Friday, August 31, 2012

White dwarfs and blue moons

No, that headline does not announce new marshmallows for Lucky Charms.

Instead, it's time for one of my favorite subjects: news in astronomy.

Astronomers have confirmed witnessing ripples in the space-time continuum.  This new data corroborates part of Einstein's Theory of Relativity.  The discovery came about observing changes in the orbits of a pair of dead stars or "white dwarfs" as they are called.  From the link:

"The star duo is known as J0651, and they orbit each other in less than 13 minutes. The orbit time changes as the stars eclipse each other as seen by the scientists here on Earth. "There have been 30 years of using radio telescopes and timing pulsars, but this is the first time we've been able to detect the influence of gravitational wave radiation using an optical telescope," lead investigator J.J. Hermes from the University of Texas at Austin said."

I have often times heard people bashing the notion of "theory."  "It's just the Big Bang theory, Darwin's theory of Evolution."  What many do not appear to understand is that for a notion to become an actual scientific theory, you need to have a fair amount of evidence for your argument already.  Astronomy is of course no exception to this rule of thumb.  Discoveries such as these only help to further vet accepted "theories" and I for one am ok with it.

"Once in a blue moon..."
You hear that phrase often enough.  Well tonight, you actually get your last chance to see one until 2015.  No, the Moon will not turn blue tonight.  A "blue moon" is the name given to a second full moon occurring within the span of a month.  How the adjective "blue" got attached is unknown as the Moon itself will not be turning blue tonight.  But damn, wouldn't it be cool if it did?  Oh to find the hoodlum who gulled so many...

Better than blue in color, tonight's lunar rarity could not be more fitting.  Today is the day when space hero Neil Armstrong is being laid to rest.  In tribute, The Slooh Space Camera will not only be observing the blue moon, but will also be exploring the Sea of Tranquility.  Guests connected with the 1969 Moon landing will be on hand at the observatory.

If I could get to the Canary Islands, I'd so be showing up tonight.  A Friday night spent hobnobbing with space geeks on an island beneath a blue moon?  What could be better?  :)

 My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

While I was out...

Several things transpired during my absence.  Here are just a few them that I would like to discuss.

The Arctic has lost more ice this year than any other on record.
This comes to us from a study by NASA, stating that the ice melt is unprecedented in the 30 plus years that such data has been recorded.  And we're not even at the typical peak of the melt, which is in September.  It's not just the amount of ice loss, either.  It's the density of the ice that is likewise in decline.  But humanity has nothing to do with this, right?

So then "What's up with the weather?"  That is the question posed on the cover of September's National Geographic.  The feature article looks at incidents of "extreme weather" from the past three years, including the horrendous tornado outbreaks of Spring 2011, the flooding of 2010, and this year's early summer, record high temperatures, and severe drought.  While not officially endorsing a human cause to Global Warming, the article does cite experts and indisputable data that all agree our world is getting hotter and wetter.  That means more "extreme storms."
" "We know the warming of the Earth's surface is putting more moisture in the atmosphere.  We know.  We've measured it.  The satellites see it," says [Jay] Gulledge [of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions].  So the chances for extreme weather are going nowhere but up."
One chilling note from Frank Nutter of the Reinsurance Association of America: "The past is not prologue to the type of weather we're about to see."
Go ahead and argue the cause all you want, but Global Warming is a fact.  It's happening.  I tend to believe that to think that the human expulsion of pollutants into the atmosphere has nothing to do with it best...naive.

As if on cue, hurricane/tropical storm/whatever it is these days Isaac looked for a time like it would be headed straight for the GOP convention in Tampa.  I suppose that its change in course will be chalked up to the hand of God sparing the Republicans.  It was a narrow miss, though, as wind and torrential rain did delay the opening of the convention by essentially one day, but not even coming close to tonight's festivities wherein I believe Romney and Ryan share their first spotlight dance together.  Ann Romney did, however, toss out something Palin-esque about keeping the people affected by Isaac in our thoughts and prayers.  Then it was back to chest thumping and Obama bashing as scheduled.
While I certainly do not wish death or injury on anyone, even those I may disagree with, it might not have been so bad for the GOP contingent to experience a hurricane.  Whether or not they would see the connection between new superstorms (which Isaac really isn't) and human alteration of the atmosphere is an entirely different can of tuna.

This is something that sounds straight out of a cyberpunk story.  With the US military seeing unparalleled reports of depression and suicide within its troops, the Pentagon is investigating an intriguing piece of biotech.  A nasal spray would inject a fast-acting hormone into the body that can alleviate symptoms of depression and suicidal urges.  Normally I'd call this sort of thing "wishful thinking" but in this case I really am wishing for it.  Not only for me and millions of others who suffer from depression, but also for the health and safety of our troops.  I like that it's fast-acting.  As I said, not just for personal immediate need but in combat, you can't exactly sit around and wait for the Zoloft to kick in.

Of course there is no way that I'd neglect to mention Curiosity.  After it's "however many minutes of terror," NASA landed the Curiosity rover on Mars.  It's been sending back absolutely stunning photography such as this piece:

The NASA probe is already coming up with new findings.  It has also transmitted the first human voice from another planet, that of NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.  Would have liked it to have been Bono, but no one asked me.

In other NASA news, astronauts are on a mission undersea.  That's right.  Undersea.  Aquarius Reef Base is a location where astronauts train to live and work in the hostile, near-weightless environment of space by surviving under water. This article in The Atlantic talks about how the training is supposedly to simulate the wicked crucible of life on an asteroid, thereby perhaps preparing astronauts to somehow save us from an asteroid strike.  I prefer loftier visions, such as human colonies beneath the seas of Europa.

Last but not least, we sadly lost a great pioneer.  Neil Armstrong recently died at age 82.  There is not much that I could say that has not been said already about this "first man on the Moon," so I will not try to.  He was one of a kind, a humble man with the kind of spirit we don't see much of these days. As for his legacy, this letter to the editor from The Chicago Tribune says it all.  

As a continued tribute, take a look at the photo below.  It's from a collection of photos that Armstrong took while on the Moon, photos that were then rarely seen again save for archival purposes.

Also, I'm hoping that Neil Armstrong had a sense of humor, because this classic from The Onion bears a repost.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!
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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Interview with author David Simpson

I am fortunate and pleased to feature an interview with David Simpson, author of the Post-Human series of science fiction novels.  I have read this man's work and it is brilliant.
Given that Simpson has a combined interest in science fiction, transhumanism, and the written word, he was a natural guest to have here on Esoteric Synaptic Events.  So being very gracious with his time and understanding of my need for a recent hiatus, David Simpson granted the following interview:
1) For us writers, tell us about your writing process. Do you outline, do character sketches, have a routine or regular place for writing?

Yes, I do outline. Before I write every book, I do what you might call a "treatment," which is something I picked up from my screenplay training at the University of British Columbia. I have a pretty strong idea for the characters, so I usually don't write character sketches because I see character as a crucial aspect of plot. I'm really lucky in that I naturally seem to "think in plot." I know a lot of writers struggle with that, but it's one of the aspects of writing that I enjoy most. As for a place where I write, yep, either at my desk with my comfy massage chair or sitting on the couch next to my wife with the fireplace glowing nearby.

2) You're at a place that many writers would like to be. How did you go about establishing yourself as an e-book author? What are your marketing suggestions?

Well, not to get all Tony Robbins or anything, but a huge part of it is staying positive, even in the face of the inevitable attacks you get from people you don't even know, and really believing in yourself. If something doesn't work, stop doing it, and focus your energy on the things that do work. The Post-Human series is really successful, so I'm focusing more of my energy on that for the near future, whereas my only other book, a horror novel titled "The God Killers," is selling only modestly—this despite all the people close to me telling me that it's my best book! So, you never really know what will hit. Just write something you love (I love the Post-Human series) and try to find your audience. I'm still in the process of doing this, but it seems like I keep taking these leaps and finding more and more people who are very kind and really enjoy the series. Also, if you're published on Amazon, make sure your categories are the right ones—switching categories can really make a difference. Also, if you join KDP Select, get to know the major blogs that can promote your free giveaway days. Those are some of the moves that have worked the best for me. I hope they help the people who read this interview!  

3) One of the aspects of "Post-human" that I found fascinating was the idea of being human, or mostly human, in an environment where there are no humans left. Almost like you're "left behind" if I may borrow a dreaded phrase. In that light and given that there have been comparisons between transhumanism and religion, what is your view on the similarities/differences between the two concepts?

I'm definitely very interested in the link between transhumanism and religion. In fact, you don't really have to look hard to find religious allusions in the series. Though most people read it for the pace, the actions, and likable characters, readers can definitely find some deeper connections. In the books, and in transhumanism in general, you'll find concepts of resurrection, heaven, god-like beings, rapture, etc.. One question that remains is, is the link between transhumanism and religion like the chicken and the egg? What I mean by that is, have we taken religious concepts and applied them to transhumanism subconsciously, or is it that religion is simply an older, pre-science version of transhumanism, in which the same fundamental desires that humanity has for a better life and to not be separated from loved ones by death, express themselves? I think it's an open question, but one that I wanted the readers to consider in the series for sure.  

4) How aware do you think most people are of the coming Singularity and transhumanism becoming a greater part of their lives?

I don't think they are very aware, but I also think that, like the technology that will spur the singularity, awareness is increasing exponentially. So, while only a small handful of people might be able to converse with you on the topic today, we are probably less than a decade away from a time when, essentially, everyone is aware of it, whether they are skeptics or fanatics or not. I think a strong analogy would be climate change. Regardless of your views on the subject, one can't argue that, pre-2006, when Al Gore's movie came out, global warming and climate change were ideas that were mostly in the realm of academics, and were occasionally discussed in the media. A movie like, "The Day After Tomorrow" helped to get the concept into the mainstream for a little while, but it faded again quickly, which is what I think we are going to see from movies like the upcoming "Robocalypse." However, my guess is that, when IBM announces they have a supercomputer with the same processing power as the human brain, (and they've announced their intention to accomplish this by 2019) you're going to start hearing about the singularity in every corner of the globe. Strong A.I. is the one issue that I think the general public is going to have a lot to say on—once it is no longer science fiction.

5) What would you like to see contemporary science fiction address that it maybe hasn't already?

I'd really just like to see science fiction continue to progress. I think, both in fiction and in the movies, there has been too much of a tendency to go back to the well. We see popular books out now where people are living in a dystopian world and the government is monitoring them—well, that's all fine and good, but Orwell did that back in 1948, with "1984" and I just don't think anyone's going to do it better. By all means, go back to the well, but it just doesn't interest me that much. Movies are far worse. Although I love science fiction movies, it seems like the majority of movies that are green-lighted are sequels and reboots of concepts from the 70's or even the 60's, in the case of Star Trek. In fairness, there is a lot of great transhumanist fiction out right now. My favourite is definitely Curtis Hox's "Versim," which is just mind-blowing in its scope, especially for a relatively short novel. It looks like he's setting up for a series, and with the H+ web series (which is ridiculously similar to Post-Human in the concept) and Robopocalypse on the horizon in movies, it looks like things are moving in the right direction. Forward!

6) Have to ask, was there a significance to naming your protagonist "Keats?"

Yep! It is after John Keats, whose poetry was often fixated on the idea of immortality. I felt like that was the right name for an immortal protagonist. James, the protagonist's first name, is after James Dean, who is, of course, also immortalized as eternally young. I liked mixing the classical romantic poet with a figure from pop-culture. It seems like it suits my writing style—I'm versed in literature, but I want my books to be fun and popular.

7) What's coming up next from you?

Lots. I'm working way too hard! I'm just days away from the big release of the prequel to Post-Human, "Sub-Human." I can't wait to get it out there. It will answer a lot of people's questions about how we got from the time frame we're in now, to the one we're in at the outset of Post-Human. It also answers a lot of questions that are hinted at in Trans-Human, like, how do Aldous Gibson and Old-timer know each other. Why does Aldous harbour such a strong hatred against Purists? What is the origin of the A.I.? Amongst others!

On top of that, I have another novel that is completed but I'm holding back for a bit that isn't related to the Post-Human series. It's called "Blood and Noir," it's a zombie/vampire romp, and I hope a few people might check it out after the dust settles from Sub-Human.

Last, I've been helping out on a pilot that is being filmed in Vancouver next month for a new web-series. The series will be called "Citizen" and is definitely in the transhumanist genre. If the series gets picked up, I'll likely be a regular writer for it. So keep your fingers crossed for me!

 If you could have any kind of cybernetic implant or transhuman enhancement, what would it be?

Definitely the flight systems. I know that's something that is somewhat unique to my series, but it's just the coolest addition, in my view. Of course, immortality comes first, but as soon as that is taken care of, I want to fly. I get such a kick out of watching the "Jetman," Yves Rossy's videos and hearing him talk about flight. He said that it's all about thrust, and "give me Ironman, give me nuclear, and we'll all be flying around." That's exactly what they have in the Post-Human series, so it's nice to know we were thinking along the same lines!

Thanks so much, David.  Now everybody go check out the books!

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On research...

There is something that I need to get off my chest.

Every once in a while, I get a comment on a post that goes something to the tune of this:

"Obviously you didn't do any research or you wouldn't think this way.  Go do the research like I've done the research and you will think like I do."

Deep breath in.

I have a few things to say on the topic of "research."

1. I blog every day.  That is to say, I have blogged every day in the past and wish to get back into the habit again after just coming off my month-long hiatus for personal reasons.  Sometimes I have a clear idea for my post topic.  Other days I'm scrambling.  Certain days I have an abundance of time in which to write.  Other days I don't.  On those days where time is at a premium, I have a tendency to post about a headline or an article that I found curious.  A prime example of this would be my post on depleted uranium.  One of the reasons I'm curious is because I might not know much about the subject other than a cursory Googling.  Therefore, my "research" might not be quite up to snuff in those cases, but it's a blog post.  Not a fucking dissertation.

2. There is ALWAYS competing research.  Did you hear me?  There is ALWAYS competing research!  Even in disciplines where the majority proceed from what are believed to be a solid set of facts, there is most always a select division of people who dispute those claims based on their own "research."  Hence why we have a Flat Earth Society and people who believe we faked the Moon landings.  This is especially true in controversial subject matter such as UFOs.  In fact, it seems that such topics often bring out pissing contests of individual research, an activity that I have zero interest in involving myself.  Not only that, research can often times be agenda-driven but more on that in a moment.

I don't mind corrections to my research or my posts, provided they are done in a civil and level-headed manner (as per my Comments Policy).  I'll give you an example.

In my post on the Stephenville UFO incident, someone pointed out quite plainly that I had erroneously stated that the singer Jewel was from Stephenville, Texas.  Point taken and I corrected the sentence along with a thank you to the individual who brought it to my attention.

For a study in what not to do, let me tell you about what happened with my depleted uranium post.

I was contacted by an individual whom I shall name Corky.  The tone of Corky's comments were such that I took it to mean he fancies himself the world's foremost authority on depleted uranium.  So much so that Corky felt the need to contact me privately via multiple emails with pages upon pages of explanation of just how wrong I was and how depleted uranium is really a most delightful thing.  Indeed, he seems to have quite a passion for it.  I began to think that Corky sprinkles depleted uranium on his breakfast cereal and has also found a way to use it as a personal lubricant.   

But what drives someone like that?  "The truth!" Corky would say, no doubt.  I don't know about him, but often times "research" is done and cited in the name of selling a book, establishing a name or a career, or simply misguided passion enacted by someone who skipped their dose for the day. I have no desire to engage with anyone of those sorts.

In short, I'm not perfect.  I don't always get it right, even in arenas where I do have a great deal of knowledge already built in.  So if you want to let me know when that happens, great.

But save your pom-pom waving, "my research is the best!" hammerings for someone who cares.  Ditto for multiple page responses.  Just because you inundate me with information doesn't mean I'll read it.  All you'll be doing is wasting your time.

God knows poor Corky wasted his.

My e-novella Hound of Winter is available now for just 99 cents!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

The return

It's all subjective.

That may be my new phrase, up there with "it's all relative" and other such toss-offs both pithy and inane.  Yet so many factors of our lives are subjective.  Our experiences, our interpretations of those experiences...our relationships with others.  Consciousness itself may even be subjective.

We, through our own consciousness or what we define as such, are said to be able to define our own reality.  We are the co-creators of our experience, along with our environment and the other factors acting within it.  We choose who we will be and how we will respond.  It's all in our hands.

Then there are times when the experience is a bulldozer.  It smacks you head-on, you are thrown from the familiar path, and you find yourself amongst the dense foliage of parts unknown.  You remain on your side in fetal position, sobbing from an especially intense fear of the dark.  You dare not move, for you may roll over and plunge off a precipice and into a bottomless void.  And there is one right next to you.  You know it.  You feel it.  And Christ it's dark down there.

In time, your own consciousness may become so acutely aware of your surroundings in the dark that an uncomfortable truth hits you.  This truth is the only light in the whole of the otherwise impenetrable void.  You are caught in it.  Spread-eagled in it.

You were driving the bulldozer that hit you.

Somehow, consciousness was unaware of that fact for it had been essentially bifurcated for quite some time.  You drove the bulldozer and then struck yourself in a feat of quantum mechanics and metaphysical prestidigitation. Cause.  Effect.  You did it to yourself.  And now your world will never be the same.

That is what happened to me.  That is why I have been gone for the past month.  In that time I have experienced a pain and a loss that is indescribable to me, one that I never thought I would have to endure.  I realize that I am being deliberately vague, but that's how it must be for now.  Partly out of respect, partly because it's all the more that I really care to say.  Suffice to say that the center of universe has fallen away for me.  I am now floating about, attempting to create a new one.

Within this process, I have realized a few things.  First of all, I have great friends.  A few of them are even fine folks that I have met through this blog.  I am fortunate that God or whatever compere of the fates there may be, has seen fit to place them in my life.  Secondly, the only way out is through.  It's a painful process to get back on the path or worse...blaze a new one...but sometimes we must fall or get knocked down simply so that we may get back up.  That's why I love this song:

That's right.  Finding the "Ordinary World."  That's what I'm doing now.  It will be a long, arduous process to do so, but make no mistake, my good readers...

I am back.

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