Monday, May 24, 2021

Real Leadership

    Many people still ask, “Why spend money on space when we have so many dire problems here on Earth?”

    At the least, the space effort has resulted in thousands of beneficial fallout tech and science advances. Moreover, it is early efforts in what will surely be an attempt to save our whole species by migrating over time to a new young planet when our sun can no longer sustain us. What could be more important?

    The really big waste of money, time, and resources is the massive military budget. Last year it was $686 billion (compared to the NASA budget of $22.6 billion). We're the only nation on the planet that maintains a global military presence of 800 bases in 70 countries. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. How would we feel if Russia or China had bases in Mexico and Cuba and Canada and patrolled our coasts with their carriers? One carrier costs $13 billion, by the way, and they want a dozen more. The waste is blatant and pervasive. The vast complex has grown out of control and there's no end in sight. Year after year we just tolerate it. For what? There is nothing that advances humankind in it. Nothing productive or uplifting.

    I recently watched a 1964 YouTube CBS documentary tiled "D Day plus 20 years." In it, newscaster Walter Cronkite and Eisenhower talk about Ike's recollections of the Normandy invasion. It's a fascinating portrait. He knew an amazing wealth of detail and took his tremendous responsibilities as the Allied Supreme Commander most seriously. The troops loved him and fought hard for him. We should be forever thankful they did. It could be a very different world now had they not. They deserve our refreshed respect as we approach Memorial Day 2021.

    In the video, Walt and Ike are alone, no big entourage, no limousines, no teleprompters, no flags. Ike drives a simple open Jeep himself and Walt takes a turn at the wheel, sometimes in the rain. Show me any president among the past half dozen who would have done the same. (Although Joe Biden might; he’s done pretty well by us thus far.) Ike is self-effacing but knowledgeable, giving full credit to those who served under him, and the steel in his spine is evident. His off-the-cuff message at the end of the documentary, while they’re visiting one of the several large cemeteries behind the invasion beaches, is deeply moving.

    He was a great American leader who even back then warned us about the pervasive encroachment and increasingly high cost of the bloated military-industrial complex.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

The thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts can be yours in print or Kindle from Amazon. (Easy buy link on my website.)

 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Stunning Cosmic Fireworks

    Everybody loves fireworks, but what many don’t realize is the Universe is putting on its own show nightly. It’s free and far surpasses Disney in splendor.

    The show is performed by dozens of nebulae. For some of them it’s bittersweet because they were created by dying stars along with whatever attendant planets they had. We can spot a few of them with the naked eye as faint smudges, like the famous one in Orion’s sword. With even a small backyard telescope they come alive in swirling, streaming colors and myriad shapes. With more powerful scopes they’re breathtaking. I was fortunate to view several through a large scope on an astronomy trip to the dry Atacama Desert in Chile a few years back, sights I will not forget. Hubble has shot spectacular images of many you can view online. Enlarged prints make excellent abstract art to decorate a home or office.     

    Some resemble creatures, like the stunning Butterfly Nebula, the Horsehead, the Oyster, the Lion, the Owl, the Turtle, the Tarantula, the Robin’s Egg, the Pelican, and the Cat’s Eye. Others evoke whimsy, like the Bow Tie, the Little Gem, the Dumbbell, the Little Dumbbell, the Double Bubble, and the Blue Snowball. Some have names drawn from legend or myth, like Cleopatra’s Eye, the Medusa, the Crystal Ball, and the Ghost of Jupiter. There’s even one called the North America Nebula that resembles our continent remarkably well.

     One of my favorites is the beautiful Veil Nebula, appropriately in graceful Cygnus, the Swan constellation. It’s the 50-light-years-long (that's 300 trillion miles long) remnant of a great supernova—the explosion of a giant star 20 times the mass of our Sun. It looks as though it’s drifting on a soft evening breeze.

    There’s a primeval hopeful aspect to a few of these grand displays because they’re vast molecular clouds of dust and gas that are nurseries where new stars and their planets are being born—whole new solar systems like ours, some that may ultimately harbor life.

    The nebulae are brilliant reminders that we, ourselves, are children of some long-ago cataclysm that forged many of the molecules needed to build the dazzling blue planet we call Home.

    We’re all made of star stuff from the perpetual fireworks display that illuminates the cosmic night.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

The thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts can be yours in print or Kindle from Amazon. (Easy buy link on my website.)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Remembering Mom

    May ninth was the day we set aside to remember and honor the women who gave us the greatest possible gift of life itself and guided us through all our formative years. My Mom was Edith Chapin Caughey, one of eight children born and raised in Waltham, Massachusetts.

    Dad’s first wife, Marion, died giving birth to their daughter, Nancy. Mom often cared for Nancy while Dad worked. They became close, soon married, and I was born a year later.

    We moved west to Northampton, Mass., when Dad took a job teaching in a trade school. We lived in a two-story house next to a gas station. The first floor had been a fish market when Dad bought the building. He remodeled it into a rental apartment, and we lived upstairs.

    Mom took a job as a reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Over the years, she interviewed Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote news articles of all kinds, and reviewed plays at a nearby mountainside theater. Dad began a woodworking shop in 1945 in half of a rented two-car garage, designing and making prototype store displays for products like Ace Combs and Wearever fountain pens.

    In 1949, when I was ten, Dad and my maternal grandfather, John, built a home for us in the village of Williamsburg, Mass., and we moved that fall. Mom retired from her reporter job and began freelancing for New England Homestead magazine and other publications.

    Mom, Dad, and sister Nancy all taught Sunday school in the village church. I remember Mom preparing lessons using an easel and a felt board, cutting out biblical scenes from different colors of felt. In her lessons, she’d change the story scenes by laying up onto the tilted board different cutouts of landscapes and palm trees and silhouette people. She often baked for the church suppers that were some of the finest I’ve ever had.

    Mom kindled my early interest in books by reading to me Heidi, Brer Rabbit, and other engrossing tales, as she did for other village children in our small stone library. Later, with her encouragement, I devoured the Zane Gray books and the works of Mark Twain. Early on, she urged me to write the best I could for English classes, and she always gently corrected my grammar in conversations at the dinner table.

    She always stood by her family until her death much too early at 59. She’s an ineradicable part of who I am, and I’ve been proud to follow her excellent example as a lifelong freelancer myself, which has given me many rewarding experiences and enriched my life.

    Thanks, Mom.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

The thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the misty folds of the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts, can be yours in print or Kindle from Amazon (Easy buy link on my website.)

Thanks to all those who’ve reviewed the series favorably on Amazon and kindly sent notes a

e-mails. You’re much appreciated

Monday, May 3, 2021

Our Nearly Anonymous Neighbors

    We share the North American Continent with two large neighbors bordering us, yet most Americans know little or nothing about either nation because they’re hardly ever in our news. Mexico is of course notorious for the dominance of their drug cartels and the resultant political corruption. But I suspect the majority of its citizens are just like the average American, good people who never make the news and are only trying to live a responsible and rewarding life.

    I’ve been to both nations on brief vacation visits and was sent to Canada once to do a job. Outside the major cities like Toronto and Montreal, the atmosphere is frontier-like, and I found the people warm and friendly.

    I visited Cozumel and Costa Maya on a cruise, but those are tourist-heavy places I’m sure don’t represent the average Mexican experience. I love the food and their music, and I’m slowly learning Spanish through the fun online site Duolingo.

    Both nations have popular exhibits at Disneyland’s excellent Epcot World Showcase, and I’ve visited them with much interest several times.

    Canada probably intrigues me most of the two because it’s closer to New England where I grew up. I can tell you the Canadian side of Niagara Falls is a lot cleaner and more attractive than our side. Dad drove our family to New Brunswick on one vacation and the seacoast was spectacular, as is the coast of Nova Scotia. I’m told the Canadian Rockies are majestically beautiful.

    Some facts about our large cool neighbor to the north:

    We share the world’s longest international border at 5,525 miles, and it’s undefended by either military.

     Despite having only 11 percent of our population—fewer people than live in Tokyo’s metropolitan area—Canada is bigger than us, second only to Russia, and has the longest coastline on the planet at 151,000 miles. It has more lakes than all the other nations on Earth combined. They have the third largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

    Canadians are the world’s most educated; nearly half of their adults hold college degrees. They were the third nation in space after Russia and America.


    The Trans-Canada Highway is 4,860 miles long, running through all 10 provinces from St.

Johns, Newfoundland, on the East Coast to Vancouver Island on the West Coast. I’ve

always wanted to do it on a motorcycle. Vast areas of the northern regions have no roads at all

and depend on bush planes for supplies. Some extreme northern regions can have snow year

round.

 

    The northern reaches are frigid. Drivers in Churchill leave their vehicles unlocked to offer

escape to anyone confronting a polar bear. In Newfoundland, people sometimes play hockey on

frozen ocean bays.

 

    Canada has been our staunch ally in major conflicts. After Pearl Harbor, they declared war on

Japan before we did.

 

    Overall, Canadians seem to hold America and its people in high regard. Maybe it’s time we

 returned that admiration and affection.


Phil

www.philbowie.,com

 

The suspense novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the misty folds of the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts, can be had in print or Kindle from Amazon (Easy buy link on my website.)

Thanks to all those who’ve reviewed the series favorably on Amazon and kindly sent notes and

e-mails.

Monday, April 26, 2021

 Exponential innovation

 

     Think of the many innovations that we’ve seen in just the last few decades that have become commonplace or nearly so and been quickly taken for granted.  Phones that contain all the wisdom and information once confined to vast libraries, that can talk to us, that can take crisp photos, and that can communicate globally—true pocket computers.  Large inexpensive TVs with access to hundreds of channels and resolution that rivals a picture window.  Three-D printers that can make everything from rare antique car parts to human body parts.  Cars that know how to keep to a traffic lane and maintain a safe interval to a vehicle ahead and let us see for backing up and make independent emergency stops and parallel park all by themselves.  New drugs that effectively fight previously incurable ailments.

 

     The pace of invention has been growing exponentially, so what can we expect in the near decades to come?  Scientists and professionals in many fields are predicting robots that will soon perform daily chores tirelessly, smart kitchens that will make cooking easier and even keep track of our nutrition and calorie intake.  Automatic beds that will adjust positions for optimum comfort and sleep. Smart homes that will automatically adjust room lighting and temperatures to suit our moods and physical needs; homes that will be more secure and have many more integrated features to optimize our comfort.  Microneedle patches that will inject needed drug doses painlessly.  A shirt that can administer CPR, and prosthetics that will help the severely disabled walk. Devices that will let the blind see and the deaf hear.  Efficient and non-polluting vehicles.  Electric bicycles for cities, quieter aircraft, better and faster ground public transport.

 

     Many previously undreamed-of innovations are only just now emerging from our brightest minds.

 

     As writers, let’s hope people will still want stories that entertain, inspire, intrigue, enlighten, and entertain them.  They always have and I’m betting they always will.

 

Phil

www.philbowie.com

    The thriller series novels Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the misty folds of the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts, are available In print or Kindle from Amazon (Easy buy link on my website.)

   Thanks to all those who’ve reviewed the series favorably and to readers who've kindly sent notes and e-mails. You’re much appreciated.




 

Monday, April 19, 2021

What could AI become in future generations?

     We lost one of our great scientific and philosophical minds not long ago. Before he left us, Stephen Hawking gave us a warning about the encroachment of artificial intelligence (AI), which has already almost imperceptibly worked its way into our society and taken control of several aspects of our lives. Robots build our cars and even perform delicate precision surgeries. GPS can guide us to any destination (I call the one in my car Daisy). Giant server facilities store all our information down to our finances and what brands of underwear we prefer and what we eat and what we watch on TV.

     Our cars can keep us safely in our lanes and hold a preset interval to the next vehicle ahead and even parallel park themselves, and driverless cars are appearing on our roads. Our computers converse with us and store and manage all our knowledge; a library at NC State University can robotically store and retrieve thousands of requested old-fashioned printed books.

     There are computers that can fly and land giant airplanes and conduct experiments and perform exhaustive flawless calculations and create perfect simulations and control complex space missions and beat us at chess and even grow smarter by themselves over time with what is being called deep learning, which mimics the human learning process. We’ve become addicted to our smart phones and laptops and tablets and PCs and we’re heavily dependent on the Internet.

     In China, Xiaoice (pronounced Shau-ice) is a national celebrity. She’s a guest on talk shows, sings popular songs beautifully, and acts as a personal advisor and confidant to millions. She’s taken part in billions of conversations as people who consider her a personal friend seriously seek her advice, confess their deepest secrets to her, and value her counsel.

    Xiaoice, however, is not human. She’s a software program created by Microsoft. She can flirt, make jokes, even identify photos. The Chinese love her.

     Other software programs can best humans with their expertise. Alexa knows far more than any human and instantly comes up with the correct answer to almost any legitimate question you could possibly ask her. Google translator is precise and lightning fast. LipNet can read lips faster and with more accuracy than a person can. (Hmmm. Could a protagonist in a story use this program to spy on a villain? With a zoom lens, she could take a video from distant concealment and then have the software read it to learn the villain’s evil intentions, perhaps.)

     Lots of fodder for sci-fi writers.

     Hawking’s warning may become all too real when computers soon reach the stage where they begin to teach themselves more and more knowledge at exponential rates. It’s an ever-steepening upward curve. The more they know the more quickly they’ll be able to learn anew, without fatigue or the need for sleep, with inhuman logic and precision, with unlimited instant storage and retrieval, without self-distorting emotions, ultimately with levels of intelligence far in excess of ours. Elon Musk has also suggested we move into this AI realm with caution.

     Will AI devices begin making autonomous decisions about all things, including the human presence in what they might well consider their world?

Phil

www.philbowie.com

For some exiting reading, try the thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the misty folds of the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts. Available in print or Kindle from Amazon.

 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Forgotten Space Missions

    Since its establishment in 1958, NASA has sponsored over 200 space programs, some involving dozens of individual launches, like the Space Shuttle series of 135 missions that built the ISS and put the famous Hubble and other space telescopes in orbit to reveal new wonders of the Universe in stunning detail. A series of huge Saturn V rockets thundered aloft from Florida to place two men on the moon half a century ago and took ten more daring adventurers there in following missions. Satellite launch missions have given us critical weather and geography data and communications and GPS technology we’ve all come to rely on heavily in everyday life. Robotic explorations of all our star’s planets have yielded astonishing details about how our solar system formed and has evolved.

    But there have been so many hundreds of missions that most have faded from the public consciousness despite their considerable revelations and contributions. Programs like the X-Planes, Pioneer, Mariner, Galileo, and Cassini-Huygens have passed into history as each has added priceless knowledge to our collective mind bank, each building more experience and breeding new ideas and providing valuable fallout science that has benefited humanity in myriad practical ways right here on Earth. Two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977, after performing flawless tours of the outer planets and sending back revealing images, have streaked out of the solar system into interstellar space, but are still sending back faint data streams as they speed toward alien stars.

    Many missions, especially in recent years, have focused on Mars with a view to one day sending astronauts there. Perseverance and its tiny drone have been in the news lately with yet more astonishing data on the red planet. There’s a related forgotten mission that celebrated its 20th anniversary last week. Odyssey launched on April 7, 2001, and after a seven-month journey, it began orbiting Mars and sending back a wealth of data. It's still operational. It has created the most accurate map of the entire planet to date, photographing and measuring every feature and charting in detail all the existing surface water ice and ice deposits that lie not far beneath the surface. This will be critical to personed missions, because they'll need that water to survive and it means much less will have to be carried with them. It can produce breathing oxygen and be converted to rocket fuel and to rover propulsion fuel. It can nourish indoor gardens and serve as a solvent for all kinds of chemistry.

    We’ve never stopped learning about the vast Universe we live in, and a portion of that knowledge will soon help send astronauts on the greatest adventure of all time.

    The exploration of another world.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

   The thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the misty folds of the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts, is available in print or Kindle from Amazon (Easy buy link on my website.)

   Thanks to all those who’ve reviewed the series favorably on Amazon and kindly sent notes and e-mails. You’re much appreciated