The human colony on the planet Argo has long explored and exploited the technology left behind by an extinct alien race. But then an archaeology team accidentally activates a terrible weapon... Read More.
Praise for Star Dragon
"Seldom does a storytelling talent come along as potent and fully mature as Mike Brotherton. His complex characters take you on a voyage that is both fiercely credible and astonishingly imaginative. This is Science Fiction."
-- David Brin
"Star Dragon is terrific fare, offering readers a fusion of hard science and grand adventure."
-- Locus Magazine
"Star Dragon is steeped in cosmology, the physics of interstellar travel, exobiology, artificial intelligence, bioscience. Brotherton, author of many scientific articles in refereed journals, has written a dramatic, provocative, utterly convincing hard science sf novel that includes an ironic twist that fans will love."
-- Booklist starred review
"Readers hungry for the thought-provoking extrapolation and rigorous technical detail of old-fashioned hard SF are sure to enjoy astronomer Brotherton's first novel."
-- Publishers Weekly
"Mike Brotherton, himself a trained astrophysicist, combines the technical acuity and ingenuity of Robert Forward with the ironic, postmodern stance and style of M. John Harrison. In this, his debut novel, those twin talents unite to produce a work that is involving on any number of levels. It's just about all you could ask for in a hardcore SF adventure."
-- Paul di Fillippo, SCI-FI.COM
I’m frankly a little disappointed tonight. I’m in California for a 2-day quasar meeting and I busted my ass getting my research done so I could present a poster. I was late getting the poster finished, but had allocated time…but FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s) here in Pasadena couldn’t do it overnight. I’m looking at 4pm tomorrow. My poster will be visible Tuesday, but I look like the slacker I apparently am. Still, it’s a small meeting, and I’m mostly here to see friends and get up on the latest in the quasar business, as well as perspective on the quasar business. Well, that’s my problem, and it’s only the sort of problem you have when you’re at a science meeting at Caltech, so it could be worse. (Note that a vending machine also ate my dollar without dispensing a soft drink, my laptop battery “needs servicing,” I slept too late to run, and I’ve been eating crappy fast food.)
I did see Riddick on Friday and it was a competent sequel (to Pitch Black, less so Chronicles of…).
OpenStax College for free textbooks. I have to say I have mixed feelings about the world where everything is being offered for free — how will the creators continue to get incentives to make them provide quality stuff? Will there be a race to the bottom? In the meantime, yes, lots of good can be done.
Is the universe expanding or are we shrinking? Theorist being theoretical. You know, I don’t think he’s right — but I have to do a little work to quantify my objection. The problem I see is that while the space between galaxies seems to be expanding, the galaxies themselves are bound and do not. So I don’t think his assertion about all observable ratios being dimensionless is true.
Browser to give a more politically balanced life. I feel like something like this is a good idea. I know which way I lean, and I sometimes see my sources to be biased, unfortunately. I’d really just prefer unbiased/multi-perspective news without the snark from either side.
Star Trek Into Darkness writer a little annoyed with fans annoyed with the movie. While I generally think criticizing creators for not doing what fans want is a bad idea…I am much more sympathetic in the case of a property like Star Trek that has so much history — big changes in content, style, or theme is not always easy to swallow — and a bad job is unacceptable. Not everyone gets to pitch movies, and good ideas are not always adopted.
50 Years of Science, Science Fiction, and Speculation
September 4th, 2013
This week, the great science fiction writer Frederick Pohl died. If you haven’t read Gateway, that would be a great book to start with. He was nearly 50 years older than me. The changes he saw growing up and into his 40s, and then the additional 50 years, was just astounding.
This week, I also came across two articles about predictions that Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke made back in 1964 about the world of 2014 — 50 years hence for them, just a few months away for us. They got some things wrong, but a lot right, too. For instance:
We could be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be, where we can contact our friends anywhere on earth, even if we don’t know their actual physical location. It will be possible in that age, perhaps only 50 years from now, for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London…. Almost any executive skill, any administrative skill, even any physical skill, could be made independent of distance. I am perfectly serious when I suggest that one day we may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on patients in New Zealand. — Arthur C. Clarke
Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica. — Isaac Asimov
I use skype to talk to my friends in China, and in the USA when I am in China. Last time I was in China, my friend there was on the phone a lot with their outpost on Dome C in Antarctica trying to help them get their telescope there working, which collects data all through the long night of winter there, a lonely robot on a lonely outpost.
I have to finish this up because I’m still working on the paper I will present at the meeting about improving our methods of measuring the masses of the black hole masses that power quasars.
I’m only 45 years old — another 5 to get to 50. I haven’t quite seen 50 years of change myself, but this week I’m thinking about it, what it was like for Pohl to be blogging up until just a few years ago, for Schmidt to have a meeting about quasars 50 years after he determined their fundamental nature. Asimov and Clarke getting a lot right about the future 50 years away. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I can yet quite imagine it.
Apparently just thinking about science makes you a better person! Ali wasn’t the greatest…maybe I am? I think about science waaaaaaay too much sometimes. I wonder about the converse — does failure to think about science make you a worse person? (And for the record, I find these sort of “priming” studies interesting, but generally overhyped and overinterpreted.)
NASA Dangerously Adrift? Yeah, maybe. Lack of a clear focus leads to conflicts of vision, budget cuts, politics, and other not so good stuff. I’ve benefited greatly from NASA’s support for astronomy and would hate to see the organization decline more than it already has. It doesn’t help that space seems to be a very low priority — if a priority at all — to Obama. I agree with the sentiments expressed.
Stupidly simple science quiz — that only 7% manage to get perfect scores on. I expect most readers here to be in that 7%. In another Pew poll, most Americans wouldn’t want to live to the age of 120, either. Like the devil, and perhaps approached that way, I bet most people would change their minds with the addition of “in excellent health and the body of a 30-year-old.” On the other hand, Pew apparently asked for reasons the respondents answered the way they did, and people invented their own reasons (e.g. the treatment would be only for the wealthy, or longer lives would create too much drain on limited resources).
When I went to college at Rice University, I became aware of a 100 point “Purity Test” designed to determine how pure you were. Of course in college, the goal was to not be all that pure, but not to have so low a score you were embarrassed. Similarly, there has been discussions about “fake geek girls” — basically questioning the geek credentials of some women like everyone had to have a certain minimum level to be taken seriously. I believe people of all types should be able to join in geek events and have fun whether they’re sufficiently geek credentialed or not, but I wondered how one might one go about quantitatively evaluating “geekiness” like Rice did for “purity?” Well, we can write a parallel test. I won’t promise that mine will do that perfectly, and I surely have my own biases and blindspots, but I’ve participated in enough geek culture to have a clue about its parameters. While I suppose someone can be a geek about all sorts of things, I have in mind the kind of person who might be found at a science fiction convention.
To take the 50 question test below, give yourself two points when you answer “yes” to the questions below beginning, “Have you ever…”
1. Attended a small (< 2000 people) science fiction convention?
2. Attended a one of the major science fiction conventions (e.g, Worldcon, Dragon*con)?
3. Attended a Comic-Con or media-oriented Convention (e.g. Shoreleave)?
4. Voted for an award at a Con (e.g. Hugo award)?
5. Played Dungeons and Dragons?
6. Played any other paper/dice role-playing games (RPGs) like Tunnels and Trolls or Gamma World?
7. Played a Live-Action Role Playing Game (LARPed)?
8. Played an RPG using minatures?
9. Played an RPG using minatures you painted yourself?
8. Played an RPG video game?
9. Spent more than 8 hours in a single sitting playing a single video game?
10. Spent more than 50 hours in total playing a single video game?
11. Played Everquest, Asheron’s Call, World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Halo, or Diablo?
12. Played Settlers of Catan?
13. Played Magic the Gathering?
14. Attended a filking event?
15. Sang at a fiking event?
16. Wore a costume in public as an adult?
17. Made a costume for yourself as an adult?
18. Wore a costume in public when it wasn’t Halloween?
19. Entered a masquerade contest?
20. Won a prize at a masquerade contest?
21. Read a story in Asimov’s, Analog, Amazing Stories, or Fantasy and Science Fiction?
22. Written a speculative fiction story?
23. Written fanfic?
24. Submitted speculative fiction for possible publication?
25. Gotten the autograph of a speculative fiction writer?
26. Read a speculative fiction novel?
27. Read a graphic novel?
28. Read a comic book as an adult?
29. Read manga?
30. Read Lord of the Rings?
31. Read Watchmen?
32. Read some Sandman?
33. Read Snowcrash?
34. Read Starship Troopers?
35. Read a Harry Potter book?
36. Read Dune?
37. Watched an episode of one of the Star Trek series?
38. Watched more than 50 episodes of Star Trek?
39. Discussed whether you preferred Kirk or Spock?
40. Discussed or read Kirk/Spock slash?
41. Watched all the Star Wars movies?
42. Complained about Jar-Jar Binks?
43. Watched an episode of old Doctor Who?
44. Watched an episode of new Doctor Who?
45. Watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
46. Learned which superheroes are Marvel, and which are DC?
47. Been disappointed by a superhero movie because of changes from the source material?
48. Watched anime?
49. Watched 2001: A Space Odyssey?
50. Had a discussion about the endings of Lost, Battlestar Galactica, or the Prisoner?
What’s your score?
Maybe I’ll revise this, if there’s much interest, and expand it to 100 questions. I could be a little more general, maybe, and I’m sure I’ve missed some categories (for instance, there’s little internet or technology specific here). What would you suggest to improve the test?
Jody Lynn Nye and I have co-edited a collection of stories by Launch Pad alumni for a collection called “Launch Pad” that may become the first of a series. The stories are mostly new, with a few reprints, and generally involve astronomy, the exploration of space, and related themes. Some really good stories in here. I don’t have ordering information yet, but I understand it’s going to be an ebook first (from Event Horizon) and will soon thereafter also be available as a printed copy.
I’ve embedded a couple of videos in the recent past from a Brazilian TV show featuring some elaborate and awesome pranks. Well, the style is not so subtle, but this entry from Japan is totally amazing. Check it out here or below!
Natural mutations have been modifying the genetics of lifeforms since the dawn of life on Earth.
One creature’s excrement has long been another’s feast.
Lots of food products depend on processes that could be described in similarly trumped up, inflammatory ways. Do you know how beer is made? Cheese? Yogurt? Bread? Honey? How about meat? (The last one is dead animals, by the way, if you didn’t know.)
Astronauts drink their own recycled toilet water — and it’s perfectly clean.
The article makes news out of nothing, fear mongering — or disgust mongering at least. This ridiculous story ends with this:
While common sense dictates that this abomination doesn’t belong anywhere near our bodies, the patent’s authors made no secret about their belief that aspartame constitutes a safe and nutritious sweetener:
“Aspartame is not only sweeter than sucrose, but is preferable as a food to sucrose. While sucrose can provide the body with little more than energy, aspartame is composed of amino acids, the building blocks of body proteins, and like other proteins is broken down by the digestive enzymes in the stomach to its constituent amino acids thus providing nutritive value. [...] For these reasons, aspartame holds significant promise in replacing sugar as a sweetener.”
So there we have it: An official document that not only reveals the shocking truth behind aspartame production, but also freely admits that it was intended for mass consumption as a sucrose substitute. Therefore, the next time someone claims that your reservations about this sweetener are unfounded, direct them to this patent – the truth behind aspartame is now in plain view.
An appeal to common sense that boils down to “sounds disgusting so don’t put it in your mouth” that has nothing to do with safety, taste, or health. An accusation that the makers of the product are interested in selling it to large number of people (which is apparently bad for reasons that escape my common sense). And, apparently not strange in doublethinkville, a clear and unrefuted statement that the makers believe their product is safe and nutritious. Only to a fruitcake conspiracy kook is this damning.
No where is there anything about solid scientific studies that might lead anyone to be concerned. This is just yellow journalism of the worst sort, and it disgusts me a lot more than eating bacteria excrement.
Lots of natural things are horrible, and artificial things good. Believing that natural is always better than artificial is a fallacy, one easily shown to be wrong by anyone with any scientific training or knowledge. Or someone who has been bitten by a poisonous snake and benefited from anti-venom in the hospital afterwards.
From some poking around, this website NaturalNews.com seems to fit this pattern more generally, also featuring anti-vaccination articles, and other anti-technology stuff based on things like disgust factor and “common sense” which is always inferior to an actual scientific study done properly.
There was a meeting earlier this month, Starship Congress, that has dozens of hours of video of very serious engineers and scientists thinking about interstellar travel by 2100. Day 1 seems to be unavailable, but I hope they will make it available soon, too.
A publisher behaving very badly dumps a book when they discover the author is gay. I’ve been posting for a number of years that I think it’s important to separate the art from the artist when it is possible. If it was a book worth publishing, it’s still a book worth publishing no matter what’s been learned about the author. And there’s nothing wrong with being gay, either, although too many parts of the world still don’t agree with me there, unfortunately.
Ooh, ooh! Evil librarian story. I hate librarians who, for whatever reason, try to stifle an enthusiastic young reader. Librarians serve an important service in our society, and this one ruins their good name.
I’ll be brief today, as I’m behind schedule on a proposal due in a couple of days that could fund Launch Pad for a couple of years. Still a lot of hours to put in on it today. I did manage to catch Kick-Ass 2 out with my wife on Friday night, and can recommend it (despite poor reviews) if you’re a fan of the first. If not, pass — more of the old ultraviolence, cussing, and the like.
What’s in a Nova? I explain the differences between different kinds of novas over at Amazing Stories. And yes, I have seen the nova in the sky with the help of my night vision goggles. Binoculars work, too.
I was pretty critical of NPR blogger Adam Frank’s article about Pinker and scientism last week. Here’s a better effort from him, with more reporting and less of his unsupported opinion, about quantum gravity and wormholes.
This one’s a little old in internet-time, but I wanted to say a few things about the investigation into the NASA viking photo. American government at all levels wastes a lot of money to make sure that other people don’t waste money. While there should be some oversight, if government funds had actually been spent to make the inspirational NASA Viking photo, I would have been satisfied it was money well spent. NASA and other scientists get money to do science and learn new things, but almost no money in the way of telling the American public about it in innovative, inspiring ways. NASA, and science more generally, could use a PR campaign. There’s funding for programs to get students to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) disciplines, but those programs provide things like scholarships rather than anything that would directly inspire kids. One popular TV show, fictional or reality, about being an astronaut or a NASA engineer would be much better than what’s happening now. And remember what’s happening now…one inspirational photo promoting NASA’s space exploration in an entertaining way is being investigated as a waste. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley: you suck!
To the extent I can follow this wordy but shallow critique of Pinker, it has something to do with how the power of science has made us “overvalue explanations.” And the power of science means we do need to treat what he correctly acknowledges as a “method” as something to be discussed first and foremost in terms of its “fruits” and “poisons.” I shit you not.
This article doesn’t ever quite make a clear thesis or support it. I mean, explanations are quite valuable. How does one determine if society is overvaluing them? Frank asserts it without support, but it made me wonder if perhaps he could, you know, apply some science to test his idea? No?
And Pinker’s story about the Harvard curriculum and the discussion of science, which Frank claims Pinker missed the point about? Pinker’s point seemed to be that no other field was discussed in terms of not what it was (a method of generating reliable knowledge) but in terms of the good and bad that comes from it. Frank’s point? Oh, it is about the good and bad (“fruits and poisons”). Eh? That’s telling Pinker!
In a country where anti-intellectualism is already way too popular, in my opinion, we could be promoting science! Instead we have academics frankly being anti-science in the guise of being anti-scientism. If they actually knew some science, they could probably make a stronger case, but it’s this weird world of assertions and feelings that are somehow supposed to be valid alternatives without any serious effort to support that notion. To the extent that these criticisms of scientism are valid, they’re about a strawman of scientism that no one actually believes (e.g., that science has all the answers).
No other method generates new knowledge better than science. Science is being applied to more and more areas, and this is not diminishing anything except for some blowhard’s capability to B.S. without being called on it and to pretend they know something they don’t.
The NPR article? Full of sound and fury, a little bit anyway, and signifying nothing worthwhile I can discern. Personally I’d rather be building someone or something up in my blog rather than tearing down a poorly constructed and executed essay, but I listened to my feelings today to write about something I’m passionate about. That should make Frank happy.
Some advice about where to study physics, and how to identify the next Einstein. It’s funny, because I don’t fully agree with the criteria of the first article because I’d have different criteria, but I do agree with the criticisms of the standard metrics in the second article. In general let me say that while publications and citations correlate with productivity and quality, they are not always accurate measures of them.
Dr. Who still a white guy. I’m fine with that as long as the acting/character is still great and the show, too. Personally I’m not wild about politics or the demands of special interest groups overly influencing creators who have their own vision to pursue. Critics should start their own shows. Back in my day, I had to stay up late on Sunday nights to watch Dr. Who on PBS, and I liked it just fine! One old white Doctor would regenerate into another old white Doctor, and that’s how it was and we liked it. Get off my Tardis, you young whippersnappers!