Monday, April 24, 2006

How to Destroy the Earth

Everyone knows that people—guys, especially—love to blow things up. Being a guy myself, I'm no exception. So I was amused, while reading an article about how Gamma Ray Bursts are probably not going to destroy the Earth, after all (Interstellar Deathray Not Likely to Hit Earth), to see a link to another page entitled How to Destroy the Earth. It's pretty cool. It's not about how to destroy humanity, which we can probably manage by just keeping doing what we're doing now, but about how to demolish the Earth itself. The proposed methods range from nano-agents (NAGs) to strange matter to vacuum energy. Some of the related pages include Why Destroy the Earth? as well as a completely unwatchable video shot on a cell-phone camera. (Okay, never mind the video.)

As I'm sure you all know, there has been some real concern about the possibility of Gamma Ray Bursts torching our home planet. But as you know if you've followed the first link above, it's a probability game, and according to Krzysztof Stanek from Ohio State University and others, the probability of such a burst occurring in our metal-rich galaxy is low, low, low. But not zero. So I think, really, it's safe to keep worrying about that if you want to.

On the other hand, all this speculation about blowing up a planet is small potatoes. I demonstrated in my novel, From a Changeling Star, how one might blow up a star. Now, that was fun. (Okay, I admit, the engineering details are a little shaky. But it was, after all, science fiction.)

Okay, I'm going back to work on Sunborn now.

Or maybe I'll just take a nap. All this blowing up of stuff really takes it out of you.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Teenagers Today!

We got some books about what makes teenagers tick. (I also got one for the girls about how to deal with the parents of teenagers: Yes, Your Parents Are Crazy!) The one I'm enjoying most right now is Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall? It's very funny and very truthful. But my favorite quote is from Why Do They Act That Way? Here it is:

Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.

The author?

—Socrates, 5th Century, B.C.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Happy Easter!

Late as usual, and therefore in a time-machinely manner, I'd like to wish everyone the best for Easter and Passover! No other message tonight. But I'll be back!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Cool Science in Discover Magazine

On a more cheerful note, the April and May issues of Discover Magazine have some interesting articles on cool science and technology. (The links below will mostly just get you to teasers, unless you can sign in as a subscriber, though the whole Cow Train article is there.)

In the April issue, a paleontologist named Mary Schweitzer (who happens to be an evangelical Christian) discovered soft tissue inside dinosaur bones. And with it, the possibility of serious DNA analysis. Her findings, according to the article, caused great excitement in the paleontology field, and a firestorm of controversy among the biblical literalists. Great stuff. She doesn't see Jurassic Park on the horizon, but I can't help wondering.

Also in the April issue, Anything Into Oil, a long article about a pilot plant that uses thermal conversion to turn turkey offal and all kinds of garbage into oil.

Moving into May, a thematically related story, All Aboard the Cow Train, shows us a train locomotive in Sweden that runs entirely on methane produced from cow manure and organic sludge of various kinds.

Also in the May issue is a story about smart fish, Nemo Goes to College. It seems that even goldfish have more cerebral power than most of us would dream of giving them credit for.

And while we're on the subject of brainpower, how about Brain Cells Fused with Computer Chip? The stuff of SF, all right, moving toward reality. (This is from, but it seemed a good segue.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Attack Iran? The Final Insanity?

(I was planning to write next about an issue that is causing me to sharply criticize my Democratic senators, whom I have been supporting for years. That will have to wait.)

A couple of days ago, a friend asked me if I had heard anything in the news about President Bush planning to attack Iran. I said I hadn't, and that I didn't think even Bush was crazy enough to launch a new preemptive war while we were still trying to get out of the quagmire of Iraq. In the back of my mind, though, I remembered that Bush is controlled by aliens. (Scroll down for the entry on that, if you haven't been following.) I meant that as a joke, at the time. Now, I'm not so sure. I was alerted to the following by an email from

Writing in this week's New Yorker, Seymour Hersh asserts that the Bush administration is seriously planning for a massive bombing attack on Iran, allegedly to prevent Iran from enriching uranium, but as much as anything, to instigate regime change. Hersh writes:

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government." He added, "I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, 'What are they smoking?'"
Among the options the civilian planners are seriously considering is the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Bunker busters. Nuke 'em before they can get nukes. Rummy and friends are no doubt planning to "minimize civilian casualties"—maybe by handing out umbrellas to keep the radioactive fallout off people's heads?

Israel took out Iraq's nuclear reactor, years ago, before it could be started up. They did it in a single air strike, and no nuclear materials were involved. Iran, on the other hand, has many of their facilities underground, and widely dispersed. If they're already processing uranium, then attacking those facilities with nukes would probably result in significant fallout—both radioactive and political.

Again, here's Hersh:
The Pentagon adviser questioned the value of air strikes. "The Iranians have distributed their nuclear activity very well, and we have no clue where some of the key stuff is. It could even be out of the country," he said. He warned, as did many others, that bombing Iran could provoke "a chain reaction” of attacks on American facilities and citizens throughout the world: "What will 1.2 billion Muslims think the day we attack Iran?"
According to Hersh, it is the civilian planners, not the career military leaders, who are providing the impetus to this.
The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said....

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it "a juggernaut that has to be stopped." He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. "There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries," the adviser told me. "This goes to high levels."
I'll stop trying to summarize the article, because you should all go read it. Read it, and when you're finished banging your head against a wall, contact your Congress people.

The really scary thing is, I'm afraid Bush really believes he has been anointed by God to take charge in the Middle East. And if he continues to carry out a messianic crusade, Armageddon might not be so far behind. Or at least, a much more dangerous world.


Taxes Done! And Other Stories of Astronomical Importance

Well, I got those pesky taxes done and out of the way with time to spare! (Let's see, about a hundred hours to spare, I figure.) So I sort of, almost, kept my New Year's resolution to not fall behind and do my taxes at the last minute this year. We wound up owing a bit, so it's not like we lost out on getting an early refund.

And having finished that, I'm now back to wrestling with a far more challenging problem: making sense of Chapter 13 in Sunborn. (It didn't come out so well in the first draft. I think I'm getting there, though.)

Astronomically speaking, I just read a couple of interesting stories. Venus, that greenhouse hothouse of a planet, has a new visitor—the European Space Agency's probe Venus Express, which entered orbit around the planet just yesterday. Here's to Venus Express [takes a swig of Winterhook Ale].

Out at the other extreme of the solar system, Hubble scientists have taken a look at Xena, aka 2003 UB313, considered by some to be (maybe) the long-sought 10th planet. The Hubble people put its diameter at 1490 miles, rather than the original estimate of 1860 miles. That would make it almost exactly the same size as Pluto. Says "Since 2003 UB313 is 10 billion miles away not even as wide as the United States, it showed up as just 1.5 pixels in Hubble's view. But that's enough to precisely make a size measurement, astronomers said." If they can really do that, that's...impressive.

And finally, consider RS Ophiuchi. It's a binary star system, a white dwarf and a red giant. Like many such pairs, it's also a source of fireworks, as matter falling from the giant onto the white dwarf periodically causes the smaller star to explode. What's different about this star is that it blows up inside the atmosphere of its larger buddy. This is something new, never seen before.

And if you periodically worry, as I do, about what's going to happen to the Earth a billion years from now when our own sun blows up into a red giant (incinerating us), some astrophysicist types named Fred Adams, Gregory Laughlin, and Don Korycansky have an answer: use carefully aimed asteroids to give Earth a gravitational boost and move it to a safer orbit! It's a sort of long-term project, with each pass of the asteroid (every 6000 years) nudging the Earth a little farther from the sun. ("Captain, our orbit is decaying!" Nope—not anymore!)

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Galactica Website

It seems I'm getting a lot of visits here from people who found a mention of my Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries novel on Hi everyone! Yes, it's true that you can read here a lot of my thoughts on writing BSG. But you'll have to scroll down a ways. There are probably half a dozen entries, if you look far enough. (Or do a search.) Anyway, welcome and feel free to look around the place. It's small, but we're all friends here.

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Links: Conspiracy Theories, and Others

But before I do that, let me take a moment to wish everyone a happy Palm Sunday, what little remains of it (at least in my time zone).

Oops—between my starting with that sentence and getting back to the computer to write this one, midnight has passed and we're well into the next day. (Sigh.)

So I've been collecting interesting links that people have sent me. This first one is fun, especially if you wonder whether the FBI is tracking your use of the web (be careful what you say, and move your mouse quickly):

If you're really into conspiracy theories, this one about 9/11 is plenty chilling at first viewing. Given the amount of propaganda we're exposed to on a daily basis, it's an interesting exercise to look at this kind of thing and assess its truthfulness (if possible). Here's the flash presentation:

And after you've thought that over a little bit, here's an analysis of the claim by

And some more responses: and

But enough of the conspiracies already! Here's a really constructive video—literally—showing How to Build an Airbus 380. (It's about 7 minutes long, and well worth it.)

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hi Again!

Well, it has been a long gap in my postings. I wish I could say it's because I've had my head deep in the world of Sunborn, but the truth is, it's because tax return time is upon us and I'd fallen a year behind in my bookkeeping. So I've been living in receipts and Quicken, and am about to dive into Turbotax. (For those of you not from the U.S., we have this national ritual in the weeks and months leading up to April 15 every year, when everyone has to file their income tax return with the national government. It's no fun for anyone, but for self-employed people like writers, artists, and small business owners, it's an exercise in accounting torture.) However, I'm starting to glimpse a few stray photons, which I hope are the first promises of the light at the end of the tunnel. And praying it's not a freight train coming the other way.

I-Con was great fun, by the way—for me, but maybe even moreso for my family. We saw a number of friends, made a couple of new ones, and indeed got to say hello to George Takei (Star Trek's Sulu) and Ron Glass (Firefly). I had a brief but pleasant chat with Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica). The con was far more media-oriented than most I go to, and it seemed as if there were hardly any actual books being sold in the dealer's room—and yet I sold more copies of my own books at the autograph table than I have in most recent cons that were more book oriented. And, I got my first look at the middle and outer end of Long Island, very pretty.

I have a whole bunch of links to quirky things stored up to mention here, but that'll have to be for next time. Right now, I really do need to get to work on the book!