NOTICE: Posting schedule will be irregular throughout the summer. Tentative schedule: irregular:

Monday FUNNY - The GUIDE Wednesdays - SCIENCE Fridays (News & Comment).

The GUIDE: Posts from "The Lab Rats' Guide to the Brain"
FUNNY: Science and Lab Humor, etc.
NEWS: Neat stories about Science in the News
COMMENT: Opinion and Science in the News
NEAT STUFF: Interesting science pages and neat links
REVIEWS: Book reviews of fiction and nonfiction
FICTION: Original short and serialized stories

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Community [Full link to blog for email clients.]

I used to belong to a community.

No, this doesn't have anything to do with where I live.  Yes, I do live in a nice community of homes, business and people.  It's a small-ish town, although mainly a suburban community for two larger cities.  It retains a certain element of small-town America: a nice Main Street, street fair, local churches, lodges and community centers.  The police will check your house and property if you tell them you'll be out-of-town,your neighbors are nosy enough to know if something is wrong.  We tend to look out for the little old lady neighbor or gather to help cut up a fallen tree.

But that is not the community of which I write...

No, I am speaking of a community of thoughts and actions.  At one time in my life, I was a Boy Scout.  As a young man I was trained, taught, molded and shaped by the experience.  I learned to camp, to cook, to sew, to navigate, to build, and to save a life.  Naturally, as an adult, I wanted that for my own sons, so I became an adult leader.

This was a community - people with whom I genuinely enjoyed spending a weekend each month, and a whole week in the summer.  We were supportive of each other.  I was "father" to a whole bunch of "sons" - and they were additional "fathers" to my own boys.  We took turns driving, pulling the trailer, checking the gear, teaching the Merit Badges.

These were my friends, but more importantly, we were a support network.  If I had a problem, I knew who to call - from car problems, to borrowing a saw, to finding a house painter.  I also knew that I might also receive a call.  One weekend, I had a kidney stone attack.  One of the other leaders drove me home (in my own car), took me to the hospital and handed me off to my wife.  He took my car home with him, got some sleep, had his wife take him back to camp to pick up his own car (plus his son, my sons and all of their gear) - then returned my car to my house - washed.

Some months later, I paid it forward - driving home a young man who'd accidentally ingested some river water and had been sick to his stomach all night long... and again, about a year later I transported another adult leader to home and medical care after a close call with a bee sting allergy.

We were a community.  We supported each other, we were there for each other.  Not all of us had the same amount of time in the group - there were always newcomers while some left or moved on.  I had the same sense of community with (nearly) all.

But the time came when I had to leave.  There were multiple reasons why, but it was my choice - first and foremost because the sense of community had failed.

For many years now, my friends have been largely online.  My closest friends actually lives a few hundred miles away, and that is fairly typical, with the distances ranging from a few hundred to nearly 3000 miles.  In such a far-flung community, there is plenty of chance to be supportive and instructive, but the personal touch is not there. Yet, a couple of months ago I started studying Krav Maga.  It's not giving anything away to state that I am well over 50 years old and seriously overweight - starting any sort of exercise program is a challenge.  Still, I love the exercise and the activity and I have a pretty good support network and motivation for a rigorous program of diet and exercise. 


Tonight at class, a fellow classmate mentioned that he'd missed seeing me on Monday.  I had missed that class because of preparing for a minor medical procedure the next day.  During class, while trying to learn a difficult move, that same classmate talked me through it, repeated times and critiqued and corrected my motions.  Another member of the class is about my general age and body strength.  We spar well together, and I genuinely enjoy working with him - but I had missed him the last 10 days while he was out of the country.  There are advanced students who also instruct - one in particular reminds me of one of my Scouting colleagues - he has that same patience and genuine desire to help someone get better.  He should know, he's a Third-degree Black Belt.  Other members of the class - all adults, about two-thirds male, one-third female - are equally supportive, friendly and concerned with making sure we all work our best.  The Academy Master runs the school as equal parts Martial Arts Academy and Leadership Academy.  He, too, is supportive and sets the example for all of the students.  I chose the school because my (now adult) oldest son chose it a year ago, so I watched and measured the character of the Master and students.

See, I found another community.  We do not have to agree with each other.  I frankly have no idea regarding the politics, gender orientation, religion or wealth of my fellow students.  Yes, as I get to know them better, I do learn a bit more - but what is most important is that we support, train and  teach each other.  We genuinely want to see each other succeed.

Do you see the issue?  Karate is a martial art - equal parts martial (the best self-defense is a prepared offense) and art (each move should have an instantaneous "Kodak moment" where you form and place the movement with grace and power).  Krav Maga is all martial and no art.  It is a combat training system whereby the students are taught to deflect, intercept and evade an oncoming attack.  If attacked, we have one goal - to neutralize the attack and ensure that we are the one walking away. 

There does not have to be a community to this training.  The goal is to be capable in and of ourselves to deal with an attack.  That doesn't involve making sure the other person doesn't get hurt or learns their moves - quite the opposite, in fact!  However, in class, we pull punches (mostly! Ow!) and use padding, and it turns out - we learn better as a community that we ever could alone.  I know, I bought Krav books and materials to study on my own.

Once again, I belong to a community.

Those of us who read and even write Science Fiction and Fantasy have a community of sorts - but frankly, it is broken.  An association which should be supportive and helpful to members, has become more concerned with ensuring that only the "appropriate" people are members.  There is more ado about authors who won't attend certain functions because some other guest makes them feel "unsafe" yet cannot themselves recount one real threat or accurately recall any instance where the one they accuse has ever justified that accusation.  We have whole segments of the "community" denigrating one or more writers without ever having read a single word those authors have ever written!

Thus the community is broken.  It is not helpful.  It is not supportive. 

...and most importantly - it  does not teach or represent any value worth learning. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Serendipity [Full link to blog for email clients.]




Call it Fate, call it Divine Guidance (my favorite), call it serendipity, call it Quantum Mechanics...

Yesterday I arrived at Reagan National Airport for an 11 AM flight.  I took the Metro, as I prefer to do in D.C. and arrived in time to check in, clear security, and have about 15-20 minutes before boarding.  Except I noticed on check-in that my flight was delayed by over an hour - fortunately I had a 2 hr. 15 min layover, so no big deal.

Now, I ordinarily would not have had time to go to the USAir Club in DCA, but clearly there was time, I had *at least* an hour before boarding and wanted some coffe, a comfortable chair, clean restroom, and to not have to stand in line to inquire about schedule changes.

This was the start of three rebookings, diversion through Philly rather than Charlotte, misplaced luggage, and twice as long in planes and airports than it would have taken me to drive...

But this isn't that story.

Upon entering the Club, I noticed an elderly Vet with his guide dog entering just before me.  An airline attendant got him checked in, settled in a chair and left.  I decided to see if I could be of assistance - get him something to eat or drink, etc. - but in fact, another Club member beat me to it.  I said as much to the gentleman, and the three of us sat and talked a bit.  The Vet was a retired Navy CPO - 30 years in the Navy and another 20 in civil service.  He's the National Secretary of Blinded Veterans Association.  We talked at length about guide/service dogs, the public's reaction to same, soldier charity organizations, travel in and out of North Carolina, travel to the U.K and Hawaii, USAir/American Airlines merger, etc. 

We discussed his charity, and the fact that he had been briefing CongressCritters that week.  I gave him one of the Operation Baen Bulk challenge coins I was carrying and he showed me the coins he carries and gave me his card.  I decided right there to push the idea of a Charity Auction or an OBB drive to put Kindle DX readers (i.e. the one sized nicely for LARGE PRINT - and also loaded with some Audible Books) in the hands the BVA for their soldiers.  I accompanied him to the gate when it was time for the flight - it turns out we were on the *same* flight - and took him back to the Club when it was announced that our flight had a Major Mechanical problem that would delay it past any chance of making connections.

I addressed him as "Chief" and was thanked in turn.

But believe it or not, this isn't *that* story, either.

During the three-way conversation with the other Good Samaritan in the Club (henceforth referred to as 'GS'), we talked about flights in and out of small airports in N.C.   I was going to GSO, the Chief was going to Asheville, and GS was going to Fayetteville.  Along with commentary on the frequency and size of flights to and from these airports and speculation on how that would change with the Merger, I happened to mention that my eldest son's opinion of Fayetteville airport when he was at UNC Pembroke happened to match GS's comments. 

...and so it happened...

GS questioned when my son was at Pembroke - since GS taught there.  I replied that son graduated a year ago.  GS asked what major, I replied "Psychology."  GS mentions that he saw a lot of Psych students in his classes, he was in Criminal Justice dept.  I mentioned my son got a CJ minor, and gave his name.


GS knew my son, had him in a criminology class, and remembered him very well.  In fact, one of his good friends also taught in that curriculum and had my son in class and *also* remembered him.  It seems my son was always coming up after class and asking questions... *good* questions.  The kind that show great thought behind them.  It seems he was somewhat memorable. [I later learned that this was the professor for whom my son wrote a term paper that disagreed with almost every premise established in class, but reasoned and researched so well that my son received the highest grade in the class (and made Dean's List that semester).]  I was told that both GS and his friend felt that my son had some potential in the CJ field.

My son is at a decision point right now, and grad school is a distinct possibility (one I favor) and this feedback has really tipped the scales in favor of going back to fill in double B.A. with double-major in CJ, use that to get an internship in Law Enforcement, then go for grad school and potentially into FBI or federal LE.


So, for the rest of the day, despite three rebookings, misplaced luggage, and 10 hours transit time, I stayed in good spirits, never complained, took it all in stride.  No matter what happened, I was going home, and would get there eventually.  Most important, I knew that it wasn't *really* an inconvenience, because it was all made worth it by the *incidental* occurrences of the day.

It might have been fate, by I favor Guidance.  I was where I needed to be.

Getting home was purely a matter of time. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

LINK: More on Zombie Science (Baen Nonfiction) [Full link to blog for email clients.]

Here's one of the reasons I haven't posted much content lately, I recently wroite the following for Baen Books, and it was recently put up on their main webpage:

"A Terrible Thing to Lose" –
Zombie Science and Science Fiction in John Ringo's Under a Graveyard Sky

by Tedd Roberts
We've seen it on the screen or in our mind's eye – the ravening hordes, the animalistic sounds, the hunger that cannot be sated – zombies! I was recently on a panel at a science fiction convention that discussed the transition from prior popularity of vampire stories to the current fascination with zombies. The moderator put forth the premise that vampire novels and urban fantasy are products of affluent societies with strong economies, while zombie novels and apocalyptic fiction are more representative of economic downturn and uncertainty. It is an interesting premise, given that the "classical vampire" is hundreds of years old, has amassed wealth, power and prestige... while zombies represent death and destruction that cannot be stopped by conventional means.

If I were a psychologist, I might mention that zombies represent fear of "The Other" - the foreign, even alien, presence that steals away our home and family; or that zombies represent fear of death or ending. On the other hand, as a firearm collector, Eagle Scout and member of Zombie Squad, I would bring up the fact that preparation for The Zombie Apocalypse is preparation for any disaster: natural or man-made. It only makes sense that a story-line which involves preparing to defend against the loss of all we hold dear would be popular in uncertain times that threaten jobs, homes and our very lives.

Whatever the appeal, zombies and the zombie apocalypse are prevalent in modern fiction—from Max Brooks' World War Z (and the movie of the same name, but derivative story) to the popular TV show The Walking Dead. The modern zombie story/zombie movie genre owes a lot to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead—but it can easily be argued that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein founded the concept of the metaphysically reanimated corpse. In Baen's own fiction, Larry Corriea's Monster Hunter International novels invoke (and dispatch) zombies by the hundreds and thousands. In fact, the image of seasoned Monster Hunter Earl Harbinger chopping and puréeing zombies through use of industrial snow-clearing machinery has led to a popular convention panel "Messiest Ways to Kill Zombies." The launch of a new Baen series – and the motivation for this post – is John Ringo's upcoming Under a Graveyard Sky, which follows a family escaping a zombie apocalypse and dealing with the aftermath...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Weird Science Monday: The Steam/cyber/punk brain [Full link to blog for email clients.]

A friend wrote and asked my what I thought the timeline would be for cyberpunk-style brain-to-computer interfaces.

For some reason, I repeatedly read that as "steampunk" interfaces...  

So I told him that I have difficulty imagining steampunk, brain and computer in one sentence since the major premises of steampunk are:
  • The Industrial Revolution turned to minaturization, resulting in refinement of  manufacturing to make small clockwork, springs and valves.  
  • The internal combustion engine and transistor are never perfected.
  • Without transistors, there is no electronics.
  • Without internal combustion, all engines are powered by steam or clockwork. 
  • Everyone thinks Victorian-era fashion is cool.
In such a world, I just don't see brain (bioelectric) interfacing to computers (clockwork). 

But this is "what-if" - so I came up with the following timeline... (fictional elements in italics)

126 AD - birth of Claudius Galenus (Galen), founder of modern physiology.
1525 - French physician Jean Fernel introduces Catherine De'Medici, wife of King Henri II of France, to the term "physiology" to describe the study of the body's (and brain's) function.  Being educated in the classics, De'Medici prefers the term "Galenology."
1822 - Charles Babbage demonstrates a partial model of his Difference Engine for dinner party guests.
1831 - Difference Engine No. 1 is completed by Joseph Clement and Charles Babbage.
1832 - Babbage begins design work on Difference Engine No. 2 and Analytical Engine.
builds a portion of his original design 
1835 - American Joseph Henry is electrocuted and dies while attempting to build an electromechanical relay, use of electricity in computing engines is abandoned.
1840 - English mathematician Ada Lovelace (the only legitimate child of Lord Byron!) joins with Babbage to further designs for the Analytical Engine.
1842 - Babbage completes design of Difference Engine No. 2, but Ada Lovelace convinces him to complete designs for Analytical Engine, instead.
1848 - English mathematician George Boole is institutionalized in a mental hospital, raving about "binary algebra" and "computer design" (binary math and Boolean logic are never developed).
1855 - Swedish engineers Per Georg Scheutz and his son Edvard display an improved Difference Engine at the Paris World's Fair.  Since the purpose of the engine is to repeatedly print mathematical tables, the "Scheutzian Calculation Engine" is coupled to a steam engine to drive the calculation cogs.
1871 - Babbage reveals a prototype computing core and printer for the Analytical Engine just weeks before his death.  
1875 - Swedish engineer Martin Wiberg reveals the further improved (and compact!) Scheutzian Calculation Engine which incorporates elements of Babbage's Analytical Engine.  Not only did Wiberg reduce the size of the calculation component, all parts, including the steam engine, were reduced to the size of a desk.  
1884 - American Dorr Felt completes the develops the "Comptometer" - a version of the Wiberg calculator with keyed inputs instead of dials and cranks.  
1886 - American Herman Hollerith develops a system whereby small strips of metal are punched with holes aligning with steam valves and channels in the Wiberg Calculator, representing a single operation for the calculation engine.  
1898 - American Daniel David Palmer establishes the "Palmer School of Chiropractic." His controversial theories include the metaphysical concept of "innate intelligence" in which the body's muscles and joints alter function of the brain. 
1906 - Henry Babbage (Charles's son) works with Hollerith to complete Babbage's Analytical Engine, using Hollerith's "punched card" system as well as a "valve board" system for "programming" the Engine for different operations. Hollerith and the younger Babbage form the "Industrial Babbage Machine Company."
1906 - American Lee De Forest seriously injured in a laboratory accident when a prototype vacuum tube "thermionic valve" explodes. 
1906 - Bartlett Joshua Palmer (son of Daniel David Palmer) takes over the Palmer School of Chiropractic.  Rumors abound that he is trying to build "Intelligizer" skeletal support frames that will not only allow injured patients to walk, but will also improve intelligence and thinking ability.
1921 - German scientist Otto Loewi reveals that nerves in the body send their signals using chemicals. 
1930 - American Vannevar Bush builds a chemically activated difference engine capable of solving differential equations. 
1931 - Austrian Kurt Godel publishes a paper proposing a formal computation language based on Loewi's identification of different chemical signatures for various brain and nerve functions.
1931 - Welsh physicist Charles Wynn-Williams demonstrates the first digital counter tied to a chemical detector.
1936 - Alan Turing of Cambridge University publishes his notable work on "computable thoughts" which reformulates Godel.
1938 - Nazi scientist Konrad Zuse completes the "Z1"  - the first computation engine to be directly operated by chemical means.  
1939 - Zuse completes the "Z2" operated by detecting "cerebrochemicals" from the blood of human "volunteers."
1941 - Rumors surface that Zuse has completed a "Z3" computation device in which human POWs have been surgically integrated into the machine via catheters and cannulas to collect cerebrochemicals directly from the brain and peripheral nerves.  
1941 - Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor uses "walking machines." One such machine is captured whole after its "pilot" was killed by a direct hit.  The Walker design is found to derive from Bartlett Palmer's Intelligizers.
1942 (February) - United States Executive Order 9066 leads to supposed internment of Americans of Japanese Ancestry.  In reality, internment was used as cover to explain disappearance of the AJA into covert intelligence missions.  Doolittle's Raid on Tokyo staged as a cover for a covert insertion of  AJA counterintelligence agents tasked with spying on Walker manufacturing.
1942 (April) - American Major General Leslie Groves assumes command of the super-secret "Huntsville Project" to develop fighting machines to counter anticipated combination of Nazi Z3's with Japanese Walkers by the Axis Powers.  
1944 (December) - Germans assault Allied lines in the Ardennes Forest using "GetriebeSoldaten" - mechanical soldiers.  
1945 (January) - Ardennes Counteroffensive (Battle of the Bulge) ends with Allied victory.  British Field Marshall Montgomery claims that his conventional forces won the day, while others credit the contribution of American "SteelSuits" - a true mechanized infantry - under the command of General George S. Patton.  

August 6, 1945 - "Little Boy" weapon designed by the Huntsville project released in Hiroshima, Japan.
August 9, 1945 -  "Fat Man" weapon developed by the Huntsville project released in Nagasaki, Japan.
The two weapons consisted of fully autonomous war-fighting mechanicals controlled by direct interface of a human brain to "Z3" type computational engines.  Little Boy was essentially an over-sized suit of heavy plate armor with the mechanical components integrated as artificial muscles and joints to allow a human controller to carry the increased weight of armor and weaponry.  Fat Man was designed such that the human controller sat completely within the large central "body" with legs, arms and weapons controlled remotely.  Surgical connection of the human "Combat Intelligence" with the "Combat Calculator" was always intended to be a one-way process.

Both of the devices were armed with conventional arms such as single shot and machine guns, as well as experimental lightning guns and heat rays.   The armor was a new form of superdense element to protect the human controller from return fire long enough for human and mechanical to inflict extensive damage on the enemy.  It was not after the War that the augmented explosions produced when the suits came under heavy defensive fire were fully understood to be a particular property of the uranium alloy armor.  


2010 - University Professor and Galenologist Tedd Roberts introduces a new teaching series entitled "Your Brain is Electropunk..."