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.