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?

All very silly of course, and after a week, the need to feed my media addiction faded. Archived memories of a time when RF signals didn’t typhoon through our body organs like electron poltergeists, had me sigh with longing. Absent the perpetual distraction of media input, my senses had room to feel the silence of where I was. Story plots found pen and paper, like the old days. Still, I knew it was temporary, and I’d be back in the grid soon.

Let’s face it, many of us go ape-shit when cell signal is lost, bang keyboards when the internet goes down. Adolescents enter that special cranky state when cable or satellite goes blank with, “no signal available,” and how does anyone make it through the day without texting?

From: DepositPhotos.com

From: DepositPhotos.com

I grew up in a time of rotary telephones that only needed five numbers to dial (who remembers dialing “two“, and getting the party line). Making calls in a remote hamlet of New Hampshire required operator assistance. It was the age of letters … you know, that form of communication that required penmanship, paper, and pen. Mail didn’t zip electronically through servers, real humans with the Postal Service walked neighborhoods to deliver it. GPS back then was a compass and map. Getting lost meant really lost, signal fire or message-in-a-bottle lost. Complete loss of communication fifty years ago would have been limited to radio, phone, and three channels of television, and even then, a fearful thing.

It had me wondering. What if going off the grid became like S.M. Stirling’s “Dies the Fire“, first in his Emberverse Series where the power goes out, permanently.  Makes good dystopian story fodder, or even a better sci-fi plot, where the space ship is power dead, no way to signal, let anyone know I’m stranded … before the oxygen runs out … write my last will and testament on the cargo bay wall with a shipping marker. This is what happens when I’m left to the elements too long.

To be truthful, going off-the-grid is invigorating, even if we know we’ll be back after a few messages from our sponsors.  It returned me to a time when it was routine to read for hours on end.  Sounds like a cheesy line from an eighties Disney movie, but I listened to the wind. Can’t get that when sounds of civilization and the infernal message chime on my smart phone, compete for auditory reception. My head cleared of twenty-first century chaff and ideas flew on a simple pad of paper.  Got this great idea for a new story where aliens save humanity from the edge of extinction. Don’t ask me how crashing beach waves nurtured the story line.  Maybe it’s the rare moment where my cranial closet is cleaned out and searching for new stuff to clutter it.

From: DepositPhotos.com

From: DepositPhotos.com

Everyone should go off-the-grid now and then.  It clears the head, provided you avoid too many rum drinks.

If you like this post, show the love by liking it back, and feel free to comment with your favorite way to go off-the-grid.

 

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?

In Gibbon’s review, Beyond takes the reader down the road of “human restlessness that drove us out of Africa”, starting with 2,000 hardy souls who survived a near extinction event 60,000 years ago (I wrote about the extinction event last year and you can find it here). Impey’s premise is that wanderlust is in our genes, and eventually humans will yearn to explore our solar system, offering a timeline for a commercial space industry starting in 2035. Holy disappointment, Heinlein, we were supposed to be on Mars by the year 2000.

As a writer, dreamer, casual ponderer of the cosmos and our place in it, I’m left to wonder why space exploration is grounded.

Astronaut Grounded Depositphotos_9021867_xs

Triocean2011-DepositPhotos.com

 

Money is a realistic explanation. Plucky individuals looking for the new uncharted territory will need a lot of it to break free of earth’s gravity with regularity, certainly a lot more than Christopher Columbus needed for not discovering America. Seven billion souls to care for right here at home has already become a budget breaker, and momma is still getting pregnant.

Gribben had an interesting counter opinion to Impey’s valuation of present day developments. Our rocket science is stuck with 1960’s technology akin to a steam locomotive. “You equip it with a computer, air conditioning … put a driver with a university degree in the cabin, and it will still be the same steam locomotive. It brought to mind Rockhound’s offhand comment when their shuttle takes off in the movie Armageddon.  “You realize we’re sitting on 45,000 pounds of fuel, … and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder? Makes you feel good doesn’t it?” No wonder the Russians had vodka on their missions. With this kind of technological progress, it’s hard to imagine going interstellar anytime soon, or anytime period.

Gribben referenced Impey’s timeline when we can expect a starting gun for exploring our little cul-de-sac in the galaxy.  Not surprisingly, Impey offers that by 2115, “children born off-Earth who’ve never been home, will come of age and agitate for self-governance.”  Can you hear the fife and drum, heralding the twenty-second century revolution?  It’s a common theme in human history and regular occurring plot line in science fiction.  We certainly won’t get beyond our own solar system unless we get past our human predilection for playing an old childhood game, Kick the Can.

As for hearing from alien relatives in the galaxy, Gibben cites Impey’s book gives us the oft-quoted reality check, “why are there no alien space probes signaling their presence to us“, alluding that we may very well be alone in the universe. Gibbon wrote a book on the subject in 2011, Alone in the Universe.  Another 2011 article on this very question is worth a revisit if you want to know more about The Great Silence. The article suggests sentient aliens may have existed, but with our youngish 4 billion year-old birth certificate in a universe that’s well past puberty at fourteen, civilizations may have gone extinct before earth was born.  Guess my imaginary alien parents aren’t coming after all.

Astronaut Kiester Depositphotos_4009055_xs

Dohtoor-DepositPhotos.com

 

I’m not ready to give up on the dream of interstellar travel. If humanity has learned anything, it’s that humanity still has a lot to learn. The last two decades have confirmed the presence of black holes, developed space telescopes to see extrasolar planets, revealed space isn’t just a vacuum, and enlightened us with possibilities of a multiverse. Surely we can do better than strap oversized bottle rockets to our kiesters to mine asteroids.

Based on John Gribben’s review, Beyond: Our Future in Space, looks to be an upbeat discourse about man’s journey to reach the unknown and a worthy add to my TBR stack.  However, I’ll continue writing about a more distant future where we don’t go extinct before taking the road to another star system.

Guess that’s why they call us writers, dreamers.

Frenta-DepositPhotos.com

Frenta-DepositPhotos.com

 

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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

Your Shirt Just Ratted You Out

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From: Whitenoise - Depositphotos.com

From: Whitenoise – Depositphotos.com

Thinking back at all the science fiction I’ve read over the years, real-time biomedical telemetry is rarely a major theme in the story line.  Dr. Leonard McCoy of Star Trek fame pioneered scanning tools with computer assisted diagnostic tech, all so he can report:     He’s dead, Jim.

Sure, a few stories touched on “vitals” monitoring.    He’s still dead, Jim.   

Intelligent pills have already hit the test market, ready and able to snitch on you from the inside. Now, scientists have developed textiles that can monitor and transmit wearer’s biomedical info (Sparkonit, December 2014).  If you thought privacy was an issue with smart phones, wait until the healthcare industry starts insisting on textiles with biomedical remote telemetry.

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Love and the Fickle Finger of Fate

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Our Lucky Numbers - @agsandrew via Depostphotos.com

Our Lucky Numbers – @agsandrew via Depostphotos.com

It’s no secret that romance writers love imagining how fate throws two people together.  It’s a big part of the RWA canon.  Protag should meet love interest by chapter two and must have a satisfying ending.  Killing the love interest, like Downton Abby does with regularity, is frowned upon (but forgiven if you’re … Downton Abby).   It is not a new formula. Twentieth-century movies formatted the process for decades with “guy meets girl, guy loses girl, guy gets girl“.  Joke as I may about RWA’s blueprint, all I know about writing romantic entanglements came from published authors of romance novels, nurtured by the RWA.  They know a thing or two about love. I belong to the RWA. There – I just outed myself (but wisely waited until after the Super Bowl).

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Eating – A Humanizer in Stories Ancient and New

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From: Wikipedia-Charlie Chaplin, The Gold Rush

From: Wikipedia-Charlie Chaplin, The Gold Rush

 

Those of you who keep up with me, might have noticed I occasionally blog about food and eating, especially if it’s weird, or has futuristic nuances. If you’re interested in past articles, I pasted the links below.

A recent National Geographic article, The Joy of Food, piqued my interest with the opening quote:

“What is it about eating that brings us closer together?”

I’d like modify it to reflect a writer’s view of it.

What is it about eating that enhances a story?

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Stay in Lane

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From: 72soul@DepositPhotos.com

From: 72soul@DepositPhotos.com

First week of the New Year has come and gone, and I have yet to spend much time thinking about it. I have a good excuse (don’t we all). I’ve been out west the last few weeks, spending holidays with my new grandson. He manufactures enough drool in one day to fill a 55-gallon drum and I find the experience somewhat fascinating. Has to be a cottage eco-industry here somewhere.

I’m not much of a resolution person, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think about a need to hit the refresh button. Last year found me spending way too much time on social media, and not enough time on the reason I showed up in the first place, writing stories. Upside, I am slowly building a twitter following of like-minded individuals, my blog is attracting more followers every month, though Pinterest has become the equivalent of social media crack. I’ve learned more this past year with respect to the craft. Be surprised how much we think we know, but don’t. And to throw a few marbles on the hardwood floor beneath our feet, the industry continues to evolve, with heavy influences of Darwinism in which established species grow stronger and organisms able to uniquely specialize, inherit the earth.

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Bright Be The Light That Brings You Home

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From: Erhlif - DepositPhotos.com

From: Erhlif – DepositPhotos.com

Shortest day of the year is upon us.  Unless you’re lucky to live near the equator, winter is more dark hours than light, nature of our celestial place in the cosmos. Before the grumbling begins about old man winter, we’ll revel in the season with lighted decorations, lots of edible goodies, cheer, and the warm embrace of family and friends.  Through the years, my life’s journeys have carried me far from home shores, often for long periods, with coming-home-itus acute. No one feels this more pointedly than men and women in active military service.

Longing to come home is integral to the human spirit. Waiting is the other half of this longing; people on opposite ends of an invisible string pulling toward each other.

Deep is the darkness that falls down on me
Long is the long night ’til morning will be
Bright be the north star to shine constantly
‘Til winter brings you home safely to me

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A Little Progress On My Wish List

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From: DepositPhotos.com

From: DepositPhotos.com

Last year about this time, I waxed curmudgeonly on Things I’m Still Waiting For, like interplanetary ion drives, flying cars, hover boards, to mention a few.  Time magazine’s recent Best Inventions of 2014 review, has some interesting items for consideration.

First out of the chutes is a real-life hover board, not unlike the one I drooled over in the movie Back to the Future. Not exactly the fly anywhere version Michael J. Fox used, but it’s a start.  We’re still shooting objects into space via 1950’s style ballistic missiles, but it’s getting cheaper.  India just parked a satellite in Mars orbit for the paltry sum of $74 million.  Hell, that’s less expensive than retiling the old Space Shuttle.  Fossil fuel sourced energy is more popular than ever, but Lockheed’s development of a High-Beta Fusion Reactor, just might get us closer to the holy grail of nuclear fusion.  Molecular X-Rays (images of body at molecular level) might bring Dr.McCoy of Star Trek, back in vogue. The humanitarian invention of the year is a filtration system that scrubs Ebola virus from the blood stream.

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