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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Why science is never settled [Full link to blog for email clients.]

We hear a lot these days that "There's a consensus" and "The science is settled."

Without getting into the politics of what people do and don't believe about certain hot-button topics - I always cringe when I hear someone claim that science could ever be "settled."  The very nature of science is that it is never settled, always questioning, always seeking to find better theories, better algorithms, better models - and frankly push back the boundaries of knowledge.

On both sides of many issues we have groups frequently labeled as "believers" and "deniers."  Frankly, both are wrong.  Belief and/or denial have no place in science, because science is a process, not a conclusion.  Science is a means of looking at something for which we have no explanation and determining how it works.  Whether we choose to believe or deny the method by which we came to a conclusion does not change the data which was used in the process.  Whether I "believe" in a theory of quantum connectedness that links all sentient minds (h/t Travis S. Taylor, Ph.D.) or not does not change the fact that there are brain processes which can be adequately explained without recourse to quantum physics - and those phenomena which have no other explanation.

Science is always changing - our techniques get better, measurements get more precise, and new theories are always produced.

To illustrate the points, Baen Books asked me to write on the topic "Why Science is Never Settled," and the article was so long we had to run it in two parts.

Part 1 ran last month and is linked here:

and Part 2 is up right now and is linked here:


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...