a while already. Another take, focusing on the grandfather paradox.

SpaceX to remain focused on Mars.

Scientist offers $10,000 to any denier who can offer scientific proof that human-induced climate change is not happening. Don’t expect anyone to collect any time soon…or ever. In any event, this satellite should help get a clearer picture about CO2. And if you want to make a difference, go vegetarian.

The category of science news that seems most prone to problems is health science. Here’s an article about how to interpret health science news.

The military now has X-ray guns. Move along, citizen…

And Facebook scientists experiment on you already.

Secrets of the Creative Brain. Not all the secrets are good. Starts with the case of Kurt Vonnegut, FYI. Also has this choice quote: “Doing good science is … like having good sex. It excites you all over and makes you feel as if you are all-powerful and complete.”

America’s culture of ignorance compared to Asia’s culture of intelligence, not favorably. Isaac Asimov cited in the opening of the article. Neil deGrasse Tyson has some advice about this issue.

First exoskeleton wearers might be the wheelchair bound. Maybe they’ll be the first superheroes, too. I’m thinking of a story involving a military vet…

The bad science of World War Z. Some of these thoughts came to mind when I watched the movie, too. Still, overall I enjoyed a big budget look at fast zombies, even if it doesn’t bear closer scrutiny (and it doesn’t).

Gollum spotted! For reals!

Dr. Who tops list of 250 science fiction moments. Like most polls, we get recent entries that haven’t stood the test of time yet, but some that do. Here’s the top ten:

1. DOCTOR WHO The Doctor and Rose say farewell at Bad Wolf Bay in “Doomsday”
2. AVENGERS ASSEMBLE “Puny god!” The Hulk owns Loki
3. ALIEN The chestburster
4. FIREFLY Mal Reynolds kicks a bad guy into Serenity’s engine intake (“The Train Job”)
5. STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK Luke learns that Darth Vader is his father
6. BLADE RUNNER Roy Batty’s “Tears in rain” speech
7. GAME OF THRONES The Red Wedding: “The Lannisters send their regards”
8. THE MATRIX Neo dodges bullets in the bullet-time scene
10. BACK TO THE FUTURE “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”

The Marvel Comics map of the world.

Sunday Starlinks

June 22nd, 2014

Make science, not war!

How will we decide which planets to terraform?

Kirk Cameron continues to let his religion improperly lead his reason. Click through if you want to see his less than scientific thoughts on our sun.

Coffee machines in spaaaaace!

Scientists totally confirm Ouija Board’s spooky powers! Not exactly…but interesting.

Stephen Hawking wary of artificial intelligence. Tell it to Adama!

Darpa chips to implant false memories: there’s a war for your mind!

Dr. Oz scolded for promoting scam weight loss supplements. As he should be. I don’t believe this should be a criminal offense, but there should be fines on TV companies/shows that knowingly push scams on the public.

How molten gold will really kill you: the science relevant to the grisly Games of Thrones scene.

The strange battle for Denver’s Comic Con. I’m interested in attending in the future, but this sounds weird.


Sunday Starlinks

June 15th, 2014

Been keeping busy here. Distracted by some things good and bad. Still, I want to maintain blogging and keeping track of links of interest to me and hopefully some others.

The difference between normal people and scientists in an xkcd comic. The comic gets this one right.

Chess, the once and future menace to society. I used to play too much in high school. I knew some crazy players. I think there are more constructive ways to spend your time, which was why I quit.

Climate change the solution to the Fermi paradox? I tend to think not, but something to go on the list. Perhaps related — Six things Michael Mann wants you to know about the science of climate change. Good list, true in my experience. A ridiculous blog post about how scientists are skeptical of climate change — hint — they’re not. This biased piece of crap is a great example of poor critical thinking on multiple levels. Why Neil deGrasse Tyson on why Republicans are getting it wrong.

Apparently everything the guy says is newsworthy these days. Neil deGrasse Tyson criticizes some of the scientific inconsistencies in The Terminator.

And Seth Shostak is betting coffee on finding aliens within 25 years. Not sure he should be that optimistic myself, but if I were working on SETI, I’d need to believe that, too.

You’ll be missed, Jay

June 1st, 2014

My old and dear friend and fellow science fiction writer Jay Lake has finally succumbed to cancer following six years of battle. I’m a little numb about it. I had a good cry last year when he got his condition changed to terminal and the experimental treatments seemed like a longshot.

I’m in China right now, working with a friend on some astronomical research. The last time I saw Jay in person and had the time to have a lengthy discussion was in Beijing in 2009. We both just happened to be there and got together for an evening.

I first met Jay in 1992, I believe, in Austin, TX, where we were both wannabe writers years before we’d get anything published. While I attended Clarion West for six weeks in the summer of 1994, Jay remained in Austin and wrote a novel. It turned out to be a novel he couldn’t sell at the time, but it impressed the hell out of me. Jay always read quickly, wrote quickly, and was wicked smart and well educated. I knew that if he got the quality of his work up, he’d be a force in the field. I was right, because that’s what he became, both socially and professionally.

Jay also had a sick, twisted sense of humor that I much admired. I had one straight-laced girlfriend too easily offended who nearly left a restaurant over something he said, and made me promise she never had to socialize with Jay or my writer friends ever again. Big surprise, the girlfriend didn’t last. She’d never have survived “the long night of the gas giant” anyway…but that’s another bigger-than-life story I’d never have had without Jay. I won’t share it here now, but rather keep it to myself, and smile thinking of it and Jay’s central role.

We shared an editor at Tor in the wise Beth Meacham, taking our own paths to novel publication that ended in the same place just as we started in the same place. My favorite book of Jay’s is probably Green. I have the two sequels (Endurance and Kalimpura) on my kindle and will read them this week or on the flight home. He’d probably be ticked at me for linking to amazon, who do seem to find ways of negatively affecting writers as they play negotiation hardball with publishers, but they did lock me in with the kindle.

I was very happy that Jay got to attend my Launch Pad workshop in 2008. That meant a lot to me. And I was also very happy we got to reprint his terrific novella “The Stars Do Not Lie” in our Launch Pad anthology.

Even though Jay and I didn’t get to see each other much the last few years, I always felt close to him through his daily blogging. He shared so much of himself there, warts and all. Jay was always fascinating and inspiring, even if his honesty about our medical system was tough to look at. And while I don’t think he always succeeded 100%, Jay tried to be open-minded and listen and discuss ideas with people that had different perspectives than he did — a general policy of engagement that too few seem to embrace today, instead favoring their own echo chambers.

I loved my friend, and the world is lesser place today without him.

His example makes me want to be more energetic, more productive, more engaged, more day seizing — even about the little things. I remember him writing once about how Peter Jackson splitting The Hobbit into three movies likely meant he wouldn’t get to see the end, and Jay was right. Live now, live well now, because there’s no guarantee you’ll be around for a scheduled end in the distant future.

I’ve been struggling to find writing time given my scientific career and my social life. Jay didn’t struggle. He made the effort, every day. He had a daughter, a full-time job that involved regular travel, daily blogging, a full convention schedule, cancer the last six years, and he wrote a quarter million plus words of fiction annually. If Jay can do that, surely I can at least do a half Lake, or a quarter Lake, on the fiction side, can’t I? As I said, Jay was inspirational, and will continue to be so for me. Jay knew he was leaving this life with a rich body of literary work, but he’s left much more than that with us, and I hope he knew it.

I’ll miss him very much.

Items from my Room Service Menu in a Beijing Hotel

May 26th, 2014

Fish Head

Griddle skin beef (Donkey)

Fried bullfrog

Wok Bacon

Nostoc commune fried egg

Stir fry beef (black goat)

Sea food and poultry health (Vegetarian)

Stewed yak tail

Fried Baked Scallion Pancake

Mixed pickles duck gizzards

Fishing juice brittle ears

Loin cabbage

Crisp melon flavor

Vinegar nuts spinach

Dry pot organic broccoli (wild mushroom lettuce slices of baby food)

A Really Great Post about the Fermi Paradox

May 23rd, 2014

It’s at Wait But Why. Highly recommended for a high-level overview of the issue all in one place.

My personal take on the Fermi Paradox, or why we appear alone in the universe, is covered in the article. It’s a combination of we don’t know what to look for, and aliens are not going out of their way to visit us or communicate with us. I think Fermi’s original assumption that alien civilizations would build self-replicating machines to populate a galaxy is also questionable.

(If you’re interested in more on the Fermi paradox, some videos on this old blog post may be of interest to you. Look for the ones on SETI involving Seth Shostak.)

Free online course “Diversity of Exoplanets”

May 22nd, 2014

It starts next week. You can read about it and sign up here.

It should be accessible to anyone with a previous astronomy course or similar background. If you take it, let me know how it goes.

Must Read for Hard SF Fans: The Martian by Andy Weir

May 21st, 2014


I don’t always keep up with the latest novel releases, but when a science fiction novel — and a hard science fiction novel to boot — makes bestseller lists and is overwhelmingly positively reviews by readers of all kinds, I sit up and take notice.

A novel meeting this description is The Martian by Andy Weir. The wikipedia article says it’s “Apollo 13 meets Castaway.” I’ve seen others call it a realistic “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.” It also has echoes of Gravity as a survival story in the harsh environment beyond Earth’s cradle.

Bottom line: it’s very good.

It’s both a page turner as well as thoughtful. There’s a lot of terrific scientific and engineering detail told with a voice that lets the hard parts go down easy and permits the reader to grok the import even if they don’t follow all the details. I myself learned a lot — the science here is not astronomy (with one or two exceptions), and it’s not all about Mars, as important as the backdrop is, but about staying alive. That’s something that tends to be of interest to humans.

I wish this is a book I had written. I’m glad I got to read it, and will also try to learn from it.

Here is a reviews from Amazing Stories as well as an interview with Andy Weir.

Launch Pad Nebula Winners!

May 18th, 2014

This makes me smile with satisfaction!

2013 Nebula Awards Winners Announced

Winner: Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Ann is attending this summer!

Winner: ‘‘The Weight of the Sunrise,’’ Vylar Kaftan (Asimov’s 2/13)

Vylar was a member of our very first Launch Pad workshop!

Short Story
Winner: ‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,’’ Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)

Rachel is another past attendee.

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Winner: Gravity

Past Launch Pad guest instructor Kevin R. Grazier was a science consultant on this amazing movie.

Congrats all!

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