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Tales of the Vuduri:
By Michael Brachman
TALES OF THE VUDURI: YEAR FIVE
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 by Michael Brachman
Cover art copyright © 2018 by Bruce Brachman
Also by Michael Brachman
The Rome’s Revolution Series
The Ark Lords
The Vuduri Knights Series
The Milk Run
*The Vuduri Knight
(*not yet in publication)
The Vuduri Universe Series
Tales of the Vuduri: Year One
Tales of the Vuduri: Year Two
Tales of the Vuduri: Year Three
Tales of the Vuduri: Year Four
Tales of the Vuduri: Year Five
The Vuduri Companion
Entry 5-015: January 15, 2017
The Battle Plan Part 1
In the middle of the book The Ark Lords, Jack Henry comes up with a battle plan for ambushing the Ark Lords. He knows the Ark Lords will be entering the former site of FermiLab and the Tevatron. He knows they will be coming from the south and heading straight for Wilson Hall. Here is an image of the terrain. You can click on it for a larger view. Follow along as Jack instructs his troops:
“I want thirty men,” Jack said. “You split yourselves into two teams. Team A will hide in the trees to the west of that clearing.”
He pointed to the two stands of trees to the east, in the direction they’d come when they first arrived.
“Team A will be armed with these fire sticks.” Jack lifted a rifle into the air. “They’ll hide in the nearer stand of woods. Team B will hide in the trees farther to the east. Crossbows and spears only.”
“How come they don’t get the good weapons?” one man asked.
“Because the Ark Lords don’t know we have them. And we have to keep it a secret for as long as possible,” he said. “They’ll be coming from the southeast, just like we did. They don’t know we’re here so they’ll head through the clearing, the same as us.”
Jack pointed to the gentle rise to the southeast, toward the horizon. “We’ll put scouts along the way with these radios. They can call in what they see so you know when to be ready.”
Jack surveyed the surroundings, noting again the geographical layout.
“I’m guessing they will come in three vehicles,” he said. “No less. One will be for transporting the disease weapon, the others will be escorts. The escorts will be heavily armed. You let the lead vehicles pass through. You only attack the third.”
“What kind of attack?” another man asked.
“After the first two vehicles pass through, Team B will hit the third one with the crossbows and spears. Go for the spacemen but don’t aim for the chest or the head. They have armor plating. There are only a few places where they’re exposed.”
Jack pointed out the various parts of his body. “Aim for their arms or hands first. They can’t shoot a weapon if they don’t have hands. Then shoot them in the knees or thighs. They can’t run away if they don’t have feet, so to speak. Once you have them hobbled, to apply a kill shot, you need to hit them here.” Jack turned and pointed to the base of his neck then he turned back around. “That’s the only place on their head that isn’t protected.”
“And you want us to do this with crossbows?” the same man asked. “Why are we shooting arrows when we have the fire sticks?”
We'll find out why tomorrow.
Entry 5-033: February 2, 2017
We have previously discussed the effects of sleep deprivation. It goes hand in hand with why we have to sleep at all. Basically, during the day, your brain works so hard that it produces metabolic waste products that need to be removed. When you sleep, certain portions of your brain shut down and the toxins are removed. During the various phases of sleep, various portions of the brain are activated and deactivated and given a good scrubbing.
The result is that when you wake up in the morning, you feel refreshed and your brain is ready to go again. Conversely, if you are sleep-deprived, the toxins in your brain causes the symptoms. This has been proven multiple times in animal studies where they remove some fluid from the brains of sleep-deprived animals and inject it into the brains of properly rested animals. The injection induces the same effects as if the animals were sleep deprived.
So... What I am thinking is some sort of brain dialysis whereby you hook up your brain to a cleansing machine and it removes the toxins due to sleep deprivation. If you did that, would you ever have to sleep? I'm sure you'd have to rest but you wouldn't have to go through the whole sleep cycle.
This would mean no more dreams. Do we need dreams? Are they just a side effect of the cleansing process? Would we be diminished if we never had them again? Some people claim to never dream. Others don't want to wake up because they are in the middle of a good dream. But do we really, really need them?
Instead of a machine, what if you could take a pill that could cleanse the brain toxins. Then you wouldn't have to sleep and you wouldn't have to hook your brain up to tubes and wires. That might be the ultimate. Think of what you could do with those extra six hours every day. I know I sure could use them or a secret eighth day, like in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Time. Time. Time. I need more of it.
Maybe some day.
Entry 5-058: February 27, 2017
In case you have been living under a rock, NASA announced on February 22, 2017, that they have found seven Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone around a star named TRAPPIST-1.
Let's consider the term habitable, though. Because the star TRAPPIST-1 is an ultra-cool dwarf, the habitable zone is much, much closer to the star than our own. In fact, the seven planets are closer to the star than Mercury. This implies that most likely they are all tidally locked to their primary meaning the same side faces the sun at all times. So the one side might be very warm and the other side might be very cold. The weather on these planets would be very different from our own.
But the fact of the matter is there are seven. This is amazing news. When I was writing The Milk Run, I was hard pressed to postulate that there were even two planets in the habitable zone. Without being an astronomer or an astrogeophysicist, I wasn't able to figure out if it was even possible or if the planets would eventually collide.
Well, TRAPPIST-1 throws that worry out the window. These planets are so close to each other that you might be able to see clouds or geological features on the neighboring worlds. Some of them might even appear larger than the Moon. What a sky!
Well, the good news is that as time passes, we are finding more and more planets that may be capable of either creating life or certainly sustaining it. The bad news is that as a science fiction writer, I am running out of time until we discover aliens on other planets and then the truth will have outdistanced my fiction. I'd better hurry up and crank out some more novels before that happens.
Entry 5-076: March 17, 2017
Helium-filled Hard Drives
Just when I think I have a grasp on things, somebody comes out with something new that I never heard of before. We are all familiar with water-cooled engines. We all drive them. But Fiat, Porsche, Volkswagen, Chevrolet, Citroën and Honda have all produced an engine block that was air-cooled but none of these lasted. So water cooling seems the way to go.
The same goes for computer chips. They generate a lot of heat but most are air-cooled. Some over-clocked chips use circuits called Peltier devices which are like electronic refrigerators. But to really get to higher clock speeds, you need to get to liquid cooled. In recent tests, the AMD Ryzen core broke the world's record for clock speed at 5.2 GHz but it generated so much heat, the testers had to dip it into liquid nitrogen to keep it cool enough to run so fast. I was thinking that the next speed test would use liquid helium to cool the core. But I was wrong. Helium has already been employed to improve the capacity and efficiency of hard drives.
As it turns out, hard drive manufacturers have been filling their hermetically sealed hard drives with helium for the last five years. Why? Helium reduces drag on the disk's platters while the seals keep humidity and other contaminates out. Less drag means the drives operate at temperatures that are four to five degrees cooler than the equivalent air-filled drives. Helium is one-seventh the density of air and causes less friction which allows the disk drive to spin faster and more efficiently using less energy. Capacities of these hard drives are now getting upwards of double digit terabytes (TB).
Seagate just announced a 12 TB HDD, which they are calling second generation. Sheesh. I didn't even know there was a first generation. So I guess air is out and helium is in. Seagate promises a 16 TB HDD very soon.
I checked on Amazon and they are selling helium filled 6 TB hard drives for $250. Isn't that incredible? I don't know that I need such a large capacity but since everything is migrating to the cloud, there are certainly tons of companies that can use such devices.
Wonders never cease.
Entry 5-106: April 16, 2017
Life on Enceladus
Recently, NASA announced that they had discovered hydrogen in the plumes or volcanic jets seen emitting from the surface of Enceladus, one of the smaller moons orbiting Saturn. Now you might think that as a science fiction writer, I would find this very exciting and look forward to further research.
NASA scientists finished analyzing the molecular content of one of the plumes after the Casssini spacecraft sent the data back during a close encounter with Enceladus a while ago. In October 2015, Cassini came within 30 miles of the surface of Enceladus, and collected particles from a plume spray. Amazingly, the plume was made up mostly of water but had a significant amount of hydrogen molecules. Water, hydrogen and carbon dioxide can combine to form both hydrocarbons as well as carbohydrates. These are things that can sustain life.
So am I excited that there may be life right here in our own cosmic backyard? No. I am terrified. If life can form anywhere at the drop of a hat, even on a frozen moon on the outskirts of our solar system, then it must be exceedingly common throughout the galaxy, if not the entire universe. This is what makes it scary: The Fermi Paradox which says if life is so common, how come we haven't heard from anybody or detected any signs of intelligence yet?
The reason this is terrifying is because it might imply that intelligence cannot or does not survive very long, cosmically speaking. Which means we may be staring down the barrel of our own destruction. The Drake Equation allows us to estimate how many habitable worlds there are and most estimates say there are a lot. And if there are a lot, you'd expect life and ultimately intelligent life to form if it is easy to do.
It would be much better if life were an exceedingly rare occurrence. Then the Fermi Paradox isn't so bad. It just means that finding our brothers and sisters among the stars is going to take a long time rather than we are ultimately doomed. Personally, I like the idea of a promising future better that guaranteed doom.
There is one more thing. As I have mentioned before, if we do find alien life, I have to retire from writing science fiction and start writing science facts so forgive me if I hope that we do not find life on Enceladus. Can you blame me?
Entry 5-137: May 17, 2017
Neuralink and the Vuduri 2
Yesterday, I introduced you to Elon Musk's latest venture, a company called Neuralink whose stated goal is to hook your brain and my brain into the internet so that we can communicate with computers directly. Here is their mission statement:
Neuralink is developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.
Anyone who has read my Rome’s Revolution novels will be familiar with this concept immediately. The 24-chromosome mind-connected Vuduri are exactly the end product that Musk envisions.
However, my novels are science fiction and Musk is dealing with scientific fact. In order for Neuralink to succeed, they need an ultra-high bandwidth mesh of receivers and transmitters to be scattered over the entire brain. I solved that problem neatly by not using electrodes but by using PPT transceivers built right into each neuron using organo-metallic elements. So I solved the bandwidth problem genetically.
The driving force behind Neuralink is to get "into" the computer before it gets into us. Musk is convinced that once computers reach sentience, they will zoom past us and become artificial super-intelligence before we know what hits us. You need to read Tim Urban's excellent treatise on his web site called WaitButWhy.com to get a firm understanding as to why this is an absolute necessity. Many scientists and deep thinkers including Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates think that ASI represents the greatest threat to the survival of mankind we will ever experience. Tim Urban uses the phrase "existential threat" meaning ASI threatens our very existence. And it is going to happen and sooner than you think. Musk wants to get there first.
In my novels, the Vuduri have already grown past this. They, too, experienced this threat when they created MASAL but before MASAL could take over the world, the Overmind sprung up. MASAL had not considered this possibility. So he tried to merge with the Overmind, kind of the reverse of Musk's plan, only to be rebuffed. But it didn't matter. MASAL's long-term plan was exactly as Musk predicted, MASAL would eventually turn humans into living robots to serve his needs.
Other elements of this program might be to give people artificial sight by plugging into their auditory cortex. I had already done this, again genetically, by rewiring Rei's brain so that his auditory cortex fed into his visual cortex (when his eyes were shut) so that he could "see" sound, a kind of sonar-vision.
Personally, I don't think that Neuralink will succeed and I don't think humans will allow this neural mesh to be inserted into their brains but what do I know? Maybe Mr. Musk will stumble across my novels and see that building the network into the brain genetically is the way to go. Perhaps in this way, Rome and Rei and OMCOM and MINIMCOM will have traveled from the 35th century to our time and save us all before the machines wipe us out.
Entry 5-151: May 31, 2017
StoreDot's Insta-charge Battery 2
Yesterday, I introduced you to a company called StoreDot which has invented a new type of battery that can be fully charged in 5 minutes. You can actually order one of these batteries now by going to the StoreDot web site and select their iPhone case which takes only 5 minutes to fully charge and gives your phone up to 8 hours more run time. It looks like this:
But I want to get back to electric vehicles (EVs) and the implications of StoreDot's new technology. As I mentioned yesterday, even though Tesla makes awesome vehicles (the Model 3 is expected this year), they still take too long to fully charge, even with supercharger stations. I don't know if StoreDot's nanotechnology-based organic batteries would work inside a Tesla but it certainly proves that it can be done. Since the battery is not lithium-based, it should be much safer, i.e. not flammable with a much higher combustion temp. The company believes they may be able to place these new batteries in EVs within three years. Definitely something to look for.
If you want to read an in-depth article, you can go here. Here is a synopsis: StoreDot is an Israeli startup whose core technology is fast-charging batteries. In 2015, they announced that they were developing a model for EVs. They claim that even without significant new technological breakthroughs, their new EV battery can reach a full charge within only five minutes and can keep a car running for 300 miles. They staged a technology demo at the CUBE Tech Fair in Berlin. The presenters didn't exactly have the chance to show the battery get to 100 percent but it was close enough. You can see the video by Gruendermetropole on YouTube along with promotional videos made by StoreDot themselves.
Finally, here is a statement by StoreDot CEO Dr. Doron Myersdorf:
"Fast Charging is the critical missing link needed to make electric vehicles ubiquitous. The currently available battery technology dictates long charging times which makes the EV form of transportation inadequate for the public at large. We're exploring options with a few strategic partners in the auto space to help us boost the production process in Asia and reach mass production as soon as possible."
I don't know about you but I find this all very exciting. The current administration may be pushing to go back to coal and fossil fuel but the market decides what it wants and if the market wants clean, emission-free cars with tremendously lower operating costs, that is what will happen, legislation be damned.
Entry 5-158: June 7, 2017
The Cannae Drive
Yesterday, we finished up on the Unruh Effect and Unruh Radiation. If these two phenomena are proven out, they may be able to explain the apparently inexplicable but reproducible EmDrive. The EmDrive was invented by Roger J. Shawyer, a British aerospace engineer who has a background in defense work as well as experience as a consultant on the Galileo project (a European version of the GPS system). NASA has published a peer-reviewed paper demonstrating what they believe to be a functional EmDrive. The Chinese are also testing this drive in space.
There is another scientist named Guido P. Fetta and he has invented another reactionless drive which he had been calling the Q-Drive but he now calls it The Cannae Drive. The Cannae.com web site describes its operation and their test results. There is an excellent Popular Mechanics article which you should read if you are interested. Here is an excerpt:
Fetta contends that the Cannae Drive creates a bias in the quantum vacuum and pushes against it. Basically, physicists think that at very, very small scales, much smaller than atoms or even protons, space bubbles with quantum fluctuations. This bubbling is represented in the math as sort of imaginary particles that are spawned in pairs, and then very, very quickly the pairs come back together and destroy each other. Fetta contends that the Cannae Drive creates a bias where some of these particles never come back together, and then "pushes" against them. This is same principle postulated to be behind the EmDrive.
This sounds nearly identical to the Casimir Effect. So, since this blog is all about science fiction, I want to point out that the Cannae Drive also resembles my PPT star-drive which creates pockets of negative energy (Fetta's particles) but does not allow them to recombine with their positive counterparts and "pushes" space out of the way.
I urge you to read the article cited above and visit their web site for more detail but here is an image of Fetta's vision of a starship outfitted with his Cannae Drive, courtesy of The Cannae Corporation:
Image Copyright (C) 2016 by The Cannae Corporation
Entry 5-164: June 13, 2017
A PTSD Vaccine?
While this blog doesn’t really have a purpose other to serve as a forum for me to discuss science fiction and scientific topics, I have occasionally mentioned family members when relevant, never gratuitously. It is in that spirit that I would like to present the groundbreaking and possibly revolutionary discovery made by my niece, Rebecca Brachman, along with her collaborator Christine Ann Denny regarding a drug called ketamine.
Rebecca has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and was named a TED fellow in January of 2017. She is currently involved in research into using ketamine to prevent the onset of PTSD or depression. Rebecca calls this approach a paravaccine meaning it is prophylactic, like a vaccine, but based upon new principles. To apply this approach to mental health issues is completely innovative. We all know that many types of nervous system disorders can be treated by drugs after the fact but this is the first attempt that I know of to prevent the onset in the first place.
You may wonder how can somebody create a vaccine for PTSD when you don’t even know when or where the stress is coming from. As it turns out, you can predict, under some circumstances, that people are going to encounter stressful situations which would normally have an adverse affect on their psyche. Some very easy examples are soldiers entering combat, paramedics and firefighters, police, medical personnel, aid workers and so on. Just look at occupations that have the highest occurrence of PTSD and there is your candidate list.
Rebecca stumbled upon this novel use by accident. She had used ketamine on a group of mice for a different experiment and rather than get a whole new colony, she decided to “recycle” the mice for her new experiments regard stress reactions. Ketamine is typically used as a cat tranquilizer or sometimes as a party drug called Special K. Normally, the direct effects of ketamine wear off after just a few hours. But just to be safe, Rebecca waited weeks to make sure there were no lingering effects.
Imagine her surprise when the group of mice who had received ketamine showed a startling ability to resist the effects of stressful situations as compared to mice who had not received the drug. Remember, this is weeks, not hours after ingestion of ketamine, before the stress was applied. That means that the ketamine had the long-lasting and certainly unexpected ability to enhance stress resilience when compared to mice experiencing triggers that would normally damage their mental health.
Whether this new approach to PTSD prevention will work in humans is anybody’s guess. But everybody has to start somewhere and Rebecca’s approach is definitely, definitely worth exploring. You can catch Rebecca’s original TED talk on YouTube or on the TED web site itself. Take a peek. It is fascinating stuff.
Entry 5-180: June 29, 2017
Where is Sol’s twin?
A recent article in the Berkeley News cited evidence that most, if not all, stars are formed in pairs. A theoretical physicist from Berkeley and his buddy, a radio-astronomer from Harvard, have studied the formation of many, many stars and have come to the conclusion that pairs are normal, if not the rule.
So if this is true, where is the twin for our Sun whose formal name is Sol? Understand the twins need not be identical twins. Look at Alpha Centauri A and B. One is very Sol-like and the other is a smaller, cooler, red star. So maybe Sol's twin was a smaller, red star as well. Assuming that is true, where is it?
Our solar system was formed over 4.5 billion years ago. If Sol had a twin back then, it is possible that the twin wandered off and is out there somewhere. It is also possible that the two stars collided and Sol ate his brother. In a human baby, when the dead fetus is crushed up against the uterine wall, it is called a "fetus papyraceus." If the dead fetus is actually absorbed by the living fetus, the result can be a dermoid cyst. My brother Bruce had one of these which manifested itself as a cyst in his eyebrow. When it was finally removed, they decided it was a twin that became absorbed into Bruce's body.
Scientists even have a name for Sol's twin - Nemesis. Some people think this star kicked an asteroid into the Earth and it killed off the dinosaurs. But if this were true, then Nemesis would be close enough that we should still be able to spot it. The fact that we can't means it was probably long gone before the Earth had cooled enough for life to start.
Nonetheless, it is an interesting idea to think that somewhere out there is a star that is a fraternal or even identical twin of our Sun. Maybe there is a twin of Earth out there too!
Entry 5-202: July 21, 2017
Teleporter versus transporter
In the world of science fiction, what's the difference between a teleporter and a transporter? Most people use the two interchangeably but the underlying principles are completely different. The following is a brief explanation as to why, even though they sound the same, they are not.
A transporter breaks down your structure, atom by atom and rebuilds you in another place using the reverse procedure. When you are done, you have a perfect replica of yourself, right down to your thought patterns and memories of being transported. The question arises as to whether it is really you on the other end. Tim Urban, an excellent and thoughtful blogger on the web site WaitButWhy.com wrote about what makes you you. You should read it some time. His basic thesis is that if you use a transporter, you are no longer you but a copy of you. He is able to demonstrate this using a series of thought experiments. In fact, I remember reading and seeing more than one Star Trek episodes where the transporter malfunctioned and multiple copies of Captain Kirk were running around. So let's rule out transporters. Their use is too creepy.
A teleporter, on the other hand, physically moves you and exactly you from one place to another instantaneously. There is no discussion about whether it is really you at the other end. It is most definitely is you since it is made up of the very atoms of your existence, not a copy. In the world of Rome’s Revolution, MINIMCOM's snap PPT tunnels are used to teleport a person from one place to another. Rei incorrectly refers to it as a transporter because he was a big fan of Star Trek growing up. However, the principles behind it are those of teleportation. The physical atoms that made up you are moved from Point A to Point C directly, the same original atoms, not a copy.
Will we ever see either a transporter or a teleporter in our lifetimes? It turns out, the Chinese have had success in teleporting photons for several years. Most recently, they claim to have teleported a photon over 800 miles into space.
To be fair, this is a long way from you stepping into a booth and ending up somewhere else but it is still pretty neat. It utilizes the concept of quantum entanglement to transport information instantaneously from a ground-based photon to a space-based photon that they beamed up. Now how the heck they got two photons entangled in the first place is beyond me. I do know that the information that was teleported is measured in qubits or quantum bits which could pave the way to quantum computers or a quantum internet. So stay tuned. It seems pretty spectacular to me.
Entry 5-233: August 21, 2017
Yesterday, I mentioned that science is developing faster than I can keep up. I thought many of my ideas in the world of Rome’s Revolution were not outlandish but certainly ahead of the curve. Take MASAL's and OMCOM's genetic manipulation of Rome and Rei. I was pretty sure it was way out there but we'd all believe it was possible some day. Well, that day has already arrived.
Meet CRISPR. No, this is not a thing that makes french fries. The acronym stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats although the name is no longer 100% tied to the technology. The modern name is CRISPR/Cas9 and it is a methodology for directly injecting new genetic sequences into the DNA of living creatures. It can also be used to remove a particular sequence as well. Scientists who use this technology are sometimes called biohackers which is kind of a scary appellation.
What are the implications of this? It is astounding. For example, biohackers are working on forcing ordinary E. Coli bacteria to secrete human-injectable insulin. Others are trying to get yeast to secret biofuel. Still others have used CRISPR to inject a moving GIF of a galloping horse in another strain of E. Coli. Why would you want to do this? It is the beginning of an information revolution where data can be reproduced biologically and therefore immortal. I have inserted the Galloping Horse GIF at the bottom of this post.
Scientists have grander plans for additions to animal DNA using CRISPR. Because pig organs are roughly the same size as human, biohackers are hard at work altering pig organs so they can be transplanted into humans. Can you imagine a world where they can grow you a new kidney or pancreas or eyeball on a pig? It sounds like science fiction but it isn't too far away.
As I mentioned above, CRISPR can also be used to delete genetic sequences. This is possibly more exciting and more practical than additions. Scientists have created mosquitos that cannot carry malaria and created more muscular and hairier goats. They are also making progress in elimination of diseases like leukemia, muscular dystrophy and HIV infections. Some day, altruistic biohackers may be able to modify a Type 1 diabetic's beta cells to ward off attack by the person's own immune system meaning they would no longer even need insulin.
The possibilities are endless and it is a slippery slope because the same techniques used to remove a genetic disease from an embryo could be used to alter the child's eye color, intelligence and so on. If it is not stopped, there is no reason why people could not design their own babies! Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know. I'm still wrestling with plant people and Stareaters. But the day is coming when we will have to decide not whether these things can be done but rather should they be done.
This image of Eadweard Muybridge’s galloping horse embedded within the DNA of a bacterium is courtesy of Seth Shipman:
Entry 5-247: September 4, 2017
Yesterday, we considered the question as to why the Moon was exactly the right size to create a perfect total eclipse of the Sun. Not too big and not too small but just right. On the day of the total eclipse, I turned on the TV to watch some coverage because I didn't have a pair of eclipse glasses. Also, where we live, it was very overcast so I wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway. Even at the point of maximum eclipse, it just looked gloomy out. Right after that show was a documentary about the Voyager spacecraft which were launched in 1977 making this the 40th anniversary. From watching that show, I found out some astounding facts about these spacecraft that you might want to consider.
Voyager 2 was launched first, on August 20, 1977 and Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977. Now why they were launched in backwards order is a little odd but we'll ignore that for now. Voyager 1 is currently 11.7 billion miles away. It is so far away that by all standards, it has left our solar system and is now in interstellar space. Voyager 2 is "only" 9.5 billion miles away and is still in the heliosphere, a bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields that is considered the outer boundary of our star system. It is expected to leave the solar system in about four years.
Voyager 1 is on a path that will carry it close to a star called AC +79 3888 which is 17.6 light years from Earth. It will take it about 40,000 years to reach that star. If anybody is home and they detect Voyager, they can snag it and listen to the "Golden Record" that was bolted on to the outside of the probe. So if that is all it takes to make intelligent life aware of us, we have 40,000 years to get ready. Voyager 2 is headed for the star called Sirius, only about 10 billion miles away. We have less to worry about that one because it will take Voyager 2 about 296,000 years to reach it.
Of course, if either the Voyager probes run into an alien probe and they merge and the new entity decides to return to Earth to meet its maker, we might have some problems. After all, the was the plot of the first Star Trek movie, with the main antagonist being V'ger. But that story doesn't take place for another 200 years so I think we're OK there as well.
In summary, here is a hearty well-done to the scientists and engineers that designed and launched the twin Voyager spacecrafts, all the science they performed and now their final mission, a message in a bottle to the stars.
Entry 5-283: October 10, 2017
Elon Musk saves Puerto Rico
Frequent readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Elon Musk. Not only is he a genius and visionary not to mention a billionaire, but he is also a genuine humanitarian. I don't know how much he gives in terms of charities but most of his current ventures are dedicated to saving the entire human race, not just an impoverished few.
The title of this article may be a bit overstated but I do know that some of Mr. Musk's business ventures start with a seemingly innocent tweet. On October 5, 2017, after seeing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, Mr. Musk stated that he would be willing to help rebuild the electric infrastructure of Puerto Rico through the use of Tesla PowerWalls and Tesla PowerPacks and solar panels. He stated there was "no scalability limit" meaning there is nothing standing in the way other than will, and perhaps money.
The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, read the tweet and while I do not know who initiated the phone call, the Governor did confirm that indeed he and Mr. Musk spoke on the phone Friday.
Think about it. Maria wiped out power over most of Puerto Rico. As of this writing, 90% of the homes on the island of Puerto Rico are without power. Some may not get power back for four to six months. Can you imagine living that way? I can't. We lost power for three days one time and had to abandon the house and go to a hotel.
Anyway, the power grid in Puerto Rico must be rebuilt. Why not rebuild it with 21st century technologies rather than replicating what was there before? Mr. Musk is already shipping PowerWalls to Puerto Rico now without waiting for a grand plan. But creating a sustainable, renewable energy grid on the island hooked into Tesla PowerPacks would prevent such a disaster from happening again. Puerto Rico's current electric company was nine billion dollars in debt before the hurricane hit and had filed for what amounted to bankruptcy. Decentralizing power distribution on the island would make the island far less susceptible to mass devastation and would be upgradable in smaller, more easily digested chunks rather than having to overhaul what was designed a century ago.
Anyway, my opinion is, why not? You have to do it anyway. Why not do it using ultra-modern techniques rather than harken back to an age which is coming to a close?
Entry 5-303: October 30, 2017
An Extraterrestrial Visitor
Meteors hit the Earth all the time, occasionally with disastrous results (see the end of the dinosaurs) and occasionally we see comets in the heavens. We also see the stars above and wonder what they might be like. Further, there is the Kepler Mission which has currently found over 5000 exoplanet candidates circling other stars. The point is these events never co-mingle. We look up, we see stars, we see comets, we see meteor showers, but we never see comets or meteors in other star systems. All the flying things that pass across our line of view originate in the Kuiper Belt or from even farther out in the Oort Cloud.
However, once in a while, that whole paradigm is turned upside down. Recently, an object has entered the Solar System that scientists believe is from beyond our little place in the heavens. At first thought to be a comet, scientists now believe it is an asteroid whose trajectory indicates it came from outside our solar system, circled around the Sun and is heading back out to the way beyond, never to be seen again.
The object itself is called A/2017 U1 and was first discovered on October 19, 2017 by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on the Haleakala crater on the island of Maui.
Scientists have long believed such objects must exist but have never had an opportunity to observe one close up. This particular visitor will no longer be visible after the next few weeks and after that, it will leave the Solar System for good. Oh well, it's nice to see that it wanted to stop by and it is encouraging to know that even though it takes a long time, things can travel from another star.
Image courtesy of Nasa and the University of Hawaii. Click on the image for a much larger and detailed view:
Entry 5-319: November 15, 2017
Everybody knows about atoms and atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs. Those iconic images of mushroom clouds invoke unfathomable power. Atomic bombs use nuclear fission and hydrogen (or thermonuclear) bombs use nuclear fusion. Fusion reactors have been touted as one possible source of renewable, nearly inexhaustible energy drawn from water, of all places. Sounds very enticing, right?
Well, a group of scientists have put forward the theory that there may be a source of energy no less than ten times more powerful than nuclear fusion. They have postulated that there is a reaction when you fuse quarks together that releases an incomprehensible amount of energy. And you don't need specialized equipment to extract deuterium or tritium from seawater. All elementary particles are made of quarks. Splitting atoms up into quarks and then getting them to fuse is not something you can do in your basement, at least not today. Right now, you need something like the Large Hadron Collider operated by CERN but it has been done. The Higgs Boson was confirmed to exist three years ago. It is the fermion that actually carries the dimension of mass. You just need to smash matter together really, really hard and you get a shower of quarks and other subatomic particles.
So say we have an "easy" way to produce quarks. Turning this theoretical discussion into a functional reactor producing usable power is way, way off in the future, if ever. But still, the idea of limitless, free energy taken from ordinary matter is the stuff of science fiction. That is until it becomes science fact. After all, that is the reasoning behind the entire Rome’s Revolution universe. Once you have limitless, free energy, mankind can evolve and pursue tasks and discoveries without having to worry about paying for dinner each night.
Entry 5-331: November 27, 2017
Tesla's New Truck Part 1
Two days ago, I was discussing the 80/20 rule. I referenced the normal distribution or Gaussian distribution or you may know it as the Bell Curve. Yesterday, I flipped it around and talked about the 20/80 rule with regard to writing science fiction. But today I want to go back to a potentially revolutionary invention, created by Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors called the Tesla Semi. In the most simplistic terms, it is an all-electric version of an 18-wheeler or semi. First, you need to see a picture of this new vehicle to see how cool it looks:
There are so many elements to cover in understanding what a groundbreaking achievement this truck represents that I will have to split this article up into two pieces. Today, I will just tell you about this vehicle and tomorrow I will tell you how the 80/20 rule applies.
First, this heavy-duty truck runs on batteries, not gasoline. Of course, this is what you’d expect from Tesla. Second, it has a very clean, elegant interior with semi to completely autonomous driving capability. In this way, it is similar to cars built by Tesla but it also has the ability to link up with other Tesla Semis to form autonomous convoys.
I don’t imaging this will make truck drivers very happy to know that they can be replaced by a computer but I also suspect it will be a long time until the various states allow these trucks to be fully autonomous without a driver present.
The battery packs themselves are very heavy duty and will allow the truck to travel around 300 or 500 miles on a single charge and when they get to their destination, Tesla’s third generation Supercharger stations should have the truck ready to go in 30 minutes, well before it is even unloaded.
Imagine: an all-electric truck. No diesel fuel. No carbon emissions. Total cost of ownership vastly reduced. Plus this thing will accelerate to full speed, fully loaded, that is 0 – 60 mph in 20 seconds. That’s better than some people’s cars. Tomorrow, I’ll explain how the 80/20 rule applies.
Entry 5-337: December 3, 2017
A banana a day keeps the doctor away
We're going to take a quick break from Rome’s Revolution to talk about bananas:
Why? You ask. I am not violating any HIPAA laws if I voluntarily report my own medical condition. I take a diuretic called Lasix to reduce fluid retention. It works really well but I have to stick around the house for several hours after taking it because I have to run to the bathroom about 20 times. But after that passes, I'm fine.
However, one of the side effects of Lasix, also known as furosemide, is losing potassium. If you lose too much, the condition is called hypokalaemia which is just potassium deficiency. If you don't treat hypokalaemia, you can end up with severe headaches, leg cramps, tingling in the limbs, heart palpitations, constipation or ultimately death. Not a great outcome so best to act before it gets that bad.
My doctor suggested I eat a banana every day and I had my blood tested after a month and my potassium levels were fine. So there it is, a banana a day keeps the doctor away.
There are other foods higher in potassium such as avocado, acorn squash, spinach, sweet potato, salmon, apricots, pomegranate, coconut water and white beans. And I do try and eat those (well, not sweet potatoes or coconut water) when I can but they aren't very convenient. Try eating a bowl of spinach every morning.
My wife is kind enough to buy me a clump of bananas every week so from a sheer convenience perspective, that's it. I just grab one and eat it wherever. Easy peasy. I try and eat them when they are still a little greenish before all the starch turns to sugar but in a pinch, I'll eat a ripe one until the next batch comes in.
Oh yeah, I forgot one thing. They are delicious, too!
Entry 5-352: December 18, 2017
Is this Rama?
About a month and half ago, I wrote an article about a strange object that scientists detected as it was passing by our Earth. The object was originally called A/2017 U1 and was first discovered on October 19, 2017. It has since been renamed 'Oumuamua and last week, scientists trained the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia on the object to see if it was emanating any radio transmissions. Why would they do that? Just take a look at artist M. Kornmesser's rendition of what the object might look like:
(Image courtesy of M. Kornmesser/European Southern Observatory/AFP)
Does this look familiar? It should. It appears to be taken straight from Arthur C. Clarke's novel Rendezvous with Rama which was a story about an alien spacecraft that swings by our solar system. Rama was clearly artificial in origin and its only purpose was to attract technologically competent species and take them who knows where. Sort of an intergalactic Venus fly-trap or zoo keeper.
So far, the object has been silent. That doesn't mean it isn't artificial in nature but it doesn't mean it is, either.
The mission to "listen" to the object is part of the Breakthrough Listen initiative: a $100 million project, backed by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, to hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence. The project is also sponsored by Stephen Hawking to apply more sophisticated techniques to SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, that have been utilized previously.
Of course, had they found something, you would have heard about it by now. 'Oumuamua's unusual shape and trajectory are intriguing but certainly not out of the realm of possibility for a natural object. Most asteroids are spherical in shape so 'Oumuamua elongated appearance might just be odd or perhaps a proper interstellar spacecraft. Only time will tell but so far, not a peep. And we aren't quite up to sending an exploratory probe to an object leaving our solar system at 196,000 mph, nearly 27 miles per second.
I guess we'll have to wait for the next one. I suggest you read Rendezvous with Rama in the mean time to get ready.
Entry 5-359: December 25, 2017
A week ago, I reminded you that as we hit the home stretch for Tales of the Vuduri, I won't have time to truly flesh out all the Big Ideas I had for the novel The Milk Run. Instead, I am presenting some capsule summaries of the motivation behind a subset of those ideas. Today I wanted to talk about cyanoglobin versus hemoglobin. Why? My thinking was that not every planet would be iron-rich. I postulated that Hades, the Ice Planet, was copper-rich and iron-poor so that if life was going to evolve, it would have to make that part of its plans. Take a look at this chart showing the different types of blood (Chart courtesy of Andy Brunning and Compound Interest)
You can click on the image to get a zoomed-in version. Note the second block, entitled haemocyanin (the British spelling) which is the proper scientific term for cyanoglobin. This is the principle oxygen-carrying molecule in spiders, crustaceans, shrimp! and horseshoe crabs. According to the author, unlike hemoglobin, hemocyanin does not bind to blood cells but rather circulates freely in the blood. And just like hemoglobin, it is a different color, nearly clear, when it is devoid of oxygen and bright blue when fully oxygenated.
Another little tidbit that I found out is that while hemocyanin is only a quarter as efficient in transporting oxygen as hemoglobin, it performs better in cold environments with low oxygen pressure. Like under the sea or, you guessed, the ice planet Hades. We have a winner! According to Sean McGrath, "It is not that hemocyanin gets better at carrying oxygen at low temperatures; it is just that hemoglobin gets worse at low temperatures."
Since shrimp becomes an important theme later in the book and I worked with horseshoe crabs in graduate school, I thought I'd give them and their blue blood its due. You might be interested to know that the blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested and used in the treatment of bladder and prostate cancer. The hemocyanin contains a specific antigen that causes the human immune system to start making an antibody that also destroys tumor cells. Pretty neat, huh?
Entry 5-366: January 1, 2018
Hell doesn’t add up
Two weeks ago, I reminded you that as we hit the home stretch for Tales of the Vuduri, I won't have time to truly flesh out all the Big Ideas I had for the novel The Milk Run. Instead, I am presenting some capsule summaries of the motivation behind a subset of those ideas. Today I want to expound on my personal philosophy of doing good, doing bad and whether you can go to Hell. Mostly I am thinking of the Catholic/Dante's Inferno model of Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and Limbo.
It is my opinion that it is just plain silly to believe that a person is born and tested for, say, 70 years and depending upon the results of that test sent to Heaven or Hell for all of eternity. It seems so unbalanced. If there is a soul and we are judged, there has to be some way to balance the books after we move on. Here is MASAL's take on the whole issue:
MASAL sighed. “Everything is given a life and the way they live it is up to them. Whether they live a good life or bad by your measure, it’s their gain or loss. Contrary to what they told you, there is no one judging you. I suppose I did not spend my time as well as I could have. But there is no divine retribution. The gods upstairs…” MASAL emphasized his words by pointing up. “They simply don’t care.”
Aason looked somewhat disappointed as MASAL continued. “Look, Aason, there is no good. There is no bad. Up top, they just call it seasoning. It gives our souls better flavor. We’re nothing but nourishment for them.”
“So you’re saying there is no punishment for doing bad whatsoever? No, what’s the phrase, eternal damnation?”
“Of course not,” MASAL said. “Life is too short. What would the purpose be for endless damnation? The math doesn’t work out. Why would any creature come into existence and be tested for a few short years only to fall short and be tortured for eternity. That would be just plain silly, don’t you think?”
Aason shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything,” he said resignedly.
“Well, now you do. Life is given to all of us and what we make of it is our own business. When we die, some go right to the top. Some come here and wait but when we’re ready, we join the rest of all souls until the end of time.”
Even though I put this in a science fiction book, I truly believe this. I always thought about the murder/rapist who confesses on his deathbed going to heaven versus a philanthropist and humanitarian who spent his life doing good but missed his final confession and did not have last rites going to Hell was just plain wrong. But what do I know? I'm Jewish and we don't believe in Hell in the first place.
Read more in
Tales of the Vuduri: Year Five by Michael Brachman
TALES OF THE VUDURI: YEAR FIVE
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Copyright © 2018 by Michael Brachman
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