Tag Archives: science

Happy Birthday World Wide Web

Today is my birthday. 12th March. I had no idea that Tim Berners-Lee first submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web today, twenty five years. A quarter of a century ago. Although the technology itself didn’t go public until 1993.

So short a time. Back in 1995 I recall penning a thousand word piece called ‘Cybermarket – the future of retailing’. Just a speculative PR article for the trade press. I believe I managed to place it in one of the trade technology journals of the time, although have no idea where it was printed. In the article there were predictions about Supermarket chains like Tesco’s getting into Financial Services and having online stores. Reference was made to the amount of bandwidth necessary to create an interactive online 3-D model of a Superstore, and how it might come about. Now Supermarkets provide online banking and financial services, the world and its wife provide on line shopping, and I think the fully interactive 3-D catalogue is not that far away. Certainly Internet driven home deliveries have been popular for some time now, and the graphics of certain game engines might be adapted to provide a better interface. Maybe the next iteration of online shopping will be a sort of World of Warcraft meets Second Life meets the retail sector.

Didn’t foresee the rise of eBay or Amazon, but those were then outside the scope of the article.

Anyway. Happy birthday World Wide Web. Well I never. So far so fast.

Research and random directions

While researching the ‘Freemen on the land’ movement for ‘A Falling of Angels’, I’m beginning to see where they derive their philosophy. This is an incredibly complex world, both politically and financially, and I don’t really think that anyone outside of a few obsessive actuaries and lawyers really understand how and why it works, and exactly how fragile our western socio-economic structure actually is. And how dependent we are on it from a global perspective.

I also appreciate that there are people who can ‘game’ the system to increase their wealth, and use their subsequent economic leverage to obtain even greater power. It has always been thus. This competitive urge is part of human nature, hard wired, so to speak. Likewise, there will always be those who resent domination. This too is part of the human condition.

Therefore todays random story direction came from noting that arch economic manipulator George Soros is getting married, and how the guest list was going to be packed with the ‘great and good’. This kicked the ‘What-if?’ generator in my head into gear, and out popped a story idea. What if ultra high definition ‘Keyhole’ satellite coverage was available like in the movies, and ‘what if’ there was a weapons package that could be dropped from Low Earth Orbit into a guided trajectory which could hit and destroy a target within a centimetre? A system specifically created to eliminate specific ‘Terrorist’ threats without the bad publicity created by massive collateral damage. Too small and fast to be detected or intercepted. A literal ‘Sword of Damocles‘ to be used to eliminate threats to the greater public. Now let’s extend this conceit. What if said technology was hijacked? What if an event like a high society wedding, packed to the rafters with high level politicians and the ultra rich, was targeted? What if, despite multiple layers of protection, the great and powerful became as vulnerable as the rest of humanity? Their own weapon systems turned against them?

Oh, I’m going to have a lot of fun with this one. Amazing what random story ideas a little research kicks off.

Just as an aside, I first used a variant of this concept in ‘Falling Through the Stars‘ where a President who tries to tries to buck the ‘system’ is targeted by an anti aircraft missile meant to protect Washington DC from an airborne attack. This concept has a similar flavour. In ‘Falling’ this protagonist isn’t a rather mindless Terminator like ‘Skynet’, set to destroy all of humanity, but a non-human intelligence which is simply selectively protecting itself and the philosophy it is programmed with.

Jet lag and the creative muse

I don’t know about anyone else, but at the moment my time sense is off by what feels like eighteen hours.  Had a long last 48 hours in airports and am began beginning this post in the deserted bar of an English hotel with my senses scrambled.  According to the local time it’s past two in the morning. According to what’s left of my sleep deprived brain I’ve lost all frame of reference.

The flight over wasn’t great, as two excited Dutch seniors gabbled on all night in loud voices, despite being asked to keep it quiet.  Maybe they didn’t understand, but I’ve found that’s unusual for the Dutch.  Most are such good English second language speakers.  Perhaps it was their first time coming back from BC.  I don’t know.  Angie was her usual restive self, so I watched the in flight movies with my neurons quietly dissolving  into temporal shifted chaos.  Tried to cat nap in the airport, which took the edge off it, but that was all.  At the moment, Mr Wonderful I’m not.  As I get older I get less tolerant of these things.  Next time we will plan at least a 24 hour layover between long distance flights.

Writing as I do about interstellar travel and its various challenges, this raised the point of ‘Star lag’.  A disconnect between Earth time zones and human diurnal synchronisation.  Say you have a star traveller who has been living on time zone in one world who makes repeated trips to Earth and a specific time zone there, what does this do to their body functions?  I’ve heard some issues referred to as ‘Biorhythm upset’ (Larry Niven) and a few other references, which not unnaturally escape me right at this moment.  In the Stars series, various characters report feeling less than in tune with themselves after forty or fifty light year trips.  Coupled with the time disruption caused by a disconnect between normal space / time function and what I refer to as ‘subspace’.

Working from personal experience of long distance travel, I’ve jotted a few notes on what it might be like for people who have to live and work on Star ships, and all the mental and physical challenges raised.  If there is a secret to faster than light interstellar travel, and if humankind is not dumb enough to self destruct in the meantime, what does this do to the people who will regularly traffic between worlds?  How will they cope?  What will their needs be?

Personal space will be an issue for star ship designers, and cabins will need to be roomy, with facility for low gravity sleeping arrangements.  Digging around for anecdotal reports and more scholarly data from Astronauts on the ISS, and from the old Russian Mir programme and Skylab leaves us with plenty of clues.  Regular reports on the condition of Astronauts like Chris Hadfield, for example, the Canadian Astronaut whose YouTube videos went viral on the web also provide material.  There’s a hell of a lot of good basic primary source material available, and research is half of what writing is all about.

In ‘Darkness’ all these themes have to be addressed, and with all the necessary astronomical data to plough through, there’s a rich seam to be mined.  Especially for the critical ‘Asteroid miner’ story thread.

Amazing what inspiration can come, even from jet lag.

Truro UK today and tomorrow.  Visiting Bath and seeing Jo and Laura the day after.  Then family in Stratford.

Language; art or science?

While re-editing a couple of paragraphs this morning, Angie threw a couple of things my way from one of her students. Quotations and examples from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for the most part. Which kicked off the thought; is Language Art or Science? Or even both?

Metaphor and simile we are told, are mainly within the province of art, but when it comes down to metre and cadence and structure, it’s all down to syllable counts, pentameter, hexameter, and other rhythmic patterns doing the grunt work of communicating an idea. Which is the very function of language. Words can dance and skitter to the beat of the ideas driving them, giving both the context and subtext of a text. The science forms the rules of languages as they evolve from a purely ad hoc means of grunting, to a myriad subtleties conveying a layered whole rich with new meaning. Nonetheless, there is a subtle mathematics to language which can be broken down into components and reassembled to a common comprehensible formula. Context, intonation and juxtaposition are also tools from the same box.

Maybe it’s the Technician in me that wants ideas to have clarity, continuity, and the elegance of simplicity. The beauty of an efficient and well designed machine. Multiple processes binding together in a seamless whole. Many premises distilled, flowing to a single conclusion into a great river of thought. Tiny logical strings woven into a great hawser you can pull a Supertanker of concepts with.

Yet where does the science of language leave off and art begin? Like a single feather is not an Eagle there is no easy answer. The Science and art of which I write are sides of the same coin. Components of the same whole. Like the microscopically barbed elements that form the mesh of each Eagles feather can be viewed scientifically through a microscope, like the tempering and folding of metals can give additional strength to a component, there is art and science in everything. The subjective, which is art, gives us the desired whole, and the objective, which is the science, gives us the parts from which the whole can be built. Without the feather, the Eagle cannot fly. Without Science, there is no art. Without Art, we have no desire for science. Which is probably why well designed machines often have an artistic beauty all of their own.

Excuse me if I’m waxing lyrical and obscure today, but I’ve had a bit of a story breakthrough, and am feeling a tad giddy.

Naming the new moons of Pluto #Astronomy

With the recent discovery of two moonlike objects around ‘not quite a planet’ Pluto, there’s an online poll to name the new worldlets via this link. Personally I’d have selected Scylla and Charybdis, but those weren’t on the list of twelve options, so I voted for Cerberus (But of course) and Orpheus, the mythological hero who had to pass said legendary guardian of the underworld in a failed bid to recover his lost love, Eurydice.

For some odd reason I wondered whether some of the names were already taken, like Persephone, but apparently not. I’m normally a lot sharper than this, but since that bout of gastric upset the other week, I’ve been feeling rather post-viral. Rather run down and tired all the time. Friends tell me this is the aftermath of the Norovirus, and can last up to three weeks. Oh joy.