Monday, July 19, 2021

The Anti-vaxxers

     My mother shared a hospital room with a woman named Dot when they both gave birth, Dot to a daughter named Cynthia. They vowed their kids would share birthdays together, alternating between our home and theirs in our nearby Berkshire villages. Dot and her husband Howard, who had a woodworking business as did my Dad, became close friends over the years. Cynthia and I did, too.

    Dot and Howard had been childhood polio victims, and the disease had left them severely disfigured and impaired. One side of Dot’s face was paralyzed, though it never dimmed her crooked but genuine smile. Howard was hunchbacked with a twisted torso and one leg shorter than the other, though he never let his condition interfere with business or family life. He walked with an awkward lurching motion, often with the help of a forearm crutch (a walking cane with a forearm brace added).

     Widespread fear of polio was quite real throughout my early childhood. It was a terrible virus, paralyzing and killing seemingly at random, and like the current virus there was no immediate effective defense against it.

     Until Jonas Salk came up with a vaccine that could defeat it. There were no protests against using his vaccine. No reluctance. On the contrary, people were deeply grateful for it. They welcomed it and lionized Salk.

     In recent years, routine mandated polio vaccination of children had eradicated it from America and had reduced the disease worldwide to relatively few cases. If the polio virus could be deprived of all hosts for a period of time, it would at last go extinct planet-wide, so the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with other charities and agencies set out to achieve just that, spending millions in a comprehensive effort. But anti-vaxxers and religious objectors and African terrorist groups interfered, intimidating and even killing vaccinators, so the valiant effort eventually sputtered and failed.

     Leaving the polio monster alive and still lurking in the shadows. It’s on the prowl in several countries including Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. In some areas, cases are stealthily on the rise.

     One faction of the recent widespread lockdown protest movement, vehemently objecting to the very measures meant to save them from sickness and death, has been the anti-vaxxers, those who have chosen to deprive themselves—and worse, their children—of vaccinations in general. They are apparently willing to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of others to scourging diseases like the current deadly virus.

     I wish they could have met Dot and Howard, who would have given anything to have had access to the vaccine with the power to spare them from the horrors of polio, but which came too late for them.

     The world is facing a resurgence of killer Covid. Cases of the Delta variant are rising in every one of our 50 states, almost 100 percent among those who have chosen not to be vaccinated. President Biden said, “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated.” Yet anybody in America can get a vaccine free any time they want, unlike in so many other, poorer countries on the planet where people would gladly accept the vaccines to stop the severe sickening and the dying.

     If we do not want to go back into lockdowns and mandated masking, we must get vaccinated. If we want to eat out freely and take a cruise and travel and shop, we must get vaccinated. It’s as simple as that.

     I have a friend in management at Pfizer and he is deeply dismayed that after all the research and work and rigorous testing that produced one of the safest and most effective vaccines ever developed, people by the millions are refusing it. They’ve seen hundreds of their friends and family members and neighbors take the vaccines months ago with no ill effects, yet still they refuse.

     Please. Please help spread the word to get vaccinated. It can save so many lives and keep our economy healthy, too.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

Monday, July 12, 2021

Six-word short stories

     Ernest Hemingway, famous for his Spartan style, is credited with this semi-famous six-word story: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

     It’s a strong example of creative compression, inviting reader participation to flesh out the story, which all good fiction does.

     Here are a few six-word shorts I came up with:

Life                                                                  

Too young. Too busy. Too old.

Tragedy

Bought a gun. Sonny found it. 

DMV Statistics

One more drink. Four more dead.

Cell Addiction

Drove and texted. Carved in stone.

Parting

Married happily.  Money woes.  Lawyers richer.

Golden years

Growing old.  Looking back.  Shoulda dids.

Panic

:-))    :-)    :-o     :-/     :-<     !!!

Posture

Sat up straight.  On a thumbtack.

Native America

Chargoggagoogmanchoggaggoggchaubunagungamaugg. White people came. Webster Lake.

(The original Indian name for the lake, which is in Massachusetts near the Connecticut border is the longest place name in the United States.)

See if you can come up with a few shorts. It’s great practice for condensing. Most first drafts of any writing, fiction or non, can be cut down considerably, and always with beneficial effect.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

Check out my North Carolina series suspense novels on Amazon. Also see the latest stand-alone novel of Africa, Killing Ground. Easy buy links in print or Kindle through my website.

 

 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Have you heard of Benford's Law?

Simply stated, this law says that if you take any large group of multiple-digit numbers--U.S. city populations, numbers of arrests per year in multiple cities, vote counts in numerous American counties, the numbers of book buyers for the top 100 bestselling authors, even the number of fractions of seconds each note is held in a long piece of music--in short, any database of supposedly random numbers on any subject, the numbers will begin with 1 for 30% of the time. Moreover, more of the numbers will begin with 2 than 3, more will begin with 3 than 4, more will begin with 4 than 5, and so on through 9, which will begin a number sequence only 5% of the time. 

If you chart this with 1 through 9 on the X axis (horizontal) and each number's frequency of occurrence on the Y axis (vertical), you get a smooth downward-sloping curve called the Benford Curve.  Many, many statistical samplings of supposedly random numbers databases have borne this out consistently, and statisticians take the law into account in their work. This phenomenon has even been used to detect fraud if a given database does not follow the law.

Nobody knows why this law is true. 

It just is.

(Source: the "Connections" documentary series on Netflix)

Phil

Check out the popular suspense novel series set in the Great Smokies at www.philbowie.com

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

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.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

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.

Phil 

www.philbowie.com

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.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

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.

Phil

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.  www.philbowie.com


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?

Phil

www.philbowie.com

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.