Category Archives: News Blog

Will We Find ET in the Next 20 Years?

If ET phoned over the summer he would have received the embarrassing I-didn’t-pay-my-phone-bill message stating ‘The planet you are calling has been temporarily disconnected.’ In April the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute shuttered the Allen Telescope Array due to budgetary woes. Thanks to the SETIStars initiative and generous donations we’re back to listening for that call.

In a recent Popular Science article SETI director, Seth Shostak, said he believes we’ll detect alien life in the next twenty years. He lists a few ways he thinks this may come about. Last but not least he mentions SETI’s improving technology and its anticipated ability to search a million star systems over the next twenty years.

He touched on the idea that an alien race might detect the radio signals we’ve been emitting for decades and send a reply. Minimizing the possibility he pointed out that only a few tens of thousands of stars have been exposed to our transmissions.

If one employs conservative/pessimistic numbers in the Drake Equation then life is probably too rare and scattered about to expect a reply anytime in the next several thousand years. However, if you plug slightly more optimistic values into the equation you see a galaxy teaming with life.

This later scenario presents exciting possibilities, and is an area I think warrants more consideration.

Given the relatively slow speed of light (relative to the size of the galaxy anyway) only a tiny fraction of the galaxy may know we exist. Arguably the most powerful unnatural radio signals mankind ever sent out were our aboveground nuclear detonations. Considering the speed limit of 186,000 miles per second, that energy has blazed across the galaxy and covered a whopping 66 light-year radius in the intervening 66 years. That’s a bubble of information roughly 122 light-years across.

Big huh?

Not really, it’s only 3/100,000 of 1 % (0.000003%) of the galaxy.

Hard to visualize? Imagine you shrunk the galaxy down to the volume of the Superdome. Now imagine you’re up in the nosebleed section. At that scale picture a four-foot-wide beach ball at mid-field. That sphere, a few centimeters over a meter, would represent the 122 light-year bubble of stars exposed to the energy waves emitted from the planet in 1945. It’s unlikely anything outside of that beach ball even knows we exist.

Our galaxy is not as boxy. The Superdome’s interior volume is roughly as tall as it is wide, or 1:1. With a 100:1 width-to-height ratio our galaxy is 100,000 light-years across and only 1,000 light-years thick. Now imagine trying to see that four-foot sphere from a mile away instead of the upper-deck. And remember, if you’re not in that bubble all you hear from its center point is cosmic white noise.

Knowing how small the portion of the galaxy is that may know of our existence, consider this: every day that sphere’s radius grows, its surface grows exponentially. In other words the potential pool of star systems learning of our existence is growing daily, and at an ever-increasing rate.

Complicating the issue is the time a reply takes to reach us. If a civilization decides to beam an instant reply it will take just as long for us to receive it as our signal took to get to them.

What if 33 years ago, back when that bubble was the size of a basketball, a relatively advanced civilization in our galactic backyard received the signal and blasted a return message our way? We’ll receive it thirty-three years later (today). Therefore, any instant replies beamed in the last 32+ years are still en route.

That’s all if they decide to reply immediately. Considering the signal they received was a nuclear detonation they may want to listen for a while. After a few decades of I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Cheers, Seinfeld, and Lost they decide ‘what-the-hell let’s say hello to our wacky neighbors.’

Side note: I often muse over the idea that somewhere there’s an alien race agonizing over who shot JR as they painfully wait for the next season of Dallas to reach their planet. Who knows, there may even be a cultural niche of Elvis Presley fans on some remote rock (there’s some bad news heading their way circa 1976).

People and politicians often ask, ‘Why should we spend money listening for aliens? It’s not like they’ll balance the federal budget for us.’ That’s tantamount to a five year old asking, ‘Why should I go to school? There’s nothing they can teach me.’ Setting aside man’s innate curiosity and our desire to answer the burning questions: ‘Are we alone?’ and ‘Is there anybody out there?’ there are more practical reasons to search.

In regards to social and scientific development we are likely babes in the Galactic woods. Any data gathered from alien contact would probably be more enlightening than Pythagoras’ Theorem. Spanning decades, it would be an inefficient discussion, but we most certainly would be the prime beneficiary of that interaction. Thus a tiny-tiny-tiny-miniscule investment (relative to GDP) lands us invaluable knowledge.

In Carl Sagan’s Contact aliens send us blueprints for a wormhole generator. But saving that, what if they merely said ‘Hello, here’s the perfect mouse trap,’ or ‘free energy and the cure to world hunger,’ or whatever.

I for one am glad we’re paying our phone bill again.

Click here for more information about, or to donate to SETIStars.

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My ‘Other’ Hobby…

Many of my readers only know me as an author who flies choppers for his day job. What you may not know is I build and ride them too.

I finished the baby pictured below in June 2008. One day later she made her debut on Austin’s 6th Street for the ROT Rally. Now three years later we’ll finally be back.

Wave us down if you see a ten foot long yellow chopper adorned with my ugly mug.

Save us a parking space … a really long parking space with plenty of turning room. That rake requires the space a car needs to turn around … but it looks good doing it. Hey, I never said it was practical.

Hope to see you there. If you can’t remember my name just yell out, “Hey you, author!”

[caption id="attachment_1695" align="alignleft" width="199" caption="2008 Ike Delayed Lone Star Rally"][/caption]

Bike Stats:
Chasis: 2007 JSR Custom – Outrage
Suspension: Rear – None (Hardtail)
Front – American Suspension Inverted Forks
Wheels: Xtreme Machines – Burnt
330mm rear tire (WIDE)
Engine: Ultima 127 cubic inch El Bruto
HP – 140
Tq – 145 LB FT
Exhaust: Vance & Hines Big Radius

[caption id="attachment_1684" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Houston Chronicle's Cover Photo Post Ike 2008 Lonestar Rally"][/caption]

Here are a couple of my favorite pics along with a link to the Google Photo Album containing my build photos.

[caption id="attachment_1687" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Parking a 10' chopper can be a challenge."][/caption]

 

ProSteet Chopper Project
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Morpheus Takes Flight (kind of)

So I’m minding my business, having a beer with my neighbor (Pilot Disclaimer: It was my week off) when I hear what sounds like a fighter jet doing a full throttle ground power check on the southeast corner of my block.

“What the hell?” I scream over the din.

“Morpheus,” he yells.

“Morpheus?” I queried back. “What, did I swallow the red pill?” (Pilot disclaimer: This is a reference to ‘The Matrix’ … not drug use.)

So he proceeds to tell me about this new lunar/planetary lander developed jointly by NASA and Armadillo Aerospace. They are doing tethered test of it in the field behind my house. For those that don’t know, my subdivision forms the northwest boundary of the Johnson Space Center (JSC). While the first word spoken from the surface of the moon was ‘Houston’, as in “Houston, the Eagle has landed,” JSC is not typically the home for rocket test. I return you to the fact that my house lies within 100 yards of NASA’s boundary and less than 900 yards from the site where the above photo was taken. Actually, the trees in the background of the picture and the video below are my subdivision.

“Cool!” I say to said friend. Because … it is! They are using eco-friendly methane based propellant and its size along with NASA’s safety protocols give me a warm fuzzy.

Hopefully I’ll be able to pull a lawn chair and cooler (Pilot disclaimer: filled with soda if it’s my week to fly) to the field’s edge for the untethered test.

Here’s a link to an article about it on Space.com.

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Multi-Lingual Website

I’ve brought the power of Google Translate to my blog. You can now select your language in the drop down window at the top of the right sidebar on any of my pages.

Beware, if you can’t remember what flag to click on you may have a hard time getting back to your native language. It can be a challenge if you pick one you can’t read or at least guess how they represent your language. But don’t worry, it only translates my website. You wont be stuck trying to interpret Egyptian hieroglyphics as you surf the information superhighway … unless that is your ‘native language’.

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How Humans Will Become Computers.

I think one of the biggest challenges in writing Near to Distant Future Science Fiction lies in finding a common point of reference for today’s readers. Under the mantra that fact often eclipses fiction, I believe the world as it will look a millennium from now will be so alien to today’s culture, any fiction that truly captures the likely changes might be a difficult read.

Most authors (me included) limit the ways future technologies change those cultures, leaving the human condition relatively unchanged. This allows the reader to identify with the story’s characters in ways that would be difficult with the truly alien culture that a millennium of “progress” would generate.

What could so radically change our culture, you ask. Say one day someone implants a chip in a brain for a simple memory augmentation. No big change right? Let’s even suppose that becomes a commonplace treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In the next step, having perfected nanotechnology, we learn how to implement these changes without surgery. The surgeons or scientist need only inject a solution teaming with millions of nanobots programmed to seek a certain location and self-assemble into the same circuits that were previously surgically implanted.

Now say someone gets tired of doing rudimentary calculations and decides to utilize the same painless, non-invasive technology to implant those memory circuits along with an integrated circuit. Ah hell, throw in a modem while you’re at it. Now you have upgradeable memory in a powerful PC—or Mac—built into and integrated with your mind. (Kind of gives a whole new slant to the “I’m a PC, I’m a Mac” commercials.) All of that incorporated with a low powered Electro-Organic modem. Talk about the information superhighway.

The biggest impediment to seamless computer access is the interface. With a thought-integrated computer, instantaneous internet, email, and tweets are only a thought away. Think the Internet has had significant social implications? What will happen to our society when we’re all linked together with no information bottlenecks.

Now, let’s take our thought experiment a little farther. The next logical brain enhancement would be the implementation of thought expanding circuitry. You have all of this data coming through your Electro Organic Network (EON as it’s called in my book) but the organic part of your brain can only handle so much at a time. Some hacker or scientist figures out a way to reprogram intellect into your memory or integrated circuits (EON). This would enable you to shift some of your thought processes into a network that runs exponentially faster than your organic computer (read: brain). This assumes that Moore’s Law will have made computers much more powerful than the human mind, currently they are not.

Unhappy with the status quo, people add more and more mental functions and thought processes to their EON. Eventually the silicon-based thoughts exceed the carbon-based.

So I’ve laid out the hypothetical path for a society to transition from organic based thoughts to computer-based without a single huge leap. What kind of social changes would that bring about? The slow-thinking twenty-first century man will look like knuckle-dragging caveman in comparison to the twenty-second century EON enhanced man.

Most people shrug off the suggestion that we may someday shift our thoughts to computers, saying “It’s too big of a leap.” Not in the small baby steps I’ve laid out. Or, “It would be a soulless copy of the real person.” Once again, not in the parallel processing scenario I’ve painted. Although, I’m sure philosophers and theologians will argue ad nauseum.

Those ideas represent a mere fraction of the possibilities of the next century, let alone a millennium. On a geologic timescale a thousand years is blink of the eye. What about 10,000; 100,000; or even a million years (still barely a yawn on a geologic timescale).

But who knows, maybe I’m underestimating my prognosticating ability. Maybe humans several millennia removed will closely resemble what I’ve depicted in my book.

Side note: Just when I thought I had an original thought—  While looking for links to tie in real-world data to my theories I discovered many references to Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity. He took this thought experiment to its ultimate outcome long before me.

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Is This ‘The End’ for Nuclear Energy?

First of all, my thoughts are with the Japanese people as they try to cope with and dig themselves out of this three tiered disaster. Hit by a trifecta of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, their losses look to be well in excess of 10,000.

With 500,000 evacuated and displaced, further complicating an already horrible situation, the rest of the world looks on with shock. This tragedy will have many ramifications, not the least of which will be its effect on the global energy picture.

The ‘Nuclear Renaissance‘ is over.

[caption id="attachment_45" align="alignright" width="101" caption="Click for More Info on My Novel."][/caption]

Like no other country, Japan invested more engineering and money into their plants’ safety systems and redundancies than anyone on the planet. This isn’t a Chernobyl; nuclear proponents can’t write this off as shoddy engineering, antiquated systems, or loose government policies.

Kyodo Newshas reported that the Fukushima #2 reactor’s fuel rods are fully exposed. Apparently a meltdown scenario is ongoing. There are reports that several hundred evacuees and rescuers have been exposed to radiation, possibly lethal levels. This extension of the tragedy will play out across the world’s TVs in the coming weeks, months and years.

Today European leaders suspended plans to extend their nuclear footprint.

Der Spiegel reported:

German media commentators across the political spectrum are saying the accident in a highly developed nation such as Japan is further evidence that nuclear power isn’t safe. One commentator in the conservative Die Welt went as far as to liken the global impact of the Fukushima explosions to that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Last year President Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to Southern Company to build two nuclear power plants in Georgia. Edit: As I write this, a report just came out that President Obama “Stands behind nuclear power.” As stated earlier, I think he’ll be hard pressed to maintain that position as the scenes play across the world’s televisions.

Joe Lieberman said, “I think we’ve got to kind of quietly put, quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming on line.”

Wikipedia states there are 439 nuclear power plants supplying 14-16% of the world’s energy needs. Thirty-nine are under construction, with more than 400 in the planning stages. The power needs these planned projects were designed to meet won’t go away in the interim.

I can hear the screech of skidding tires from here.

With North African and Middle East unrest, cancellation of nuclear projects, and the continued de facto drilling suspension in the Gulf of Mexico, $5/gal gas is already a reality.

While the financial impact of this tradgedy looms large, it pales in comparison to the huge personal losses hitting the Japanese people. Keep them in your thoughts and help in any way you can.

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