Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Tyranny Of The Morning

Chances are you already know whether you're a morning  type "Lark" or a night person - "Owl". Social scientists have coined these two types of people as Larks - people who are early to bed and awake in the morning, or Owls - the other half who are up late in the morning and more prone to be awake in the evening.

What's interesting to know is that despite the light hearted fun with names, these two sleep preferences the "lark and owl" have been researched very closely by science, proving these two types of people are real and sleep preferences are genetically determined. Scientists also know that sleep cycles exist in most living things on this planet all the way down plants, fungi, bacteria and archaea.  Located deep in the hypothalamus of our brain, this sleep cycle is also called the circadian clock, much like an unscripted code which drives everyone within a 24.2 hour wake and sleep rhythm.

But the real problem about Night Owls Vs. Larks is not so much the differences between the two types, or the science behind it, but perceptions, and what I call the "tyrants" of the morning. These Larks, these homogenous masses of  morning political parties - show little tolerance for anyone who isn't prepared for a meeting at 8 am. Not being a Lark you see is a crime in their eyes. Night owls should beware these early birds, who are also complaint conformist types with strong daytime work expectations.

Not being fully awake by 5 or 6 am, by a lark, is seen as nothing less than an outlaw, a danger, a diversity from a union. Sleep is not a bad habit in their eyes if you are showered and dressed with an hour of spinning class before you get to work.

You can easily spot these prominent personalities with caution, these show offs with ease since they often wear crisply cut dry cleaned suits and a Starbucks coffee to complete their ensemble. Larks will also proudly announce their coffee has low fat creamer. Little do they know you were up into the wee hours of the evening, with your own coffee, fully loaded with whole milk, heavy creamer and several ounces of pure finely granulated sugar so they would have their answers in the morning. Yes, the night owls come to the rescue once again, fully prepared for the very same meeting they intend to take on but don't be fooled by these Larks. Given an hour of time, research has showed that night owls will perform equally well as the Larks, and ten hours later they will outperform.

Unfair is the owls experience of the tyranny! The "social jet lag" of performing at our peak during the day gives the owls sleepless and emotional distress.  Ones unavoidable preference for morning or evening should not be considered bad or unhealthy and larks should be more accepting of an owls inherent sleep cycle.  Night owls are better off if they simply accept who they are and become more optimistic. Sleep is not unhealthy, a bad habit or condition to be treated. Be a self-identifying bird and things will go much better.




Thursday, October 15, 2015

Themistocles - The Wow Factor

When it comes to history there are doubtless many things we could aspire to like Themistocles, a zenith of fame and heros, during one of the greatest wars of all time, involving two of the greatest empires of all time, at the battle of Marathon and Salamis. An Athenian general with superlative skill and foresight, he fought against the Persians at the great battle of Marathon while a young man, and distinguished himself as the savior of all Greece by persuading Athens to build a navy which went on to defeat Persian at Salamis in 480 bc.

You might be asking yourself why a science fiction author has so much interest in history but the truth is, even though I have a distinct preoccupation for the future, I still have a fascination and love for history, and believe the greatest of all these legacies still influences us, even today.

A famous quote by Edmond Burk says, 'In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind."  And of all the empires that arose and thrived on the face of this planet, it's hard to forget the story of Themistocles. History tends to come to mind as well, when you're hired to help design a board game involving ancient naval battles between the Romans and Carthaginians. Called "Hands In The Sea," the game will be published later this year. In any case, halfway during writing Phobos, I was also researching these specialized wars, with the past and the future practically converging on my desktop. History became just as relevant as the future.

Themistocles was somewhat of a loner, nothing much is known of his youth or his parents. Rumors that his mother was a slave or a prostitute are probably nothing more than propaganda spread by his enemies he managed to make during his lifetime. But one thing is for sure; he was in the right place at the right time. By 493 he was elected to the post of archon, one of the city's most important elected officials, helping ready Greece fight against Darius, a ruthless Persian king who was busy sending envoys to the Greek city states seeking 'earth and water" - tokens of submission to Persian authority. Both Athens and Sparta defied these envoys and threw them their death into a pit, just as the movie "300" depicts. Themistocles was already in the picture lobbying to have them executed just on the grounds of defiling the Greek language and their barabaric demands.

In September 490, Persian forces landed at the sandy harbor of Marathon, with an invasion force of 600 ships, 20,000 or more soldiers and 800 calvary. Outnumbered by 2;1 the Athenians advanced against the Persians and won, doing the impossible. Over 6,000 Persians lay dead. In contrast only 192 hoplites had perished. But it wasn't over. Persia was still a threat and he knew it. Soon afterwards Themistocles faced his own inner battles in Athens against dangerous political enemies, but eventually won to build 200 ships at breakneck speed. He spent years preparing for another fateful confrontation with Persia and his moment finally did arrive. Fighting Xerxes -Darius's son at Salamis, Xerxes was convinced Athens had given up, and prepared to relish his victory over the defiant greeks. But Themistocles stepped in with his navy. In the narrow straits of Salamis, Themistocles once again beat the odds  and pushed back the Persians in a battle often described as one of the greatest naval victories of all time. A key event that shaped the entire future of European civilization. I'll skip past the rest of his surviving records, but it's hard not to see this man or his place in history as considerable.





Friday, September 18, 2015

Research


Dear hard science fiction fans,

Below is some of the research I did for my stories. Although I feel research is important, for a writer, what matters most are feelings and the characters who make up the story. Technology is only one aspect of the book, but sets the stage. As far as I'm concerned, technology is only as smart as the person who uses it.


Future Military Weaponry: Flash bangs, contact lenses that access information, drones, drones that fight other drones, M.A.V.'s (micro air vehicles) flat wave radio technology. Ambient backscatter devices which is a wireless way to communicate without relying on batteries. Textiles and Kevlar suit technology to protect soldiers and prototyping for advanced suit design. Electronic handcuffs and hyper stealth. Electromagnetic rail guns, fling bullets, laser guns. EMP technology, sentient unmanned vehicles and A.I. Giving robots license to kill with advanced weaponry. I like the idea of a robot sentry to protect a home right behind a door. I also touched on the concept of integrated smart homes, smart cars and  all in one iD's (interface device). Holograms, and programs with personality please... Radiation protective clothing, and ion cleansing devices to save on water. I thought of something I call PD's or perimeter drones which may or may not have already been thought of, which raise up armed and ready around a vehicle or ship as protection. I also imagined  a type of magnetic shield for police or soldiers to deflect explosions or gun fire. The future will be adventurous and dangerous at once...

Agriculture: Super vitamins to ward away global hunger. Agriculture equipment, environmental control systems, precision farming technologies, harvest processing and irrigation practices. Algae products, and nutritional impacts on society, along with government rationing systems.  Genetic mutants, parent seeds, and seed vaults, that pertain to human survival. Drought resistant seeds and biopharmaceutical production. Crops will be super bred to grow in a few weeks. Magnetospheres to protect crops from radiation.

Biology and medicine: Bone scaffolding systems to heal broken bones in weeks instead of months. Healing patches like band-aids  that will instantly advance  the healing of torn skin. Life saving medical drones that can reach an injured person in minutes with emergency medical supplies along with a doctor who can see and speak to the patient through a camera inside the drone. Hospital information becomes more seamless. It's been suggested that even the beds themselves will keep track of the patients vital statistics Donated parts and blood will be a thing of the past. We will have printed parts and synthetic blood. Medicine will be one of our most advanced areas taking leaps and bounds but it's a little overwhelming to research it all.

Education and work: This is a big topic but overall I think work and classrooms will migrate to homes. Meetings in person may become only when necessary. Privacy will become a thing of the past. Perhaps privacy will be paid for and very expensive.

Tranportation: We'll always need it. We'll have mag lev trains hopefully and less cars. Maybe the cars will self drive and energy will be in kilowatts. Cars will be charged. I investigated many fuel systems and outcomes. In my last book I invented a new type of ice sailor vehicle and investigated a new type of all terrain two man vehicle that travels through snow. Dog sleds are still in practice however.

Fun ideas: Smoking that is healthy, using flavored water vapors and bio electronic tattoos. The tatoos only show up when touched. How about a kitchen where cups, plates and silverware are instantly printed as needed, then easily recycled  into a specialized compartment for the next meal? No more soap and water, rinsing, or cleaning. How about projected images of dancers at drinking establishments? It's a bit "bladerunner" but  it would be cheap and effective...

Things that I think will never change based on the past:

War and wine
Marriage and partnerships (sex)
Human compassion and ingenuity
Smoking and drugs
Individualism
Greed and capacity for evil
Friendships and the need for socialization
Money in some form
Government power
Food and and survival
The environment

We will have the power of technology, but we are all still human. Look at the past to see the future don't you agree?

Did I leave out space? I researched space ships, space engines, and space travel. LAV's (launch to surface vehicles), Time and distance to Mars. Solar time, colonization, gravity, weight and mass. Bone density and loss. Problems with radiation and space travel. CO2 levels and the atmospheric make-up of Mars. I investigated the soil, and although plants could thrive with water and nitrates, the best way to live on Mars  is underground. I also looked up geo-engineering ideas for Mars, and then there we go again, right back into agriculture.  But be careful with geo-engineering. Sometimes if done the wrong way, things can go in reverse and never come back. As Mars atmosphere thickens, so does the plot, which I promise heats up faster than CO2 levels. Did I mention, I really like the idea of space elevators too....? Perhaps a new material invented in great Britain called Graphene could be used for the tether. I could say more about the research, and although I've skipped a few things here, I hope you enjoy my future.






Monday, September 7, 2015

The INTP Logician


INTP stands for Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Perceiving. It is a four letter personality profile based on the Myers Briggs test. Originally created by Carl Jung, Katharine Cook Briggs, and her daughter Isabel in 1920, the test theorized there were four principle psychological functions - sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. Originally intended to help women entering the industrial workforce during WWll, it is still popular today.


The idea is that there are four dichotomies that meet together to form your personality type. You are Introverted (I) or Extraverted (E), Sensing (S) or Intuitive (N), Thinking (T) or Feeling (F), and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P). So in total there are 16 personality types. 


It's actually not as boring as it sounds, and these profiles are sometimes taken into account by matchmaking companies. There is a free shortened test you can take online and if you find out what your type is, it's just good to know. There isn't a best type, but it can make you better understand yourself, and appreciate the differences between people. Some people make a hobby of it but once you take the test, you will understand your strengths and weaknesses.


Also known as the architect - I am the INTP, they are rare - maybe 1%-3% of the population. The INTP is a person who is typically independent, private and more likely to do things their way. We are suspicious of assumptions and conventions and eager to break apart ideas that others take for granted. It also says we can be merciless when analyzing concepts and beliefs, and tend to correct others.  It's not always a good thing, and I've had to learn the hard way. Depending on the situation I usually go with the flow, and take things pretty lightly, but an INTP is always thinking. Sometimes they put their thoughts to good uses like a famous INTP - Albert Einstein. Social rebellion can be a problem however,  which at times is bad for work and social situations, so needless to say I  do have a hard time following the rules.  ("Uh... I bypassed a few people I don't like, and skipped over some bureaucratic BS to get that report to you early...um...") I sheepishly admit I do hate senseless rules, after all, so many people take them for granted. Note I say senseless here. I do abide the law... but in general I think there are too many DO NOTS here. Has anyone asked themselves who made these rules? Oh well... there I go again. The pioneers they call us, the architects or thinkers. As far as I'm concerned, these questions are an advantage and have saved me from making bad decisions.


Curious and driven, my MB type seems to be exactly what the test will point out, a person who tries very hard to take part in an ordinary conversation. Like how good the food is... Wonderful its great, now can we please discuss how to save the world? I beg you! I don't like lies much either, or arrogance. I suppose what other people are easily impressed by just doesn't cut it for me. I admire hard work and intelligence and sincerity, but in reality, I take a lot of this with a grain of salt and try not to peg anyone, or myself too much. I can be influenced by my personality, but not controlled. At times people are just trying to impress you or get your attention, while others are pretentious or phony and there's a difference. If someone for instance is involved in a pyramid scheme for money, pulling the wool over someone's else eyes,  I will become very agitated. After a few inquisitive and direct questions, I know they will avoid me at all costs, ignore me for someone more gullible, or leave the table. I am used to these reactions by now, but at least they paid for dinner.  I made sure to smile, to nod, and ask they pay the bill first of course, before I began an interrogation. It seemed like the logical thing to do.

http://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test
http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp

#INTP






Saturday, August 15, 2015

Space Exploration Is Worth It


When people question space they question education, science, economy, glamour, prestige, political and nationalistic advantages, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Space exploration is a package deal with all of the above. It's hard for many people to accept space as significant, but curiosity and exploration are vital to the human spirit and accepting the challenges of going into space is just a part of our human journey. Exploration is what we do because its a natural function of the mind, like an artist who thinks of ideas. This is exactly what Michelangelo Buonarroti would say when people asked him how he thought of his ideas. He told them it was a natural function of the mind, as is curiosity. 


For another thing, space exploration should treated with respect because going into space is not easy. There are only a few highly capable people who can do it and go beyond a few moments of wonder at the universe. People involved with space, have unique skills and mental attitudes to brave unknown perils. They are an elite breed of warriors who represent the best that we have on this planet. This is sort of a given in my opinion, so when people question the importance of space exploration, I tend to think it's probably because they don't care. They are only marginally interested at best, and don't think its worth it to go beyond our daily agendas. Part of human nature is that people focus on themselves, and human nature is largely self- absorbed and dictated. Psychologists call this "selfish altruism" which is why some people don't want to invest in anything that doesn't directly benefit themselves. I think its sort of a hypocritical attitude though because cell phones are connected to a satellites and GPS systems which are in fact an invention of space programs.


Also, space is not a quid pro quo. I think its important to understand space exploration is not a case of having a space program or feeding the poor. Those who advance the line of how space is too expensive are not interested in the well being of the poor. In my opinion, that person is just trying to get the votes of the "poor" by convincing the naive that the rocket program is keeping food off their tables somehow. For instance our dropping the space shuttle program did not divert a single dollar to the "poor." All that happened was that a lot of people who worked in the shuttle program lost their jobs. 

So the argument that diverting funds or depleting funds, or even removing funds from space exploration programs is ridiculous. Space funds won't solve any of the worlds problems because before space programs, there were still world problems. There will always be world problems with or without space exploration. 

Don't forget about a long list of space jobs listed online which pay well - like SpaceX Spacelinks, Spacejobs and Space Careers who all post thousands of jobs which is not taking from the poor, it's supporting families. Jobs are the beginning of a livelihood and these "space" jobs are not just for rocket scientists. 

I haven't even gotten to the part about the importance of understanding our planet, our own species and and our relationship to the Universe. Could there be life out there? I think that's something worth knowing. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why People Like Science Fiction


Someone once said, "The Devils In The Details," and the older I get the more I have to admit there might be some truth to that. Its not that I like details. In fact I hate details, yet in the same breath I am also driven to find explanations and understand why some people like something and why they don't. Let's take for instance science fiction.

After doing the research, and drawing from a few of my own personal experiences I think there is a wide range of reasons. For instance, I recently I passed some information around at a party about my latest trilogy. One of the women at the party, just looked at me with a flat expression on her face and told me she didn't like science fiction. I guess I wasn't prepared for such a straight answer but I took in a breath and asked her, "Why not?" She merely shrugged and had no answer. Could this be a smack down because I gave her boyfriend (my divorce attorney) a friendly hug a few seconds ago? My mind's eye flickered back in time, but it was too late to test out the theory. Maybe if I had asked her before the hug she loved it. Or maybe she just didn't like science fiction. Too bad I didn't ask her before the hug but the latest research will tell you one in five people do enjoy science fiction.

The steps of science research are: 1. Ask a question. 2. Do background research. 3. Construct a hypothesis. 4. Test the Hypothethis. 5. Analyze the data and communicate your results.

But back to the details and to the party. The good news is I did find a few people at the party who were genuinely interested in my stories, which concluded the research that one in five will. Science fiction readers are also about 60% male and 40% female. They are often young, or older but the in-between ages fade away from the market for a time. According to a blind research project by a writer named Mark Neimann-Ross they also make good money with the average income at about 50,000 to more than 80,000 a year. Another piece of interesting news is - it is thought, but not confirmed that science fiction readers use both sides of the brain, able to combine the analytical and the intuitive visual sides at the same time. Although this is only extrapolation it seems only a percent of the population are able to "think" like an S/SF reader.

Although that might be true, my least favorite research has to do with social stigma. Despite overwhelming evidence that science fiction is a genre of mature ideas and intelligent writing, mainstream society still hold this as "Nerd" cool, or for 12-yr olds with overactive imaginations, and not for women. As usual these perceptions don't seem to come into play as people hold up the movie line for Avatar, The Time Traveler's Wife or Harry Potter. Sigh. I can't fight against perceptions and don't care to. Life is just too short.

As for me, I like science fiction because the here and now is a little bit boring to me. We already have the here and now, and the real world can be a bit disenchanting, predictable and well, boring.  Rational. Systematic. Even cold. Where is the wonder and magic in that? Lets re enchant the world and spark young imaginations. Let's reinstate the unknown into the scientific process. To me it offers a hope, a dream a future that we just haven't seen yet. The devil may be in the details but according to the numbers, 21% of people in the USA do like science fiction which adds up to 64 million people in this country alone.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

You Are Invited! Here is my press release. Please join me.

THE PHOBOS SERIES: ESCAPE TO PHOBOS
The Phobos Series, Book I By K. Van Kramer
220 pages, $17.95 trade paperback
ISBN 978-1-60975-118-0

 Local author debuts new science fiction novella “ESCAPE TO PHOBOS”

 “Immerse yourself in a unique science fiction adventure when a quiet agricultural scientist finds herself entangled in an exodus to Mars and its moon Phobos.” 

Book signing party: Sunday September 27th 12pm to 5 pm
At: The Vinoy® Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort
The Abbot Room
501 5th Ave NE, St Petersburg

St. Petersburg, Florida —A long time fan of science fiction, Kim Van Kramer decided to try her hand at writing  spending the better of four years to bring a Mars trilogy to life. With extensive research in space travel and a spark of imagination, Van Kramer refined her idea using a balance between science and fiction in a gripping plot that humans could face one day. With Andy Wier’s The Martian now a huge movie success, science fiction about Mars has never been more popular. And this book keeps up the pace.

Establishing the foundation for two more future titles in the trilogy, Escape to Phobos features a vividly imagined future where a strong female protagonist learns the truth about cataclysmic weather conditions threatening life on Earth and ends up center stage in a race to help a small colony on Mars. Escape to Phobos, filled with cutting-edge science, adventurous themes and compelling characters, will be perfect for fans who enjoy science fiction, adventure, and an authentic portrayal of Mars colonization.

Van Kramer said: ‘Joining Silver Leaf Books is a dream come true and I can’t believe how lucky I am to find such a perfect home. Escape To Phobos is the culmination of my love for science fiction and I hope to take sci-fi fans on a remarkable adventure made possible through storytelling.’

Kim has a BA in Graphic design from the University Of Florida. An ADDY Award winner, she later began writing, working toward publication while dividing her time between a job and family.

Escape To Phobos can be purchased on Amazon, Nook, or through Silver Leaf Books, LLC, P.O. Box 6460, Holliston, MA 01746. For more information, visit www.SilverLeafBooks.com.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Het geheim van schoonheid - The secret Of Beauty



I found this video through the Nemo Museum in Amsterdam and it was interesting to see that it supports an earlier article I wrote about the Golden Ratio.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Golden Ratio - A Hidden Symmetry

"Phi" the Golden Ratio, also known as the divine proportion has fascinated mathematicians for over 2,400 years. As an artist with a BA in graphic design and a minor in art history I can confirm artists do study this ratio in great detail and it does exist in both art and architecture. It's not always obvious in a classic painting until your professor points it out, but once you see it you know its there. In some paintings it's a hidden triangle with points of light, but its never obvious. This magic "exact" number or Phi, is observed when taking ratios of distances across the board in the context of science, nature, architecture, sculpture, painting and music. In nature, zoologists recognize the ratio -  1.618 as the logarithmic equation to a spiral, the curvature of an elephant tusk or the shape of a Kudo's horn. In meteorology its recognized in the spiral of a hurricane, and in the cosmos its seen in the spiral of a galaxy. It seems this cosmic "constant" (T) is found everywhere as an infinite constant. To summarize: if "a + b" is the whole line, and "a" is a larger segment and "b" is a smaller segment, then: (a+b)/a = a/b + Phi. The shortened numerical value of the Golden ratio mathematical equation is actually 1.61803399.

Despite many people's assumptions to the contrary, the fine arts are full of math. A battle between elegant symmetry or chaos, a painting can sometimes be all about math and the Golden ratio. As the Golden section is found in designs and the beauty of nature it can also be used to achieve beauty and balance in the design of a painting. For instance, as an artist you have to know the rule of thirds. Nothing is more boring than a painting split in half. That's why when you look at the landscape you'll see often see a two thirds / one third composition. A succesful landscape will have the sky for two thirds of the painting, and the land at the bottom third or vice versa. One thing I can say about the arts is, at least we know how to apply the Golden ratio. We may not know exactly what it means but there's no doubt we use it over and over to get a balanced composition, and we have been for hundreds of years.  On the other hand, the very science that lead us into our own useful application seems unsure of the evidence. Scientific research of the Golden ratio seems to be considered more of an intellectual curiosity than a technical insight, but new evidence is illustrating how this mathematical theory actually exists.

For instance in 2009 - a scientist named Calleman reported the Golden Ratio is involved in the universal Bohr radius fromula, when a single electron orbits hydrogen's atoms nucleus and its smallest possible orbit with lowest energy is the most likely position of  a number matching the golden mean. A year later in 2010 an international team of researchers observed a nanoscale symmetry hidden in solid state matter that showed the same attributes as the Golden ratio. To reveal the hidden quantum symmetry they worked with a magnetic material cobalt niobate in chains only one atom wide and observed that these atoms acted much like a guitar strings that resonated in a series of notes, with frequencies in the ratio of 1.618. Such discoveries are no coincidence and in this case, the researchers didn't believe it was either. Dr. Caldea, the lead researcher said it reflected a beautiful property of the quantum system - a hidden symmetry. Actually quite a special one called E8 by mathematicians, and this is its first observation in a material.

Strangely enough, for the last 20 years, our very own DNA coding has also revealed models of fractal integer patterns like Fibonacci or Lucas numbers which are deeply connected to the Golden ratio as well. In 2010 a exhaustive study proved that  codon populations in single stranded Whole Human Genome DNA Are fractal and fine tuned by the Golden ratio 1.1618. The paper was published in Disciplinary Science 2010 by Jean-Claude Perez.

Maybe the time has come to recognize that relativity and quantum theories can be integrated and linked numerically to the value of a mathematical constant. This ratio of hidden symmetries seems as if it's trying to tell us something important about connections. There seems to be a lot of skepticism about the idea but evidence is out there and to be honest I think some people lack imagination. Imagination is a powerful tool used in science and art, and mathematics has played a key role in physics and understanding the laws of nature and the universe. Whether art, space-time or biology, the Golden ratio is a great mystery I hope we can use to the best of our knowledge someday with this very unique number.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Predicting The Future

The next two hundred years is a future difficult to predict, but as I wrote the Phobos series I found myself thinking about timelines. Inside these timelines I looked carefully at what has changed in the last two hundred years, but I also reflected on a few things that haven't changed in the last 200 years or 2000 years for that matter.

Part of the challenge of science fiction is envisioning the future as a whole, good or bad but also imagining the details and everyday life of someone. Would wine still be around? What's in our medicine cabinets and in our homes? Do we smoke cigarettes? Are we married? Do we work? Do we have families? What is on our plate in the future, and on our tables?

Well, certainly I think wine will be on the table, and I tend to believe a family will be sitting around it too. Marriage might go out of style and back in, but I don't see a future where men and women ever lose the desire for love and commitment, or the capacity for jealously and hatred.  Of course, no one can predict the future but there's certainly some things that will never change.

Lets not forget among these natural chords of humanity, that technology can only do so much in the face of disaster, and we are often at the mercy of nature, so be prepared.  Things could get shaky if apocalyptic weather conditions crop up and so will food supplies. Although we have the ability to adapt with genetic crops and super vitamins, nothing can stop over population. Government food rations, famine and hardship mixed in with medical advances, cars that drive us, homes that talk to us, and drones that protect us or spy on us in every manner seems like a possible scenario. Maybe gas becomes kilowatts, and dollars become credits, but certainly energy becomes the price. As far as smoking, maybe 200 years from now cigarettes are healthy, using nothing more than flavored water vapor that is medically beneficial. Only the "health nuts" will be smoking. I imagine perhaps, that despite many things, medical technology will always take leaps and bounds. Communication will be a fun one too.

The questions is, in the worst case scenario, what would we do? A small colony on Mars could be an answer if things got bad enough. Just how bad would things have to get, well, I'll leave that up to the future about 200 years from now and inside the pages of my story.  Maybe just maybe, there is a small colony...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ice X, An Exotic Discovery


Ice is a mystery, and a fascinating material. For planets closest to the Sun, water ice dominates, but farther into the solar system, other types of ice exist.

Next time you put some ice in a drink, take a sip and let your thoughts reach beyond your glass, because ice is actually a unique and exotic form of water, and its only ONE of several solid states that can exist. Ice exists throughout the solar system, from the planets closest to the Sun, to the far reaches of the mysterious Oort cloud, a vast and diffuse wall of comets. From your freezer to the outer solar system, entire planets are made of the stuff or as partial mixtures of ice and rock combined. Ice occurs as polar caps and permafrost and may persist inside the coldest darkest craters of otherwise rocky bodies. Ice may be ancient, present since the birth of the solar system, or young and pristine; recently condensed from liquid. It may have migrated, molecule by molecule.

The ice we know on earth, is Ice I, but water has more than a dozen solid states, only one of which is familiar to us. There are other exotic solid forms of ice that are not cold - I repeat NOT COLD. This what is known as Ice X.  This 'hot' ice is more dense, thicker and heavier than Earth's cold Ice l. It takes an extreme amount of pressure, but water can become a hot ice, and it does exist. Described as a cubic crystalline form from liquid water, a hot ice can be created under very high pressure, when water turns into solid states denser than both ice and liquid water, just as carbon transforms into diamond under extreme pressures.  

These bizarre ice solids can be found on alien planets, or in science labs, made under extreme pressure where H20 is crushed and its molecules are forced into a crystal solid. This means if you flew over one of these Ice X planets and got a good look, you would see a heavy clear plane of solid water, and you could land on it, but it wouldn't be cold. On another planet, you could sink to the bottom of an ocean and find it far underneath, hitting a floor of solid water. These are worlds of compressed H2O, of Ice X and exotic 'hot ice' states. There are also other lower grades of solid ice like 'Ice VII'. Ice VII is just a little less dense made in labs using pressures above 3 GPa, and by lowering its temperature to room temperature, or by decompressing (D20) ice VI below 95K. The higher the pressure the higher the number they give the Ice, but Ice X or Ice 10 needs about (100K 62 GPa) to be made. 

Scientists think that Ice 7 might make up the ocean floor of Titan, one of Saturns moons, as well as extrasolar planets such as Gliese 436b and GJ 1214. Both of these planets are largely made of water.

Are you still enjoying your drink? Maybe you can get a refill before I continue, but all kidding aside, its pretty interesting to think something we took for granted like ice is actually not everything we thought it could be. If you really want to go back in time you'll also find out ice was originally formed from a solar nebula. Our sun, like other stars formed from a cold interstellar cloud of hydrogen, helium molecules and dust. As this nebula cooled, different elements condensed out into grains or ices, depending on their "condensation" temperature. Rocks and metals were formed and as the nebula continued to cool, carbon grains and ices of water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and ammonia condensed out. The line between the areas where rocks and metals condense and where carbon and ice grains begin to condense is known as the "frost line." The exact location of the frost line is still debated, but it is thought to be around 4 AU, between the asteroid belt and the orbit of Jupiter. (Earth is 1 AU from the sun; Jupiter is 5 AU from the sun). 

Well, as you can see one mystery seems to beget another as I uncover debates like the frost line. In any case, Ice X is a new discovery for me, that I thought I would share with you, over an icy drink. So lets make a toast to Ice X and other exotic mysteries. As we join our glasses together I say, let's drink to the future. Lets all focus on new exotic mysteries. Maybe we all can see it one day. Maybe. Anything is possible.



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Art and Science, A Common Language

In the beginning, art and science were one.  During the Renaissance the philosophies of art, architecture, engineering and science were all studied together, and this universal polymathy was the sign of the 'renaissance man' like artist Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci is best known as an artist whos works were informed by scientific investigation. For him science and art were different paths that led to the same destination.  While he walked down "both" paths of art and science he designed the cannon, a machine gun, gliders, a turnspit for roasting meat, canal systems for irrigation and the parachute.  Maybe he was more on the art path of life when he purposely bought caged birds and set them free. Another profound example is a painting called "The Astronomer" by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer who clearly celebrated the astronomer and exploratory spirit of science. Back then, the development of knowledge went hand-in hand with the arts and even by the 19th century you were as likely to go to a lecture on the latest  scientific discovery as one on art or exploration. By late 1800's  however, something disruptive happened, and a separation occurred between the two disciplines. During the 20th century the trend continued and eventually it became more difficult to study arts and science simultaneously. Finally it became acceptable to not understand something important merely because it was 'scientific', yet stylish to feign the study of art.
Given the nature of the two subjects and are how closely tied they once were, it seems there should be a word meaning both, and maybe there was a word once. Long ago the Greeks used a word called "Techne" from which technology and technique are derived, but there is no one word that denotes the two disciplines together as one entity today. Science is seen as dealing with organization and rules, things that are well defined and predictable, whereas art is seen as freedom to act more intuitively. The Oxford English dictionary  (c.1950), for example gives one definition of an artist as 'one who pursues a practical science' and provides science as a one word meaning of 'craft'. It's generally accepted that science is a branch of study which brings together demonstrated truths and observed facts which are systematically classified and unified under general laws, while creativity in the arts is intensely personal, reflecting the feelings and the ideas of the artist. By contrast, scientific creativity is always constrained by self-consistency and trying to understand nature, and what is already known. A scientist name Feynman once summed it up by saying that science is imagination in a straight jacket. But relativity and quantum physics cannot be understood through art. It can only be understood by speaking mathematics, a language I'm sure even scientists find difficult. But up close science and art are both a means of investigation and both transform information into something else. Einstein once said the most beautiful thing we can ever experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and science. So the unknown, the mysterious is another place where art and science meet again. And again and again. To what extent is vision shaped by science, or by art? And how does science offer us a different view of our place in the universe? Only an artist will create this vision, and let in lay there in your minds eye, in a book, a painting or a movie. Art can appear in the same school of thought dedicated to asking the big questions, and searching for answers. Artists can serve as partners in the communication of research, and the navigation of the unknown. History proves an enduring relationship I think is important.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Don't Forget About Venus

If you're familiar with astronomy you'll know Earth is the third planet from the sun. Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, and quite a bit cooler. The Mars equator is fairly warm though - at about 80F during the day, and the gravity isn't half bad - or to be more exact about 1/3rd of ours-so putting a few brave astronauts on its surface in a few years seems like a plausible idea. The carbon dioxide atmosphere isn't breathable and you'd need a decent pressure suit, but it's doable. Maybe we could use one of those fantastic tight fitting suits being made by Dava Newman, but for now Mars is a healthy obsession for science fiction writers and scientists alike for ideas with colonization, or human exploration. What's also really interesting is finding an new unexpected discovery, and her name is Venus.
Venus, the second planet from the sun is much like our planet. Also known as our sister planet she is about the same size and almost exactly the same gravity, but she is a neighbor I think most people have forgotten about, but sometimes she will remind you. She will be the brightest point among the stars at times. With Venus you only have to look left instead of right. So what if we also looked in a different direction?
Discovering Venus and making some connections became an inspiration for my fourth story I'm calling "Modified". It might seem a little surprising to some, but the creative process for me is usually a sequence of events that unfolds like tiny connections. So I'll give you the dots. At first, it had to do with helping my son do his homework one night. Originally published in 1954, his assignment was reading a science fiction story by Ray Bradbury called "All Summer In A Day."  Ray Bradbury wrote the Martian Chronicles and has been called one of the world's greatest science fiction writers of all time. But what's most important about this story in my case was "All Summer In A Day" is all about a colony on Venus. Oh right. No wait, I mean left! That other planet, the hellish hot one. Hold on...Venus?
My curiosity was peeked after we read the story, so I looked up the words Venus and colony on the internet. And here is where science fiction and science just seems to blur at times. Turns out a U.S. scientist named Geoffrey Landis, of the Nasa Glenn Research Center, has confirmed that human exploration of Venus could take place from aerostat vehicles in the atmosphere and long term permanent settlements could be made in the form of cities, designed to float around the planet. According to his research, a one-kilometer diameter gas filled spherical envelope could lift 700,00 tons. (two Empire State Buildings), and  a two-kilometer diameter envelope would lift 6 million tons, the size of a modest city. Although the surface of Venus is an extremely hostile environment, at about 50 kilometers above the planet's surface, he says the atmosphere has an earth like environment. There are a few pitfalls listed however, and lets not forget Venus is not called the hell planet for nothing. A poisonous atmosphere made up of mostly carbon dioxide with sulfuric acid rain droplets in the clouds for one thing, for which we could wear protective clothing for, but for another, oxygen would have to be shipped in, which is mostly absent from the Venusian atmosphere. However, in other respects, Landis says the environment is perfect for humans. At cloud-top level, Venus seems to be the paradise planet, with abundant solar energy.
This is just too much good stuff for a science fiction writer, because we hardly need more to picture the rest. We have been given desert before the main course, and reading further about Venus intensifies ideas, and ignites the imagination. The facts however remain the facts, and besides a multitude of other scientists like Paul Birch, or meteorologist Paul Crutzen, who long ago researched the idea of terraforming Venus, as early as 1970 we actually landed there. The Russians were the first to send several sophisticated unmanned landers to its surface, like the Venera-9, but surface temperatures  and massive atmospheric pressures crushed and melted them like tin cans in about two hours. The good news is, these incredible machines still managed to send back pictures and study the soil before they expired, and you can find them posted right online.
In any case, in just under two hours these machines gave us all we needed. Given the stories, the research, and the landings, lets not forget the possibilities. I'm certainly not.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Transit Method



One of our current best methods for finding and understanding Extrasolar planets is called the Transit method. Like its name, the Transit method finds transiting planets, or planets that pass in front of their stars by looking at tiny brightness dips when a planet crosses in front or even behind a star. (The only reason I know something about this technology is because I'm taking an online course through Harvard called HavardX: SPU30x Super-Earths and Life.)


Lead and introduced by Professor Dimitar Sasselov, the class covers a wide range of information starting from our basic understanding of life down to the molecules of our DNA, in connection to the new discovery of Exo-planets (Earth-like planets) in the Universe similar to ours that may hold life. Uniting physics, biology, molecular biology, chemistry and astronomy, this is called Astrobiology, and scientists like Sasselov have joined in the hunt for Alien worlds with extraterrestrial life.


And no wonder. No longer science fiction, many such planets continue to be discovered with the Kepler Telescope that was launched from Florida on March 6, 2009. For six years this Kepler mission has cruised around the sun taking pictures of the galaxy finding multitudes of alien planets using this Transit technology. Although Kepler had a couple of malfunction setbacks in 2013, it continues to find planets and Nasa now lists 1,821 confirmed planets, with 463 multi planet systems.


Spurred on by the first discovered Super Earth by Aleksander Wolszcsan in 1992, astronomers and planet scientists became increasingly interested especially when they discovered some of these Kepler planets or "Super-Earths" are also in the circumstellar habitable zone or CMZ. Also known as the Goldilocks zone this term describes the region around a star within an orbit that supports habitability. Narrowing down the potentially habitable planets to about 29 so far, these planets have names like Kepler-442 b, Kepler-283 c and GJ-667 c. Considering some of these Exo-planets are the same make up as Earth, with similar sizes, a rocky surface, liquid water and atmospheric pressure, the scope of this information is - well... for lack of a better word - astronomical. Due to the importance of liquid water to life as it exists on Earth, these planets could hold life. Extraterrestrial life and possible intelligent life. In fact so many planets have been found on November 4, 2014 astronomers reported, based on the Kepler space mission data there could be as many as 40 billion Earth sized planets orbiting within the Goldilocks range.


The passage of a smaller celestial body or its shadow across the disk of a larger celestial body or Transit seems to have opened a few eyes, and confirmed a few long standing theories about the possibilities of intelligent life outside of our own planet. Although this information is daunting, it also seems fitting how the very word transit, also embodies a remarkable transition into what we always knew but could never prove until now.


We are left hanging on the edge of our seats as we question what this information might tell us someday. I do hope though, that when we do find life out there, whatever it may be, someone like Sasselov can shake their finger at the world and say, "I told you so."


http://kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/discoveries/kepler10c/

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why People Like Science Fiction

Someone once said, "The Devils In The Details," and the older I get the more I have to admit there might be some truth to that. Its not that I like details. In fact I hate details, yet in the same breath I am also driven to find explanations and understand why some people like something and why they don't. Let's take for instance science fiction.

After doing the research, and drawing from a few of my own personal experiences I think there is a wide range of reasons. For instance, I recently I passed some information around at a party about my latest trilogy. One of the women at the party, just looked at me with a flat expression on her face and told me she didn't like science fiction. I guess I wasn't prepared for such a straight answer but I took in a breath and asked her, "Why not?" She merely shrugged and had no answer. Could this be a smack down because I gave her boyfriend (my divorce attorney) a friendly hug a few seconds ago? My mind's eye flickered back in time, but it was too late to test out the theory. Maybe if I had asked her before the hug she loved it. Or maybe she just didn't like science fiction. Too bad I didn't ask her before the hug but the latest research will tell you one in five people do enjoy science fiction.

The steps of science research are: 1. Ask a question. 2. Do background research. 3. Construct a hypothesis. 4. Test the Hypothethis. 5. Analyze the data and communicate your results.

But back to the details and to the party. The good news is I did find a few people at the party who were genuinely interested in my stories, which concluded the research that one in five will. Science fiction readers are also about 60% male and 40% female. They are often young, or older but the in-between ages fade away from the market for a time. According to a blind research project by a writer named Mark Neimann-Ross they also make good money with the average income at about 50,000 to more than 80,000 a year. Another piece of interesting news is - it is thought, but not confirmed that science fiction readers use both sides of the brain, able to combine the analytical and the intuitive visual sides at the same time. Although this is only extrapolation it seems only a percent of the population are able to "think" like an S/SF reader.

Although that might be true, my least favorite research has to do with social stigma. Despite overwhelming evidence that science fiction is a genre of mature ideas and intelligent writing, mainstream society still hold this as "Nerd" cool, or for 12-yr olds with overactive imaginations, and not for women. As usual these perceptions don't seem to come into play as people hold up the movie line for Avatar, The Time Traveler's Wife or Harry Potter. Sigh. I can't fight against perceptions and don't care to. Life is just too short.

As for me, I like science fiction because the here and now is a little bit boring to me. We already have the here and now, and the real world can be a bit disenchanting, predictable and well, boring.  Rational. Systematic. Even cold. Where is the wonder and magic in that? Lets re enchant the world and spark young imaginations. Let's reinstate the unknown into the scientific process. To me it offers a hope, a dream a future that we just haven't seen yet. The devil may be in the details but according to the numbers, 21% of people in the USA do like science fiction which adds up to 64 million people in this country alone.




Sunday, January 18, 2015

Momentum For The USA - The Mars Race Is On

Since NASA retired its shuttle program in 2011, US astronauts have been flying aboard Russian Soyuz spacecrafts to reach the International Space Station. Last year, NASA renewed a contract with Russia to continue ferrying US astronauts to space that cost the agency $457.9 million for six seats on a Soyuz spacecraft. But now that the Republicans have taken over Congress,  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will be chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness. Cruz argues that NASA's partnership with Russia on the International Space Station has endangered American space exploration and innovation, and wants to lead the way for the world in space exploration. Launching astronauts from US soil is the first step toward NASA's ultimate goal of renewing long-distance spaceflight and taking back America's foothold in space by sending the first humans to an asteroid and then to Mars.

NASA is designing and building capabilities to send humans farther into the solar system than ever before, including to an asteroid and Mars.  NASA's Orion spacecraft will carry four astronauts to missions beyond the moon, launched from Florida aboard the Space Launch System(SLS) -- an advanced heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit. Orion will be the most advanced and most powerful launch vehicle ever flown.

The ESA: Ariane 6 and ExoMars
In the afterglow of the Rosetta mission's success in landing on a comet, the member states of ESA met in Luxembourg in early December to look forward to future challenges. Among the priorities is the development and construction of the new rocket, Ariane 6, which is seen as essential to maintaining Europe's lead in the​ launcher market. Then there's the ExoMars mission to further explore the 'Red Planet' and look for signs of life. But it's not just about probes - ESA's manned spaceflight programme also has momentum, with new astronauts currently in training and due to fly in 2015 and 2016. So, as the agency marks a half century of Europe's space sector, it's onwards and upwards for the next 50 years.

Space X: Falcon 9/Crew Dragon 

Billionaire Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and chief executive of Tesla Motors says SpaceX plans to ferry crews to and from the orbiting lab using the Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket under SpaceX's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the space agency."This milestone sets the pace for the rigorous work ahead as SpaceX meets the certification requirements outlined in our contract," Kathryn Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement. "It is very exciting to see SpaceX's proposed path to certification, including a flight test phase and completion of the system development." (Oops. One failed test so far for the Falcon 9 on Jan 10th 2015 - if at first you don't succeed try try again Mr. Musk!) 

Blue Origin: B-4
Currently Blue Origin is  working on an engine called the B-4. Bezos, 50, founded Blue Origin in 2000, five years after his first company, Amazon.com, debuted online. His goal was to make spaceflight cheap enough to extend beyond the realm of astronauts and cosmonauts.Bezos, who reportedly spends one day a week on Blue Origin, said running Amazon is his main “day job,” one he still enjoys. Still, as a space geek since his teens who dreamed of colonizing space a la the “Jetsons,” he made clear where his heart lies.
Blue Origin was among four companies, along with Sierra Nevada of Louisville, Colo., to initially compete for the NASA contract to come up with a replacement spacecraft for the space shuttle. But Blue Origin did not advance beyond the early rounds. “You don’t choose your passion. The passion chooses you,” he said. Jeff Bezos unveiled plans for “a 21st century” rocket engine developed by his private aerospace company that could help reduce Russia’s role in U.S. orbital flights. The BE-4 will be jointly funded by Bezos’ Kent-based Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Bigelow: Bigelow Aerospace's founder and president is Robert Bigelow, a Las Vegas-based general contractor, real estate tycoon, hotel businessman and developer. Since 1999, his company has been focused on creating affordable inflatable space habitats for national space agencies and corporate clients. According to the Bigelow Aerospace website, the BA 330 can function as an independent space station, and several BA 330 habitats can be connected together in a modular fashion to create an even larger and more capable orbital space complex. Robert Bigelow and his team have extensively blueprinted concepts for their expandable habitats to be used at other destinations."Expandable habitats are an enabling technology that will make the dream of robust beyond-LEO human space exploration a reality," Gold said. "Regardless of the ultimate destination, be it L2 [Lagrange Point 2], the surface of the moon or even a historic mission to Mars, the large volumes provided by Bigelow Aerospace systems, combined with enhanced protection from radiation and physical debris, make habitats such as the BA 330 an essential part of any realistic beyond-LEO architecture."

Sierra Nevada Corp:
Sierra Nevada must be doing something right: In 2010, the company netted $20 million out of an available $50 million in NASA funding for preliminary development. In 2011, NASA added another $80 million in second-round funding. Moreover, its hybrid rocket engines, which powered SpaceShipOne on its successful Ansari X Prize bid, also propelled SpaceShipTwo on its two successful supersonic test flights in 2013 

Orbital Science Corp. 
Open the space catalog of Virginia-based Orbital Science Corp. and you'll find small- and medium-class rockets, along with launch services covering orbiting satellites, deep space probes and payload deliveries to high altitudes. Its clientele encompasses the commercial, military and civil government sectors, including NASA, with whom it secured a $1.9-billion contract to fly eight cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS).
Still, as the contenders in the new space race round the first turn, Orbital remains strong in the pack. By developing a launch abort system for NASA's Orion crew capsule, it maintains a stake in the space agency's future endeavors, while also hedging its bets across public and private space sectors.

Virgin Galatic: Richard Bransons company is a major player in the private sector of space, however most of his projects so far have been aimed at taking the affluent into papabolic flight. Travelers will board SS2 -- a 60-foot (18-meter), six-person rocket glider slung below VirginMothership Eve. This dual-fuselage aircraft, which stretches 140 feet (43 meters) from wingtip to wingtip, will climb to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) before releasing SS2. SS2 will then kick in its rockets and hurtle to the edge of space (around 62 miles, or 100 kilometers) on a parabolic flight. 

Russia: Last year, Russia said that it will develop new huge rockets for manned flights to the moon and Mars, by 2030 – the same year that Nasa is aiming for the red planet.
Russia has announced plans to build a super-heavy carrier rocket that could propel its cosmonauts to Mars. RIA Novosti reports that a working group has looked at proposals for a heavy-lift rocket, including the revival of the Energia launcher. The rocket will rival Nasa's Space Launch System (SLS) which is expected to come in two variants capable of lifting 70 and 130 tonnes into orbit.Construction of the first stage of Russia's super-rocket - capable of lifting 80 tonnes - is already underway, according to Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko.