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



    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.




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


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.



    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?


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.


   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

Monday, April 5, 2021

 Can we voyage to an alien star?

   The early colonists who voyaged here in fragile craft powered only by the wind could not have known what a mighty, complex, and advanced nation would grow from their daring adventures. Just over a century ago, the Wright Brothers, taking turns, powered themselves into the air in a precarious machine they crafted of wood and cloth and wires. They, too, could not possibly have imagined what their early ingenuity would become, with thousands of huge jet airliners routinely winging all around the planet and men walking on the moon and astronauts inhabiting a large orbiting space station where they carry out exotic science experiments.

   Such pioneers have explored every realm of our Earth and our solar system. The next quest—the next far horizon—is outer space and the beckoning stars. The nearest one beyond our sun is Proxima Centauri at just over four light years away. Because light travels at 186,000 miles per second, each light year spans six trillion miles, so Proxima Centauri and its orbiting planetary system float 25 trillion miles from us. That’s 25 thousand billion miles—a nearly inconceivable distance.

   But there are some space pioneers, like Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, who believe we can send a robotic probe on a voyage to Proxima Centauri and get back photos and science data from it just 20 years after launch. To do that it will have to accelerate to 20 percent of lightspeed (130 million mph). To achieve that, the craft must be very small to limit its mass and, like those early pioneers, it will rely on sail power, with systems power from an onboard atomic battery charged by radioactive decay. The sail will be pushed not by atmospheric currents, of course, but by laser light, a concept proven by a 2010 Japanese space mission named IKAROS that used photons from the sun to push a sail to 890 mph. Laser light will work even better than sunlight. Russian billionaire Yuri Milner has generously funded research to develop and refine the necessary technology, much of which is already within reach (consider the amazing high-quality photos we get from our tiny smartphone lenses).

   The project is called Starshot, and it’s well under way.

   Like the early pioneers and the clever Wright Brothers, we probably cannot begin to imagine what wonders Starshot will reveal to us.

   Or where in the Universe it will lead us over future generations.


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. In print or Kindle from Amazon, with an 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.

Monday, March 29, 2021

What Happened Before the Big Bang?

   A few centuries past, people thought the Universe was static. Then we invented better and better telescopes and finally eccentric astronomer Edwin Hubble found that star cities called galaxies exist, that everything out there is moving, and that galaxies are dispersing.

   So cosmic theory went from static to expansive with the logical probability that expansion ought to eventually slow down under gravitational attraction and then contract all the way back to a singularity that might again expand into a new Universe.

   But then we discovered that the Universal rate of expansion is not slowing at all but is instead accelerating under some strange unknown repulsive force we're calling dark energy, posing the prospect that the Universe we know and love is doomed to eventually cool, with star and planet formation slowing and eventually ceasing, and the whole grand show dying.

   We know our lives can't last forever and neither can our solar system because our private star only has a finite fuel supply and is already in middle age, having burned for 4.5 billion of our years. But to think the whole Universe also has a finite life with only utter darkness before and after is supremely depressing. It has been some 13.5 billion years since the Big Bang and maybe the Universe is middle aged or more, too.

   There has been a theory floating around that ours is just one of multiple parallel universes, but this is intuitively improbable and unsupported by any evidence whatever, lacking even credible theoretical support from various disciplines such as astronomy, mathematics, and physics.

   Leaving us with a profound question. We think we know the sad fate of our Universe, but what happened before the big bang birthed it?

   Some highly respected scientists believe they have a good idea.

   Sir Roger Penrose is a genius Oxford physicist, mathematician, and philosopher. He and several equally bright colleagues from various disciplines have developed a promising theory they call Conformable Cyclic Cosmology or CCC, which suggests there has been and will continue to be a succession of Universes, one after the other, each growing from a singularity and eventually dissipating. They call the whole process from birth to death an eon. Their theory says it's possible there has been eon after eon in the past before ours and there will be still more eons in never ending succession after ours is gone. There is both mathematical and geometric support for this theory, and there may even be hard evidence for it in physics. Part of the theory says that effects lingering from the previous eon to ours should be detectable.

   In 2002, a physics experiment called LIGO was set up in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana. to detect gravitational waves for fundamental studies. That has been a success. They found those waves with much deserved exuberant celebration. The experiment, however, also picked up signals thought to be mere noise, and this data was summarily discarded as unhelpful. But Sir Penrose suggested they take a closer look at the noise. The Universe has been thoroughly mapped by various means over the years and is known to have a filamentary structure of stars connecting clusters of galaxies. Our own Milky Way galaxy lives within a cluster called the Local Group. Here and there within this Universal structure there are odd patches empty of stars but filled with a mysterious magnetism. Sir Penrose suggests those areas may be leftover ingredients from the previous eon cycle.

   And that in turn suggests the good news that life itself may well regenerate and endure.


Check out the North Carolina suspense series GUNS, DIAMONDBACK, KLLRS, and DEATHSMAN on Amazon in print or Kindle. Find easy buy links on my website. And thanks to all those who have kindly sent me e-mails and posted reviews. You're the reason I do it.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Where Does the ISS Get its Water?

   Transporting enough water to the International Space Station for the astronauts to drink, rehydrate their food, keep them clean, and help them carry out science experiments would cost billions of dollars if it all had to be rocketed up to them. So, NASA has devised ingenious ways to recycle 90 percent of the supply they have. Their perspiration, urine, and even their moist exhalations are captured, treated. and stored as fresh water for reuse over and over. (The rest is sent to them in resupply ships.)

   Sounds kind of gross, doesn’t it?

   But our Spaceship Earth also only has pretty much the same finite supply of water she was born with billions of years ago. She must also carry out endless recycling of that supply.

   Water hardly ever gets destroyed. It only changes form, of course, from liquid to vapor or solids like snow and hail and ice, which, except for permanent ancient ice at the poles, melts with seasonal change. The liquid evaporates into clouds, leaving behind any contaminants it had carried, and the clouds then kindly return it as a clean liquid once again.

   We’re all drinking water molecules that have had a complicated and often even a sordid past, from washing cars to hosing out gutters to putting out fires to nourishing billions of plants and animals and other humans. It’s nature’s best solvent and balm, with nearly uncountable thousands upon thousands of critical uses.

   From space, our planet looks like a beautiful water world with vast oceans far bigger than the verdant land masses, but most of that water is salty and thus undrinkable. Only three percent of the supply is fresh, and only just over one percent is drinkable without further treatment. mostly because we constantly pollute our rivers and lakes and atmosphere so badly.

   The astronauts on the ISS respect their supply of water as the precious resource it is. They know they can’t live without it.

   I think maybe more of us here on Spaceship Earth need to adopt that same attitude.


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. The yarns are available in print or Kindle from Amazon, with an easy buy link on my website. Thanks to all those who’ve reviewed the series favorably on Amazon and kindly sent me notes and emails. You’re much appreciated.

Monday, March 15, 2021

 It’s About Time (again) 

     Like the periodic debate over whether to abolish the electoral college, which pops up every four years just before a presidential election but is forgotten just after the election, a debate over whether to simply keep daylight savings pops up every year before the time change but is forgotten just after the change until the next cycle. This year some states are saying the heck with all that and are electing to keep daylight savings year round.

     This brings up a question, though. What time is it ever, really?

     Turns out that depends on many things.

     Military people count time quite sensibly, as minutes and seconds within 24 of our hours.  

For them, 2:20 in the afternoon is simply 1420.  The rest of us are often unsure whether someone means before or after noon when they suggest a time to rendezvous for romance.  And time is always different for all the zones around the globe, of course.  It must be confusing for those poor folks near a time zone border who live on one side and work on the other.  They could get to work at a time before they left home, for example. 

     We divide our year arbitrarily into 12 months, but what is a year?  For us, it’s one trip around our star, or about 365 days, and a day, of course, is one earth rotation.  But on Mars a year is 687 of our days, and a single day on Venus is 243 of our days, but a day on Jupiter is only 10 of our hours.  A year on Uranus lasts over 84 of our years, on Pluto it’s 165 of our years.  Nobody on Earth can live so much as a single Pluto year even if they drink veggie smoothies and don’t watch politicians debate or Congress attempt to legislate something.

     It takes our star about two minutes to rise and clear the horizon; in other words it appears to move its own diameter in 2.13 of our minutes.  But on Mars sunrise takes 1.44 of our minutes, on Mercury it’s 16.13 of our hours, while for a maximum type-A Neptunian, it’s but 2.85 Earth-seconds.  Yet of course the sun is not really moving at all in relation to any of us.

     All this was hard enough to sort out, but then along came that electric-haired Einstein who, one of our centuries ago, told us in his relativity theory—long since now a proven fact—that time is not a constant and is really quite unreliable because it moves slower under increasing gravity or under increasing speed.  Near the speed of light (186,000 miles in a single one of our Earth-seconds) time nearly brakes to a relative stop.  This means that time moves a little slower for somebody standing at our equator, zipping along at 1,100 miles per hour as the earth rotates, than for somebody standing on the north pole, who is only turning around in place as the earth rotates (you’d think they’d get dizzy), but astronauts on the ISS are in an even slower relative time frame because they’re doing 17,150 mph to keep from falling onto Disney World or New Jersey.  But wait just an Earth-minute, they’re in zero gravity so they also experience a faster time factor.  Luckily, all their time variations don’t work out to zero or they’d never get anything done.  They’re already wasting enough of whatever their time frame is playing with their weightless food and beverages.

     On some huge dervishing distant planet, a hundred of our years unfold while only a single minute elapses for us.  Wow.  Imagine how THOSE poor creatures would feel waiting in line at the DMV. 

     And consider the geniuses who figured out how to make the GPS system work.  The satellites are speeding so their time slows down by our Earth-based reckoning.  They’re in elliptical orbits so their distances from earth and their speeds are constantly varying too, so . . .  Anyway, those clever GPS math wizards had to accommodate half a dozen different time-shifting gremlins just so you can find your way to the World’s Biggest Gator Attraction somewhere in Florida before you run out of ethanoled gas.

     The next, ah, time somebody asks you the time, it’s okay if you tell them you honestly don’t know and nobody else in the whole Universe does either.


If you're looking for an interesting way to pass some leisure time, check out the North Carolina suspense novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman in print or Kindle on Amazon for some distracting pandemic reading. And thanks to all those out there who have sent complimentary and encouraging e-mails about the series. You’re much appreciated.

Monday, March 8, 2021

 Why Go to Space? (Part Two)

   Last post we thought about why the space effort can ultimately prove critical to humankind’s survival in the Universe. But there are hundreds of other ways space program developments are already benefiting us. Here are just a few:

   Improvements in Mechanics: magnetic bearings that eliminate friction and thus wear; plasma coatings that eliminate lubricants in moving parts; laser-based welding that’s stronger and more uniform; micro lasers for precision drilling and cutting materials; structural analysis software that’s used extensively in manufacturing; cleaner paint stripping methods; weight reduction materials with increased strength.

   Medical and Safety Advances: a voice-controlled wheelchair, ultrasound skin damage assessment; emergency rescue cutters; a self-righting life raft; personal medical alarms; a tollbooth purification system to protect workers; better environmental sensors; an enriched baby food ingredient to enhance infant mental and physical development; improved swimming pool purification; a miniature programmable pacemaker; safer ocular screening for children; a digital imaging breast biopsy procedure that greatly reduces pain and scarring; a fast automated urinalysis system.

High tech advances: highly efficient telemetry systems; semiconductor stacking for faster processing speeds; computer scheduling of complex tasks; scratch resistant and stay-clean lens coatings; interactive computer training methods.

Improved Environmental Systems: great solar energy advances; a device for continuously measuring atmospheric pressure; satellite weather monitoring; satellite scanning for forest management; a more accurate lightning warning device; much improved air quality monitors.

Miscellaneous fields: improved school bus chassis design; a flywheel energy storage system;  advances in hydroponics for better global vegetable production; a stronger wing design for jet aircraft along with cleaner, quieter, and more efficient jet engines; studless winter tires; much improved 12v portable coolers and heaters for campers, truckers, and medical transport; improved golf ball aerodynamics.

    These are but a few of the advances in almost every field of human endeavor that have spun off from the space program, with more to surely come.

    When we send a rover like Perseverance to Mars, for one stellar example, it needs the best solar energy system we can invent, it need stronger, lighter materials, it needs long endurance, it needs advanced robotics, it needs bearings that won’t wear out under the harshest conditions, it needs advanced cameras and telemetry. Developing new materials and products and systems to meet all these many requirements means much of that vastly improved technology can also be put to work right here at home in myriad ways.

    Does anybody still think the Space Program is a wasted effort?


Check out the North Carolina suspense novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman in print or Kindle on Amazon for some distracting pandemic reading. And thanks to all those out there who have sent complimentary and encouraging e-mails about the series. You’re much appreciated.


Monday, March 1, 2021

 Why Go to Space?    

   We recently witnessed the culmination of a stupendous scientific achievement when NASA landed the car-sized rover Perseverance on a rugged area of cold and distant Mars. Now the exciting exploration phase begins. We may even find proof that life once existed there.

   Such missions always bring out the Space Scoffers who argue that we shouldn’t be spending so much to explore space when we have so many dire problems right here on Earth. Why, they ask, are we doing such worthless stuff?

   Why do these scoffers never mention the trillions squandered on our massive military complex that benefits mankind not at all? The staggering 2021 defense budget is $705 billion, yet few question that. The 2021 NASA budget is $23.3 billion, only three percent of what defense is costing us.

   When we first went to the Moon one of the astronauts took a picture of Earth with the desolate alien horizon in the foreground. That photo changed mankind’s collective thinking. It was striking and deeply moving. A small sphere impossibly floating in the blackness of space, and so incredibly beautiful. There were no color-coded nations, no artificial boundaries, only verdant continents and vast cobalt blue oceans and pristine cloud veils. We saw our planet for what it is—a precious home in the hostile cold and the stellar violence and the lonely vastness.

   That astonishing photo had a profound effect. What followed were the beginnings of efforts to preserve and protect our home. The EPA, the NOAA, and annual Earth Day were founded. We banned leaded gas. Congress passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The fledgling environmental movement suddenly grew up and became serious. Many nations joined in. The whole Moon program was worth it for these initiatives alone.

   Of course, we still have major problems with pollution and climate change and explosive population growth and poverty and inequality. And we do need to fix all that, which good people are trying their best to do.

   But only the space program will ultimately save us a few hundred or a thousand years from now. And it will do that with what we're just beginning to learn.

   The Moon was a steppingstone. Mars will be another "giant leap" for mankind. Right now, our species is confined to this vulnerable planet. An asteroid strike, a nuclear exchange, or a virus far more deadly than Covid all have the potential to decimate us. Outposts on the Moon and Mars could be our lifeboats, preserving enough of us so that one day, after the effects of some such catastrophe dissipate, we could re-seed Earth with our kind. No more reasons for taking these steps are necessary, yet as with the Moon program, we are sure to reap an additional incidental bounty of scientific knowledge along the way to Mars. (More about that next week.)

   One unarguable fact looms over all of this. Our star, the sun, cannot last forever. This is true because it only has a finite amount of fuel and it is already middle aged. It does not have to die in order to make our planet uninhabitable. It only needs to shift a fraction either way in its output over time to kill us off.

   The space effort is in its infancy. One day we’ll have to migrate over several generations to some young habitable planet orbiting a young healthy star, or our species will vanish from the Universe. We cannot hope to do that without first learning how. We’re taking the first tentative steps toward that goal.

   The Moon and Mars are teaching us.

   We might compare the space effort to the history of flight. It was just over a century ago that the Wright Brothers took to the sky in their fragile homemade biplane and look what has happened in aviation since. Nobody could have foreseen just how important air travel would become. The current Mars missions, wondrous as they are, only represent the beginnings of what will become an even grander adventure—our migration out among the stars.


Check out the North Carolina suspense novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman in print or Kindle on Amazon for some distracting pandemic reading. Judging from reviews and e-mails, people seem to really like the yarns.

Monday, February 22, 2021

A Staggering Statistic 

   We’re more than a year into this terrible pandemic with half a million American deaths from it.

   That’s a sobering, staggering statistic. It's more than the American combat deaths in World War One, World War Two, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined. Difficult to comprehend.

   STILL far too many people are not masking or distancing and are thus putting themselves and others at grave risk.

   But an even more troubling fact is the refusal of so many among us to accept the free vaccines. Sorry, but I just don’t understand this. We’re told by those who certainly ought to know, like respected Dr. Fauci, that the vaccines are safe and highly effective. They represent some of the most successful scientific achievements ever.

   Naomi and I have had both shots and are deeply thankful for them. Side effects were minimal for both of us. We’ll continue to take all precautions for several reasons, including the troubling recent news about virus variants.

   Please consider accepting this life-saving measure when it’s your turn.




Monday, February 15, 2021

A Skirmish in the Covid Battle

   Early on, as the Covid menace loomed ever larger and began killing thousands around the globe and all across America, the North Carolina Piedmont Authors Network saw the dire need for financial relief in many areas of society and decided to do something about it.

    The result became an independently published anthology with all proceeds channeling through the Book Industry Charitable Foundation to people in urgent need. Thirty-seven authors, including award winners and New York Times bestsellers, donated quality essays, letters, and fictional tales in fascinating variety to the effort, which is now available in print or Kindle as Writers Crushing Covid-19.  Some of the pieces have to do with the pandemic and personal loss. Many other pieces serve as excellent distracting reading that will amuse, enlighten, and satisfy any reader. I’m proud to have a modest tale of my own included, which earlier took second place in a UK short story contest against some stiff competition.

    As neighbor helps neighbor in the ongoing battle against this common invisible enemy that has sickened and killed so many of us, you can play a part in the fight if you’ll buy your own anthology copy. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll be contributing in a fine grass roots effort to help our fellow Americans.

    Here's a link to make ordering easy:

    Please spread the word.


Virus numbers are declining, but please keep masking and distancing. The fight is far from over.


Monday, February 8, 2021

A dozen Tips from the Top      

Just write your story, the one you know that you would like to read.  Michael Connelly

“I write exclusively for the reader. I’m not interested in winning prizes or critical acclaim. I just want to give readers a few good days of entertainment.”  Lee Child

 “Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.”  Daphne Du Maurier

“In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”   Stephen King

“I don’t get writer’s block because I don’t believe in it. I believe you sit in front of the computer and force your fingers to get something on the screen.  Janet Evanovich

“The most important thing in writing is to have written. I can always fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one.  Nora Roberts

 “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”   Anne Sexton


 “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”  G. K. Chesterton

 “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”    George Orwell

 “Nothing but deadly determination enables me to ever write—it is rowing against wind and tide.

       —Harriet Beecher Stowe

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”  —Jack London

 “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”Robert Frost

Phil Check out the NC suspense series.

Please mask up and distance until we get out of the dark Pandemic Woods.