Monday, December 30, 2013


I hope you have some free time on your hands.

I'm about to drop a whole bunch of books into Amazon over the coming months. Some works will be short stories, such as "The Gravity of Dreams", which will fit in between Fractal Standard Time and Ionotatron, and an untitled short story about a character first introduced in Firebugs: Dr. Ferganut. The untitled short story should become available in the next week or two, while the Gravity story will drop sometime in late January.

If that isn't enough, Ionotatron should be done by late January or early February. And by April you should see the third part of the trilogy, Chronopticus Rising. Quickly following that will be Race the Sky, a stormchasing novel that I already have two versions of...but the whole book is in desperate need of complete overhaul.

Beyond that, there will be a twelve-story collection that centers around Dr. Ferganut. The only thing I can say at this point is that it has something to do with a hypercube.

If that isn't enough...stay tuned. I'll have more news in a few weeks about some other projects.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Random Mars Stuff

One of the ideas I'm toying around with for Ionotatron is flight on Mars. There is not a great deal of information out there on this subject, which makes it a little difficult to research. Nevertheless, some experimentation is going on in this field and recently I've come across a few articles that may shed some light on it.

For example, here is an article which discusses potential designs for flying robots on Mars. The major issues with flight on Mars include the radically different atmosphere compared to Earth and lower gravity. The lower gravity can be a beneficial thing for liftoff and landing, but the density of the atmosphere means using giant propellers for fixed-wing aircraft or even balloons. If you used a balloon, though, you would still need a means of moving in in a particular direction which would involve either small thruster rockets or using usually large propellers.

Another option would be to use an entomopter, which ironically draws its inspiration from insects here on Earth. In one proposed model, two sets of flapping wings would be used, and the device would be less than a foot in length. Here is an animation demonstration what such an object might look like.

On the ground, some other ideas are being explored, such as this "hedgehog" device which could be used to explore Phobos. The spiked robots would roll around on the low-gravity surface and report back to a "mother ship" orbiting overhead.

And if you didn't catch this article, Lego has announced a fan-designed Curiousity Rover model set for the new year.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Random Space Bits

NASA's Morpheus Lander went for a test flight the other day. The concept is similar to that of the Grasshopper launch a few months back.

Should we remake Mars in "our own image"? This article asks that question, albeit from a terraforming perspective. There are numerous assumptions in the article but I believe there is far more at stake here than just changing the climate of a planet. Besides all sorts of colonization issues, many people would also have designs on remaking Mars in their own societal, religious, and political images. Along those lines, what is a person's definition of "Eden"? Compare that with the Biblical definition of Eden and what it meant when God made humans in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27).

And finally, here's a short nanotech video that introduces a concept called "genius materials"...or materials that can self-assemble themselves on a nano level (as opposed to "smart" materials). Research is ongoing in this field aboard the ISS.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Another book to the shelf
and another one opened
time to write a new storyline

Another page in a novel

of recorded experience
with too many pages unsigned

Every word is a deal

in the currency of meanings
that feelings need to define

A new milestone or guidepost

each time I move on,
but what am I leaving behind?

As I try to make sense
of the world in my time,
with each volume for reflection

I write a new storyline...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Year Ahead

This will be the last of the writing-related updates for a while. I've decided upon an ambitious publishing plan for the coming year, which in some respects, is already underway.

For starters, Ionotatron, should be done by January of 2014. The third novel is already being outlined and will follow within a few months of that. I've also already started on another science fiction short story collection which has no title at the current time, but contains eighteen tales.

But that's not the biggest update.

I'm also finally going to (re)outline and (re)write a novel I've written twice before...Race the Sky. It's a standalone storm chasing novel, but with a supernatural twist. If that isn't enough, I'm also working on plans for another nine science fiction novels, which will be broken into three trilogies.

In short, I'm going to need a lot of book covers in the coming months...

Friday, November 22, 2013

45 or 3

I had an idea the other day, but I'm not sure it would pan out in the long run.

I'm currently taking a short break in my writing schedule, but looking ahead I'm trying to gauge what types of fiction I should write after I finish the trilogy I'm working on. I have at least a dozen ideas for another science fiction short story collection, but I also want to work again on a stand-alone novel I started years ago.

Then I thought of another idea: write three science fiction short story collections in a row and make many of the individual stories available via Amazon's KDP Select for a limited time. I figured that would probably entail writing at least 45 short stories or more. The alternative would be to write three full novels instead, since one short story collection takes just about as much time as it does to write an individual novel.

The nice thing about short stories, too, is that as an author, you can try out numerous ideas at once without a lot of time investment or risk. Those results can impact future novels. With the last two collections I've written, however, it felt as if many of the stories wanted to keep if they were meant to grow into full length novels. Yet writing a dozen novels in a year's time is not an easily achievable goal, even if a writer goes full time.

Whatever the case, I hope to have books two and three of the trilogy out soon.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

WIP Update

Here's an intermediate cover for the second installment of the trilogy I'm working on. Although the cover is not finished, as of two days ago I did complete a rough draft of Ionotatron. This second book is a full novel that builds on the foundation of Fractal Standard Time. The overall theme of the book is a bit darker than its predecessor, but echoes of this book can be found in the second, fifth, eighth, and eleventh stories of the first book (can you sense a pattern here?).

One of the main themes in this book will be the refinement and perfection of existing technologies. In this novel those two technologies are the Cyclode robots (introduced in the first book) and the Chronopticus Network. Both of these technologies will be expanded upon further in the third book and ultimately controlled by a cold, calculating character who arrives towards the end of this book. There is also a theme of escalating complexity (hence the Hilbert Curve on the cover) as a race is on to build the ultimate information network.

In addition, while the first book asked, "Can Eden be built on another planet?", this book asks, "What is one's definition of Eden?" In the futuristic setting of this series, many settlers arrive on Mars with very different agendas. Many seem intent of escaping something back on Earth in hopes of creating their own private utopia in the stars.

As far as the series goes, I've also started working on the outline for Chronopticus Rising, which should be due out before March of next year, if all goes well. I hope to have Ionotatron out by Christmas, however.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Forged With Fire

Sometimes writing a novel is like creating a sword.

Years ago, I watched a video titled, "Secrets of the Samurai Sword", which documented the process of creating a samurai sword. One of the intriguing aspects of the process is the repetitive "folding" that occurs while the heated metal is being shaped. This can go on for quite some time, but the end result is that it strengthens the object at a molecular level and if done properly, can go on to create a very sharp sword.

A novel can work much the same way, depending on how it is constructed. I've been experimenting over the past few years with my novel writing process, and although I have an established workflow, sometimes a change here or there keeps things fresh and interesting.

In the sword-making video I referenced above, iron ore sand is first shoveled into a smelting furnace where it is heated to remove impurities. This process can take days. It is then sent to a swordsmith, who reheats the metal pieces and forms them into a sword. Then there is a repeated process of heating, folding, and hammering of the metal. Changes occur, however, on both the visible and molecular level which strengthens the sword yet allows it to bend just enough so that it does not break the first time it is used.

Novels (and their smaller counterparts short stories) can sometimes follow a similar process. Often, the raw material for a book is gathered over long periods of time and from a multitude of sources. Then it is sorted and worked through until a workable idea is developed. The heating, folding, and hammering process can be likened to the composition of the rough draft and its subsequent editing. Many times it feels like an almost endless process of folding ideas together repeatedly until the book takes shape. During this time, too, lots of ideas related to structure, character, dialogue, and setting are tried and often thrown out. After all, some concepts just do not fit. It's not that the concepts or scraps of dialogue aren't useful, it's just that they do not fit into a particular scene or story line.

The same can be true of short story collections, but on a smaller scale. For example, with Corridors, a collection I wrote last year, I penned about two dozen stories. Only fourteen went on to be included in the book, though. The stories that did not make it either did not fit in, were only half-developed, or meandered without a real sense of character of plot. But that was point at the write a large group of stories and pick the best ones out of the bunch to develop further. The stories that did not make it included tales about sea monsters, underwater domed cities, moon bases, and a robotic chef. Some of those will surface later next year.  

Right now, the rough draft of Ionotatron is undergoing a similar process. Some chapters are light on detail, but strong on dialogue. Others have deficiencies with setting but still move the story along. Ultimately, some scenes may be tossed or rewritten in different settings, but the basic idea will remain. When the editing begins in earnest, input from beta readers and others often alters a work further. Many times I will make up to a dozen editing passes on a book and if I create an audio version, I can still find aspects to improve on, especially if a scene or piece of dialogue does not read well.

Unfortunately, it seems like every book has its own unique set of challenges and this one is no different. That said, I still hope to have this second installment in the trilogy finished before the end of the year.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Io Rising

Just a quick post today. As you probably know by now, I've started work on the second book in the Chronopticus trilogy, Ionotatron. Io is turning into an interesting book and much like Fractal Standard Time, it is taking on a life of its own. To give you some hint on the direction this book is taking, check out these two recent articles on an amazing cave find in China and this technological development at MIT where researchers have created jumping "robot blocks" that self-assemble. Yes, there will be caves in this book, along with more machines and leaps in technology, and hints of some societal persecution to come.

Work has also begun on a cover, an in keeping with the theme of the previous book, there will be some visual similarities. The cover still needs a robot, though.

The roots of this book can be found in the stories, "Racing the Anvil Crawlers", "Subterranean Dreams", "Opening Day" and "The Great War" from Fractal Standard Time. Extrapolating that idea out further, the foundation for the next book after this one can be found in the third, sixth, ninth, and twelfth stories of the Fractal collection.

If all goes well, Ionotatron should be finished by early December of 2013, with the final book, Chronopticus Rising, arriving around March of 2014.

Monday, September 23, 2013

e-Book Release: Fractal Standard Time

After a lot of technical glitches, Fractal Standard Time is now available at as an e-book. The book is located here.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Where's Part II?

It started with a single short story.

Last September, I finished a short story collection titled, Corridors. Although it was not released until this past spring, in the middle of the collection was one peculiar short story that simply went by the title of "The Mines of Mars". It was a story about two men who attempted to loot a mining train and how it went wrong.

Somehow, though, the story did not seem finished. So I labeled it "Part I" with the hopes of finishing it someday and publishing that story in another short story collection. This idea occurred more or less at the same time as I was considering writing a collection of "interlinked" short stories.

Eventually, I thought...well, why not make a whole series of short stories set on Mars? Sort of like a subtle homage to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. Only this time, I wanted to illustrate the progress of technology over several decades and the impact that could make. So I started tinkering with the ideas of having robots, settlements, and domed cities. The goal was to focus in on a small group of pioneers and inventors and follow the impacts of their creations. I also wanted to write it like a documentary where the individual parts together would form a much bigger picture. The end result was Fractal Standard Time, which does contain "The Mines of Mars, Part II". Part I is here and is also in this collection here.

But it didn't stop there.

At the end of the writing of that book, a beta reader commented about the story didn't feel "finished". The more I thought about it, the more I realized they were right. So the story continued to grow and now there two more books in the works...which will form a trilogy. Each book will build on the patterns laid down in the previous book(s) to form one large fractal structure. Which brings me to...

Yes, there are fractals in Fractal Standard Time. Sure, there are street names in one of the cities in the story that reflect famous past mathematicians. But there's more. Although each story in the book has its own narrative arc, the first three stories taken together also form an arc. So do the next three stories, and the next, and the next. On top of that, the first six stories form a bit of arc, too, along with the last six stories. Lastly, all the stories as a whole form a generalized arc which could be described as "the rise and fall of Magnopolis". You can probably guess what the whole series involves, then.

And the odd pattern on Fractal's cover? It's the beginning of a Hilbert curve. You can probably guess, then, what will end up on the next cover, too.

I don't know fully where this will all end up, but this is by far the most complicated thing I have ever attempted to write. I know some will complain about the gaps in time and plot with the first few stories of Fractal Standard Time, and perhaps at some point I'll go back and address those. Some, but not all, of those will be addressed in the next two books. But the key to these books will not so much be the fractals themselves, but what breaks the pattern...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Random Tech Bits

Yesterday, I mentioned Olympus Mons, and how it currently holds the title of the biggest planetary volcano in the Solar System. It looks like that may now have a rival...on Earth (in terms of area, not height). From the article:
"Tamu Massif is a rounded dome that measures about 280 by 400 miles (450 by 650 kilometers), or more than 100,000 square miles. Its top lies about 6,500 feet (about 2,000 meters) below the ocean surface, while the base extends down to about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) deep."
Here's a brief story about a robot in space. Apparently it has a few interesting abilities. From the article:
"Kirobo will be able to recognise [Wakata's] facial features and is designed to communicate in Japanese and take photos."
Not much longer until someone comes up with HAL-9000, I suppose. I wonder when they'll start working on autonomous mining machines?

In other news, Tesla Motors' CEO is planning on driving cross-country with his family in a Tesla Model S, which is an all electric vehicle. The goal is to only charge for about nine hours total and travel 3,200 miles. Should be interesting.

Finally, in about a week and a half, I'll have a major update on the Fractal e-book and some plot updates for Ionotatron.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Caves of Mars

There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to long term living on the surface of Mars. The planet has a much weaker magnetosphere than Earth, and so shielding from solar radiation will be needed for any settlements. My guess (and it's only that) is that some type of shielding technology will be soon developed that will offer better protection than what is currently available. It will be lightweight, easily portable, and will probably involve nanotechnology. Great advances are already being made in the development of solar cells, too, and in some cases due to nanotechnology.

As an alternative to above-ground shelters and domed cities, some have proposed living underground (or even growing food underground). One of the areas of interest are the caves found on the slopes of Pavonis Mons and Arsia Mons. The caves are thought to be lava tubes, aka "skylights", and could act as shelters not only from the radiation but from micrometeoroids. Of course this assumes the volcanoes stay dormant. Nearby Olympus Mons already has the distinction of being the tallest mountain on any planet in the Solar System (although it's profile is that of a flat, shield volcano).

The flip side to all of this is that although the caves could be location for a future settlement, they could also act as a hideout. This is a theme I'm exploring in the second and third books of the Chronopticus Chronicles series I'm working on now. More on that later.

Speaking of books, I hope to have the second book in the series, Ionotatron, finished by the end of November...hence I will probably be posting less for a while. The book will build upon the sprawling foundation established in Fractal Standard Time (which is available now in paperback). The e-book version of Fractal Standard Time will also be available by mid-September on Amazon.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Paperback Release: Fractal Standard Time

The paperback release of Fractal Standard Time is now available. Visit here for more details. Here's the book description (for now):
Can Eden be built on another planet? Several pioneers, explorers, and inventors aim to find out by establishing a permanent colony on Mars. One mathematician and scientist, Steven Entner, stakes his career on the idea and inspires several generations to come.

As his vision evolves through his descendents, so does the technology to implement it. With the technology comes an increasing mastery over the environment. In the wrong hands that technology may lead to their ultimate destruction.
The e-book version will follow in mid-September. Work is already underway on the next two books in the series, and Ionotatron (book two) should be done by late November.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fractal Standard Time Update, Part III

The journey to Mars begins here...

Here is the probable cover of the paperback version of Fractal Standard Time, which will be released sometime within the next week or two. This will be followed by the e-book version, with the second book in the series coming out a few months later. It would be nice to have the final book in the trilogy done by Christmas, but that depends on a lot of factors beyond my control. I'm currently outlining two books at once...and that alone is new territory for me. In future posts, I'll also explain the rather abstract symbol on the cover and how it evolves across the all three covers in the series.

More details coming shortly...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Pursuit of Digital Immortality, Part III

Note: This is the last article in a series. The previous two parts can be found here and here.

One of the other aspects of pursuing "digital immortality" is the idea that mankind can somehow defeat or avoid the aging process by doing an end-run around the problem altogether. By putting the personality, thoughts, and abilities of a person into a chip, technically the idea of aging would cease to exist as long as the power is up and running. Hence the idea of immortality.

Yet there is an aspect of aging that often gets overlooked. It's easy to focus on the incredible advances of science, medicine, and medical care of the past few decades. After all, life spans are increasing, if only by a few years on average, and new drugs are coming onto the market all the time to help people live longer. Despite all this progress, there still seems to be an upper limit in place of around 120 years. In fact, if you check the oldest person in the world list over on Wikipedia, the maximum age achieved so far was 122 years and 164 days by Jeanne Calment. According to the article, Jeanne even met Vincent Van Gogh!

Given what we see nowadays for lifespans, it seems hard to reconcile this with the strange lifespans found in the early parts of the Book of Genesis. How is that Adam lived to be 930 years old when people nowadays can't seem to get past 120 years old? Noah lived to around 950, and Abram (Abraham) lived to the age of 175! Were measurements different back then or is there something more to this?

From a glance at the early chapters of Genesis, it's clear the world was different back then. For example, water came up from springs in the ground (Genesis 2:4-6) and before the fall plants were given to the animals for food (Genesis 1:29-30). But everything changed after the Great Flood.

After the Flood, lifespans changed, too. Take note of the ages in this table, for instance. Shem (one of Noah's sons) lived to be around 600 years old (or 435 in the Septuagint). From there the lifespans appear to continue to fall until Abram's time. It's likely they kept falling, too, perhaps due to disease, malnutrition, and who knows what else. Then, after the exodus period, Moses passed away at the age of 120 (for example).

But that is not all that the Bible says about aging. In Genesis 6:3 (NKJV), right before the flood and the selection of Noah to build an ark, God says, "And the Lord said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years."" Later, in Psalm 90:10 (NKJV), it reads, "The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." Is it any surprise that most people barely make it into their eighties and that only one person in modern times has even made it past 120?

But there's more. Remember what I said about the animals eating plants Genesis chapter 1? There will come a time when that will happen again. In Isaiah 11:6 (NKJV), it reads, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." In Isaiah 65:25 (NKJV), it also states, ""The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain," says the Lord." Now, it's unclear as to when these events will occur, but the context of the verses seems to indicate they might take place in the Millennial era or even at the end of that age (see Isaiah 65:17, II Peter 3:13, and Revelation 21:1). Whatever the case...sometime in the future.

Alongside the Isaiah 65 verse about animals, there is another curious verse which states, "No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed." (Isaiah 65:20, NKJV). It sounds as though long lifespans may in fact come back at some point...but not until a lot of other events happen first. Is it possible we were originally intended to have lives that spanned centuries instead of decades?

In summary, it seems as though there is a reason why humans can only live to a certain age. It also appears that the long lifespans in the early pages of Genesis were not an aberration...but part of a much greater plan...a plan that has yet to be fulfilled in its entirety.

So where will the efforts of technology to lead us past our current aging barriers take us? Besides all the other issues I brought up in the two previous posts in this series, perhaps someone should implement a plan to pay a light bill 120 years in advance.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Random Tech Bits

I'm not sure how to categorize this, but here is a story that may have implications not only for farms on Earth, but even settlements of the future on other worlds. From the article:
"The engineers were testing the Lettuce Bot, a machine that can "thin" a field of lettuce in the time it takes about 20 workers to do the job by hand."
Meanwhile, in the same article it talks about a company, Agrobot, that is working on a 24-armed machine with optical sensors for harvesting strawberries.

In space news, there's a Kickstarter project out there for launching space payloads via a spiraling slingshot-type device called the "slingatron". Although only small prototypes have been built, the hope is to build a much larger device that works by spinning the object along a spiral track at a particular frequency.

And in this article here, you can read about how neuroscientists are working on implanting false memories in the brains of mice.

I can only imagine where that kind of experimentation is going to lead.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Summer of Giveaways

I usually don't post too often about these types of things, but I thought I should considering how much will be going on over the next few months.

If you haven't seen it already, I'm running a giveaway over on Goodreads for four Corridors paperbacks.

This will be followed by another paperback giveaway on Goodreads for the yet-to-be-released opening book of the Chronopticus trilogy, Fractal Standard Time. Assuming everything goes right, I should have some copies available in mid-August. The e-book version will follow in early September, first on Amazon and then elsewhere near the end of the year.

If that wasn't enough, I'm also in the process of outlining three novels at once...which is something I've never done before. From there I'll work on the three books (two are sequels to Fractal Standard Time) and if all goes well, another giveaway and book launch will occur in late fall.

More details to come...

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Heavy Hand of Fiction

The pen is mightier than the sword, or so the saying goes. But what if the pen is the sword? What if the words are like fire, or swords, or even a hammer? Should it affect how an author uses them?

One trend I've noticed over the past few years is that including verses of Scripture in fiction creates division. In an era when a lot of people seem to cringe at the idea of healthy and reasonable debate, it's no wonder that I have a difficult time naming many recent books that include Scripture in a character's day-to-day life. I can't remember offhand a novel where a character quoted Scripture or let alone opened a Bible, yet the book was clearly marketed as a Christian fiction.

Now, that's not to say that a book can't have faith-based themes without mentioning God, the Bible, or having a clergy member as a character. There are plenty of books that do that and to great effect. But what I find unusual is that authors (publishers?) seem to run the other way if a character quotes bits of Scripture or struggles openly with passages out of the Bible.

Maybe it would be helpful at this point to back up and see what the Bible says about itself. In Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV), it states, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." In Jeremiah 23:29 (NKJV), it reads, ""Is not My word like a fire?" says the Lord, "And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?""

Then, in Isaiah 55:11 (NKJV), it states, "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." In Matthew 13:1-23 Jesus also discusses how the Word is like seed and illustrates the circumstances that can affect how the Word (seed) is received by comparing it to how a sower scatters seed on different types of soil.

If that wasn't enough, in John 1:1 (NKJV), it says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And over in Matthew 24:35 (NKJV), Jesus expands on this theme by stating, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."

So not only is the Word full of power and can spring forth life like a seed, but it has existed since the beginning and will live on past all of our lifetimes.

Not to pile it on, but the Bible also goes into great detail what can happen when someone shares the Gospel or even parts of it. In short, expect joy, indifference, anger, engaging conversation, everlasting change, or fireworks.

So should a writer back away from quoting Scripture in fiction? Sometimes people balk at the mere mention of anything Christian or anything that reminds them of a bad experience with a church, a pastor, or another Christian. Is that always the fault of the writer though?

As a writer, it's almost impossible to know what a reader is going through when they read a piece of fiction. Including some Scripture (used in a realistic way) might push things over the top...but like a well-preached sermon, maybe that is a good thing. It can certainly be done without "being preachy" (whatever that means...see my previous post on that topic).

Maybe a story will help someone think through a bad decision they are about to make. I recently attended a concert where the band's lead singer spoke of how one of their songs saved someone from taking their own life. Their song was playing on a station and it was the only one that could be picked up that night in the car.

I can't count the number of times God has used the exact same piece of Scripture through multiple sources (books, sermons, Bible studies, radio broadcasts, etc.) to get a point across to someone. Perhaps someone's fiction will some day be a part of that, too, but an author will never know unless they take that risk.

What's the lesson in all of this? I'm not always sure of the way forward, but I do know it's important to try to handle the Word with care, especially in writing. As the Bible testifies about itself, there is a lot more going out than merely words on the page. That said, I'm seriously considering incorporating more verses in some upcoming fiction...not just to include verses, but to illustrate a concept in a realistic manner. It's something I have not seen done very often, if at all. I don't know...maybe I just need to read some fiction from a different era. More on that soon...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Robots of Fractal Standard Time

There are a lot of robots in Fractal Standard Time. In fact, there will be several generations of them, including the lawn-mowing "turtles" of The Mathematician's Lawn, the mining robots of Earthset, and a next generation machine that takes on more of an enforcement role in addition to mining duties. Each generation builds on the previous one's capabilities. To give some idea of the visuals involved with these machines, here is a picture and an article which inspired me...the Moai statues of Easter Island and the Kuratas robot built by the Japanese company Suidobashi Heavy Industry.

Without giving too much away, towards the end of the book, the final generation of machines gets upstaged by something even bigger. This theme is being built upon in the subsequent novels I am working on, Ionotatron and Chronopticus Rising. Ionotatron will feature an even larger machine which will wreak havoc on the settlements.

The goal, however, is to attempt to depict the true nature of technological progress in both size and capability. This is no easy task since technology evolves and changes so quickly nowadays and what may seem like a great idea in fiction at the time may end up never panning out or run the risk of becoming dated if technology takes a sudden turn in a different direction.

One of the complaints leveled against science fiction over the years is that when a new, innovative technology is introduced in a book, other aspects of society seem stagnant, or even the technology itself becomes stagnant. Then again, it is difficult to foresee all the possible impacts of a technology or how it will be used (or abused). For example, imagine a story about a town in the late 1800's and giving a character a ray gun to use in a shootout. How could such technology exist with a supporting infrastructure somewhere? Why wouldn't anyone else have the device? Is it the product of a lone inventor's lab or an alien artifact? Wouldn't this be a game-changer in the hands of villain? Answering these types of questions, however, and at least attempting to predict where a disruptive technology will go creates more realistic novels...if it is done right.

Although the robots run the risk of being the central focus of the Fractal Standard Time, the real heroes/villains come out of a family of mathematicians by the name of Entner. Several generations are depicted in the book, and their offspring will appear in the following novels. And yes, to play off the title and the math there, there will be plenty of fractals to be found...if you know where to look. More on this later.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Between the Cogs

Right now I'm between books, but the publication silence won't be for long. In fact, I'm on the lookout for cover art. Ideally, I need to find art for five book covers at once.

That may sound like a lot, but I'm currently assembling the outlines of three novels concurrently. Two outlines will be sequels to Fractal Standard Time, which will form a trilogy, and the other outline is for Race the Sky, a stormchasing novel. Fractal Standard Time is already finished (it just needs a cover), and several stories are developing which will end up in yet another science fiction short story collection.

If that doesn't sound ambitious enough, besides all the robot and nanomachine things going on in Fractal Standard Time, there is this odd, steampunk aesthetic that keeps creeping into the two sequels I'm working on (Ionotatron and Chronopticus Rising). I'm not sure how far I will carry that since none of three books are set in Victorian times.

I don't have a time frame as to when these books will all be released, although one should be ready to go by September. If I could get them all out by the end of the year, I would. Remember, some of the stories of Fractal Standard Time are available over at Amazon...specifically, The Mathematician's Lawn, The Peddler, and Tales From the Front. These will only be available for a limited time, however, so grab them while you can!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Pursuit of Digital Immortality, Part II

Last time, I discussed some articles about "digital immortality" that were making their rounds in the news. Today, I'd like to continue on that theme by delving into whether or not knowledge is equivalent to the concept of life.

If you amass all of your thoughts, memories, and dreams and were able to transfer them somehow into a computer, would you achieve immortality? Or, to put it another way, would your personality be able to live without a body and would it still be you? What if one could add some autonomous code to the system so that your "digital personality" is able to continue to gather knowledge, generate new memories, and create dreams?

Like I mentioned previously, I don't think you would find too many people who would consider a library or even the internet "alive" least when compared to concept of human life. Even if you mix in some type of autonomous ability, it is doubtful it would approach human intelligence or the idea of life. Somehow, the acquisition of knowledge is just not enough, and the reason for that is because human beings are spiritual.

Although the Bible has plenty to say about spiritual matters, it also discusses a great deal about knowledge. Besides the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Psalms (considered "wisdom literature"), in I Corinthians 8:1 (NKJV), it states, "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." From that it seems that with great knowledge can also come great pride. The Bible goes further than that, however. In Ecclesiastes 12:12 (NKJV), it says, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh."

To top it off, in II Timothy 3:1-9, it talks about the last days and in those verses, there is this curious statement about knowledge (verse 7) where it states people in that time will be "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." So, it seems too much knowledge can lead to pride, exhaustion, and even deception since knowledge is not always the same thing as truth.

Yet, when we compare God's knowledge with ours, we find in Romans 11:33 it reads (NKJV), "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" In Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV), it states, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

But even if a machine were built that could acquire all the knowledge of the Earth's inhabitants so that it might in some distant way attempt to approach God's knowledge, the spiritual component would still be missing. The effort, in other words, would fall woefully short. In John 4:24 (NKJV), it reads, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

So where does the idea of gathering tons of knowledge in the pursuit of digital immortality potentially lead us? Does it really lead to immortality or does it just create another library of information? Could knowledge be uploaded and then downloaded to a new, younger brain and body? Is any of this research addressing the spiritual side of humanity?

There are verses in the Bible which tie immortality and knowledge together. For example, in John 5:24 (NKJV), Jesus tells a group of Jews who were persecuting Him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." Then, a few moments later, He tells them, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life."

The point here is that some sought to attain eternal life by spending their time studying the Scriptures...but missed the larger concept. The study of the knowledge (Scripture) was important, but they failed to realize what, exactly, the Scriptures were referring to and that it required faith in God. In short, faith and knowledge are supposed to work together and that the attainment of eternal life requires belief in God and not in one's own limited abilities.

Next time, in part three of this series, I'll cover another goal of digital immortality...that of trying to beat aging once and for all.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Pursuit of Digital Immortality, Part I

Lately, there has been a wave of news articles coming out on the concept of "digital immortality". Basically, this idea involves storing a person's thoughts and personality in digital media as a means of cheating death. Ideally, proponents argue, the digitized personality would then be able to live forever (until someone pulls the plug) and potentially even develop new thoughts and increase their knowledge base. This isn't something out of a science fiction book, as this article and this article show.

Here's a quote from the first article:
"Itskov and other so-called "transhumanists" interpret this impending singularity as digital immortality."
The singularity as referred to in this article talks about a convergence of technological trends on the near horizon, perhaps around 2045 or 2050. Some believe at this point we will be able to upload or download an entire mind online. Some examples of these definitions can be found here, here, and here.

But would immortality truly be achieved?

Consider this: a typical library with paper books consists of a great deal of information. Does anybody consider the library alive and immortal, though? If people stop writing books and librarians stop stocking them onto book shelves, would the library continue to acquire knowledge on its own? If all the janitors, maintenance staff, patrons, and librarians vacated the building but left the books behind, would the place be considered immortal? What happens when the silverfish and termites move in?

Now consider the internet. The amount of pages and information added daily worldwide is staggering. Yet if people stop adding information and all the connections were terminated would the internet be considered immortal? What happens when servers start to fail and hard drives crash? But wait...what if autonomous software was created so that a machine could acquire knowledge without human intervention and repair itself using available materials? Would the creation be considered alive and potentially immortal?

Here's another quote from the first article:
"Rothblatt introduced the concept of "mindclones" — digital versions of humans that can live forever."
Then, later the article's author asks:
"But would such a mindclone be alive? Rothblatt thinks so. She cited one definition of life as a self-replicating code that maintains itself against disorder."
Is that all that life is? Self-replication in order to overcome disorder? Does that mean immortality is nothing more than a matter of endurance? Does anybody consider self-replicating malware on a computer network to be alive? Are botnets immortal?

Interestingly enough, many times this quest for immortality and ultimate knowledge can involve a form of spirituality, but it's usually anything but Biblical. In fact, some researchers bristle at the mere mention of God despite all the ready answers available in Scripture on these topics.

Case in point, let's take a quick look at this concept of immortality and eternity. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV), it states, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end."

Over in John 10:28 (NKJV) Jesus said, "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand." In Romans 6:23 it reads, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Furthermore, in John 3:14-16 it states, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

There are numerous other verses on this topic, but the main point is this: according to Scripture, eternal life does not come from man, it comes from God.

Additionally, reducing the complexity of life, biology, and consciousness to nothing more than code being run on a machine opens the door to a new set of problems. It ignores multiple other verses in the Bible that discuss spirituality, having a relationship with God, and even the idea that God could "breathe life" into someone. As it is written in Genesis 2:7 (NKJV): "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."

It was not knowledge that gave Adam his life, it was God.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fractal Standard Time Update, Part II

It's done.

Or, at least that is what I told myself a couple of weeks ago. The science fiction book that originally started out as a collection of interlinked short stories has morphed into a novella. That novella has now taken on a life of its own and turned into the opening book of a trilogy. The other two books will be done sometime later this year or early next year.

Here are the titles of the stories in Fractal Standard Time:

Tales from the Front
Racing the Anvil Crawlers
The Mathematician’s Lawn
Subterranean Dreams
The Mines of Mars, Part II
The Rise of Magnopolis
Opening Day
The Peddler
The Nanobot Sandbox
The Great War
A Kind of Time Machine

Tales from the Front and The Mathematician's Lawn are already available as standalone short stories on Amazon, and The Peddler will be put online shortly. The full collection, however, will hopefully be available sometime in late August. As I mentioned in a prior post, this novella is full of fractals...some subtle, some obvious. The fractals are woven into the structure of the book to make a larger point: left to their own devices, humans tend to let their fallen nature run out of control. The first three stories take place on Earth, while the other nine take place on Mars and chronicle the rise of a series of early settlements on the Red Planet.

As far as the other books, they will be novels and titled Ionotatron and Chronopticus. The Chronopticus Network (introduced in Fractal Standard Time), will be the focus of book three. The book will chronicle the rise and fall of an "all-seeing network" system that attempts to compile staggering amounts of information about everybody it comes in contact with. In the hands of the wrong people, that information leads to all sorts of corruption. This is also a theme that occurs in Fractal Standard Time.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Random Tech Bits

Maybe it is time to update a post I made a ways back that posed the question: are tornadoes getting bigger? It seems the recent storm in El Reno, Oklahoma, on May 31st, 2013, has broken a record set back in 2004 in Hallam, Nebraska. At one point, the El Reno twister reached 2.6 miles across with winds that hit 295 miles per hour. That easily puts in the EF-5 class, and is the second EF-5 in as many weeks (the other being the Moore storm on May 20th).

The El Reno storm had lots of other unusual characteristics and there is ample video available of it on YouTube right now. Sadly, it also took the lives of several chasers, and threw the Tornado Hunt vehicle a substantial distance (the passengers survived, however, but were injured). After a slow start to the spring storm season, this could end up being be a long summer.

In other news some students at Berkeley have created a 3-D printer/vending machine. Frustrated by limited access to 3-D printing technology, they built their own machine which is accessible to many. This could be one of those game-changing moments in this field.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Off to the Races

Ever raced on a lawnmower? Me either. Apparently, they're not just for trimming grass anymore!

Years ago, on a forum there was a discussion about...lawnmower racing. It was actually pretty entertaining, and so for the fun of it I decided to check up on the sport to see where things were at. For some background, check out the Wikipedia entry here, where it is described as being "a form of motorsport in which competitors race modified lawnmowers, usually of the ride-on or self-propelled variety."

Apparently there is an organization devoted to this pursuit here in the states, called the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association. Their blog is here, which has some videos of different events. Then I found the Twelve Mile 500 race, which claims to be "America's oldest lawnmower race". If that's not enough, here is a video of a race in Maryland.

Don't have any grass to mow? Well, there's always mower racing on ice. In Finland.

On a related note, I've just released a short story, "The Mathematician's Lawn", which is available now on Amazon. This is a key story to my upcoming book, Fractal Standard Time, because it features a character by the name of Steve Entner, who is a mathematician and a scientist working on a manned mission to Mars. He appears in the first three parts of the novella, but in this particular story, he finally solves a key problem in robotics networking...while mowing his lawn.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Before starting a new project, creative people will often gather together material (consciously or unconsciously) months or even years ahead of time in preparation. The end result is that when it comes time to start on that project, they hit the ground running.

Some call this process ideation. Others call it research. In the book, "Finding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep and Nuture Creative Talent" by Nolan Bushnell and Gene Stone, the process is referred to as "preloading".

What is preloading?

One page 177, Bushnell and Stone write:
"When tasking a group of creative people, give them a heads up on their next projects. Their endlessly functioning, hyperactive minds will immediately start thinking about the future, even as they are still working on their current projects."
This is sound advice. It works for many creative people, whether they are working on books, movies, music, or engineering projects. For example, for the past five years I've been reading many articles on stormchasing along with watching endless hours of footage. Besides being a field of interest, there was a certain amount of preloading going on...even though in the meantime I was working on other ideas.

The great part about this technique is that even though the current main focus may be an important project, the brain has a remarkable capability to work on multiple concepts at once. Some problems are best solved with time and an ample amount of information being "fed in" via articles, books, trips to the art museum, observation, etc. Although a solution may not appear immediately, many times the brain is working on the answer in the background. Then one day the answer may appear "out of the blue" complete or nearly complete.

Where it gets interesting is when one can preload information about several different ideas/projects ahead of time. If those projects are interrelated or any connected somehow, all of the projects may benefit. Along those lines, there is also something to be said for writers who specialize in a certain type of fiction or non-fiction. Researching the next book may build off of what they already know or have discovered during the process of writing their last book, which benefits the reader and saves time.

Of course the flip side to all of this is that it is easy to get carried away with research, especially if that future research is more interesting than what you are currently working on. At that point I suppose it becomes "preload overload". The main thing is that it is can be a great way to work and can build a creative person's confidence as well as giving them goals to aim for.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Release: Corridors

Corridors, a science fiction short story collection, just went live today. Inside are fourteen stories that cover a huge range of themes...everything from electronic insects to mind transfer experiments to an adventure on a mining train on Mars. The cast of characters in the stories are pretty diverse, too, and the lone Mars story, The Mines of Mars, Part I, will lead in to the next book, Fractal Standard Time. There is a Mines of Mars, Part II, but you'll have to wait a few weeks until Fractal Standard Time is released.

The book is available in e-book format at Amazon, Barnes and Noble (soon), Lulu, and on iTunes.

It is also available in paperback on Lulu.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Clock Is Ticking

In prior posts, I've discussed the hopes, dreams, and innovations going on in the world of 3-D printing and how it won't be long before such functionality becomes widespread. Today, some of the desktop devices are still a bit expensive and the designs available for download are limited. That's changing on a daily basis and I don't think it will be long before prices drop and 3-D desktop printers start appearing in homes everywhere.

So when I saw this article hit news sites today, I wasn't surprised. The design in question is produced on a higher-end printer, but it highlights some interesting dilemmas that are on the near horizon in terms of technology.

It's one thing to exchange information on a website. The complexity increases when money is exchanged with a commerce site such as Amazon or Walmart and products are shipped to your house or place of business. Now we are moving into an era where information (or designs) can be exchanged online but the product can be manufactured in your own home with the right equipment.

It's probable that such a disruptive technology will force laws to be rewritten, cause licensing systems to be developed, and that controls will be put in place to stop or slow down the exchange of risky designs. Where it gets really dicey is when users will take existing designs, modify them, and build new creations that could have unpredictable consequences. For example, imagine instead of driving to the auto parts store you could download the design of brake pads for your car online, fire up the 3-D printer, and make the new parts in your living room. That would work as long as you stuck with the initial design and did not try to modify it somehow and know how to put the brake pads on your vehicle.

I'm not concerned about toys or things like make-your-own action figures (although I could see Marvel having a licensing fit if users start modifying designs of their action figures). Where it gets to be a slippery slope is when it comes to sharing corporate design secrets or items like the one mentioned in the article above. Although the design in the article was taken offline, over 100K downloads occurred in a two day period. No doubt the design will reappear somewhere else soon, and like an album leak at a certain point it becomes unmanageable to try to shut down every instance of it.

The next objective then becomes one of controlling the consequences...but that is difficult at best because it seems to be a learning curve for everyone involved as the upheaval in the music industry over the past decade has shown us. Where this will lead is anyone's guess, but it should make many people think twice about what possible impact their creations may have before they upload their designs online.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Brief Update

Just a quick update tonight, as I am working on finishing off the first book of what may eventually turn into a trilogy.

If you haven't seen this already, here is a stop-motion film from IBM titled "A Boy and His Atom". It's one of those clips that could very well become iconic in a hurry. If that's not enough, here is a clip that describes the sound of atoms being moved around. What would Feynman think of all this if he was still around?

In other news, 80,000 people have applied for a one-way ticket to Mars. I wonder how many of them will drop out of the running once they find out how much initial work would need to be done just to get a basic colony up and going.

I'll post more again shortly, but for now all I can say is there is a lot of new material that will be coming out this summer. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Random Tech Bits

This should be an interesting project to watch. SpaceX is working on rocket called the "Grasshopper" which is capable of returning back to the launchpad after being fired...vertically.

Here are a couple of other assorted Mars-related videos. One on settling the Red Planet and another about rovers.

In this video, Scott Nicholson holds an in-depth discussion on modern game board design. This has applications not only to board games but to video games as well.

And finally, here is a brief discussion in MIT Technology Review as to what might be holding 3-D printing back from widespread adoption.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Yet Another Corridors Update, Part II

After a long delay, I can finally announce some release dates for Corridors, as well as give you an idea of what the cover will look like. If all goes well, the paperback version will be available via Lulu by Tuesday, April 30th. The Kindle/ePub versions will be available on May 17th. I will also run some paperback giveaways over at Goodreads and perhaps a giveaway or two over on LibraryThing.

So far the book has been described as being "like the Twilight Zone". It contains fourteen stories in all and their titles can be found in this post. It covers an immense amount of science fiction ground, from a Martian transport train to dome cities on the Moon to a story that takes place during the Millennium ("Cities of the Plain"). There are electronic insect battles, robotic ants, mind-transfer experiments, and lots more.

This brings me to the cover. There is quite a bit going on in this illustration, and I was surprised that the cover artist incorporated so many story ideas into it (eight or nine out of the fourteen). I added the Twilight Zone style lettering because the stories go in so many different directions. As you can imagine, I'm having a difficult time trying to come up with decent back cover copy for this collection.

If this isn't enough, there is another book on the way that I've talked about in previous posts (Fractal Standard Time). The stories in that collection are tightly interlinked, however. For those that read "The Mines of Mars, Part I" (found in Corridors) there is a corresponding story, "The Mines of Mars, Part II", which will be found in Fractal Standard Time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

No Ordinary Thread

What's stronger than steel, highly conductive, yet can act like a textile fiber?

Carbon nanotubes.

This is one of those fields that is growing by leaps and bounds all the time. There are a few videos out there on this topic...for example, here and here are videos showing the process of spinning carbon nanotube threads as if they were yarn.

Like so many other things nanotech, carbon nanotubes have all sorts of unusual properties. Some of the potential applications may one day include stronger-than-steel cables, space elevators, and improvements in lightweight armor.

One of the more intriguing developments seems to be in the area of circuits. For years, the idea of Moore's Law has been discussed, but there are also inherent limitations with silicon chips in terms of size. Now there is research being done on carbon nanotube circuits...and one of those articles can be found here. IBM is working on chips that contain carbon nanotube transistors (instead of silicon transistors). That article can be found here.

Regarding textile applications, however, this type of technology could see uses in tear-resistant fabrics, water-resistant fabrics, body armor and even fire protection. Now if they could make a lightweight thread that keeps buttons from popping off of pants and jackets, I'm all for it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fractal Standard Time Update, Part I

Today I'd like to report that what started out five months ago as a collection of twelve short stories with large time gaps between the stories has turned into something more. How much more depends on how the current editing process continues to unfold, but it certainly looks like this book has turned into at least a novella. This happened by accident since I once had plans to release a handful of the short stories out onto Amazon before releasing the whole book. As I've continued to edit the stories, however, they have insisted on "growing" together and towards each other if that makes sense.

Although my technique for creating novels usually follows a much different path, I'm also letting this book run in the direction it wants to go. Here's what makes this so unusual: depending on how things go, I might...just might...turn this into part one of a trilogy.

So...what's this book about?

There are a lot of themes coming together in this book, but here's the short list: Mars, robotics, nanotechnology, and in a limited sense, fractals. The Mars aspect will be obvious as nine of the twelve stories take place there (the first three are on Earth). The robotics angle grows throughout the book and the nanotech themes come to life in the last four stories. The fractal ideas are more subtle and will be found in the structures of the book. I say "structures" as opposed to "structure" because although there is one large narrative arc to the book, there are multiple other arcs within groups of stories and even within the stories themselves. I've tried to align those arcs with one another, but this has proved to be far more difficult than I ever anticipated. The original goal was to write a book that could be chopped up into multiple pieces yet still essentially retain the same story.

Some of the story titles will be, "Racing the Anvil Crawlers", "The Peddler", "The Nanobot Sandbox", and "The Mines of Mars, Part II". Oh, and here's the opening line from the lead story, "Tales From the Front":

Gordyn and Alyssa held hands together in the cockpit for yet another last time.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Yet Another Corridors Update, Part I

Some brief book news science fiction short story collection finally has a cover. Although the cover is not completely done, it's far enough along where I should be able to release the book via Amazon around the middle of May.

The collection is diverse and will contain fourteen stories...some of which have already been made available on Amazon over the past few weeks. Some of the themes will include mechanical insects, transhumanism, a novel-writing computer, two cadets who battle it out inside a simulator that projects their thoughts on giant screens, and a character "sentenced" to work at an intergalactic Bible factory. There are a bunch of other stories that didn't make the cut but some day might get reworked enough to end up in a book.

One of the key stories from this collection, however, is The Mines of Mars, Part I. It's a story about a part-time smuggler, Kyrk, who reluctantly gets pulled into a mini-refugee crisis at a nearby Martian settlement. For a few more weeks, it will be available at Amazon here. There is a Mines of Mars, Part II, but it won't make its appearance until the next book is completed, which is Fractal Standard Time. That book is in the editing stage right now and should be done within the next month. I plan on releasing that book sometime in June.

As usual, I'll also run a giveaway or two (or three) over at Goodreads as soon as the paperback versions become available.

Friday, March 22, 2013

To Program Matter

If you had the ability to "program" matter, what would you create?

Surprisingly, several research projects exist to program matter as if it were an extension of a computer program. Although the hardware and software have a ways to go before they can match up with some of the visionary videos I've seen, it's a field that is growing right alongside research into nanotechnology. A couple of different names have appeared over the last few years in an attempt to define this idea: claytronics and programmable matter.

According to the Carnegie Mellon University website, claytronics "combines modular robotics, systems nanotechnology and computer science to create the dynamic, 3-Dimensional display of electronic information." Wikipedia describes programmable matter as matter having "the ability to change its physical properties (shape, density, moduli, conductivity, optical properties, etc.) in a programmable fashion, based upon user input or autonomous sensing."

Lots of science fiction shows and movies over the years have given us hints of what this might look like in the future. For example, the T-1000 in the movie Terminator 2 might be a good illustration of this idea in action. Although that particular movie used lots of special effects, I predict there will come a day when even the field of special effects partially merge with research in the field programmable matter.

Special effects in movies, games, and animation typically requires the manipulation of lots of information (presented in the form of graphics). What viewers/players don't see is all the mathematics that occurs in the computers or render farms that generate these images. As technology continues to evolve, the effects are becoming more realistic over time and tend to involve a greater number of calculations. These calculations involve lots of physics and math. Effects such as hair, skin, human motion, creatures, vehicles and even landscapes are taking on greater realism as a result.

Looking ahead, though, many of the videos I've seen on this topic address great ideas such as using programmable matter to create tangible 3-D models that could be used in board meetings or presentations. Some have even gone so far as to show the models changing form instantly in response to the presenter's controller as a means of illustrating a product prototype.

That's creative and practical, but it's doubtful the innovation would stop there. Imagine owning a vehicle that could change form or color on command (cloaking, anyone?). I saw a video that demonstrated what this might look like, along with furniture that could change form. Perhaps one day it will be possible to have clothing change form instead of having it wear out and be tossed in the garbage.

It won't stop there, however. Some will take their newfound programming ability to dangerous places and bring about situations no one is equipped to face. Will discussions occur in advance of such developments in order to try and foresee and prepare for those days which are probably fast approaching? Maybe. Some say that's what science fiction is really all about.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Random Tech Bits

In October 2014, one of two things will happen on Mars: either it will witness an impressive flyby of newly discovered comet C/2013-A1 or it will get hit by it. The chances of it getting hit are low, but over the next few months scientists should get a better handle on its trajectory. Estimates of the size of the comet are anywhere between two and thirty miles across...which could leave an impact crater of twenty to over three hundred miles in diameter and throw an enormous amount of rock and dust into the atmosphere.

One has to wonder how big of a rock it would take to knock the planet out of orbit.

Here is a website where you can order your own custom 4-ton mech robot for just over $1 million.

In other news...coming to a set of eyeglasses near you: augmented reality. There is a lot of research being done in this space. More on this in a later post.

Now, assuming the comet doesn't hit and smash everything to pieces, I wonder what would happen if we could bring some of these technologies to Mars?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Letting Go

At a certain point a writer needs to stop overthinking a novel and just let it go. Such is the case with my current project, "Fractal Standard Time".

In my relentless pursuit of perfection (however imperfect of a pursuit that may be), I've come to realize that I may never get this book to work out exactly the way I envisioned it six months ago. The interactions between the characters and their individual stories, as well as trying to tell the larger tale of what it might be like to settle on Mars is complicated enough. But trying to get all of the details "just right" is getting overbearing to the point that it may never get done.

That's typically the point where it's best to back up and re-evaluate things or let it go. In the world of building software, there exists a concept called "function creep", where more and more features get added on, until the project potentially implodes under its own weight. Instead of focusing on a few features and getting them to work right, the developers and/or project managers focus on anything and everything so that in the end everything ends up being done in a half-baked manner.

The same goes for a novel. The more you pack into it, the more it grows and the more the overall story can suffer. I'm running into that now. So, in the interest of getting this book done before the year is up, I'm going to edit it for what it is today, instead of trying to make anything and everything in the book into a fractal. The lessons I've learned will be carried forward into the next novel which I hope to get done by the end of the year, too.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gear By Gear

Sometimes writing a fiction book is like building a machine. At a certain point, the design phase has to end, the machine has to be built, and in the end, it needs to be tested to see whether it works or not. If it doesn't work, it's either back to the drawing board or worse, the project has to be shelved for a time.

My current work-in-progress, Fractal Standard Time, started out as a dozen interlinked short stories set mostly on Mars. It is now attempting to turn itself into a novel. The original plan was to create stories that could stand individually on their own, but each story would fit into the larger narrative arc of the whole book. On paper, this looked like a workable idea.

Now, however, there are connections that have developed between the individual stories in ways I had not planned. This is a good thing, but the whole book also runs the risk of turning into a never-ending manuscript that never feels completely finished. There are already multiple narrative arcs within each story, narrative arcs between groups of three stories, and a larger arc that stretches across the entire book. It's getting messier by the day because the stories take place over a period of decades and each story builds on the previous ones.

In addition, I'm now making a half dozen maps. I'm also writing brief narratives of the times between the stories...although I don't know if any of that will make it into the final book. I'm losing count of the books, movies, and articles I've read that are related to this subject, and hopefully the science of it all holds up (although I reserve the right to take a liberty or two). Like a complicated machine, though, I'm hoping the whole thing does not collapse under its own metaphorical weight.

I'm hoping within a couple of months, however, that this "machine" of a book will be up and running smoothly. Right now, I'm about halfway through the first edit and I'll have more specific details in the coming weeks as things come together. Some sample stories will also appear on Amazon within the coming month.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sand Geysers and Rocket Storms

Here is a weather report you would never expect to see on Earth: partly cloudy with a chance of "rocket" dust storms.

Dust is a major player in Martian weather, and in fact there have been times when the entire planet has been covered in dust. There are dust devils (like on Earth) and photographs have been taken of lightning in the dust storms. But the other day I came across a new term that I had never heard before: "rocket" dust storms.

Some scientists have created computer models to try and simulate what is happening on the surface, and the belief is that "pockets of dust" inside a storm may become heated by the sun and "rocket" their way towards the upper parts of the atmosphere. The speed of ascent is up to 100X faster than Earth-based storms. The closest analogy could be a rapidly-rising cumulonimbus cloud here on Earth on a summer day, although those climb at a much slower pace.

It also appears there is a lot of lightning with these storms. Although the genesis of lightning in dust storms is not fully understood, this could have implications for future settlements and missions. The Martian atmosphere is also mostly carbon dioxide and much thinner than the lower levels here on Earth. The thinner atmosphere, lower gravity, and finer dust particles could explain the rapid ascent.

Another oddity I recently read about is "sand geysers". These occur in the southern polar regions of Mars and typically are associated with a spring thaw. "Thaw" is a relative word here because the ice on Mars is mostly frozen carbon dioxide. The formation of these geysers is poorly understood, but basically a jet of heated carbon dioxide erupts from the ice sending dust and ice rocketing skyward. Accompanying these geysers are often dark spots and spider-like patterns in the ice.

What does all of this mean for future settlements and exploration?

It means that exploration of the southern ice cap in the spring (via a buggy or other vehicle) might be a bad idea...considering that the geysers may theoretically reach speeds of up to 100 mph. The planet wide dust storms, though, pose a unique challenge. Unless the planet is somehow terraformed, a lot of projects/services/missions that involve people could be temporarily suspended until the storm passes. Depending on how dense the clouds get, finding shelter might be the best bet since visibility could become a significant problem.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Nuts and Bolts

A few years ago, I watched a Nova documentary about lightning (from 1995). In that episode, the scientists stayed inside a protected building and launched small rockets towards building thunderstorm clouds. Attached to the rockets were thin wires and the goal was to trigger a lightning strike and measure the results. They were able to capture a few bolts and analyze the data. Research planes have been used to study lightning storms and the information has been used to improve aircraft construction.

In a similar way, a few of the short stories in my upcoming book Fractal Standard Time deal with lightning bolts. One story in particular (tentatively titled, "Is Heaven Electric?") focuses on some futuristic daredevil inventors intent on studying the secrets of lightning from within the clouds themselves. Their "research missions" eventually lead to other less serious adventures in the next story, "Racing the Anvil Crawlers", but in both cases there is a sense of respect of the power of a bolt. This attitude changes by the end of book, but now I'm getting ahead of myself.

Back here on the ground and in our current age, lightning detection is advancing along as well as lightning prediction systems. Without buying equipment, you can often pick up lightning strikes by tuning an AM radio to the lowest part of the band before a storm comes in. Distant storms can sometimes be detected even if they are hundreds of miles away, and nearby storms usually create some pretty loud static. On some days when storms are just beginning to fire up, you can hear the static gradually increase as the storm grows in height and power. Often a rapid or sharp increase in the amount of static is a sign of powerful updrafts within a cloud. Sometimes this happens right before the anvil top forms and storm turns severe.

In the coming weeks look for some of these short stories to start appearing on Amazon. I'll probably release "Racing the Anvil Crawlers", "The Mathematician's Lawn", and "The Nanobot Sandbox" for starters, but maybe in time I'll put out another one before the full collection is released sometime this spring/summer.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A World Away

I've been doing a lot of research on Mars lately and the other day a thought came to me: considering the distance to the Red Planet, and the cost associated with transporting supplies there, what kind of technology would a settlement have?

Initially, there would be technology related to life support, fuel generation, and shelter. Yet there would also have to be technology related to growing crops, should a long-term permanent settlement become established there. That would likely involve irrigation, heating, and some form of protection over the crops (i.e. a huge greenhouse).

Then there are other types of technology that would likely come along for the ride in the form of entertainment. For example, imagine being locked up in a space capsule for six months just to get there. Would the astronauts be able to watch movies? Would there come a day internet access in space could become a reality?

Once on Mars, it is likely that some basic communications links back to Earth will be quickly established. We already have some satellites in orbit around the planet, so sending out more would not be difficult...just expensive. Yet if you stop and think about all the other infrastructure in existence on Earth, it quickly becomes apparent that at some point a Martian settlement would have to become self-sustaining somehow in terms of establishing electrical lines, water lines, sewer lines, power generation, etc. This would require new ground to be broken in terms of engineering feats, although some lessons could be taken from the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet least in terms of transportation. At some point, a fledgling indigenous industry will spring up, too, and who knows...maybe someday they'll be able to send new technology back to us humble Earthlings.

Is humankind up to the feat? I have no doubt.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Bridge Out

I like traveling. It's fun to pick out new destinations to visit and lay out a plan on a map to see how many interesting historical or scenic sights can be visited on the way. Yet gasoline and money are not usually in endless supply, so often the most economical route is chosen. Most people, too, do not have the time or patience to drive down every possible route to their destination.

Why, then, is there this tendency in culture to do the such a thing with spirituality? It is not difficult to find widespread examples of different spiritual beliefs in the news, movies, books, and even in music. Choice is good, but are all choices equal?

It has been said by some that there are many ways to God. Others suggest that all religions are valid and that all roads lead to the same destination.

Do they?

Consider Jesus' words in Matthew 7:13 (NKJV), "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it."

I've heard it said that maybe Jesus is just being too strict for our times nowadays. After all, the culture was different back then and look at all the world has to offer now in terms of religion. In Matthew 24:35, however, Jesus states, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away." (NKJV)

Here is an exercise. Try lining up the world's varied religions next to one other sometime. Compare their core beliefs. Do they really mesh together? Are they really all paths to the same destination?

Christianity is unique in many ways, but perhaps the most prominent way is that salvation is not dependent on the efforts of the believer...unlike the rest of the world's religions. In fact, in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul writes, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

Let's take another example: Hinduism relies on millions of gods. Yet in Isaiah 45:20-21, it states, "Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you who have escaped from the nations. They have no knowledge, who carry the wood of their carved image, and pray to a god that cannot save. Tell and bring forth your case; yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me." (NKJV)

Those don't sound like roads leading to the same destination.

Yet it is not hard to find the mixing of these belief systems today. Some have labeled this as merely an "Eastern way of thought", in that a person can hold two very contradictory beliefs at once. After all, you can readily find "Christian yoga" and prayer "labyrinths" on some church properties. It is one thing to hold contradictory beliefs. It's another when those beliefs are lived out and there are real-world consequences to holding on to them.

Case in point: believing in eternal life (via Christianity) and the achievement of nirvana in Buddhism. One relies on God, the other relies on human works. One results in eternity with God while the other essentially leads to "nothingness". To quote Gautama Buddha, "Where there is nothing; where naught is grasped, there is the Isle of No-Beyond. Nirvana do I call it—the utter extinction of aging and dying."

In short, there are two destinations in this example: somewhere and nowhere. One destination is brought on by an act of God while the other is brought on by an act of self-will. One destination results in ultimate fufillment while the other results in ultimate annihilation. One road leads to streets paved in gold while the other leads to a bridge that is out.

How can one be on the road to somewhere and nowhere at the same time?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Simple Story

Ok, not really.

I've posted another short story from Corridors over on Wattpad. It can be found here. It's anything but a simple story, however.

Told through a series of letters, it details one scientist's quest to improve his abilities by using an implanted memory chip. It's a subtle nod to the intelligence-altering surgery from another book, Flowers for Algernon.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Last summer, I watched on television as Felix Baumgartner sat poised on the edge of a capsule readied to jump. The capsule was attached to a balloon that had risen to a height of 128,100 feet. Moments later, he leaped out of the capsule in what would become a world record height for a skydive. The jump was fascinating to watch but also nerve-wracking until he landed safely back on the ground using a parachute.

I don't know where Felix stands in terms of faith matters, but an interesting question to ask would be this: did he feel any closer to God while he was up there? (Or did he even care?) To put it another way, does a mountain climber scaling Mount Everest get closer to God as they approach the summit?

Before leaving the capsule, Felix remarked, "I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to be up really high to understand how small you are...I'm coming home now."

In Isaiah 40:21-22 (NKJV), it reads, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in."

If nothing else, maybe Felix had a similar visual vantage point.

Yet if Felix had instead been aboard a deep sea diving vessel, he still would have encountered God. In Psalm 139:7-10 David writes, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me."

One of the thematic questions I'm exploring in my current work-in-progress is whether or not mankind can flee to another planet in order to escape God...or at least the perceived persecutions from Christians themselves. Sort of like a reverse version of the Mayflower voyage. Is it possible? Or is God truly omnipotent and omnipresent not only on Earth but also elsewhere in the universe as His word suggests? And in a similar way, why do so many people expend so much endless energy trying to run in the first place? There are several plans in the works to send missions to Mars, and surely some challenges will be raised on the existence and nature of God as a result.

Yet fleeing to outer space would still bring a person face-to-face with God.

In Amos 5:8 (NKJV) it states, "He made the Pleiades and Orion; He turns the shadow of death into morning and makes the day dark as night; He calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the face of the earth; the Lord is His name." Likewise, in Job 38:31 God tells Job, "Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?"

The chances of our generation taking a spaceship to the Pleiades or the belt of Orion to test this theory in the next decade are probably zero. Even if we could make it there, how would one even begin to amass enough energy to rearrange entire star systems?

Maybe the answer isn't found by soaring in a balloon to the edge of space or scaling up the highest mountain. Maybe the answer isn't found in the depths of the ocean or in a settlement on the Red Planet. Perhaps the answer has been with us all along, ready to respond in an instant as the Israelites found out during the exile: "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13, NKJV)