Posted by Dean M. Cole

Will We Find ET in the Next 20 Years?

In a Popular Science article, SETI director Seth Shostak said he believes we’ll detect alien life in the next twenty years. He listed a few ways in which this may come about. Primarily, he believes that SETI’s improving technology and its anticipated ability to search a million star systems over the next twenty years provides the most likely avenue for success.

He also 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 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 that warrants further consideration.

Given the relatively slow speed of light (relative to the size of the galaxy) only a tiny fraction of the Milky Way may know we exist. Arguably the most powerful unnatural radio signals humanity ever sent out were our above ground nuclear detonations. Restricted to 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.

Difficult 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 as a stadium. The Superdome’s interior volume is roughly as tall as it is wide. At 100,000 light-years across and only 1,000 light-years thick, the width-to-height ratio of our galaxy is 100:1  Now picture that four-foot sphere from a mile away instead of the upper-deck. And remember that 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 would take 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.

And that is only 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 saying, ‘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? Is there anybody out there?—there are more practical reasons to search.

In regards to social and scientific development, we are assuredly 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 likely, we would be the prime beneficiary of that interaction. Thus, a tiny-tiny-tiny-minuscule 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’?


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Posted by Dean M. Cole

A SoHo Grand Experience

Recent travels found me in Morristown, New Jersey, for a week of flight simulator training. While there I always make a point to visit ‘The City.’ With my return flight not scheduled to depart until Saturday afternoon I had a night to burn and the money to light it with. So when I finished my training on Friday I caught a New Jersey Transit train to New York’s Penn Station (for the uninitiated it’s under Madison Square Garden).

Not being the biggest proponent of pre-travel planning I whipped out my iPhone somewhere between Morristown and Manhattan. Using the map feature I searched my favorite little town in America (SoHo) for a good hotel. Finding the SoHo Grand I booked a room.

If you’ve never been to SoHo you’re probably wondering why I’d call a Lower Manhattan neighborhood a ‘little town.’ SoHo is named after Houston Street (pronounced house-ton). SOuth of HOuston, it encompasses a chunk of Manhattan from Houston Street south to Tribeca’s Canal Street (a title generated from the same naming convention: TriBeCa – TRIangle BElow CAnal). While there are plenty of Manhattan skyscrapers they’re best known for their artists’ lofts and galleries, pocket restaurants and basement clubs.

The gentrified community’s 150-year-old cast iron decorative facades render an old-town-square feel that coupled with its culture gives it a surreal small town air and character.

At Penn Station I work my way to the surface and take the obligatory self-portrait under Madison Square Garden’s marquee. Back underground I board the A-Train, the express that takes me straight to SoHo without all the stops (the damn thing bites me later in the story).

Emerging from Canal station into the light of day I walk north. Passing Maserati of Manhattan (I want one) and the Tribeca Film Festival headquarters/theater (and now you know how it got its name), I step across Canal into SoHo and start looking for my hotel. After ten seconds I figure out I’m standing right in front of it.

What a cool place! An iconic hotel whose recently redesigned interior pays homage to SoHo’s cast iron lineage. The mix of old and new, iron and glass, dark and light is an eye pleasing work of art.

After checking in I work my way up to my room on the fourteenth floor. Opening the door I freeze, Holy shit! What a view! Dropping my bag I walk to the window, unable to believe my luck. Having booked late I never expected to get  … this.

Facing south my room affords me a view of the new World Trade Center! Not off to the side at an oblique angel. Front and center! After studying the view for a few moments I silently considered what horrors these windows must have witnessed that fateful day in September…

After a power nap (give me a break, I’m not old, I’ve been up since 5:30am and I want to stay up till … almost that late) I clean up and head to the outdoor bar on the Hotel’s south side. It’s a cool late summer afternoon. The sky is blue, there’s a cool breeze that has everyone smiling. The after-work crowd is rolling in to kick off the weekend.

Birds are chirping, leaves are rustling, and the sun chases the cool air deposits from your skin, leaving only goose bumps in its wake. It’s a sensation I’ve always associated with spring’s first warm day and fall’s first cool one. It’s early this year, but then again I’m in New York not Texas … go figure.

I chat with the bartenders. When I’m alone I almost always sit at the bar, it’s a social thing. They’re a wealth of local info and usually don’t mind the company. Plus, not being one that enjoys looking pitiful (even when I might be) I try not to sit solo in a busy social environment. The bartenders come through and suggest a couple of live music venues.

The sun has set. En route to Allen Street I find a little hole-in-the-wall Mom & Pop restaurant; the atmosphere uniquely SoHo, the food excellent. Afterwards I continue north and east. Softly chatting arm-in-arm couples, dashing cabs with flashing blinkers, and residential windows open to let in the breeze and let out the sounds of life dot my path.

At the north end of SoHo I hit Houston Street and proceed east. Ahead I see crowds on a busy, bar and restaurant lined cross street.

I’ve reached my destination.

Stepping into Rockwood Music Hall I’m immersed in incredible sound and a warm atmosphere. There’s a live local band on stage. Playing folksy-bluesy rock the whole place is swaying to their rhythm.

Over the hours a parade of talent crossed the stage, each as good as or better than the last. In the dark, would be smoky (in another era) atmosphere I chat with other patrons, swap stories, laugh, and drink.

2:00am … that nap didn’t help as much as I’d hoped; I’m running out of gas. It might be the culmination of an evening and night’s worth of cocktails (either that or I am getting old … nah). Bidding farewell I head for the exit. I’m at SoHo’s northeast corner and need to get to its southwest corner.

It’s subway time!

Along the way to the station I grab a slice of pizza. Culinary crack, it always taste great after a night of drinking.

2:30am I take a subway west to intercept the A-Train south. At the intersecting station I discover the subways are on a construction schedule. The A-Train either isn’t running or it’s moved to a different track. Paper signs are taped up all over the place. (Paper signs? Can’t New York afford a proper passenger notification system?) I read the one at the A-Train’s normal track. It sends me to another level. I go to that level. Another piece of paper tells me to go back to where I started. After a few more diversions (and firmly aware I look like a lost drunk tourist … screw it) I jump on a train I’m relatively certain is going south to Canal.

It’s not…

I end up completely lost. When I finally realize the train isn’t going the right way I get off in an unknown area of the city. Climbing the stairs it occurs to me I have no idea what kind of neighborhood I might be walking into. Stepping from the stairwell onto the sidewalk I did my best impression of someone who knows where the hell he’s going (show no weakness grasshopper). Turning right I stumbled (figuratively) into a busy bar.

I reasoned, ‘How lost can I be if I can find a place like this?’ Thus temporarily un-lost I settled in for a cocktail to collect myself.

4:00am One or three self-collecting cocktails later I said to myself, ‘Self, let’s give it a go again.’ In search of a cab I wander back into the night. It seems there is only one to be had in the entire city. Unfortunately its occupants (drunken coeds) are busy arguing with the cabbie over a five-dollar overage on their bill.

I gallantly whip out a five spot and offer it … if they will just get out of the cab … please.

They decline on a matter of principle, steadfastly refusing to vacate said cab, and suggesting I find another. Through a drunken lisp, one declares, ‘We’re going to sit in this cab until the cabbie (who spoke virtually no English) refunds our five dollars!’

I commented that there wasn’t exactly a plethora of f#*king cabs.

They remained unrepentantly drunk.

4:20am New York births another cab. I jump in. With the still-cackling drunken coeds fading to rear the cab rushs away. Ten minutes later I finally make it back to the SoHo Grand.

4:40am Collapsing into my bed, the Big Apple’s lights staring in on me, I think…

‘What an adventure!’

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Posted by Dean M. Cole

The Road to Africa

Following my three-week biker pilgrimage to Daytona Beach’s Biketoberfest via Panama City’s Thunder Beach Motorcycle Rally I broke camp and along with my new friend Naomi (Nene) hit the road. As you read in my last blog Nene, my new fellow world-traveling friend, was planning to hit New Orleans as the next stop in her great American backpack tour. Having previously decided to hit NOLA for a night or two en route to Houston it was a good fit for both of our schedules.

The trip was incredible. The interpersonal chemistry and easy conversations survived the ten plus hours of road time. We made it to the quarter and spent the next two days exploring the city. Wonderful memories and lots of fuel for my next blog to be sure. (Here’s her blog about it). Had a great time but after two days reality set in and I packed up, bid a sad farewell to Nene and headed to Houston with only two days to spare before my next African work hitch.

Back in Houston I spent the next 48 hours visiting family and friends, packing for a six-week work trip and two-week European vacation, and prepping the truck and trailer for long-term storage. I rented a covered space for the winter. It was big enough to accommodate them both with room to spare.

With all my affairs in order (sounds serious, huh?) I boarded a flight to Paris, France. I do enjoy flying Air France. What’s not to love about an airliner that brings you all the Champagne, beer, wine, and gourmet-ish food you want at no charge? The first time I flew Air France the person in front of me ordered Champagne and a Heineken … at the same time! Amazed, I followed suit, asking if I could have the same. To my delight the flight attendant smiled and said, ‘Oui.’


Anyway, I digress. Upon arrival I set upon the torturous transit to my connecting flight’s terminal. Where the French excel in the form of culture and dining they more than make up for in their horrible airport layout and transit system. While most airports have trams linking widely separated terminals Charles de Gaul Airport relies upon a bus system whose pickup point takes twenty minutes to get to, then runs every twenty minutes, and whose circuitous routing takes twenty minutes to get to your desired terminal. Thus what takes as little as ten minutes in Atlanta takes an hour in Paris.

Suitably down trodden (by French ground transportation standards) I finally made it to the gate. I hopped on the Air France flight to Malabo, sat back and ordered my now traditional glass (disguised as a plastic cup) of Champagne and frosty mug (disguised as a can) of Heineken.

Nine hours later I stepped from the plane’s cool and comparatively fragrant air into Malabo’s dank, rank atmosphere. While I try to enjoy my time in Africa, I’m quickly reminded of one of the reasons I didn’t want to come back. Regular bathing hasn’t quite caught on. For the most part it’s not a matter of logistics. Many times I’ve picked up local oil workers who have spent days to weeks on well stocked, billion dollar offshore oil facilities with excellent accommodations, private showers, and all the soap you can use. Dressed in their best ‘going-home-to-mama’ clothes they smell like a July to August vintage hobo.

Once again, I digress. On the positive side I’ve arrived on the night the Marathon Oil facility throws their biweekly ‘Quiz Night.’ Knowing I was returning that evening my Norwegian friend Heidi has thoughtfully included me in the invitations she attains from her contacts at Marathon.

Unwilling to surrender to the jetlag nipping at the edge of consciousness I unpack and freshen up. We head to Marathon, crossing from the dirt filmed roads and purely African roadside scenery into the surreally disconnected facility. We drive between homes whose style and landscaping would look perfectly at home in Suburbia, USA. I feel like I’ve received a temporary reprieve from the governor. As much as I love travel and experiencing different cultures and ways of life I do love the comforts of home. So with my true immersion into African culture put off a day we arrive at the quiz’s location.

It’s a fun event that takes place at the facility’s recreation center. Two-for-one cocktails and free food capped off with several rounds of trivia quizzes. After some delicious dinner and cold beers we divide into company-based teams and move to the quiz area. After lots of laughter, and several quiz rounds on various subject matters from inane to insane we end up scoring in the middle. Not that anyone cares what place you come in (although there is a steep punishment for winning – you must generate and host the next biweekly trivia quizzes). Since your neighboring team grades your answers there’s light-hearted scuttlebutt that some teams elevate scores of their rivals to ensure the other team gets to host the next event.

Happy we haven’t pissed anyone off enough to receive that punishment, and pleased with our middle of the road placing, we stroll back to our cars. Subdued, riding in silence, African scenery supplants Suburbia as we pass through the gates … back to reality (smells and all).

I look at my watch’s date window…

Only 41 days to go.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Dean Cole
Posted by Dean M. Cole

Biketoberfest’s Great Day!

Sometimes our life travels allow us to cross paths with remarkable people. A meeting which, in spite of its brevity, changes a part of us, either improving us or our outlook on life. People who unexpectedly open our eyes to whole aspects of the human condition we either never grasped or forgot about along our life journey. This was one of those moments.

A New Friend

She stepped from the house. Greetings are exchanged as nervous glances are cast at the chopper’s low form and the passenger pad’s Spartan accommodations. The previously stated concern about its lack of a sissy bar is written across her face. Swallowing hard, farewells to her host are proffered and she mounts the bike with a style and grace belying her claimed inexperience with choppers of this ilk.

Not wanting to scare her (yet) I gently accelerate from the curb. Merging into traffic I feel her legs clamp down on my waist as the baritone rumble of the pipes echo off adjacent buildings. In the heart of Daytona Beach I turn south with a mind to motor along the beach a bit.

Refusing to be completely tame I crack the throttle and the engine’s considerable power thrust us to cruising speed. Her arms grip me with excited energy. Linked together we fall into a comfortable synchronicity; man, woman and chopper streaming as one down Florida’s beachfront Highway A1A.

After placing a few miles between us and the bustle of Biketoberfest’s heaviest crowds we happen upon a diner with a reasonable line, or queue as my new British rider calls it. Checked in we wait outside for our table, mimosas in hand (a little hair-o-the dog for us both).

We fall into comfortable conversation; along the way finding more in common than anticipated by either. She tells me she is a writer and blogger. “You’re a writer?” I asked, digging for my business card. Misunderstanding my dismay she says, “Yeah, University educated and all!” in a tone that said ‘Not a wall flower here!’ Ignoring her protestations I finally produced the card. Knowing this is a large coincidence I hand it to her sure that merely saying ‘I’m an author too!’ would engender doubts about the veracity of that assertion.

Initially united only by our common love of the biker universe and the BikerorNot.com social network we’re now amazed to learn the other is a writer. She a blogger and an author of short stories; me a blogger and science fiction novelist. And (drumroll please) we’re both full-time world travelers. What are the odds?

Our table is ready. We take our seats. Breakfast is delicious and the conversation continues effortlessly, albeit at the quicker pace of excited discovery. Diner sounds abound. ‘Order up!’ calls echo, pencils scratch at dog-eared tablets. Aprons swish, coffees splash, cups clank, and silverware chimes. The restaurant’s bustling cacophony fades into the background as we trade stories of travel and writing. Eventually looking down we’re surprised to find our plates already empty. I gaze around; the diner’s clamor rushes back to the forefront.

Let’s go.

Back to the chopper, time to work our way north. Ormond Beach’s Broken Spoke Saloon is our final destination but there’s time for a few stops along the way. Merging into traffic I accelerate hard and hear a squeal of pleasure. 

I like Nene. She’s good people.

Through a break in the buildings she points out the beauty of the beach. Realizing I haven’t stopped to smell those particular roses during my stay in Daytona I look for a place to stop along said beach. As if on cue a beachfront park materializes on our right. Pulling in we park, stroll along the boardwalk, and find a place to watch the ocean and chat. 

I’m intrigued by her, by her mannerisms, her worldly experience, and her passion for life. A barely contained sweltering desire to explore the human condition burns through her chaste eyes.

The bonds of friendship form as two people from radically differing backgrounds find rich common ground.

This day is turning out better than anticipated.

Back to the chopper. She asks if I have a name for my bike. ‘Big Bird,’ I say. She burst into laughter and in her British accent says, ‘It’s perfect!’

Picture time? Yes. With that I take my first picture of my new friend with her new friend, Big Bird. She’s overly self-conscious, deciding she hates the pics. I think she looks great and tell her as much. 

Ready for our Hollywood moment?

Yes! She mounts the bike and off we go. A few short minutes later we make the left onto Main Street, joining the parade of bikes. Heads turn, she thinks it’s because of the bike, I think it’s her (of course the bike doesn’t hurt either). Pictures snap, flashes pop, and thumbs are raised. No time to stop … hell, nowhere to stop.

With Main’s madness falling to rear we roar over the bridge back to the mainland. Was that an island?

Next stop Ormond Beach … I thought. On the way we end up stuck in traffic directly in front of a motorcycle shop whose proprietor, in a bit of serendipitous synchronicity, got me out of a mechanical jam the previous day.

Spotted we are beckoned; not wanting to tempt karma I acquiesce and cut across two lanes of stationary traffic. (The bead of sweat on my brow and knowing a cold keg of beer was tucked in the corner of his garage had absolutely no bearing on my decision … yeah right!)

Chance, Biketona’s owner and self-proclaimed one-man-show, is living the life I considered while building my chopper. In his shop he works on and builds custom choppers. To help make ends meet he sells biker apparel and biker paraphernalia. In his spare time he heads a bluesy rock band that can be seen throughout the Daytona area.

I forgot to mention, in addition to being a biker enthusiast Nene is a lover of music: Jazz, Blues, and Rock; A Capela to Garage Bands… This is turning into quite a serendipitous day. She falls into easy conversation with Chance, admires and is admired by his band, and buys an Ace of Spades Zippo lighter.

Seeing the joy she gets from this acquisistion, her excitement at the way it feels, even its smell I think back on our day’s discussions and have an epiphany. My admiration for her grows as I grasp how deeply she cherishes the magic of life. She loves the essence of it; as if she sees the integral beauty of each molecule of a thing. Whether that thing be a crooning A Capela voice or the underlying constituent smells of gasoline, leather, and oil that make up the biker experience. She values it all, not taking any aspect for granted.

Her fresh perspective wipes the fog of complacency from my life lens.

I like Nene, I’m better for having met her.

We bid farewell to Chance and friends and head to the Broken Spoke Saloon. We have a morning (and now early afternoon) long goal of arriving in time to register Big Bird in the Bike Show. Arriving with mere minutes to spare we register. I drop off the bike for a final detailing; she buys us some beer. We walk, talk, and laugh.

‘So where are you headed next on your great backpacking adventure?’ ‘I’m planning on heading to New Orleans Thursday.’ she says.

And the hits just keep on comin’.

Amazed I tell her I’m heading to Bourbon Street tomorrow on my way back to Houston. ‘You should ride along.’ Casting a doubtful look at my radical chopper she says, ‘On that … with my giant backpack?’

‘No I have a fifth-wheel toyhauler.’ Comprehending (after a bit of American to English translation) she stands back and gives me the ‘is he a serial killer?’ appraising lookover. Her serial-killer detector apparently returning a negative she smiled and said, ‘Maybe.’ 

Big Bird, dressed to kill, is in position, awaiting the judging.

A mechanical bull? Want to? No. You? No. A couple of cocktails later we’ve both ridden it, laughed about it, and bonded over it. The Biker or Not website’s Meet & Greet is happening twenty feet from Big Bird’s perch. Nene and I are both members. Previously two-dimensional online personalities morph into living breath three-dimensional bikers. Virtual friends become real, stories are swapped, and laughs are exchanged.

Nene and I are talking with such natural ease I almost miss them calling my name: Big Bird has taken first place. There’s a trophy, lots of pictures and handshakes. People pat me on the back commenting on how happy I must be. 

Looking from the bike to Nene and our fellow BON members I decide they’re right.

It’s been a great day!

Here’s a link to Nene’s blog about that day (told you she was a blogger too).

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