Friday, November 28, 2014

And It's Here!

The Silent Years: Mother is now on sale at Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble. (Smashwords link includes all electronic formats).

Barnes & Noble:

Or join me for a Facebook party and try to win a free copy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Replicator Is Active

Yes, 3D printers do work in micro gravity. At least if they're designed to do so. The 3D printer from Made In Space was sent up to the ISS to be tested.

And it's made it's first object - a part for, well, itself. The faceplate with the Made In Space and NASA logos will help hold wiring in place on the printhead.

Now, astronauts will be able to use the printer to manufacture small parts and tools. This is absolutely key. Instead of having to send up every part the ISS might need, all Earth has to send now is the design (which is digital) and a suitable amount of raw materials.

The next part of the test will be to print an object and see how it compares to an identical one made on Earth, to see just how well the extruder is actually working compared to one running in normal gravity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Violence And Consent

Our language talks a lot about consenting to sex. We have words for sex without consent - rape being the most obvious and the nastiest.

It's generally felt that you can consent to sex, and that sex without consent is "wrong" - although there's a lot of discussion about what constitutes consent and whether certain forms of sex without consent aren't as "bad" as others.

What we don't talk about as much is that in our society we also have situations in which we consent to violence.


Yesterday, 12 NFL games were played in America. On November 29, American television will show five "sets" (Sorry, I don't know the correct term) of boxing matches.

There are three laser tag, 6 paintball and 1 airsoft arena listed in the immediate Google search for my area.

And I would bet that quite a few of the people who read this blog post will, at some point over the Thanksgiving weekend, sit down and play a violent video game. Some of them at least will be playing against other players.

When we play a contact sport, enter into a wargame arena or "live fire" LARP or even play a violent video game, we are consenting to violence. If we watch a contact sport, we are acquiescing to the fact that the competitors in football, rugby, hockey, polo, martial arts tournaments, fencing tournaments, etc are consenting to violence.

This consensual violence is, of course, under strict rules. NFL players wear armor. Paintball and airsoft players wear eye protection. We take steps to limit injury. But it is still violence. It is violence that is okay - because the participants have agreed to be involved in it and agreed to accept the risks of being a victim of controlled violence.

But as a society we don't talk about consensual violence. We don't talk about the fact that we pay boxers to beat each other up for our entertainment. I suspect that even the people going to one of those paintball arenas this weekend wouldn't say they "consented to violence" even though they've consented to have people shoot non-lethal guns at them and are calling it fun. (I've never done paintball, but I've done laser tag and airsoft stuff).

We don't talk about it being a thing, even though it is. It's okay in our society to try your best to beat somebody up if they agreed to it and you both think it's fun - and it should be.

But now, let's get back to that sexual non-consent thing. Violence without consent is assault. Sex without consent is rape. Rape is seen as a kind of assault.

Rape, though, isn't seen as quite the same kind of assault as, say, punching somebody. And I don't mean at the level of it being a worse violation. Society excuses rape. She was "asking for it." Her skirt was too short, or she drank too much alcohol, or he's in prison for something.

There's that tragic feeling, sadly common, that you can consent to sex without actually specifically consenting to sex.

And I think there's a parallel here. When somebody gets raped, people look for a way to excuse the perpetrator.

This happens with violence too. Now, to be fair, sometimes the victim of violence really is asking for it. If you point a real, realistic or realistic non-lethal gun at somebody and they shoot you, that's not the same thing.

But if somebody is a victim of violence and the excuses come out - sadly almost always when the perpetrator is white and the victim is black - some of them become very close to the excuses for rape. "He should have pulled up his pants/not worn that hoodie/stayed sober/not walked in the road."

Consenting without consenting. "Asking for it."

We need to have this conversation as a society. We need to turn around and say nobody is ever asking for it. People can consent to violence. People can also do things that remove their right not to consent to violence - usually by attacking or threatening first.

But nobody "asks for it." There are only two justifications to use violence against another person - either it's consensual violence with rules and everyone agreed to it or they are a genuine threat to yourself or somebody else.

Wearing gang colors does not make somebody a threat. Pointing does not make somebody a threat. Not pulling your pants up is unsightly (but I'm sure some people would say the same thing about the eyebleeding purple shirt I'm wearing right now) but doesn't make you a threat.

Let's bring the conversation about consent out of the sex arena and apply it to everything. Let's understand that violence is something that can be consensual and then look at the ways people use another person's behavior as an excuse to commit violence on them...and let's say that hitting somebody for their clothes or because they used a word you didn't like is no different from trying to rape a woman because her skirt is too short. No different and no better.

Monday, November 24, 2014

SpaceX and Reusable Rockets

One of the problems with landing a reusable rocket stage is...what if it goes wrong?

Elon Musk's answer to it is to land the rocket stages at sea...but we're not talking ditching. Instead, the rocket will be landed on an autonomous drone, based off of some aspects of an oil rig. That doesn't, of course, give much space for the rocket to land on, but the SpaceX team seem convinced they can pull this off, partly with the help of grid fins that deploy during the descent.

What do you thing - is this getting into overcomplicated territory or is it going to be just plain awesome? (Well, it's awesome. If it works).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Updates


Strange Voyagers backers - we are very close, believe me, but our artist gave us some extra art. Now we have to get that into the layout...

I'm not going to make any promises, but I can assure you I've seen all the completed art and it won't be long now.

I will be doing a Facebook party next Friday (Yes, I know, black Friday and people may not be able to come) for the launch of "Mother." Show up for a chance to win a free copy.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oh dear...

Tagging fish is a normal part of studying them. The tags generally used are small acoustic tags, that emit a distinct sound (sound is the easiest thing to transmit underwater). Fish can't hear the tags, so it doesn't affect...

...oh dear...


It turns out that while fish can't hear the sound, seals can. And not being stupid, the seals have worked out that that little beep beep beep means "dinner." And if seals can hear them then whales and dolphins probably can too.

We might need to come up with another way to tag fish.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


We've gotten very used to having GPS technology available. In fact, some people are dependent on it (to a worrying degree - I don't like talking to 30 year olds who can't read a map).

GPS glitches for all sorts of reasons. Losing line of sight on the satellites at a key moment, really bad weather, dark matter...


Yes. It seems dark matter actually alters GPS signals and sends them very minutely out of sync. Something which might help us in our quest to understand a substance that might make up more of the universe than hydrogen.

(Although likely the gravity detecting clock will be more useful).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Silent Years: Mother Available For Pre-Order!

Dorothy Mayling thought her worst problem was the long-standing family feud over her sister's choice of husband. Or her son's grades. Then the rumors started - bird flu in Seattle, SARS in Washington State? The truth is a hideous, terrible disease, one that slowly steals away the ability to speak and reason, turning people into nothing more than zombies. Worst of all, it was meant to be a weapon. Can Dorothy hold her family together as the world ends around them and people fall, one by one, to the silent plague?

Release date: November 18.

Pre order your copy now!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar (Some Spoilers)

Hey, Christopher Nolan? I'm calling you out.

Interstellar was not a terrible movie. It was a good attempt at being thoughtful science fiction rarely seen on the big screen.

The plot itself was not bad. Four astronauts - the white guy hero, the woman, the black guy, and the Guy Who Dies First go off in Earth's last spaceship to fly through a wormhole created by mysterious fifth dimensional beings to catch up with the scouts sent through ten years ago to look for habitable worlds. See, Earth's dying because a blight is killing all of our food crops (and possibly other plants as well - there's certainly no wildlife or livestock around, not even dogs). So, we need a new home.

(And yes, I did call one of the characters The Guy Who Dies First - he's so boring the rest of the crew forget he existed only a few minutes after he dies).

Here's the problem. The slow pacing (in a few places too slow for me) would be off putting to action viewers who can tolerate bad science.

And...the science...the science. This was a movie clearly targeted towards intelligent people and readers of Analog, yet it failed utterly. I'm going to highlight three areas:

1. Biochemistry. The blight (unclear if it was one rapidly mutating organism or a group of them or what) "thrives on nitrogen" and, because of that, the oxygen content of Earth's atmosphere would drop and everyone would suffocate.

Nope. Nothing thrives on nitrogen. Did they mean that it was somehow turning more of the free oxygen into nitrogen oxides? Can't be, those aren't stable at room temperature.

Now, if a blight was killing most of the plant life on Earth then it's entirely possible that carbon dioxide levels would go up and oxygen levels go down...possibly even to the point of killing off large animals. Which is a perfectly decent apocalypse. (Heck, you had a perfectly decent apocalypse with all the food crops dying - although it was done first and better by John Christopher in The Death of Grass - a classic which seems to be unavailable on Amazon, sadly).

2. Starship design. First of all, Nolan, sensibly, realizes that on a long trip people will need gravity. So he designs his ship as a centrifuge. That's fine. That's a standard thing. Except, he has the bridge spin as well (causing a character to reach for the dramamine). And has the bridge also at 1G. Nope. The gravity would be much lower at the center axle and in any sane design the center axle would remain stable so you could dock and undock.

Oh, and the same character complains that only a "few inches of aluminum" protect him from empty space. On an interplanetary ship. Maybe this explains why an airlock explosively decompressing after a failed docking destroys part of the outer ring (to which you wouldn't be docking anyway). But I'd want more than that between me and cell destroying radiation - like, say, a couple of feet of titanium and maybe the water tank. Which brings me to...

3. Radiation. And black holes. The black hole is rather central to the plot, but... First of all, they're investigating planets orbiting the black hole as "promising" to be habitable.

Quick physics.

The only thing that gets out of a black hole as far as we know is Hawking radiation. Hawking radiation is thermal radiation. Heat. This might keep a planet warm enough for liquid water and some kind of life, especially combined with tidal heating, but where is the light?

One of the planets they visit is covered in water. It's so close to the black hole that relativity affects time such that one hour there is seven years on Earth. And they're considering this as the new home for mankind? If there was that much gravity, then you wouldn't be able to get out in a ship. The planet itself supposedly has a gravity of about 1.3G - punishing. And...that world would get pulled into the black hole, sooner or later. There's no way it would be stable. Or have an atmosphere. Or, after any significant amount of time, an ocean. And I don't buy that steep a time gradient either.

I'm not Dr. Stanley Schmidt, but I wouldn't buy this story.

P.S. I'm not perfect, but found some math. The 7 year to an hour time dilation thing is possible, the orbit may be stable, but the standing wave that nearly drowned them all is not I suspected but wasn't sure on enough to give them, the planet would probably be tidally locked or, at the very least, there would be a much more gentle bulge flowing around it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Check This Out!

Isn't this a sweet cover? And it will be available very soon. Here's the blurb:

Dorothy Mayling thought her worst problem was the long-standing family feud over her sister's choice of husband. Or her son's grades. Then the rumors started - bird flu in Seattle, SARS in Washington State? The truth is a hideous, terrible disease, one that slowly steals away the ability to speak and reason. Worst of all, it was meant to be a weapon. Can Dorothy hold her family together as the world ends around them and people fall, one by one, to the silent plague?

This is the first of a series of three apocalyptic science fiction novellas, inspired by zombie fiction (but no, these are not classic zombies, not remotely). I'll announce the release date as soon as it's determined.

(Because people asked and out of fairness - cover art is by Starla Huchton).

Thursday, November 13, 2014


No, not my updates. Updates on a couple of things that have been on my blog.

1. The Virgin Galactic crash.

The surviving pilot has been talked to and he said the co pilot did not announce that he was going to unlock the feathering system. Call and confirm is standard practice for even some very routine practices when flying an airplane. Had Alsbury "called" then Siebold would have been able to tell him he was early. (There is, of course, the possibility that Siebold did not hear him for some reason).

This makes it more likely that Alsbury unlocked the system by accident - which may necessitate a cockpit redesign.

2. Rosetta.

Oops. Well. We knew landing on a comet was going to be tricky. Philae landed, but the harpoons designed to secure her to the comet did not deploy. She bounced back off and landed again, at an angle and in a crater. The robot is sending good data, but is not in a good position. The real problem is that she's in shadow and won't be able to get enough light to her solar panels to recharge her batteries, which only have a 60 hour initial life. If the team can't work out a way to move Philae to a better position, then she's going to go dark.

What she's sent back include these startling images of what comets look like close up. Whichever part of the comet she's on (which they aren't sure), we have good pictures of it.

Hopefully they'll be able to work something out, which might include using the harpoons or Philae's sampling drill to push her off the surface again in the hope that she hits in a better position. We probably aren't going to get all of the data we wanted - including the ice samples. Still, some science is being done.

And for such a tricky mission and a first attempt, I still think they did very well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Comet Landings

So, Philae made it. For the first time, humans have landed a spaceship on a comet. It did not go entirely smoothly - the lander is in good shape but the harpoons designed to keep it in place have not fired properly. They're hopefully fixing that right now.

Why go to comets?

Comets are an interesting phenomenon. Most of them spend their existence in the Oort Cloud, the furthest extremes of the solar system. Only a few get nudged out of it to dive towards the sun and become the tailed beasts we are familiar with. (I use the word beast with thought - Medieval people thought comets were living things, possibly dragons). In the past, comets were considered bad omens. Now, we consider them to be fun natural light shows.

They're more than that. Comets are giant "dirty snowballs". They contain water and other volatiles such as methane and carbon dioxide. Capturing comets may prove to be a way to provide these substances to space missions (it's expensive to lift anything out of a gravity well and water is heavy).

Comets also contain organic chemicals - and our own oort cloud extends far enough out to overlap with that of Alpha Centauri, possibly meaning comets are traded between solar systems, at least when they're close together. A close study of comets may provide evidence for or against seeding theory - not the intelligent alien version (which I do not believe in) but the theory that the basic stuff of life may have come here from somewhere else. Or, more likely, is constantly being moved around. The composition of comets might also tell us something about other forms life might take and how common it might be in the universe.

And comets, unlike asteroids, don't survive if they hit the Earth - at one point, some scientists believed that the Tunguska event was caused by a comet, but it's now been pretty much proven it was a rocky asteroid, probably blowing up in the upper atmosphere.

Plenty of reasons to do this and I applaud the ESA team on their efforts and success.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The theme of this year's World Fantasy Con was the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.

For this reason, somebody had the bright idea of giving everyone poppies attached to their badges.

I'm British, so the poppy as a symbol is very important. Wearing a red poppy started out as honoring World War I veterans.

The poppy represents the poppies that grew profusely across No Man's Land and the trenches after the war was over - their red color resembling freshly spilled blood.

I clearly remember everyone wearing poppies on Remembrance Sunday - the closest Sunday to November 11. Some people would wear white poppies for pacifism, but I've always felt that supporting veterans is far, far from the same thing as being in favor of any war that happens.

So, let's honor all veterans today - not just those of World War I on the centennial, but all of them.

And most especially living veterans, many of whom are let down by our society.

Monday, November 10, 2014

World Fantasy Con

Quite the experience. Some awesome panels.

I'd like to give a particular shout out to Griffin Barber and Alastair Kimble for sharing their experiences as real, working cops.

Also of note:

Naomi Novik's awesome pseudo dragonskin coat.

Mary Robinette Kowal as MC - she is awesome and turned things which could be boring into a lot of fun.

Oh, and finally meeting Trevor Quachri was worth the price of admission in and of itself.

Amusement: Sharing the hotel with Rolling Thunder. I have to say that of all the people I've had to share a hotel with during conventions they were the nicest. (Bikers tend, all reputation to the contrary, to be nice people).

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

World Fantasy Con

...starts tomorrow. I'm pretty much ready (helped by not having to pack or travel - it's great when a con is local).

I'm very much looking forward to meeting some people I haven't managed to corner at conventions yet (Especially Trevor Quachri, if I can track him down).

And if anyone's trying to track me down - I'm usually pretty easy to find, and will also be on the panel on "The Great Game" at 3pm on Saturday.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


On a lighter note than previous posts, residents of some place in Australia called Wonthaggi were treated to the sight of a "fallstreak hole" or "hole punch" cloud.

Which had a rainbow in the middle. Just in the hole.

Check out the explanation - and the picture - here. (They're often triggered by passing airliners).

Monday, November 3, 2014

More On The Virgin Crash

The big thing is - It was not the fuel. (Mr. Branson is apparently quite annoyed that everyone was blaming the fuel).

In fact, the engine and fuel tanks were found intact at the crash site. It's not the way anyone would have wanted it to happen, but I think this has proved that the hybrid fuel being used is indeed stable until properly mixed and ignited - and as an important part of the program is developing fuels for use in intercontinental ballistic transports that will land and take off from regular airports, I think this is a very good thing.

So. What happened?

We actually know what happened - but we're a long way from knowing why.

The co-pilot, either because he accidentally knocked it or because he somehow got confused on his checklist (this was an experienced test pilot and I'm inclined to give him some benefit) switched the interlock handle on the re-entry "feathering" system to unlocked.

Two seconds later, the feathering system did an uncommanded deploy.

Obviously, this should not have happened. The system has a two-stage deploy system to prevent exactly this - the feathering system activating during the burn, an event the vehicle had no chance of surviving.

In general, with modern airplanes, an uncommanded deploy - a system activating when the pilot did not touch the controls - is actually a software problem. However, it's far too early to know exactly what happened and it's not even official that the deploy caused the crash - but the chances of a spaceplane surviving its re-entry braking system activating with the engine on seem pretty slim.

Still thinking of the families of the pilots and everyone at Virgin Galactic.