Peers

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From: Prill - DepositPhotos.com

From: Prill – DepositPhotos.com

This past week, I was impaneled with 11 other individuals to render an impartial verdict in a criminal homicide case.

Like most folks, a summons for jury duty is akin to a traffic violation; getting out of it requires an act of God, or proof of death. Endless humor with clever repertoire on the internet will keep you laughing for hours about people who try to get out of it. I joined fifty other people in a cramped room, wearing the equivalent of “I’m a Juror” button so courthouse security can ensure you find your way to the right place and keep you from slipping out the back door. We waited the requisite hours for the usual legal wrangling of compiling juror lists, asking questions like are you generally inclined to believe testimony of authorities or civilians, calls to the bench … crossing legs because bladders had objections overruled. I became juror number six.

I can’t speak for those impaneled in a civil case, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to becoming enraptured by the process, and mostly, the people. As a writer, we crave real-life examples of human behavior to color our fictional characters. Four days and long hours enmeshed with fellow humans from all walks of life, I wondered if the term “peers” made sense anymore.

The system loosely follows an ancient Greek process that utilizes a “Jury of Peers,” which implies a person who is equal to another in abilities, qualifications, age, background, and social status (Dictionary.com). Not too many decades ago, we the people, lived more or less in accordance to village norms. A degree of personality variation existed, but local life and town belief systems heavily influenced folks. Expression of individuality and behavior was best left in the privacy of one’s home.

Our villages are no longer local. Today, we live in a globally influenced, kaleidoscope of diversity and independent thought. Expression of individual core values is the new norm. I found no better example than serving with eleven fellow jurors. At first, I thought our consensus building similar to the 1957 classic, Twelve Angry Men, a film selected in 2007 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” (Source: Wikipedia). If I were to rename it for today’s times, it would be Twelve Diverse Freethinking Individuals, who viewed life from many contrasting perspectives.

During the trial phase, we listened and made notes. We’re not allowed to discuss the case until it’s over. Breaks and unscheduled recesses gave us time to get acquainted, learn about families, work life, hobbies, and opinions of current events, almost as if we were at a backyard BBQ, enjoying the company of newly made friends. Deliberation turned it all upside down.

Individual core values were challenged. Belief structures erected walls against compromise. Faces crimsoned. Tears fell. It went beyond the simple emotional range portrayed in Pixar’s wonderful movie, Inside Out. I believe we the jury, hit 95% of Ackerman/Puglisi’s table of contents with their Emotion Thesaurus of Character Expressions, each of us holding on to the flag of our convictions as if we were the last fort to fall.

Fourteen hours.

The silence as we all signed the ballot felt as if each of us had lost a loved one. Some of us expressed sentiments of never doing it again.

When it was all over, tired from baring our souls to eleven strangers, we reconciled, shook hands, embraced, and went home, likely to not see each other again. I hate to admit it, a year from now, I’ll probably forget their names, but I will never forget their faces, or their passion. In my parting farewell, I told them it was an honor to serve on a jury with them, and that it had made me a better man for it.

What have I learned?

We are not peers.

We are freethinking individuals who see things with different colored spectacles, formed and cemented by diverse backgrounds, abilities, qualifications, age, and social status. We’re no longer prisoners of village mentality. At times, we have to set aside our sometimes canyon-wide differences to find answers.

From: YarKova - DepositPhotos.com

From: YarKova – DepositPhotos.com

Needless to say, I have enough cannon fodder to fuel characterization for several novels, and I mean it in a positive way.

Very few countries in the world employ a jury of civilian individuals in criminal cases anymore. Some countries that once had it, discarded the process as easily biased by external factors. Our American system of justice was founded on core principals of ensuring everyone receives due process not influenced by government authority. It hasn’t been perfect through the years, but it’s still best shot at fairness. Never thought I’d rally for the cause, given my own prior attitude at the inconvenience, but if you get the call to serve on a jury, take it seriously, and do your civic duty. A person’s livelihood or life may depend on it.

If you like this article, show the love and like it back.  Feel free to let me know what you think about your fellow “peers”.

Message in a Bottle

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From: DepositPhotos.com

From: DepositPhotos.com

It’s been an interesting year for SETI and enthusiasts of the famous Wow Signal, which to this day, remains an unresolved enigma. For those unfamiliar with it, a SETI researcher monitoring signals from the cosmos, picked-up a massive radio spike in 1977 that lasted 70 seconds, then never repeated. It became a seed for Carl Sagan’s tale, Contact. Updated technology detecting similar RFBs (rapidly fired bursts) in recent months, along with the Kepler Telescopic discovery of earth-like exoplanets, has rekindled an interest of our place in the universe.

We go through sinusoidal periods of interest, maxing with news of unique cosmic events, bottoming when reality pundits fire-hose SETI as fanatics wasting money and time. The latest Pluto flyby spiked a minor media frenzy (I use that word lightly). Announced on the anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing, a Russian billionaire is now trying to breathe life into the search with a new cosmic dragnet, called Breakthrough Listen, which attracted even Stephen Hawking’s interest.

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Good Images Speak a Thousand Words – But Is It Legal?

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From: Olly18 – Depositphotos.com

From: Olly18 – Depositphotos.com

Two things I learned about posting articles — good content, and killer images.  Something about that picture tells a story, has me spending almost as much time searching for the right image as I do writing the article itself.  Professional blog mavens claim an article graphic more than doubles site visitation, and acts as a lure to get visitors to stop and actually read the article. No shortage of great material on the internet’s cyclopean browser engine, finding good blog photos or illustrations can be a blessing of convenience or a pitfall of copyright infringement.

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Star Spangled Memories

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Photo: DT Krippene

Photo: DT Krippene

Fourth of July will always be the bandstand of summer for me.   Men burn meat over an open fire, beer flows like the Mississippi in spring, pools slosh with white caps, hotdogs become an endangered species, ice cream puddles in vats, and fireworks cloud the sky with enough phosphoric haze to create its own weather pattern.  Doesn’t get any better than that.

Memorable fourths fill a dozen photo albums in our family.  The kids spent most of their summers at grandpa’s place, where the mossy scent of lake water and drone of motorboats still bring a smile.  Grandpa used to start July 4 by lighting a string of black cat firecrackers by our bedroom window.  Clothing for the day had to include red, white and blue.  Children vied for the honor of carrying the flag in the annual parade between the houses, all to John Phillip Sousa blasting from the house of a retired neighbor.  The parade ended at a flagpole, where the kids recited the Pledge of Allegiance and gave thanks to the men and women of the armed forces who help us keep the freedoms we enjoy.

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My Big, Fat Mediaphile Life

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From: Bicubic - DepositPhotos.com

From: Bicubic – DepositPhotos.com

Are you a media-phile?  I’ll bet you are and don’t even know it.  What’s a “mediaphile”? Someone who has the same excitement for pop culture media as a bibliophile has for books.  No, it’s not just TV stuff like America Has Talent or Game of Thrones, it’s all the “screen” time we spend on TVs, smart phones, audio streaming, gaming, and social media, which may or may not include the aforementioned programs.

When I read James Poniewozik’s, The Paradox of Television’s New Golden Age, and You Don’t Have Time to Watch it; (Time Magazine, The View, June 22, 2015), it had me pause for introspection.  Am I a mediaphile?  I mean, sure, I do social media, check emails on my smart phone, chill out with a few tunes and stare at nothing, watch a little TV at night. The suffix phile, seems rather extreme, like foodophiles, Potterphiles, or spermophiles (okay you pottyminded-philes, it’s not what you think; see below).  Mediaphile conjures visions of attending weekly Media Anonymous intervention meetings.  Hi, my name is DT. I’m a mediaphile. Of which fellow participants somberly greet, Hi DT, followed by a reminder to turn off our smart phones.  Sidebar questions like Have you seen the last three episodes American Horror Story, are greatly discouraged.

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No Turn on Red – Futuristic Traffic

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Gilles Tran © 1993-2009 www.oyonale.com

Gilles Tran © 1993-2009 http://www.oyonale.com

In a city of the future, what is your vision of vehicular transit?  Do you see yourself straddling a flying scooter on the way to school, catching a taxi driven by Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element, or something more realistic, like networked hover vehicles seen in the movie Minority Report?

On my near-term bucket list is to see the movie, TOMORROWLAND.  The original Disney Epcot version left an indelible print on a much younger me, adding fuel to my infatuation with science fiction. I’d ride Space Ship Earth several times in one day, then lie awake at night, dreaming of a future city where robots, jetpacks, and commuting to space was the norm. To me, flying cars characterized a futuristic metropolis.

As I matured, something that came late in life (some would argue I’ve yet to achieve it), a sciences education and many years toiling in the real world, clouded my childhood acceptance of some futuristic tenets.  I hit the stoplight of plausible reality recently, while writing a scene involving city traffic like the kind depicted above. I needed a little inspiration, and browsed the many concept art sites I frequent for ideas.

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Went Off the Grid … Again.

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From: DepositPhotos.com

From: DepositPhotos.com

Two years ago, I went off-the-grid to Central America and for awhile, folks didn’t hear from me.  About the same time last year, I went to Nevada (see Going Off the Grid for a Human Touch), and got caught up in the wonder of my newborn grandson. Well, I’ve done it again and gone off-the-grid for a few weeks in Mexico. Like my adventure in Central America, local cell service existed if you could speak Spanish. Internet is spotty but available … in-between frequent brownouts. My cell phone didn’t have international access and I chose not to rent one locally (because I’m cheap and who would I call in Mexico). When I did find a working Wi-Fi signal, my laptop had issues speaking the same digital lingo. It might have been the dozen rum drinks I had trying to make it work, but I decided the purpose of my visit was to regale in the splendor of unspoiled sandy beaches and turquoise waters (I took that right off the tourist brochure).

A few days passed before withdrawal symptoms set in. Fingers twitched involuntarily, as if searching for something to type. Fitful nights, separated from emergency calls in case something happened to my daughter or if my house burned down. What about all the unanswered email? Will social media followers drop me? Did Tyrion Lannister survive his harrowing boat journey with the scheming eunuch?

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Not Going Anywhere Soon

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Astronaut in the tunnels

Lurii-DepositPhotos.com

Ah yes, we science fiction writers dream of interstellar travel and meeting otherworldly aliens.  Imagine the excitement of a young lad watching Walter Cronkite broadcast Apollo 11’s moon landing. I must have visited the Disney Futureworld’s, Spaceship Earth a dozen times. Can’t tell you how many times as a tyke, I dreamed my real parents were due to pick me up from the star system Yucantgetthrfromhere. As an adult, it’s depressing when we have to face the real possibility, humans can’t get there from here.

The World is Not Enough, a WSJ book review by best selling sci-fi author, John Gribbin summarized a mostly positive outtake of Chris Impey’s new book, Beyond: Our Future in Space, which claims human wanderlust will eventually draw mankind to the limitless unknown. I especially like the book cover; a fully suited astronaut entering an elevator. Going up, sir?

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Science and the Naysayers

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From: DepositPhoto.com - prometeus

From: DepositPhoto.com – prometeus

I finally got around to reading the March issue of National Geographic, The War on Science, which examines why reasonable people doubt science.  For us science fiction geeks, them is fighting words (metaphorically of course, I can’t run as fast as I used to).  I’m one of those guys who thinks we should have clean fusion energy by now, and able to plan the next vacation at Playa-del-Mars. Why is water shortage even an issue anymore?  Sigh. Never thought I’d actually see members of my fellow humanity view technical advancement as a bunch of mad scientists out to destroy the world.

Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted “If I were ever abducted by aliens, the first thing I’d ask is whether they came from a planet where people also deny science.”

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To Be Human, Or Not To Be

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Robot in Love - Rudy Faber

Robot in Love – Rudy Faber

Love and Artificial Intelligence

I’m working on a scene in my new book and stuck on how emotionally self-aware a robot should be. Artificial intelligence, or A.I., in science fiction go hand-in-hand, like romance titles do with ripped bodices and men with hairless chests. Which brings me to a question … can artificial intelligence ever achieve the emotional rollercoaster that defines who we are as humans?   You know, that thing called love, the craziness that alters behavior, evokes euphoria, obsession, distortion of reality, personality changes, and risk taking (loosely defined as doing really stupid shit because we can’t think straight).  Can anyone actually associate the word intelligence with love?

A.I. can be many things; a voice on a computer or command module, mechanical production, or prosthetic arm with a mind of its own, but it’s more fun to create A.I. in our own image, give them a humanistic physique so we dream about indentured servants who won’t bitch about workloads, or get a headache when daddy’s feeling frisky.

Could you love an artificial human … real love … beyond a mind-in-the-gutter play toy that knows where all the right tickle points are? For that to be possible, our robot friend will need to reciprocate with an emotional range that isn’t easily coded in algorithms, because true love … defies common sense. Continue reading

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